Saturday, 5 July 2014

God is Good

God is good – there are many that doubt this, even some Christians.
This though is the testimony of scripture – God is good, and he is good because he is love.
The problem is we live in a world that’s all muddled up with what love and goodness is
Goodness mustn’t be confused with softness.
Goodness mustn’t be confused with lots of presents.
Goodness mustn’t be confused with an easy life.
Goodness mustn’t be confused with lack of discipline.
At church (Gateway, Ashford, Kent, UK -) we’ve been looking at the book of Proverbs, which can seem like an awful lot of do’s and don’ts – a killjoys guide to life. Yet as we have discovered it’s about a Father who loves his kids and wants them to succeed in life, so much so that he takes the time to talk to them about the issues of life: finance, friends, sex, work, bullies …. the list goes on! (You can check out the podcasts here:
And that’s the heart of the Bible, it’s about a Father who loves those he made in his image.
It’s about a Father God who was willing to enter this sphere of lowliness and brokenness, falleness and darkness, in the person of his Son Jesus Christ in order to bring us redemption.
It’s about a Father who loves his kids so much he can’t leave them as they are, but rather wants them all to know him fully and grow to full maturity.
Though he’s merciful and gracious, he’s not soft – a walkover.
Though he gives good gifts, he doesn’t spoil his children. The reality is we deserve nothing.
Though he said my burden is light, it didn’t mean that life would be cushy – there is a cross to bear.
And because he is good he disciplines every true child of his – or have we forgotten Hebrews 12:5-13 where it says that “he disciplines those he loves.”
Perhaps part of our problem is that we so magnify the grace of God that we have lost sight of the discipline of the Father, and yet that very discipline is a demonstration of his love and grace.
We frequently testify to his blessings/gifts, and of how he graciously uses us, but do we know what he is doing in us – is this where we struggle with his goodness?
Last Sunday we sang Brian Johnson’s song You are Good. We’ve hummed, sung and whistled it in the office all week, you might like to check it out:

Friday, 6 June 2014

Going Liberal Will Not Save

In the evangelical church it’s becoming increasingly popular to go ‘liberal,’ and frequently the reason given is that a greater openness and willingness to ‘accept’ people no matter what their lifestyle will ultimately enhance the churches standing in the world, make her more attractive and people will come flocking to it – I think of the present arguments going on around the gay debate (see: Steve Chalke “I’m worried that the noise of the arguments around gay marriage will cloud and confuse the real question for the Church, which is about the nature of inclusion.”  See also:  Albert Mohler, and Thinking Christian, and The Gay Challenge).
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Liberalism has been tried and tested in the past and has always been found wanting – it was largely responsible for the demise of the historic churches/denominations, and as far as I am aware there has never been a revival in a liberal church without a radical return to the Word.
The church is not called to be popular or the same as the world in which it exists. It is called to be and bring the prophetic voice of the gospel, demonstrating and proclaiming God’s love for fallen humanity while at the same time challenging the world that it is in the wrong with a most holy and righteous God and therefore needs saving – not feeling better about itself.
The problem with the new-evangelical liberal gospel is that there seems to be less and less that we need to be saved from, and ultimately it moves towards the universal salvation of all, no matter what, because we don’t want to and can’t leave anybody out because that wouldn’t be loving wouldn’t it.
With the redefining of what the Bible teaches in regard to homosexuality comes a redefining of the doctrine of sin, and as that is further redefined so also goes the doctrine of salvation, and Jesus becomes nothing more than a very nice and easy going person who just ‘accepts’ one and all no matter what and so it makes his death superfluous.
And there is a problem word ‘accept’. It is common parlance that Jesus accepts everyone. The answer is no he doesn’t. He reaches out to us, even ‘entertains’ us – in other words he was willing to spend time with sinners, eating and drinking with them, sharing with and teaching them, even healing them, much to the disgust of the religious leaders of his day, but that is not the same as acceptance, or inclusion. Jesus challenged peoples thinking and lifestyles and called them to repentance and trust in him, some did, others turned away.
If we are to recover our confidence in the gospel, we need to recover our understanding of how far we have fallen, only then will we realise and need the full power of the Good News of Jesus Christ, resulting in powerful demonstrations of his love, mercy and grace in salvation that produces radical stories of changed lives, where having been forgiven we die to temptation and sin in what ever form it comes, and live in newness of life.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Growing an Apostolic Church

The beginning and growth of the church in the New Testament is somewhat staggering. From such humble and seemingly ill-equipped beginnings it rapidly flourished and went on to impact the whole known world. Not far into it’s history it arrived at Antioch. Now from a human point of view the church at Antioch was an unintended church plant that came about as a result of the persecution that took place in Jerusalem, yet it became responsible for one of the greatest gospel expansions as the church moved into Europe.
Three notable things about the church in Acts:
 The church was not institutional, it was organic.
 The church was not static, but full of movement.
 The church was not built on human wisdom and power, but on the wisdom and power of God.
A Problem Today
Today churches are frequently built around a person, a style or teaching, e.g. a charismatic personality, particular style of worship, evangelism, teaching, prophetic, healing, deliverance, spiritual warfare etc.. The problem with this is that it narrows down God’s purpose for the church and ultimately means it will only suit some people. It can also lead to a settling down, as people go to churches that give them what they want and suits their personalities and tastes rather than what they need.
10 things we can learn from the church at Antioch - 11:19-30; 13:1-4.
1. They were unexpected pioneers, thrust out by God. Not that they wanted to be! They had no choice, no time to pray, no time to weigh the options. They were thrust out by God who had a far greater purpose, and to fulfill it required them being moved out of their comfort zones (11:19 – 20).
2. They were not ashamed of the Gospel (11:19 – 21). They knew what Christ had done for them, and they had a passion to preach Jesus Christ wherever they could.
3. They were a grace impacted community – they lived in and out of the grace of God(11:22). Strong says it is, “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflections in the life.” This wasn’t easy believism – what’s been termed cheap grace. It wasn’t simply a grace received, but a grace that empowers. A grace that not only saved but enabled them to live transformed lives.
4. They were willing to receive from others – Though they had pioneered the church (and it was doing very well), they hadn’t got it all and they were willing to receive input from outside (11:22 – 27). In the New Testament there was no such thing as an independent church, at the same time there was no such thing as the denominations we have today. Ministry wasn’t just located in the local body, however good that may be, but in the wider body and was looked for and welcomed – The One who had said he would build his church had given apostles, prophets,evangelists, pastors and teachers.
5. They were willing to be taught and trained – disciples (11:25b). A disciple is a willing learner, someone who chooses to follow a teacher and learn of them. They were taught for a whole year. “They continued in the apostles doctrine.” Teaching therefore played a major part.
6. They were open to the prophetic ministry (11:27). Not only did you find ‘the Word’ at Antioch, but the powerful activity of the Spirit. This kind of prophetic ministry brings ‘the now’ word of God. It cuts through. It opens up. It brings clarity. It calls to action.
7. They were concerned about the needs of the wider body of Christ (11:27-30). There was a famine predicted. Most didn’t know anyone in Judea, but they recognise them as part of the same body of Christ, and seek to help meet their needs.
8. They were led by prophets and teachers (13:1). This was no one-man ministry, or just expository, it was a balanced or broad ministry. Many churches only have one style of ministry. It’s possible for people to grow fat on the Word, but when there are prophets around that stops that happening. It keeps God’s purpose right up front.
9. They knew how to minister to the Lord and pray/fast (13:2). This is important and shouldn’t be glossed over. Much is said today about ‘worship’ the word that’s used here in some translations, but how many know how to truly minister to the Lord? And what about the place of fasting?
10. They were ready to hear God’s voice (13:2-5). Because they knew how to minister to the Lord they were ready to hear and respond to his voice, and when they heard they responded.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Living in the Power of the Resurrection!

It’s not over! Yes, you read that right. We don’t return to life before Easter, because every Sunday, indeed every day, is Easter day for the Christian – there’s no going back. We are not caught in some pagan cycle of continual death and rebirth, but rather one of forward movement and progression, whereby having encountered Christ as Saviour, we live in the power of His resurrection.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus brings us total forgiveness, cleansing, deliverance – total salvation, a salvation that rest’s in Christ’s work alone. Not only that but it also grants us the power to live a new kind of life, a life empowered to say no to sin, and bear good fruit to God, with a sure and certain hope of heaven.
As Paul puts it, in baptism we were baptised into Christ’s death, and just as He was raised from the dead, so we too have been raised to walk in newness of life – wonderful!
Paul said that knowing Christ, being found in Him, and knowing the power of his resurrection was everything, indeed he counted all that he previously knew as loss – and he knew an awful lot and had an impeccable religious heritage and experience, but he said, I boast in it no more, it has no value, for Jesus is everything.
If we look to ourselves we will fall into the trap of pagan spirituality, of the constant need for death and rebirth, and be continually coming to the end of ourselves and recommiting and renewing ‘our vows.’ That is to move away from the gospel, and bring us into works.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds and exhorts us to keep looking unto Jesus because He is the author (or founder), and finisher (or perfector) of our faith. And as he says a bit later, it’s not to blazing fire, darkness, gloom and tempest, with the sound of a trumpet and voice that caused the hearers to beg, ‘no more,’ that we come, but to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, who is giving us a Kingdom that cannot be shaken!
Yes, the death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything, and if you have encountered Him, your history has been permanently changed, along with your present and your future.

He's The Champion! Yes!

Found myself reflecting on the words of an old hymn at Easter and suddenly realising afresh the powerful meaning of them…
Look! you saints the sight is glorious!
See the man of sorrows now!
From the fight returned victorious,
Every knee to Him shall bow.
Crown Him, crown Him!
Crowns become the victors brow!
These words by Thomas Kelly alert us to the reality of that first Easter morning and in them he invites us to ‘look’ and ‘see.’
Yes, there had been a long, cruel and torturous fight, as the enemy sought to derail the life, mission and ministry of Jesus. He was tempted and attacked time and time again, but Jesus won every round. And then it came to this last one and this time the devil thought that he had got Him, that he had Him up against the ropes, that this time it was in the bag, but (and it’s a big one), in that last and bitter final round when Satan poured everything he’d got at Him, Jesus gave one last and devastating blow to him and to his ambitions, forever, and came out the mighty Victor!
Yes, from the fight He has returned victorious. He is Heaven and Earth’s Champion! He has won! Forever!
On Good Friday Satan and his minions had been cheering thinking they had finally got Him, but now their cheers were turned into the groans of total defeat. Satan, sin, death and hell were utterly and totally defeated, and through it all the eternal purpose of God had been worked out, the price for all our sin has been paid, and this Jesus was raised for/or because of our justification.
Yes, from the fight He has returned victorious. He is Heaven and Earth’s Mighty Champion! He has won forever!
Yes, loves redeeming work is done – the Father was completely satisfied with his Son. Now this message of victory and salvation in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone, is to be proclaimed to one and all, and all who believe in Him will be saved, and the pronouncement made to them and over them, “You are forgiven. Your sins I will remember no more! Go in peace, there is now no condemnation! Ever!” as new life is released in them through power of the Holy Spirit.
What about you, do you know Him? If not then stop and see that all is done, He has done it; change your mind, believe and be saved. It only takes a moment to be saved.
Maybe you do, but perhaps you’ve lost sight of Him and what He’s done. Then look away from yourself, your circumstances, and look once again unto Jesus. You may have failed Him – He paid for all that too. You don’t earn your way back, simply see and behold Him, your sufficient and wonderful Saviour and Sanctifier, the one who paid for all your sin and every mess up along the way.
It’s done! Hallelujah! You can’t add to it, you can’t subtract from it. Rejoice in Him the mighty Victor!

The Black Friday that is Good

Some thoughts on Easter.
A black Friday that’s good?
Strange to our ears isn’t it, calling it Good Friday, after all what is good about it, it’s about someone’s death, and more particularly the death of Jesus Christ, the co-equal Son of God the Father, and co-creator with the Father and the Spirit of the universe and the giver of life.
On Good Friday, God died! That sounds like the end of the world!
Yes, that’s right. Jesus was the Word incarnate. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas, God made flesh with man residing. As it says in the words of the carol and of the great confessions, ‘Very God, begottten not created.’ We must not reduce our thinking when it comes to the cross and think only of His humanity. Yes, this was truly none other than God. And on Good Friday, the Creator dies…… shocking thought isn’t it?
At that point in time it was the most cataclysmic day in history, no day before it was like it – and there had been some dark ones, but none as dark as this.
Satan no doubt rejoiced, and his minions were delighted. The battle had been tough. Right from the day of his birth they had tried to get Him. Time and again they thought they had Him, only to be beaten back again and again, as Jesus overcame temptation after temptation, remained obedient to His Father, went on mission, forgave sinners, healed the sick, delivered those they held captive… but now, ah now, they thought once again they had him, that this was it, He was dead – DEAD. The last breath had gone, his life had expired.  The lifeless body was sealed in a tomb. Surely, there was no way out of this.
But no, they hadn’t realised and reckoned on the fact that this was part of the great plan, the great strategy of the Divine counsels of eternity. He must die. He must go and face the very thing death itself – the result of the curse – and enter it completely for the price to be fully paid and the curse to be undone.
So what was black Friday turns out to be Good Friday as God in Christ defeats Satan, sin, death, and yes Hell itself, the ultimate end of the wicked, and in doing so He pays the price for all our sin, satisfying his own justice as a holy and righteous and God – but it wont be Good Friday unless Easter Sunday comes.
In the words of Charles Wesley:
O love divine, what have You done!
The immortal God has died for me!
The Father’s co-eternal Son
Bore all my sins upon the tree:
The immortal God for me has died;
My Lord, my love, is crucified.
Charles Wesley

Friday, 11 April 2014

Whose Glory are You Living For?

We come to the last in this mini series on the Lord’s prayer, a phrase not in the early manuscripts but found in the later ones, ‘Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever. Amen.’
Our own little kingdoms, power and glory are something that fallen humanity desperately craves, we want to be somebody, have some some power, achieve and be in control of something, and be applauded for it. Sinatra’s song fits well, “I did it my way” – I could do it, I did it, I deserve the credit.
Yes, power, success and fame are what we all want, what we crave – it’s exhibited in all the TV shows that offer the opportunity of stardom, and for many young people today that’s the aim, to be a great singer, a great footballer, to be a star one way or another.
It was what precipitated the fall of humanity – Lucifer wanted to be somebody other than God had created him to be, in fact he wanted the top spot, he wanted to be God, and in doing so he fell. Later he was to tempt Adam and Eve that God was not as good as he appeared to be and that he was withholding something from them – they could be like God. The thought was sown and entertained and they fell for it. And it has been humanities curse ever since. In some way or other we all want to be ‘gods’ in some way or another, having our own power, doing our own thing, controllers of our own destiny. Sadly in our hands it becomes distorted, abusive, dominating, controlling, manipulating, deceitful, destructive – we could go on, but you get the picture.
As we come to the end of this prayer it reminds us that to God alone belongs the kingdom, the power and the glory and we do best when we recognize that and live within it. The breath that we have is given to us by God, it’s in him that we live and move and have our being. It’s God who gifts and enables. It’s God who saves and sanctifies…..
Yes we are reminded that the best life lived, is a life under God, a life that lives for and returns the glory to God.
Sadly though the passion for power and glory creeps into the heart of God’s people. There can be rivalry and competition between churches, ministries, streams. It has wrecked lives, relationships and ministries. None of us is immune, we are all prone.  If we are honest with ourselves we love opportunities to exalt ourselves – evidenced in the desire to trump the story someone has just told us, or tell a better joke, to score a point in some way. We can be more concerned about what people thought of us in how we led worship last Sunday, how the preach went, than whether God was glorified and people encountered him. When I’m blogging I can can be more concerned about what people think of me about me than conveying the heart of God and seeking his glory.
In the world in which we live there is a lot of talk about the need for significance, which in reality is much the same thing under a different guise.  In reality there is a big difference between living for the glory of God and the desire or need for significance. Significance is more about me, about leaving my mark on the world, making a name for myself, and be known for and getting the glory for it. It can be more about the big things than the small things. It can be more about what is seen than what is not seen, and even our serving can be become very subtly self-serving.
It’s also evidenced in the cult of personality, something Paul faced when he wrote to the church at Corinth – if we can’t glory in ourselves then we’ll glory another, in who we follow, and for the Corinthian Christians it was about who was the best teacher/preacher, and Paul would have none of it.  He points them back to God as the one in whom it all works, and summed it by saying, ‘It’s because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who he has been made unto us wisdom from God, that is our righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that we should not boast in ourselves, but in the Lord.’ (1 Cor. 1:30,31), and bit later, ‘It’s God who gives the increase.’ (1 Cor. 3:7).
That’s why this prayer is important, and this particular phrase in it. We need the reminder, we need the challenge it brings as we honestly pray it. It gets under our skin. It challenges why we are doing something and who we are doing it for. It leads us from the place of control to one of surrender. It leads us from pride to humility. It leads us from confidence in ourselves to confidence in God and the way he leads, gifts and talents us. It leads us to say, He must increase, but I must decrease.
As Paul said, ‘By grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not a result of our own efforts, so that no one would boast in themselves’ (Eph. 28,9), and again,
Yes, the kingdom, the power, the glory are all his forever! Amen!