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!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Temptation and Deliverance

As we come towards the end of the Lord’s prayer we are confronted by a request for very specific help about living in this world.
Temptation and sin are common to all humanity. It doesn’t matter where you live, east or west, north or south, whether you have money or none, educated or uneducated… we all know temptation, we all know sin.
To that end we need a saviour, a deliverer, for none of us is able to save or free him or herself from it’s strangle hold. We all live under the prince of the power of the air and are subject to the passions/lusts of the flesh. As much as we might try to extricate ourselves we can’t.
Praise God Jesus came to do just that. He beat the devil and temptation at every twist and turn of his life. When dragged before the courts on trumped up charges, he was found to be not guilty. Yet, the masses wanted his death, and he was scourged and cruelly crucified on a Roman cross.
In the sovereign purposes of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – his death is part of the great plan of to bring salvation and deliverance from sin and it’s consequences, and make right with Him all those who would hear and believe the message of salvation – a salvation wholly achieved by Jesus Christ, and not by anything that we have done.
Let me ask you, do you know Him? Have you come to a saving knowledge and experience of Jesus Christ? He is able to save you, forgive you, set you free and give you a new life. The scripture calls us to repent (change our minds and direction), and believe in Him and we will be saved.
Becoming a Christian though doesn’t mean we will never be tempted or not sin again. We still live in a fallen world. We still await the redemption of our bodies. We do have an enemy. Hence the necessity of this prayer, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver from evil (or the evil one).”
Yes, there will be times when you will have thoughts, unexpected thoughts and desires to do wrong. Sometimes they will will be connected to your own particular passions, at others totally out of the blue, like, where did that come from?!
This is about living the saved life. Yes, we are saved and no longer under condemnation, and have a sure and certain hope, but we are still living in a fallen world, and we need saving day by day. Our enemy is extremely cunning, having lost us to the Kingdom of God he is constantly devising strategies to cripple us in our Christian walk. Paul says “we are not ignorant of his devices,”  but it would appear today many are – we need to wise up.
Part of our daily praying should be, “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil/evil one.”  1. It will alert us to the fact we can and will be tempted and help to set our antenna, and set our hearts and minds on knowing God’s presence and help, and 2.  It will keep us alert to the fact that it’s not our will power or strength that beats the enemy but knowing the presence and power of the Lord.
One last thought, temptation doesn’t define us. You may be powerfully and sorely tempted. The devil might suggest it’s unique to you, that you are an exception. Don’t believe him. Temptation is not sin. Adam and Eve were tempted prior to the fall, Jesus Christ being without sin was nevertheless tempted in all points as we are. Don’t allow the fact that you are tempted to define or bind you. Go forward knowing that Jesus is present to rescue you from every temptation, to deliver you from the power of the evil one, and that he always provides a way of escape.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Forgive us as

Forgiveness is something we all stand in need of. We’ve all missed it and we’re all messed up.
No matter how hard modern man or woman tries, guilt still runs deep. We still stand in need of redemption.
Down through the centuries humanity has sought to deal with it and it’s consequences, above all the need for absolution, to be freed from guilt and blame, and released from the consequences, obligations or penalties.
Yes we all need it, we still need it. The modern world may well want to excise us of it, but we cannot run from the reality of it or excise ourselves of it, and the Lord’s prayer reminds us that as much as we need our daily bread we also stand in need of the daily mercy and grace of God.
As someone once said, “forgiveness for man is the plainest of duties but for God it’s the profoundest of problems.” We should forgive as we are all on the same level, but for God to forgive is another matter.
In the heart of the triune fellowship of the Trinity the Son volunteered to come and deal with the guilt and blame, to release us from the consequences, obligations and penalties of our sin.
In time Jesus came and lived the life we should have lived, and then died the death we should have died, the Just for the unjust that we might be reconciled to God.
Today, from the death and resurrection flows the gospel proclamation, calling all to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It was and still is the emancipation proclamation!
All sin, every sin is covered, past, present future, the word stands true – there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ, none, period. Hallelujah!
But because we still fall short, we still mess up, there needs to be the daily appropriation of it to our lives.
We’re not perfect and we need to admit it; own up to the fact that we haven’t arrived, that we still fail, sometimes bigtime – yes, confession is good for the soul.
“As we forgive….” It shocks us to hear those words, it sounds like a condition, but no it’s the kingdom, as we pray it in ourselves experiencing the massive mercy and extreme grace of God the natural outcome is to forgive. There is a wonderful cycle going on here, the two are tied together. The person who can’t forgive hasn’t understood the forgiveness they receive. For the kingdom to come as we pray, we need to be both forgiven and forgiving.
Yes, God’s grace is that big, it truly is hyper-grace! It covers all our sin, at the same time it extends it through us to others also!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Give us Today our Daily Bread

Daily bread, we all need it.
Bread represents what’s necessary for life – there’s a lot we think we need that we really don’t. There’s a lot that we want and seek and when we get it actually adds to our perceived needs rather than reducing them.
When David said in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” he didn’t for one moment mean the wants of the 21st century, he meant the daily needs of his life.
It’s good to have food to feed and sustain our lives, but life is so much more than that. We are more than flesh and blood, we are body, soul and spirit.
It had been a busy and tiring day for Jesus and his disciples when they finally arrived in Sychar in Samaria. As they were hungry the disciples went into town to get some food and left Jesus sitting down by the well. When they came back and found Jesus ministering to a spiritually hungry woman they were amazed. Wasn’t he tired? Wasn’t he hungry? Where did he get the energy? They thought perhaps someone had given him something to eat and he was feeling renewed, but Jesus said, “I have food to eat that you do not know about…” (John 4:32), but by implication they were going to!
Yes, food and drink go so far, but they don’t and can’t sustain the spirit. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” says the scripture. Yes we need the Word, food for our souls, the bread of heaven. To that end God has given us his Word, the scriptures, God-breathed and profitable in every part. Not just the favourite parts but all of it. The whole counsel of God. We need to feed on them.
Then again there is the Bread of the Word that he quickens to us in a moment – a scripture perhaps we’ve known and read many a time that suddenly comes alive by the Spirit in that moment of need and speaks to and energises our lives.
There is also the Bread of his Presence – he himself is the Bread of life. It means spending time in His Presence, being with Him, sharing fellowship, listening to His Voice – didn’t Jesus say, “my sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me”? God’s voice is not locked into the printed page, he still speaks today, and we, you need to hear Him. One Word from Heaven (the context of the prayer) can make all the difference!
Today we hear a lot about the right kind of diet, what we should and shouldn’t eat – we take great care of our bodies, but what about our souls, what kind of diet are you living on? Are you spiritually malnourished? Are you getting a complete spiritual diet? Do you only read certain parts of the Bible? Do you ever stop to listen to his voice?
What is the bread you really need today?
Go ask Him for it.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Your Kingdom Come

The next phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Your kingdom come,’ reminds us that God is King, he is sovereign. His will and word are final. All the rights are his. He is the One who creates. He is the One who sustains. He is the One who makes the big decisions. His will, will be done.
In Genesis we discover that God created humanity in his own image, male and female he made them, and following their creation they were charged with subduing and ruling the earth – in other words they were made to be vice-regents.
This wasn’t to be done as they chose, but in relation to their creator King. Day by day they would come into the garden, God’s temple on earth, and meet with God, and receive from him the wisdom, strength and provision to fulfill his purpose on the earth. They then went out to subdue, to rule.
Then one day they listened to the wrong voice. Not only did they listen, but they took heed to it, and did as was suggested, and suddenly things were turned upside down. The world in every way was not as it should be. Something happened in them (they were spiritually corrupted), something happened in their relationship with God (they found they didn’t look forward to or like God’s company anymore), something happened between them (they started blaming one another).
A sad and sorry story. Suddenly blame, victimization, power plays, control, intimidation, fear, injustice, exploitation etc. entered their universe – the world was not as it should be.
But God the Trinity had a plan, to right the wrongs, and put things the right way up, and that plan was Jesus. When Jesus came, he came proclaiming the kingdom (or reign) of God. He declared that it was at hand, that he had come to destroy the work of the evil one. As the Servant King he modeled a different way of being and doing. He healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, proclaimed the Good News, confronted sin, forgave sins and ultimately went to the cross paying sins price, and defeated death itself.
When asked by his disciples how they should pray Jesus said, “Our Father… Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Our Father is a King, the King, and he has a kingdom, and we are called on to pray it in.
What a way to pray, praying down heaven, something of heaven now – praying something of the not yet now, something of the future into the present.
It means acting as vice-regents once again.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Our Father - Who is in Heaven

This wonderful Father of ours lives in Heaven, or literally ‘the Heavens’ – we tend to use the singular, but the Greek has the plural – those in Bible times would speak of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd heaven. Paul says he was caught up to the third heaven and saw amazing things which the language of this world would not do justice to!
Heaven is used in different ways: to refer to the atmosphere; to outer space – the realm of the stars and planets; and to the place where God dwells.
Earth is what is tangible to us, we can see it, touch it, work it, eat of it, run and play on it etc… but the heavens are not so, they are a spiritual  dimension, we can’t physically see them, but no less real.
In biblical understanding it’s another dimension, if you like an alternate dimension and as real as any physical dimension. The Bible tells the story of Elijah and his servant being surrounded by the armies of Assyria, and his servant fretting over it – and not without reason! So Elijah prays, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” and it says, “The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.” (2 Kings 6:17). Wow! The armies of God were there! Relief!
There are many such stories in the Bible and down through church history, stories of another realm intercepting and impacting the earthly; of angels speaking to, guiding and protecting God’s people.
‘In the Heavens’ – we tend to think of Earth as being here and Heaven(s) as somewhere over there – usually a long way over there, far, far away… but this isn’t exactly how the Bible pictures it.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, where did he go? How did he go? It’s interesting that artists generally don’t know how to paint the ascension – yes he ascended and a cloud received him out of their sight, but did he just keep going up or did he ascend and move into another dimension? One things for sure he didn’t just keep going further into space, travelling across billion of miles of cosmos to get there, rather he ascended into the realm where God the Father is, he moved from one dimension to another, but with a physical body!
Jesus in teaching us to pray like this didn’t want us to understand that God was far away – that certainly wasn’t the experience of Jesus – actually as it says elsewhere “he is not far from any of us” (Acts 17:7) – speaking of all humanity. The materialists of today are the equivalent of those of a bygone era who held that the earth was flat, they want us to believe in a flat universe, a one-dimensional material universe that can be explored and explained, not so the Bible, which speaks of a multi-dimensional universe, consisting of the physical and the spiritual, the earth and the heavens, the seen and the unseen, the tangible and the intangible.
What does this mean for our praying? God isn’t far away! It means we don’t have to try and get across some vast gulf to get to him; we don’t have to shout just in case he can’t hear us over the distance, especially among the myriad of voices clamouring for his attention.
Though Jesus doesn’t want us to think of Father has far away, nevertheless, he does want us to think of him in a different way. The fact that he is in Heaven means that he is not like our earthly fathers, fallen and frail, subject to ups and downs, an image that is full of disappointment for many. No, he is the Father who is so much other than we are, he is the holy Father. The one who is perfect and complete in every way, whose love is not restricted by human frailty, and power not tainted by human fallenness.  Jesus says, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in the heavens give good things to those who ask him!”
But he’s also the Father who reigns, Heaven speaks of his throne – “Heaven is my throne” says the Lord in Isaiah 66:1. Yes he is sovereign, he has the power and the authority, all he needs to do is speak the word and it will be done. This gives us great encouragement in prayer, we are not praying then to one whose sphere of influence and ability to get something done is limited, we are praying to the very maker and sustainer of the heavens and the earth and all that is therein! Pray says Jesus is powerful!
“Our Father in the Heavens” So much in such a short phrase!

Friday, 31 January 2014

Our Father (3) We are Family

Jesus said when you pray say ‘Our Father…’
Thank God for the personal witness that he gives to each one of his children that we are indeed his children and entitled and enabled to say those amazing words ‘Abba, Father.’
Thank God too for personal prayer, that each one of us can come to God through Jesus Christ and through the Spirit personally pray, ‘Father…’
But there is more to it than that. Jesus taught us to pray ‘our Father.’ He’s not just my Father, he is your Father, he’s our Father. So in the prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples there is that calling to attention of one-another, of our brothers and sisters in Christ, of the Father’s family.
In a self-centred world then this prayer calls us to think about more than ourselves, to think also, and especially, about others. It’s not a you in your small corner and I in mine prayer. It’s not about a private faith but a shared one. It’s not about being in it on our own, but a shared life where we bear one another’s burdens, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice.
To say ‘Our Father’ calls for the recognition and appreciation of our brothers and sisters in Christ. They have been given life by and share the same wonderful and glorious Father, they are part of the same family. They may be rich or poor, black or white, educated or uneducated, got a handle on life or struggling with it, introvert or extrovert, like pop (whatever that is these days) or classical music, etc.. Whoever they are, they are family, our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let me ask you, do you appreciate your church, your family, everyone of them in all their great variety? A bigger question still is, are you joined to one, do you know the fellowship of true commitment?
Someone once said that ‘no man is an island,’ too true, but many try to live as if they are, even Christians. The prayer that Jesus taught us reminds then that we are called to live a shared life, to be a family sharing communion together with Father.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Lord's Prayer - Our Father

Jesus said when you pray say, “Father/our Father.” What a wonderful way to begin a prayer, from the beginning it speaks of one who gives us life and secondly cares for the life that he gives us. We are his children – wonderful! A relationship has been established, a relationship that can never be lost, however young or old, however weak or strong etc.. God is our Father, we are his forever children. There’s no need for striving here, we are not trying to become his children, we are, and he is our Father.
The problem is so much of our Christianity can be about performing up to God, earning his love, earning the right to pray and get our prayers answered. We end up concerned with saying it the right way, doing it the right way, saying it long enough, saying it loud enough, but in the model prayer that Jesus gave us there’s none of it – none. Jesus just says, “when you pray say, ‘Our Father…’”
That’s it. That phrase enables us to relate to God the Father just as Jesus the Son does. To be with him as he is, to talk to him as he does. It gathers us up and draws us into the very fellowship of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Prayer before anything else is about encounter and relationship with God the Father, and the Father with his children. It’s about being, rather than doing. And that’s part of our problem, we live in an action world, there’s stuff that needs to be done, and our praying can be more about doing, getting something done, albeit for the kingdom. We are more interested in the gifts than the Giver.
The Psalmist spoke about being still and knowing God. I wonder whether we might reinterpret that in a New Testament way and say, “Stop, be still, stop your activity – even all your prayerful activity – and know that God is Father.”
Why not find some time, and just pray, “Our Father..” No more, just be with him. Get to know him. Talk to him without request, delight in him and what it means to be Father/son or Father/daughter.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Our Father

We’ve just started a new series at church focussing on the Lord’s Prayer, and in turning afresh to it I’ve been impacted by the sheer simplicity and profoundness of it.
Many of us if not all (truth be known) struggle with, or have struggled with prayer – it sounds simple but how do you do it. I remember as a young Christian tying myself in knots over it. How should I address God? How should I structure/order my prayer? There’s ACTS: Adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. There’s silence, contemplation. Some said confession first, others said praise – you know how it goes, the list goes on…
But hey, following the disciples request, Jesus gave us a pattern, a model, and one thing that strikes you about it is the lack of religious phrasing and it’s sheer simplicity, I mean it’s so natural, so relational. In fact the Jews of the day would have been stunned to hear Jesus say, “when you pray say, ‘Our Father’”. Yes they had a general concept of God’s fatherhood, but they certainly didn’t relate to or speak to him in this way.
The disciples had observed Jesus, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, and they had been staggered by the way he prayed, the way he related to God. I mean it was so... intimate, so... real, so... meaningful, so... personal, and they wanted to know how to have the same relationship.
Some desire, but Jesus doesn’t hinder them, he leads them right in!
When you pray, say, “Our Father…”

Saturday, 11 January 2014

New Beginnings

New years like new days provide new beginnings, new opportunities.
Some would have us believe that we are caught up in an unending repetitious cycle of events, but that is not the way the Bible has it.
Yes there are seasons that come round year by year, that’s good, there is order to life.
But there is also movement, advancement.
The story of the Bible is just that – that the God who created has a purpose in it all. He made us for himself, to enjoy him and serve his unfolding purposes. His desire has always been to bless and make us a blessing. The enemies (Satan) is one of cutting us off from God, of curse and cursing, of being locked into a fallen, downward hopeless cycle of life.
Praise God that’s where the Christmas story comes in (though it begins way before that!). God came in Jesus to break the curse, the endless cycle of fallenness and hopelessness – Jesus came to destroy all the power of the evil one and in doing so to bring the reign of God and therefore his Fatherhood, blessing and purpose back into our experience.
It’s a lie of the enemy that ‘whatever will be, will be.’  God can and does breaks in! Jesus saves and delivers, and gives power to live a new kind of life. And if you know him and have messed up (as we all do) the Father’s still loving you, you are still his child, and like any good father he wants to clean you up and set you on your feet again.
With God everyday is a new beginning, his mercies are new every morning and his lovingkindness makes everyday worth living, and with him advancement is on the agenda!