Grateful because…

Because I sat in church today

And in front of me were song lyrics celebrating Jesus Christ's resurrection

His victory over death.

 

Because I sat in church today

And to the left of me were my son and daughter-in-law

A blessing from God.

 

Because I sat in church today

And to the right of me were my daughter and son-in-law

Both following Jesus.

 

Because I sat in church today

And behind me was my wife, playing with my granddaughter

Both made me smile.

 

Because whichever way I turned

Gift upon gift upon gift upon gift

That's why.

 

Easter Sunday 2016

Why doesn’t God…?

Why doesn't God heal me / my wife / my mother-in-law?

Why doesn't God make me more successful / give me more money / let me find my dream job?

Why doesn't God get rid of those antisocial neighbours / unpleasant colleagues / rude people?

Why doesn't God [enter your current concern / worry / struggle / burden / gripe / pain here]?

You get the idea. The stuff that bugs you / really hurts you / gets you down / causes you serious anxiety is different to my stuff, and changes over time, but if we're believers in Jesus Christ we all ask the Why doesn't God…? question from time to time.

I'm here to tell you that there are only two possible answers, whatever the stuff / trouble. And they both relate to the F-word.

No, not that F-word.

Faith. In God.

Because although God may want to answer my prayer / grant my request, I need to excercise the faith that says He is good, He's my Heavenly Father – and that I need to ask Him. The Bible says He knows what I need before I ask – which implies that He expects me to ask. And if it applies to what I need it applies just as much to what I want. He wants me to come to Him in faith, relate to Him and speak with Him – rather than just sitting back then complaining that I don't have what I want. It puts the emphasis on Him instead of me.

Equally, He may know that it's best for me not to get what I think I want. He may want to grow something else in me, grow some more faith in me, by putting up with my troubles / disappointments / failures and exercising the faith that says He Knows Best and that He Plans Something Better.

Hard to do? Absolutely. Easy to write in a blog post? Totally. True? I think so.

What's your question for God? Bring it to Him – along with the F-word.


This post was prompted by my wife's godly wisdom in response to my bemoaning something not to my liking.

 

 

It’s OK for Christians to be anxious

No, really, it is! I found it in the Bible. OK, so it's in the New Living Translation, which is a bit of a paraphrase but is my favourite for general reading. I find it often brings out meaning I would miss from the NIV, which is my standard “proper” translation. And I tend to find The Message a bit, well, distracting somehow. It, too, has its moments of clarity but I don't like reading chunks of it.

So back to the being anxious thing. Here it is:

You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God.

1 Peter 4:2

Told you. While some may quibble with the translation, I doubt many will dispute that it is a good thing to be anxious to do what God wants, what with Him being Creator And Lord Of All and everything.

Apologies if you you were expecting controversy, heresy or some other aberration at which to be outraged. I don't actually think worry is OK at all (I'd go so far as to call it a sin – yikes!). Have a read of this post of mine on that topic and then come back here for the rest of today's deep insights.

There's another verse about doing God's will that I've always “liked” (in the traditional, rather than Facebook, sense):

for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Philippians 2:13

(And that one's from the NIV, as that's the version I learnt it in back in the eighties when doing Navigators Scripture Memory.)

So I would thank God for that verse and comfort myself with the knowledge that no matter how badly I seemed to be doing, or however unfruitful my life was, He was at work in me so that I'd want what he wants and then go out and do it. Methinks, however, that I've been somewhat passive and not playing my part. Because Peter says I'll be anxious to do God's will, not just sitting there waiting to be inspired to want it. And he also says:

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers.

1 Peter 4:7

Earnest. Disciplined. Prayers. I need to ask God to bring this about in me. I need the power of the Holy Spirit enlivening and empowering me. I need to submit, surrender and make myself available to be compelled by the love of Christ like the apostle Paul was.

Fact is, none of that is new to me. But I'm coming back to it, and Him, afresh and looking to be that person who wills and acts according to His good purpose, anxious to do His will. I know He'll answer prayers like that, and already is doing. Please pray for me that I'll not forget, give up – or be anxious when I shouldn't.

 

Idolatry of the Heart

This is an old (2006) post from a blogger I’ve not seen before but speaks absolutely about the place I’m in as a Christian, even after 32 years. To the extent that I seek fulfilment through anything but God, my life is a waste. To the extent that I want Jesus to forgive my sins but not to be Lord of my life, my life is a waste. I can’t make myself godly; I can’t make myself into someone who puts others first; but I can surrender unconditionally, somewhat apprehensively I’ll admit, and let God begin a new work in me.

It’s a long article but if, like me, you’re a Christian who knows their life isn’t really that distinctive, or falls prey to pursuing security & fulfillment apart from God, please read it 🙂

Possessing the Treasure

The following piece is an excerpt from my book Walking the Walk by Faith. I decided to post the chapter titled “Idolatry of the Heart” today because of some very uncomfortable blogosphere discussions I have been involved in over the last few weeks. There seems to be a great deal of confusion rooted in pride in many well-intentioned Christians who are passionately doing battle to defend their “beliefs” who end up after a many skirmishes feeling somewhat ashamed of themselves. They end up asking for forgiveness from the very people they have been battling. Of course that “shame” is coming from the conviction of the Holy Spirit into their consciences. When I wrote this chapter over a year and a half ago I was trying to explain the greatest obstacle Christians have in becoming Spirit-led. That obstacle is pride which builds idols in our hearts with the biggest most…

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Be a more fruitful Christian: It’s not about trying harder

I came across this article on crosswalk.com that spoke exactly to the place I find myself. It's based on a book called Pursuing More of Jesus and has 13 sections. Below is the one that's spoken to me most strongly so far. I've yet to consider the others properly. What struck me most, and comforted me, was this phrase:

…you don’t have to try harder, pray more, or claim greater territory in service.

Anyway, here's that whole section. It'll certainly be uppermost in my mind and prayers today.

Pursue more of His fruit in your service. If your service for God lacks the fruit of changed lives, you don’t have to try harder, pray more, or claim greater territory in service. Instead, you should examine your personal relationship with Jesus to see how closely you’re connected to Him. It’s the quality of your connection to Jesus that will determine whether or not you’ll have the power to bear good fruit for His kingdom. The fruit you bear isn’t produced through your own efforts; it’s produced by the Holy Spirit through you as you consistently rely on God. Jesus is the Vine and you are the branches. God may sometimes choose to prune you to bear good fruit by cutting out of your life everything you depend on – except your relationship with Jesus. When you’re forced to pay attention to your relationship with Jesus because that’s all you have, your connection to the Vine gets bigger, empowering you to produce more fruit. Trust God when He prunes the branches of your life; He knows what’s best to help you grow. Pray for greater fruitfulness in your service, asking God to conform you more closely to the image of Jesus, use you to make others want to know Him better, give you opportunities to share His Gospel and give you the fruit of changed lives as a result, draw others to Himself through a Bible study you lead, or give you one person to share His love with today.

 

Some stuff I learned about God’s guidance

RECENTLY I attended a Bible week in sunny (and, yes, it was) Wales. The venue was a Pontin's holiday camp, which was decent enough – arguably somewhat down-market from rivals Butlin's but distinctly more up-market than a tent. Anyhoo, among the topics was that of God's providence – defined by Theopedia.com as God's “guardianship and care for His creatures and creation.” The same article goes on to say:

Providence means that God has not abandoned the world that he created, but rather works within that creation to manage all things according to the “immutable counsel of His own will” (Westminster Confession of Faith, V, i). By contrast, the world at large, even if it will on occasion acknowledge God to have been the world’s Creator, is at least certain that he does not now intervene in human affairs.

So here's a few points I picked up in those talks. They were given by Melvin Tinker, an Anglican vicar with a gift for explaining things clearly.

How do we distinguish between “ordinary” decisions and “important” ones? What if I miss God's will? We mustn't undermine the authority & sufficiency of scripture. Within God's sovereign and moral will, we have an area of freedom. Within that, we can't get it wrong! That's why we read phrases in the New Testament like: I think, we thought, it seems advisable, I planned, I hope…

Need to recognise different decision types:

  • “Right / wrong”. There really is a godly choice to be made.
  • “Wise / unwise.” Could be lesser of two evils / greater of two goods. We should make Christ-centred decisions, not self-centred. But even when we make a bad decision there's a way back if we repent. Ps. 25:3.
  • “Who cares?” decisions. For those, there's no wrong answer. They don't warrant hours of prayer or seeking advice 🙂
  • While God does have a will for us individually, we don't always need to know what it is! God gives “special” or supernatural guidance sometimes – but not normally. (Gideon & the fleece: He'd already had instruction from an angel and asked for more signs. It's not there to act as an example.)
  • Our partnership with God through prayer and obedience is about accomplishing his purpose for my life, not me determining the course of my life. My task is to get on with being a Christian where God has put me. Nothing can mess up God's sovereign will!

Another talk focused on the thorny topic of God's providence and evil – possibly one of the hardest aspects of life for anyone to deal with. If God guides me to, I may post about that one later. (Did you see what I did there?)

 

“I am Christ’s!”: Encouragement from Spurgeon

Be thou ever one of those whose manners are Christian, whose speech is like the Nazarene, whose conduct and conversation are so redolent of heaven, that all who see you may know that you are the Saviour's, recognizing in you his features of love and his countenance of holiness. “I am a Roman!” was of old a reason for integrity; far more, then, let it be your argument for holiness, “I am Christ's!”

Charles Spurgeon

 

That Community Moment when your neighbour asks you to pick up a Sunday paper

It's been a beautiful sunny winter day so far. (Aside for the grammar aficionados: according to this site, the names of seasons are only written with a capital letter when the season has been in some way personified, as in I was captivated by Winter's stark beauty / Summer's shimmering heat / Spring's unfolding beauty (dang it, already used “beauty”; never mind) / Autumn's something-or-other-something: you get the idea. Sorry, rather a long aside so soon in the story.) That being so, and being still in holiday mode, and, what's more, being in need of a replenished stock of old newspapers for various purposes domestic, I decided, unusually, to stroll down to the village shop for a Sunday paper. (For anyone confused by the “old newspaper” allusion, I should explain that the said domestic purposes range from shoe polishing (not that I polish shoes with newspaper; rather, the newspaper acts as a base on which to conduct the polishing and to collect the inevitable bits of polish, mud and other detritus) to mopping up water that accidentally leaks through the back door when not properly closed. It is a fundamental necessity of domestic life that one must have a stock of old newspapers to call on. One cannot, by definition, have old newspapers if one never acquires, at some point, new newspapers. And since we do not, as a matter of course, read a newspaper then our stock, last supplemented in about 2011, inexorably shrank until the point of disappearance. Sorry. Another long aside.)

Let me add that I genuinely wished to read the paper; the domestic stock replenishment would be merely a happy side-effect.

Anyhoooo, as I walked the few hundred yards to the shop, be-hatted, be-scarved and be-gloved (grammar aficionados make of those constructs what you will), I passed our friend's house. Theirs being an old property that sits right on the pavement, I easily spotted my friend in the kitchen and she waved. They are the neighbours we know best and have quite a close friendship with. Days before, she had called round and left us a fabulous Christmas gift (pictured), so I seized the opportunity to trot across the road to thank her for the gift.

Our Christmas gift

I explained the mission I was on and she asked me if I could do her a favour and buy her a copy of The Sunday Times, should one be available. As it turned out, there were none (I too had intended to buy a copy of TST but settled for The Independent on Sunday), so I duly returned her cash.

As I made my way home in the sunshine, I was struck in some admittedly vague, fuzzy way by the uplifting combination of the weather, the wave across the road, the request to buy the paper, the friendship we have with our neighbours, and the fact that she bought us the picture (which is full of Bible truths) although not (yet) believing herself.

So what's my point? Nothing profound – just a tiny occasion, a confluence of circumstances that I wanted to remember and thank God for. And to ask Him to bring about more of these Community Moments at home, at work and in church.

 

Things You Didn’t Know About Jesus: The universe would collapse without Him

It being the fourth day of Christmas I guess what I ought to be doing is figuring out where I can buy four calling birds to give to my true love. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling she’s not over-enamoured with the French hens and the turtle doves flapping about in the utility room (the feathers and…other stuff get everywhere) and the pear tree in the lounge is just not working…

What I’m actually doing is sitting in my dressing gown and a Santa hat (yes I know that sounds weird but it keeps one warm when sitting under a draughty ventilator – another story for another time – and it’s the only time of year one can get away with it, OK?) having just read, and been greatly enamoured by, Colossians 1:15-24.

At Christmas there tends to be an understandable focus on baby Jesus. ‘Tis important, the incarnation of the divine Son of God, an’ all – but what’s also mind-blowing is to be reminded of just who this child is / was / will be. And one of the things He’s always been and always will be, to the proverbial end of time, is the sustainer of the entire universe (need to resist the temptation to add an evil laugh at that point – y’know, lots of echo and “mwah-ha-ha-haaaaa!” – as that would be completely inappropriate). So, yeah, without Jesus Christ your world, and mine, would collapse, implode, cease to be, end in a cataclysm of literally Earth-shattering proportions, dwarfing the best of Dr Who, Star Trek or {insert favourite sci-fi here}.

How do I know? ‘Cos it says so here:

Colossians 1:16-17

for through him God created everything

in the heavenly realms and on earth.

He made the things we can see

and the things we can’t see—

such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.

Everything was created through him and for him.

He existed before anything else,

and he holds all creation together.

There you go. When it comes to universe-sustaining, Jesus Christ is, as they say, the man. (And, in this unique case, the God.)

Time to check out H. Samuel for five gold rings…

No Such Thing as Ordinary: let God be over everything

Earlier in the year I wrote about discovering that we're meant to “work for the Lord” in everything. That's about removing the distinction between “spiritual” work and “secular” stuff. It's about business life, domestic life, family life and whatever other life you can think of – not just what we might brand “Church” life.

As if to underline the point, today's sermon at church, based around Joshua chapters 6 to 10, sought to remove the distinction between God working through the “miraculous” and Him working through the “ordinary”. For example:

  • Chapter 6 is the story of the distinctly miraculous fall of Jericho. Most battle campaigns don't feature the breaching of defences by sheer power of music and marching (oh, and shouting).
  • Chapter 8 features a much more “conventional” military victory, planned and executed successfully. To the onlooker, there wasn't anything miraculous or supernatural to be seen. Read the chapter, however, and you'll see that God was right in the middle of prompting and endorsing the strategy. (Not only that, but the first time they'd tried to take this particular place they'd been over-confident and completely scuppered by one of their number disobeying God. They got a sound thrashing on the battlefield.)
  • Chapter 10 is back to the spectacular stuff, with the sun obligingly standing still for a day while the next battle was fought. Only God can do that, by the way.

So I believe in a God who can do miracles – but I also learn that most of the time He doesn't work like that and that I'm supposed to have Him in the middle of “ordinary” things; that I should bring my ideas and plans to Him; and that when I think I know what I'm doing, that I've done it all before, and that I've got it sussed, that's just the time to make sure I'm bringing it all to God, asking Him to be in it, asking Him to use it, and so on, and so on.

Not sure this is coming across clearly, but the combination of what I wrote before and what I heard today tells me again that God simply wants all my life, every day, every step, to be lived by the power of the Holy Spirit. That doesn't mean I have no part to play; He's given me a brain, He's given me tasks, responsibilities, work and relationships. He expects obedience and holiness. But what I don't need to do is ask questions like:

  • Is this spiritual or secular?
  • Is this for church or not for church?
  • Is this for God or is it just getting on with life?
  • Is God interested in this or not?
  • Do I need to ask God to be in this?

(And the chances are that if I don't want to ask God to be in it then it's something I shouldn't be doing :-))

So. When Monday comes and I'm working with computers, talking to colleagues, washing dishes or catching up with Atlantis on the TV, it'll all be spiritual, all with God – if I live as He intends. When I visit the chiropractor later in the week, when I pray for people to give their lives to Christ, when I go to a church business meeting, when I put out the recycling, when I write Christmas cards – you get the idea.

Our church leader put it like this:

He sanctifies the ordinary.

I just need to let Him.