27/12/2007

Reigning on David's throne

What is the relevance of Jesus today? At this time of year, we have looked at the arrival of Jesus upon the earth, and for most people this is the extent of their experience of Jesus. A baby coming to a world of suffering, wars and desperate need. Many turn away because they don't stop to see what happened to this child who was "born King" (Matt 2v2). And many Christians live in deep discouragement because of not seeing where the King is now.

Yet the relevance of Jesus to this desperate world was announced up front, before He was born, by the angel Gabriel:

"[You shall] call His name Jesus, He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His Father David." (Luke 1v31-32)

I spent some time on the morning of 23rd December sharing about this verse with my fellowship in London. I hope these few notes bless you and encourage you as you behold the King upon the throne.


The great expectation

God told David, "your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever" (2 Sam 7v16). After the years of division, invasion, exile and occupation there was the expectation that Messiah would come and restored David's Kingdom.

Yet the prophecies point to Him being much more than just an earthly King:

"His seed also I will make to endure forever, and His throne as the days of heaven." (Psalm 89v29, see also v3-4, v24-29, v35-37).

"His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed." (Psalm 72v17, and the rest of this psalm)

So the angel's announcement was a declaration that this King has come!


The great misunderstanding

But Jesus did not fulfill this expectation during His first coming.

On the road to Emmaus He made a very important statement - "Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory!" (Luke 24v26). He had a path to travel before taking His throne as King. He came - as His name declares - to save His people, not from the Romans, but from their sins (Matt 1v21).

He achieved this through suffering. The scholars of Jesus' day showed some confusion as to the Messiah's likely ministry, some even suggesting two Messiahs - a suffering Messiah and Messiah the King. Yet Jesus suffered to be King.

Messiah had come to shepherd (Micah 5v4), but the sheep were lost (Isaiah 53v6), yet through His suffering, the sheep would be delivered (Isaiah 53v10-12). He didn't march into Jerusalem to kick out the Romans, but marched into hell to strip the devil of his power, the chains are broken, and Messiah has set us free to be a people for Himself (Colossians 1v13-14, Titus 2v14).

And now...

"This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore, being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'" (Acts 2v32-35).

The King is now upon David's throne, reigning.


The great ommission

What is the relevance of this? A few suggestions:

- Satan is not on the throne, but is subject to Jesus who reigns over all. We need not fear the news, or anything that is going on in the world.
- Every Christian has a King. Satan is called the god of this world, but he is not the god of the believer's world. We have been taken out from under his rule and given a new Ruler who is good.
- As those who have a King, we are a community, a nation, not simply a bunch of individuals doing our own thing. If we truly understood our King's reign as Head over His community, then I believe we would make the community a priority. But we are not a nation of subjects and citizens only, rather we are the King's friends, children, brothers and sisters, co-heirs, ambassadors, witnesses, His army in the earth. Not an army of guns and bombs, but with the Holy Spirit, prayer and the glorious gospel...
- As He is the mighty King, we have nothing to be ashamed of, we need not hold back in telling of Him, and we should expect with faith that the King will demonstrate His awesome power as we declare His word.

I believe that the reason the Great Commission (which flows from His authority - see Matt 28v18-20) has become the great ommission, is because we have forgotten who is on the throne. We have forgotten the awesome power that He has and the awesome promises made in scripture concerning His reign.

While perhaps the Israel of Jesus' days focused on Messiah as King and missed the Messiah who came first as the suffering servant, perhaps we are guilty of focusing on Him as the suffering servant only and missing the fact of His current - and growing - Kingly reign and glory.


The great victory assured

The King's story is not yet over:

"Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end..." (Isaiah 9v7)

"I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion... Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as Your possession." (Psalm 2v6-8)

"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." (Habakkuk 2v14)

"The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.' The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!" (Psalm 110v1-2)

He shall reign until the glory of God covers the earth. He is ruling and reigning right now, but right across the earth that rule is being extended as more and more are delivered and brought into His victorious Kingdom, a Kingdom without end.

21/12/2007

God is NOT dead

Some time in late 2001, early 2002, while most of the Christian church was campaigning against Harry Potter, I was reading the third in a series of three "children's" books. Towards the end of the book, I read the following:

" Will cut through the crystal in one movement and reached in to help the angel out. Demented and powerless the aged being could only weep and mumble in fear and pain and misery...

'It's all right,' Will said, 'we can help you hide, at least. Come on, we won't hurt you.'

The shaking hand seized his and feebly held on. The old one was uttering a wordless groaning whimper that went on and on, and grinding his teeth, and compulsively plucking at himself with his free hand; but as Lyra reached in too to help him out, he tried to smile, and to bow, and his ancient eyes deep in their wrinkles blinked with innocent wonder.

Between them they helped the ancient of days out of his crystal cell; it wasn't hard, for he was as light as paper, and he would have followed them anywhere, having no will of his own... But in the open air there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him, and to their dismay his form began to loosen and disolve. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely, and their last impression was of those eyes, blinking in wonder, and a sigh of the most profound and exhausted relief.

Then he was gone... "

(Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass, Scholastic, 2001, p 431-2.)

This is the third book in the series that begins with The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights in the UK), which has recently been released as a film. Many believers have called for a complete boycott of the film because of the books' athiestic film.

The above extensive quote gives an idea of the sinister storyline of the trilogy and, while Philip Pullman himself has more recently denied the charges that he is out to destroy God, his agenda is still very clear. This is what the British Daily Telegraph said:

"To the charge that he has set out to destroy Christianity, Philip Pullman has a devilishly smart stock answer. 'Nonsense,' he will reply. 'God died a long time ago.' " (Telegraph, 30 November 2007)

These are serious issues and are a real challenge to the Church and for us to stand up for the truth, but how should the Church handle such things? I have been working on this post for a few weeks now, and so it has come out a little late - but I still hope this is a helpful contribution to the discussion.


Separation?

Is it right to respond with a boycott?

I am old enough to remember the furore over films such as The Life of Brian, The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus Christ Superstar, and more recently, the opposition to Harry Potter. I have to ask the question - what does a boycott achieve? Will anyone be saved by a boycott? Rather, won't a boycott simply confirm the suspicions of the supports of the film that Christianity is a bad thing, that the church is a kill-joy and that God is to be avoided at all costs?

Also, won't a boycott leave us completely ignorant as to the real content of the film and of the books and leave us utterly unable to engage in any form of competent discussion with friends, family and colleagues who have watched the film and received its content as the truth?


Engagement?

Perhaps, then, the answer is to make ourselves aware, to watch the film and/or read the books. Certainly, organisations such as Damaris, are devoted to engaging with the culture and writing books and study guides to help equip believers. Al Mohler has written an excellent blog on The Golden Compass. Among other helpful things, he says:

"Christian parents must be informed about His Dark Materials and inform others. We must take the responsibility to use interest in this film to teach our own children to think biblically and to be discerning in their engagement with the media in all forms. We should arm our children to be able to talk about this project with their classmates without fear or rancor."

Whether part of being informed is to see this movie, and read the books, is a matter for each individual parent and pastor. However, I do still have a concern, which was expressed by Dan in a comment on a post of mine back in May: we can end up getting too caught up in defending truth, rather than publishing it. Many books were written against the Da Vinci Code and against Harry Potter. Was that a good use of resources?

I once heard UK Christian youth leader Mike Pilavachi say: "People are sick of hearing what the church is against, they need to hear what the church is for." In our engagement with the culture, it is not simply about saying "no" to Golden Compass, rather it is about speaking, and showing the truth.

So I have one more point to make...


Demonstration

The apostle Paul did reason, but he also demonstrated the power of God. Jesus taught, but he also showed that the kingdom of God had come upon them (Luke 11v20).

God is NOT dead, He is very much alive. Smith Wigglesworth said, "It is the people of God that He will use to make the world know that there is a God."

Yes, we show that God very much alive by declaring with full confidence what He has said, and with the beauty of transformed, Christ-centred lives. But "the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power" (1 Cor 4v20, NIV). We will demonstrate that God is alive, by displaying His glory.

As Dan shows in a quote from Rob Rufus, believers want to experience God:

“You know the George Barnea Research went to thousands of non-Christians in America and said, “What would make you go to church?”. They said, “If we could experience God!”. Then they said to pastors that this is the number one thing people are asking for. The pastors got all indignant and said, “We talk about God every Sunday!”. But we are not talking about academic information about God but God Himself coming!".

This is the need of the hour. We must follow in His footsteps. God is very much alive - let's pursue Him in the glory cloud, and demonstrate His awesome power.

15/12/2007

11 years on

Last night I was reading in the book of Ezra and came to this verse:

"For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel." (Ezra 7v10).

I found that I had written this in the margin: "15/12/96. Induction as elder."

That was something of a shock! 11 years ago today, I was appointed as an elder in the church, hands were laid on me and I was given this verse. As I meditated on it last night, I had to ask the question - have I kept that charge? It's a high calling, and I have fallen short in many regards. Yet, as His child, under grace, an anniversary is not a time for condemnation at the failings of the past, but an opportunity for recommissioning for the future. I have fallen short, but today is the start of a new year of eldership, and it is time to stand again on the truths that God spoke over me 11 years ago and to move on.

So what does this verse hold for me, and my fellow elders - in my own church and any who happen to stumble across this blog?

A prepared heart

In an age where so much store in put on scholarship, on reading commentaries, in having exactly the right exegesis before preaching, there is such a danger that the ministry becomes cerebral only. Of course, right exegesis is very important, but simply applying our minds to God's Word, without seeking to find Him, and hear Him, is a fatal danger. We must come to God, and to His Word, with our hearts yielded (not perfect, but yielded).

Ezra took time to be in the presence of God, to set His heart to pursue the Author of the Word. What an important thing! There is no substitute for His presence. No amount of learning, study and sound doctrine can substitute the sweet presence of the Lord.

Mining the truth

As new covenant saints, we can be put off by the term "law of the Lord." But that was a general term for the scriptures that Ezra would have had. We have the whole canon, Old and New Testaments. For us, then, our call is to study His Word - diligently. The NKJV translators use the term "seek the law of the Lord", but in the margin they have the alternative translation "study".

This seeming ambiguity is important, because, while we are called to study and to find what the Bible says and to understand it, there is also a pursuit of God in studying His Word. Studying scripture is about revelation. God speaks. He teaches, and reveals Himself. Time in His Word, means we can plumb the depths, we can meditate upon the text, upon the truth revealed, upon the outworkings of the truth in our lives, and above all, upon the Author of truth and in worshipping Him.

I don't simply want to reguritate quotes from past preachers (however great they may be), but to bring truth fresh from His Word out of His presence. As Jesus said, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old." (Matt 13v52)

Obedient to the truth

Perhaps this is the greatest challenge of all! Ezra didn't only set his heart to study, but set his heart to obey. His study impacted, not only his sermons, but his life.

I don't believe the Lord expects us to be perfect in a particular area before we preach on it (otherwise would we preach on anything!), but we are not simply channels of truth. We are vessels whom the Lord has called to pass His Word on. We must allow ourselves to be washed by the water that passes through us and to be nourished by the food that we prepare for others.

I want to allow the Lord to impact me before I preach a particular message; even if I am still "work in progress", I want the process of being changed from glory to glory to be moving forward.

Teaching the truth

It is only at this point that we read about Ezra's teaching. The terms "statutes and ordinances" again go back to the scriptures that Ezra would have had at the time. We have far more, but the terms also suggest Ezra was diligent in his teaching. He applied himself to explaining the whole truth. Paul puts it slightly differently: "For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20v27).

We must make sure that we avoid simply banging on about our favourite doctrines. We must also make sure we preach the Word! Not the systematic theology, not the latest opinion from the internet, but what God's Word says, so that we lay a solid foundation of grace and truth in the lives of hearers so that they grow and bear much fruit.

Praise God for His amazing grace

I was speaking with a friend yesterday morning who is responsible for leading a small group. He shared that he had made a number of mistakes, but that God still kept the people! God is so good! When we fall short - even in this high calling - we are not under wrath, but under grace. We are to shepherd the church of God and seek to do it well, but Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and He is able to still carry the churches when we get it wrong.

And the supply of His grace is such that He is still at work in us. As I look forward to my twelfth year of eldership, I go forward freshly commissioned, hungry for His presence, wanting to do the people good, and still learning day by day.

24/11/2007

Gathering the church God's way

I have been so challenged to read Terry Virgo's latest blog post (HT: Life on Wings), entitled Spirit Inspired Preaching. As a pastor, I have a burden to see the church built - for people to be saved and added to the local church, but also for them to grow in maturity, in love for Jesus, in passionate worship, in joyful service. I long for the church to display the glory of Christ to the surrounding area, even to the nations.

Indeed our church's vision statement is "To see the glory of God in the transformation of lives, of the community and of the nations through the Gospel of Jesus Christ." I know the Lord desires transformed hearts, leading to transformed lives, and I know that as pastor I am called to see the church grow. Yet I don't want to see the church grow by human means. Churches can grow through the force of a leader's personality, or through the eloquence of their preaching, or (sadly) through the application of rules and regulations that people follow thinking that they are pleasing God.

Terry gives a very different view:

"Holy Spirit-inspired preaching brings about an encounter with God that demands a verdict and produces a changed life based on revelation, faith and love, not cold obedience to external rules."

"God’s flock will intuitively hear His voice and respond as truth is fed to them by called and anointed pastor/teachers. Gradually a culture of God-centredness will emerge characterised by worship, faith, grace, mercy, respect, service and the awareness of being an alien people whose fundamental citizenship lies elsewhere (Phi. 3:20)."


The amazing key here is the anointing of God. I believe it was Rob Rufus who said that "God hides His power in His presence". Ern Baxter reminds us that the Glory-Cloud speaks of the presence of the Holy Spirit. So the key to church growth is for me, as a pastor, to be in His presence. That's not a legalistic thing - I can't earn the favour of God as I already have it in Christ - it is simply a statement of reality. God's presence is the place to be - to bask there and drink in the anointing and under that anointing to share with the people so that they "intuitively hear His voice and respond as truth is fed".

Terry goes on to add:

"The shepherd’s ability to feed and be a channel of God’s grace will result in the gathering of a flock. The sheep gather to the gifted anointing of shepherding and thus a flock forms."

If a shepherd is anointed by the Lord, and is a channel of God's grace - then the sheep will gather. They won't have to be beaten into submission by a legalistic declaration that "you must be at every service." Rather they will gather to feed, because God is speaking through the anointed pastor.

That is the kind of pastor I want to be. As Terry concludes:

"God has promised ‘shepherds after his own heart’. May we be the fulfilment of that promise."

21/11/2007

A quick definition of theology

Yesterday, I read this comment of the puritan William Perkins -
Theology is "the science of living blessedly for ever."

Too much is said today about the need for theological academia. But theology is not about academics, it is about knowing God so that we can live blessedly for ever. And notice he doesn't speak simply of heaven - it is about living now in the blessing of God because we know Him and as we know Him we love Him and enjoy Him.

It is the truth that sets us free.

18/11/2007

Why are we so wary of grace?

My good friend Dan Bowen has started a new blog highlighting the ministry of Rob Rufus. It's called Rob Rufus - Grace and Glory and contains notes of many sermons that Dan has listened to, including notes from a recent conference Rob had in Hong Kong (which Dan attended). There is some interesting stuff here. {edit: Although I wouldn't endorse everything that Rob Rufus teaches now (or even when I first wrote this post), his messages about grace really helped my to understand the radical and wonderful truth about God's amazing grace.}

Some of this material, particularly that on grace, has really made me think hard. It has almost made me uncomfortable. Here are some examples from the most recent post:

"In the re-born nature all “have-tos” are off and are transformed into “want-tos!”. We are free! Totally! Legalism tells you that you aren’t free and gives you a price for it."
"The power of the blessing supersedes your weakness! It is bigger than your failings! How much do you really want to sin? When your sin and grace meet in a boxing ring then grace always wins. (Romans 5:19) – I am constantly in an infallible obedience! He perfectly kept the law on my behalf. You cannot balance grace – it is extreme!"

"You don’t change by keeping laws and rules – you truly change in the glory! The Father isn’t interested in behaviour modification but heart transformation and one day you will see victory! (John 16:10)"

"The Holy Spirit won’t leave you because you are perfect forever. Nothing is criticising or condemning you from heaven because you are perfect forever! Once you see this – you can’t get deceived anymore. You need to go on a grace diet!"

I have been pondering on what makes me feel uncomfortable, and I have concluded that it is the total and utter separation of our performance from our standing before God. "You are perfect forever." Somehow deep down, a part of me wants to contribute something. I am used to feeling guilt when I sin. But grace says even when I do sin, nothing, absolutely nothing, can alter my standing in the presence of God and His favour towards me.

Much of the early teaching I received spoke of not disappointing the Lord, of living to a certain standard and not living on "cheap grace" (a phrase which is a complete contradiction in terms, for grace is totally free by definition, the price was His not ours), and while have been exposed to good teaching on grace for a number of years, it still sounds almost too good to be true.

Why? And why am I not alone? Why does Rob's teaching on grace (and also the teaching of Terry Virgo) get met with the charge of antinomianism (being against the law)?


The theological objection

I believe that one issue is theological - what is the purpose of the law to us as Christians? Jesus Himself said "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle, will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." (Matt 5v17-18). So if Jesus hasn't abolished the law, who does it apply to?

Well the scripture tells us very clearly. And, helpfully, Adrian Warnock has just quoted John Piper on this very subject:

“The reason the law is not against the promise is precisely that it was designed not to give life but to hold under sin and lead to Christ who gives life [Gal 3v19-25]. Paul says that if the law had given life, then it would have been against the promise. It would have short-circuited the purpose of the promise to make Christ the basis of life and righteousness. . .

"[He continues stating that 1 Timothy 1 shows us that] to use the law lawfully (v. 8) is to understand that it is designed to lead people to the gospel of Christ and to indict what is not in accord with the gospel. In this way, the lawful use of the law leads to the transformation of the heart through “sincere faith” (v. 5) and thus leads to love, which is in turn the aim of Paul's preaching (v. 5) and the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8). The key defining criterion of the life-change that Paul is pursuing is whether it is “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (v. 11). Using the law lawfully means using it to convict people of living out of accordance with the gospel. . . .We bear fruit for God (love) by being joined through faith to Jesus, not through the law. That is what the law was ultimately designed to show."

The law leads us to Christ, and it is basis of our preaching to unbelievers to bring conviction of sin and a coming to Christ. The law is not the basis of a believer's relationship to God - we no longer need a school master, but have grown up. We are full sons with the full inheritance (Gal 5v25-26).


The practical objection

If we teach these things, won't people simply do what they want? Won't our churches be filled with people who say "if nothing can change my standing with God, then surely it doesn't matter how I live?"

But that is exactly the question that the apostle Paul brings out in Rom 6v1, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" I believe it was Lloyd-Jones that makes the point that if our preaching does not lead to this question then we have failed to preach the gospel properly.

But of course Paul's answer to the question is very interesting. He doesn't respond by saying "of course not, you must remember what the law says." Rather he says, "Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death?" (Rom 6v2-3). His response is that - we have died to sin, we have been transformed, and so how can we continue to live in sin?

Rob Rufus puts it: "The Father isn’t interested in behaviour modification but heart transformation."

So much is written with sincerity to help other believers overcome certain sins. I have read the books on overcoming anger and dealing with lust. I have sought to apply the different rules about praying more, reading the Bible more, not looking at this or that. I have read the advice to young women that they must dress in a particular way to help their brothers - and I have in the past given such advice myself. And yet all these things miss the point entirely.

The Father isn't interested in behaviour modification but heart transformation. Rules and regulations cannot help us. In fact, they have the opposite effect. Paul tells us, "These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and the neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh." (Colossians 2v25)

On the other hand, the teaching of grace, rather than causing people to throw off all restraint and to run into sin, sets people free to love the Lord. The awe that the gospel of grace brings has such transforming power that all the rules of the self-help books are simply irrelevant. We love Him. He is the best. I don't need to have my gaze upon things that will stir up sin, why do I need that, when I am free to enjoy the glory? The Father loves me unconditionally. I am fitted to enter in to the Most Holy Place. Nothing else matters.

So grace sets us free.


The personal objection

Such declarations of liberty lead to another question. If we are free from the law, then how do we know what the Lord requires of us. Are there no rules at all?

Romans 13v8 says "...he who loves another has fulfilled the law." After describing the fruit of the Spirit, Pauls says "Against such there is no law." (Gal 5v23).

Our whole obedience to the Lord now flows out of relationship - of love for Him and love for others. We no longer need great lists of rules, we need love! And for every single child of God - "the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Rom 5v5).

Our obedience flows out of our relationship with the Lord by the Holy Spirit - and that is scary because true obedience has nothing to do with completing a list of requirements. We cannot measure ourselves up and say "well I have prayed for an hour each day this week." We cannot hide from intimacy with the Lord behind a list of requirements.

The heart of Christianity is about enjoying God in the Spirit. There are times when the Spirit will shine His light upon things, as Ern Baxter has said - Christ is our advocate with the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the Father's advocate with us (John 14v16). This relationship of love will lead the Holy Spirit to speak into our lives, not conviction or condemnation, but revelation of the Father's purposes for us. These revelations will often challenge our walk and will lead to further changes - because we love Him.

And I believe that I find this the greatest challenge of all - I have been saved, not for a law, but for an intimate and most precious relationship with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. I have to pursue Him, rather than satisfying my performance mentality, prayer programme or anything else. And pursue an ever closer relationship with Him who loved me and gave Himself for me.


In summary...
So why are we so wary? Well - grace challenges our theology, challenges our practice (we are no longer sinners contrained by law, but born again transformed saints), and challenges us personally - to pursue Him above every other thing.

12/11/2007

The glory of being in Christ

I have been so helped for many years by the truth that we are "in Christ." It is a term that is used by the apostle Paul to describe our position and blessings as believers (eg: Eph 1v3, 4, 7, 10, 11, 2v6, 10, 13 etc). This is an awesome truth and it is great to stand firm in the truth. We are in Him - clothed in His righteousness, safe, secure, forgiven, elect, precious, the apple of the Father's eye.

Many have written and spoken on these things far more eloquently than I, but recently I saw something fresh that I had never seen before. I was in conversation with a dear brother and we began talking about what we "look like" in Christ. When the Lord looks at us what does He see? Of course, He sees all things for He knows the heart, but He sees us in Christ. He treats us as He would His belov├Ęd Son.

What do the devil and his demons see ? They see us clothed in righteousness divine. Spotless and without blemish - because we are in Jesus. The accuser is silenced by the blood.

But what does that righteousness look like? What does His glory look like? Well we are told in Revelation 1v13-16! Of course, we are not divine like He - but it is His beauty, majesty and glory that clothes us. This is what we look like - because we are in Him!

"...In the midst of the seven lampstands [was] One like the Son of Man,
clothed with a garment down to His feet
and girded about the chest with a golden band.
His head and hair were while like wool, as white as snow,
and His eyes were like a flame of fire;
His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace,
and His voice as the sound of many waters;
He had in His right hand seven stars,
out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword,

Our Saviour reigns in majesty, glory and power - and we are clothed in Him. Let us glory in this awesome privilege. Let us fear no demon of hell, listen to no accusation, but enter in awe with freedom into the presence of the One who has clothed us so beautifully and fitted us for the presence of His glory.

07/11/2007

The heavens declare

One of the advantages of a period of recovery from sickness is that it gives time to read. I must confess that since pastoring a church became my "job", I have not read enough. This was one of the things that the Lord laid upon my heart while I was ill. When I return to work full-time, that is something I have to follow up. In the meantime, I have extra time on my hands to read.

At the moment I am reading Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George M Marsden. It is a fantastic biography, an inspiration and a challenge, and so I give it a whole-hearted recommendation.

Anyway, today I attended a fraternal of local ministers in the neighbouring district of Herne Hill. Before we started a couple of the brothers were talking about simply enjoying the splendour of God in His creation - particularly at this time of year as the leaves on the trees turn all kinds of glorious colours.

On returning from this meeting (where I was prayed for and do feel quite a lot better!), I picked up Jonathan Edwards: A Life and continued to read. And I read this, a quotation from Edwards himself (in Miscellany no. 108):

"When we are delighted with flowery meadows and gentle breezes of wind, we may consider that we only see the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ; when we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see His love and purity. So the green trees and fields, and singing of birds, are the emanations of His infinite joy and benignity; the easiness and naturalness of trees and vines [are] shadows of his infinite beauty and loveliness; the crystal rivers and murmuring streams have the footsteps of His sweet grace and bounty... That beauteous light with which the world is filled in a clear day is a lively shadow of His spotless holiness and happiness, and delight in communicating Himself."

Often we can rush around completely unaware of what is around us. That is particularly easy to do living in a big city like London. It is good to stop, pause and worship. Look around - God made all these things (and yes, there are trees in London). Not only should we be amazed at God's wisdom in these things - but Edwards reminds us that these reflect only a shadow of what God is like in Himself.

He is altogether lovely and delights to communicate Himself - not simply to the mind, but to the heart, to our whole beings. The creation, which declares the glory of God, points us to the Glorious One Himself, who is to be pursued and experienced and enjoyed.

So let us worship God for all He has made, and let us look beyond what He has made to He Himself, who delights to be enjoyed by us.

04/11/2007

If it be so, why am I thus?

It is with some embarrassment that I return to the blogosphere after an unexplained absence of almost two months. Also, given that this blog is devoted to talking about the glorious extension of God's Kingdom, as the waters cover the sea - including the outbreaking of His mighty power in healing and miracles - it might seem strange to report that my absence has been due to illness - an illness that will not go away (yet!).

A little over a week after my last post I started feeling "under the weather" with a sore throat, cough and tiredness. Within three days this had transformed into raging fever, a constant cough, sleeplessness for nights on end and, when I did sleep dark dreams, where I was being pounded by demons, and I was totally exhausted - hardly able to get out of bed.

Various visits to the doctor achieved nothing, my prayers seemed to be receiving no answer. I had pneumonia, or something very similar, and a whole load of spiritual attack. After two weeks of this, the elders came to pray and anoint me with oil - and I slept!! Properly for the first time in two weeks. I began to get better, but so slowly. My mind and heart were renewed but my body seemed to still be miles behind.

I did get back to preaching for two consecutive Sundays, which was great. But then last week again, I began to get worse. I have now been told I have suspected plurisy (which is inflamation of the lining of the lung) and am awaiting the results of an x-ray.

So that is a brief history of the last seven weeks! I have spent much of the time very discouraged, wondering where the complete healing was that I had prayed for. I had laid hands on myself and rebuked everything I could think of, and I was not fully healed.

I do believe the Lord has used this season to teach me much. In terms of my personal walk and ministry, I have been called back to intimacy with Himself, and away from overdoing activity. I have been challenged to make Him, and not my ministry, the priority. I have been reminded that the Lord tells us to "redeem the time." All these things have been so precious, and worth experiencing the darkness to learn.

But - this week I have been saying to myself "I am still not healed, what is wrong?" During the last few weeks I have been "helped" in different ways - one of which was to tell me that if the sickness is not responding to prayer then I have lost my authority in Christ - so I must not be standing in righteousness. I didn't take such things on board, but such attacks play on the mind.

I suppose the question is - if as children of God we a blessed of the Lord, how can things still go wrong? This morning I was helped by a scripture pointed out to me from Genesis 25v22.


Answered prayer but still a battle

In Genesis 25v21 we are told that Isaac sought the Lord for his wife because she was barren. That prayer was answered. So everything was fine... Was it?

I have received answers to prayer during this season of sickness. I have received partial healings and steps forward, and had precious times in God's Word and a taste of the intimacy that the Lord had spoken to me about. But was that it? Alas no - there was still a battle.

Genesis 25v22 tells us of the battle that followed Rebekah receiving the answer to prayer. There was a mighty struggle within her, and she was distressed. We can experience similar things - both struggles within and without. We receive a new job in answer to prayer, but it is a great battle. We receive a call to a new ministry and it is so hard, fruit is so long in coming. We move to a new location, and we wonder if God has left us. We get married, absolutely certain that God has brought us together with our partner, but it all seems to be falling apart. Or, we receive answered prayer for healing and the next moment we get ill again.

It might have been very easy for Rebekah to wonder if there was something wrong with her. That appears in the question: "If it be so, why am I thus?" (Gen 25v22, KJV). Why couldn't she be like her mother-in-law Sarah - a straightforward pregnancy? Part of the reason is that God simply deals with people differently. We might ask the question - why isn't my church growing like the one down the road? Of course there may be issues that we have to address, but often there is simply the purpose of God. There are lessons to learn, character to be developed, and the mercy of God in bringing us to a place of desperate crying out to Him, where prayer moves from being the formal duty of a Christian, to the desperate need of a hungry and hurting child of God.


The cry of the heart

Rebekah could have prayed, "Lord I thank Thee for Thine omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence, that Thou knowest all things, the struggles and ups and downs that Thine providences in my life give unto me. I thank Thee that Thou art always so abundantly merciful. I realise that Thou hast a purpose with this affliction I am suffering at the moment, and I chose to submit to Thy afflictions and pray that Thou wouldst teach me Thy way and lead me in the path everlasting...."

But instead there is a cry of the heart - if you have blessed me, why is it still such a struggle?

There are times when we need to get the politeness which many of us have been brought up on - the lie that it is impolite and reflects a lack of faith to ask God "why?" If we believe that, then we condemn Rebekah here, as well as the psalmist.

God is able to take our questions. He is merciful to hear the cry of our hearts at the lowest point of all. We shouldn't be shy of struggling, but nor should we settle for struggling. We must cry out, and He is gracious to answer. I believe I have received some answers over the last seven weeks that my perhaps more polite and rounded prayers before hand could not receive. I also believe that there are still battles to fight when the answers come, and that we should not be discouraged by a continued fight.

And I believe that the desperate cry of "why am I thus?" is not some major theological heresy, but a cry that the Lord will answer. After all He is good, and His mercy endures forever. He remembers that we are dust and He has compassion upon us as a Father upon His children. He knows the thoughts He has towards us, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give us a future and a hope.

And He says we will find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts. Sometimes the valley is the place where we truly seek.

And I thank God too, that He is the mighty healer. I thank Him for the journey, for the progress towards healing, and for the complete healing that shall come - and the battles that shall follow.

06/09/2007

"Who will speak for us?"

During my recent holiday, I spent a little time trying to catch up with my backlog of Time magazines. One article I read, How Diana Transformed Britain (from 27 August), contained a very interesting statement:

"Arbiter [Prince Charles' press secretary] recalls a strange, muted, mournful night after the Princess died when he encountered a group of wheelchair users on their way to lay flowers at Kensington Palace. 'They were saying, 'Who's going to speak for us, now?' They had a point. The disabled: who's going to speak for them? The AIDS patients: who's going to speak for them? The drug addicts, the down-and-outs, the homeless, the elderly? She was their voice and drew attention to their plight.'"

Immediately I was reminded of something so similar spoken by the poor and disabled during the funeral of the great English evangelical leader and social reformer of the 19th Century, Lord Shaftesbury. I can't find the exact quote, but it was almost identical. The poor of England said of Shaftesbury - "he was the man who spoke up for us."

This is such a challenging question. In the 19th century, the people who made all the difference were born-again Christians. They were filled with the compassion of Christ, moved by the Spirit of God. Here at the start of the 21st century, many are honouring another who was moved in compassion for different reasons. What Diana did in her public service was not wrong - on the contrary it was very good - but it is a challenge to us today: Where are the Shaftesbury's and the Wilberforces of today?

In my last post, I spoke about the filling the vacuum. This post is really a continuation of that. We need the cloud of glory to fall upon us, but the cloud of glory results in real hands and real feet getting to work, and real tongues speaking out and speaking words of healing.

So often in our society the poor, the disabled, the AIDS sufferers ask the question "who will speak up for us, who will help us" and the answer is left up to nice people from the world. Praise God for the common grace of non-Christians who commit themselves to serving their fellow human beings, but the challenge is surely to the church.

Who will speak up, who will help? Will it be us? We are to be the joy of the whole earth (Ps 48v2). Our Master set the example as He went about "doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil". We have the power and authority, and the call, to follow in His footsteps.

25/08/2007

Filling the vacuum

I have one more thing that I feel it is right to share before I go away. I'm sorry if what follows sounds "preachy", but it is something that is burning in my soul, so I want to share it. If you are reading, I hope it stirs something in you...


The vacuum

Two evenings ago I was in a community meeting held in our area of London concerning a shooting just up the road from the church and a murder the previous week in the neighbouring district. I came home from that meeting in the evening and turned the news on the TV to find that a boy of 11 had been shot dead in the city of Liverpool. This follows a spate of fatal stabbings and shootings of young people in the UK.

The local meeting was called for by concerned residents. Present in that meeting were the police, elected local representatives, local council officials. A lot was said by local residents, a lot was promised by police and local government. Despite these many words, the word that strongly laid on my heart was "vacuum." There is a terrible vacuum in our society and that vacuum has to be filled.


Filling the vacuum

There might be many reasons given why young people get involved in gangs and violence, and there is only so much that the state can do to stem the flow of violence. Many ideas were given in this meeting, many fears were expressed. But these things will not fill the vacuum, rather the vacuum will only be filled by the power of God.

I believe that as churches we need to become more engaged with our communities. Salt is meant to get out of the salt cellars, and light is meant to be displayed.

I hope that this post might inspire someone to get involved in their community. There is a danger of being so involved in church life that we fail to engage in our community. Church meetings are very important, but we are not called to fill our lives with church meetings, but to change the society in which we live. While we must have Spirit-saturated meetings, we need to receive God's word, and be drenched in His presence, these things are not an end in themselves.


Moving out in the glory

The purpose of the cloud of glory is not only to make us feel good, but to transform the whole community. We are to be drenched in the cloud of glory, but He goes with us into the highways and byways of the streets around your church and around your home.

We are called to follow in the steps of Jesus, and leave the safety of our church meetings and the fellowship of other believers and get out and engage with those around us and to serve our community. This is not the social gospel, but the glory gospel - as we serve in the power of His presence, people become aware of the reality of the Lord.

We have something that the world cannot offer. God has called us to be the means of filling the vacuum. Society will never be in order until the glory of God is seen. So let us get the light, get the glory in our worship meetings, in our prayer meetings and then let us get out and take the glory with us!

The first step is seeking God, being utterly secure in His grace, and praying that the cloud of glory would fall upon us. The next is being available to the Lord. Like Isaiah, "Here I am, send me." (Isaiah 6v8). And He will open doors.

Imagine meeting with young gang members and having word of wisdom that sets them free. Imagine serving in a homeless shelter and seeing people delivered from the power of alcohol addiction. Imagine serving in a hospital and seeing whole wards healed by the power of God. Imagine visiting the elderly and by the patience and compassion that God gives you, hearts are softened and people come to the Lord. Imagine advising parents from God's Word how to parent, and them seeing the reality of God, as His principles work.

Let us get the glory, and let us take the glory out. It is only His glory that can fill the vacuum.

24/08/2007

In remembrance of Me

It has been a long time since my last post and I must apologise again. Also, it will be a while until I can post again after today because I am about to go away with the family for a week's holiday.

Firstly, thank you to everyone for the comments and e-mails encouraging me to carry on posting. Sometimes, I find myself busy with ministry responsibilities and sometimes I do suffer from something of "writer's block". I am still reading and preparing messages, but it has never been my intention to simply regurgitate my Sunday messages on here. I usually preach from an outline so simply to summarise my notes might not be a fair reflection of what I actually said.

Anyway, enough excuses. I have got something to share today!

This post has been growing since I led the church in the breaking of bread a couple of Sunday's ago. Most weeks we read, or at least refer to, 1 Corinthians 11v23-26, and sometimes onto the end of the passage. It suddenly and powerfully hit me in that communion service, really a Word from the Lord into my heart, which I shared with the congregation -

"This is not a time to remember your sins. Jesus told us 'Do this in remembrance of Me'. Make Him your focus. Your sins are atoned for. There is no guilt, no condemnation. Remember Him."


Unbalanced self-examination

During my early years as a Christian, the most highlighted verse in 1 Corinthians 11 was "But let a man examine himself..." (v28). I have even been taught (and spoken myself) that communion is a time of reconsecration to the Lord, that around the table, we need to think on our walk with God and the sins that we have committed so that we are convicted and don't sin anymore.

Yet such an approach by itself can lead simply to guilt. The breaking of bread is a means of grace not a means of guilt.

Yes, self-examination is commanded. But what kind of self-examination?  The context is the irreverent behaviour of the Corinthians towards the breaking of bread (see 1 Cor 11v20-21).  The examination was so that they would "discern the Lord's body" (v29).  This examination has more to do with our discernment of the work of Jesus on the Christ, and our blessing in receiving His finished work, than a deep and introspective examination of sin in our lives.

Don't misunderstand me, confronted with the cross, repentance is right - especially if the Holy Spirit graciously highlights areas that we are sinning.  However, my point is this:  if all we look at is our sins, then we will leave the Lord's table full of guilt.  If our focus is the cross and Jesus' finished work, then we will leave the Lord's table full of rejoicing and passionate to obey Him.  We will worship with reverence and awe because of His amazing grace.


A correct focus

We proclaim His death until He comes. Jesus Christ and His finished work should be the focus of our attention.

Thus communion becomes a means of grace. We lift our gaze to the empty cross - the place where sins have been paid for once and for all, where the wrath of God was satisfied, so that there is no wrath for us. To think about that, rather than my sins, led to praise, to joy. No more wrath, no more guilt - Hallelujah!

Out of that, communion should no longer a sombre time. It should rather be a time of awe-filled joy. This is what the Lord has done!! Amazing grace, that found me - even me. Amazing love, that has cancelled the debt. Amazing favour, that means I am now a son of the Living God.

What a different it would make if, once we have checked our heart attitudes, that we look to Him. What joy, that the victory has been completed, and, in the words of that old Sunday School chorus:

Now I am free,
Now I am free,
Now I am free,
He's so good to me!

21/07/2007

Church on fire

I have been listening to Hillsongs for quite a while now, but yesterday, the lyrics of the song Church on Fire, hit me. Here are the words that spoke to me:

The Holy Spirit is here and His power is real.
Anything could happen and it probably will.
Something very good something good is going on around here...
(©1997 Russell Fragar (Hillsong) (Admin. in U.S. & Canada by Integrity's Hosanna! Music)
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.)

Anything could happen, and it probably will. This is something that came out in Dave Holden's training track on the Holy Spirit and your Church at TOAM07. If the Holy Spirit is present in our meetings, then we should not be bound by programmes, and the service should be predictable, the same every week.

I wrote this summary in my notes at the conference:

"Meetings were spontaneous. Did not know what was going to happen. Worship leaders do not have authority, elders do. Those don’t know moments (where the Lord has spoken or something has happened that we don't know how to respond - we need Him to lead). Need to have that liberty to flow. Don’t liven up the PA to make it more interesting, ask for more of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit does not want to boxed in, or dominated by anyone. Let’s be those who are out there. A good leader brings people in and then back off. Holy Spirit doesn’t like formality, we are family. He doesn’t like repetition. New things are always coming. Not don’t plan, but plan that is totally committed to the unseen conductor. So we can say at the end, that this is what God is saying to us."

Without that liberty, church can become boring. In many service we know what will happen next (even as charismatics one can be in a situation that we can predicit a certain song will lead to a time of singing in the Spirit, or that we will normally get a word of prophecy after the third song). We need to be set free from that. It's scary, but once the Holy Spirit has His way, we will surely know fresh waves of blessing in His awesome presence.

Please, Lord, do a new thing in our churches!

18/07/2007

A publishing landmark!!

My dear friend Dan has just posted his 500th post! He started writing around 2 years ago, and there is so much on this site. It is a tribute to Ern Baxter, containing many transcripts of his awesome sermons, plus much, much more. I am so grateful to my brother for his faithful publishing, which is food to my soul, and also for his regular prodding me to continue with publishing on this site.

Dan is currently reporting back from Together on a Mission. His latest post covers an awesome prophecy from Rob Rufus:

"Suicide bombers will be heading to targets when they themselves are hit by the nuclear blast of the glory of God and they will be felled like Paul on the Damascus Road. They will find themselves lovers instead of haters!"

I really believe we should expect such things in the days that lie ahead. Dan's vision and mine (and indeed Newfrontiers) is summarised by Habakkuk 2v14, quoted by David Devenish in his awesome message The Ephesus Mission – Pattern for World Evangelisation (there are helpful notes of this message done by Andrew Fountain).

Habakkuk 2v14 and other glorious scriptures such as Ps 2v8, Psalm 110v1 and Isaiah 2v1-5 speak of what will happen in the days that lie ahead. This was Ern Baxter's vision, that Dan so faithfully imparts through his site.

For a list of all that Dan has transcribed, see the Ern Baxter Archive. I thank God for Dan's contribution to the blogosphere.

17/07/2007

Downloads from TOAM available

Just to say that the first downloads of the main sessions from Together on a Mission 2007 are available at the downloads section of the Newfrontiers site!

Praise the Lord! I missed the first two sessions, so I'm starting to download now...

12/07/2007

We must have Spirit-filled churches

Today I have been struck again by the vital importance of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. At Together on a Mission, Dave Holden taught on the role of the Holy Spirit in our church meetings. It was so helpful to hear practical teaching on this. Gifts of the Holy Spirit are not optional. They are an essential part of church life. It is not about making church more contemporary, but about the Holy Spirit having freedom to move in our midst. He is the leader. He delights to glorify Christ and to draw us into the Lord’s presence.

Yet nothing of the liberty of the Spirit will happen without the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Dave Holden said, “People move in the gifts of the Holy Spirit with greater freedom once they are baptised in the Holy Spirit.”

In the revival of joyful, passionate worship, joyful passionate people can be drawn into churches, but without them being baptised in the Holy Spirit. It is not enough to build a church on people who have a temperament that means they enjoy a particular style of worship. It’s not about having services full of shouting, dancing, and hand-raising, but rather having God break in. It’s about having God lift us up through a tongue and an interpretation, speak to us through prophecy, to heal and deliver, to give us and awesome experience of His power in each meeting. As Dave Holden concluded:

“If we are a charismatic community it is not about modern and contemporary but about having a deluge of the Holy Spirit upon us. A people being ready to move in gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
For this vision for be fulfilled, the vast majority of church members to be baptised in the Holy Spirit. That means new Christians must be properly taught and prayed for. And for those that have been Christians for longer, we must not assume that they are baptised in the Spirit. We must lovingly teach so that they become fully persuaded that the gift of the Holy Spirit is for them. Moses prayed “oh that all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Num 11v29). God has laid on my heart, “oh that all the Lord’s people would enter into their inheritance and be baptised in the Holy Spirit.”

As each member receives the mighty drenching of God – which is the birthright of every Christian – the church becomes filled with God-saturated people and so the gifts will start bursting out, and we will have the breaking-in of God in every meeting. Glory!

The Weight of His Glory

It is difficult to describe the time so far at Together on a Mission in Brighton. I think I had great hopes of posting much, but the things that are happening are difficult to put into words. Dan had intended to post as well, but we are just too overwhelmed with the goodness of God. There are others who are blogging more detail about the conference, and the messages will soon be available on the website.

But to just give a flavour…

The presence of God in this place is so heavy. In every meeting we seem to be worshipping before an open heaven. Sometimes it is impossible even to stand in His presence. And much of the worship is about the glorious Kingdom purposes of God – that His reign shall cover the whole earth.

The prophecies are awesome. A repeated emphasis concerns a new day, that God is turning a new page that will see great ingatherings, healing and even people being raised from the dead. There has been a call for spiritual fathers to lead by example and to pioneer new things. I find that a great challenge as a pastor leading a group of people who need to step into new things.

There is amazing, equipping teaching. Not least Terry Virgo’s session yesterday morning on leading people into the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. The key thing he shared was the need for truth. The reason many do not receive is that they are confused. Terry didn’t give us methods as such (like some of the false methods of getting people to copy you speaking in tongues) – in fact he cautioned against any such methods. He simply masterfully explained the doctrine and the errors to avoid. For example, the conservative evangelical position of receiving it all at conversion.

Terry said this on Acts 19v2 (“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”): If you received it all at conversion, the question would be like saying, "Were you converted when you were converted?” It was such a helpful seminar.

There is amazing, inspirational teaching. Last night, David Devenish taught on The Ephesus Mission – Pattern for World Evangelisation. He asked, “What is the mission?” The answer is contained in Habakkuk 2v14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.” It is so encouraging to hear the restoration vision trumpeted from the platform here!

There is awesome impartation. Yesterday Rob Rufus prayed for lead elders, and also for everyone generally to receive a ministry for healing and deliverance. All I can say is that I could not stand in the presence of God. My hands were on fire, and it felt like my ears had been cleansed. I wonder if God desires to use my hands and to speak to my ears. Our God is an awesome God.

And all of this is a mighty understatement. Words are not adequate!

10/07/2007

On the way to glory!

Through the wonders of modern technology, I can actually blog on the train on the way to the Together on a Mission conference in Brighton. I have missed the first two sessions because my children were in a school concert, but so far, I have had excellent reports.

This prophecy has been given by David Stroud: "Some have come asking 'will it be worth it?' I tell you it will be worth it. My Spirit is here! Open heaven! It's going to be worth it!"

This is just so exciting. I come in need of refreshing and a mighty encounter with the Lord. I know that He is so willing to give and to refresh His people. As my lack of posting indicates, the battle has been strong, but God is avle to meet every need.

Also, I was reminded at our last Men's fellowship last week of the importance of abiding in Christ (from John 15). There is a danger in all the pressures of everyday life that we fail to abide, we strive for things, even for success in ministry.

One brother shared this, "what we strive to get we strive to keep, what God gives He keeps."

That is a powerful thought to enter into the coming week. I haven't got to strive to receive, just simply to allow Him to pour His blessing into me - and He will keep that which He gives.

Dan will be posting updates from the conference at Spirit of God! Do have a read!

19/06/2007

Why did Jesus come?

However many years one spends in the Word, there are always new things to find. Today, I have been preparing a Bible Study, and I have compared two passages where the angel speaks of the Lord's birth - and why He was coming.

To Joseph, the angel says "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matt 1v21)

That is a truly amazing verse. It shows us the purpose of Jesus' coming. While He did many things - He revealed God, He was an example, He taught, He went around doing good, He trained His disciples - His purpose was to save us. He came to die to be our deliverer from sin.

To Mary, the angel says something very different "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1v31-33)

He came to die, but ultimately He came to reign! He died in order to reign (Rom 14v9). We must never cease to thank Him for the cross, but we must also never forget the purpose of the cross - to establish a kingdom that will have no end. That kingdom will extend from shore to shore. From the rising of the sun to its going down, the Lord's name will be praised.

For more about Christ's ultimate triumph, there is some excellent reading to be found at Life on Wings. Dan's latest post, Finale to the "Ultimate Triumph" Series, contains links to three outstanding sermons by Dr Ern Baxter. I hope to have more to share about these soon, but for now read and receive.

Jesus came to reign! Hallelujah!

17/06/2007

God's forethought

I really am sorry for a long absence from posting. It is ironic that my last post was an encouragement to publish to fuel the charismatic resurgence, and I haven't posted for over two weeks.

Since the last publication I have had some difficult days: there has been a marriage break-up within the church I pastor, which has been very painful; there have been some dark days for my own soul (pastors are not immune); and last week my grandfather died. So it's been quite tough, and while I have things on my heart to publish, the window of time has not been available. I hope that will change within the next few days.

Yet, I want to just share something very brief. It was a word of encouragement from one of the members during the worship time this morning. A dear brother shared with the church "the cross was not God's afterthought, but His forethought."

He went on to read from 1 Peter 1v20: "He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you."

God wasn't surprised by our sin and rebellion. He knew it was coming even before He made us! And yet He chose to foreknow us and love us in Christ and to save us. The cross was not an emergency rescue package because we had caught God off-guard when we rebelled. It was His eternal plan to have a people for His very self.

I realise that this raised all kinds of knotty questions about why God made us if He knew that the fall would come. I can't answer those today (or maybe never!), but I do believe we can take great encouragement that however dark days become, however often we fall (or however deep we fall), God has no afterthoughts about us - only forethoughts. He loved us even before we did anything good or evil, already knowing exactly what we would do. So He doesn't change His mind or go back on His promises. And in the eternal now of His purposes, He chose us in Christ before even the world was made, the plan of salvation was determined. And today, He holds the future, and He has covered our sins past, present and future. And His love to us is unchanging.

What a great and merciful God we have!

02/06/2007

Fueling the charismatic resurgence

I have been wondering for a while whether to take the plunge and learn some HTML to enable me to improve websites etc (and even make my blog look different!). I finally took the plunge this week and ordered a book from Amazon. What amazed me is that I have opened the first page and I sensed the Lord stirring me!!

The first words of this book said "The World Wide Web is the Gutenberg press of our time."

Gutenberg was the inventor of movable type printing in Europe. Now he was no saint of God but he was used in the providence of God. Printing was a major factor in fueling the Reformation. Luther's writings ended up all over Europe. Bibles translated into the native tongues of the people of Europe were printed and spread. While many things have been printed in the last almost 500 years that have not been honouring to God, the fact is that God's purposes were advanced by means of the printing press.

Tim Berners-Lee is the inventor of the World Wide Web. He is also no saint of God - he has ended up in the Unitarian Universalist church. Yet, his invention is being used in the providence of God to bring about a new rise of truth. Again, there is much presented on the Web that is totally opposed to the Lord's purposes. But this is a tool that the saints of God can use, just as Luther used the printing press.

There is undoubtedly a reformed resurgence. It is good that sound doctrine is being written about and read on the web. Recently, there has been writing about a charismatic resurgence. On Spirit of God there is now a list of resources for the charismatic resurgence. This is being updated as more are found so that we can grow together.

Publish!

The point of my post today is to encourage us to publish! All of us who are people of Word and Spirit, let's build each other up. Firstly - read. There is excellent material to be found on any of the blogs listed to the right. Plus others. Find the places where your soul is being fed. Weigh what you read by the Word of God.

Secondly - seek God and allow the Lord to speak to you. As you pray, read scripture, hear His voice, read Christian books, there are things that will thrill your heart. Some of them will just be for you, but others will be to share.

I would encourage anyone who God prompts to begin to contribute to the charismatic resurgence! Let's fan the flame in each other's hearts and fan the flame for revival.

29/05/2007

How important is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit?

{Edit 2013:  The documents and blog that inspired this post originally are no longer available. However, the point that Jesse makes is still very interesting, so I am leaving this post up (minus the original links, which no longer work)}

What a glorious day! This morning I did my usual check of the various blogs in my favourites and found this! {Edit 2013: link removed as it no longer works.}

Jesse Philips, newly graduated from the SGM Pastor's College, has given us his paper on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (a college assignment) to read. The title itself - "Subsequence: a biblical-theological defense of Pentecostal pneumatology"- was enough for me to know I had to read it at once.

Over the last few days, since I posted on how important is the Holy Spirit, I have been thinking about the question of the doctrine of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. What impact does it have on our experience of the Holy Spirit if we reject the Pentecostal teaching that the Baptism is subsequent to conversion?

Jesse answers this question in his introduction:

"My motive for this study is as follows: the maintenance of a biblically significant charismatic dimension to Christianity. It is not mere coincidence that the Pentecostal revival, to which the contemporary church historically owes much of its charismatic experience, held as one of its main theological tenants the view of a subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit. There is something pro-Charismatic about the Pentecostal view of the Spirit’s baptism, which has a proven track record of producing experientially charismatic churches unmatched by other pneumatologies.

"The Third Wave position, while not at all cessationist concerning the spiritual gifts, and even held by a few prominent charismatic leaders (i.e. John Wimber), has not shown itself to be quite as prolific as the traditional Pentecostal view in producing churches that are able to maintain a robust pneumatology and a distinctively charismatic experience over a long period of time. The primary reason for this is that the Third Wave position has a somewhat cessationist interpretation of Acts. What I mean is that Cessationists and ‘Third Wavers’ agree that what is seen in Acts should not be normative for today. Therefore, since most of the biblical data about the baptism in the Spirit is contained in Acts, we should not be surprised the Third Wave perspective of the Spirit baptism tends not to produce experiences that are quite as charismatically prolific as the Pentecostal view."

In other words, it does make a difference. And it goes back to our understanding of Acts. I stand with Jesse on this one. Acts is normative. We are not only reading history, we are reading glorious examples of how God is able to work with equal power today, through the same means of a people clothed with power from on high.

Jesse concludes:

"I hope that this exploration of Luke-Acts will assist the reader in reading the Bible with new eyes and an expectant heart, engaging the text and engaging God, experiencing all that God has made available through Christ to the believer, by virtue of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May the church continue to suffer the influence of Pentecost."

Amen and amen.

{Edit 2013: I am looking again at this issue.  Is Acts normative?  I still believe, "yes."  It shows us how the early church functioned and how God moved in power.  There is nothing in the book itself that tells us that all this glorious activity should stop.

At the same time, it is clear that we are not living in the days of Acts. We are not seeing miracles on this scale.  Those who claim to regularly move in such miracles have larger (although not exclusively) been exposed as false teachers.

However, abuse should not mean disuse.  Preaching is abused but we don't stop preaching; we preach correctly and we teach young pastors and trainees to rightly divide the Word of Truth.

At the same time, the decline of a doctrine or a practice should not mean that the thing is regarded as un-Biblical.  Otherwise, why would we ever have accepted the recovery of justification by faith?  Why would the practice of believers' baptism ever have regained acceptance among many believers?

So, we search the scriptures.  Miracles are present today, but not as much as in Acts.  We should neither manufacture false miracles, nor create an interpretation of Acts that locks the miracles in a box for then.

Instead, it is time to seek the Lord!  We need fresh dynamic gospel preaching and faithful apostolic teaching.  We need fresh outpourings of the Holy Spirit to awaken sinners (so that they are cut to the heart), to stir holy zeal in the hearts of His people and to demonstrate the present reality of God through healing.

Will you not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?" (Psalm 85v6)}


PS: It is interesting that yesterday Dan posted a transcript from Life in the Spirit 1997 - with Michael Eaton and RT Kendall conversing on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. It can be read here.

24/05/2007

How important is the Holy Spirit?

{Edit 2013:  The blogs mentioned in this post are no longer functioning.  I have therefore removed the links and changed the text slightly.}

Jesse Philips' recent post on Charismatic Resurgence Through the Blogosphere is so encouraging. He says:

"I have been encouraged as I started blogging to find out that there are like-minded Christians who have faith for an increase in the miraculous gifts in our generation of the reformed-charismatic church."

I believe, like him, that these blogs can: "contribute to a charismatic resurgence, particularly by increasing people's faith for gifts such as prophecy, faith, miracles or healing."

Further, I believe these blogs can help us tackle important issues in the practice of charismatic life. For example, Jesse has posted on Uninterpreted tongues is not sin. We need to examine things like this together, looking at God's word and seeking the help of His Spirit.

{Edit 2013:  Jesse's sister, Janelle, also used to blog.  At the time this post was first written, she had been looking at the different views of the the group of churches called Sovereign Grace Ministries.  It was Janelle's blog that first inspired this post.  I appreciate that, since my writing, there have been many issues with respect to SGM and to its then leader, CJ Mahaney.  I was tempted to remove this post altogether.  However, the point "How important is the Holy Spirit" remains.

In particular, at the time, many were saying that the involvement of CJ Mahaney at Together for the Gospel would cause a decline in charismatic distinctives among SGM.  Many would argue that this has happened, although perhaps not because of the Together for the Gospel connection.

My concern in this post was to discuss how much charismatics should "hold back."  Should charismatics pretend that they are not charismatics when they are working with non-charismatics?  How should unity impact upon our charismatic life? Should we downplay it and seek gifts less in the interests of unity?}

A couple of thoughts - first on fellowshipping with cessationist churches and secondly on preaching the gospel:

Fellowship

While I am very happy to stand with people from any evangelical church on the vast number of issues upon which we agree, I believe we must be careful not to downgrade our charismatic distinctives - even subconsciously - in order to avoid offending our cessationist friends.

Obviously, we are wise. It would not be appropriate, say, for CJ Mahaney to make an altar call at a John MacArthur Shepherds Conference for people to receive prayer for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, because CJ has voluntarily come to serve under John MacArthur's leadership. But it would also be totally wrong to discourage (or fail to encourage) the expression of gifts of the Holy Spirit because John MacArthur has come to Covenant Life Church.

In our relationship with our non-charismatic friends we must never downplay who we are, although we must respect who they are. It is not our job to convert their flocks to the things of the Holy Spirit (although we might hold private discussions with the leadership). But it is our responsibility to remain thoroughly (and increasingly) charismatic in our walk and corporate church life.

Preaching the gospel

While conferences like Together for the Gospel can be helpful in terms of encouraging and envisioning churches and leaders to the glorious task of gospel preaching, when it comes to actually going out on the streets, or inviting people to hear the gospel, as charismatics we might find ourselves on difficult ground. Why? Because gospel preaching in the Scriptures is charismatic!

Jesus sent out His disciples to preach, heal, cast out demons and raise the dead. Should we hold back on seeking these things for fear of offence to the cessationists? Acts 2v38 ("what shall we do?") is answered by repent, be baptised and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. As charismatics is it right to reduce our gospel preaching to simply repent and believe? Don't we want to see new believers birthed fully into Kingdom life?

As I posted a couple of weeks ago, healing and gospel preaching go together, and they must stay together. God uses healing to awaken people's attention that there's a message to be heard (Acts 3v11).

So, while we pray for, encourage and fellowship with all who love the message of the gospel, we must not downgrade our charismatic fulness, even in the way in which we preach the gospel.

{Edit 2013:  In rereading the above, this is too dismissive of working in gospel partnership with non-charismatic churches.  Acts does contain healings and deliverances, some on a large scale (Acts 5 and Acts 19).  However, the apostles and disciples primary work was preaching.  They preached and they dealt with healings and deliverances as the need arose.  They (and Jesus) didn't go out to heal they went out to preach.

Therefore, I can go out and preach with my cessationist friends.  However, if someone asked for healing, then I would pray for them trusting God to stretch out His hand to heal.}


Facing criticism

Janelle concluded her post with this:

"If we are going to be criticized, then it certainly would be GREAT to be criticized for being "too charismatic" than having a false Gospel."

I hope we are never criticised for having a false gospel. We may differ from Reformed Cessationists over the present operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we and they must stand together on "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

But I think if I wasn't criticised for being too charismatic, I would be worried. Not because I want to go out of my way to offend, but because the Scriptures are clear that charismatic experience is at the heart of church life and evangelism.

God bless cessationists. Many of my heroes of past generations, and some of the present, are cessationists. But the Holy Spirit is, as it were, the dynamite of Kingdom life and we must not limit His gracious influence in anything we do, whatever people may say.