The Real Divide?

I read a brief summary this week of journalists reporting of the debate in France as to whether abandoned churches should be turned into mosques.  The idea was raised by the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris and quickly shouted down by ‘Islamophobes’ according to one paper.  I think it’s a really interesting question as to how church buildings should be used in the sad situation that their congregation has depleted.  It raises a host of questions about the sanctity of space and the relationship between the spiritual and physical locations. But that’s not what struck me about this story.  It wasn’t so much the issue at hand, but how it was reported that make me sit up straight.

According to the featured journalists, the issue is a practical one: the church is declining, church buildings are empty, whilst Islam is growing and Muslims need somewhere to pray.  This seems a purely reasonable solution, and indeed it may be.  But here’s the final line of the summary:

Wouldn’t they [right-winger opponents of the idea] rather see churches serve a religious purpose, than be turned into shops and markets? A bit of “pragmatism” would be a fine thing.

What’s your reaction to that?

I’d genuinely like to know!  For me one thing stands out above anything else: the phrasing of the question shows where this journalist sees the real divide – not between Christianity and Islam, but between Religious and Commercial.  In this phrasing of the issue Christianity and Islam are not two different conceptions of the world, reality, and the meaning of life, but are rather two residents of the compartment of public life known as ‘Religious.’  They’re not claims to truth, but life-style choices or community groups.  To me this is a natural piece of logic from a secular standpoint.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not having a go at the journalist; this is not a judgement, it’s an observation.  It’s similar to the visitor to our church recently who described themselves as a ‘mongrel’ and said (in an friendly, not critical way) that all religions should be mongrel.  The assumption being that they all serve the same God so should just share from one another.  It’s a naturally secular view, one that’s incredibly common in our pluralist society.  In fact, perhaps the majority of people I meet as a church leader who are not yet Christian have an interest in God or the spiritual but don’t want to be, nor see the need to be, tied down to one specific religion.  Afterall, aren’t all religions part of the same category just like Superdrug, John Lewis, and Tesco are all part of the category called ‘Commerce’?  Can’t we just be pragmatic about this?

Yet if Christian beliefs about the existence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the creation of everything and the reality of sin; the salvation of Jesus through his death, resurrection and ascension; the reality of the Kingdom of God on earth right now; and the surety of Jesus coming back; are all true then these are claims that radically shape the nature of reality.  Christians don’t have a different hobby, we live in a different world.  The question for us is this: have we lost our confidence that what we believe may actually be true and do we live like it is?

The real divide is not between Religion and Commerce, but what world we think we live in.  What do you think?

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Keeping Time with Jesus: Chronos, Kairos and the Second Coming – Part 6

http://theworldofmore.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/world-of-more-time.jpegIf the primary way of being ready for Jesus is to be known by Him, what does that mean for all the commands to work for the Kingdom, to do good things for God?

All of these flow from relationship.  They are not hurdles to jump through before God will love us.  They are an overflow of being loved, a natural response to knowing who God really is.  This is what we see in the second story from Matthew 25 – the story of the talents.

Again, in order to teach his disciples how to be ready for His return, Jesus told them a story about a master and three servants.  The master went away, but before he did he gave one servant 5 talents, another 2 talents, and another 1 talent.  A talent was a large sum of money and the master asked them to look after this for Him until He returned.

http://jeramiesweet.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Buried-Talents.jpgNow, the first two servants both invested their money and put it to use, and doubled it.  The servant with only one talent hid his in the ground.  When the master returned he called his servants to account.  The first two he was incredibly pleased with.  He said to them ‘Well done good and faithful servant!’ and he gave them 10 cities and 4 cities to look after in return.  The last servant told him that he hid the money and did nothing with it because he knew that his master was a harsh man who ‘reaped where he did not sow’.  The master was angry and threw this servant out giving his talent to the servant who had 10.

What is this all about?

At first glance it can seem that the master really is harsh.  He didn’t give equal amounts to the servants and he gave them different rewards, not to mention throwing the one who had the least out!

Yet a closer look, and understanding the parable of the bridesmaids before, tells us the real issue.  The excuse of the final servant points us to the critical issue the master was looking for.  The value of the servants’ actions wasn’t in how much money they made, but on whether they reflected a right understanding of who He was.  Did His servants know Him?

The servant who hid everything did so because he saw his master as harsh, unjust, not to be trusted.  His one desire was to not upset him.  He took no risks thinking that any mistake would earn punishment, as if that is all the master was interested in.

Truth be told we can often view God like that.  He is the headmaster and waiting for the second coming is like sitting outside his office not knowing when we’ll be called in.  If only we can keep our noses clean and our socks pulled up then we’ll be alright.  If I can think good thoughts and be a nice person without messing up too much, then I’ll be fine.  We completely miss His true character and in doing so we miss who we were really made to be.

Yet the truth is so much better.  Those other servants understood who their master was.  He was a Giver of good gifts, generous, willing to trust, and possessing abundant resources.  If he could spare that kind of money for them to deal with as they pleased, how much more must he have had?

For them to take such great risks of investing everything the master had given them, holding nothing back, they must have known something about his character.  They must have had confidence that, no matter what mistakes they made or how much they lost, He would still love them, trust them, and be able to provide for them.  Knowing this, they gave everything they had.

Our God is not a harsh master looking for a reason to punish us.  He is a bridegroom who loves us and is coming to marry us, to bring us into a feast, to bring us into unbroken relationship with Him.  He calls us ‘good and faithful’.  That is all He longs for from us: that we would recognise His goodness, abundance and love enough to entrust all of ourselves to Him.  Like those talents, everything we have, our very lives, are gifts from Him.  He has more than enough, His heart is to reward our simple faithfulness extravagantly (a city for every talent!), all He wants to see is: do we know Him?  If we do, then we’ll live like it.

Our life right now is often one of chronos.  We’re called to work and to wait.  We get glimpses of encounters with God and seeing Him move.  Every time we do it reminds us of who He is, of His character, His goodness, His love.  It prepares us, excites us, reminds us to be ready for when He finally comes again.  We get ready by keeping our lamps filled with oil.  Even our chronos – our work time – is spent in relationship with Him through the Spirit – our work is to keep connected to Him – to be with Him every moment.  When we know Him we see the gifts He’s given us and we’ll throw our whole selves into living for Him.  In that place we’ll live the lives He’s made us for – lives of working and waiting yes, but also lives of abundance, of expectation, of seeing Him move, of knowing Him.

Take heart my friends.  We’re not called to achieve for God but to be faithful to Him; not to earn His love, but to receive it and live from that place of relationship. 

The ultimate kairos moment is coming: our lover is coming back – our we ready? Do we know Him?

Keeping Time with Jesus: Chronos, Kairos and the Second Coming – Part 5

http://theworldofmore.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/world-of-more-time.jpegLet’s have a quick recap.  We’ve been talking about chronos and kairos – God’s way of keeping time.  There’s chronos time of working and waiting, the ordinary passage of seconds, minutes and hours.  Then there’s the moments where heaven invades earth, God moves and chronos seems to stop for kairos to take place.

Christians are like surfers who’ve caught the wave, experienced God, and now we live working and waiting not counting the cost but keeping our eyes on Him, ready for next time we see Him move.

Yet every little moment, no matter how incredible it may seem, is a foreshadow of that great day that is to come – the day when Jesus returns and everything is made new.  We want to be ready to meet Him, to catch the wave.  How do we do it?

Jesus taught a surprising amount on this.  The chapter I want to focus on is Matthew 25.  True to form, Jesus teaches in two profound stories.

First, he speaks of 10 bridesmaids waiting at night for the bridegroom to come with their lamps at the ready.  In Jewish wedding the bridegroom would come to the bride’s house at night for the ceremony to take place then take everyone back to his home for celebrations.  These bridesmaids are waiting and they need their lamps shining.  5 are wise and have taken extra oil, 5 are foolish and haven’t.

When the bridegroom finally comes, the foolish bridesmaids have to go and buy oil.  By the time they return the bridegroom and the wise bridesmaids have entered the wedding feast and the door is closed.  When they bang on the door, the foolish bridesmaids are told by the bridegroom, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

A strange response don’t you think?  I do not know you.  He doesn’t mention whether their lamps are lit or not, whether they have done good things or not.  The one qualification for entering the party, for coming into the wedding celebration, is whether the bridegroom knows them.

If you want to be ready for Jesus when he comes, there is really only one question that matters – do you know Him?  Or, more importantly, does He know you?

The qualification for being ready for Jesus is relationship.  Those wise bridesmaids were ready when he came.  Even in the dark, when he came suddenly like ‘a thief in the night’, they knew him for who he was.  How? Because their lamps were burning.

http://www.worldwideflood.com/ark/technology/oil_lamp_lit_01.jpgTheir lamps would have needed constant topping up with oil.  They would have given off a light that may not have expelled all the darkness, but gave them enough to be seen and to recognise the bridegroom when he came.

Oil in Scripture is often a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  We are called to be those who keep our light shining.  It may often feel like our little life, our little light, is not enough to stop the darkness that surrounds us.  That is not our job.  Our job is be ready.  To be continually filled with the Holy Spirit.  To take time every day to be with Him, to pray and worship, to enjoy the Spirit, to let Him fill us up.  Then we will be ready and able to recognise Jesus when he comes.  It is Jesus who will take us out of the darkness and into His celebration.  In the meantime, our light may be enough to let others know that a bridegroom is coming, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

I hope you hear in this the enormous encouragement I hear.  When Jesus comes He isn’t that concerned about whether I have achieved great things, changed the world or expelled the darkness.  He wants to see my face and for me to see His.  Is there oil in my lamp?  Am I in relationship with Him?  Will He know me when He comes?

Today take encouragement from this.  Put down your striving and make time to simply be with God.  This is the main purpose of chronos, the main work we do is to ‘tarry’ with the Lord – to simply be with Him.  Next post we’ll look at what Jesus expects from our abilities and talents…

Keeping Time with Jesus: Chronos, Kairos and the Second Coming – Part 4

http://theworldofmore.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/world-of-more-time.jpegWhat happens when Jesus comes back?

First, there will be a judgement. Read 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 or Revelation 20:11-15.

The Revelation passage gives an image I find incredibly valuable.  Here John speaks of Jesus on his throne with many books that record the entirety of our lives.  We will be judged on what is in our book – every thought, action and word.  Yet he has another book: the Book of Life.  Anyone who has accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour has their name written in this book.  Anyone with their name in this book will pass through into life with God, anyone without will go into ‘the second death, the lake of fire’ (v14).

Jesus used similar images of separating sheep and goats or wheat and weeds.  There will be a judgement and those who know Jesus will be with Him forever in life, those who do not will pass into Hell.

Now, a brief word is needed here.  In our modern enlightened age we hate talking about judgement, heaven and hell. It makes us uncomfortable.  Firstly, it should.  Even God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell.  If we share even an iota of His compassion then we shouldn’t find it an easy concept!

But we often wonder whether a loving and just God is compatible with the notion of hell.  Here’s the thing.  Sin is not a problem that can be controlled, it has to be removed permanently – destroyed.  Just look at how peacekeeping missions exacerbate terrorism or corporeal punishment accentuates criminality and you get a sense of how sin cannot be controlled.  More than that, justice requires that misdeeds are punished – our own consciences reflect that truth.

God is fully just and has acted to fully deal with sin.  Yet because he is also fully loving He came as Jesus, took all our sin on Himself, and died in our place.  Jesus took our punishment so that we don’t have to.  Moreover, because God made us for genuine love, He gave us free will – forced love is not love.  We have a choice: we can accept the free gift of what Jesus has done for us and so live in relationship with Him, or we can not.  Hell is God’s honouring the choice we make in this life in the next.  As is heaven.  And here it gets good….

http://secondcomingherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/rapture.jpgSecond, when Jesus comes there will be a new heaven and a new earthRevelation 21.

People often talk about ‘going to heaven’.  It is far more like heaven comes to us.  ‘Heaven’, as understood in the Bible, is the spiritual realm where God lives.  It interacts with the natural world even though we can’t see it.  It’s like there is a veil between us and heaven.

Yet John describes in Revelation how the New Jerusalem (an image of heaven) will come down and be on the earth.  There will be no need for Sun or stars because God himself will be our light.  In other words, when Jesus returns, all creation – heaven and earth – will be made new.  All the mess, rubbish, decay and sin will be removed and there will  be a new unity between spiritual and natural – between heaven and earth.  We will live with God face to face.

This is no airy fairy playing harps on clouds.  This will be a creation like the original but perfect, not marred.  We’ll continue with creativity, exploration, discovery, relationship and above all worship and unity with God.  This will be life in all it’s fullness, this will be the ultimate kairos moment. 

This is the hope that stirred the early Church even in the midst of persecution.  It is the hope Jesus proclaimed and called us to stand on.  It is the hope we need to keep our eyes fixed on every moment.

Just as we get the odd day of sunshine before the summer really kicks in, the kairos moments we experience now are like foreshadows of that great day that is to come.  We don’t know when, but we know it will.  We work and wait, paddling to where the wave should break, ready for when it comes.

But how do we get ready?  That is the question for next time, but for now go and read Revelation 21.  Remind yourself of the hope we have.  Check out what I’ve been saying.  Ask me questions and study for yourself.  There is nothing more important to understand.

Keeping Time with Jesus: Chronos, Kairos and the Second Coming – Part 3

http://theworldofmore.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/world-of-more-time.jpegI don’t know if you realize it, but the central hope of the early church, a hope they could not stop going on about, one that saturates the New Testament and shaped the entirety of their lives, is one we hardly ever pay more than lip-service to in the contemporary church.

I mentioned last post a wave that will never stop flowing, a kairos moment to end all chronos.  This hope is that wave, that moment.

This hope is the second coming of Jesus Christ.

When was the last time you heard a sermon on the second coming?  When was the last time you read a book, studied, thought about, or had a conversation over a glass of wine concerning the second coming?

Every gospel account records Jesus’ promise that he will come again.  Luke records in the book of Acts how the church began with promise that Jesus would return just as the disciples had seen him go up into heaven.  This hope riddles the sermons of early church, the letters of the apostles.  It is the central hope demonstrated in the physical symbol of communion – the universal act of worship of the whole church throughout time.

Often we focus on the cross and resurrection of Jesus (and these are a worthy focus!) but they lose all meaning when we ignore the promise of the second coming of Jesus.

If every kairos moment we’ve talked about so far is a moment where heaven invades earth, where God moves and chronos pauses – how much more significant will it be when Jesus returns for good?

So what is the second coming?  What will it look like, what will happen? 

When we talk about something as huge as this there is inevitably a large amount that remains mystery.  Over this there are different views held by people who equally desire to respect and learn from Scripture.  But there is still much that we can know clearly from the Bible, and that most orthodox Christians agree on.

  1. Jesus is coming back.  When he comes everyone will see Him and He’ll come bodily, not just as a spiritual force or a good principle.  Look at Acts 1:11 or 1 Thess 4:16.
  2. His coming will be sudden.  We won’t know when it happens.  Jesus himself described it as ‘coming like a thief in the night’…not because he is a thief, but because he will come just as unexpectedly.  Matthew 24:44.
  3. All Christians should eagerly long for Christ’s return.  Paul describes the Christian life as training to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:12-23).  We’re to keep faithful in the chronos as we await this ultimate kairos – our blessed hope.

What happens when Jesus comes back?

http://www.waynegrudem.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/bible-doctrine1.jpgWe know two things for sure.  Both are huge topics that I urge you to study if you never have.  Something like Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine is a great, user-friendly place to start and one that has inspired this post.

First, there will be a judgement, and then there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth.  These are incredible truths that needs a bit more looking into.  We’ll continue with a post tomorrow – keep your eyes peeled!

How do I know what to do when…? A simple suggestion for moral dilemmas.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/how-your-moral-decisions-shaped-by-mood_1.jpgIt is hard to be holy in this day and age or to even know what ‘being holy’ looks like.  Everyday we face choices and decisions that are far more grey than obviously right or wrong.  So how do we know what to do?

How do we know what to do when we want to stand up for our colleagues but don’t want to lie about their mistakes?

How do we know what to do when we don’t want to judge our friends, but neither do we condone everything they do?

How do we know what to do when we want to pursue a career using our God given gifts, but we’re asked to compromise on the way?

Compromise is the key word.  Rarely are we faced with obvious, cut and dry moral dilemmas.  We’re unlikely to be asked to murder someone or steal something just like that.  Rather we’ll be asked to fudge the edges of the law, take a tiny step towards the line but not necessarily cross it, to do something that makes us feel uncomfortable but we’re not 100% sure why.

Here’s an example that arose from a recent conversation: is it ok for Christian artists to use nudity in their art?

Surely Christians are called to be pure and to live as examples of that purity steering away from the lewdness that can so readily saturate the world we live in.  The idea of a Christian we know painting something explicit, for example, can be shocking.  Yet can it ever be the case that just such a shock is needed to get an important point across?  I remember the anecdote of a well known Christian speaker swearing during an address and then challenging his hearers: “You care more that I just used the word **** than that thousands of children are dying around the world as we speak”.  What if a painting was drawn that exposed the denigration of women in our society or championed the rights of those who suffer from domestic abuse?

It’s pretty murky waters don’t you think?  Yet I want to be bold enough to suggest a simple rule for any Christian trying to get a handle on how to navigate the moral grey we find ourselves in.  It’s a rule taken from the apostle Paul writing about similarly grey areas of his own day…

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

How do I know what to do?  By asking myself not just “would God mind?”, but “can I actually do this for God?  On His behalf, in His name?”

We have to realise that ‘Christian’ doesn’t just denote something we do at the weekends, it is a term that defines the entirety of who we are and so qualifies everything we do.  I am not a Christian, a lawyer, a son, an Englishman, and a student (fill in the list as appropriate to you).  Rather, I am a Christian lawyer, a Christian son, a Christian Englishman, a Christian student.  Whatever I do and wherever I am, I do it and I am there carrying the name of Christ.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51bC2APLFLL.jpgAn example to elucidate the point.  Vincent Donovan, a Christian anthropologist, studied an indigenous tribe (the Masai) in east Africa and wrote about it in his book Christianity Rediscovered.  It is actually his report of a neighbouring tribe that I want to share.  This tribe were a dancing people, every aspect of life was accompanied by different dances.  Once they believed in Jesus, the eucharist became a huge celebration and one accompanied by dance.  Yet it began to shape their approach to every part of life.  They discovered that there were some dances they simply could not perform at the eucharist – it wasn’t right to dance like that in such a remarkable moment of unity with Christ.  But they recognised that if they could not perform a dance at the eucharist, then they couldn’t perform it at all. The eucharist was not just something they did, it was an expression of a relationship that defined who they were.  They were people of the eucharist.  They were Christian.

http://www.irisglobal.org/gallery/gal/24%20June%202010/IMG_8408.jpg

The same goes for us, for every Christian in every place across this earth.  We are defined by our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s a relationship that doesn’t stop once we leave the church building but remains in every aspect of life.  Think of the main aspect of your worship whatever churchmanship you’re from: taking communion, sung worship, prayer

ministry, whatever it is.  Now, every time you want to know what to do ask yourself this: could I do this for God, in His name, and in that place of worship?

So, whatever you do, whether in business, media, religion, education, politics, healthcare, family, or art, do it all for the glory of God in the light of the eucharist.

Is Jesus Enough?

http://dobbse.net/thinair/2004/05/finger-pointing.gifThe challenge of preaching is that your preaching is challenging.  They say that when you point the finger there are four pointing back at you (or at least 3 fingers and a thumb!).  When you stand with a microphone and the responsibility to voice what God is wanting to say to that group of people on that evening through that particular passage – then every word you utter resonates straight back in your heart too.  At least I hope and pray that it will never be otherwise!

On Sunday I preached a message that hit me with a challenge that will resonate for some time to come.  This isn’t a comment on the quality of the preach, but rather the significance of the word God gave me to speak.  You can listen to it here, but this is the crux….Is Jesus enough?  Just Him, not what He brings, gives or is able to do, but simply Him?  Whether we understand or not, even when the way he seems to act (or fail to do so) offends our sense of what he should do…is he still enough?

My text was John 6:25-40 – a conversation including Jesus’ famous declaration that “I am the bread of life!”  But what struck me is how this conversation is Jesus returning to the crowd he withdrew from at the start of the chapter in order to give them another chance to invite him in.

http://www.beliefnet.com/Prayables/Scripture/Loaves-and-Fishes.aspxYou see, the chapter starts with the feeding of the 5,000.  There is a crowd of thousands in a remote place and hungry.  So Jesus feeds them with a little boy’s packed lunch.  Jesus isn’t just generous and offers to buy everyone dinner, he does something totally beyond, something utterly unexpected.  Jesus doesn’t play by the rules we play by, he doesn’t even bend them slightly, rather it’s like he’s playing a totally different game.

Yet the crowd miss the point.  Confronted with a miracle that’s meant to be a sign, to be evidence of who Jesus is, they miss the invitation to receive Jesus and they simply see the free lunch.  They search around for some concept within their understanding of life with which to label Jesus.  They call him the ‘Prophet’ they’re expecting – not God himself come in human form – and then they try to control.  We read that they wanted to sieze Jesus and make him King.  So Jesus withdrew.

You see Jesus didn’t come to help us play the game of life better, to live a better life.  He came to give us a new life, to bring us into a new game, to enable us to live by different rules – where God himself is with us, our Father, our faithful provider.  Yet so often when we experience something of God’s power or an answer to prayer, we focus on the gift not the Giver, we seek to maintain life as we know it and simply add God on top.  We tame God with a label we understand and seek to control.  Jesus withdraws.

http://revbickers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/e100-bible-reading-challenge-miracles_3.htmlThe very next event is another miracle.  The disciples are in a boat in the middle of the lake and a storm has arisen.  Jesus doesn’t just swim out like a hero to help them, he walks on the water towards them.  He plays by different rules.  The disciples are terrified, but all they need is Jesus to say ‘It is I’ and they invite him into the boat.  They don’t wait for a deeper explanation, to understand fully, to know what to do.  All they need is to know it is Jesus and they invite him in.  We’re told that immediately they reached the other side.  By inviting Jesus in they find themselves playing the other game, His game, with different rules.

The conversation Jesus has is him giving the crowd another opportunity.  He challenges them to lift their eyes from ‘food that spoils’ and to see the ‘food that lasts to eternal life’ right in front of them.  He explains that the only work they do is to believe in and receive Jesus.  To let Jesus in.  When they ask for a sign his message is simple – you’ve seen enough already – I’m here.  God himself has come in human form and stands in front of you – you’ve seen enough to know I’m good – all that remains is to invite me in.

I’m challenged.  How many times have I seen God move, experienced incredible provision, seen physical healing, known emotional change in my own heart?  And yet I’ve quickly focused on that provision not the Provider.  I’ve wanted Jesus so long as he continues to do what he has always done.  I’ve gained some understanding of how God works and I’m happy for Him to do so within those boundaries…but I don’t want anything that disrupts my grasp on how life works, on how God works.

Sometimes when it seems that God has stopped doing what He once did the issue is that we’ve started to control, to focus on that particular provision, to limit what God is allowed to do in our lives.  We’ve focussed on gift not Giver and so the Giver withdraws.  The incredible news is that He’ll always give us another chance – but are we open to the conversation?  To the challenge of our understanding and priorities that centers on the one simple question: is Jesus enough?  If we had nothing else, if He ceased to do all that we’ve known Him do before, if He gave us only himself – is Jesus enough?

The disciples amaze me.  After many have left because the conversation was so offensive, Jesus asks if they are leaving too.  They reply: ‘To whom would we go?”  These men left everything before they saw a single miracle, simply at the invitation to ‘come follow me’.  They’ve gone so far that it doesn’t matter if they understand or not, if they like it or not, they have nowhere else to go but where Jesus is.  I want to be in that place, to say ‘Jesus, you are enough, more than enough, no matter what – all I want is you.’

How about you?

Colours on the Horizon – viewing the future from the Father’s table

There is a new season coming for the church.  A season characterised by creativity and community.  As a friend and I were praying and talking yesterday we were struck afresh by how true this is, how we can see signs of it already bubbling up, but how we have no idea what it will look like.  Like colours on the horizon we can see signs of it, but can only walk to it step by step, doing what God says each moment.  This isn’t a set model that we can develop a tried and tested strategy to reach. We feel like we have been given an opportunity to explore what it might look like in one particular church gathering that we’re part of.  Exploring by simply doing what God says to do each step.  First we began eating together, now we want to encourage, demonstrate and release creativity and expression towards God.  That is what has inspired this poem.  It’s not meant to be polished or amazing, it is the beginning of an expression of praise through creativity, of me finding a voice I didn’t think I had, in the hope that others might find theirs.  (Click on the image below to read the poem.)

Background Image from http://lloydbleekcollection.cs.uct.ac.za/images/bleek_nb_lowres/BC_151_A1_4_015/A1_4_15_01494.JPG

Dwelling: The Christian Life Part 3

From: http://dailyjesusnow.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/dwelling-in-gods-secret-place.htmlFaithfulness is the center of the Christian life, perseverance is how we respond to opposition, dwelling in God is where the two come together.

Psalm 91 is considered by a number of scholars to be a psalm describing spiritual warfare.  (Why not read it now?)  The references to ‘the fowler’s snare’, ‘deadly pestilence’ and ‘the terror of night’ for instance, are probably references to demons and gods of the nations at the time.  In other words, this psalm is talking about how we find safety in the battle that we enter as Christians.

So how do we find safety?  The answer in this psalm comes in the very first verse:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)

When it comes to opposition and spiritual warfare we are called to dwell in God.  There is huge similarity to the call to perseverance we find in Nehemiah.  Again it is John Wimber who helped me see this incredible truth that, no matter what the enemy may throw at us, nothing can harm us when we dwell in God.

Wimber describes how, during the second world war, numerous bomb shelters were being built near his home in America.  One day there was an accident by one of these shelters and a house was blown up.  Wimber remembers hearing a man say, “What a shame the house wasn’t in the shelter rather than near it!”From: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/homefront/shel/shel2.html

God is our shelter, the one in whom we are safe.  It is not enough to live near God – to have right doctrine or remember a particular experience from time ago – we need to live in Him today and every day.

Dwelling in God is a journey.  It is a journey of intimacy.  And it is this intimacy that links perseverance and faithfulness together.

Jesus said “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.  The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21).

Dwelling in God is to remain in love with Him.  As we love Jesus we are loved by the Father – this is the place of safety – the place where no opposition can harm us.

Yet this love and dwelling comes from obeying God’s commands.  Does this mean that God does want us to achieve for him, to fulfill his tasks before he will love us?  Only if we misunderstand the commands of Jesus.  The greatest command is to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbour.  The command Jesus wants us to obey is the command to love Him, to live with Him, to be His children – the command to be faithful.

Let me conclude like this: the three words of these three posts are different angles on the same theme.  Faithfulness. Perseverance. Dwelling.  There is a mission for the church, callings for every Christian, a purpose for which we are made.  These are important and worthy of all that we have.  But these are not the essence of the Christian life, they are not tasks God expects us to fulfill or goals we are meant to achieve.  We could do nothing to save ourselves before Jesus saved us and we can do nothing by ourselves to achieve the purpose Jesus saved us for.  We were saved when God brought us into relationship with Him and now the focus of our lives is to keep in that relationship.

Faithfulness means walking with God; perseverance means not getting distracted; dwelling in God means trusting we are safe when we simply stay with Him.  The Christian life is about faithfully persevering in dwelling with God.

Perseverance: The Christian Life Part 2

From: http://www.gembapantarei.com/2008/11/7_leadership_lessons_from_a_mountain_goat.htmlThe purpose of the Christian life is to be faithful – to live with God as the kind of person He has made us to be.  This is what we are called to focus on and put our effort into.  This is the essence of the last post.  But there is more.

There are callings that God places on our lives, things that He is wanting to do through us.  Ephesians 2:10 describes the Christian as God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works prepared in advance for us to do.  We are called to put our effort into being the person God has made us to be, but there is also a purpose he has made us for.  This purpose is something that God will work through us as we focus on living faithful to Him.

Yet I wonder how many of you have, like me, experienced the reality that when we put our face to the work God has given we begin to face opposition?  When we hear the call of God and decide to walk with Him, things often get difficult.  The fact remains that we are in a battle and this battle is real.  But how do we fight it?

Here the book of Nehemiah reveals a simple yet profound truth.  Our secret weapon in spiritual warfare is Perseverance.

Nehemiah is a book in the Old Testament that described the work of Nehemiah in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  A number of years after God’s people had been exiled and Jerusalem destroyed, the Persian King gave Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.  What we read both describes the historical situation and offers an example of how the Enemy brings opposition to God’s work and how we respond.

Opposition to the work comes mainly from Sanballat, the leader of the neighbouring people who did not want Jerusalem rebuilt.  Throughout the book we see numerous attempts from him to obstruct Nehemiah.  First he mocks and ridicules the very idea of rebuilding the wall.  Next he begins to threaten.  Later he calls Nehemiah to have a conversation giving a false sense of security, but then begins to spread lies that Nehemiah is seeking to revolt.

Mockery, accusation, distraction, and lies.  Ring any bells?  Anyone who begins to follow a clear call of God, no matter how great the experience that led to that call, will experience some or all of this issues.  Having moved cities or started a new role or stepped out in a particular way we’ll face ridicule that we’re being stupid, accusation that we’re doing the wrong thing, distraction that we should be busy with something else, and potentially even lies accusing us of things that have no basis in truth.  We may even find, like Nehemiah, that close friends of ours begin to speak the same things to us – even when well meaning.  It was one of Nehemiah’s friends who tried to convince him to hide in the temple due to fear that Sanballat was sending people to kill him.

What was Nehemiah’s response?

From: http://dwellingintheword.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/654-nehemiah-4/

This is what I find particularly interesting.  Nehemiah fought this opposition by simply keeping on keeping on.  He persevered with what God had said.

Too often we can slip into thinking, as soon as opposition raises it’s head, that we need to stop, turn aside and ‘deal with the opposition’ before we carry on with the work.  The assumption is that we must first make this opposition stop before we can continue with what God has called us to

John Wimber, whose teaching brought this to my attention, puts this wonderfully: ‘Nehemiah didn’t stop building the wall in order to fight the opposition. Rather, he fought the opposition by building the wall.’

Now, Nehemiah didn’t simply ignore opposition.  He took some precautions by arming some of the workers and setting people as watchmen.  He also brought every issue to God and we repeatedly read that, when accusation or threat came, he went straight to God in prayer and asked for help.  But he kept on building.

The Christian life is a call to faithfulness and the response to opposition is perseverance.  Why?  Because ultimately it is God who works through us to do what He has planned to do.  Our job is to keep in step with Him – to be the people He has called us to be in order that He can do through us what He has purposed to do.  There is no opposition that can stand in the way of that and there is nothing that can harm us when we dwell in Him.  And that is the topic of the next post.