Sunday, 13 December 2015

His promises are always greater than our failures

I am going through readings based on Christmas carols ( YouVersion, Carols, a Christmas Devotional) in the run up to Christmas, our celebration of the incarnation. The reading is just one verse: Matt 1:23 and the carol is:O Come, O Come Emmanuel 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, 
Shall come to thee, O Israel. 

Time after time, the Israelites found themselves separated from God - always by their own doing. And God would eventually deliver them, only to be betrayed by His chosen people again. So we find two constant themes in the Old Testament: 

The Israelites, no matter how hard they tried, were unfaithful God. 
God remained faithful and fulfilled the promises He made to them. 

Through His prophets, God made many promises. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and you shall call his name Emmanuel.” The name Emmanuel translates as “God with us.” It’s a remarkable promise - the Ultimate Being and Creator of the Universe promising to make Himself physically present with the people who have proven themselves unworthy. 

In one of the most somber Christmas songs, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, there is an embraced tension within Israel. They are in exile, separated from God yet again. With a sober perspective, they choose to rejoice in the promise God has made to them. With nothing else to cling to, in the midst of desperation and loneliness, they recall and proclaim the promise that God would be with them - knowing that, in spite of their unfaithfulness, God is faithful to His promises. 

No one could have expected a baby in a manger to be the start of God’s perfect plan to be “with us.” And yet, that is exactly how God fulfilled His promise. 

Are you waiting for God to come through on a promise He has made? Do you feel a sense of loneliness or exile? Rejoice! Rejoice! Through Christ, God has made Himself present to us. His faithfulness is greater than our failure. And His presence is all the reason we need to, once more, rejoice! 


Since God is “Emmanuel,” how is God with you this holiday season?

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Playing hide and seek

Have you ever played 'hide and seek' with God, I have, and Jonah did, so that's two of us......

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”
Jonah 1:3 NIV

Jonah found what God was saying to him to be unpalatable... so he went his own way!
Jonah KNEW he was running from the Lord but when a situation occurred, as a direct result of him running, he became determined to do whatever was necessary so that those around him did not suffer as a result of his disobedience. 

Those around him were very reluctant to take the required action, but Jonah, despite his disobedience, was not so far from God that he did not recognize what was right.

Notice in v15 that when they reluctantly took the action:
a. there was calm AND 
b. it was the beginning of Jonah's journey back to where God wanted him all along.

And the point is?

For me it was the level of Jonah's awareness of what he had done, his acceptance of it and the knowledge that certain things had to happen for the sake of those suffering the consequences of his actions. 

Even in his disobedience he knew something of Gods heart..... but he still struggled to come to terms with Gods purpose for him. 

However, he did love God and eventually Jonah set in motion a sequence of events that:
1. turned his direction towards rather than away from God - and 
2. Moved himself into a place where God worked for the good in the situation. ( but it was full of risk)

Rom 8:28
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

The second part of this verse which is often NOT quoted when people refer to it is crucial to its understanding & application - so what does it mean?

It is not only to do with being called BUT specifically about knowing and responding to that call in line with His purposes and His heart for us.

It seems to me that this is the key to understanding the verse......

It helps us to clarify what constitutes the sort of love that creates the spiritual atmosphere or culture in which things begin to work together - because we are on Gods agenda..... and NOT simply 'being us' but becoming more as He wants us to be, or at least realising that this is necessary.

We cannot simply assume God will work for the good whatever we do and however we act - it is contingent on us being 'called according to His purposes', even if we are late in moving into his purpose as was Jonah.... 

Fortunately the grace of God even reaches into situations where we have distanced ourselves from Him which gives us the opportunity to move back into His purpose, His heart and to be where He wants us to be.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

And my aroma today is?

“They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.””
2 Kings 17:15 NIV

There is something is this passage with which your spiritual instinct witnesses, but which requires more reading to get to the bottom of.

The important word is the one rendered as 'worthless' in the NIV which is not wrong, but does not seem rich enough to go to the depths of this passage.

The Hebrew word in question is 'hebel' (transliteration) and is one of the key words used in, and required to understand, Ecclesiastes.

The KJV translates it vanity, whilst the commentators and various Hebrew word books add to vanity with the following group of words:
transitory, vapour, breath, fleeting, without value or substance. One commentator in trying to discover an image that lay behind the word believes that it was used of the smoke from the rubbish that was burned outside of Jesrusalem some of which then drifted back over  the city.

The word 'idols' Heb: 'gilluwl' does not actually appear in the text at this point but has been added based on the context.

This word is derived from a root word meaning 'dung pellets' and although roots of words are by no means always good guides as to the meaning of words based on them this one is probably quite apt in giving a good sense of the disdain with which idols should be treated in terms of their ability to offer anything of worth or value.

What this passage seems to be saying is that the people, in trying to follow or 'appease' God, or in their case also 'gods' (they were hedging their bets) - were focussing on things that were without value ( themselves worthless, and unable to offer anything substantial to achieve what the people were seeking), illusory - offered the superficial appearance of being 'something' but actually amounted to nothing, it was vanity insofar as people were choosing to believe that this action or these actions of theirs were putting them in good standing with God - there is also the strong notion that the vanity lay in the fact that they were seeking to appease multiple 'gods' who themselves did not exist - so the whole exercise was quite literally 'in vain' - then there is the smoke or vapour imagery - that which appears but then is gone, however, in the case of smoke from burning rubbish, it clings to you and leaves a stench.

These people were following practices which in their spiritually darkened state, they supposed were valued or acceptable offerings - but which in reality were without substance or value, and were transitory. However, and this is the crucial aspect, they left them, in terms of their relationship with God, without substance or value, the stench of the smoke stuck to them..... They were becoming not so much 'what' they worshipped but 'how' they worshipped.

What's more they were not even doing so in particularly original ways ( not that originality implies acceptability) - they were simply taking aspects of the cultures around them and wrapping them up into something they thought would 'do the trick'....
They were, in New Testament language, seeking to conform to the prevailing cultures not be transformed by the only culture worth being part of.

So the challenge is for us to examine the way we worship, the attitude with which we worship, what we bring to worship and where it is from. 

What may we become engaged in that we believe is acceptable to God, or which gives the appearance of being acceptable, but which is in fact without substance or value, is transitory and is therefore being done in vain. Things that are more about conforming to external patterns or practices than to the response or offering of a transformed heart and mind? Things which leave a stench clinging to us that is the opposite of the fragrance that is acceptable to  God.
Romans 12:2 , 2 Corinthians 2:15-16

Although the nature of the aroma has changed between the OT and the NT, it is clear ( particularly in Leviticus) that acceptable sacrifices have an acceptable aroma.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Turn away? ..... Not on your life!

“My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them.”
Hosea 11:7 NIV

No one who calls themselves a Christian is ever likely to say 'Yep, today I am determined to turn from God, that's my ambition' 

But, as I have experienced in my own life, it is something we can so easily 'slip into'

Without actually consciously deciding or admitting to it,we can find ourselves beginning to live, act or speak in ways that indicate we are, nonetheless, set on a course diametrically opposed to our Father. This is one of the subtleties of the work of the enemy. It is as if, once given the smallest foothold in our lives, our direction of travel is slowly tweaked and turned and in our own mind we either do not realise it or, more likely, we begin to justify it and confirm to ourselves that we are actually doing what God wants rather than exhibiting a determination to turn from Him. 

At this point it becomes Enemy 1 : Christian 0

Eph 4:27 tells us not to give the devil a foothold, or to give him no opportunities in our lives or, in certain translations, not to make any room for him in our lives.

This implies that it is down to us to ensure we do not, by giving him access, start to turn from God.

How might we give him space, room to manoeuvre in our lives ? 

Basically by living, acting or thinking according to his nature and character rather than according to God's. By choosing, in areas of our lives, to march to his tune rather than keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, (Gal 5:25)

It's all about our state of heart and mind....

In 1 Cor 2:16 we are told an amazing truth: "we have the mind of Christ'

One of the incredible privileges of the children of God is that we can think as Jesus did - have the same outlook and attitude.

We are told in Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Which means we are to consciously direct our minds to think as Jesus thought - in other words 'to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus' (Phil 2:5)

The state of our mind is directly related to the state of our heart which in turn is a directly affected by the quality, closeness and intimacy of our relationship with Jesus. 

There are so many subtle effects as we slide slowly away from our Father - we no longer spend quality time with Him, we always find or justify a reason not to, there is always something more important. Ultimately we persuade ourselves that 'doing things for Him' is a higher priority than 'spending time with Him'

As our heart slowly loses connection with His heart so our mind loses the ability to discern what is of Him and what is not - we no longer 'let our mind be that which was in Christ Jesus'  

We operate in the borderlands of being in His will then out of it, but in our increasingly self justified state we are less able to tell the difference.... 

We become hard hearted, we display less of the fruit of the Spirit, very few if any of His gifts, we can become two people ( evident to those closest to us) and the life giving 'quality time' we had with Jesus has either become a dry duty or disappeared altogether. Although this becomes a bit of an open secret because, to others who are in close relationship with Jesus, it eventually stands out like a flashing red warning light..... as we display our determination to turn from Him.

However, God has give a sure and certain remedy : Godly sorrow brings repentance (2 Cor 7:10) which gives rise to immediate restoration - even as the prophet says : 'restoring the years the locusts have eaten' (Joel 2:25)

Do our lives, actions, attitudes or words give away a determination to turn away from God or a determination to 'seek His heart'?

Monday, 20 July 2015

A God Worth Repeating in Worship

I have taken this post directly from Nick Roen at:

A God Worth Repeating in Worship

Today, I read the most repetitive praise song I’ve ever encountered in my life. It repeats the same line twenty-five times. In fact, that line makes up half of all the lyrics!

As a worship pastor, part of my job is to read and evaluate the lyrics of the songs we sing in worship. I’m looking for theologically rich words that we can easily sing together as a church — rich and simple, deep and memorable. Often, a bit of repetition can help a congregation learn and remember a song. But let’s not go overboard, right? We don’t want to sing a song that just repeats the same thing ad nauseam. We want depth.

So what repetitive song was I reading this morning?

Psalm 136.

We Repeat to Remember

I found this song in the hymnbook of God’s people, the book of Psalms. What’s the ad nauseum line?

“For his steadfast love endures forever.”

Twenty-five times we’re reminded of God’s unending love, each time seeing his love in light of his righteous character and mighty deeds. There’s no confusion about which God loves us fully and forever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:3)

(Give thanks) to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:5)

(Give thanks) to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:10)

(Give thanks) to him who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:16)

(Give thanks) to him who struck down great kings, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:17)

Apparently, the psalmist thinks it important for God’s people to repeat the love of the Lord. Why is that? What’s the benefit of singing this glorious truth over and over almost to the point of exhaustion? It is totally appropriate to endlessly repeat the endless love of God. God is love in all he does and all he is (1 John 4:8). No matter how many times we have heard it or rehearsed it, the love of God is the best news we could receive or share again today.

The main reason we need to rehearse the love of God again and again is because we don’t believe it; at least, not naturally. We aren’t naturally prone to believe that God — the God who has always existed in eternal Trinitarian fullness, who created the universe out of nothing, who governs the affairs of Kings, who controls the path of every speck of dust and particle of water — that God delights in his people with gladness and rejoices over them with songs of joy (Zephaniah 3:17). It doesn’t naturally make sense that this big, sovereign, infinite God would love us, that he would love the world so much that he would send his only Son to die for his people’s eternal joy (John 3:16).

So we need to repeat it. We need to remind ourselves, to remind each other, to sing it to one another, over and over, until we just begin to grasp again God’s steadfast, eternal, death-conquering love.

A Song Worth Repeating

We often bristle at repetition in our corporate worship. We think it breeds superficiality, or creates a false emotional frenzy, or is just plain boring. We have to remember, though, that our hearts are slow to feel. We need to remember that, even in our believing, we suffer from unbelief (Mark 9:24). We need to remember to remember. Dwelling on a simple and weighty truth for an extended period of time will, at times, be the only way to break through spiritual forgetfulness.

This reality is why we come together for corporate worship. Every week, we rehearse the same realities to one another over and over so that our rhythms of forgetfulness fade (again and again), while our faith rises. We remind each other of the familiar old story through song and through preaching, so that we might begin to remember. We continue to admonish, encourage, and strengthen each other, not with novelty, but with repeated refrains, “God is holy, we are sinful, Jesus saves!” Or, “his steadfast love endures forever.”

How could we ever sing that too many times?

The Never-Ending Chorus

In Revelation 4, we’re given a glimpse into the heavenly throne room. There, we see the four living creatures, in all their terrible beauty, falling before God and singing over and over one single song: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). It’s not vain repetition. It’s not empty emotionalism. This is the never-ending, increasingly satisfying worship of a God who is worthy of the infinite reprise of his attributes.

Maybe when we’ve joined the choir and repeated the chorus for a million years, we will finally begin to grasp the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of our perfectly holy God (Ephesians 3:18).

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Lord break our hearts with the things that break yours.....(Really?)

They said to me, ‘........ The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’ When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:3-4 NIV)

Lord, it's so easy to mock or even inwardly rejoice when we see some parts of your church in a state of disrepair ( especially when it's parts we disagree with or don't like)

Like Nehemiah we should be driven to tears!

When we say ( because it's trendy to say it) "Lord break our hearts with the things that break yours" our unspoken sub text or assumption can be that these things will always fall in line with things we actually want to be heartbroken about - starving children, blatant injustice and so on. 

It's not really hard to be broken hearted over these things - although it is definitely right to be. However, what about when we are secretly pleased at a certain event or circumstance but God is heart broken over then do we react? 

Are we even capable of recognising it as something that breaks Gods heart? 

Amongst all our spiritual sounding words and songs, we forget how easily that we can make it all about us whilst all along persuading ourselves that we are all about Him...

Lord, deliver us continually from our deceitful hearts.........

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Seeking and success

He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success. (2 Chronicles 26:5 NIVUK)

How nice if the formula was that simple: You + seeking God = success in everything

Who wouldn't be a Christian? 

But let's hold on a minute and consider a few things. Firstly God knows the hearts of men & women. He knows they are deceitful above all things and He knows only too well our proclivity for self deceit and self interest ( yes, even us).....

Jeremiah 17:9 NIV
[9] The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

God knows if we are seeking Him because it is really our hearts desire to be in His presence come what may....and this we see at the end of  Habakkuk:

Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV
[17] Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, [18] yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

Here is a man who is intent upon seeking God whatever the future may hold . There is no pretending to have his heart set on God but really it's a front for seeking success.....

So, what is being said and what is meant in this 2 Chron 26? 
Well I believe it's not complicated but nor is it superficially formulaic.

If the desire of our heart is God, and our first and only priority is to seek and do His will, to find and follow His agenda, then, to the extent of our integrity in this,we will be successful in what He calls us to do. Simples?

Monday, 16 February 2015

And still there was more.....

Acts 18:24-26
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. 

*A thorough knowledge of the scriptures
*Instructed in the way of the Lord
*Spoke with fervour
*Taught about Jesus accurately

But he still need the way of God explaining to Him more adequately.....

What was he missing?

The true nature and implications of baptism...the repentance, identification with the death AND resurrection of Jesus and baptism as an outward act celebrating,or immediately responding to, the prior experience of new birth through Jesus and of having being given the RIGHT to be a child of the Father. Of the expectation & experience of the descending, indwelling, fullness and overflowing of the Holy Spirit. Of the Holy Spirit as our constant guide, companion & comforter. Of the reality of us being able to 'to what Jesus did' in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It seems he had sufficient accurate knowledge to genuinely excite him to speak fervently, to believe that there was something life changing about Jesus, to want to tell others...BUT , he had not yet stepped into the key to it all... The ongoing experience to which the knowledge points and invites.

There is absolutely no problem with where he was as a part of his journey ( way ahead of where many Christians ever get to in many important aspects ) - but there was so much more. There always is with our God.