What will you do?

There is a famous speech made by William Wallace in the (documentary) film “Braveheart” as the Scottish Army line up to face the English at Stirling.

Wallace, as he sees the Scots begin to leave, as they see the might of the English approaching rides through and manages to convince his countrymen to stay and to fight. The main thrust of his plea is around the fact that, in spite of their current experience, of oppression and being subject to an English King, that they are in fact free men.

For those who are unfamiliar with the speech, here it is.

“Sons of Scotland, I am William Wallace, and I see a whole army of my countrymen, here, in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? will you fight?

Someone replies – “no, we will run, and we will live.”

Wallace replies, “Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you’ll live, at least a while. and dying from your bed, many years from now,  would you trade all the days from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies, that they can take our lives, but they will never take our freedom.”

Whether this speech actually happened or not, I was struck by the question Wallace asked at the beginning. “What will you do with that freedom?” That the Scots were free was never in question. They may not have felt free, but that is what they were.

The truth of their reality (rather than their experience) required a response. What would they do to demonstrate to their enemies that they were no longer satisfied to be subjected to oppression?

The question is just as relevant for us today as it was for the “Sons of Scotland” centuries ago. The bible tells us that “it is for freedom that we have been set free.” (Galatians 5:1) There is a reason for our freedom. It was bought at a price, a price that none of us can fully appreciate or understand, yet we accept the gift, without realising that it comes with a need to be active in our acceptance. It is not sufficient just to say thank you and wait until we receive the call to heaven.

Too many of us sit back, with our ticket, just waiting. When trials come, we conclude that it is simply human experience and there is little we can do to change things. Yet, Paul tells us that with the freedom we have, we don’t have to be oppressed any more. The chains have been broken. We are free from the shackles than ensnare and hold back, and yet we don’t really try and move off, to try and achieve anything for the Kingdom.

Whilst stating that it is truth that is more important that experience, I firmly believe that we should be experiencing more of the Kingdom here on earth than we currently do. Even those of us who have experienced great things already have more to experience. There is always more. God is eager to show us more. Jesus himself taught us to ask for it. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, here on earth, as it is in heaven.” He wouldn’t have told us to pray it if it wasn’t possible.

I believe that God is perfectly capable of bringing His Kingdom to earth by Himself. He needs no assistance. I also believe that He chooses to partner with us. 1 Corinthians 3:9 says that “we are God’s fellow workers.” It also tells us that we are God’s field, God’s building. He wants to use us to further His Kingdom here on earth.

Those that understand that they are free and choose to do something with that freedom are those that are most malleable into the people who can be effectively used.

William Wallace understood that there was an action required in response to freedom.

You are free.

What will you do with that freedom?

For the sake of the world

What would you say was the primary objective of being a Christian?  Some might say, “to live a good life, helping others.” Some might give more emphasis to experiencing more of “the Kingdom of Heaven” here on earth.

For me, it can be summed up in the last command of Jesus whilst He was on earth. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

I am certain that for many of us, these are very familiar words. The problem that I have with them is that I am so very bad at obeying them. For years I have put that down to the belief that there were some that were clearly gifted in evangelising, and they were able to carry the rest of us on some sort of communal fulfilment. In recent years of course, I have realised that that isn’t the case, and the command is for all of us.

More recently, the excuse (for that is what it is), has been that I am far too introverted to be able to talk to people about Jesus, let alone disciple them. Despite the brash exterior, I struggle to make even simple conversation with those that I don’t know well, often overcompensating with humour. Although I appear happy displaying this, there comes a point when I just need to withdraw and spend time in my own company, to recharge the batteries before thrusting myself into life again.

The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t change the command. The truth is that in and of myself I am pretty useless at making disciples. I’m even less competent at ‘going’ to do it. I’d much rather be at home, minding my own business.

So if Jesus commanded it, it must be important. I don’t believe that Jesus asked us to do things that He wouldn’t equip us for, but we need to be prepared to accept the equipping that He offers.

As I was driving home last night, a song came on. It had the words “For the sake of the world, burn like a fire in me, light a flame in my soul, for every eye to see, for the sake of the world, burn like a fire in me.” It got me thinking about fires. Fires consume all the fuel that is available to them. Given the correct environment, fires will leave little evidence of the original object remaining.  As long as nothing is done to extinguish a fire, it will continue to burn.

I know from experience that the only way the world is going to know about Jesus from me, is if I allow Him to light a fire inside me, and for me to do everything in my power to fan the flames. I need to completely surrender to the energy and potential that the fire gives. I need to allow it to consume me, not just a part of me, and I need to ensure that I do nothing to dampen the flames, or try and put the fire out.

I remember hearing the story behind the song “How He loves us” by John Mark McMillan. The song was written about a Youth Pastor, who had said to God that “if it would change the youth of our nation, I would give my life.” God listened to that offer and accepted it. The Youth Pastor was killed in a car crash that night. The song that grew from that event shaped a generation of young people across the world.

If we take the command of Jesus seriously, I wonder if we, I wonder if I, would be prepared to pray that prayer? I believe that allowing ourselves to be consumed by the fire of the Spirit will accomplish the same thing. People who really are on fire are different. They have a habit of setting fire to anything nearby that is even slightly combustible. There are people all over the world who are dry and ready to catch light.

So, if you are an extrovert, go for it. Get out there, meeting people, talking to strangers. Telling them the good news.

If you are an introvert like me though, get full, get burning, and just be you. You may not even have to talk to anyone (at least at first).

Either way, the effects will be the same.

Elevating others

Today I had the immense privilege to talk to a friend who had recently had a life changing “God experience.” They had taken time out to worship, learn and spend time with others who wanted to experience God, and had found that He was even more amazing that they already knew He was.

When I was chatting to my friend, my overwhelming feeling was one of excitement. I was thrilled that they had experienced something of God that they hadn’t before. I loved the fact that it had built their faith.  I was delighted to hear about the spiritual journey of another. In hearing testimony of what God had done for them, my faith increased, knowing that it was possible for it to happen again. If anything, I wanted to hear that they had experienced more than I had. In time, I hope they will see more, experience more than I have or will.

I have had similar experiences to the one that my friend was describing in the past, and I remember telling others of them and wishing that they too would experience God in the way that I had. The problem that I found that unless the person I was talking to had also had a similar experience it was almost impossible to describe the feeling.

For those who hadn’t experienced what I had, my longing was that they did. For those that had, there was a shared desire to experience more.

That desire isn’t new though. It is one that I have tried to learn from another, far more experienced than me.

Jesus, speaking in John 14:12 says “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus wasn’t concerned with being the best, sitting at the top of the pile whilst others tried to emulate Him. His concern was that the Father was glorified. If that meant others were involved, that was absolutely fine with Jesus. It was almost like He was saying “my ceiling is going to be your floor. There is so much more that you will see, do and experience. You will do it through my power and with my Spirit, but you need to aim higher than you have seen me do so far.”

He looks at those who truly believe in Him and says, “I believe in you – Go for it!”

I reckon that if celebrating the breakthrough of others was okay with Jesus, it should be okay for us too.

So when you are longing for breakthrough, and others tell you of their breakthrough, celebrate with them. Rejoice that God has blessed them.

God will be glorified – and it may just be that you see breakthrough too.

Can you see it?

I’ve found that there are rarely coincidences when it comes to God, so when I noticed that my Great Grandfather had underlined two verses, one in Habakkuk and one in Acts that was a quote of the one in Habakkuk, I decided to ask God what He wanted to teach me through these verses.

One was written sometime between 612 and 599BC, the other when the Apostle Paul quoted the same verse almost 700 years later.

The verse is Habakkuk is found in chapter 1, verse 5.

“Look among the nations, and see;

Wonder and be astounded.

For I am doing a work in your days

That you would not believe if told.”

Habakkuk writing at a time when Babylon was on the rise, but hadn’t yet attacked Jerusalem.

Recognising that Judah had strayed far from God He enquires of God what He is planning on doing about it. Gods reply astounds Habakkuk. All the injustice, violence and idolatry that was Habakkuk’s daily experience was to be replaced by something that although not at the full height of its power was known to be much worse. God states that He is raising up the Babylonians to take care of things.

A foreign power coming to decimate Gods people, and at his command?

I wonder if Habakkuk was able to recall the words that Isaiah wrote “ for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” Isaiah 55:8

It didn’t make any sense to Habakkuk, but he knew that God was trustworthy, and would redeem His people in time. He couldn’t comprehend how God’s plan could possibly have a good outcome, but was prepared to stand at the watch post to see. Confident that God was in control, Habakkuk would wait.

The widely taught lesson from Habakkuk is that we are to persevere through suffering, that God is in control and can be trusted to win through if we just persevere. I wonder if there is an additional lesson that God wants to teach us here. I believe it is a lesson that many do not want to learn, but thankfully gives great comfort to those who are willing to listen.

The question that I believe God is asking us to consider is whether the Church (generally, rather than individually local churches) has restricted Him because it has defined what a move of God looks and feels like, leaving no room for Him to do things that don’t conform to its very strict doctrine and theology.

Has the Church found ways of operating that limits what it is prepared to accept as “Gods way?” Has it so tamed Him into what we find acceptable, that it misses exactly what He is doing in these days. Has it become blinded to His love, his perseverance with those who claim to follow Him that it has decided what He is and isn’t allowed to do in our churches and in our lives.

Denominations across the world have developed processes and parameters to allow people to feel welcome, to ensure that their lifestyle is not challenged, and to make Church ‘comfortable’ but in doing so have created a place where God is impotent to move. In many churches the box in which God is permitted to operate in means that He rarely bothers to show up on a Sunday morning. The public and the media love it, because there is nothing demanding about going to a church like that.

God has declared that He is doing something in these days that we would not believe, even if we were told about it – and yet we refuse to hold Him at his word, often because that might mean change on our part. My experience is that when you have encountered the real Jesus, when you have felt the comfort, the conviction, the power of Holy Spirit, when the loving arms of the Father envelope you change is inevitable, even welcome. Have we so left God out of our Churches that even He doesn’t attend any more.

People who live what they believe is what the world is crying out for, often without realising it. They are tired of seeing the same dreary things being portrayed as ‘Church’. The media tells us that Church attendance is declining. If the worlds perception of what church is, is Songs of Praise on the BBC, or the odd Royal wedding I’m frankly not surprised. The world wants to feel alive, and if the message we are proclaiming is that Jesus is life, then those that are proclaiming the message should at the very least look alive.

My question is, have we learned the lessons that God was declaring over 2500 years ago? I think it is unlikely. 700 years after Habakkuk wrote, Paul had the same warning for the people of Antioch. Worship God. Stay in “the Way”. Don’t drift, don’t allow the warnings of the Prophets come about.

“Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish;

For I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.” Acts 13:41.

We have been told, yet we still do not believe. We hear stories of revivals, of healings and of divine visitations, yet we are quick to forget them, or our enthusiasm is diverted to other more seemingly tangible things. Sometimes the move starts small, almost as if He is checking to see if we will notice. A change of wind speed, glitter on the floor. Both likely to be caused by something other than a “move of God”, but if we are willing to notice them, to raise our awareness that He is present and desperate to meet us, it is just possible that noticing a speck of glitter on the floor, choosing to turn our eyes towards Him rather than trying to explain it away, will cause the Father to move in a way that will bring revival to our church, to our town and to our country.

God is still at work, He is still doing things in our days. Let’s not miss what He is doing because we are comfortable where we are and have a very carefully defined version of Him.

God doesn’t fit in our boxes. Sometimes the only way to really experience Him, is to step outside ours.