Showing posts with label Kingdom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kingdom. Show all posts

13 March 2013

If there's a Creator...

If there's a Creator, why is suffering permitted? Perhaps we are looking at life in the wrong way, it's not about ease and safety. It's about living a more free and abundant life, about loving one another, about knowing the Creator intimately. Life is not supposed to be me-centred, it's other-centred.

A royal doll's house
Haven't we all heard this question? 'If there's a Creator, why does he allow suffering in the world?'

Or it might be, 'Why did he let my wife/husband/child/parent/friend die?', or ,'Why didn't he stop a terrorist incident?'.

Why are there earthquakes, why is there disease?

It's a question that comes from a great missing of the point. Our Father didn't promise us lives without trouble. Indeed, Yahshua specifically told his followers that they would face severe trouble in the world.

He himself faced ridicule, scourging, and a ghastly death. Why would we expect to suffer any less? And if we who have trusted in him and follow him face hardship, danger and loss, why would those who have not trusted and followed expect a better deal?

The fact is, he did not necessarily come to bring us health and happiness and security in this life, he came to set us free and pour into us the essence of a new life - a life that will never end. We begin to live the new Kingdom life now even while we still struggle daily in our old, temporary lives.

We rarely think about the alternative to a universe in which suffering is allowed. The alternative would be no free will, no self determination. Only chaos (in the mathematical sense) makes life possible.

Why is this so hard to grasp, so hard to come to terms with?

Perhaps it all depends where we are standing as we review the situation.

The view from this world - Looking at it from the perspective of this life alone it is natural for people to want comfort and security. If we expect to die and pass into an empty obscurity, why would we search for anything else but benefit now? More money, more fun, better health, more happiness, more time, less work, more to eat but a slimmer body, less working out but better fitness, less effort but more achievement. Are these reasonable goals? No!

As long as we think of heaven as a place of lazy happiness and easy joy we are trying to find the wrong reward. And if the truth be known, we are still wanting to enjoy that reward in this life.

The view from the kingdom of heaven - But Christ did not come to reward us. We did not (and cannot) earn a reward. We are too often like children opening a wrapped gift and saying, 'But I didn't want a key, I wanted a doll's house. This comes from a failure to understand from a grown-up perspective. Which is best for us, a doll's house now or the key to our Father's house so we can freely come and go?

We need to learn to live our lives from this new perspective. It's not healing now, or food now, or safety now that truly matters. By comparison with receiving the heavenly and eternal healing, food and safety and having them in the here and now are of little value.


Heaven invades the world - And if this is all true, why do we see people healed when we pray for them? Why did Yahshua tell his followers, 'Ask anything in my name and it will done for you by my Father in Heaven'?

One of the greatest joys and privileges we have as believers is the gift of being able to come to the Father in the name of the Son. It is one of the means by which the kingdom of heaven invades this physical universe in which we live. Other ways include direct communication through the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, through dreams and visions, in prophecy and teaching, words of comfort and wisdom, and above all the growing knowledge believers have of the Father's heart and nature.

Some will say, 'But it doesn't always work!' This is true, sometimes we pray for healing and there is no perceived change. It might be due to lack of faith in the heart of the one who asks or of the one who is prayed for. But it might also be because we have not clearly heard the Father's will and purpose. It may be because we give up instead of persisting in prayer. And sometimes it may even be because the hard experience is essential for our eternal well-being or for someone else's.

We need to become like Yahshua who said, 'If it's possible, let this cup pass from me. But even so, Father, let your will be done here, not mine.'

Isn't this what Paul had in mind when he wrote, 'Let your bodies be made spiritual sacrifices'? We must lay down our lives daily. Lay them down and not take them up again. Lay them down and leave them for Papa to use and bless in his own way and at a time of his choosing.

And while we are here, in this world, it is our responsibility to help other people whenever we have the means to do so. We must pray for the sick and feed the hungry. We are the hands and feet of Jesus.

Questions:

  • What does it mean to you, personally, to 'let your body be made a spiritual sacrifice'?
  • How do you answer someone who says that unanswered prayer shows you lack faith?
  • Has anyone ever said that to you or someone you know?

See also:

05 January 2013

The Shakers

The Shakers were an offshoot from the Quakers in the UK. They settled in New England and built villages in various parts of the USA. Their extraordinary  lifestyle and beliefs contain both lessons and warnings for the church today.

Shaker cowbarn at the Hancock Village
In September 2009, Donna and I visited the Hancock Shaker Village near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. This post is based on some notes I made at the time.

We enjoyed a wonderful holiday travelling from Boston up the coast as far as Kennebunkport, then south through the Appalachians, back up to Cape Cod, and flew home again from Boston.

Origins - The Shakers had their origin in England where they were founded in 1747 by Mother Ann Lee in the rapidly growing industrial city of Manchester. They originated as an offshoot of the Quakers, both groups being named by the public because of their sometimes ecstatic movements during worship. The early Shakers moved to the New England colonies, initially New Lebanon and Watervliet (the 'Niskayuna Shakers'). By the final years of the 18th century the Shakers were living in village communities.

Their rules included celibacy, equality of men and women, community living (men and women separately but often in the same building), and joint ownership of all property and possessions.

In 1790 the Hancock community was established and this is the village we visited. We'd recommend this open-air, living museum to anyone finding themselves near Pittsfield with a day to spare. It was a fascinating experience. The land and buildings are owned and managed by a preservation trust as a working farm and museum managed as it would have been 100 years ago. It's a beautiful museum and all the buildings and equipment are maintained to a high standard.

Shaker beliefs - The Shakers had diverged considerably from the Quakers and other followers of Jesus. For one thing, they held Ann Lee to be the female Christ, a view that is easily dismissed by studying the Bible. They also had some strange views about spiritual guidance, did a lot of shaking, and were very fond of music and dance.

One of their melodies remains well known today - 'Lord of the Dance'. You can listen to one of their other songs, 'The River of Love', on YouTube along with more photos of the Hancock Village.

Some commendable points - Despite some oddities they held to much that was good. To accept women as equal to men was extraordinary in their day. They also believed in the equality of all races, on one occasion they bought a slave simply in order to rescue him. They took him in and treated him as any other brother.

The Shakers understood that everything should be done as well as humanly possible, so as to recreate Heaven on Earth in some sense. As a result they were careful and thorough workers and their furniture, boxes, seeds, and many other products were much valued and sought after.

Unlike the Amish, they had no qualms about using modern methods. They used water power in their workshops, adopted electricity, photography, motor vehicles, and other technologies.

A warning - The Shakers are a challenge and a warning to us. They were commendably serious about their lifestyle, their morality, and their thoroughness. We might learn a lot from them in that regard. But they came off-track in terms of their theology and seeking after spiritual experiences. We need to be careful to seek only Jesus, not experiences of Jesus; we should look for spiritual fruit more than for spiritual gifts.

There's nothing wrong with spiritual experiences or spiritual gifts. But if they become the thing we put first we are in a very dangerous place indeed. The lesson is clear. Seek first his kingdom and righteousness and all the other things you need will be given to you (Matthew 6:33).

So the question then becomes, what are the things in our spiritual lives that we accept as normal, even essential, that get in the way of kingdom living? Some of them are being discussed quite widely these days. A major problem may be that we are very busy with meetings and writing blogs and reading our Bibles and living good lives so that we forget our prime directive which is, perhaps, 'Go and make disciples'. That is, after all, one part of 'seeking his kingdom'.

Note: There's a good book on Mother Ann and the Shakers by Richard Francis. It's called 'Ann the Word' gives a lot of background and history, and is very readable.

Questions:

  • Are you doing everything to the highest possible standard, like the Shakers did?
  • Are you seeking the kingdom and righteousness ahead of everything else?
  • How do you see the connection between what we believe and how we live?

See also:

23 November 2012

Understanding the idea of heaven

What and where is heaven? Who is allowed in?, How do we understand the term 'Kingdom of heaven'? We look at Matthew 13 where some parables of Jesus about the 'Kingdom of Heaven' clarify the meaning. It involves secrets, it grows, and it is immensely precious.

Umbrellas in Clifford's Tower, York
In an earlier post we considered other species related to our own and asked where we draw the line between human and non-human. In particular, if heaven is a place we go when we die (as many suppose), who and what will inhabit it? Will there be Neanderthals in heaven? Chimpanzees? Cats and dogs? Ants? Earthworms? Bacteria? Where do we draw the line? Do we draw a line at all?

The fundamental problem here is that we are misunderstanding the concept of heaven. In other words the view that heaven is a place is not really supported by the Bible.

Jesus clearly stated that the kingdom of heaven is among us now. Might it be that if we live in it now we'll find later that it is an eternal state, perhaps one that we do not expect? To help us understand the principles behind the idea of heaven, Jesus told a series of parables. Let's take a look at what those show us about the nature of heaven.

Parables of the kingdom - Heaven is a kingdom with secrets that not everybody knows (Matthew 13:10-11). His followers have been given these secrets because Jesus has brought a message about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:16-18). Some people hear the message but don't understand it (Matthew 13:19). Some give up when there's trouble (Matthew 13:20-21). Some are just too busy with everyday worries and material things (Matthew 13:22). But some do understand the message and produce an increase (Matthew 13:23).

Although the original seed was good, an enemy has sown bad seeds in the same ground (Matthew 13:24-25, Matthew 13:28). The good and the bad will be separated later and heaven is like a farmer's barn where the harvest is kept safe after the bad has been removed (Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:37-43).

Heaven is also something that starts small but grows until it is enormous (Matthew 13:31-32) and just a little of it goes a long way (Matthew 13:33). It's like buried treasure or a prize pearl, well worth finding and more valuable than everything I possess (Matthew 13:44-46). It's like a net containing good and bad fish that will then be separated. Only the good will be retained (Matthew 13:47-50)

So then, what is this kingdom? - The kingdom of heaven is not a particular place, rather it is the realm in which the King's commands are obeyed. It's a matter, not of geography, but of obedience. In a sense, the Father inhabits our obedience and our praise. He is present in our obedience. He is present when we worship in spirit and in truth. We are the stones of his living temple and he wants to inhabit us.

So revisiting our original question, will there be only humans in heaven? I think the answer is necessarily mysterious. Heaven is full of the Lord's glory and filled with his praises, so much is certain. It is also filled with everything that gives him glory - the trees, the stones, and yes,  people who glorify and praise him. So the simple answer is 'no', there will not be only humans in heaven. Every obedient created thing has a part to play.

So what does it mean to be obedient? What does it mean to glorify the Creator? Are you obedient and do you glorify him? If so, you are assured a place, you are a part of the kingdom of heaven. You will live in his presence for ever.

Questions:

  • What do you think it means to 'produce an increase'?  (Matthew 13:23)
  • Do you always obey the King? Sometimes? Never? Living in the kingdom is about obedience, are you in or out?
  • How much of your life are you willing to give up to secure the buried treasure, the very valuable pearl?
  • Is the separation of good and bad something you can leave until later? Or might it need to begin in your life right away? What if you put it off?

See also:

24 October 2011

Brampton - A place of safety

< 10th October 2011 | Index | 29th October 2011 >

We were reminded about places of safety. What are they? do I need one? How do I find one? How can I be sure I'll be safe there?

The sun in the sky
Right at the start we had a reminder that 'where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there with them' (Matthew 18:19-20). As I shared those words, Sean was prompted to explain that he'd seen a picture in his mind, two young children were running into the ark.

This in turn prompted me to mention three words that seemed relevant - ark (obviously), but also temple and mountain. If he's in one of those places we need to run there ourselves because he himself is our place of safety.

And if he's with two or three gathered together - that is the right place to be.

I was reminded of an old song -  'The Celebration Song'
In the presence of Your people
I will praise Your name
For alone You are holy
Enthroned in the praises of Israel

Let us celebrate Your goodness
And Your steadfast love
May Your name be exalted
Here on earth and in heaven above
And then I saw small, oval photos of people. They were just head and shoulders portraits but they were from different generations. Some were sepia prints, others were black and white, others were in colour. The whole thing seemed like a genealogy. We didn't understand the meaning.

We thought again about Sean's picture of little children entering the ark and remembered that Yahshua said. 'Let the little children come to me' (Matthew 19:13-15), and also, 'Unless you come like a little child you won't even see the Kingdom of Heaven' (Luke 18:17). We prayed that Father would make us as straightforward as little children.

By searching a little we found that the Mishnah says, of the cities of refuge, that if the High Priest dies the refugees would not be punished for their crimes and would be free to leave. This seems especially significant in the light of Christ's death.

Sean remembered how Jesus also said, 'If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children; how much more will your Father give to you the Holy Spirit? (Luke 11:9-13)' Sean saw himself as very small in the King's city. And Father said, 'Even your small is much too big'. We are so small and he is so big and powerful; this helps our faith as even our largest problems are small and easy for him. His desire is the very best for us and he encourages us to believe.

I saw a picture of a man struggling to pull a very heavy handcart up a steep hill. He was out of breath, sweating heavily, and working extremely hard for very little progress. But Father just reached in and turned the horizon slightly so that it became a gently downhill slope. Now the man only needed to guide and control the cart, not provide the power to move it. What had seemed almost impossibly hard now seemed effortless.

Sean said that we need to see things with Father's perspective, not our own. We need to believe that he wants good for us and not harm.

And finally he told us, 'If you look down you will just see the dust. But if you look up you'll see my sun in the sky and feel the warmth on your face.

< 10th October 2011 | Index | 29th October 2011 >

15 September 2011

Moggerhanger - Millenials meeting

< 13th September 2011 | Index | 16th September 2011 >

A series of three addresses at Moggerhanger in Bedfordshire brought together Clifford Hill, Wolfgang Simson, and Peter Farmer to share their thoughts on the current state of Britain.

We gathered in the evening on 14th September for soup, a welcome and an introduction to the Moggerhanger meetings.

Introduction - On 15th we began with some introductory thoughts from Danny Stupple. The intention was a day of consultation with Jesus and a sense that we would need to come like little children in open simplicity. Some other phrases that seemed important were 'body ministry', 'running with our eyes fixed on Jesus' and 'it's not about the steps we take, it's about the ultimate destination'.

Gathering at Moggerhanger MillenialsBody ministry - With that in mind here are some things that came out of an initial time of open contribution.

1 Corinthians 14:26 (body ministry) and Psalm 98 (sing and rejoice) were mentioned.

Wolf Simson mentioned Abraham and Isaac and asked, 'What is our sacrifice? What is our Isaac?' I shared a word from  the Lord, 'I AM. That is my name just as I told Moses. It is not your place to say, "I am" - it is my place to say "I AM" - my place and mine alone. I say "I AM" and it's for you to say, "You are"'.

Then there was a tongue and an interpretation. 'Finish the work, talk about how you will finish the work'. He has a plan for the end, a finished work - but it has to be worked out in practice. The river and the trees in Revelation 22 are for the healing of the nations (see also Ezekiel 47:1-12). There will be a crumbling of the existing order, a shaking as in Hebrews 12:26.

Further thoughts included Isaiah 48:14, the redeemer, peace like a river, righteousness, the river again, and leaving Babylon.

Isaac and the knife is about our reputation.

Clifford Hill - We heard about the history of British society leading to the current disaffection and deprivation and lack of hope. This was a valuable background for the ideas that would be set out by the next two speakers.

After sharing his own story of life and work in Brixton Clifford explained that his generation had the responsibility of helping us understand the present. He covered the history of slavery in the West Indies and the harsh conditions in the north of England during the same period (tantamount to white slavery) and outlined how this affects the first, second and third generations thereafter.

During the recent Tottenham riots there was no racial tension, instead the trouble was caused by the third generation of both groups who find themselves pressed into the same mould of dysfuntional family life. When families break down, so does the nation. There's a deep need for good fathers.

The Old Testament has little about fatherhood until Isaiah 63 and 64. Clifford stressed that we're not to be building our own houses, but should focus on the Lord's house. We must recognise our sinfulness (Isaiah 64:6) and repent. And in John 15 we finally see that the Father's heart is truly our heritage.

Wolfgang Simson - Wolf noted that Britain is getting worse, every time he visits he sees deterioration. He spoke about the father of the Prodigal Son, in some ways it is not a good example of fatherhood. One son sees him as an employer, the other feels neglected. The father is like the church.

He pointed out that a crisis causes us to ask questions and only then will we be able to find answers. But we make progress by obeying the King and we desperately need to put that into practice. There's a difference between prophets (who point to the mountain) and apostles (who build a road to get there). 1 Corinthians 4 shows us the role of an apostle. Often an apostle is unrespected, comes out of nowhere and may appear foolish.

We have to go back to the first true radical - Jesus! We must repent and have the attitude, 'Your Kingdom come, my kingdom go'. We don't need a church religious system, we need the Kingdom, the domain of the Almighty's uncontested rule, our opinion is not invited.

The role of parents is to provide a phone number, a cheque book, and love. That's what the older generation is for - support; it's true in family life and it's a Kingdom truth too. Apostles and prophets set up a home.

It's time to stop merely preaching the Kingdom and to begin living it as Jesus intended. Father's initiative is to open up his house; we should do the same.

Wolfgang Simson set out for us the Kingdom perspective on the state of Britain in 2011. All is not lost, there is a roadmap out of this mess but we had better start paying attention to the King and begin doing what he says, not following our own ideas.

Peter Farmer - Right at the start, Peter shared that his wife, Marsha, is a cousin of Mark Duggan who was shot by police in Tottenham. Peter and Marsha have been working in the Meadows area of Nottingham for about eleven years and there is a clear sense of oppression amongst the people there. Peter described how the work they were doing was not accepted by traditional church leaders.

This follows the same pattern of trouble faced by people like William Booth, John Wesley, and groups like the Lollards. They brought transformation but faced severe difficulties. Paul had similar difficulties two thousand years ago.

Peter suggested there are two kinds of soil in the UK today. On the one hand there are those who grow well until difficulties come, but then they back off and the new growth withers. On the other hand others are distracted by the things of this world, things 'get in the way'. The answer to the first group is 'blessed are you when you are persecuted' and the answer to the second group is 'woe to the rich'.

Trouble and persecution are coming, the question is will we respond now or will we leave it until later? Of the prophets, Peter commented that there is no such thing as an unpersecuted prophet. Jesus himself said, 'Some you will stone and some you will kill'. They said things that stirred people up; we are not called to be comfortable.

Peter wondered how we are to train people to hear for themselves? How do we train people to read and understand the Bible for themselves? He believes the Lord will use us as spiritual mothers and fathers. We must bring the poor and the hurt into our homes. They will respond out of brokenness so it certainly won't be easy! We need to find (and follow) Kingdom principles of education, politics, and life. Projects that follow these priciples to work on the solutions will be loud and chaotic. Will we celebrate this work or persecute it?

Traditional church in the UK is prejudiced against the working class, we need to do more than give them soup and let them continue in distress. We need to release them to create and lead their own groups, not corral them into our existing ways.

The gospel needs to change people's hearts to allow a grass roots movement to develop. Will we get out of its way? Will we bless it and resource it? We'd better not criticise their methods or try to prevent them. Instead we need to let them do it their own way.

Concluding remarks - Danny pointed out that forty years ago today the Festival of Light was started. But within a year the power of the Spirit had been diverted, our vision had been that the Spirit would fall on 'Christian flesh' when truly is should have been 'all flesh'.

In Clifford Hill's view we now have a second chance. If so, we'd better take it!

< 13th September 2011 | Index | 16th September 2011 >

04 September 2011

RESPONSE - Giving a milkshake

I was very encouraged to read the latest post from Chris Duffett. Chris lives only a few miles from us and he excels at finding innovative ways of engaging people with the Good News that Jesus brings truth, light, and a new way of living.

If you want to know more, read his blog. Here are some extracts from his latest article.
Strawberry shakeI sense that I should give my milk shake away. The one I really love, strawberry, all thick and delicious. So I offer it to a guy who is selling the big issue and it turns out that it is also his favorite kind of milk shake.
But Chris didn't stop with the strawberry shake.
I also give him the sandwiches and yogurt too. The guy seems happy to receive his lunch and thanks me.
And then he understood a much greater truth.
This simple act of sharing opens up my heart as to what God wants to do in me and how he wants to meet with me and for me to enjoy his company. I fetch another lunch and ... simply enjoy the presence of God. Wherever and whatever I’m doing I am able to meet with the one who is so vast and mighty and holy and yet who is Emmanual, God with us, who enjoys walking with his kids and meeting with them and sharing strawberry milk shakes.
Why did this so impact me? It's because he heard (to give away a milk shake), obeyed, was willing to sacrifice (go without his favourite treat), went even further (gave away his lunch as well), and understood what the Father is like (enjoys our presence and shares with us). This is something we all need to practice every day - even every minute.
  • Listen
  • Obey (no ifs, buts, or maybes)
  • Sacrifice what we are and what we have for others
  • Go beyond what is asked of us
  • Understand what Father is like and how he enjoys walking through this life with us
It's really a question of being like our heavenly Father. He pours out lavishly on all of us. We should pour out lavishly too. What Chris has found is that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit love him and enjoy the time they spend with him. This is so awesome that most of us, most of the time miss it! But we only really understand when we do what our Father does, then we begin to see that his nature is also to give. Chris says that a simple act of sharing opened up his heart.

I'd suggest that love, hearing and obedience are the key, whatever we're called to do in this amazing Kingdom of Heaven. We may be called to do a new and different thing every day. As we hear and obey we'll always receive a rich blessing from our awesome Father and a deeper understanding of his greatness and love.

He is our supply and our inspiration and he wants us to know him more fully. 

HalleluYah!

30 April 2010

MISSION - The Kingdom

This evening we watched the DVD of Wolfgang Simson speaking to the House2House Conference in September 2008. An imperial crownHis theme was the Kingdom of Heaven, and how we can't live in the Kingdom without obeying the King.

We discussed what this means to us. The Kingdom stuff surely can't be ignored - are we going to live as people under the King's command or are we going to do our own thing? Only obedience brings blessing!

We thought that next week we should spend our time in prayer and listening.

22 January 2007

Rugby - Straight and narrow

< 17th January 2007 | Index | 29th January 2007 >

Only brief notes were taken this week.

During the meeting we chatted over coffee for a while, and then we looked at the passage of Isaiah Rachael and I had prepared (Isaiah 40:3-5). We read it through together and I shared what I had thought. Rachael said that she saw a relation between 'making the way straight' and the explosions all in a straight line that she'd seen in a dream.

We agreed that our role in the world is to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven, to declare Christ to the world, to live lives that reveal his glory.

< 17th January 2007 | Index | 29th January 2007 >

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