26/06/2009

What do we have to do to get the glory back?

1 Samuel 4 ends with one of the most tragic events in the history of Israel before the exile. The ark of the covenant was taken by the Philistines and the final sentence of the chapter (v22) says, "The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured."

The ark represented the tangible presence of God. He had promised (Ex 25v22), "I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony." In 1 Samuel 4, all this had gone. Today, if we are honest about the condition of the church in general, then the glory has departed... there are glimpses yes, but the manifest, weighty glory of God is not seen in most churches. In the New Covenant, we see even more what that glory means... it means thousands swept into the kingdom, it means the demonised delivered with a word, it means the multitudes healed and the dead raised, and it means a church on fire, united, and passionate about the Lord of glory. These are things that generally we are not seeing.

Many church leaders recognise this, and various activities are launched around the world to seek God for revival. The impression is given that if we pray, fast, and get holy enough then somehow the glory will return.

Today I was reading in 1 Samuel 6... In it there is the account of the return of the ark to Israel. Basically God had dealt so severely with the Philistines that they returned the ark of their own free will. They set the ark on a cart let by cows and they even said, "And watch: if it goes up the road to its own territory, to Beth Shemesh, then He has done us this great evil. But if not, then we shall now that it is not His hand that struck us- it happened to us by chance." (1 Sam 6v9).

The record continues: "Then the cows headed straight for the road to Beth Shemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went [I like that - even the cows were praising God], and did not turn aside to the right hand or the left." (1 Sam 6v12).

When the ark arrives in Israel, do we find them seeking God, preparing armies to go and get the ark? No - "Now the people of Beth Shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley..." (1 Sam 6v13). Yes, they were delighted to see the ark, but they weren't seeking.

Had Israel sought God? No. Had they fasted enough to get the blessing of the ark returning? No - they were gathering the harvest! Were they holy enough? No - 1 Samuel 7 tells us that Samuel told them to put their idols away - they were still worshipping other gods.

And yet still God allowed the glory to return!!

And this is the point:

God needed no help to bring the glory back to Israel. The glory returned completely unmerited.

While I myself seek God, I want His glory, I want to see His power sweep this globe... I believe we have to get out of our thinking any hint that our merit or performance or praying or anything will bring the glory back.

Now, let's be totally clear, I'm not saying that we shouldn't pray or be holy; I am saying that we must stop right now putting our trust in these things and start believing that God brings His glory because He is God and He is good, not because of any merit we have. I would go further and suggest that the more we actually believe God and stop offering him our pathetic efforts, the greater the weight of His glory will be upon us. He says in Isaiah that He will not share His glory with another. He will not, He cannot, share His glory with this or that church leader who has organised this or that rally. He cannot allow us to say "it was because of our prayer meetings, our faithfulness that the glory has come."

There is no barrier to the glory coming!!! Do you keep stumbling and falling? That is no barrier to the glory coming. Do you keep failing? That is no barrier to the glory coming. Do you feel 'I don't pray enough'? That is no barrier to the glory coming. Do you you feel that your heart is too cold? That is no barrier to the glory coming.

A few weeks I had this revelation:

"Under the old covenant we had to chase after God; under the new covenant grace God chases after us."

And all that is required to connect with this glory is faith... in the finished work of Jesus and the perfect gift of righteousness.

In 1 Samuel 6v19 the people looked into the ark and many were struck down. The legalists look at that verse and say "see, they weren't holy enough to look in the ark and so God struck them." They go on to say "ah well God doesn't send the glory because we are not holy enough and we couldn't handle it." Rubbish!

The people weren't struck down because they weren't holy enough, they were struck down because they were looking unprotectected upon the law of God. They were judged as sinners by the law and received the just punishment of the law. They could have been holier than every church member in the world and they would have still been struck down because the law demands perfection.

But when Jesus was nailed to the cross, every written requirement against us was nailed to the cross and taken out of the way (Col 2v14). There is no record against us, there is no finger of accusation - perfection has been given freely as gift in the righteousness of Christ.

As soon as we stop looking at the list of accusations against us and stop trying to grab the glory through our performance, then I believe we will see the glory coming at His initiative... maybe through unusual means (the moo-ing cows in 1 Sam 6 weren't expected).

When we stop trying to contribute our glory, then He is free to send the tidal wave of His glory.

02/04/2009

How long should we bear our guilt?

I was reading Numbers 14 this evening, the tragic history of Israel's unbelief and failure to enter the promised land. They were condemned to spend 40 years in the wilderness. God said, "According to the number of the days in which. You spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection." (Num 14v34).

I felt prompted to ask God a simple question, "Under the new covenant, for how long should we bear our guilt?" God gave me a simple reply, "For NO TIME AT ALL."

Many believers sadly live under mindset which means that after they have sinned, they live under a sense of condemnation and God's displeasure until enough time has passed for the sting of guilt to fade a little. I've been there! In the past, I have spent days and days after each and every failure, bearing my guilt! I need to say, that such a mindset is old covenant and, since Jesus has borne ALL our guilt for ALL our sins - we do not need to bear guilt even for a moment - even for a nanosecond!

To be brutally blunt, the mixed law/grace culture across the church grades sin, so we are used to feeling guilty for different periods depending on our sin. So if we lose our temper we might feel bad for half a day, or a day if it was a really bad blow-up. If we used bad language when we lost our temper, the guilt time might be a bit longer - two days perhaps, or a week if another Christian heard our bad language.

If we tell a little lie, then we feel bad for a day (or more if it is worse). If we gossip, we might feel bad for an hour. If we look with lust at someone, we might feel guilty for an hour or so; if we fantasise overmuch, we can feel guilty for a day or so. If we glance at porn, then the guilt is two days, if we masturbate then it's a week. Why are we wasting our time, burning ourselves out, punishing ourselves, when Jesus has already borne our guilt and our punishment?

Later on this evening, in our men's meeting, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart, "there are people who are backslidden today because they have borne their guilt for over forty years." This is tragedy, and the cause is legalism. Think about your own experience for a moment - under law when you fall, guilt comes, guilt causes you to lose sight of the Lord, you no longer feel His tangible presence. After a while the guilt does pass, and you feel you can approach God again. That was the reality for the first 18 years of my Christian life. I believe that for many, if this becomes the norm, discouragement grows, sin grows, guilt grows, and the sense of distance from God grows, and backsliding is only a matter of time. Why go to church and have guilt reinforced week by week, line by line, precept by precept?

And I believe there are many people who once were in the church and are outside now, not because they are "great sinners", but because they have borne the accumulated guilt of years of condemnation.

Every single believer needs to be able to answer this - whether you are walking actively with God today or whether it is years since you have been in His presence - how long should you bear your guilt? NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!

Why waste time carrying something that Jesus carried for you? Declare war on guilt, revel in grace, and drink deeply of His presence. God's not looking for you to jump through hoops to impress Him - He's already totally impressed and delighted with you, and will be forever.

07/03/2009

What do you wish?

This post has its origins in a prophetic text I received from Dan in mid-January. This was what he said:

"What do you wish queen esther? What is ur request? It shall be given to u, upto half my kingdom!! What do u wish peter day? What is ur request? It shall be given u! Ask of me and ì will give the nations to u! Ask - becuz u are most dearly loved! Ask becuz i am besotted wiv u! U have asked, wept and prayed - now wait. Wait as the eagle poised on the edge of the cliff waiting to soar, waiting for that gust of air! Be still, soak, now that i am ur father, ur daddy. Know my love!!"
This was so timely. Firstly, in our church 2008 was a year of great blessing mixed with great battle. On the one hand, in July 2008 we had our first baptism service in three years. They were long and dark years for me personally until, during my illness of 2007, God began to break through into my life with the message of grace.

Light began to shine at the beginning of 2008 as I began to preach grace, and it was with great joy that three people were baptised in July - all of whom had been in church for a while, but God had taken hold of them in a mighty way. Then, in September 2008, seven more were baptised - glory to God!! And then two more in January 2009.

But... At the same time as this, we were losing key people. Some, sadly, because we were preaching the amazing grace of God, the free gift of His righteousness and that nothing, absolutely nothing, can remove us from our standing with Him. I've blogged a bit about grace too, here.

So, Dan's text was a real word of encouragement for me personally. Then, secondly, the text came on the day of our first elders' meeting of 2009. So I shared it with them and that stirred us up to prayer and brought real encouragement after all that had gone before.

Thirdly, God began to stir up a message in my heart from Esther 5. I shared my notes with Dan and he encouraged me to publish these notes (after my very long silence in the blogging world). So here they are:

Esther 5

This passage a real historical thing, but also an illustration. The book tells how Esther, a Jewish young woman becomes queen of the Persian Empire. Esther is an orphan who is cared for by her uncle Mordecai. But the king has an evil prime minister, Haman, who struts around and is annoyed because Mordecai won't bow down to him. So he tricks the king into signing an order for all the Jews to be killed on a certain day. Mordecai pleads with Esther to go into the king in order to plead for her people, but Esther knows that anyone who goes into the king's presence without first being invited risks death.

We have urgent needs, personal, as a church, national, international, but you only need to read the Law of Moses to see that no-one can go into the presence of God at any time. The holiness of God would burn up anyone who tried to draw near. Only once a year the high priest could go with the blood of a lamb.

Our problem is that many believers still deep down have that view of God - we can't approach Him, He is so holy, especially if we have not been very spiritual or we have sinned. But this historical record is a glorious picture that you CAN draw near, and you CAN ask for great and mighty things.


I) Fully attired

Clothed. "Esther put on her royal robes"(v1). We can imagine they were beautiful, made her attractive, so the king would notice her. Didn't go in her rags but as royalty.

But where did these robes come from? Did Esther work for them, make them with her own effort? They were the king's robes, given by the king to her. And so it is with us. We don't enter presenting our deeds and performances, we enter because HE has provided for us robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61v10, contrast Isaiah 64v6). What are they like? As those on their wedding day - spotless, radiant, beautiful.

Why put on? Not a perfect illustration because the robes are always on! But, if we are not aware of them, and do not remind ourselves of them, then we will be under condemnation, and will not draw near boldly and will have no confidence that we will receive anything.

But we ARE fully attired, fitted for His awesome presence.


II) Fully accepted

The king was facing the doorway (v1). Anyone who came in would be seen. Remember the legal position - no-one could not enter unless summoned. The king was waiting to judge, to punish anyone who drew near. And that is the view many have of God - many live with a continual sense that God is waiting to punish every misdead. Not a reverential fear, but a terror of God. That was the legal position - against the law of Moses for anyone to come into the presence of God. Certain judgement was the result for anyone who did not come in rightly.

But now in Christ, it is completely different. You are clothed in robes provided by the King. And He is waiting for your call, approach. He is eager to see you, for you to approach Him.

The king sees Esther (v2). When he saw her, she found favour in His eyes. At that moment of seeing, there was favour. He didn't have to think about it and wonder if He would accept her, rather, His acceptance and welcome was instant. You do not have to convince God of your worth to stand in His presence. You only have to convince yourself. The devil knows it, God knows it, but we tend to stay at a distance because we don't fully know it. This passage says "when" the king saw, she found favour. When the King of grace looks at you, you find favour in His sight. You haven't got to do anything, you have that favour because of being in Christ. That is the reality.

The OT priest had to go in with the sacrifice, the sacrifice had to be perfect and without spot or blemish. There was that question that would have been in the mind of every priest - will God accept the sacrifice? There is no question when you go into the presence of God - the full and complete sacrifice had already been made.


III) Fully authorised

The sceptre (v2). This is further indication of acceptance. It is the symbol of His kingly authority. He is holding out to say "come in", and what I have I give to you, you are welcome here. She would have come in and touched it, maybe even kissed it, and so indicating "yes, I accept your welcome, I receive your authority". You don't crawl into the presence of God saying "please accept me." You come in boldly because you are a son of God already, you are accepted already - Jn 1v12 (right = authority).

Not only correctly clothed, and found favour, but fully authorised to stand in His presence and that authority lasts for all eternity...

And she is authorised to ask for anything. What do you wish?

"Half the Kingdom."(v3) The king used a phrase to Esther which was saying, "I offer you the maximum." I'm giving you all I can, I'm willing to give you anything.

The maximum this king could give was "up to half the kingdom." But with God there is no limitation. He owns it all, the nations are His (Ps 2v8), the earth is His and all its fulness (Ps 24v1). So there is no limit to what He can give you.


So....

So what are you going to ask for? Healing, provision, encouragement, refreshing, for your family members that are not saved, for your neighbours. What are we going to ask for as a church? For the transformation of the community, for the filling of these buildings with people who are being delivered? Lives being turned around? For the glory of God to be seen? What is your wish? What do you desire?

And this is the promise of the new covenant - Rom 8v32. The Lord is better than this king. This king is just a shadow. The substance, reality is in Christ - and far far better. He is infinitely more desirous to bless, infinitely more accepting, allow infinitely greater intimacy with Himself. This is God.

What is the hindrance? You can go in there even without asking anything, just to be and enjoy His presence. You are accepted, you have His favour, He is pleased with you, He likes you, He loves you. And as He is pleased with you, you can ask Him things, because His whole heart for you is "what do you wish?"

"Call to Me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things which you do not know." (Jer 33v3)