Devoted?

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During church recently, someone gave their lives to Jesus. The celebrations in the building were great. I can only imagine what was going on in heaven. The presence of God was tangible. This person felt Holy Spirit speaking to them and responded. For me, this is what Christianity is all about. It doesn’t get any better than this.  Afterwards however, as I pondered such an awesome day, I felt dissatisfied. Of course, one more soul in the Kingdom is awesome, but I want more than one every now and again. If there is something I can do to improve that number it has to be worth it – but what? The early church seemed to get it right. We read in Acts 2 that “the Lord added to their number day by day those that were being saved.”

Verse 42 tells us us that the beginning of this occurring was from the devotion of the believers to the teaching of the apostles, fellowship with each other, the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Most of those reading this go to church on a Sunday, listen to the sermon, participate in communion if it’s happening that week, and say a amen each and every prayer. For some, the best part is the fellowship that happens after the service.

Devotion to these things however is a different thing all together.

The word translated as “devoted” here is proskartereō. The blue letter bible app defines this word as follows.

to adhere to one, be his adherent, to be devoted or constant to one

to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing

to continue all the time in a place

to persevere and not to faint

to show one’s self courageous for

to be in constant readiness for one, wait on constantly

Most of us are far too busy to spend all our time in one place. Lunch is calling. Homework for the kids, and preparations for the week ahead beckon. My question is, are we hoping Church can be over, so we can get on with life, or are we “steadfastly attentive to” what is being taught. Are we asking the Holy Spirit how we can apply it to our lives in the coming week? Are we using what is taught to shape the way we live our lives?   Do we trust our leaders to lead us to God, or is church just something we do on a Sunday morning?

Will we commit to pray together?  Or just when someone with the microphone prays, but together. Will we pray with expectation?  Acts tells us that when this happened, many signs and wonders happened through the apostles. Which of us would wouldn’t long for more signs and wonders in the church?  Not for the signs and wonders themselves, but because they point to the give of these gifts.

We have just had a week of prayer. I know that prayers were answered. Prayer is the muscle that moves heaven. Your prayers are important. Souls in the Kingdom for eternity is the prize – its too important not to. In my experience, prayer isn’t just good for others, it’s good for me too. There is nothing like a clearly answered prayer to build my faith that God can and will do it again.

I believe that if we pray together, asking God to do the impossible amongst us (for who can turn a heart towards God if not God himself), and devote ourselves to the teaching of our leaders, to do what God is teaching us through them, and applying it to our lives, trusting it is a word in season, that we will see signs, wonders and more people coming to know the love of a Father. Is that your heart’s desire? Do you feel that there is more to the Christian life that “Pie in the sky when you die”?

I know this is a very simplistic interpretation of the text, that there are other things we need to do too – but I can’t help feeling that if we don’t do the things that are spelled out for us, the more “complicated” things will become easier too.

Let’s push into all that God has for us – I promise it will be worth it.

 

Who are you trying to impress?

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What are your goals and ambitions? I remember as I was growing up, I wanted to be everything from an astronaut (what little boy doesn’t?), to an archaeologist to a pharmacist to a physiotherapist (it’s a long story!) As I grew older, I found things that I was good at, and began to lean towards biology and then microbiology. As I have progressed, I still want to be the best Biomedical Scientist that I can be, but the specifics of what that looks like have changed quite a bit.

It’s not only my career that I have dreams and goals for though. If I’m honest, I haven’t always had dreams for my spiritual life. For the majority of my life I believed that being a Christian was normal, that church was something you went to because you had to, and life as a Christian was something to be endured until Jesus came back.

More recently though I have learned to dream with God. When I started doing that I found that there was a whole host of things that I wanted to do for and with Him. I wanted to preach, teach, lead, heal, I wanted to have words of knowledge, I wanted to write books. Reading the bible, I was sure that all of that was possible for me. I tried to do all of these at once and got nowhere fast. Over time I found that the thing I was doing was trying to be the same as the people I was spending time with. I recognised their gifting and wanted to be just as successful in their gifting as they were. The problem was that I wasn’t them and try as I might I was never going to be them. Looking back, I think there were probably two reasons that I wanted to be as successful in any given gifting as others. First was that I wanted to help people meet Jesus. I knew I didn’t have a gift of evangelism – but I could see how the other gifts would give opportunities to open up conversations. I also noticed that those moving in various giftings were up the front being noticed and celebrated by those that I considered “important.” I wanted a bit of that action.

If I’m being even more honest, these two were in opposite order. I longed to be noticed. “Winning people to the Lord” was secondary.

It took quite a bit of time to realise that God wasn’t really interested in how noticed I was. He didn’t really care if I was “up the front” every week, or healing people on a regular basis. All He really cared about was spending time with me. He celebrated when I was successful, and He picked me up and told me how proud He was of me for trying when I fell flat on my face. Over time I stated asking Him what He wanted me to do. When He answered, I chose to do it. Not because I wanted to be noticed, but because I wanted to please Him. I found when I did what He wanted, what others thought ceased to matter. I felt His pleasure when I did things for Him.  I was happier. It sounds really “christianeeze cliché” but it really true, and it is all that matters.

In the film “Cool Runnings”, about the first Jamaican bobsleigh team, one of the team asks the coach why he cheated several years before. The coach explained that he had forgotten why he was competing – that the prize had become more important that taking part. As the conversation continues, the coach explains to his young bobsleigh hopeful that while gold medals are wonderful

“if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.”

It’s the same with doing things in the Kingdom. If you are doing it to please man, or to preach to the next crowd it will never be enough. You will find yourself seeking the approval of more and more important people. You will be seeking bigger and bigger crowds to satisfy your need for approval.

I would love to say that I remember that at all times.  Given my nature though, I find it often has to be a choice, it doesn’t come as naturally as I wish it did.

The Christian life is meant to be dynamic. Too many (and I was one of them for years) stagnate and don’t go anywhere. I believe God has given me a vision, a direction He wants me to head. I don’t think that’s my final destination. It’s taken a while to realise that I am not ready for that calling (yet), but I am focused on that vision and am trying to be patient in journeying with Him.

The frustration that I sometimes feel when I am not there yet is easier to understand when I learn the lessons He is trying to teach me on the journey. I hope I’m learning them. At least I only have to impress One.

Who are you trying to impress?

 

 

 

Do you believe?

dream bigJesus said “All things are possible for those who believe.”

Do you believe that?

Paul Bell (who just for the record I am not comparing to Jesus) sings a song called Four. It’s about the benefits of being four years old, things like getting Calpol when you’re ill, and using your sleeve instead of tissues. Listening to him last weekend at Big Church Day Out, I was struck by this line – “say it’s true, and I’d believe you.”

I got to wondering, when, in my walk with Jesus did I stop simply believing all His promises? For example, why, when I am overwhelmed with a situation and I don’t know what to do, do I forget “I will never leave you or forsake you?” When I’m faced with incurable illnesses, why do I forget “Forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquities and heals all your diseases”?

Francis Frangipane once wrote, “Jesus assures us that all things are possible for those who believe. The question is then, do you believe or are you simply a nice unbeliever who goes to church?” I find that incredibly challenging.

Many promises of God are recorded in scripture, but these are not an exhaustive list. Many of us have had promises spoken over us from God through others . Do you remember all the things God has spoken over you? Have you given up in ever seeing them come to pass? I try and write them down, and revisit them periodically. I like to remind God what He has said, and ask Him to fulfill His promises. I, like David, believe that I will look on the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

The bible says that every promise of God is Yes and Amen in Christ Jesus.

For me, God told me I would see the sick healed. He said I would see the dead raised. He told me specifically to pursue healing of diabetes, cancer and to see metal dissolve in joints and limbs. I have to be honest – I earnestly pursued these things for about a year after they were spoken over me. I saw lots of healing in this time, just not the things I had been told to pursue.I began to stop telling people what God had promised, and just prayed, my faith diminishing with each apparent failure.

The Relational Mission Courage conference this past week has only served to confirm what God has been prompting me to consider again for some time. It’s time to pick up the baton again. I need to pray courageously again. Each time I do, I remind God of His promises. Each time I do, it’s one pray less until I see the breakthrough that He has promised.

When God makes a promise, He will keep it.

I believe that.

Do you?

You’ll NEVER walk alone

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This weekend I will join around 20,000 others in a field in West Sussex for Big Church Day Out. If you are anything like me, camping  to ensure you capture all that is going on is a necessary evil. I’m really not into the whole “one with nature” thing – although it does mean that I might get bacon two mornings in a row.

There is something very powerful that happens when God’s people worship together. We feel it in our churches week on week (at least we do in the one I go to). When 20,000 worship together it always gets heavens attention.

There will be music to suit most tastes this weekend (not sure the organisers have the Christian thrash metal scene covered), and Church will get to enjoy this, and spending time with each other as a body of believers from different backgrounds with a common bond.

Apart from the camping, there is one thing I’m not looking forward to so much. Stuck in the middle of nowhere (internet or TV wise) I’ll have no way of watching the champions league final between Liverpool and Real Madrid. Interestingly, the thing that reminded me of this was a song that played as I drove home from work today. It was “Never Once” by Matt Redman. (Who will be at BCDO too). Talking about looking back over the past, with all its ups and downs, trials and tribulations, Matt realises that God has been with him every single step of the way. “Never once did we ever walk alone, never once did you leave us on our own, You are faithful, God you are faithful.”

The astute amongst you will have noticed the link to the Liverpool anthem “you’ll never walk alone”

The essence of the song is the same, (although there is no reference to who is walking with the singer.).

Scripture is littered with promises from God that He will never leave nor forsake those who love Him. Interestingly, often when His people turn from Him they find themselves crying out to Him, asking why He has forsaken or left them.

How often do we feel that we are walking alone only to realise that we are on the wrong road. That we have set off down a path that was not meant for us to follow. Others may be called to follow that path, and we follow blindly after them, rather than asking which road we are to follow. God will be with us on both roads, but our perception of His presence, our awareness of Him at work in our lives will be more acutely recognised if we are on the path designed for us rather than for another.

We need to keep listening for instructions to make sure we stay where we are meant to be. Some of us are too afraid to step on to a new path in case we get the direction wrong.  Some of us have come to a standstill because we can’t see the road ahead.

Helen Keller once said “a bend in the road is not the end of the road – unless you fail to make the turn.”

Are you on the wrong path – and need to turn?  Have you come to a standstill and don’t know which road is next? Have you asked Him?  Whichever path you’re on ask Him to walk with you. He’s there anyway, and walking is far more enjoyable with company.

(……….and come on Liverpool!!)

This is NOT a Royal Wedding post

loveA little over 2000 years ago, a man brought a message of love to the world. The message was revolutionary. “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35)  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. ” (Matthew 5:43)

This message was not what the world was expecting from the Messiah – it confused them, and they sought to find ways to explain it away.

2000 years later, the world heard the same message, at a wedding between a couple who have already challenged the traditional expectations.

Looking at the comments and reports following the message brought to the world in a church in Windsor yesterday – the world is just as confused as it was 2000 years ago. What seems clear is that the world has a very clear picture of what Christianity is about-  and what it means to be a Christian and the message that Bishop Curry brought was a million miles from that picture. It seemed very surprised that it was possible to have fun as a Christian. To speak with passion. To actually have a loving relationship with the one who we read about in the bible.

My question is simple. The church has had over 2000 years to get its message right. Where have we gone so tragically wrong that the world doesn’t understand one of the fundamental cores of our beliefs is that God is LOVE. That the very reason Jesus came was because God SO loved the world……

Have we so watered down the gospel so that it is palatable to the world that we have compromised its core message? It’s time to get back to the roots of Christianity. To start loving people outside the church as well as those inside it. It’s time to start portraying Jesus to the world so when we speak it is no longer confused by our message.

GOD IS LOVE – let’s start loving the world.

You WILL receive POWER

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But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8

 

The Archbishop of Canterbury retweeted a post from the “Thy Kingdom come” account today. It quoted this verse from Acts chapter 1 at the beginning.

If I’m honest, I don’t remember what the main point of the tweet was – I just couldn’t get the verse out of my head.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes.

 We only have to watch one of the many dramas on television to see perfect examples of powerless Christians. Whether they be humorous vicars like Geraldine Granger on the Vicar of Dibley to people like Dot Cotton on Eastenders, Christians are portrayed as being tolerated and pointless, and an easy target for comedy. The thing is, in so many cases these portrayals are not too far from the truth.  Too many of us are walking around blissfully unaware of the power we have inside us.

I have been one of these powerless Christians in the past, if I’m honest, I go through patches of forgetting the power living inside me and desperate to get out.

Different streams of the church believe different things about the Holy Spirit, and when He shows up in people’s lives. Most agree that the Holy Spirit is the part of the Godhead that lives within a person at the point of conversion. Beyond this the different beliefs are almost as vast as the number of denominations.

Whatever your beliefs, take a moment to ponder the implications of the Holy Spirit coming upon you.

Jesus says we will receive Power.

It is time to start using the power we have. Time to stop trudging through life waiting for heaven. Jesus came into the world to destroy the work of the devil. We get to carry on that work. It’s impossible to do it by ourselves. The possibilities are endless, beyond what we could ask, or even imagine. How do you want to change the world around you?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

 

 

Are you contagious?

ContagiousPandemic influenza spreads rapidly. A program on BBC 1 recently showed that between 10am and 6pm over 70 people came in contact with the index case  and were exposed to the virus. Because this was an new strain of the virus, there was no immunity, and a very high proportion of those who came in contact with that index case went on to develop the infection.

Due to the incubation period (1-3 days) when the infected person doesn’t know they are infected, they may encounter several more people who in turn will infect others. The spread of the infection is exponential – in little less than one week, the entire country would have been exposed to the virus, with potentially fatal results.

Think about how many people you interact with each day. At work, when you pop into the corner shop for milk, when you drop the kids off on the school playground. And then think about all the people they interact with. What if you were the index case, the one who started it all. That would be three days of interactions.

It got me thinking – how infectious am I? You see, I’ve been infected with something that I believe is very contagious. Unlike Influenza, the infection I have will actually bring life to people rather than death. The problem is, just like in the incubation period of Influenza, I tend to walk around as if I haven’t been infected, and there is nothing I can do about the state of the world around me. I have – as you do, the only solution that will work – yet we live as if the solution lies elsewhere.

We are leaky vessels. We need to keep being filled (Ephesian 5:18). We know all about the Great Commission (Matt 28:19), how much more effective would we be if we leaked in the workplace, or the school playground? It is all very well us sitting in our churches on a Sunday morning, declaring that the world needs to meet Jesus, but it is our job to introduce them. We can’t leave it to someone else.

As Christians we are infectious – let’s get out there and pass Jesus on.

God always answers prayer, right?

Hands crossed in prayer
Male hands crossed for prayer in dark

A few weeks ago, I was watching a clip of a Francis Chan message. He was re telling a situation where some Jehovah’s Witnesses approached him and asked if they could talk to him. He said yes,  and in the course of the conversation he was told, “We can’t pray directly to God, it needs to come from our leaders.  God won’t listen to the prayers of just anyone. ”

Chan’s response shocked me at first, but the more I think about it, and search the scriptures that he quoted – I think I agree.

Let’s see if you are shocked too.

He said, “you’re right, God doesn’t listen to everyone’s prayers – but he listens to mine.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been taught that God always listens to prayers. He may not answer them in the way we want or expect, but he always listens.  If I’m honest, although I’ve been taught that he listens to all prayers, my actual belief was that he listened to everyone else’s, but not to mine. In order to be heard, I had to spend weeks reading my bible (next to impossible) , making sure I didn’t sin too much (who was I trying to kid?) and generally behave myself (almost as difficult as reading my bible). The end result was there was no point in praying myself, because I hadn’t met all the other criteria I believed were in place in order for it not being a waste of time.

Turns out there are some things that God says will render your prayers worthless – they just aren’t the things that I thought they were.

Let’s have a look at some of them.

James 1:5-7. James tells us that we need to ask in faith,  without doubt. God won’t give anything to this sort of double-minded person. Sounds a bit harsh doesn’t it, but when you think about it, it makes sense. The saying goes that “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”, but I think there is a subtle difference here. Remembering who God is, and how He feels about us is key here. When we remember how good God is, and how much He wants to bless us, we ask hopeful that He will, expecting Him to say Yes – rather than just going through the motions expecting the answer to be no, but feeling you have to ask anyway.

James 4:3. Why are we asking God for things? Will the abundance of Heaven be used simply to promote yourself, or is it for the benefit of others? Do you have compassion for your fellow man, or is your prayer focused purely on what you can get? I’m not suggesting for a second that we shouldn’t pray for ourselves, but what drives us to pray is just as important as what we pray for.

1 Peter 3:7 – Guys, Peter here tells us to honour our wives, to live in understanding with them so our prayers may not be hindered. I’m not brave enough here to tackle the “weaker vessel” part of this verse, but just think about that for a moment. Ever think, I’ve been praying about this for ages, God seems to be on mute. How is your relationship with your spouse?

Amos talks about humbling ourselves and turning from our evil ways, before God will turn and hear our prayers. This might well be a more corporate example, more applicable to a country rather than an individual, but nonetheless describes a situation where God may not answer our prayers.

In the same way that there isn’t a formula to healing, this isn’t supposed to be a tick box exercise to get what we want from God. The very thought that there might be, sort of goes against James 4:3 anyway – what is your motive. I think it is really important though, as we strive to become more like Jesus, to consider the things that get in the way of that relationship. I don’t want to simplify how God deals with our prayers. His ways are not our ways.  Who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?  But He does give us some direction, there are some pointers that help us understand.

Prayer, at its heart after all is simply having a conversation with our Father, Abba, Daddy, Papa. I am really fortunate to have a great relationship with my Dad. I know he loves me, and I can talk to him about pretty much anything. Turns out most of the things I struggle with, he has too, and has a wealth of experience as a result. I don’t do it often enough, but conversations with my Dad are really worthwhile times. Some people don’t have the same experience with their Dads, for a whole host of reasons. I can’t begin to understand what that feels like. What I do know though is Father God is good. Father God loves you. Father God wants good for you. You can talk to Him about anything. He will understand. He will help you through the storm. He will put you back together again afterwards.

I’m sure that over the years I have done things that have strained the relationship with my Dad. I am sure that there are things that have (probably still do) make it difficult to talk to him. There are things that I have had to face up to and change in order to restore the relationship – but once done, lines of communication were open and free.

It’s true – God doesn’t listen to everyone’s prayers – but He listens to mine.

Does He listen to yours?

Are you ready to run?

img_0455I have a question. How fit are you?

I walked 25km last summer, but couldn’t say I was fit. I have friends training to run marathons, and others who struggle to walk down the street. We all have our own level of fitness. We should probably all be trying to get fitter.

If you had to run for your faith, could you? Would you?

C.S Lewis once said of Jesus that either he was who he claimed to be, or he was a mad man who we should pay no attention to. There is no middle ground.

You can’t have a ‘meh’ response to Jesus.

From the confusion of Friday, still reeling from the shock of the cruel death of Jesus “the women” went to the tomb. The tasks they had expected to perform were abandoned.

A conversation with an angel left them confused, as they tried to piece together events of the previous few days and the reality of an empty tomb.

They didn’t wander back, chatting as they went.

Partly out of fear – they had just seen an angel after all, and partly because they dared to hope that Jesus had meant what he promised, they ran back to their friends to tell them the good news.

Once they had blurted out their story, in disbelief, two of Jesus closet friends, Peter & John ran to the tomb. They found things just as women had described.

The thing that struck me when I read this was how much running there was.

Either Jesus didn’t rise and we can move on with our lives – or he did, and we need to move quickly, with purpose to tell people what we know. To share the good news.

Jesus IS ALIVE.

Do you have good news to tell. Are you ready to run to tell others the good news?

Our testimony – they story of what Jesus has done for us, may be exactly the story our friends need to hear. Are you willing to tell that story?

If the fragility of life has not directly affected you personally yet this year, just watch the news. There really is no time to waste – we don’t all have to run, but most of us have to move quicker than we have been.

A view from Friday night.

Have you ever felt that everything was going really well, things were comfortable and you could see the future was rosy, only to have everything change in a heartbeat, the bottom fallen out of your world, and everything seem hopeless again?

I imagine that is exactly how the disciples felt on what we now call Good Friday, over two thousand years ago.

Life was tough. The Romans were in power, and there didn’t seem to be any way out. There was no way that any of them could see to change things. I imagine that they had decided that the best way was to keep their heads down and just get on with what they did best, whether that be fishing or collecting taxes. Not being noticed was the order of the day.

Then Jesus came along, and everything changed. Their lives were flipped upside down. None of it made any sense at all, but they all knew, deep inside that they would never be the same again. They knew they had found the promised Messiah. He didn’t act like they had expected, in fact he was so completely different to the deliverer that was anticipated that many who saw Him didn’t recognise Him. Those that did though, those that simply followed when He asked were changed, and in turn, change history.

They knew that as long as Jesus was there everything would be ok. For everything that they didn’t understand, He did. They knew Jesus was the answer.

And then He was gone.

A late night walk in a garden after dinner and everything had gone wrong. In a heartbeat. A rushed trial, a crucifixion and a quick burial.

How did this fit into His plan? None of it made any sense. Locked away, scared of reprisals due to association with Jesus. Just trying to figure out what happened, and what would happen next.

Of course we have the advantage of knowing the next part of the story. It’s Friday but Sunday is coming. For the disciples though, there was only confusion. And hurt. And loss. And probably a fair helping of anger.

Many, if not all those who read this will be familiar with this story.

How many of us are able to see our own lives in this though?

Have you just begun to get it together and suddenly things change?

In 2011 life was good. I was experiencing things I hadn’t even dreamed possible. The stuff we read about in Acts was happening in front of me. God had never seemed so close.

And then cancer hit my family. And then an artery in my stomach burst.

Where was God in all that? The answer to all my questions seemed to have left the building. If I’m honest, without the hindsight how the Easter story ends I’m not sure how I would have coped. I really would have lost all hope, all trust in the One who had promised never to leave me yet appeared to have done just that.

The fact is, He never did leave; but He did encourage me to find Him in what was happening. You see, there was a plan. If He had told me what it was I would have avoided it at all costs. Trust me, if you can avoid it don’t burst an artery in your stomach. But would I change what He taught me through that experience? Never.

Did he orchestrate it- I don’t believe He did. Did He use it – absolutely.

What is my point?

Whatever you are experiencing this Easter is only a part of the journey. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt. I’m not saying that I understand – but I do know, from personal experience that there is a Sunday after the pain of Friday. There may be tears in the night but joy comes in the morning.

When your world is imploding, trust in the one who has held you thus far. Look for Him in the midst of it all.

There is a plan – and Sunday is coming.