Thursday, 11 September 2014

Believe or live out?

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. (1 John 1:6 NIVUK)

This is a very short blog - but, in this case, the length is inversely proportional to its impact....

If we make claims to be a Christian and therefore to be 'in fellowship' with Jesus but find ourselves not walking in that way, John does contest our 'belief' in the truth, he simply asserts what he observes:
that 'we do not live out the truth' ......
and that for me is challenging, simple and powerful. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

You can go your own way......!

Reading Psalms today I got to Ps 81 vs 11-12

‘But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. (Psalm 81:11-12 NIV)

It's one if those sections that suddenly makes certain things so clear and simple. 

There are things in our lives, relating to our relationship with Jesus, that we make far too complicated. We often do this on purpose, knowingly or not, in order to diver our attention from simple truth. The fact is that we make choices, or we choose not to make certain choices, in order to stick with our own agenda whilst wanting to appear to be trying to get with God's agenda. So we complicate the issue, we muddy the waters in order to live how we want while appearing to be trying to live how God wants.

"The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? 
Jer 17:9

There is the story in the Old Testament of King Naaman (2 Kings 5) who was leprous and who heard that 'the God of the Jews' could heal. So off he went full of his own agenda only to be told ...yeah, no probs, just go and dip yourself in the River Jordan.... What, said Naaman....that's far too simple, he expected more, given his position, at least one if the rivers in his own country. He wanted something far more complicated, far more befitting of his own agenda, far more in line with his own prior choices, than the simple instruction to jump in the Jordan. The prophet of a god didn't even have the good manners to put in a personal appearance... He just sent an acolyte with the instruction to 'take a dip'.
Trying to hide from simple truth to meet our own choices, needs or expectations.

A friend of mine, a Pastor, was approached by a member of his church who never managed to make it to a single early morning prayer meeting.... But oh how we desperately wanted to be there, he said. Would the pastor please pray for him? Absolutely not replied my friend...... But I will buy you an alarm clock. A simple truth, a simple solution that would test the mans real agenda....his real desire to be at those meetings. 

In Ps 81, although we may not have asked the question, we nonetheless get the answer. Had we asked, the question would have been:

'why do I seem unable to submit to a Gods ways in so many areas of my life, words and actions whilst saying that I really want to, and why, despite my wishes to the contrary, do I seem always to default back to my own wants, desires and ways?'

There could be so many complicated answers given th that question, so many long and drawn out prayer ministry or counselling sessions, so many reasons to do with busyness, our work, and so on. We could hide behind a programme of activities designed to get to the bottom of this and all the while we use them as a cover to continue in our own ways, on and on we go, allegedly searching for answers, supposedly looking for the right solution, all the while making all the right noises!

But what does the Word of a God say the reason is, and by implication the solution?

It could not be more simple, 'you have chosen not to listen to me' says The Lord.

Yep, that's it, we have made choices NOT to read a His Word, NOT to set aside regular 'listening time' NOT to really hear what we don't to hear. It's that simple.

What choices have we made and are we making that give the appearance of trying to be or do one thing whilst those very choices are what prevent us actually being or doing the right thing?

Friday, 8 August 2014

Ending in futility?

I often wonder about the nature of 'punishment' in the bible and of the extent to which God actively wills and directly inflicts 'punishment' on people and groups & the extent to which he has built consequences into the fabric of our existence....

If you tell a child not to put its hand in the fire because to do so is dangerous & painful - but the child foes it anyway - is the 'getting burnt' (which is an inevitable consequence) also 'punishment enough'?

We can try and answer that question on a number of levels, but, for me the most important level is ' what would a good parent do?'  I am fairly certain that, having seen the child clearly disobey , to their own detriment, and in pain you would gather them to yourself, probably indicate that you warned them this would happen but primarily you would comfort them in their pain..... And probably use this as a very practical example of why not to 'play with fire' 

A built in consequence is also a warning and a painful reminder of a truth ignored.

In Psalm 78 we read:

So he ended their days in futility and their years in terror. (Psalm 78:33 NIVUK)

Is there a consequence built into the fabric of existence that those who repeatedly ignore God, who repeatedly ignore the 'love motivated' pleas of a good Father, will ultimately lose any sense of a His presence, lose a sense of their own purpose, lose the security of knowing Him - and tend towards feelings of futility and fear?

Is this inevitable consequence both the warning and the 'punishment' ? If so, know this, it need not ever be the punchline to anyone's life - there is always a living Father ready to wrap you in His arms and take you back to Himself.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The final cry of the prodigal

Darkness trails after me
Like a shadow
stalking my every turn
Inwardly, trudging through life
Though to all the world I dance

Soul weighed down 
by selfish obsession
that too easily masqueraded
as obedient devotion

A man, less purpose
With a heart, less love
A soul, less substance
And a life, less God

The prodigal ....
that just kept on walking
Away from the Father,
Farther and farther
Into the depths of despair

And now,
It's not hard 
to understand
How someone so shallow
Can just drift deeper
into a distant land

With only one 

Father, are you there?

And quiet as a gentle breeze 
came His reply

Yes, take my hand
Let's walk together
My long found friend

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Vested interests and evidence

‘What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. ‘Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.’ (Acts 4:16, 17 NIV)

How easily they slipped into contradiction and defensiveness in order to protect the status quo.....
How easily they were prepared to admit they couldn't deny what had happened but still stop it's effect from spreading.....
How easily they were prepared to look at a man whose life had just changed beyond belief, for the better, but then take actions to ensure no other lives would be similarly changed....,
How easily they admitted that what had happened was not just a miracle but a notable one at that, but still wanted to put a stop to what represented a threat to them... 

How easily they were prepared to take action to protect the system they were part of, to protect their part in that system, in short, their own interest and tradition far outweighed the life changing impact of people meeting with Jesus.

How easily it is to persuade ourselves that what we do and the way we do it is by far the most important issue. How easily we persuade ourselves that this is about some high and noble principle when really it is all about us, what we want and how we want it.

There are some things about human nature that never change despite 2000 years of history and huge cultural differences. We can always persuade ourselves that we are representing God, doing what He wants us to, occupying the high ground, when all the time we have simply wrapped a thin veneer of 'God culture' around the real centre of our universe - us! 

Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear.... and a passion to be changed.

Friday, 6 June 2014

News that's too good to be true......?

In v9 there was genuine, life saving good news...... But when the king heard it in v10' and it sounded too good to be true, he was sceptical .... And who can blame him? But news from God.... Mercy, grace, salvation, freedom always sound too good to be true...

We need the discernment of the Spirit to walk through scepticism, in faith, but also with wisdom & knowledge. 
Zeal alone would never be enough..... It generates momentum and heat, but often not focused direction or light.

This strange and unlikely turn of events, this news that was too good to be true, was also the way God fulfilled a very unlikely prophecy - see v1 & v19.....

Scepticism can blind us to prophetic activity and truth.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

You can't second guess a singularity....

When we can't get what we want or need in a particular place or from a particular person, or it doesn't seem humanly possible that what we need can be provided, how tempting and perhaps even natural it is to just move on elsewhere and keep looking. We move onto the next place or person where there is a glimmer of hope, or who offers the merest possibility of meeting or need. 

If you were suffering from a rare disease and your doctor, though trying his best, simply didn't have the skill or experience to deal with it and you hear from a friend that her doctor successfully dealt with this condition you would be unwise not to move on. 

This is entirely natural and not wrong, it may often be the best thing to do - but not always. What is 'often right' in many circumstances is not always right in others.

In astrophysics the centre of a black hole is a place where all known laws and all those things that may be surmised by common sense break down - they don't necessarily hold true, anything could happen! They call this a 'singularity'. (It's not the point of this blog to push this analogy too far nor is it a physics test :-D )

In spiritual terms Jesus is undoubtedly a 'singularity' in every sense. He is certainly unique and there is no way we can approach Him and assume that 'the normal rules apply' or that or 'common sense' will be an adequate guide. With Jesus we are in a place where the 'natural' does not hold sway but where anything could happen. Does that fill you with trepidation or excitement? Horror or hope? Fear or faith?

In Matthew 14 we read a story of an awful lot of people who, having heard Jesus speak and been fed spiritually, then needed to be fed physically.... They needed food.

The natural, common sense course of action was to do exactly what the disciples suggested, 'send the people away so they can go buy themselves food'. You can hardly criticise then for that perfectly sensible suggestion, and Jesus didn't criticise them ....but He did give them an option that flew in the face of the natural way of things, of common sense and good suggestions!

You can't second guess a singularity........ 

Jesus said, ‘They do not need to go away. .... 

OK, if they don't need to go away what should they do? (Thought the disciples)

Not them - you!.........You give them something to eat.’ (Matthew 14:16)

And He taught them a lesson about the possibilities that exist when you are close to a singularity.... All the known laws fell apart, common sense was left in the cold and 4000 people saved their money on supper!

They didn't need to go away!

What about us? There are two challenges (at least ) here. 

When we have needs that appear not to be being met when or as we want them to be, do we too easily turn elsewhere to seek what we need? This 'elsewhere' may be another person, a habit, a substance, a superstition.......

When we are faced with others who are in a situation where the 'known order', or common sense, just doesn't cut it, do we advise them to 'go look in the village' effectively 'to sort themselves out' or do we move closer into the orbit of THE singularity where anything can happen?

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Never lose the wonder

The Psalmist wrote down what his heart was inspired to write...although it's doubtful he could possibly have known the full implications of the words. 

It is easy for us to assume that just because we grasp the truth of what a God has said in our immediate context or circumstance that we have somehow apprehended the fullness of that truth, the bigger picture flowing from the purposes of God's heart - but we rarely do, that is the domain of prophetic gifting. 

As an aside, this is why three things are crucial in the church in this respect:

   >   Seek prophetic gifting and ministry within and among Gods people

   >   Learn to test the spirits

   >   Learn to recognise / perceive prophetic gifting in others

   >   Do not despise prophecy

Anyway, back to the Psalmist.... 

                  'Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.' (Psalm 33:12 )

How could he have grasped that there would be such a head spinning radical 'new covenant' relationship down the line? 

That this relationship,based on the sacrifice of God Himself, would redefine what it is to be a 'nation under God'? 

That the whole concept of the 'holy nation' that God has chosen - and the qualification for entry and residence would be so dramatically changed? 

How could he grasp what it would mean to be part of His inheritance?

But to us, the church, the fullness of these truths have been revealed by His Spirit. 

How tragic then, that those of us who live in the fullness of a truth that the original writer could not in his wildest dreams have imagined, can often take it so much for granted, can be so blasé about such game changing, eternity altering, life affirming, mind renewing, Spirit empowered truth.

In the words of the Matt Redman song 'Mercy'  'may we never lose the wonder' but, Lord, if we do, or are in danger of doing so, please restore to us this wonder.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Loving the verbs.......

He makes us (when we don't know what's best for us.......)
He leads us 
He refreshes us
He guides us
He comforts us
He anoints us

(Psalm 23:1-6)

Sunday, 11 May 2014

How much of self?

Had the words of the this old Theodore Monod hymn quoted at WAVC today.
...........It needs no further comment:

O the bitter shame and sorrow 
that a time could ever be, 
when I let the Savior's pity 
plead in vain, and proudly answered: 
All of self, and none of thee! 

Yet he found me: I beheld him 
bleeding on the accursed tree, 
heard him pray: Forgive them, Father; 
and my wistful heart said faintly: 
Some of self and some of thee! 

Day by day his tender mercy, 
healing, helping, full and free: 
sweet and strong, and ah! so patient, 
brought me lower, while I whispered: 
Less of self and more of thee! 

Higher than the highest heaven, 
deeper than the deepest sea; 
Lord, thy love at last hath conquered; 
grant me now my supplication:
None of self and ALL of Thee

Friday, 2 May 2014

Leaders & Kings

They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval.  (Hosea 8:4 NIV)

Many commentators limit this rebuke to the murderous overthrow of one king after another in the closing year's of the northern Kingdom's (Israel) monarchy; but others believe it goes much deeper than that and that much more is included. 
The very conception of an earthly ruler over God's people was not God's ideal, not what He wanted 
(1 Sam. 8:7ff). There is evidence that the kings were never much other than a snare for people. 

I could go on, however, my question is about the scope of this prophetic word and, particularly, if there are any principles that can be carried forward and applied beyond the direct setting of the original context?

Is it valid to draw a conclusion about the distinction in God's economy between how a leader 'got their' rather than just 'who they are or what they do'? 

It is very easy, very tempting, and equally understandable to take a pragmatic utilitarian view on this and do a 'skills match' in order to get the right person for the role. It is probably even more common to act out of community or personal self interest ( as it appears Isreal did) and adopt an attitude that goes something like this:

'This leader is going to act in a way that is not as beneficial to us personally, whereas that one will compromise and meet our requirements'

 Hey presto, we've got ourselves a good leader in the latter category..... So we create our own leaders after our own image born out of our own self(ish) interests.

Is it saying that leaders must first be anointed before they can be appointed? 

It is saying that perhaps anointing is recognized in people and that becomes the primary criteria for being considered for leadership? 

Is it perhaps that those with the loudest voice and the largest and noisiest following are not necessarily God's first choice? 

Is it that spiritual gifting and a demonstrable sense of having received a calling allied to a humility & grace are the real issues irrespective of if we think this person may be the best one to pander to our particular preferences and requirements?

Are there principles outlined in this prophetic word that give insight into the crisis of  direction and decline that much of the church, particularly in the West, is suffering?  Have we been rather too eager to operate with 'man appointed, but non anointed' leaders who are in place without the consent of God?

Just a thought.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Kingdom work

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. (Psalm 146:7, 8 NIVUK)

As I read this Paslm this morning by spirit was touched with a knowledge that this is what we are co-workers with Jesus.

This Psalm so articulates our calling as a church at West Auckland Vineyard.... It could be the model for our ministry through The Well ... 

It's exciting to know that The Lord is moving us into different premises not primarily to grow a bigger church ( although that will happen) but to extend the scope and effectiveness of kingdom work.

The heart of the church has grown and continues with a passion to see the hungry fed, the oppressed and the imprisoned freed, and those bowed under many weights and pressures lifted up...

It is so good to be engaged in real Kingdom ministry rather than the religious busy-ness that a number of us have move from, (have been set free from)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Signposts and boundary stones

Listening to a message at Spring Harvest 2014 (Skegness) by Peter Wilson (Hillsong) @pwilsong brought to mind a saying I remember from when I studied for my MTh :

'We preach (or communicate) not simply to be understood but also, so as not to be misunderstood.'

Perhaps, when the communication in question is preaching or teaching the Christian message we may express this as:

There must be sufficient accessible theology to clearly signpost the truth AND to point out the boundaries beyond which the truth is in jeopardy. 

There are borders or crossing points that signal us having left the signposted path and moved, or about to move, into a space where the implications and potential application of the communication can take us into areas of half truth and falsehood. 

1.'God desires all people to come to a knowledge of the truth' 

2.'If you have a drug / alcohol addiction God desires that you should be freed from this' 

3.'If you are in abject poverty God desires that you should be freed from that tyranny' 

4.'If you are having financial difficulties in your particular circumstances, God desires you to have more financial resource to meet those needs' 

In 4, if the reason for the difficulty was blatant and sustained 'living beyond our means' (spending what we have not got) He is surely more likely to ask us to radically change our attitude and lifestyle.....the results of which may not seem 'good' or 'blessed' to the world (downsizing, sell a car, less holidays, state schools, non branded clothes -  no Super Dry for some worship leaders)

I do not at all intended to prevent exploration nor to stifle questions or testing of previously held understandings of the truth but simply to alert us to the fact that there are boundaries, and that sometimes they are not entirely obvious especially when something  begins on the signposted pathway.

So what gave rise to these thoughts?

The scripture upon which the message was based was Psalm 84:5-7 and it was one of those messages in which little if anything was said that could be labelled as absolutely wrong but there was enough unsaid to actually make it quite easy for new or not yet mature believers to add 2 and 2, come up with 5 and head off across a boundary that jeopardised the truth.

Psalm 84:5-7 NIV
[5] Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 
[6] As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. 
[7] They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

The aim of the message ( which was both inspirational & motivational) seemed to derive primarily from v7 'they go from strength to strength'. 
In Christian preaching and teaching inspirational and motivational are good - would that more of it was. However the communicator must take account of the fact that these two characteristics, especially when combined with pretty high octane, culturally relevant, sung expressions of praise can easily cause people to drop their guard and allow pure emotion to become the sole faculty for discerning the truth, or lack of, in what is being heard. 

The message dotted about in the passage ( not in a bad or unhelpful way) and began to deal with the topic of from where, or whom, does our strength proceed. A clear answer was given - Jesus.
I think insufficient consideration and explanation was given to what it means to have a 'heart set on pilgrimage' and the relationship to our 'strength in Him' but this was certainly not 'error' so much as it was an unhelpful omission. 

Comment was made about passing through the dry places (v6) in which it was noted that they only passed through rather than resided there permanently. This seems to me to be a very important observation but requires sufficent attention to what it might or might not mean ( which it was not given) As a result it became an area where an important signpost almost becomes an invitation to cross a boundary. The place to which this boundary crossing may lead is that we not only always pass through the dry or difficult places - but that do so pretty quickly and always victoriously. 
I must emphasize that this was not specifically stated, but neither was anything said to question it as a legitimate, or in the context of the message, perhaps the obvious, implication.

More serious alarm bells began to sound with attempts to explain the meaning of 'blessed' in v5. During the explanation the 'amplified translation' of the bible was frequently referenced ( I am aware of the Amplified Bible and suspect it is often used when other translations don't say what we would prefer them to say) One of the words used to convey the meaning of blessed was 'lucky'! 
I believe, in the context of the message, what was meant was that from the perspective of the world, Christians who were being blessed in certain ways would appear to be 'lucky', This is probably true, but to leave the word hanging without some clarity is, in my opinion, poor communication given the opportunity for boundary crossing that it represents. 

Bearing in mind I am operating from memory and from hastily taken notes the subsequent comments about blessing were the areas that perhaps pointed to far less helpful theological implications.

He talked about the fact that ' blessed' Christians would (or should?) be the envy of the world who would see these Christians as (quote) 'always landing on their feet'. He then proceeded to 'sort of illustrate this' with reference to a number of life situations which included our finances. Links were then made between 'going from strength to strength' and being victorious in these life situations, whilst 'being the envy of the world' was still ringing in our ears.  There were also phrases such as 'God is good so He would not bring bad things to us in order to test us' This would seem to be a fair statement ( if we leave the difficult themes of Job aside) but with no definition of good or attempt to differentiate it from a worldy perspective on 'good'. 

It's always good to win the lottery 
(The World) , 
I have learned to be content in all circumstances 
(which by clear implication from the context, is a good place to be - Paul , Phil 4)

It was at this point in the message where, for me, the signposts from the pathway were turned if not directly over the borderline then most certainly in its general direction. It was the point at which, without expressing or directly teaching it, the old 'word of faith prosperity teaching' seemed to be an influence or significant element of the message and the direction of travel.

Was anything said that was absolutely wrong? Probably not ( need to listen to the recording when available)
Was anything said that was more, rather than less, likely to jeopardise the truth? 
In my opinion Yes.

I am not at all anti Hillsong, far from it. I am certainly not anti blessing nor am I anti good things happening to Christians. I am simply trying to be pro truth and pro preachers who clearly signpost the pathway and equally clearly alert us to the boundaries.

During this particular message, because of what was not said rather than what was actually said, people were not so much given permission to cross boundaries as they were simply not warned about boundaries at all.

Saying that:
'in all things God works for the good of those who love Him 
and are called according to His purpose' 
is so very different from saying that:

'God works to bring about what the world recognizes as good 
in the lives and circumstances of Christians' 

It is very difficult to sustain any argument for the second if we see the lives of Jesus or even Paul as examples. 

The first is very definitely truth whereas the second is equally definitely inviting a boundary crossing expedition.

Did the message I heard last night give people permission to cross boundaries and jeopardise aspects of the truth? It certainly appeared to come very close and didn't seem to pay sufficient attention to the dangers of being easily misunderstood.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

How strong is your heart?

We seem to hear of more and more of people who suffer heart attacks at quite a young age. At 54 I'm sure that I am not alone in having contemporaries who had endured heart problems. It is never nice to see people of any age suffer in this way, but it is 'heartbreaking' to see children and young people suffer from the effects of having a weakness in their heart. It can affect the whole course of their lives, their opportunities and their potential if not treated effectively.

A strong heart is essential for a fully active life and whilst you can work around heart problems and 'limp on through' it would certainly not be anyone's first choice of lifestyle.

When Paul writes to the Thessalonian Christians he prays that they would experience (and by implication seek) God strengthening their hearts the spiritual equivalents of having a strong physical heart. When our heart is weak in the spiritual realm then our life in that realm is similarly weakened and poverty stricken. 

As in the physical, the spiritual impact of an untreated heart condition can be devastating, reducing the vitality of our walk with God, reducing of active participation with Him, causing us to 'disengage' at critical points in our journey because we simply have not got the heart for it!

Paul outlines a crucial area that is the first to weaken when the heart is not strong:

Yes, we are made holy by Jesus death for us, but the out working of this, the practical holiness, without which we will struggle to even see God, let alone follow Him and be co-workers with Him will be a very poor reflection of what Jesus has won for us. The quality of our lives will suffer, the vitality of our walk will suffer, the brightness of our witness will dim, our feelings of distance from God will deepen.... We will become a weak hearted follower, which will leave us with a broken hearted Father.

But, this need not be any cause for despair provided we realise that Paul isn't saying that we have to fix this, or perform some kind of spiritual open heart surgery, he is simply saying that we. We'd to seek God work on and in our weak heart. 

Approach Him with an admission of our need, identify that need - Lord , I need You to strengthen my heart, then step out in faith and live in the reality of God having done what you asked. In these kinds of areas that's how our faith and His faithfulness work together to a His glory and our benefit.

'May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.' (1 Thessalonians 3:13 NIV)

Friday, 7 March 2014

Are you part of it?

Being 'part of something' and feeling part of something can be very different......
You can play for a football team and you are part of it. You can be part of the larger squad or the huge back office support team, staff, actively involved, and you are part of it. You may be one of the faithful volunteers who turns up rain or shine to sell programmes and you are part of it. You may be a fan who pays out £600 for a season ticket - you're part of it, but not quite in the same way. You may make the effort to watch every match on TV or invested in a satellite subscription, you are part of it. 

It may be that the extent of your involvement is in naming a particular team when someone asks who you support.... Are you still part of it, or is that answer just a way of 'feeling part of it' rather than actually getting involved?

There are different levels of being 'part of something' and any may lead you deeper so are not to be discouraged however there is a very significant difference between being on the team, or the staff, and being a season ticket holder and even greater difference between these and sitting on the couch with a beer watching the match on Sky!

So, being part of it is great, but the reality is that there are only a limited number of people can be part of it in a fully engaged and participative way. The problem is that we so often carry what is 'reality' or 'truth' in one area, into a different area where it is not the reality or the truth - but we still act as though it is! 

What do I mean? In God's Kingdom everyone not only can 'be on the team' and play a full and active part, It is a requirement...and a privelege. But, the recent history of the church in the west would seem to indicate that many have settled for merely 'feeling part of it' by being a season ticket holder who turns up and watches. Obviously when asked who they support they answer 'team Jesus' !

Are we a part of it or apart from it?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

When the procession comes into view

There is something about processions - whether it's a carnival procession, a Rememberence Day procession, the procession of runners at the Great North Run or London Marathon, the victory procession when England has won a world class sporting competition or the procession at an occasion of state. 

To watch them on TV, slightly 'arms length', is probably the best many of us can hope for, and while it can certainly be very good, it can never be the same as actually being there. There is an excitement, a frisson an expectation as people line the roadside awaiting the procession. The atmosphere, the buzz, the smells and noises, it all adds up to something special. 

I have been fortunate to have been present at most of the types of processions I have mentioned.  They have all been great but two stand out for very different  reasons. The first was the victory procession by the English rugby team when we won the World Cup - waiting in Trafalgar Square for the team bus was incredible, the atmosphere electric, the hours slid by like minutes, and the noise as even rumours of the impending appearance of the team open top bus - incredible. Needless to say, when it arrived there was total, utter, deafening and glorious commotion...

I was in London on July 7, 2005. 'The London bombings' I had friends on trains that were bombed, and it was a desperate and sad day.
One year later, July 7 2006' I was there for the remembrance procession of those same bombings. Standing near Euston Station awaiting the procession. The atmosphere, hard to describe, the buzz, very different,but certainly real, the noise - there wasn't any! 

Tens of thousands of people and you really could have heard a pin drop. There was expectancy as the procession appeared, but still no noise, other than the occasional sound of tears. There was a correct feeling of 'pride' from people who were part of a community that dealt with the atrocity with grace and courage. Two very different and very powerful processions.

There is another procession, a procession of eternal and ultimate importance that, depending upon our personal vantage point can be like either on of those I have described. My question is 'Have you seen this procession come into view'? If you have it will have changed your life, if you have not,yet, you are invited.

The Psalmist said: "Your procession, God, has come into view, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary." (Psalm 68:24)

God and His team have been and continue to process through history, grand and glorious, sombre and serious - have you seen, have you experienced this procession? 

Is this the procession you are actually waiting for as you realise that life has got to be about more than you are living at the moment?

God intends this procession to come to a halt as it reaches you and take the time to invite you aboard, to stop being 'just  an onlooker' and to become part of the life changing procession that will roll on through history and into eternity. Glorious, expectant, powerful , gracious and loving, poignant and heart healing. Is this the procession you have been waiting for? It is victorious, but not triumphalistic. It is celebratory but not frivolous. It is lasting not simply a 'moment in time' 
Have you heard, have you seen, have you joined in?

Friday, 28 February 2014

Power and love

I do not even come close to understanding many things about the faith I hold - and never will. 
There are parts of the bible that seem absurd, others that appear to be unjust or plain vindictive, there are sections that appear to be, or simply are, contradictory and I could go on. There is teaching that, on this journey of faith, has taken on new meaning, or lost some of its old meaning. 

There are teachings we seem to hold dear to and others we appear to be happy letting go of and then there is us, ourselves..... full of logic and irrationalism, living side by side. Undoubted passion and zeal for Jesus, alongside an apparent willingness to ignore Him and follow other 'passions' when it suits us.... This is our journey, this is our pilgrimage.

So what keeps me going? What helps me deal with the fact that I can't deal with the facts? What propels me to continue to seek, continue to limp along a path that contains so many  steeps hills and almost unbearable drops? What helps me deal with the fact of me, full of love but unreliable in relationship, wanting to fly on eagles wings but more often than not hobbling along at snails pace.....

What keeps me going is the sure and unshakeable knowledge that there is a God, THE God, the creator, my creator, in whom alone rests both total power and absolute love. 

I don't know how it is possible for those two things to sit side by side...but I thank Him that they do and that He is utterly trustworthy. There is a God who really does care for us as individuals, even when that seems not to be the case, a God who is able, in all circumstances to break through with love, because He possesses the power to do so....and He does it time & time again. 

What keeps me going is the experience that God has not remained an academic exercise, is not merely an item of interest or study, but has made himself known through relationship, as Jesus. 

Jesus only Jesus, the reason for the journey, the enabler along the way, life's destination, friend, saviour, healer, guide, light and life.

One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: 
‘Power belongs to you, God, 
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love’’ 

(Psalm 62:11, 12 NIV)

Thursday, 23 January 2014

A larger place

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. 
(Psalm 18:19 NIVUK)

This scripture has always found an easy place in my heart and imagination, ever since I heard Wiley Beveridge sing his song 'A Larger Place' based on Psalm 18.

For me it evokes a whole range of possibilities, opportunities and a great sense of belonging.

I suppose if your are agoraphobic the image may not be quite as helpful, although, even then, once we make the leap from the awful literal and 'fact' based view of a text that so often stifles to the richness of the imagery and the truth it contains we can perhaps see how it is particularly applicable.

I am sometimes dismayed at how often I find myself locked into a small, constraining and often dark place, a prison, usually of my own making. However, when by his grace I turn to His word I see His intent is to throw open the gates, to lead me to a place that is open and free, a place that fills me with hope and vision and beauty, then I hunger for the larger place.

Whenever I struggle to see beyond the immediate, struggle to think further than the short term challenges and simply cannot see beyond the limited horizons of my own shortcomings or my  inadequate ability and gifting, the larger place is where God allows and enables me to see a broad, deep and compelling vista. I see the view that becomes a destination,a vision that instills passion and a space that gives opportunities and options. 

God takes me by the hand and guides me around the next corner, or up the next incline or through the arid stretch of desert and presents me with a place of awesome beauty, where His presence is once again the very substance of everything I am aware of. There, in a larger place, I am once again renewed. A renewed commitment to faithfulness, a renewed direction of travel, a renewed and revitalised heart, mind and Spirit. I am refocused to move forward, towards and beyond the horizon, to step into His plan for me.

Rescued from the place of limited vision, of lacklustre expectation and from spiritual myopia. 

And why does God do all of this, so regularly, for one who so consistently let's Him down?

Because, the Psalmist says, "He delights in me". 

Now why on earth would He do that?

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

On postmodern architecture

Ravi Zacharias on Postmodern Architecture at Ohio State

wexnerFrom an address by Ravi Zacharias:

I remember lecturing at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in this country. I was minutes away from beginning my lecture, and my host was driving me past a new building called the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts.

He said, “This is America’s first postmodern building.”

I was startled for a moment and I said, “What is a postmodern building?”

He said, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.”

I said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?”

He said, “That is correct.”

I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?”

All of a sudden there was silence.

You see, you and I can fool with the infrastructure as much as we would like, but we dare not fool with the foundation because it will call our bluff in a hurry.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Truths to fuel change

Acts 10: 1-8
Pastor Brian Brookins

Conversion is the way that the church grows; but it is also a way that we continue to grow in our walk with Christ. 

Romans 9: 21-22

7 Truths that we see worked out in this scripture: 

1. Someone has to be first. Sometimes that will be me. I won't enter into heaven and say "well, everybody else was doing that, that way". 

2. Repentance is the LIFESTYLE of the Christian. There are aspects of my life that need to change. I just don't know what they are yet

3. The gospel plus the Holy Spirt brings change. 

4. You probably need to change your thinking about good works. God has called me to a life of good works. 

5. Good works are avenues to experience and know God. (Ephesians 2: 10)

6. Good works are fueled by prayer. 

7. Good works are a way that we let the light of God shine in our lives.