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When the fog clears

Mon, 04/25/2016 - 04:00

One day in 1872, a ship crossing the Atlantic from England to Canada was caught in a dense fog off the banks of Newfoundland. Captain Dutton had been on the bridge for twenty-two hours without a break. An elderly passenger came up to him, tapped him on the shoulder and told him he had to be in Quebec by Wednesday. It was now Saturday. The captain said it was impossible. The passenger said that in that case God would have to find him some other means of transportation because he had never missed an engagement in over fifty years. The passenger’s name was George Muller.

Mr Muller suggested he and the captain go down to the chart room to pray. The captain wondered what kind of lunatic asylum the man had come from.  “Don’t you know how dense the fog is?” The reply came back, “My eye is not on the fog, but on the living God who controls every circumstance of my life.”

Down in the chart room, Muller got down on his knees and prayed a very simple prayer the captain thought was more appropriate for a child. Yet when he finished, the captain himself felt he ought to pray. Muller put his hand on the captain’s shoulder and told him not to. “First, you don’t believe God will answer; and second, he already has. Get up Captain, open the door and you will find the fog has gone.” Muller reached his appointment on time. And the encounter changed the captain’s life.

 

At 93 years of age, Muller was still looking after two thousand orphans from his base in Bristol, as well as supporting missionaries and Christian efforts all over the world. He never once asked for money. His secret was what he told the captain: “I have known my Lord for forty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to gain an audience with the king.”

Muller had learned a secret from Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:18: “We fix our eyes not on the things that are seen but the things that are unseen.” Two words for seeing are used. The first (“fix our eyes”) is skopeo, from which we get the words scope, microscope and telescope. The second (“seen”) is the ordinary word for unaided natural vision. What is right in front of us can be seen by the natural eye. But spiritual vision sees what cannot be seen any other way. There is a difference between shooting by natural eyesight, and shooting using the scope of a high-powered rifle. There is a difference between looking at an unidentifiable smear on a piece of glass, and examining it under the microscope. There is a difference between going outside at night and gazing at the stars, and examining those stars through the most powerful telescope on earth.

Two men stood side by side on the ship’s bridge. One saw himself in Quebec on Wednesday, the other saw only the fog in front of him. By the grace of God, the fog disappeared that day not only from the waters of the Atlantic. It also disappeared from the life of the captain.

Don’t expect God to clear the fog just to make life easier for you. Don’t expect him to do nothing more than facilitate your personal agenda. Muller knew the will of God for his life because long before he had submitted his life to the Lord.

When you walk in obedience to God’s will, God is committed to fulfilling that will in your life. In other words, he will always clear the fog to get you to the place he wants you to be.

Have some fog in front of you right now? You know what to do. Seek an audience with the King.

Source: New feed

A pile of stones will help you

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 04:00

A number of years ago, in the middle of a massive challenge, I drove out to the waterfront to a place I often pray. In that place, I cried out a prayer of utter desperation that God would deliver me and my family from a very threatening situation. And I asked him to do it by the end of that month. Well before the month ended, we had two miraculous interventions which saved our family and our church from untold grief. I often remember how God met me there. But the Bible teaches us there is more to remembering than just thinking about what happened in the past.

The question we have to face in crisis is not the reality of God’s sovereignty, or his love or faithfulness toward us. The question is what our response will be to what we are going through. Will we respond with a trust which opens the way for God to do whatever he wants with us? Or will we respond in bitterness or anger, which will close the door on his work in our lives? Or will we be so filled with fear we will panic and make foolish decisions? Much of this depends on how well we have learned to see the hand of God in our lives. And we learn through remembering!

God told Moses to instruct the Israelites to recite the story of their deliverance from Egypt to each generation so they would never forget the mighty works and faithfulness of God. When they first left Egypt, Moses said this: “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place” (Exodus 13:3). And when they were about to enter the Promised Land forty years later, he repeated his message: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:15).

The Hebrew verb for “remember” (zakar), used in these passages, means a remembering which results in action. For God to remember his covenant means he will act on his covenant promises to save his people: “I will not spurn them… but I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers” (Leviticus 26:44-45). For you and I to remember the commandments means that we commit to obey the commandments: “So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God” (Numbers 15:40).

Twenty-five years ago, we had friends called Martin and Cindy who were experiencing severe financial testing. Reading their Bible, they found God’s people being commanded to remember the past acts of God in their lives. And so they decided to put a stone into a jar on their dining room table every time God provided for them. The jar, which eventually filled up, reminded them of God’s faithfulness. A few months ago, I had lunch with Martin and Cindy and found out they still have a jar on their table — and it is full.

Remembering the great works of God and his acts of faithfulness gave the Israelites a framework or perspective. It showed them how to understand their hardships and battles from a place of faith, not fear. The same God who had delivered in the last battle would rescue them again.

Can you remember how God has met you in the past? Can you remember how he was faithful when you had lost hope? Can you ask him to do the same for you again? Can you cast yourself on his great mercy? Or, in the words of my son-in-law Josh, can you learn to collapse into his will?

A good Biblical memory will serve you well. You have it. Use it!

Source: New feed

Collapsing into his will

Mon, 04/11/2016 - 04:00

Last weekend I co-led a conference designed for younger men which I call the Challenge. This is the eighth Challenge event I have led in Canada and the UK over the last few years. Over eighty men shared in fellowship, tears, love, teaching and even a baptismal service in the frigid waters of an adjacent river. That made me pine for the Presbyterian mode of baptism by sprinkling I was raised in!

Every one of the men comes with an assignment describing a challenge he has faced over the last year, and how God has helped him through it. Then I get as many as possible of them to share, which leads into prayer for those still experiencing the type of challenge described in the assignment. The result has been a massive impact on mens’ lives which again and again has left me in amazement.

My son-in-law Josh walked into the conference centre and dropped his assignment into my lap. It was a minor miracle that he made it, as his wife (our daughter Katie) is eight months pregnant with their second child, and experiencing some complications. In addition, he was trying to meet a deadline for his MA thesis, and look for a job. But Josh and Katie decided his meeting with God took priority. How much of a priority do you make meeting with God? Just a thought.

In his assignment, Josh talked about how the magnitude of the financial challenges facing them as a family had begun to rob him of his peace with God. He had begun to learn how God increases our capacity to receive peace not in spite of, but through times of pain and tears. And he shared how the Lord was drawing him to become “greedy” for his presence, for the tremendous riches of love flowing from the throne of grace.

He shared how in the process of drawing near to God, the Lord had exposed areas of rebellion in his life. He shared his discovery that fighting God’s ways was in the end pointless. And he shared that as their bank account got lower day by day, he made a critical strategic decision: to collapse into God’s will.

I think that is a remarkable and profound statement for anyone, let alone a young man, to make. We can fight God’s will through disobedience. We can ignore God’s will through apathy. We can pay lip service to God’s will through religious exercises. Or we can collapse into his will through radical obedience.

The statement reminded me of the prophetic words spoken by Moses shortly before he died: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). We often use these words in funeral services, but in context they are about life, not death. They are about the God who rides through the heavens to help his people (verse 26), and who thrusts the enemy out before them (verse 27). They are about a people “saved by the Lord, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph” (verse 29).

The time of crisis is not a time to rush out and do all sorts of things on your own initiative and in your own wisdom. The time of crisis is not a time in which your disobedience, apathy or religious exercises will help you.

The time of crisis is the time to collapse into God’s will. And if you’re a wise person, you might even learn to collapse into it before the crisis comes.

When I was at university, we used to challenge each other to a “trust exercise,” in which one guy had to fall backward, not knowing whether the other guy would catch him or not. Most of the guys were not Christians, and the results were interesting. But God is not like that. God is all-powerful and he is all-merciful. His arms are underneath you, not so much to sustain you in death as to strengthen you in life.

Try collapsing into his will today. Those results will be interesting too.

Source: New feed

Getting rid of the warp

Mon, 04/04/2016 - 04:00

What is your biggest preoccupation? What do you spend the most time thinking about? If we were honest, our answers would range all over the map, from money to health to sports to sex. What you think or worry about the most becomes your focus in life.  Everything else gets rearranged around it. The problem is when things are arranged the wrong way, our whole life gets bent out of the shape God designed for it. It gets warped. And then everything starts to go wrong.

The focal point, the central reality of Paul’s life, was knowing Christ. Everything else was entirely secondary. He wanted to know Christ, to know the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and to become like him in his death (Philippians 3:10-11). He wanted to know Christ enough that he was willing to pay whatever price it took to achieve that goal. He knew that when Christ was the focal point, everything else would come into order. The warp would be gone. And to get rid of the warp would be worth the price.

He knew a secret. The only place to find Jesus is on the road to Calvary. But the road to Calvary is the only road that leads on to glory.

How much time do you spend thinking about Christ, about his will for you, about his Word, about his call on your life, about how to please him? Do you spend more time thinking about those things than about your bank account, your job satisfaction or your favourite sports team? 

When Paul found Christ, he set everything else in his life aside. The things that had meant everything to him were now without value. This he makes clear so vividly in Philippians 3:9: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” You can’t gain Christ without losing whatever takes precedence over him!

If we have to pay a price, what is the benefit? Well, when our lives stop being warped and get back into the shape God designed for them, we start making a lot fewer mistakes. We make it easy for God to help us. We find that all that time spent seeking stuff the world offers was a waste of time. We lose a lot of fruitless activity and gain a lot of priceless peace.

God has designed our lives to move in an upward trajectory: from the suffering of the cross to the glory of the resurrection, from the place of first accepting Christ to the place of being transformed by him, from the bottom of the pit onto the highest mountain, from under the worst curse into the greatest blessing.

Getting rid of the warp will unfold the magnificent beauty of the garment that God has designed to represent your life. When the warp begins to go, you’ll wonder why you tolerated it for so long.

Source: New feed

The strange way to freedom

Mon, 03/28/2016 - 04:00

The world is looking for freedom everywhere, but the answer is right here: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). There is no freedom on earth like the freedom God gives. Worldly freedom depends on your outward circumstances, which in turn depend on factors beyond your control. True freedom does not come from the outside, but from within. It comes from the eruption of the Holy Spirit bursting through the constraints of the dying world in which we live to bring a life nothing in that world can even remotely match.

But how does this freedom work? Not in the way we might have expected. It doesn’t work through political revolution. In fact, it isn’t achieved by anything we can do in ourselves. It comes this way: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (verse 18). Moses entered God’s presence and had to put a veil over his face when he came out. The veil came to stand for peoples’ blindness and inability to see God and to know him. But now Christ has destroyed that barrier. At the moment of his death, the three-foot thick veil preventing people from entering God’s presence in the temple in Jerusalem was ripped apart.

We have only one mission, to behold God’s glory. As we do so, we are transformed. Previously only one man, once a year, could enter the presence of the Lord. Now all of us can! There’s nothing else we have to do. We are transformed by what we see. If you really see the glory of the Lord, if you really understand who Christ is, you cannot help but be changed. Peter beheld the risen Christ, and was changed from a coward to a death-defying hero. James beheld Christ, and was transformed from a doubter to a man of faith. Paul beheld Christ, and was changed from the worst persecutor to the greatest preacher. John beheld Christ, and received the greatest prophetic revelation in history.

God can change the course and direction of a person’s life in a minute, and he often does when people come to Christ. But transformation into the image of God is a process. This process is expressed by the verb “we are being transformed.” There are two significant things about this verb.

First, it expresses a present continuous action. The process of transformation is meant to continue as long as we live. One day we will behold him perfectly and be perfectly changed. But in the meantime remember this: you cannot get stalled at the last place you met God. You have to keep meeting him today and tomorrow and the next day.

Second, it is in the passive. We cannot change ourselves. Only God can change us. That happens by the supernatural energy of his grace. By walking away from God, we can hinder change, but we can never in our own strength produce it.

Each one of us is being transformed into the “same image” (verse 18). God’s goal is to have a people rich in outward diversity, yet each shaped into the inward likeness of his Son. What an incredible witness it is when the same Christ shows up in such radically different people! The world will believe when they see the same Jesus manifested in believers of every race, gender, colour, shape, size, nationality, personality type, political opinion and income group! The Jesus we have in us by his Spirit transcends and renders into utter insignificance every external difference we might have.

In the old covenant, only the Holy of Holies contained the power and presence of God. But what a presence it was! That presence shook Mount Sinai and consumed anyone who approached it without permission. Now, incredibly, that same presence dwells within each one of us. We are mobile Mount Sinais, mobile temples of the dwelling place of God.

All we need to do is to behold him. Get away from everything else that’s going on in your life and just take time to behold him, to be with him, to thank him, to worship him. A moment in his presence will revolutionize your day, lift your spirits, increase your productivity and turn your darkness into light. Do you think it might be worth it?

“All this is from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (verse 18). How is it in the body of Christ that we have treated the Holy Spirit as an extra, almost as unnecessary? Do we not know who he is? He is God in our midst. He is transforming us into the glory of Christ.  Let him do his work and set you free!

Source: New feed

From paralysis to hope

Mon, 03/21/2016 - 04:00

At times of discouragement in my life, I felt it harder and harder just to keep going. One awful day I remember so well, all I could do was put one foot ahead of another while I put the garbage out. At its worst, discouragement will lead you into paralysis. You can’t even make a decision or do the most basic things. Why? Because you have lost hope. There just doesn’t seem to be any point to doing anything. Hope is so incredibly important. Hope alone breaks the power of discouragement and the paralysis that comes with it, revives your strength and makes you bold instead of powerless.

On one level, hope is a gift that a friend can give us. “Come on Dave, you can do that!”  Maybe, just because somebody cheered you on, you actually went on that perpendicular rollercoaster at the theme park (though that’s definitely out of my league). Or maybe one chilly night last autumn you jumped into the freezing North Sea just because a crazy friend said you could do it (that one I actually did).

But on a far more profound level, hope is something that we desperately need in order to live. Hope is the dividing line between surviving and living. Hope is not a luxury, it is a necessity. The good news is this: hope is available to us. Listen to what Paul says: “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face” (2 Corinthians 3:12). The hope he talks about here is not something that has to be or can be created in our mind or emotions. No, this hope is totally supernatural and it comes as a gift. It is based entirely on the power of the Holy Spirit: “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is destroyed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:16-17).

The veil is what came between the glory of the Lord and the people of Israel. That veil is still over the face of people who are so full of religion they cannot see who Jesus is. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, Jew or Gentile, male or female, young or old, the veil is not only removed, it is destroyed! God wants to destroy everything that comes between you and his glory. What is his glory? It is his manifest presence in your life. It is his Spirit coming to you and breathing supernatural life into your weary spirit. The old hymn puts it in the form of a prayer: “Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew.”

Religion brings slavery, but the Holy Spirit brings freedom. This is freedom to enter into the very presence of God. It is freedom from the need to earn our salvation. It is freedom from the penalty of the law that brings death. It is freedom from the stranglehold of sin. It is freedom to behold the glory of God without interruption, without the veil of religion in between. What amazing kind of freedom is that? But how often do we take advantage of it?

The breath of God rushing on you will break your paralysis. It will give you power to live and not just survive, to do things you never believed you could do. The power of the Spirit is designed to transform us into a bold people, ready to go out to war in the confidence that God is with us!

There are no extraordinary people in the kingdom of God, only ordinary people touched by hope through the power of God’s Spirit.

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold.”

May this boldness and this hope come to you today.

Source: New feed

The only way to unity

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 04:00

Some feel unity comes through believing the same things. If we create a common statement of faith and get everyone to agree to it, we will have unity. Others think worship styles are the basis of unity. If we get everyone under one roof who likes the Hillsong style or the Bethel style we will find unity. Or forget all that and go back to traditional hymns and liturgy. Still others tell us the answer is to build churches with homogenous groups of people — the same age group or social group or ethnic group. Or sometimes we think that if can build a movement with a “brand,” that will do the trick. Redeemer, Hillsong, Harvest, Bethel, Acts 29 and so on.

But in truth none of these things will create unity. It is not that doctrine or worship or church order is unimportant. It is just that they don’t constitute the foundation.  Ironically, we find the answer in going to the most divided congregation in the New Testament world. Paul teaches those fractious and difficult believers at Corinth that there is only one way to unity. Why are we one body in Christ, he asks in 1 Corinthians 12:12? The answer comes in verse 13: because we have been baptized in the one Spirit and given the one Spirit to drink. What makes them one is their common experience of the Holy Spirit.

Only the Holy Spirit can create unity. There are lots of ways we can hinder unity, but there isn’t a single way we can create it. Only the Spirit can do that.

When you are born into a family, there’s nothing you can do to make yourself part of that family. By virtue of birth, you are part of it, whether you like it or not. And even if you try to leave your family, you will never cease being your parents’ son or daughter, or brother or sister to your siblings, or grandson or granddaughter to your grandparents. Birth places you into family.

Human families can fracture. But something stronger than flesh and blood holds the body of Christ together. And that is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Birth places us into natural family. New birth places us into spiritual family. And the new birth occurs through the Holy Spirit: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The Holy Spirit has the incredible ability to join people together who otherwise would have nothing in common with each other, and to create one family out of them. The Holy Spirit enables us to travel to the farthest corners of the world and encounter fellow believers with whom we feel instantly at home. What we have in common is always far more than our outward differences.

We need a strong and real experience of the Holy Spirit. Christianity does not depend on an experience. It depends on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. But we are meant to have a tangible experience of the Holy Spirit when we submit to what Christ did on the cross and receive its benefits for ourselves. The Holy Spirit changed Peter from a coward who denied the Lord three times into a man who stood up to testify to his faith in front of thousands, went into the Sanhedrin and rebuked the religious leaders publicly, wound up beaten and in prison and never turned back.

How this comes to you or to me is not something that can be programmed. After all, you never know where the Spirit is coming from or where he is going (John 3:8).  How the Spirit met you last year or last week may not be how he is going to meet you today. How the Spirit met your friend is not necessarily going to be how the Spirit meets you. What are the signs of the Spirit’s presence? The knowledge of the love of God (Eph. 4:14-19). The peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7). The joy of the Lord, unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 3:8). The presence of a clear conscience (2 Cor. 4:2). And the assurance that the Lord is with you and will never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5).

The purpose of our common experience of the Spirit is not so much that we all get along with each other. No, Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 it is above all that we be formed into one body. Why is this so? Because only in the one body is the fullness of the reality of who Jesus is made manifest to the world.  Only when we are all working together is the fullness of who Jesus is in the midst of us made visible.

That’s why unity is so important. The world will only know the love of God when they see it manifest in the unity of his people with him and with each other (John 17:23). Seek a fresh encounter with his Spirit each day and let your joy spill over into the lives of those around you. Then unity will come.

Source: New feed

What do you do when you fear you’re falling?

Mon, 03/07/2016 - 03:00

Many times I have felt weak, faltering, about to fail. Circumstances look insurmountable. Fears arise on every side. Yet I have to keep going. I have a family to support, a church to lead, people in various places who are dependent on me in one way or another. Most of all, I have a Lord I want to honour. I don’t want to fail anyone, and more than anyone else, I don’t want to fail the Lord.

When I feel like this (which is thankfully not all the time), I am encouraged by the fact I have not walked this way alone. “Afflicted in every way, yet not crushed; perplexed but not despairing; persecuted but not forsaken; knocked down but not knocked out.” Those are Paul’s words, not mine. And yes, before anyone points it out, I admit that his trials were in a whole different league to mine. But still, it’s comforting to know others we respect have gone through the same range of emotions. Christians do not go through life with a bullet-proof coating guaranteeing immunity from every negative experience and emotion.

But whatever my struggles are or yours, how do we get through them? One good answer comes from Paul himself, writing to Timothy, his spiritual son, at a difficult time in Timothy’s life: “You, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1).

“Be strengthened” in Greek is a present passive imperative. What does that mean, you ask? Well, the most important part is the passive. We cannot strengthen ourselves. We haven’t got the ability or the power to do it. We need someone else to strengthen us. There’s no point whipping yourself when you’re down because you can’t turn your world right side up again. No amount of will power, emotional energy or mental concentration will do anything for you. You can’t think your way out of trouble. You can’t will your way out of trouble. You need to be rescued from it, and right here he tells us exactly how that happens. Our strength does not come from within, it comes from somewhere else. It comes from the grace of God.

Grace is not firstly a theological concept. It is not firstly a doctrine. It is not firstly a principle or a truth. No, grace is an energy. Grace is the power of almighty God sent to set you free. Yes, we can (and must) explain grace in the words of a doctrine or teaching or principle or truth. But we can never reduce it to any of those things, for it is something much greater. Grace is God’s rescue mission at work by the power of his Spirit in your life.

And Paul’s command “be strengthened” is a present imperative. The “present” part refers to something happening in this very moment. It does not refer to something that happened a long time ago or every so often. We need to find the power of the grace of God on a present, continuous basis. The grace of God that delivers me today is an amazing thing, but today’s grace will not deliver me tomorrow.

I need to stay in a living relationship with the Lord so that his mighty strength will flow into my life today, tomorrow and the next day. Without it, I will dry up. But the good news is, even if you feel dried up, you can still go back to the well. There is always grace for you. Ask, and you will receive.

Go somewhere and cry out to God until he meets you. It’s as simple as that. Take my word for it — I’ve been doing it for decades! God’s grace will not solve all of life’s difficulties. But it will get you through them.

And in the end, here is a rock we can all hold onto: God will never call you to do something or be something or endure something without giving you the grace to get through it.

Let me leave you with one final thought. The goal of being strengthened by grace is not to rise above everything that would unsettle or disturb our comfortable lives. Jesus came to draw us into an adventure. This adventure is never without risk. It will cost us. But the price is always worth paying because of the reward. The reward is to walk alongside God and experience his great power and love. And then one day to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Don’t lose heart — his grace will get you there.

Source: New feed

When leaders are going through tough times

Mon, 02/29/2016 - 10:08

Here is a passage takes us right into the heart of an intimate conversation between father and son: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus… Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1-3).

Paul is teaching Timothy. Teaching in the body of Christ is meant to take place in the context of relationship. That’s why our main source of teaching is supposed to come from the elders and leaders of our local congregation. Why? Because they are spiritual fathers we know and trust. You can read good books and listen to great recordings, but your basic spiritual diet should come from the leaders of your local church.

Paul had appointed Timothy to lead one of his greatest churches, the congregation at Ephesus. Though that church had previously seen a great move of God (Acts 19), Paul was writing at a time of great difficulty in the congregation. A substantial number of the people had left (2 Timothy 1:15). Some who remained were openly promoting false doctrine (2 Timothy 2:17-18). Still others were using the church to take advantage of some of its weakest members (2 Timothy 3:6-7).  It seems hard to believe that people could walk away from such a church, yet they did. Perhaps the days of city-wide revival recorded in Acts had died down. Perhaps persecution had arisen. It’s easy to be part of something riding the crest of a wave, but it takes faithful people to hang on when things get tough.

Timothy as a pastor must have felt a total failure. If he knew a letter from Paul was on the way, what would he have felt like? He had presided over the decline of a great work Paul had built. Would Paul rake him over the coals because the numbers were down, or remove him from his position? No, not at all. Paul was many things, but above all he was a father. In Paul’s day, there was a shortage of fathers in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:15). That was perhaps understandable, given the church was so young. There is no excuse for a similar situation today, yet sadly the shortage remains. There are far too many administrators, managers and bureaucrats in the higher ranks of church leadership, but, at least in my experience, very few fathers.

Paul had had his own share of disappointments as well. This was far from the first time people had taken what he had to offer and then cast him aside. So now he comes to strengthen Timothy. He believes in Timothy. When we believe in people, we don’t cast them aside even if they have made mistakes.

So Paul did not arrive with a rebuke, but he did come with an answer, and it was a very simple one: “You, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

When we see Christian leaders suffering or their church going through a rough time, what is our response? Too many people jump ship at the earliest opportunity. Others become critical. Few understand the spiritual dynamic of what is going on. Timothy’s church was suffering not because God had deserted Timothy or because he had done something wrong. No, Timothy was suffering because of his faithfulness to God. Religious consumers out for their own benefit leave the moment trouble arrives. But faithful people see tough times as an opportunity not to leave but to serve, so that the church is preserved and its leaders are strengthened.

We need to learn from Paul. He knew that Timothy did not need criticism — he was probably beating himself up already. He knew that Timothy did not need to attend a church growth seminar or try a different strategic plan — he already had a plan the great apostle himself had laid down. He knew that Timothy did not need people giving stupid, superficial opinions on what had gone wrong. No, Timothy needed one thing and one thing only: the grace of God.

Grace is an amazing thing. It is not a concept or a doctrine, though it can be described in those terms.  Above all grace is the power of God.

When your leaders or pastors are going through tough times, and they are faithful folk, come to them with grace. Ask God for his strength to flow through you to serve and strengthen them. Call on God for him to meet them in their valley and bring them out the other side. Don’t be critical. Be graceful.

Timothy knew his call would bring suffering, and in the last words we quoted above Paul reminds him of that. The suffering should come from the wounds inflicted by the enemy, not from supposed Christians. What a tragedy — yet how often it takes place — when Christian leaders are shot from behind.

Come with grace. The future of your church may depend on it. Not to mention the health of your own relationship with God.

And pray God would raise up more fathers. We need them.

Source: New feed

The real meaning of faith (part 2)

Mon, 02/22/2016 - 03:00

In the last post, I started to explain the real meaning of faith using Paul’s account of Abraham’s faith in Romans 4. This post picks up where the last one left off.

In Romans 4:19, Paul tells us that Abraham “considered his own body.” The Greek verb for “consider” means this: “to direct one’s whole mind to an object, to study, examine, consider reflectively, ponder, or to apprehend something in its fullness by immersing oneself in it.” That means one thing: Abraham was not afraid to face the human facts. Yet somehow he did this “without weakening in his faith.” Faith does not run away from what is there in front of us. Faith does not deny that the problem exists. Faith does not say it is a “negative confession” to admit we are sick. That is not faith, that is deception. And it’s a deception born of fear. Faith states that, in spite of the undeniable reality of the physical evidence, the evidence of the word of God is stronger still. The word of God is the only evidence faith needs. When faith comes up against the brick wall of circumstance, it does not pretend obstacles do not exists. It does not pretend we have the ability to do anything to change the circumstance other than to cry out to the God who can change everything.

Paul understood what the nature of Abraham’s faith was. It was not a mind-over-matter arrogant declaration of the person who believes they have the power within themselves to make anything happen. No, it was the same faith which had enabled Paul himself to move ahead in obedience at the darkest hour of depression and despair. That was the time when he wrote to the Corinthians admitting that he felt the sentence of death had been passed upon him (2 Corinthians 1:8). That was the time he felt afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; hunted, but not killed; struck down, but not struck out (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). That was the time he felt he was carrying about in his body the dying of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:10). Like Abraham, Paul knew that the key in such circumstances was to look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen. Those things can only be seen with vision given by the Holy Spirit on the basis of the revelation of the Word of God (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Paul continues: “With regard to the promise of God he did not waver in unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God” (verse 20). The man or woman of faith, like Abraham, has an undivided heart. Whatever the state of their emotions or mind, they will trust God and obey him. But notice this: it was “with regard to the promise of God” that Abraham did not waver. The most crucial thing here is not Abraham’s faith, but the promise of God upon which that faith rested. Abraham’s faith was directed toward something entirely independent of him: the promise of God.

Genuine faith has nothing to do with mind over matter or positive thinking or speaking. Such a “faith” is human-centred. It is not the faith of the Bible. Abraham’s faith was based on and controlled entirely by the divine promise. Faith does not contain its own power, as some preachers seem to suggest. Such a “faith” would be a form of magic or even witchcraft – an attempted manipulation of God by human efforts. Instead, the promise on which faith rests is its power. Faith exists, Charles Cranfield wrote, because a person has been “overpowered, held and sustained by God’s divine promise.”

So many fall into condemnation, frustration or disillusionment because they feel their act of believing is the critical part. They discover that their “faith” does not work, because in truth it is not Biblical faith so much as human positive thinking. And what is the promise that holds us? The promise is the Bible in its fullness, as that Word is understood and applied through diligent study, prayer, discipleship, submission to godly wisdom, and expressed in a commitment to live not for oneself but to walk in the way of the cross. As we walk in obedience to the Word, its promises take hold of us.

Abraham “was strengthened in faith.” He did not strengthen himself by his own “positive thinking”, will-power or emotional self-control, all of which were entirely inadequate. He found his strength only and entirely in God. God himself will come alongside the one who is attempting to move forward against all the heavy currents of doubt, fear and despair the world and the enemy can stir up against him. Abraham made a choice to believe God, but that opened the door for God to help. Where everything is ranged against the promise, faith is “being enabled” by God to rest on the promise alone, refusing to demand any visible proof or evidence. People of faith are not strong people, they are weak people with faith in a strong God.

Faith begins the minute we believe what God says. Once we have believed what he has said about salvation, the big decision of faith is accomplished. The heavy lifting is over. It should be easy, by comparison, to believe him for anything which comes after that.

Then the promise of verse 21 will come up under our feet: whatever God has promised, he has power to do. This faith of Abraham – our father – is available to every one of us today.

Source: New feed

The real meaning of faith

Mon, 02/15/2016 - 03:00

In Romans 4, Paul gives a powerful exposition of the faith of Abraham. Abraham is the father of faith for all of us who believe in Christ (verse 16), and so what was true of Abraham’s faith should be true also of ours.

The most basic thing that can be said about Abraham was that he believed God. Of all the things Abraham did, this was the most important and fundamental. So what is Biblical faith? Abraham’s faith was not just intellectual belief or emotional assurance. The passage Paul refers to here is from Genesis 17, where Abraham’s first response to God was a form of bitter sarcasm: he laughed at God! I doubt his emotional or mental state was any better the day he walked up Mount Moriah with Isaac at his side and a knife in his hand. The strength and power of Abraham’s faith did not depend on his emotions or his mind. It came from a much deeper place in his spirit, and gave him power to obey no matter what his emotions and his mind told him. Biblical faith operates at a much deeper and more supernatural level. Biblical faith is a conviction birthed in our spirit in an encounter between our spirit and the Holy Spirit, in which we choose in our spirit to respond to God speaking to us. This response comes in the form of our choosing to believe that God is who he says in his Word. That was Abraham’s basis of assurance.

This faith, this deep conviction of the Spirit in the truthfulness of God, is a powerful thing. It is what motivated and empowered the heroes of faith of Hebrews 11, even to the giving of their lives. It is what compelled the great Biblical figures of faith to take their lives in their hands, to disregard all human considerations and consequences, in order to do what they believed God had told them to do. It impelled Moses into the presence of Pharaoh, it sent Elijah to the top of Mount Carmel, it put Jeremiah at the bottom of a muddy well, it caused Isaiah and Ezekiel to engage in acts of personal humiliation because it was the only way of making God’s point. It sent Stephen to his stoning, Paul to his prison, John to his exile on Patmos, and Jesus to his cross. Faith is the lifeblood of the church, and where it grows weak, and men and women are more interested in self-preservation than in obeying the word of the Lord, the church will die.

Over a period of thirteen years, from Genesis 12 to Genesis 17, God spoke five times to Abraham, yet nothing happened. Just more promises! Yet God was teaching him to rely on his Word and not human circumstances, no matter how daunting or even devastating those circumstances appeared to be. Abraham’s response to such a hopeless situation was this: “Against all hope, in hope he believed” (verse 18). Abraham had been hoping for a very long time that God would fulfill his promise, yet it had not happened. That is why his believing was “against hope” – human hope, that is. Human hope will achieve only human results, and that is what the church often settles for – what we can accomplish without God. That is a sometimes comfortable, but wrong, place to be. From time to time it will take us quite a way, and we may look successful – until we hit a roadblock we cannot remove. Everyone comes to the end of their ability, but God never comes to the end of his. But Abraham chose to place his hope somewhere else – in what God had said. To achieve eternal results, our trust must be in the ability of the eternal God.

Genuine faith always brings results, and these results are expressed here: “so that he became the father of many nations, according to what had been spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be’” (verse 18). Abraham’s faith was an act of defiance in the face of everything that was around him. Every time we obey the word of God we are defying the logic and opinions of people and the force of circumstances around us. If we ever lose our capacity to do that, we have lost our power to be part of advancing the kingdom. Abraham was desperate. ‘Desperate’ literally means running out of hope. But when his human hope ran out, instead of giving up, he chose to step out in faith and trust God for a hope he did not have and could not create. When the power went out, he turned on a generator on, and discovered there was more power in the generator than there is in Niagara Falls.

It’s not bad to be desperate – think of Moses with the Egyptian army at his heels, think of Gideon with his three hundred men, think of David eyeballing Goliath, think of Jonathan and his armour bearer climbing up the cliff to confront the entire Philistine army. Think of Elijah against the four hundred prophets of Baal, think of Hezekiah with the massed armies of the greatest nation of earth outside his city walls. It’s not bad to be desperate – but it’s what you do when you’re desperate that matters. God often puts us into desperate positions because it’s only when we are up against impossible situations that we stop relying our limited resources and start to access his infinite resources instead.

Source: New feed

The purpose of failure

Mon, 02/08/2016 - 03:00

Failure is part of God’s plan for us. That was the last post. If you survived that, here are four specific God-designed purposes of failure.

Failure teaches us we are really nothing. Life is not all about us. Failure teaches us the only thing that matters is God’s opinion of us and God’s plan for us. If that plan took Jesus to the depths of humiliation in the eyes of the world, maybe the same will be true for us. Never accept the world’s standard of failure or of success. One of the worst problems is when those wrong standards enter into the church and into our thinking as Christians. Prosperity, ease of life, personal fulfillment, no challenges, no fears to face…. that’s what we all want. The problem is not just that these are wrong, it is that they are a delusion. The main cause of disillusionment is because we have believed an illusion. We need to prepare ourselves for failure, or for what will look like failure.

Second, failure leads us out of our plan and into God’s plan. Many years ago, I had a great plan to return to England, take a very promising ministry position, and get out of the dead end rut I had sunk into in Canada. God had a different plan. He kept me in Canada. Years of apparent failure were the result, but I hung on because I knew it was God’s plan, and I never believed I was a failure in his sight. Eventually I realized there were areas of pride and need for recognition that the failure was forcing me to confront. Dealing with that brought release, but there were more years of failure before God’s plan started to come to deeper fruition. Something in me had to die. I came to realize that God was using my apparent failures to reveal his sovereign plan. Now, looking back, I can see that God uniquely positioned me for a day he knew was coming. I had to be there waiting and preparing. My plan would have taken me out of human failure and into human success, but God’s plan took me out of human failure into Kingdom success.

Third, failure proves I am loved and valued by God. Even as Christians, we think of our failures as proofs that God has judged us, forsaken us or forgotten us. The opposite is the case. God loves me enough to use failure to deliver me from the delusion that success by the standards of this world is the goal I should live for. God loves me enough to save me from the kinds of superficial success that would rob me of achieving my eternal inheritance. C.T. Studd gave away his fortune and spent his life in poverty on the mission field, achieving little human recognition. He was a failure by the standards of the world. Yet the money he gave away financed significant Christian advances in various parts of the world, and the seeds he planted in China, along with others like Hudson Taylor, laid the foundations for the greatest revival in history. C.T Studd is a hero primarily because, by the world’s standards, he was a failure.

Finally, failure proves we are children of God destined for glory: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Suffering, including failure, is a privilege which proves we are God’s children. In fact, it is a necessary prerequisite for our being glorified. Why? Because we must follow down the same road as our Saviour. The greatest apparent failure in history involved a naked man hanging on a Roman cross. Mission failed? No, mission accomplished.

In 1774, the poet William Cowper wrote an amazing hymn, God moves in a mysterious way. The words of the third verse of this hymn were used powerfully by the Lord 35 years ago to strengthen me at one of my many times of failure:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings on your head!

Whatever your circumstances, may his mercy clouds break with blessings on your head today.

Source: New feed

Facing failure

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 03:00

Several years ago I was driving out of a city on a major highway feeling deeply disappointed and hurt – why that was the case doesn’t really matter. I don’t usually listen to music in the car, but that day I put on a CD I happened to have with me. Immediately I heard the words, “His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me.” And God met me.

Paul experienced disappointment in a way I will thankfully never know. It runs throughout the first seven chapters of 2 Corinthians. He poured his life into people, and received nothing but rejection in return. Things were so tense he postponed a personal visit, fearing more trouble. And in the midst of this, he suffered a personal disaster so great he describes the effect of it as a sentence of death passed on him. He felt a failure.

Suffering often comes in the form of failure. Nothing is more debilitating than facing the fact we have failed. I know this is true for men, and I am sure it is true for women also, though it may come in a different shape. But Paul had a plan for facing failure and disappointment.

First, he focussed on God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). He knew God is a Father who will never abandon his purposes for us. No apparent human failure will stop the purposes of God. He brings strength in the darkest hour. Failure is the time to run toward God, not away from him.

Second, he understood that God is in the trouble: He “comforts us in all our affliction” (verse 4a).  God takes us out of our troubles, but first he meets us in the midst of them. He is not afraid of crisis. He does not promise us that we will be shielded from it. But his plan is to bring good out of it. Ninety per cent of our growth comes in times of trouble. That’s when we are driven to go deeper into him.

Third, he knew that this comfort is not just for us. It overflows into the lives of others (2 Corinthians 1:4b-7). We can help someone in trouble only because we have been through it ourselves. It is a powerful thing to be in the presence of someone who has passed through severe trials and emerged victorious.

Out of all this come an unshaken hope (verse 7). “Unshaken” is a Greek word referring to a gilt-edged security. It’s always worth going through it because there’s gold at the end of it. Suffering and failure drive us into God. If that’s all our suffering accomplished, it would be worth it.

Paul was able to survive because the experience of failure and suffering did not for him detract from his understanding of a sovereign and loving God. Because he knew God was loving, he was confident of an inner peace in the midst of the turmoil. Because he knew God was sovereign, he was confident that God was working a purpose through it all that in the end would be worth the pain.

Failure is the route to deeper fellowship with God. Failure is the means of knowing and understanding God more deeply. Failure draws us closer to God. If failure is all we see, it is only because we have defined success incorrectly. We think of success as achieving a particular goal (as defined by us), but often God has an entirely different goal in mind. Failure is often the door to finding the real purpose of God for our lives. This is just another way of saying that failure is the doorway to success. The experience of failure enables us to redefine and understand the meaning of success.

And when we redefine success, we redefine failure. We need to start to look at failure through the lens of God’s purposes. Who would have considered Jesus a success at Calvary? Even his closest friends had deserted him. His life’s work had come to nothing. Jesus understood things differently. For him, the only success was to remain obedient to the Father, all the way to the cross. For three years, Jesus had viewed success and failure by that standard, even while his disciples were viewing things entirely differently. That’s why they never understood his warnings about his death, and why they deserted him at the cross. They wanted to make Jesus the political leader of Israel and get themselves places at his right and left. If Jesus had succeeded at that, he would have failed in his mission from God.

If failure was part of God’s plan for Jesus, failure is part of God’s plan for you and me. Failure is just as important as success, and it is usually through failure that we understand success. Embracing failure will lead you deeper into God and his plan for your life. And that is success!

Source: New feed

Winning the fight against fear

Mon, 01/25/2016 - 03:00

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to life-long slavery.” So says Hebrews 2:14-15.

The Old Testament presents God as the great hero, the champion who marches out against his enemies to destroy them: “The Lord goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes” (Isaiah 42:13).

Hebrews presents Jesus to us as God himself marching forth to destroy his greatest enemy. That enemy is the devil, and his most powerful weapon is fear.

None of us should be ashamed of admitting that we battle against fear. Fighting fear is fighting Satan, and all of us are in that battle.

What this Scripture shows us is that all the fears we face are rooted in one basic fear, the fear of death. At our desperate and most fearful moments, our heart cries out: “What is going to happen to me?” God answers the question for us: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

God sent Jesus to die on our behalf, to take our punishment on his shoulders, so that we would never be separated from him or from his love. Physical death is nothing more than the doorway to eternal glory. Not one saint who has ever died would ever want to return to this life. They are now part of the heavenly chorus of Revelation 7:9-10, the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

The battle we fight every day against fear has in truth already been won. Every fear you have has been faced down at the cross. The devil has only one strategy left: to persuade us that this is not so. To fight this battle, we must ask God to send his Spirit into our hearts to strengthen us.

Some fear is good. For instance, the fear of God is a good thing. It puts a boundary line of protection around our conduct. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7).

But most fear is not like this. Most fear is planted in our lives by the enemy.  There is an interesting difference between godly fear and demonic fear. Godly fear is fear of something very real. If we act foolishly and disobey God, this is what will certainly happen. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Proverbs 22:3). But demonic fears are often perceived dangers rather than real dangers. The mandate of the enemy is to suggest to us that God will not look after us when in fact he will. So he whispers continually in our ears that we will not be provided for, that we will become sick or die, that we will lose our job and so on.

We will face challenges in life. Yet God promises to keep us in the midst of these. We may get sick, yet God is our Healer. Finances may run short, yet God is our Provider. We may feel alone, yet the Lord is our Shepherd. We will face death, yet Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

He will not abandon us. The bottom line is this: your life is not in the hands of people or of circumstances. It is in the hands of God: “He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

Jesus made this statement: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). Knowing that God will provide for us, that he will do our heavy lifting, we can say goodbye to anxiety. Anxiety deals with tomorrow, not today. It lives in the mind and the emotions. It tries to control the future by thinking and feeling. It never works, because the future is not in our control. Jesus does not say every day will be without trouble. In fact, he reminds us there will always be some difficulty to deal with. But he promises to meet us when that trouble comes.

The antidote to anxiety is its opposite — faith. What is faith? Faith is the confidence that God will act on your behalf. You can’t think yourself into faith. You can’t feel yourself into faith. But you can ask for it, and it will be given to you.

Faith gives you peace in your heart that God will act on your behalf today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and the day after that. It cures us of fear by filling the vacuum that fear lives in.

The battle against fear is real. Most of us fight it every day. But let’s remember that Jesus won that battle at the cross, and he is there waiting to apply it in our lives now.

Source: New feed

Rejoice in the Lord always

Mon, 01/11/2016 - 03:00

One of the most familiar commands in the Bible is this: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Philippians 4:4). But how do we do this? The answer comes in the next verse: “The Lord is near.” At the darkest times in my life, of which there have been a few, I have cried these words out to the Lord: “Lord, let me know that you are with me.” Not “Lord, let me know I am a success,” for in those times all I know is I am a failure. Not “Lord, let me know that I am strong,” for in those times all I know is I am weak. Not “Lord, let me know that everything is going to be alright,” because I know at those times that nothing is right. No, all I can cry is the one thing I know that in spite of all circumstances is true, “Lord, let me know you are with me.” And somehow in those darkest hours, he sends me reminders that he is right there.

And it is because the Lord is truly with us that Paul goes on: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The word for worry or anxiety here means to carry the burden of the future oneself. No one who tries to carry the burden of their future will be at peace. They will be controlling, anxious, inward-looking, insensitive to the needs of others because they are preoccupied with their own needs.

Time and again, right up until the other day, God keeps taking me at times of great personal anxiety and putting me into the life of someone else whose need is greater than mine. Why do you think he does that? Because forcing me to put my own worries aside is the best way to freeing me of them. As I choose to show care to someone else, his Spirit flows through me and he meets me and shows care for me. And when I feel his care, I know he is near.

Knowing that the Lord is near is the cure to anxiety. Knowing that he cares is the cure to fear. There may well be a lot to be anxious about — the command not to be anxious assumes that we are anxious.  Yet there is an answer to our anxiety. Paul talks about prayer, supplication and thanksgiving, but what he is really saying is this: “Do not be anxious about anything, but pray, pray, pray and pray.” At the darkest hour, when it appears God has forgotten us and abandoned us, the apostle reminds us that God cares about us. He wants us to pray. He wants us to bring our needs before him. He wants us to bring the despairing cry of our hearts to his eternal ears. It is when it seems he is not there that we need to know that he is. And if he is there, he is there to listen and to reply and to help us.

And now comes the best part: “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The mind is the place of fear. It is the place where we ponder our situation, where we worry about what is going to happen to us, where we consider the obstacles we face, where we think about all the possible things that could go wrong for us. It is the place of depression and despair, of hopelessness and loss. We can’t think our way out of this place, because in such times there are always more negative thoughts than positive. Neither can we feel our way out, for there are always more negative feelings than positive.

No, the fact is we need to be rescued out of it. The peace of God does not rescue us by analysis or emotions, it rescues us by supernatural power. The peace of God is not the mindless serenity of the bubbling fountain, it is the very breath of Almighty God rushing upon our troubled soul to revive us and to deliver us. It breathes life into our flagging spirit and weary soul, and somehow overpowers and overcomes the negative thoughts and feelings, and lifts us out of the place of fear. It comes whether our requests have been fulfilled or not. It doesn’t give an answer; it is the answer.

Sometimes we have to make a decision of faith that in the face of hardship, of despair, of hopelessness and anxiety, we will choose to rejoice. To rejoice is to place a higher value on our fellowship in Christ than on all the things the world has to offer, including the things we genuinely need. As we choose to rejoice, as we come to him with the desire to submit our lives to his service, as we determine to show love and patience to others, the same Holy Spirit who came with fire at Pentecost will come with power to build a fortress of hope around you.

May the Lord be near to you.

Source: New feed

Crossing the finish line

Mon, 12/28/2015 - 03:00

At year’s end, it’s a good time to reflect on this truth: it is part of God’s character to complete what he has begun. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

 

As we follow him, we are meant to become like him. We also are meant to complete what we have begun. That is why that little verse at the end of Colossians is so important: “And say to Archippus, ‘See that you complete the ministry that you have received in the Lord’” (Colossians 4:17). There might even be a pun here, for the first four letters of Archippus’ name are similar to the Greek word for “beginning.” Paul is saying to Archippus: are you a beginner, or a finisher? Lots of people start, but not all finish. Many drop out along the way.

 

What is it that hinders us from finishing what we have begun? What causes us to give up, to turn back, to lose the ground we have gained? Jesus said it would happen. Read the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. Jesus lists four categories of people. The first group don’t even get to first base. The second group receive the seed, but it soon dies. The third group lasts a little longer, but their life is choked out by thorns. For all three groups, what the world offers is more attractive than the cost of a life following Christ. These people hardly make a beginning, let alone cross the finish line.

 

And let’s stop for a moment to note that Jesus does not allow people to blame problems in the church for their own spiritual failures. People who fall away from the Lord and whose spiritual commitment dries up have only their own sin to blame. Please do not blame your sin on someone else. Churches are imperfect, and God will deal with them, but no one is let off the hook of their own disobedience.

 

But there is a fourth group in the parable. Jesus describes them as those who hear the word and understand it. In their case, the seed falls on good soil. That’s hopefully us! But even here, some lives produce far more than others — more than three times, in fact. What happens even in the lives of sincere believers to diminish their effectiveness and reduce the fruit that comes from their lives?

 

Sometimes people who really want to follow the Lord get tragically derailed by the circumstances of life. Adversity causes them to give up, or falter for a season.

 

If we could go back in history, we could learn some lessons from the experience of one such person, Mary Magdalene. We find her at Jesus’ tomb (John 20:11-18). The tomb is empty, but as first the angels and then Jesus himself appear to her, she is so overcome by grief that she doesn’t realize what has happened. She is immobilized at the exact moment she should have been launched into orbit. She was about to give up at the exact moment of breakthrough. Every single one of us can relate to Mary. We all have moments where we feel like giving up, and sometimes we make decisions based on disappointment which cost us and cost the kingdom dearly.

 

What caused Mary nearly to miss her destiny? Let me list three factors, and let me suggest they are the same things which will come against us.

 

She saw the circumstances as insurmountable. Jesus was dead. Yes, Jesus had raised at least three people from the dead, but who was there who could raise him? All of us can lose hope in the face of impossible situations. Yet Mary had forgotten that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). Don’t evaluate the promises of God by your circumstances. Evaluate your circumstances by the Word of God.

She was overcome by a disappointment caused by false expectations. Mary’s hopes were crushed because she had based them on false expectations. Along with the disciples and everyone else, she thought the Messiah would inaugurate a revolution which would drive the Romans out, not die on a Roman cross. God will often fail to meet our expectations, but he will never fail to fulfill his promises. Go back to his promises when your expectations are not met.

She lost sight of the power of God. Mary had forgotten things she should not have forgotten. She knew Jesus had taken five loaves and multiplied them into thousands. She knew Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. She knew Jesus had walked on the water and calmed the seas. She knew he had given sight to the blind and raised the crippled to their feet. She knew he had restored speech to the mute, opened the ears of the deaf and cleansed the lepers. Most of all she knew the miracle of forgiveness — the day Jesus met her, cast seven demons out of her, set her free from the power of darkness, and gave her eternal life. We may not have seen the things Mary did, but all of us have seen enough. We have all witnessed his faithfulness, his provision, his forgiveness and his love. Even if we may not see how God can move us forward, we should still know that he can.

 

The walk of faith sometimes seems like its all uphill. But when the circumstances seem impossible, our expectations are not met and we lose sight of God’s power, we need to go back to what God has said. Our words mean nothing, but God’s Word never fails. The fulfillment of God’s word is built into its foundations. For God, speaking is doing. God created the entire universe simply by speaking. How much easier is it for him to fulfill his plan for our lives? To Jeremiah, preparing him for a lifetime of testing and trial, he made this firm promise: “I am watching over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12). And so God did, for both Jeremiah and Mary Magdalene.

 

In the midst of your battles of faith, go back to what God has said. Don’t walk away from God; dig yourself into God. And don’t ever give up. Remember there is an end to every valley, and your breakthrough is probably right around the corner. He’ll finish what he began in you — if you allow him to do it!

Source: New feed

For to us a child is born

Mon, 12/21/2015 - 03:00

Things were difficult for Israel. But Isaiah prophesies a future victory for God’s suffering people. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). This victory will be complete: even the clothes of the oppressing forces will be fuel for the fire (verse 5). The reason for this victory is given in verse 6: “for to us a child is born.”

 

A child is born who will bring deliverance to Israel. To speak of the birth of this child, Isaiah uses the Hebrew prophetic perfect tense: that is, a past tense which speaks of a future event. The significance of this tense is that the future prophecy is so certain of fulfillment he can speak of it as if it had already happened. So seven hundred years before the birth of the prophesied child Isaiah declares the child is already born.

 

It should not be surprising that the word God speaks can determine the shape of history for centuries to come. After all, God created the world simply by speaking. Genesis describes the creation of the world in these words: “And God said…” And so when God speaks, it is not merely a possibility, a prediction or a forecast: it is his creative word of power which carries within itself its own fulfillment. An acquaintance of mine is a senior metereologist on Canada’s weather network. One of his favourite phrases to avoid blame for the bad weather he forecasts is this: “I’m in prediction, not production!” But for God, prediction is production: “I watch over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12).

 

Never underestimate the power of God’s Word. When we appropriate for ourselves the promises of God’s Word, we enter into their power. Our words have no power, but God’s words have all power. Of course, we must line our lives up with his will to receive his promises. He is our Provider — but have we honoured him in our finances? He is our Protector — but have we taken foolish risks through failing to obey him? If you line your life up with God’s Word, you will inherit its promises.

 

The Hebrew tense also emphasizes the fact that the fulfillment of the prophecy — the birth of the promised child — will take place at a particular and definite moment in history. God’s promises enter into this world and make his presence manifest in the midst of our darkness and doubt. He intervenes in the flesh and blood existence of our daily lives. You and I today can take hold of the promises of God. God offers us more than a vague philosophy. He brings who he is into this world in order to change it. Hebrews 1:3 states that when Christ came into the world, he came as the exact imprint of God’s substance. The word “imprint” refers to the image on a coin — the exact likeness of the one pictured. The word “substance” refers to the very essence or reality of who God is. When the child was born, God came into this world — not a likeness of God, not a shadowy image, not someone who had some of God’s characteristics, not a good man or a moral teacher or a wise philosopher, but God in all his substance and reality. And this is what makes Christianity radically different from any other religious faith or philosophical viewpoint. Neither Buddha nor Muhammad nor Marx came into this world as God. Jesus did. He is not a philosophy. He is a person.

 

The victory the Jewish people were looking for came in an unexpected way — so unexpected most of them missed it entirely. The victory came when the child born in a humble stable died hanging naked on a Roman cross. The victory came in such an unusual form both the Old and New Testaments call it a “mystery” (Daniel 2:29-30; Romans 16:25; Revelation 1:20). The Jewish people were expecting a political Messiah who would drive the Romans out. The Messiah did come, but exercised his divine authority over history by dying on that Roman cross. Resurrected and ascended, he now rules from the throne of heaven. And also do we — if we are prepared to follow in his steps of ruling not by might and power, but by sacrifice and love.

 

That is the message of Christmas. May it enrich and change your life every time you consider it

Source: New feed

India calls (part 2)

Mon, 12/14/2015 - 03:00

In the first part of this account, I told how I first met John Babu, one of the most amazing men I have ever encountered. And I told something of his incredible but true story.

 

It was 1978 when God spoke to me about India. He did not open the door for me to go until 1996. The delay was not disobedience on my part, just the timing of God. When God gives us a word or promise, our greatest mistake (especially if the promise is a good one) is to assume it will be fulfilled tomorrow. More often, we find ourselves in the good Biblical company of Abraham, who “through faith and patience” inherited the promise (Heb. 5:12). If God has promised you something, don’t give up because it does not immediately fall into your possession. Press into God, wait on him, see what he is doing in your life and submit to it, and allow him to fulfill his word to you. Remember what Paul said about God’s faithfulness to Abraham: “Whatever he has promised, he is able also to perform” (Rom. 4:21).

 

I could try to describe myself as a Christian version of Indiana Jones, but I don’t think I could get away with it. The truth is I was quite apprehensive about traveling to India, and so I enlisted the help of my friend Andy Gower, an English businessman I knew who travelled extensively and would be able to hold my hand in case of unknown third-world terrors. Just as well, for when we landed in Mumbai, even though it was midnight we were immediately disgorged into a seething and uncontrolled mass of humanity. Amidst the chaotic order that is India, Andy hailed a taxi to take us to the domestic terminal for our internal flight to Hyderabad. The domestic terminal was a long ways removed from the western airports I was used to. I recall thinking, “Oh my goodness, this is like the third world!” and then realizing it was the third world (Indian airports have greatly improved since).

 

We arrived at Hyderabad and received a warm greeting from John’s sons. As a matter of fact, we had garlands of flowers placed around us. Was this Honolulu? Well not quite, but it was a great welcome. John and his family lived in a compound right next to a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess of traffic accidents. It seems people often fell into a coma and were killed in accidents as they drove by the place. John’s sons later informed me they had regular visitations from demonic spirits from next door angry that the kingdom of God was invading their space and ruining their party. This was all a very faith-building experience as you couldn’t get in or out of the compound at all without driving by this temple.

 

Lots and lots of amazing things happened during our visit, but let me tell this one story. The church had started many outreaches in the sprawling city of Hyderabad. One night, John said I was to speak at one of these, located in a slum area. I overheard John telling his son under no circumstances to leave Andy and I alone. More faith-building! We drove and drove. Finally we left the car and continued the journey by foot as the road gave out. We left the hubbub behind and proceeded by footpath through darkened areas. We were warned to look out for cobras. Through all this I naturally maintained perfect peace of mind! Finally we arrived at a small concrete hut and in we went.

 

Let me tell the story of the family who lived there. Just a few weeks before, one of this couple’s six children was diagnosed with meningitis. They had no money to pay for medical treatment and the child became critically ill. They heard that the Christians who held meetings in a small meeting place nearby had a god who could heal the sick. The dad carried his dying son into the meeting. He was prayed for an instantly and completely healed. The entire family became Christians.

 

When I entered their tiny concrete hut, I saw the shelf where only weeks before their idols had sat. In their place was a picture of Jesus not unlike what used to be on the wall of my Sunday school classroom growing up! Not an idol however, simply their way of honoring the living God. About forty people were crammed into the twelve-foot square room that was home to this family of eight. Under the dim light of one 25-watt bulb, I could barely read my Bible, let alone see who was sitting at the back. I was asked to preach on the work of the Holy Spirit. Never have I felt so helpless, trying to convey my sophisticated western thoughts through translation to a group of people so utterly foreign to me I didn’t know how to communicate with them even though I desperately wanted to.

 

I finished. I prayed for some folk. I felt I had failed. But after we left, the pastor told me four Hindu folk had given their lives to Christ that night as a result of what I had said. That was truly the Holy Spirit, not me.

 

I remember many things about that visit. The night the cobra visited right outside my window and was killed while I slept through the excitement. The mosquito bites I had that turned out to be bed bugs. The amazing young men and women at the Bible school at which I taught and their sacrificial abandonment to the cause of Christ. And my dear friends Prem and Neelima. Prem was John’s youngest son and Neelima had just become pregnant. The doctors told her she had only a small chance of carrying the baby. I prayed over her, told her the baby was a boy and would be born without any issues. Abishek is now a young man almost twenty years old!

 

As I drove off on my way to the airport in an old Jeep with an exploding tire, John sat on his porch and waved good-bye to me. That was the last time I ever saw him. He passed into the Lord’s presence not long after. He was a father in God. I look forward to seeing him again.

Source: New feed

India calls

Mon, 12/07/2015 - 03:00

Here is the latest instalment in my Chronicles of Faith series.  The story starts a long time ago and involves a lot of miracles. If you’re interested, read on!

 

I went to England in 1977 to do a PhD in New Testament studies at Durham University. One of the first friends I made there was a guy called Richard Peach. Richard and I used to have heated theological arguments. They often infuriated me because even though he was a school teacher, not a theologian, he was often right and I was wrong. Richard had an unbending sense of call to India. When he finished his studies, he was hired as a teacher at a school for missionary children in a place called Ootacamund in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. One of the last things I recall him saying was this: “God has called me to India. I don’t care if I ever see England again.” The fact is, he never did. One day Richard took a group of children from the school out swimming and in the process he was caught up in the river current and tragically drowned. When the news reached Durham, many of us grieved. Why would God take such a young life so full of commitment and promise? But God encountered me in the midst of it with a word, and the word was this: one day I also would go to India and do what Richard wanted so badly to do — to share Christ with the Indian people.

 

The years went past. I returned to Canada from England. Every time I heard someone talking about India, my ears pricked up. But nothing happened. Until the day a friend in Canada told me he had an Indian leader coming to visit his church, and would I be interested in having him to speak. He casually dropped into the conversation that he had been to India to visit this man and they had visited a small town in south India called…. Ootacamund. Of all the hundreds of thousands of towns and villages in India, this was the one he mentioned. Immediately I knew this was my doorway to India.

 

And so John Babu, the great apostolic leader of Andhra Pradesh, walked into my life. I use “apostolic” in its simple Biblical form, as function, not title. John extended the boundaries of the kingdom into the regions beyond and the regions unknown, and he did so by the love of God, and by undeniable signs and wonders. Let me tell his story as he told it to me.

 

John Babu was one of a small group of national security advisors to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. His self-description as a policeman was a gracious understatement. John was a non-practicising Hindu. He drank a lot. He beat his wife up most days. He was not a great dad to his eight children. But he was good at his job. One day his doctor told him he had damaged his liver so badly he had only four months to live.  Distraught, John visited a nearby Hindu temple to plead with the gods. Once inside, he heard an audible voice saying these words, “I am the god you are looking for. My name is Jesus Christ.” The voice instructed him to leave the temple immediately. Stunned and trembling, he sat down on a bench outside. The voice continued to address him. He heard that if he died, his fate would be to be thrown into a lake of fire. He saw the lake in front of his eyes and was terrified. But, the voice continued, if he put his trust in the one who was speaking to him, he would be saved. John immediately surrendered his life to a god he did not know. The Holy Spirit took hold of him. Immediately, he went home to tell his family what had happened. His oldest son later told me it was the first time his dad had not come home and beat somebody up. He was a visibly changed man. As he shared what had happened, his wife Anna and all eight children put their trust in Christ. The next time he visited his doctor, he was told he was completely healed.

 

But this was only the beginning of the story. A few months later, Jesus spoke again to John. He was to leave the police, move to a town called Armoor and start a church. John obeyed the Lord. He left all his earthly security, his position which gave him many advantages in the city and state, and his government salary and pension. Armoor was the place he had previously gone to arrest Hindu militants, and John was not popular there. He was sold a plot of land with a tin shack in the middle of it. John, Anna and their eight kids took up residence in the middle of what turned out to be a cobra-infested swamp. The militants who sold him the land expected him and his family to perish. But instead, they prayed the cobras out. The locals expected the entire family to die and were perplexed when nothing happened to them (read Acts 28:1-6 for a similar story!).  Before long, a thriving church existed…. with no fewer than two thousand people converted to Christ. John began to travel from town to town and village to village, eventually establishing several hundred congregations throughout the state of Andhra Pradesh.

 

In his life, John saw six people raised from the dead. I don’t know if the following incident counted as one of the six, as John was not physically present when it happened. Let me tell you a story that would be unbelievable if it were not demonstrably true as it was witnessed by hundreds of people. As the churches grew, outreaches were established not only in the larger towns but also the smaller villages. Andhra Pradesh had a population of over eighty million people and had thousands of towns and villages as well as larger cities such as Hyderabad. A high-caste (Brahmin) Hindu lady died in a village a small group had been started in. The omens were consulted and the cremation was set for the time determined to be the most auspicious for the best hope of a higher form of reincarnation. As the funeral pyre was about to be set alight, the Hindu priest halted the proceedings. In a mocking voice, he said Christians had come to the area and claimed to have a god who could raise the dead. He ordered the small group leader to be brought to the ceremony. “Now we will see,” he declared to the man in front of the assembled crowd, “what your god can do.” Trembling with fear, this ordinary believer held out his hands over the pyre and called out to the Lord for help. The woman lying dead on the pyre was physically resurrected. And no, she was not in a coma, nor had the doctor made a mistake. She had been dead for many hours, and her body was decomposing in the Indian heat. As she rose from the dead, panic spread throughout the crowd of hundreds who eye-witnessed the event. The small group leader began to preach Christ. Half the crowd became Christians, the other half fled in terror.

 

But the most amazing part of the story is this. When later they asked the lady what had happened to her, this is what she said. She recalled experiencing darkness, but into the darkness stepped a man. The man was dressed in clothes so white they were blinding. As he held out his hands over her, she noticed he had bleeding wounds in both wrists. Then she woke up. But a strange thing occurred. There was another man standing in exactly the same position as the first man. His hands also were stretched out over her in exactly the same way. But his clothes were ordinary and there were no wounds in his wrist. That man was the small group leader.

 

The militant high-caste Hindus put out the equivalent of a contract on the lady. Her response? “I’m not afraid of death. I’ve already died once!” Many many hundreds of people came to Christ because of her testimony.

 

How often do we realize that we stand in the place of Christ? That ordinary man represented Christ in a way even he had no concept of. Christ, in one sense, is made flesh in us. An army of theologians trying to explain how Christ is made real in his many-membered body, the church, could not have come up with anything so closely approaching the truth as is illustrated in the experience of this humble, (to us) nameless, and probably illiterate Indian brother.

 

Have I got your attention? Then read the next instalment!

Source: New feed

The real meaning of discipleship

Mon, 11/30/2015 - 03:00

What did Jesus mean when he talked about discipleship?  That was a question the “discipleship movement” of the 1970s sought to answer. In general, the body of Christ, at least on the North American continent, moved on without listening much. But in the New Testament, the word “disciple” is used about 250 times, and mostly in connection with following Jesus, so it’s obviously a very important concept. My suggestion is we can’t really understand what it means to follow Jesus without understanding more about discipleship than we often do.

 

It was a common practice for educated and well-connected Jewish men to become disciples of leading Rabbis, which in turn would lead to them assuming the same role toward others. They would take in his teaching and pass it on to others. Such a position would be financially and socially rewarding. So when Jesus appeared on the scene, the most natural way people had of understanding him was as a Rabbi, and those following him would become his disciples.

 

But from the beginning, Jesus changed the entire meaning of discipleship. A fundamental characteristic of New Testament discipleship is that Jesus called the disciples to himself, whereas in Judaism a disciple decided which teacher he was going to follow. Neither were there any particular qualifications (social or educational) needed, other than the willingness to follow Jesus. That is why Jesus called tax gatherers and sinners to be his disciples, and scandalized the religious establishment in the process. And as to earthly benefits, there were certainly few of them involved in following Jesus! The commitment of his followers was to the person of Jesus, whereas in Judaism it was to the teaching of the Rabbi. With Jesus, a person follows his teaching only because he has encountered his person.

 

People tried to understand Jesus’ teaching, but without understanding  who he was or being willing to follow him. That’s why even learned teachers could not get what Jesus was saying — look at the Pharisees or even Nicodemus. In Christian discipleship, the Word of God becomes powerful in someone’s life only to the extent that they are willing to follow Jesus in personal commitment. If you try to follow Jesus’ teaching without knowing him personally, you will wind up either in utter failure or in legalistic hypocrisy. In Judaism, the relationship of disciple to teacher was determined by the teaching, so that someone would follow a particular Rabbi in order to get his teaching or interpretation of the Bible more than a heart knowledge of God. But without a heart knowledge of God, even the most learned theologian will never understand the Bible or the God who inspired it. And this led directly to the Pharisaical legalism that nailed Jesus to the cross. But the people who followed Jesus did so simply because they were committed to him as a person and to whom they understood him to be.

 

Discipleship is not about knowledge of doctrine, but about faith in a person. Doctrine (a right understanding of the Bible) is important, but it is birthed in an encounter with Jesus and a revelation from God as to who Jesus is. In Judaism, a disciple’s obedience was limited to agreement with the Rabbi’s teaching. By contrast, Jesus’ disciples are called to obey him in every part of their lives. There is nothing in the life of a disciple independent of Jesus. Everything we have and are is drawn into fellowship with him. But the way of Jesus leads to the cross, and so we also are drawn into the path of sacrifice and suffering with him. Maybe that’s why the discipleship movement didn’t gain many converts!

 

The bottom line is this: the reason we often fail to reproduce New Testament Christianity in our culture has something to do with the fact we equally fail to understand the meaning of New Testament discipleship. It’s a thought to ponder.

Source: New feed

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