Showing posts with label light. Show all posts
Showing posts with label light. Show all posts

13 June 2016

The City on the Hill

The old city on the hill - Approaching the end of his three and a half years of teaching and healing, Jesus told his disciples, 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing'. (Matthew 23:37-39)

A city on a hill - Ostuni, Italy
Jesus means us to take these verses very seriously indeed. In Matthew's account they're sandwiched between some of the most severe criticism of the religion of the day and a terrifying promise of the destruction to come. The city of Jerusalem and the temple at its heart were pulled down in 70 AD and replaced by a Roman city. The people died in the assault or were thrown out; this is what Jesus predicts and describes.

Jesus is well aware that we, too, are hemmed in by religious traditions and habits on the one hand, and inflexible structures on the other. And in the same way, he wants to gather us together under his wings. But are we willing? If we are not, he will criticise our religious tradition and allow our structures to be destroyed in order to save us from our own error and foolishness. Let’s not mislead ourselves, religion and structure are central to much that we think and do.

The new city on the hill - This is the New Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb, the church! In Revelation 21:2-3 we read, 'I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ Revelation 21:9-11 tells us, 'I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.'

This new Jerusalem has no traditions and is not built of stone. We are the living stones it's constructed from! Jesus said, 'You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven'.

Sometimes we think in terms of our own, individual lights, and how they should not be hidden. It's not wrong to read the passage in that way, but surely what Jesus really has in mind is his people collectively, the church, his bride, the new city built on a hill - the city that 'cannot be hidden'. And this new city is not built on a foundation of traditions and human teaching and Sunday services. It's built on the foundation of Christ alone and it's driven by every breath he breathes, the wind of the Spirit of Christ.

The how – life in the city - So what do we get in place of tradition and structure? Church life is based on something far more flexible and adaptable, something much more organic.

Ephesians 4:11-16 reveals church life as Jesus intended it. 'Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.'

And here's the practical detail. 'To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.'  (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

And yet more detail from 1 Corinthians 14:26. 'When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.'

This is the new city on the hill that shines its light all around (not hidden under a jar). This is the church, the new Jerusalem, light in a dark world, individuals all bringing a contribution, building and equipping one another. This is who we are, it’s what we need to be doing.

See also


21 June 2013

Back to front truth

Leaders in the church, Part 11
< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

Jesus gets away from the crowds and begins to teach his closest followers. There are strong hints here, and more than hints, that leading is going to be costly. It will require great humility and self sacrifice, hard labour, unpopularity and persecution, and (not least) righteousness.

Galilee with hills on the horizon
Galilee with hills on the horizon
Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew's Gospel show us Jesus teaching his close followers. It is his apprentices that he speaks to here, his disciples, not the crowd. Matthew 5:1 explicitly says that when he saw the crowds he went up on the mountain and while he was sitting there his disciples came to him.

In terms of leadership there are several things to pay attention to here. Yahshua has been travelling throughout Galilee speaking about the good news and showing it in action by healing the sick. As a result he is now being pursued by large crowds, he has become famous.

Heading out - Leaving these crowds deliberately, he goes to a remote spot involving a steep scramble that many of the sick would not have been able to tackle. He sits down on a hillside far above the lake and away from the towns and villages. Only the most determined would have followed him there. He wants to train those who will continue the work of the kingdom after he has returned to the Father.

Leaders all need to do this, at least some of the time. It's essential to reach the crowds, that is the purpose of the mission. But it's every bit as important to pass on the method and the foundational truths to the core followers. What is unique about Yahshua is not that he teaches his followers; all Jewish rabbis did that. He is different because he also goes direct to the crowds. The Pharisees and Sadducees taught their disciples in great detail, but they didn't touch the lives of ordinary people very much.

So here, in Matthew 5:1-20, Jesus comes away from the crowds and does some standard rabbinic teaching. As you read it, remember that he's speaking to leaders, those he will soon be sending out on their own. He needs them to understand some basic truths. And these truths are all back to front. Did the Pharisees think the weak would be blessed?

The beatitudes - These famous sayings of Jesus are very intriguing. Most people are puzzled by them at some level and it's likely the disciples were too. One way to get to the bottom of what seems to be a conundrum is to reverse the individual statements. I outlined this idea a couple of years ago and I have just revisited it in more detail in another post.

But the thing to notice right now is that these statements would have made the disciples think. They would have understood that this Jesus was not motivated by power or wealth, but by humility and compassion. And they would begin to realise that he wanted them to have the same approach to life. This is the underlying philosophy that all church leaders need to have. If not, church becomes an oppressive and hurtful place instead of the place of peace and welcome that Jesus intended.

Trouble, salt and light - In verse 11 Jesus makes it very clear that leaders can expect to suffer in a variety of ways because of him. Why because of him? Simply because anyone who says what Jesus says and does what he does will attract the anger of those holding worldly authority. The scribes, law teachers and Pharisees handed Jesus over for execution. The prophets suffered in the same way. The newly arrested John the Baptist was a very fresh example if one was needed!

And he explained that leaders are responsible for providing flavour and illumination. Those who do not provide these things are of little or no value as leaders in the kingdom. We often read these chapters as if they are written to all believers - and to some degree they are. But specifically they are for the disciples, then and now. Of course, we are all disciples and we are all called to lead and show one another the way. Also, we are all called to the mission of going and making disciples and teaching them everything Jesus taught us. Disciples follow and lead others so that they in turn will become disciples.

And what of the Law? - Jesus explains how his coming affects the Law. Again, it's all about leaders. Those who are obedient and teach others the same will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Do you want to be called great? You will need to become more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees (who attempted to obey the Law in minute detail). How can any man or woman become righteous? It's only possible by believing Jesus, and if we believe we'll teach others to do the same.

Clearly, the standard for leaders in the church is very high indeed. Not in terms of paper qualifications or head knowledge (the Pharisees had all the learning and theology anyone could wish for). Not in terms of appointed authority (the High Priest had that in spades). But in terms of Christ-likeness.

If you aspire to lead, begin by reading Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Then consider what it means to 'follow Jesus up the mountain'. It is hard and dangerous work but very rewarding.

Questions:

  • Are you a leader? What do you think defines a leader?
  • Are you following Jesus? If so you are a disciple, doesn't that make you a leader?
  • Why do you suppose Jesus wanted to spend so much time with his disciples (rather than the crowds)? Surely the more people he could reach the better.
  • Is it better to go wide or deep? Jesus went wide with the crowd and deep with the disciples.

See also:


< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

10 June 2013

Five colours of the rainbow

Ephesians describes a five-fold ministry based on spiritual gifts. But using only one of the five is like looking through coloured glass, everything becomes the same colour and essential information is lost. Is this what the church has done with the so-called APEST gifts?

A red postbox through green glasses
Ephesians 4:11-13 describes the so-called 'five-fold-ministry'. This is sometimes abbreviated APEST or APEPT, that is Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds (or Pastors) and Teachers.

There are many other gifts of the Spirit mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, but the verses in Ephesians make it clear that these five are specifically 'to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up'.

There's evidence that the early church employed them all just as Paul describes.

Separation - Yet in the traditional western church apostles and prophets were not recognised for hundreds of years, evangelists were hived off into mission organisations, teachers were often found only in places of learning and training, and only shepherds (or pastors) remained to equip church members.

This crippled the church and made her ineffective in many ways.

Colours - Lets assign a colour to each gift and consider church in terms of light. How would that work?

  • Apostle - Red
  • Prophet - Orange
  • Evangelist - Yellow
  • Shepherd (Pastor) - Green
  • Teacher - Blue
With the exception of indigo and violet, these are the standard colours of the rainbow. When all five colours are present we see something quite close to white light. Now, Jesus is the Light, he illuminates everything with the pure white beam of his glory. In the Light of Jesus (the Light sent to reveal the Truth) we can see everything clearly.

But with red and yellow sidelined as being unnecessary, with yellow moved off to the mission field, and with teachers moved out into seminaries, only the green light of the shepherd (pastor) remains. This makes life very difficult for the church as green objects appear green but all other colours appear in shades of green too.

A blind church - Such a partially blind church cannot function as she was intended to. Only by bringing back all five gifts can we benefit from white Light where Jesus is central and objects all appear in their true colours. And then the church will again be equipped for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

Isn't this what we all really want? It should be! Green may be an appropriate colour for a shepherd, but we need more than a shepherd if we are to see everything clearly.


Questions:

  • Can you imagine a world in which everything appears green?
  • How might this affect your driving? (Think about red lights.)
  • How much do you know about the gifts other than shepherd/pastor?
  • How can you expand your knowledge? Hint, try some of the links below.

See also:

28 February 2013

Don't miss the dawn

Words from a few years ago now seem to be relevant. These words may be for you, if they are you will know because they will resonate for you. They are words from the Light about the Light. These are words about a journey, about an announcement, and about the glory of the coming day.

Like a new day dawning
Here's something I was given and wrote down a few years ago, but I sense that now is the right time to share it.

If this is for you I'm sure you'll recognise it.

There is a new light shining in the eyes of everyone who is looking for it. It's a new dawn, a new day, a new light yet it's the oldest light in existence, older even than the universe itself. It's the light of Christ shining into a dark world.

But I tell you, unless your eyes are open you will not see this light clearly. Unless you are looking for it you will see dimly and overlook the truth. Here is what the Lord says.

'A new thing is coming but not all will walk through it with me. The light of revival is already glimmering like a new dawn in the hearts of those who've been praying for it and searching for it and hoping for it.'

'Get up now while it's still dark, prepare yourself for a journey, light a lamp so you can see to make a meal and tidy up your affairs, set out the clothes you will wear on the road, get dressed, wash your face, and put on a warm coat. Then put out your lamp, step outside and close the door and begin walking to the place where the sky is bright and the sun is about to rise. Listen, the birds are already singing for the dawn.'

'Many of your neighbours are asleep in bed, they will awake to the full light of day. But you will have experienced the dawning and will be ready to call out as you journey, "Wake up, rise up, come outside for the Light is shining and the darkness is gone. Come out, come and feel the radiance and the warmth, come outside and see the glory of the day."'

'The day is short and there is far to travel.'


Questions:

  • Does this speak to your heart? If so, what is the Spirit saying to you?
  • Can you share this with others who might need to see it?
  • You may have more to add, if so would you be willing to make a comment?

See also:

22 January 2013

From the beginning to atoms

The universe, Part 4
< In the beginningSeries index | Penzias, Wilson and some noise >

The universe grows larger, cooler and more complex at astonishing speed until it's a few minutes old. Further change is much slower and less dramatic. Fundamental forces and particles are generated, hydrogen and helium are formed and light is released.

The cosmic microwave background radiation
The first few minutes of the universe's existence see a huge increase in volume and a dramatic reduction in temperature. Gravity, light, and atomic forces separate from one another. And finally matter comes into existence in the form of hydrogen and helium nuclei and electrons.

More fundamentally we could say that the universe evolves from a simple, evenly distributed beginning and generates greater and greater complexities confined to smaller and smaller volumes as it expands. We'll explore this concept in a later post.

In Part 3 we discussed the beginning but also understood that we can't directly understand or observe it. A good theory of quantum gravity might help, but we don't have one yet.

So how near the beginning can we claim to have any real understanding? The answer is back to 10-43 of a second. If you want to see that as an ordinary fraction you would need to write 1 at the top with 1 followed by 43 zeroes at the bottom. So we understand the universe (in some sense) back to a very, very tiny part of a second.

What exactly do we know from that very early time?

Gravity and inflation - For one thing, gravity and the other fundamental forces may have all been of equal strength at first, with gravity separating out at 10-43 seconds. There is theoretical support for this. After gravity separated to become the very mild force it is today, the universe entered a time of extremely rapid expansion known as inflation.

This is not just something scientists have dreamed up; the observed properties of the universe can only be explained by such a rapid inflation during which it became unimaginably larger in a tiny, tiny fraction of a second. Before inflation the universe was smaller than a sub atomic particle. Inflation ended between 10-33 and 10-32 seconds, but by this time the universe was spacious (perhaps as large as a football) and packed with elementary particles that still exist in our own time - quarks, antiquarks and gluons.

How do we know all this? There are three important things that constrain what is possible.

  • Theory - Based on what we know of the later universe, theory rules out most hypotheses about the earliest eras. Only an early universe similar to what is described above could have resulted in what we see today.
  • Cosmology - Observations suggest a great deal. The cosmic background radiation (shown above) and the distribution of galaxy clusters, for example, can only be explained by inflation.
  • High energy physics experiments - By creating high energies in particle accelerators we can observe the properties and behaviour of particles in a similar state to these early phases of the universe.

Here's one more thing about inflation. If, as many think, our universe began as a quantum fluctuation, then without inflation it would have been the most transient of fluctuations and the universe would have been snuffed out almost immediately while it was still very tiny.

The electroweak epoch - The next stage in the evolution of the universe involved the strong nuclear force separating from the remaining two fundamental forces. Like the earlier events, this too happened at a very early time, around 10-34 seconds. More particles were able to condense out of the soup of energy at this stage, W bosons, Z bosons and Higgs Bosons became common. These are particles that can be generated in our most powerful accelerators today, so we are able to study them and understand them reasonably well.

The universe continued to expand and cool so that by 10-12 seconds bosons could no longer be created. 10-12 seconds is also called a picosecond (one quadrillionth of a second). Lasers with pulses as short as a picosecond are used for cutting and shaping materials, in medicine, and for removing tatoos. It's still a very brief time, but meaningful enough for real life use. Light travels just 0.3 mm in this time.

The quark, hadron and lepton epochs - The universe continued to expand and cool. After it was a picosecond old the electromagnetic and weak forces separated and the universe at this time was full of a dense quark-gluon plasma.

By the end of this epoch at around a microsecond old (one millionth of a second), the universe was cool enough that the quarks could combine to form protons, neutrons and their anti-particles. At an age of about one second the universe was cool enough for particles and anti-particles to annihilate, leaving a small excess of protons and neutrons.

As the universe expanded and cooled further and aged to about ten seconds, electrons and other leptons were also able to annihilate with their anti-particles leaving a small excess of mostly protons, neutrons, electrons, and photons.

Over the next few minutes conditions cooled to a point where atomic nuclei could form, mostly deuterium and helium with a little lithium. At this point the universe contained these nuclei, protons, electrons, and photons. After a further 380 000 years of cooling and expansion the protons and other nuclei combined with the electrons to form hydrogen and helium atoms (and some lithium atoms). This allowed the photons to move freely (the cosmic microwave background radiation), space became transparent and the earliest structures formed. These structures were simply volumes of slightly varying density and temperature. They are the first things we can 'see' directly and are shown in the illustration at the top of the article.

From this point on the universe becomes more and more recognisable to us, albeit still far hotter and denser than today. We will be able to see the rest of the story much more in terms of astronomy.


Questions: 
  • Are you surprised at the amount of change that took place in the first second?
  • Is the creation of the universe more complex than you had imagined?
  • How do you feel about a universe that started this way?

See also: 


< In the beginning | Series index | Penzias, Wilson and some noise >

08 January 2013

A light on the path

It's important that we serve the community around us, this is how we show people in the world that they are loved. The basis for that loving service is that Christ first loved me, but beyond that he also goes with me and shows me who to speak to, who to bless, and how and when to do it.

A light on the pathJanuary's Synchroblog invitation reads in part as follows.

New Year’s Resolutions are usually somewhat self-serving. But is there a way you can serve others in 2013? Are there homeless people in your community? Maybe you could bring some food to them on a regular basis this year. Are there single mothers? How about coming alongside them to babysit their kids while they go shopping, or maybe you could change the oil in their car or mow their lawn. Do you know any alcoholics or addicts? What can you do to show them love and care this year? Are there elderly shut-ins in your neighborhood? How about running errands for them or going over to their place to play cards, read to them, or just talk?

Serving others - Works of service are important. We are here to serve one another, to serve those around us and to serve the Messiah first and foremost. The people around me can only know that they are loved if they are loved. So yes, I do want to serve the community where I live during the coming year.

But I believe the basis for service is critically important, so rather than resolve here and now what my service will be I plan to write about the basis for serving and how we can consider that and respond to it.

A New Year's resolution by any other name is still a New Year's resolution. And if I resolve to do something, it had better be the right something! All of the suggestions in the Synchroblog notes are great, but doing good things is not sufficient as an end in itself. So what should be the foundation?

Love - The immediate foundation is, I believe, love. If I don't have love, then my actions will be empty at best, or merely for show at worst. I need to step in to help when I see weakness, helplessness, hunger, thirst, injustice, sickness, imprisonment. My heart needs to go out on a daily, even an hourly, basis so that I will respond out of love as and when I witness the need. Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 again. Whatever I do without love is void.

Obedience - But there is something else, a deeper foundation that underpins even acts of love. And that is obedience. Love and obedience are intertwined. I will meet the needs I see because I love the needy. And I will obey Jesus because I love him. I love him because he first loved me.

So he is the source, and the effect he works is in me and through me. First to love him and obey him, secondly to love those around me and serve them. So we really do need to consider obedience as well as love. If I am to serve those around me most effectively I need to love them but I also need to hear what Jesus is saying to me through his Spirit and act obediently. Not only that, but Jesus prepares the way for us. He leads us to people he has already made ready.

Obedience is a moment by moment affair. The Spirit whispers quietly to me, 'This is the way, walk in it. Go here, do that, speak to that person trusting that I will give you the words as you need them, go to such and such a place where someone needs your help. Sit here, watch, and see what I will show you.'

Now, I'm not saying it always works that way for me - but sometimes it does. When I am listening and trusting it always does.

Know Jesus and listen - So I encourage everyone, get to know Jesus if you don't already. He is Love, Peace, Power, Life, the Way, Light in the darkness. Believing in him is a good start but it's not enough - know him, walk with him, speak to him, listen to him. It's what his first followers did, and you can too.

Learn to focus more on listening than on speaking. We are told we should pray every day and read the Bible every day; and they are great habits to have. But above all, before even prayer and reading, listen. Be attentive. Be still and quiet and hear what the Spirit of Christ is saying to you. And obey him.

And then you will have the best and most helpful opportunities to serve those around you. Guided in the moment in all you do and say by the One who can shine real light on your path.

So if we resolve anything in this new year of 2013, let's resolve to know him, pay attention to him, hear him and obey him in all we do. And to do it more fully than in any previous year. Will you join me in that resolution?

Practical details - But the synchroblog asked for specifics.

For the January 2013 synchroblog, we invite you to share some of the tangible needs in your neighborhood or community you will seek to meet this year. Be concrete. Where, when, how, and to whom will you be the hands and feet of Jesus? As you think and write about this, it will not only encourage you to follow Jesus into the world this year, but will also provide the rest of us with some suggestions for how we can serve others in our own communities.

I don't yet know, in detail. But one thing I feel he is already urging me to do is print off a bunch of my photos in a reasonable size, perhaps A5, and sit in the market square with a spare chair beside me offering them free to anyone who will sit, choose a photo, and tell me what they see in it. I must get those photos organised right away!

People have physical needs, but they also have emotional needs and spiritual needs. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to reach hungry and lost hearts. Chris Duffett does things like this to great effect and you'll find abundant ideas on his website.

My wife is keen to find a community project of some kind to help people in practical ways and I might join her in that. She's a member of Open Door, a local New Frontiers church. It's likely the initiative will come through Open Door.

In the past I've helped a variety of people in little ways but was specifically led into each situation. Kid's camps; a couple, both seriously ill, with children at home and needing help with gardening; a couple suffering serious physical abuse from young people in the area; a friend needing company and occasional practical help; a conversation with a stranger on a train; serving Christmas dinner to lonely people.

I'm expecting more of the same in the year ahead - I just can't tell you what it will be yet!

Questions:

  • What do you find to be the most effective ways of listening, spiritually?
  • Is it better to do nothing, to do something unguided, or to do what you are told?
  • Do you agree with me that action and obedience are both rooted in love?

See also:


Other posts in this synchroblog:

16 November 2012

Like a torch

Because we contain a source of power (Jesus living within us), we can illuminate the darkness and see clearly. The Holy Spirit gave me a picture of a torch, here is the picture along with its meaning and application in our lives.

Light from a powerful torch
While Jim and I were praying on Thursday the Spirit put a picture in my mind. I saw a torch shining a light onto the floor.

And as I watched I noticed that the light beam through the air was not visible, but the spot of light on the floor was clearly visible, in fact it drew my eye away from everything else. It was the most clearly visible thing I could see and I could also see the details of the flagstone floor - but only where the light fell.

And then He gave me a prophecy. Father said, 'You are like a torch, you produce light from the source of power that is within you, but the light you produce cannot be seen until it reaches and shines upon an object of some kind. Wherever the light shines, you can see clearly.' I felt that the word 'you' was plural, that it was spoken to both of us, that it's meant for others to hear too. That's why I'm sharing it now on the blog.

Jim incorporated these thoughts into his prayer and I just felt so grateful that I had been shown something simple and at the same time useful.

What can we draw from this simple picture of a torch?

Each of us is like a torch - We are stand alone creatures, self sufficient in so many ways. Yes, we are in an environment consisting of the physical world around us, but we are like islands in some ways, complete in ourselves and isolated. Most of us, if we so choose, can live self-contained lives in which our inner thoughts impinge little on those around us. We are like torches that are switched off.

However, we do contain a source of power just as a torch contains a battery. The Spirit of  Christ is within you if you are his apprentice. Jesus himself resides in you and provides all the power you need for whatever he wants you to do. You have the power necessary to be a light in this dark world because the One who is Light is in you.

Of course, you need to be switched on. Light only comes from you if you are prepared and willing for that to happen!

An invisible beam - The beam of Christ-light that shines from his people is completely invisible. It only becomes visible when it reaches across the void and touches a person or a situation. And even then, the light doesn't show itself as light.

Like a torchbeam, it reveals clearly whatever is already there. The effect of light is not so much in its presence but in what it reveals when it is focussed on a target. There's a very bright spot in the centre, while further away there's a more general, dimmer glow. And just as a torch can be pointed in any direction, so Jesus can direct the Light onto a particular situation or into the life of a particular person. The beam is moving all the time although we rarely give it a thought.

When you use a torch, you don't hold it still, but you sweep the beam about to illuminate the whole scene. You rarely shine a torch behind you, but direct it forward into the place you will go next.

We should be just the same spiritually.

Spiritual illumination - What we have to do is allow the light to be directed wherever Jesus chooses. Only then will it reach the places where it is especially needed. And how can we do that? There's only one way, we must aim the beam wherever he tells us to aim it. The Holy Spirit was given partly to guide us and when we trust him he is very effective in doing so.

So pray for guidance, expect guidance, and receive it when it comes. When the light is focussed on the right place you will be able to clearly see much more detail. The worst thing for any situation or condition that needs to be changed is for it to remain in the dark. In the darkness there's no way to see any detail, and it's entirely possible the problem will  not even be noticed.

The guidance may come in the form of a hunch or a nagging feeling, it may come through prophecy or an interpreted tongue. It may come because there is no peace to be found by looking elsewhere or it may come in a vision or a dream. And finally it might come as a spoken voice, though this is probably quite rare.

We can see this in action in the Bible.

  • Joseph has a dream - (Genesis 37:5-7) This dream angered Joseph's brother, but it foretold events far in the future. For the full story read Genesis 37:2-36 and Genesis 39:1-42:9.
  • Ananias visits Saul - (Acts 9:10-19) Ananias would not have gone willingly to visit a violent persecutor like Saul. But that is where the Spirit called him to go. The light of Christ had already shone on Saul with devastating effect. Now it was to shine on him again through Ananias. Read the rest in Acts 7:55-8:3 and Acts 9:1-22.
  • Peter visits Cornelius - (Acts 10:11-13) Peter falls into a trance and hears a voice. Read the entire story in Acts 9:43-11:18.
  • A change of plan for Paul - (Acts 16:6-10)  This time the Spirit hinders them from following their own plans but also provides a vision.

Notice how the Spirit focuses the brightest spot on the heart of the issue. Peripheral aspects would also have been illuminated, but not so vividly, but those broader lessons were also important. For example, the bright spot for Ananias would have been 'go and visit Saul'. The general issues would have been such things as 'if I send you you need not be afraid', 'I will often surprise you' and 'my ways are not your ways'.

These are powerful examples of guidance, but it can often be far simpler on a day by day basis. The Holy Spirit often hinders or encourages us by seeding uncertainty or peace in our hearts. Where there is peace, we are often on the right track and it may be fine to continue in the same way. But where there is uncertainty or turmoil it is best to pray and proceed with a cautious, open mind.

The light of Jesus shines into our lives and the situations around us and brings clarity, purpose and effectiveness. Praise him that this is so!

Questions:

  • How often are you guided by the Spirit, and how often by your own planning?
  • Can you think of ways to enhance spiritual guidance in your life?
  • In the four Bible examples above, how would things have worked out if the people involved had not be willing to listen to the Spirit?
  • Where did the brightest parts of the beam and the peripheral areas fall for Joseph, Peter and Paul?

See also:

03 May 2012

On a spiritual journey?

< No earlier items | Index | Drawn to the light >

A picture of a lake and a clearing sky sparks some thought about the spiritual aspects of life. Everyone has views on spiritual things, everybody believes something and pictures like this can help us explore our own hearts and spiritual awareness.

Everyone is on a spiritual journeyFrom time to time I'll try to post something here that will appeal to people on spiritual journeys. This is the first of them.

See all these articles

Everyone is on a spiritual journey, though not all of us realise it.

We may follow any religion or none, we may call ourselves Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Atheist, or (add your own) but we all hold something to be true and have understandings and motivations seated deep in our nature - deeper than the intellect, deeper than emotions.

I'd like to spend a few moments drawing some thoughts from the picture above (click on it to see a more detailed version).

23 April 2012

The symbolism of Rochester Cathedral

Jools Holland relates the history and symbolism of Rochester Cathedral. It is an amazing place, and like all cathedrals it is designed to remind us of who we are and what we have in Christ.

The nave of Rochester Cathedral, looking east We spent the weekend at Rochester in the county of Kent, the south-eastern corner of England. The historic old town with its imposing castle and beautiful cathedral is today part of a large conurbation including the dockyards and industries of Chatham. But Rochester still retains much of its ancient character with lovely old shops lining a long, straight High Street - part of the Roman road called Watling Street.

We visited the cathedral on Saturday and I enjoyed a recorded commentary narrated by Jools Holland. There are several commentaries available including the reflective one that Donna chose. But I picked the historical guide and it was indeed fascinating. I'd like to share some of the things I learned, and reflect on them because they still speak about our individual spiritual journeys.

29 November 2011

Earls Barton - The light in the middle

< 22nd November 2011 | Index | 5th December 2011 >

It's been far too long since I visited my friends here. Jim and I drove over to spend the evening with them and we had a discussion followed by a sweet time guided and encouraged by the Spirit.

Light in the middleAt first we talked about a range of topics. I wondered how unusual meetings like this might be. I'm not aware of very many, and this is something being discussed more widely in recent months. (See for example articles by Felicity Dale, Ross Rohde, John White, Bobby Auner, and even me!)

We also discussed prayer for healing and recognised that both the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit are necessary. Healing is good, but gentleness, grace and kindness are also necessary.

And we thought about grace in the sense that we find it hard to receive, often preferring to try to do everything for ourselves.

14 November 2011

Brampton - Light and dark

< 7th November 2011 | Index | 21st November 2011 >

This week the Spirit led us on the topic of darkness and light. He showed us that darkness is the same as hiddenness, that our artificial light is no substitute for his real light, and that he himself is the Light. It was (ahem...) very illuminating.

Light shining in the darkness
We thought about the darkness that surrounds the Most High (see Exodus 20:21 and Psalm 97:2) .

The words darkness and hiddenness are distinct in modern English, but darkness once held both meanings. We talk about the 'dark side of the Moon', an old expression for the hidden side that never faces Earth.

The implication is that the Almighty is hidden from us. Jesus spoke in parables so that the truth would be hidden and revelation is required to grasp it. Otherwise we might take the credit for our understanding.

Another aspect is that light and darkness are the same to him (Psalm 139:11-13). Everything is revealed to him, nothing can be hidden.

15 October 2011

IMAGE - Kitchen garden

(Click the photo for a larger view)

Standing outside the kitchen garden, looking in - 
Photo taken 15th October 2011

The entrance to the organic kitchen garden shows that it's full of light inside. Comments, anyone? What does this say to you about... well... anything?

The photo was taken at Audley End in Essex. Donna and I spent an afternoon looking around the garden and the dairy, kitchens, laundry etc. The house itself will have to wait for another day.

Click the 'image' label below to see other image posts.

10 October 2011

Brampton - Stay in the light

< 25th September 2011 | Index | Index | 24th October 2011 >

Wow, what a meeting this was. Sean, me and the Holy Spirit. He swept us along, pouring out so much revelation. A series of disparate words and pictures and Bible passages just came together in the most amazing way.

Light around a cloud
I shared a word at the start. The Lord said, 'If you see a crown, a throne and a sceptre you will know you're in the presence of royalty. Even if you don't see me clearly, you will know I'm present when you see the crown, the throne and the sceptre.

I also told Sean about the picture of the building site (see 'Building the Church'). He said the thing that stood out for him as most important is the fact that we were children. I also thought that anointing is an important concept - Kings are anointed. I opened the Bible to find the passage about Samuel anointing David as king, but opened it initially at 1 Chronicles 11, verses 1 to 9 seemed very relevant.

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?

23 June 2010

THOUGHT - What is a church?

I've been reading Neil Cole's book 'Organic Church' and enjoying it enormously. It was published way back in 2005 but has lasting value. In it, Neil poses a question. He tells us that when he was a seminary student he was given the following five characteristics of church.He often asks groups what is missing from the definition.
  • A group of believers gathered together regularly...
  • That considers itself a church...
  • That has qualified elders present...
  • That regularly practices the ordinances of baptism and communion as well as church discipline...
  • And that has an agreed-on set of doctrinal beliefs.
Neil agrees that these are good qualities for any church to have and that most would meet these standards. A lamp distributing lightBut his answer is that Jesus is missing!

The New Testament Greek word usually translated church is 'ekklesia'. What does this word really mean? Literally, 'ekklesia' means 'called out' and this is probably how the early church would have thought of themselves - those called out from the world, called by Jesus.

If we scrapped the term 'church' and replaced it with the literal translation our view of what church is might change. For example, when Peter recognises Jesus as the Son he is told, 'on this rock I will build those I call out' (Matthew 16:16-18). In other words, if you understand who he is you will also be built by him as part of his called-out community.

If we habitually thought in terms of 'called out' or 'called ones', maybe we'd live more closely in the way Jesus really wanted! Because the English word 'church' has no real underlying meaning for me, I can effectively make it mean whatever I wish. But if I have in mind the true sense of the Greek I see that I'm called along with others and that we are together built by the Messiah himself on the basis of knowing who he is.

Revelation uses the term 'lampstand' for the seven 'called-out communities' (Revelation 1:20). 'To the messenger of the called in Ephesus write...' and so on for all seven 'lampstands'. (The messenger would have been the courier who carried the letter to the called out community. The word 'angel' means, literally, messenger.)

Each called-out community is referred to as a lampstand. What is the function of a lampstand? To hold the Lamp! Can a lampstand provide light? No! But if the Lamp, the Light of the World, is held in his rightful place he will provide light - it's what he came to do.

So each of these communities of people called-out from the world has the function of holding the Light in a place where he can illuminate the area all around. So where there is a called-out community there will be a pool of brightness in which the world can see.

Read the letters to the called-out in Revelation 2 and 3 and understand that a lampstand can be removed if it does not perform its task (holding up the Light so that he shines out). And remember that a lampstand is a 'church'. A removed lampstand is a removed church! We have a function and there's a cost associated with failure. I live in a town called St Neots, if the called-out in St Neots fail to display the Light we may lose our place!

This isn't some sort of angry threat from the Lord, it's the inevitable effect of failure to be a lampstand. It has happened historically on a large scale, think of all the lands in the Middle East and in North Africa where Islam swept away the Roman and Greek churches in the later centuries of the first millenium. It will happen everywhere the Light of the World is not held high by his called-out people. It can happen where I live. It can happen where you live.

But the Light has overcome the darkness. So live your life as a called-out member of your local called-out community and let the Light of the world shine around. Then the place where you live will have a future and your called-out community will truly be a lampstand. See Isaiah 9:2, John 1:5, Ephesians 5:8.

14 June 2010

THOUGHT - See, hear, touch

Sean and I agreed to read and discuss 1 John 1 at our MRT meeting last Friday. Early fragment of John's Gospel

As I read John's words this morning and thought about them I made some brief notes. I'd like to share them more widely, here they are...

This chapter is expressed in a way that is very black and white - or should I write 'dark and bright'! As in his gospel, John writes about mysteries but describes them in a very clear and logical way. There's no arguing with him because he makes his case point by point, carefully and thoroughly. He states the undeniable and then draws an inescapable conclusion - again and again!

Yahshua is light and there's no darkness in him, none at all. If we are walking with him then we are in the light. If we're in the dark in any way, we are not walking with him. You just can't argue with that!

Claiming freedom from sin logically requires Father to be a liar so we can forget that idea right away! But it we confess he forgives us. The entire good news is here in this first chapter.

And how did John know all this? He'd seen, heard, and even touched the Life himself! What a privilege that would be, I can hardly imagine it. And yet that life was so ordinary that many others had looked and seen a builder from back-of-beyond Natzeret in way-up-north Galilee, they had heard a false prophet, and they had no interest in touching him.

I love the progression in John's opening words. First seeing the Life (something you can do from a distance just by noticing), then hearing him (for that you need to come close and pay atttention), and finally touching (truly making contact with the Life himself, embracing him fully).

For John seeing happened on his father's fishing boat as Yahshua walked along the pebbly shore. Hearing required leaving the boat and coming closer, then following him wherever he went and paying attention. Touching him included leaning against him at the last meal before his death. Seeing, hearing and touching are the steps we all take as we experience more and more of his presence in our own lives.

15 December 2004

Eaton Ford - Cogs and a gift

< 23rd November 2004 | Index | 7th January 2005 >

We're always so busy, rushing around as the holiday season approaches, last minute shopping, getting everything ready for Christmas.

Old cogwheelsRachael saw us on Father's conveyor belt. We travel without effort and are always moving in the right direction, but sometimes we fall off and get stuck in the cogs! When that happens we do not make any progress and of course we may also be hurt. Isn't it true that sometimes we can be misled and become caught up in the mechanics of life? But our place is really to be carried along by the Almighty in the way we should go, without fuss or anxiety.

We read Jeremiah 29:10-14, where we see that Yahweh had plans for his people, Israel. He has plans for us too, he always wants to restore us to the place where we should be (especially if we've just fallen off his conveyor belt!) It's essential that we follow his plans, not our own. His plan guarantees success! Our own plans guarantee nothing but failure and disappointment.

14 October 2004

Eaton Ford - Umbrella and prism

< 22nd September 2004 | Index | 1st November 2004 >

More than anything this evening was an evening of pictures. Father showed us so many, and all of them revealed something about his nature and our relationship with him.

An umbrella

Rachael explained how she'd been thinking about staying under Father's protection. When you drive a car in a really heavy rainstorm and you pass under a bridge, for a fleeting moment the deluge stops. It's not good enough to dash under his protection and then immediately rush out again, we need to stay there. The idea of an umbrella is different. Armed with a good brolly we can be under protection but also have the freedom to move around. But the principle is the same - we need to be where we will be protected, not somewhere else!

With the umbrella we are free to go with the wind. Under his protection we can be dancing and free because the umbrella travels with us - everywhere.

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