Thursday, 29 July 2010

Bring in the new, throw out the old

I am re-reading the account in 2 Kings 22-23 when, after years of wandering around in some 'spiritual netherland', King Josiah ordered some restoration work to be done in the temple. In the course of doing this work the Book of the Law was found and the impact of this was astounding. Josiah was cut to the heart as he read and realised the extent to which they had strayed from God and had disobeyed him in their lives and as a nation. In the account that follows we see a powerful example of the real life impact the living word can have when let loose in the lives of men and women.
I readily admit that I don't relate easily to the tearing down of various physical altars and shrines and so on, BUT, when I ask what these things point to in my life now, it is a different story. The misguided, disobedient, wilful, selfish and ignorant forces and feelings that were so dominating that nation and its leadership are very real forces at work in my life - and they need to be torn down, removed and subdued if I am to rise with Jesus to the heights He has in mind for me. What I see here in this passage is a fading away of all that is not of God and a magnifying of Him and His work. This is what I pray for my life - that the living word of God would have that continual renewing impact and that it would wage war against the false altars and shrines that I so easily clutter my life with and which so quickly block the truth and light of His presence to me and those around me.

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Thursday, 22 July 2010

An honest, desperate and faithful cry

I often wonder what the original author of a written piece intended to convey and how necessary it is for the intended meaning to be the one that remains 'meaningful' as successive generations read the words. In many ways this can take us onto thin ice in terms of interpretation, but sometimes thin ice may be the only thing we have to walk on as we continue an exploration into new areas. I don't go for the whole postmodern thing which can so easily disassociate words and context from an attachment to reality but nor am I big on the 'thin end of the wedge' arguments often put forward by insecure people intent on preventing any exploration at all.

I often struggle to find a way to relate to certain Psalms where, usually David, is bemoaning his 'enemies' and which usually ends up with him asking God to do something fairly fatal to them. I have no doubt that David had in mind real people who were real enemies - presumably the same 'enemies' that Jesus commands us to love and bless rather than hate and curse?
I simply cannot relate to many of David's words if I have a 'real' person in mind whenever I read 'enemies' However, as I read the psalm this morning it struck me that I have 'real' enemies - and they all reside within me. As I re- read the psalm, thinking of all those enemies within (the worst type of enemy), it struck home with a new power and uncomfortable relevance. Verses 3 & 4 in particular have a resonance that stops me in my tracks - and verse 8 is a lifeline of grace. There is many a morning when I seek that 'word of unfailing love' The word that is alive and lifts me from guilt and despair to freedom and hope. The word that recognises and defeats the enemy within.

Psalm 143:1-12
O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. [2] Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. [3] The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. [4] So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. [5] I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. [6] I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah [7] Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. [8] Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. [9] Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in you. [10] Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. [11] For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. [12] In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.

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Saturday, 17 July 2010

Snakes and poles!

Reading Numbers 21 again I was struck (again) by just how strange the story is - mind you that is in keeping with much of Numbers! In case you're not familiar with it, the people had sinned (again), they continued with their perpetual moaning and complaining so God sent poisonous snakes to bite them - an odd sort of punishment when you think about it. However, when viewed in a salvation context ( metaphorically) the story is clothed with new layers of meaning and depth - or so it seems to me. Leaving aside the New Testament analogy between snakes on poles and Jesus on a cross there are subtleties that go deep.

For me the most obvious question is, why, after the people repented, did God not just remove the snakes? Job done you would have thought. However, there seems to be something important about the fact that after repentance God always provides a way to ensure sin does not and need not follow it's natural course and lead to death. A number of truths flow from this , firstly it is God who has to provide the way, people cannot achieve it on their own, secondly that way is only explicable by God as it defies rationale and logic and thirdly the people were not guaranteed any immunity from the initial consequences of their sin - they could still get bitten! This, for me at least, contains some phenomenal and powerful truths which not only foreshadow and prefigure Jesus, they also make sense of my experience.
There is one other thing (at least on this occasion) and that is the poisonous and insidious nature of sin that gets deep into our system affecting every aspect of our lives - you don't get bitten by a deadly viper and just continue as though nothing has happened. It very soon becomes obvious to everyone and the wise person looks quickly for a permanent cure.
Well, that's how it spoke to me - this living and active Word.

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Friday, 9 July 2010

Receiving grace

'As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain' 2 Cor 6:1

As I read this today it got me thinking about 'receiving God's grace' and all the joy and privilege ..... and responsibility this brings. Everything we receive from God is utterly undeserved and totally for our benefit, so what should we do?
The options seem to include keeping it secret or unashamedly flaunting it!
Telling, showing, demonstrating and living the reality of His grace at every opportunity. Making totally certain that people around us are struck by a driving force to our lives that is so clearly 'not of ourselves' and, what's more, has a subtle but almost irresistible appeal, that generates curiosity and questions, that points to the kindness of God from where derives our ability to repent and repentance is the place where the gates of grace are fully open.

Here is the testimony of a new Christian from our church ( ) who is receiving grace - and not in vain:

Clearing the road
This is my story, experience and thoughts on how I became a Christian...

Can't say I have had a terrible life, it's just that I've never treated myself with too much respect. Always making the wrong choices sometimes because it was easy and other times because I didn't really know. Carried lots of guilt for the way I behaved and some pretty horrible feelings. Generally, wandering aimlessly through life without any direction. I was going downhill pretty fast.

Then things started to change. In January I received a phone call inviting me to attend an ALPHA course. Actually it was refreshing to speak to someone who spoke their mind and without the usual 'heirs and graces'. This started me thinking, "Christians are not as fluffy as I thought".

During the course, I met some great people and lets just say I experienced what it was like to change from the inside and the amazing realisation that Jesus really did die for us all and he really died to take away our sins. For me that meant so much. A man, a pretty special man without sin, carried on his shoulders all of our sins. He died on the cross to take away all those feelings that we carry around with us on our shoulders everyday. I even started going to church!

On one particular Sunday I experienced what it would be like to ride the emotional roller coaster, quite literally. I wept for no apparent reason, and even in front of my Dad! I have never really experienced feeling vulnerable, but I did then. That day I experienced every possible emotion. I remember being sat in my living room asking God for forgiveness, asking for His help and literally handing my life over to Him.

Surprisingly things just became worse, more tears and more emotions. I received a phone call from a Christian friend to see if I was OK, because I hadn't been to church that day. You got it, I burst into tears again. I was instantly invited to join them in Christian Fellowship. Plenty more tears followed and then I knew what to do. I asked my Christian brothers to pray for me.

At that point, I genuinely felt a force pushing me to the ground. I couldn't stop laughing and felt this great sense of inner peace and comfort, I was filled by The Holy Spirit. The Lord certainly did not want me to get up. I think he wanted me to rest. You see I asked for my sins to be forgiven and they have been, and The Lord through The Holy Spirit is guiding my life. Through Jesus Christ a huge weight has been lifted. You see I am now free and I am without a chain. I was Baptised on Pentecost and now there is "no looking back".

...and with God's Grace I pray you find your path.

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Act 2:38 (NIV)

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

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Monday, 5 July 2010

Which type of sorrow?

I was struck, yet again, as I was reading some familiar words and God stopped me in my tracks in order to consider what I had read.
Have you ever noticed how you can sometimes look at your watch but if someone asks you the time just afterwards you cannot tell them? You've looked but haven't seen! If we are honest, how often is our reading of the bible a bit like that? It doesn't mean God can't use such 'shallow skin reading' but it is so much more valuable and edifying when we look AND see. We went to the church of a friend of mine last year for a leaders day, RCC in Blackpool, ( ) and one of the exercises we did was to all take a short and familiar passage of scripture and read, prayerfully, it for about 20 mins, which meant repeated reading. Following that we began to share what God had said during that time, and it was, quite literally, a revelation. We had looked and seen, listened and heard and God spoke! An exercise never forgotten although not repeated as often as it should be.
Anyway today I read 2 Corinthians 7:10 :
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Then I went back and read it a few more times and God clearly said 'now apply it to your life, is there anything you need to say to me?'
As I sensed His word I was cut to the heart with the realisation of which 'sorrow' I too easily became more comfortable with! All too easily 'sorry' is a tool used to get our own way or to get us out of trouble 'cheaply'. There too easily becomes a superficiality about the way we use it in daily life that all too soon characterises our approach to God. What should be heartfelt and deep can become shallow and meaningless, manipulative and deceitful and whereas we may get away with it for a while in the world, God will not be mocked (Gal 6:7 ). However the reason such a cavalier attitude to sorrow is taken seriously by God is nothing to do with Him being mocked or otherwise, it is because of the damage caused, the trust that is undermined and the fact that the person using 'sorry' in this way is missing out on the depth of repentance and subsequent richness of experience and relationship with both God and others. God always wants the best for us, which includes the deepest, closest and most authentic relationship with Him and others. The worldly sorrow, where so much of today's culture and media would, perhaps unknowingly, guide us will lead to a slow inner death in which we become overtaken by deceitfulness, content with superficiality, manipulative in relationships, distant from God and our spirits begin to 'wither on the vine'.
We are told in Romans that it is God's kindness that leads us to repentance, and it is that same kindness that stops us short when reading His word and gets us to examine our lives and have them realigned with His ways and kingdom values.

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