Showing posts with label Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Life. Show all posts

19 January 2015

The opposite of envy (Repost)

I've decided to repost this article from August 2012. It's one of the most popular posts on the blog, so if you haven't seen it before, read on...

A phone call sparked some thoughts about envy and its opposite. Envy is such a negative and destructive emotion. The opposite of envy is rejoicing with one another. We need to cultivate joy in our lives.

I had a lovely telephone chat with a friend yesterday. We've only met once, and briefly at that. But we've corresponded occasionally over the years on various topics around life in general and life with Jesus in particular.

One thing that we talked about today was the topic of envy. And as we talked I tried to work out what would be the opposite of envy. I decided it must be rejoicing with one another.

If I envy you for your car, your wife, your wealth or good health, your education or some other blessing in your life, I am saying that I would prefer to have that thing myself, I would like to be in your place.

But if I rejoice with you over your car, wife, wealth, good health, education, or other blessing, I'm expressing gladness that you have that thing.

The Bible has a good deal to say about envy. Old and New Testaments agree that envy is a very bad thing. Here are a few examples.

  • 'A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.' (Proverbs 13:40)
  • For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person. (Mark 7:21-23)
  • they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. (Romans 1:28-29)

The word 'envy' appears twenty times in the UK version of the NIV.

The value of joy - Let's think about rejoicing instead. Let's practice rejoicing with our brother or sister in the good things they have received. Even if I have little and you have much, why would I not rejoice with you, why would I be jealous instead?

Envy is a shrivelled, mean-hearted emotion, crabby and resentful. It drives people apart. But rejoicing with one another builds bonds of peace and closeness. Envy causes a souring of relationships and blocks communication. But rejoicing with one another causes relationships to flourish like well-watered gardens and opens new depths of rich communication. Rejoicing is good for the soul, good for the mind, good for our sense of well-being.

Rejoicing builds up where envy tears down. Rejoicing cements together where envy tears apart. So it's easy to see that rejoicing makes it easier for Jesus to build the church whereas envy makes it much harder. We are a temple built of living stones held together by bonds of peace; rejoicing and love are the two major bonding elements.

May I urge you, if there is any bitterness or envy or jealousy in your heart, pray for it to be replaced with joy. And wherever you detect bitterness or envy or jealousy in your brother or sister, pray for them that joy might grow in their hearts instead. And where possible, pour love and good things into their lives as these may help the process along.

Light is a good thing, darkness is disabling, but light banishes darkness. In the same way joy is a good thing, envy is disabling, but joy banishes envy. Our hearts should seek joy just as our eyes seek light. The heart that seeks joy will find it - first in Christ, then in his Spirit, then in all the good things of life, and finally even in facing hardships and difficulties and pain.

In the world of music - You might like to listen to Beethoven's famous 'Ode to Joy' theme from his ninth symphony.

Notice how quietly it begins as a simple melody, but then spreads eventually through the entire orchestra and grows in excitement eventually bringing in all the instruments and voices.

It's such a great illustration, joy may begin quietly but it's lively and thoroughly infectious.

The final word - Let's give Paul the final word on rejoicing.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

13 June 2013

True worship

Worship is more than a ceremony and it's more than singing songs, it demands sacrifice, a journey and a lifetime of dedication. Three verses clarify this as we look at the worship of Abraham, the Magi and Anna. Can we offer less than they did? 

Dog daisies in a meadow
My wife works with our friends Roger and Carolyn to lead a Small Group, part of Open Door Church here in St Neots. Although I'm not a member of Open Door, I am part of the Small Group.

I was asked to manage the worship part of yesterday's meeting and felt I should share some thoughts about worship before we began to sing and praise together.

If we won't worship him the very stones will do it, the trees of the fields will clap their hands, the meadow flowers will praise him.

Here's an extended version of my notes. There are three verses I'd thought we should consider on the subject of worship.

Abraham - The first one is Genesis 22:5 - "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."

Here is Abraham, full of faith as he goes to sacrifice his son Isaac, telling the servant that they will both return. But think for a moment about what is happening here. Abram and Sarai are elderly, so old that when they are told they will have a child, they both laugh at the very idea.

Yet here he is, Isaac is their son, impossible in every way yet an undeniable fact. There can be no doubt that Isaac was Abraham's most precious possession. No-one and nothing could be worth more to the old man. Yet he was prepared to give up his own son.

If you want to worship, you must give up the most precious thing you have for the Almighty's use.

What is most precious to you? Think about it carefully.

The wise men - Matthew 2:2 - "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

Having arrived at Jesus' birthplace, how did the Magi worship? Did they perform a ceremony of some kind? Not as far as we know. And how long did they stay?  Possibly quite a short time, perhaps just long enough to present their gifts of gold, fankincense and myrrh.

The account in Matthew tells us very little, however it is clear that these three men had made an extremely long journey to see this new 'King of the Jews'. And having arrived and then quickly left, they had the same journey to do again to get home. They were probably on the road for weeks each way.

The gifts they brought were precious and were a form of worship, but their real worship was the long and arduous journey they had made in order to see the infant king.

Anna - Luke 2:37 - "There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying."

What was her worship? It was her devotion day after day, year after year. She wasted her life on Yahweh. She could have remarried, had a family, and enjoyed a full and successful life. Yet she gave it all up to serve in the place where Yahweh's Presence rested.

And us? - We must worship 'in Spirit and in truth'. (John 4:23) We must give him the most precious thing we have, it's not about a ceremony or singing songs, it demands a long and arduous journey, it means wasting our lives on him.

There is nothing wrong with singing songs together, especially if they're songs that remind us of the Lord and draw us into his presence. But what he wants from us in worship is much more than songs and a reverent heart.

Two stories - And then I shared two short stories. Both were taken from Steve Addison's book 'What Jesus Started' (an excellent read, by the way). I asked everyone to see if they could spot the worship in the two true stories.

The first is about how Steve met a man on a train and shared the good news about Jesus with him. The second is about a stranger in a Muslim country, going to the imam with questions about the Qur'an concerning Isa (Jesus). One of the men listening to the conversation searches out the stranger later to learn more. In both cases the worship involves taking a risk, obedience, and reaching the lost. There is sacrifice here, giving up the safe and comfortable for the unknown.

And finally, we sang some awesome songs, finishing with Christy Nockels and 'Waiting here for you'.

Questions:

  • What is your own understanding of worship? Is it more about praise or obedience?
  • Can you identify areas in your life where you might worship the Almighty more fully?
  • What is the most precious thing you have?

See also:

25 February 2013

Simple church with children

Donna lives in Nottingham and is meeting children on the streets and simply involving them in church life. There is a pattern to what she is doing, a simple process at work. Watch the video and see for yourself. This is exciting. This is church at its simplest and best. This is Jesus doing his stuff.


My friend Donna is doing simple, organic church with children from her area.

You can watch a video of her with three of them and hear what she has to say about it.

Watch below or on the Simple Stories website. Either way be sure to visit the Simple Stories homepage afterwards, there is much more there to see and read.

Come back here after you've seen the video and let's think about this for a moment. There's a very simple process at work here, can you spot it? It has nothing to do with taking children to church. It has everything to do with being church. And it has a lot to do with making disciples just as Jesus told us to do (Matthew 28:18-20).

The Pattern - Here's an outline of the simple process Donna is following.
  1. Donna has met children on the street near her home.
  2. She has told them the good news that Jesus loves them.
  3. She is meeting with them regularly and showing them that they can pray for one another and have a lot of fun together and read the Bible together.
  4. She is getting to know the parents as well.
  5. She's encouraging the children to pray for their friends and to start their own, new simple churches with them.
These children are doing much more than most of us adults ever do. They are planting churches!


Papa, bless Donna and the children in Nottingham as well as their friends and families. Keep them close to you, Jesus. Help them walk with you every day and listen to what you are saying to them.

Oh, and teach us to be obedient just like they are!

Go! Go! Donna!

Thank you, Jesus. HalleluYah!


Questions:

  • Do you see how easy this is? Anyone could do it!
  • Can you see how you could use the same approach with the people you meet in daily life?
  • What is stopping you making a start today?

See also:

30 January 2013

Psalms 22 and 23

Psalms 22 and 23 seem to be inextricably linked, death on the one hand and life on the other. Jesus received one, we receive the other. This post digs a little deeper as it examines these two psalms and those around them.

New life springing upA few weeks ago I was reading Psalm 22 which is full of references to the coming Messiah.

There are passages here that Jesus quoted about himself and there are descriptions of him in his bodily suffering and emotional torment. We'll come back to some of those things in a moment.

But what struck me quite suddenly and forcefully was how this psalm is followed by Psalm 23, a firm favourite for so many people.

Psalm 22 is about Jesus' suffering and where it will finally lead, Psalm 23 is about our inheritance as our Father's children. These two psalms are like mirror images of one another. Psalm 22 describes what we deserve but Jesus received. Psalm 23 describes what Jesus deserves but we receive.

Illuminating our hearts and minds - These two psalms would not have been seen that way when they were written, of course. But from the days of the early church right down to our own time they have had the potential to illuminate our hearts and minds in a new way by what they proclaim. And Yahshua himself clearly saw them in this way during his life and particularly as he was hanging on the cross.

I dare say it's been pointed out many times, but I was really excited to have seen the link between these two psalms. Isn't it amazing how he reveals truth while we read and consider his written word? This, of course, is just one of the avenues the Holy Spirit uses to illuminate our hearts and minds.

I wondered if this idea might be taken further.

Psalms 1 to 21 are full of references to Old Testament themes. There are references to creation, the  tabernacle and the temple, and so much more. But Psalm 24 describes the kingdom of heaven. And Psalm 25 and following unpack some of the details of this new kingdom life and inheritance.

But let's return to Psalms 22 and 23. Some of the words and imagery are very familiar to us.

Death in Psalm 22 - Take, for example, Psalm 22:1 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' It's worth mentioning that the Hebrew word translated 'God' is 'Eli' which is related to 'Eloh' and the plural 'Elohim'. The word simply means 'Mighty One' or 'Powerful One'. It is in fact the same word as 'Allah' in Arabic which also means 'Mighty One'. A good translation in English is simply 'Almighty'.

When Jesus quoted this verse from the cross they thought he was calling Elijah because the sound is similar. (Elijah means 'Yah[weh] is the Mighty One'.)

The onlookers shouting at him while he was hanging there unwittingly fulfilled Psalm 22:7-8. Psalm 22:14-18 is a very clear reference to the crucifixion. From verse 22 onwards the psalm turns from his death to what was achieved by it.

Life in Psalm 23 - But Psalm 23 deals with the personal benefits we receive individually in Christ. If we are not in him we have no part in these things although they're available to all who will come to him and believe on his name for rescue. Just as words from Psalm 22 were on Yahshua's lips as he hung dying, so words from Psalm 23 should be on our lips as we live this more abundant life that he gives us.

All these things in Psalm 23 were his, but now they can be ours because he longs to share them with us. He will be our Shepherd, leading us to safe places to eat and drink. A Shepherd makes all the difference, the sheep can safely feed even with a prowling lion in the area. He pours his Spirit over us like oil and we can live with him, not only 'all the days of [our] life' but 'for ever'.

Jesus is new Life springing up in a cold, dark world. Thank you, Lord! HalleluYah!

Questions:

  • What, for you personally, is the most meaningful thought in Psalm 22?
  • And what, for you personally, is the most meaningful thought in Psalm 23?
  • Apart from the snowdrop, what other examples of new life can you identify in the natural world?

See also:

24 January 2013

What are we called to do?

Rhoda PickensToday we have a guest post from Rhoda Pickens, who blogs from Wales in the UK at 'Living to please God'.

She brings us some great thoughts about how we can discover our role and function in the body, and how we can be more sure about it. Do you ever wonder, 'Am I living the life the Lord wants for me?' Rhoda investigates some useful pointers that help us examine ourselves and find a secure sense of direction.

How Do We Know What We Are Called To Do? - Rhoda Pickens

We all have things that God wants us to do, but how do we know what?

‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.’ (Ephesians 2:10)

There are some callings that we all have as Christians:

  • To seek God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31)
  • To seek to become more like Christ (Matthew 6:33)
  • To seek the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom here on earth (Matthew 6:33, Matthew 28:19)
  • To disciple others and teach them more about Him (Matthew 28:19,20)
  • We should aim to be ‘fruitful in every good work’ (Colossians 1:10)

But there does seem to be a pattern in the Bible of some people being specifically called to certain things, for example when He said to Abram to leave his country and family and to go where He told him.

It doesn’t record this of everyone though, so I don’t think everyone should necessarily seek a specific life calling. But I believe there are things that God has set aside for us to do so we should be praying that God would lead us to those things.

An area where I do believe we need to seek a call also, is for full time ministry. When we are in the trenches we want to know that God called us to be there so that we don’t go running home. Also we want to know God will provide our needs because He has called us to do that work.

How do we know what God might be calling us to? - Here are a few thoughts on this, though there may well be more to it than I have mentioned!

Look at your gifts - The Bible tells us to use our gifts, so if we are gifted in a certain area, at least spiritually anyway, then we should look for opportunities to use them. This may well lead you eventually to an area that God is calling you to work in.

‘As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.’ (1 Peter 4:10)

Be willing to do what He wants you to do - It is all very well asking God to show you what He wants you to do, but if you’re not willing to do it then there may not be much point in Him telling you!

Isaiah’s call is often quoted in the Bible, but it starts not with God calling Him specifically, but asking openly, “Who will go for Us?” and then Isaiah says “Here am I! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) Isaiah was obviously willing and available to do what God was wanting done.

Ask God what He wants you to do - This may sound obvious, but often people don’t really take the time to pray about what God is wanting them to do with their lives. I know I didn’t until I was in the second year of university and I started feeling restless and then I started praying. Before that I was just headed in the direction of the combination of my parent’s and my decision making.

‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.’ (James 1:5)

A few tips for asking God:

  • Retreat - Try to get away from daily life to spend time with God. It is often when you are out on a long walk or up on the mountain side like Jesus, or at a retreat, that you can understand more how God is leading you.
  • Read the Bible – it is God’s word, so if we want to find His will we should definitely be reading it, and asking God to speak to us!

God may work through your desires - Often God will give you a burden for a specific people or place, or make you feel restless. I wouldn’t use this alone to guide me, but it can be a way that God prods you, like Nehemiah who sat down and wept when he heard that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and its gates burnt with fire. That eventually led to him going back there to lead the rebuilding.

I think you do need to be careful with this one though, as your desires can also lead you the wrong way!

Give it time - Jim Elliot spent several years seeking direction from God before he finally had the peace he wanted about knowing that tribal work in South American jungles was his general purpose. It can take time.

Don’t think about your ability or lack of it - I love what Chuck Smith says, that God doesn’t want your ability, but your availability. He will provide all we need, just like He did with Jeremiah:

“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:7-8)

Godly counsel - Just like with all guidance, godly counsel is very useful. Again we have to be careful with this one because well meaning Christians can try to persuade us away from what God is calling us to do! Try to find someone who has surrendered themselves, is serving God wholeheartedly and has some experience in the faith.

I liked what Pete Fleming said: ‘I think a call to the mission-field is no different from any other means of guidance, a call is nothing more or less than obedience to the will of God, as God presses it home to the soul by whatever means He chooses’

And I think that if you are really wanting to do God’s will, and persevere in prayer, then He will show you what He is calling you to – though it may take more time than you thought!

Questions:

  • Are you clear about he Lord's calling on your life or are you just drifting?
  • In your circumstances, which of Rhoda's points did you find most helpful?
  • Will you be putting these ideas into practice? If so how and when?

See also:

21 December 2012

Law or grace?

On the one hand is law and on the other grace. Can I base my daily living on either of these? Is there any other way to live my life? We look at obedience in the life of the believer, based on Christ's love within and the actions that stem from this.


Tetrahedron
Sometimes things are not as clear as they seem.

Some followers of the Way are bound by rules and regulations; in other words they are
convinced there are standards we must meet in our lives.

Others may say they are free in Christ to do all things since he dealt with sin once and for all. Perhaps the former are in the majority although it's hard to tell.

At the absolute extremes we would be so law-focussed that we might rely on our own purity, or so grace-focussed that we might treat continuous forgiveness as our right.

It's unlikely that anyone could be found at either extreme, but some might come close. The rest of us are spread out in a continuum between law and grace. So who is right? How should we live our lives?

It doesn't often occur to us that both might be far from the simple truth.

Law - If I depend on the Law I'm like the Pharisees who criticised Jesus for allowing his followers to harvest and thresh grain on the Sabbath. As they were walking through the fields they took ears of grain and rubbed them between their hands to extract the seeds to eat (Mark 2:23-24). It was hardly an industrial-scale process! The Pharisees also prided themselves on meticulously tithing even the smallest quantities of herbs and spices like cumin (Matthew 23:23).

Meanwhile, for all their complaining about others and pride in their tithing they failed to help the poor or take pity on those in difficulty. Adherence to the law is not sufficient. Or more correctly, it would be sufficient if I had never sinned and could continue to lead a sinless life. But I haven't and I can't.

It's already far too late for me to depend upon observing the Law.

Law is a gift from the Father.

Grace - But if I look to grace am I any better off? Perhaps that depends on how I understand grace. If I see it as a precious gift it is all I need. If I treat is as a licence to sin without further consideration then I lose its true value.

Grace came at great cost, it is a precious, precious thing. It enables us to stand confident in the presence of the Most High, to see him as a loving Dad, to recognise we are forgiven, special, precious, loved, honoured and glorified by the Creator of the universe.

I dare not abuse it, I am called to receive grace as a gift but also to offer it freely, to forgive as I have been forgiven, to love as I have been loved, to honour as I have been honoured.

Grace is a gift from the Son.

Obedience - Law is too rigid. It's not the right place to look, I can never earn forgiveness and justification by obeying the Law. Yet grace (if I mistreat it) is too flexible.

But there's a third alternative, rarely considered, and it transforms everything.

Obedience is good, but obedience to the Law is impossibly hard. It is unachievable. It is already lost. However, grace opens the way, not only to forgiveness, but also to life in the presence of the King.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit precisely so that I could hear what the Father is saying to me moment by moment as I live out my life on this Earth. So rather than a vain attempt to live by obeying the Law, I can now begin to live by obeying his voice, just as Jesus did. This is truly revolutionary!

There is nothing I am not allowed to do - as long as I'm told to do it. It's hard to see the freedom and opportunity wrapped up in this statement. Paul writes that even eating food sacrificed to an idol is OK, providing I don't cause others to sin by eating  (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). In other words my care for others trumps the law and is made possible by grace. Love wins. It's no accident that Paul judged love to be the greatest thing (1 Corinthians 13).

It's not that there are no longer any rules, but in Jesus those rules have been fulfilled and now I'm free to look away from them and focus my attention on Jesus instead. And he'll guide me by the power of the Spirit. It's just as written by Isaiah, 'This is the way, walk in it!' (Isaiah 30:19-21) and by Jeremiah to a disobedient people, 'Where the good way is, ... walk in it' (Jeremiah 6:16).

Obedience is a gift from the Spirit.

Conclusion - Everything comes from the Father, Son and Spirit. Just as they are inseparable, so too are law, grace and obedience. We cannot pick them apart, we need all three. But the amazing truth is that Jesus ministers all three to us. He is the way, the truth and the life; do you see that those three concepts have the aroma of the Father, Son and Spirit? We can lay them out here.

  • The Father provides law and has the aroma of the truth.
  • The Son provides grace and has the aroma of life.
  • The Spirit provides obedience and has the aroma of the way.

But because they are one, you can mix and match and every statement you make remains correct. The Father, Son and Spirit are all about law, grace and obedience and all have the aroma of way, truth and life. There is a wonderful symmetry about the great Creator King, a multidimensional knot that holds the universe together and cannot be unpicked.

As an aside, the tetrahedron is an interesting geometric shape in three dimensions. There is a base (think of it as the universe or the world). High above is an apex, think of this as the Almighty. There are three faces (Father, Son, Spirit), three edges connecting the apex and the base (law, grace and obedience) and the base has three sides (way, truth and life).

The law had to be fulfilled and Jesus does that. Grace is sufficient for me and Jesus provides it. Life needs to be lived and Jesus shines a spiritual light onto my path. He is all in all. Jesus says, 'If you have seen me you have seen the Father'.

Jesus came to set me free. And I am free indeed! But he set me free to obey him in everything.

Questions:

  • How large a part should traditions have in church life?
  • What does it mean to be 'free indeed'? (John 8:36)
  • Is Jesus the way, the truth and the life for you, personally and daily? (John 14:6)

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:

03 September 2012

Beginning all over again

Beth Foster's blog is a story of movement and challenge. For the past year she has been learning to live for Jesus in a radically new way - and she is changing! Read 'Organic Life' for yourself and follow her progress. But beware! You might find yourself changing too.

Organic Life, Beth's blogHave you ever been at a place of new beginnings? Most of us have experienced the pain and anxiety when there's a disconnect between old and new. Usually there is expectant hope and a joyful looking forward as well, perhaps tinged with some apprehension or great sadness. Mixed feelings in many ways.

Whether it's a new job or retirement, a new birth or a family death, moving to live in a new home (and leaving an old one), a lot of things are going to change and we have to adjust. The same can happen when the Holy Speaks to us about a major change in our spiritual life.

I've been following Beth Foster's blog 'Organic Life' since she first started it almost a year ago. She doesn't post frequently, but everything she's written has been well worth reading.

If you are new to her blog I suggest you begin at the beginning and follow her story along from post to post.  Highly, highly recommended stuff. It's a page turner and it's challenging and thought provoking too. She is coming out of a new beginning, letting go of what was, learning to live in the 'now', prompted and guided by the Holy Spirit. She is a brave and determined lady and is unwilling to accept second best.

As you read, don't be surprised if you find yourself challenged and changed. And while you're there, I know she would appreciate a comment from you.

09 May 2012

Drawn to the light

< On a spiritual journey? | Index | We've run out of wine >

Most people don't need to be told that there's more to life than the familiar material and emotional aspects. Our lives are enriched by spiritual yearning, a light that comes from beyond the place where reason fails.

Grey above and below, light in the distanceThere's something deep in human nature that makes us spiritually aware. Most of us know that in all the rich experiences of life, there is a need for something more. Even a wealthy person, in good health, with friends, fulfilling work, a loving family and a safe place to live - even such a person knows there's more. Perhaps much more.

What is the meaning of existence? How can I connect with the spiritual side of my life? When a person dies, does anything remain? Everybody ponders these questions at some time in life. Throughout the generations men and women have grappled with thoughts like these.

The great religions past and present have all tried to fill this human need for something other, something beyond. Perhaps you follow one of them. Or perhaps you find your spiritual energy in some other way.

When life treats us badly there are additional reasons to struggle with spiritual things. Maybe you have lost your home, or your partner. Maybe a loved one is ill, maybe you are ill yourself or there has been a death in the family. It can be hard to go on hoping. It can be hard to go on living.

I am willing to listen if you want to tell me your story, if you wish to do that you will find a way. But all I can do in the space of one blog post is tell you something of my own story.

My first wife, Judy, died when we were both forty-seven. Our teenage daughters were still in full-time education, Debbie at university and Beth soon to start. Judy and I had begun meeting regularly with two other couples, old friends on the same spiritual journey that we were on. And considering the difficulties and issues of Judy's illness they were absurdly happy times for her and for me too.

We lived day to day, immersed in each precious moment. The Spirit of Christ was alive in our hearts and he was with us in those moments too. The unbearable became easy. Or rather, there no longer was anything unbearable. When we met with our friends all of us were caught up into an amazing place, we were no longer just people in a room, we were in the presence of a spiritual power and presence that simply would not be denied.

We had been following Jesus for many years, but he was more alive within us now than at any time before. We had peace, and joy, and utter delight in knowing him together.

You can imagine I am sure, that having tasted such things, I really want to share them with other people whenever possible. This is good news - that Jesus can reach into our human distress and turn despair into blessing.

He saw us through everything and, if you ask him, he will see you through your troubles too. He will do it because he can, because he wants to, and because he loves you. If you don't already know this Jesus, then you need to know he is there and ready to listen. If you will allow him, he will make his home in your heart. Search for him and you will find him.

See the 'About' page and contact me if you want to ask questions or tell me about your own life issues. I will listen. Or read the Index page for the topic 'Spiritual Journey' for more details.

Questions:

  • What have you struggled with in your life?
  • Have you prayed about it?

See also:


< On a spiritual journey? | Index | We've run out of wine >

29 March 2012

Weeds in my garden

Weeds are unsightly and a nuisance in the garden. How do they get there? And what can we learn about our lives by analogy with garden weeds?

I sent a tweet yesterday, 'Weeds keep growing in my garden. There's a spiritual lesson in that, somewhere...'.

Plants and weeds growing togetherThinking about this later I realised there was an entire blog post just waiting to be written around the topic of gardens and weeds.

It is remarkable how weeds spring up, and looking at the horticultural aspects of this simple fact opens up many parallels with spiritual life. So let's consider where weeds come from and what they can tell us about our personal journeys with Jesus.

Any patch of bare soil tends to be invaded by thousands of baby weeds within a week or two (a day or two in warm weather). Where do weeds come from?
  1. Weeds can grow from small pieces of root or stem left in the ground. For some weeds with creeping roots, rhizomes or bulbs, this is a very common mechanism.
  2. Weeds can spring up from seeds that have been dormant in the soil.
  3. They can also grow from seeds carried in by the wind or by birds or mammals.
If I am following Jesus there should be signs of this in my life, there should be some results, some evidence. This evidence is called the fruit of the Spirit. If there are other, unwanted things in my life (such as anger, or unkindness, or a gloomy attitude, or unfaithfulness) there is a problem. Such things are like weeds. They grow where they are don't belong. The plan for the garden does not include them. They need to be removed. They come from the same sources as weeds in my garden.
  1. Small pieces of root or stem left in the ground. These are pieces of weed that are not visible, left in the ground by mistake. When there is an unhealthy attribute like anger, it's essential to do more than suppress the visible effects. If the cause is not dealt with, the visible effects will break through again and again.
  2. Seeds that lie dormant in the soil. These are too small to see and cannot be removed. The only way to control hidden seeds is to wait until they start to grow. The garden needs to be checked continuously and germinating seeds hoed out while they are still small. If they are left until they are large they will become unsightly problems and removing them may then leave fragments of root leading right back to problem 1.
  3. Seeds carried in. This will happen in our lives from time to time. Fresh sources of trouble will arise and the solution is the same as for problem 2, regular checking.
But there's a more fundamental truth here. It's self-evident that a garden can't weed itself. It's necessary for the gardener to intervene. It is action by the gardener that can dig out roots thoroughly. The plants in the garden will grow if there is sunshine and rain, but weeds will grow too. They need to be thoroughly removed and the garden regularly checked for new weeds.

Unlike a garden, I am capable of resisting the attentions of the gardener. I need to allow him access and accept the disturbance caused in my life by his action in dealing with the weeds.

Father, you are the Gardener in my life. You grafted me in to the true vine of your Son. You are the one who can remove the weeds - wherever they may have come from. Please deal with the weeds in my life, please reveal them and take them away so that I may remain clean and live according to your plan for me.

And guess what? A garden that is regularly weeded over a long period will eventually become completely free of sources 1 and 2. Once in this condition there is much less growth of weeds and the garden becomes far easier to maintain. This is the state of a mature garden. It is also the state of a mature life in Christ. Father, may I become ever more mature as you work in my life.

30 January 2012

Organic church life

Alan Knox uses the term 'organic church life'. There's a certain flowing, difficult to pin down, deep life about church that is well described by the term 'organic'. When we share this life we are sharing Christ himself as well as sharing ourselves.

A bejewelled networkAlan Knox gives some thought to the question 'Why is it so difficult to find organic church life?' and I very much like his answer. It's closely related to my recent post 'Circles of friends'.

Alan decides to use the term 'organic church life' rather than the more usual 'organic church', and his reasons are very revealing.
When I write about “organic church life,” I’m not talking about a certain church gathering, or a certain type of meeting, or a certain group of believers, or a certain method of organizing (or not organizing). Instead, I’m talking about believers sharing their lives with one another as they also share life in Jesus Christ.
I simply could not agree more! And I could not express it better.

Yet our minds are so anxious to organise and structure everything that we overlook organic church life in our rush to find something organisational in its place. We have insecurities that seem best met by plenty of structure and tradition and hierarchy. These things are not bad in and of themselves, but they are not where the life is. They have served us well in society and civil government, but they do not serve us well in finding and experiencing organic church life.

Structure is required as human life grows in scale. Very little structure is needed by three small children at play (though it's there if you look for it). A great deal is necessary to manage a large company, a big orchestra, or a nation.

Structure, tradition and hierarchy are useful tools for running large organisations, but in the day to day life of a family freedom, spontaneity and shared responsibility are much more appropriate. So too with organic church life. And that is why it's so hard to find even though it may be there right under our noses. Perhaps the truth is that it's not really hard to find, just hard to recognise until you get your eye in. And then you'll notice it everywhere.

But on the larger scale of the church worldwide, structure, tradition and hierarchy become necessary - right?

Wrong! Jesus said, 'I will build my church'. If we each focus on organic church life amongst our own circle of friends we can (and should) leave the rest to Jesus. He is the only one who knows how to do the job properly, only he can properly integrate our overlapping circles into the bejewelled network of networks structure of his design.

21 January 2012

Circles of friends

Help doesn't always come from the places we expect. Community may not be the shape we design it to be. Church structure is better recognised than defined. Practice and experience are very likely to differ from theory.

Mallow on the beach, messy but vibrantAll of us need a little help from time to time, or someone to listen or encourage. And if we're involved in local church life we expect to find that support from church friends as well as from family members and others. In particular, if we are in a cell or home group we expect the members to provide the help we need. It's often claimed to be one of several reasons for meeting in smaller, more intimate groups.

But what happens in practice?

When a friend recently told me that he was not getting the help he needed from his home group, I was able to identify a number of people who were providing help. It was coming from a rich combination of close friends, some involved in other home groups, some in entirely different churches. Most of these people had not been 'designated' as his close church family, yet they were there when he needed them.

And this made me wonder whether we have things 'back to front' in some sense.

Rather than organise people into groups, why not recognise that most people already have circles of friends around them? Does it matter if these circles overlap with one another and don't fit into a tidy pattern?

As usual, organic life is messy but vibrant and abundant. Let it be what it is. If I can see vibrant and abundant I'm willing to overlook messy, or even rejoice over messy! Far better messy, abundant life than organised sterility. Yahshua said, 'I came so they may have life, and have it more abundantly.' (John 10:10)

So may I suggest that the people Father has placed around us are more likely to be there when we need them than the people that even the best organised church has defined as 'our' group? (The two are not mutually exclusive, or course.)

The corollary of this is that 'church'  is a shifting network of unique yet overlapping circles around all the individuals. True community comes, not from human-defined groups, but from the Father himself guiding his people in loving one another. And if we saw church in this way we would lose our need to identify ourselves as members of this fellowship or that denomination. We would let all the buildings and programs go (we wouldn't need them any more) and we could focus on life as the church that meets at Jane and John's house or the church in St Neots. Wouldn't that be grand!

06 January 2012

Like light on the water

Part 11 of a series - 'The Grace Outpouring'
< Grace outpouring | Index | A royal priesthood >

Behind the prayers for blessing and the abundant evidence of the results, an inner awareness was growing of the need for grace in dealing with people. A new understanding was developing in Roy and Daphne's hearts and minds.

Blessing and grace like sunlight on the waterIn this section, Roy continues to explain the need for grace towards others. The Almighty blesses us despite our faults and we should treat others in the same way. Praying for people to be blessed is part of that.

We are called to be more like him. When we ask him to bless people we are merely asking him to do what he has already chosen to do.
We found that there is often resistance to heart habits that incline towards grace. There were plenty of Christians who told me that our practice of blessing people who were not yet Christian was absolutely wrong. We were advised that it would be much better to cry out to God to make things much worse for them. Such people were not pleased to be told that this type of prayer was like a curse.

I cannot find a home in faith houses built on judgement. My personal experience is that God has had favour on me and shown me mercy when I don't deserve it. I have been disobedient and apathetic but the mercy that he's poured out on me has taken my breath away. When we hear the testimony of a wretched sinner who has found salvation we rejoice with them and the angels. The lower they have been, the greater the glory. It is not quite as straightforward when it is someone who is already a Christian, whose life has imploded, and that has been my experience. I know that if I were God I wouldn't have given someone like me another chance.

As these understandings had taken hold in my life in the years prior to coming to Ffald-y-Brenin, I concluded I didn't want to persuade people about the veracity or non-veracity of the words in a book. I believed they could encounter the living God and that the words would come alive to them as a result.

Asking people if we can bless them is an offer that few refuse. We're not saying, 'Can we pray for you in a general way?' We're not putting a difficult burden on those doing the praying. Blessing someone is simple and easy. The Holy Spirit comes because when you bless you are reflecting something that the Father is doing and speaking words that the Father desires to be said.

God's desire to bless is absolutely outrageous. Nothing can stop him. He has set himself with immovable intent to bless mankind. His longing is that Jesus shall have many brothers. That's us. Before we knew him, he knew us. Before we loved him, he loved us. He designed us for a purpose wrapped up in blessing. Heaven, our ultimate destination, is full of blessing and we are invited to pray for the coming of heaven on earth right now.*
Let's all aim to walk in step with the Father. We have nothing to lose and a very great deal to gain. Let's not resist him in our hearts, instead we simply need to accept that he was gracious towards us, is gracious towards others, and we should act and speak out of grace too.

Blessing and grace poured out onto the people we meet are like beams of bright sunshine pouring down onto the surface of a lake. Everything is transformed.

The Father, the Son and the Spirit are one, they are abundantly alive and want us to enter into their relationship of absolute love and grace and oneness. Furthermore they want us to draw others in. It's that simple!

Read a brief review of the book (includes several ways to buy a copy).

*Copyright 2008 Roy Godwin, Dave Roberts. The Grace Outpouring published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

< Grace outpouring | Index | A royal priesthood >

30 December 2011

Prophecy to the breath

Part 8 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Sinew, muscle and skin | Index | An overwhelming army >

And now Ezekiel is commanded to pray to the breath, calling it to fill the slain bodies so that they may come alive. We need breath (that is, the Holy Spirit) if the church is to be filled, come alive and function properly.

The power of the wind
Ezekiel stands and marvels over the bodies lying around him (bodies which so recently had been no more than dry and jumbled bones). And  Yahweh commands him to prophecy again.

Then he told me, 'Speak to the breath, son of man, tell it prophetically, "Here's what Yahweh Almighty says - come, breath, come from the four winds and breath into these dead bodies so they can come alive."' (Ezekiel 37:9)

So what is going on here? Let's take it step by step and notice the details. It is absolutely fascinating.

Yahweh speaks to a man (Ezekiel) and commands him to speak to the breath (or spirit, or wind, or life). He is not called to speak to the bodies, he is called to speak to the breath.

Breath, spirit, wind and life are closely connected in Hebrew thinking. Breath and spirit are the same word - 'ruach', and anything with breath/spirit has life. Whatever does not have breath/spirit is dead. When we breathe we create a feeble wind, while the winds that can bend trees and raise dust from the ground are clearly far more powerful.

There is an underlying thought here that the winds can provide the necessary breath/spirit to fill these bodies and bring them to life. And the breath comes 'from the four winds'. In other words it comes from anywhere and everywhere. We cannot pin the Holy Spirit down, he comes and goes as he chooses.

The church in our day seems often to be limp and lifeless. At least in the West we are not seeing great, sweeping moves of new believers. It is happening in some eastern lands just as it happened in Jerusalem after Pentecost when three thousand were baptised and added in a single day. (Acts 2:41)

Why are we in the west left out? Perhaps it's because the churches are at best like dead bodies, and the people at worst like dry scattered bones. We need to plead with the Lord to renew us by sending his Spirit to transform us and reinvigorate us. The church in the West needs an Ezekiel to hear Yahweh and to obey him in calling the Life and Spirit of Christ to re-enter the scattered bodies.

We should all be calling out to our Father in heaven to send an Ezekiel (or even a band of Ezekiels) to call the life and breath of his Spirit to return in power and to fill us so that we begin to live again.

Why is it necessary to speak to the Spirit rather than to the churches? Might it be because the churches are dead?  Earlier in the chapter Ezekiel spoke to the dry bones, they were dead too. So what was the difference? Notice that both times Ezekiel spoke as he was commanded by Yahweh - and that is the key.

Our primary duty will always be to listen and do what we are told, to watch and do what we are shown. This is how Jesus himself lived while he was here in the world, he knows how hard it can be and how effective it is. And he called us to follow him.

< Sinew, muscle and skin | Index | An overwhelming army >

23 November 2011

Simple gathering of believers

Stephanie Bennett
I have a treat for you today - a guest post from Stephanie Bennett.

She describes how she experienced family with fellow students during her college days and how Jesus was right among them. It was an experience to be cherished and something special and unusual, then and today.

I think she really has captured the essence of what it means to follow Jesus.

Celebrating Christ’s life in the Simple Gathering of Believers - Stephanie Bennett

Growing up in the midst of a nurturing, caring family where everyone is committed to each other simply because they have the same blood running through their veins is a wonderful way to learn the essentials of surviving and flourishing later in life. While many other factors contribute to ultimate happiness, it is relatively safe to assume that children growing up in the environment I just described have a greater chance at success and happiness than those who grow up in abusive or dysfunctional homes. It is the same for our spiritual lives, is it not?

I love the Body of Christ, perhaps because my first years as a new believer were spent in an organic group of Christians of all different stripes and sensibilities; each of us pursuing God to different degrees of intensity; some having grown up in Christian homes, others, straight out of the occult or atheism. For all our diversity we had several very significant things in common. Our most important commonality was that each of us had already reckoned with our own ability to produce a perfect self and upon realizing that this was impossible, we subsequently surrendered our efforts and our hearts to Jesus Christ, acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior.

Another commonality was that a day did not go by without actively seeking God, asking the Holy Spirit to give us light and guidance. We read scriptures together and discussed the Bible, going to the Lord in prayer if there was any discrepancy about a verse or fogginess in our understanding. And believe me -- there was fog. We were young adults, extremely passionate and full of zeal as we attempted to live lives in accord with God’s plan. We knew nothing, but that did not seem to matter; our youth and weakness did not work against us. Instead, it was in the acute awareness that we had nothing – no plan, no pastor, and no strategy for growth – that we learned that Christ was enough. He was enough to bring about transformation in our lives, enough to bring us joy, enough, period. We quickly learned the necessity of clinging to one another in love, giving up offenses quickly, and drawing from the richness of Christ in each other.

We also learned that being in Christ was not a monkish life. While times of personal solitude and quiet prayer were regular features in our lives, we were not called to lives of isolated existence; rather, we were called together to share life and express His life together, in one accord. What did that mean? For four years we lived it, figuring it out as we walked together, sharing His love and the lives to which He called us.

Another bit of interest during this four-year span of lavish life in the Spirit is that the group of about 30 believers was not a previously established club or organization. We came together as college students during our first semester and watched in amazement how the Lord grew us up together in Him. I often wonder if the reason so many hurting, disgruntled, and disheartened Christians got that way is because their experience in the church was so different from mine. If so, did the disappointment they experienced just become too much to handle? Did those who once knew Christ and once walked in the joy of the Lord leave Him because they grew up in a dysfunctional “church family”—one that tried to build and grow itself instead of simply learning to relate to God and each other in love?

There are probably many answers to these questions, but it seems to me that not one of them is sufficient to keep us from pursuing fellowship with God and each other. The church is a family – the more focused on Christ, the Head, the more the church will be a caring, nurturing family that can help us experience God’s love and Presence in practical, purposeful ways. But like any other family, no matter how committed to each other or how strong, the family of God is not perfect. The church is made up of imperfect people seeking God together – spurring each other on – walking daily in a life that is not insular, autonomous, or walled off from the world. It is a life that advances from faith to faith and from glory to glory. It is a life that is full of meaning and purpose, a life worth seeking. It is true life. Life ever-lasting and full of grace.

About the Author - Stephanie Bennett, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Florida, where she enjoys teaching and researching topics concerning mediated communication, interpersonal and relationship development, and the church and culture. (See also Stephanie's web space) An internationally published writer, she has long written for the popular press and has recently authored her first book, Communicating Love: Staying Close in a 24-7 Media-Saturated Society (also for Kindle),  Stephanie invites dialogue at steffasong@aol.com. She and her husband, Earl, make their home in sunny, south Florida, USA.

Note added by Chris J: There's a great deal of veracity and life in what Steph has written here. I can identify a series of important and lasting truths illustrated from personal experience. How many can you identify as you read? Please leave some comments on anything that particularly strikes you.

13 November 2011

Ezekiel in exile

Part 1 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< No earlier items | Index | Dry bones in the valley >

For much of my life Ezekiel's words about the valley of dry bones have seemed highly significant. I now feel I should work through the passage in detail here. I'll take it verse by verse and we'll see what it has to say to us today.

Brightness at the heart of the stormFirst, a little background; Ezekiel saw the valley in a vision, as part of a series of visions. Right at the beginning of the first chapter he gives us the details.

'In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.'

'On the fifth of the month — it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin — the word of Yahweh came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians.'

'There the hand of Yahweh was upon him. I looked, and I saw...' (Ezekiel 1:1-4)

Living in exile - There are several things to notice right away. Ezekiel was an exile from the promised land and was among other exiles. In other words he was not alone, but along with others he was not where he truly belonged. Worldly powers had taken them far from the land of their inheritance. But Ezekiel was a Jew and of a priestly family, that personal inheritance could never be taken from him.

Is that true for us? Have we, the church (or at least the western church) been taken far from our true and full inheritance in Christ? I'm not talking about salvation here. Nor do I mean our individual lives in Christ and he in us. Those cannot be taken. I mean the life of the church.

The Almighty has permitted us to be captured by all kinds of worldly attraction and methodology. We have replaced falling on our faces in the presence of his glory and power with worship bands. We have replaced going in the name of Yahshua (Jesus) with outreach initiatives. We've replaced sitting at his feet, hearing him speak and watching him work with training sessions. We've replaced loving our neighbour with leaflets through doors.

Of course all these things have their place and all are useful - worship bands, outreach initiatives, training sessions and attractive leaflets are not bad in and of themselves. But they should not and cannot replace his glory and power, going in his name, listening and watching him or loving our neighbour.

But all is not lost! - As an exile from the land of promise, Ezekiel was by the river when the heavens were opened and he saw visions of (or from) the Most High. Do you think that might be true for us too? Is it possible that in the middle of this foreign place we have been taken to, the heavens might be opened and we might truly see the Most High? Notice what he says at the start of verse 4 - the hand of Yahweh was on me. I looked and I saw.

Is his hand not also on us? If we look, we too, will see. But we surely won't see unless we look!  I'm determined to look. Are you? King David wrote, 'Taste and see that Yahweh is good'. (Psalm 34:8) We need to look, listen, and taste. What does this mean? Simply this - it's time to check Papa out, it's time to hear what he is saying, see what he is doing, and taste the flavour of his nature and love. We will not be disappointed!

We haven't even started on the dry bones passage yet, but we have set the scene. We know that even if we are in exile the Master can reach us with a new vision, that he can touch us, and that we are free to look and see. Are you up for this?

Next time we'll look at those dry bones - I promise!

< No earlier items | Index | Dry bones in the valley >

02 November 2011

THOUGHT - Some old letters

Sometimes I see something that takes my thoughts deeper than normal everyday life. It happened again this morning as I was checking some local news. A bag of letters left at a charity shop in St Neots told an unexpected story.

Article in the News and CrierThe News and Crier carried an unusual story about a large collection of Victorian letters. They'd been handed in to the Oxfam charity shop in St Neots High Street - what a surprise for the staff who spotted them!

It soon became apparent that these letters told the story of a family over a twenty-three year period in the Victorian era. The detailed tale of life is sometimes hard, sometimes happy, sometimes very sad. Here's a short extract from the News and Crier article.
Sarah’s letters are quite heartbreaking: she writes to Allen about the death of Louisa’s son Joe, and about her own son Adrian: “I cannot see him improve. I don’t believe he is worse. I myself am so afraid it might turn to consumption.”
And you know there has been a death when the paper is edged with black.
What sticks with you is their obvious love and respect for each other. It’s touching that, even in ink, their affection has been safeguarded for so long.

Isn't that amazing? Life went on then much as it does today and all that remains are some scraps of paper with a few things that the people wanted to communicate to one another. All those heartaches and joys, all that experience lived, condensed to a few words that were almost lost.

Will anything more than that remain of my physical life a hundred years from now? Probably not!

It brings life into sharp focus, doesn't it. Life is temporary and short, we can take nothing with us when we leave just as we brought nothing on arrival.

Here is something Jesus said two thousand years ago: 'Everyone who drinks this [well] water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'

I think that in this short life words like that deserve a second look. What do you think?

(Those words are from the book of John, you can read more online.)

18 October 2011

THOUGHT - Making things new

< Missing the best | No later items >

What does Haggai have to tell us about church life today? Do we need to carefully consider what we are doing?

Stones from the Temple Mount in JerusalemFelicity Dale posted an article recently in which she explains how she and Tony were prompted to look at a passage from Haggai.

She writes...
We remember the days when, back in England, God's presence was almost tangible when we came together. Sometimes we were unable to stand in his presence. There were healings and miracles. We never dared go into his presence with unconfessed sin, because we knew that the Holy Spirit would reveal it publicly. This was not a manufactured glamor and glitz, but the presence of God--his glory-- among his people.
I remember those days too, so do some of my other friends near and far. We still have meetings like that sometimes. But it doesn't happen often, certainly not every time we meet as it did in the late 1970s.

Felicity continues...
For a while now, Tony and I have been praying that God would fill these new wineskins of simple/organic churches, with his new wine, his presence. We've been praying for our situation that whatever we touch would bring the presence of Jesus with it--whether that's our business, our home or our gatherings.

What does it mean for us to build God's house? For his house to be more important than anything we're doing ourselves? (This is not a theological statement: I know that Jesus is the one who builds his church.)

I sense Jesus saying to us, 'It's time to let me do what I want to do amongst you. Stop getting in my way.' The book of Haggai has a great deal to tell us (so do many other passages, for example the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel and the people of Israel in the desert in Exodus).

Haggai spoke out the word he received. 'Yahweh Elohim says, "Give careful thought to your ways"' .(Haggai 1:7)  We, too, need to give careful thought to our ways. Jesus was quite clear that he is the builder and we are the stones. (Matthew 16:16-18) Notice that he also says where his house will be built - on the rock. The Temple in Jerusalem was built on a particular rock, the one on which Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac, the one where the lamb was caught in a bush. The rock is still there, the Temple is not.

So the knowledge that Jesus is the Messiah is the Rock on which the new house will be built. Let's begin to take the stones to Jesus so that he can get on with the building. We must carry the stones to the Rock.

As long as I build my own house instead of allowing Jesus to build me into his house, water and bread will be withheld. (Haggai 1:9-10) Has our Father had us on a diet? Yes, I rather think he has! We've been on a spiritual diet for years, even decades. The Living Water and the Bread of Life are Jesus. He himself is Water welling up within us, he is the Bread that sustains us. He reminded the evil one in the wilderness that 'man doesn't live on bread only but on every word that comes from Elohim's mouth'. Jesus himself is the real Bread, he is also the Word.

What is 'my own house' that I am always so ready to build? I think it can be many things. It can be a denomination, or a meeting place, or a tradition - but might it also be house church, a home, or my blog? Dare we ask ourselves the hard question? What is my house? Will I give that thing up so that Jesus can use me as a part of his house?

It's not for me to tell you what your house is; it's for each of us to work out for ourselves. Give careful thought to your ways! If we listen and hear and are obedient, those amazing times of his presence amongst his people will return. You'd better believe it!

Here are three more passages to send you on your way, what do they say to you?

'Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.' (Acts 14:11-17)

'See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.' (Isaiah 43:18-20)

'You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new.' (Leviticus 26:9-11)

See also: Who's house am I building? - Building the church - House and garden

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10 November 2010

THOUGHT - A wind-up torch

Who wants to keep on buying batteries? A wind-up torch can be used indefinitely providing it is wound from time to time. Are you a wind-up torch?

A wind-up torchI was just sitting here quietly this evening, relaxing briefly after a busy day. Into my mind came a clear picture of a wind-up torch, the green one we keep in the cupboard in the kitchen.

And I thought how we wind the torch and it stores the energy, and then we can get that energy out again in the form of light. As I paid attention to the thought a little parable formed in my mind.

There was a wind-up torch that hadn't been used, any energy it had when it was first made had long since dissipated. One day the torch's owner needed light to shine into a dark place. He took out the torch and pressed the switch, but no light shone out. No matter how often he pressed the switch, no matter how long or how hard he pressed, there was no light.

The owner wound the handle vigorously for a minute or two and then tried again. This time a powerful beam shone from the torch and filled the dark place.

People are like wind-up torches. You are a wind-up torch. We were made to contain the energy of our active and powerful King. But if there is no energy inside you, you cannot work.

When the Master wants to shine light into the dark recesses of a person's heart, he often calls a servant and commands light to pour out so that he can direct it at the dark place. But light will only shine if the servant is filled with energy.

If the servant lacks energy, the Master can provide it. Then the servant will pour out the true light of the world (Jesus) into the places that are dark.

The place where you live or work is filled with people who are in the dark, people who know little or nothing about Jesus Christ. When he chooses to use you to shine his light into the darkness, he needs to know that you can draw upon his energy stored within you. Lack of energy isn't a problem to him, he can always add more energy if you have run short. He can act in your life to add energy at any time.

When you contain his energy he can use it to shine light into the lives of those around you. He knows where the dark places are, he will point your beam in the right direction. It will be his light going out to dispel the darkness, not yours.

What can we learn from this story? There are probably several lessons, I'll pick 'Be careful who you allow to wind you up' :-) Please use the comment option to add some ideas of your own.

  • Is this parable useful?
  • What particular lesson does it teach you?
  • When you run out of energy, where do you usually go to find more?

09 November 2010

Meeting Ben Taylor from Somerton

Today Ben Taylor visited me from Somerton in the West Country. It was good to have the afternoon together before he left to spend some time with another friend in Great Gransden.

Autumn in the Riverside ParkI originally met Ben and Cath at a meeting in Chepstow. Ben came on his own this time and we walked down to Cornerstone through the Riverside Park as the weather was fine. When we arrived Jim was there and he sat with us for a while, the conversation was good. How encouraging it is to spend time comparing notes with others on similar journeys!

Ben shared a picture of a bee's sting, and he told me that the Lord would use me to soothe and heal people who'd been 'stung' or hurt in various ways. This is most certainly accurate.

We discovered we have a lot in common. We both come from a Plymouth Brethren background, we have both been led out of more structured forms of church life and are now trying to reach people in a variety of everyday situations.

I've put Ben and Cath in touch with my friends in North Somerset, and Ben tells me he's also kept in touch with Mark in South Wales.

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