Do we know who we are…. really?

28 01 2013


Just a couple of weeks ago I watched one of those films….. y’know, one of THOSE films. The ones that you have never heard of when you see it in the listings, but you stick it on anyway – and it turns out to charm you, enthral you, entertain you, hurt you and leave you better in soul by the end? It was a gem of a film, called Oranges and Sunshine, starring Emily Watson.

The storyline followed one  English social worker’s fight to unveil the truth regarding the mass deportation of children – over 130,000 in all – from these shores to Australia in the ’50s, ’60s and even as recently as the ’70s. I was moved, upset even, as I listened to actors being interviewed by the social worker about their plight,  these stunted children in grown-up bodies. They had been shoved on ships, told they were going for a special holiday, fed lies about what awaited them Down Under. After years of being orphaned, of being mistreated in so-called ‘Christian’ institutions, this lady social worker single-handedly set about finding out who these people really were, and trying to re-unite them with their mothers (many of whom were lied to by the exporting agencies). A great film. I found myself upset and angry with past governments who failed to protect children within their borders, and allowed dignity and identity to be stripped from those who were born on these shores.

We all have a deep craving for dignity; for  a sense of placement in the world, and in history. Everyone wants to know they matter. Ultimately, we want to know who we are, why, what we are living for and where we are going.

A letter was written in about AD 60 by a man who thought he knew who he was, who God was, and how everything should be. He was pro-establishment, anti-revolutionary, anti-followers of the crucified blasphemer, Jesus of Nazareth. Until one day he was blinded and knocked off his horse by Jesus himself. From that day on, this man had a new name, a new identity, and a new purpose in life. His name was Paul.

This letter he wrote, as we have it today,  is called the Letter to the Ephesians, although the two oldest manuscripts found of this letter leave a blank where the name of the recipients should be. It was a circular. This circular letter has been honoured over the centuries by many of the greats, with titles such as “the Alps of the New Testament”,”the believer’s cheque book”, “the Queen of the Epistles,”  and even “the divinest composition of man” bestowed upon it. The transformed Paul wrote this letter not to address a difficult issue in a local church, but to address as many as who were now in Christ regarding their identity.  As you and I read it with fresh eyes, I believe we will be shown who we are and who we are destined to be, and how we  are made to matter in the incredible story of eternity. All in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Lost identity? Robbed of dignity? One word – Ephesians.

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Covenant: A great deal of love

11 08 2015

Jeremiah 31:31-34: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah …. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Here we have heart of God. THIS is what He has always been intent on. Heart relationship. Not coercion. Belonging to one another, through Covenant. 

The deal is one of great love, a costly love. There can be no Covenant without the cost of redemption and forgiveness. It is so very easy to get excited about the first few lines of these scriptures from Jeremiah, and then to gloss over what makes knowing God in this way possible today. But it is the forgiveness of our sins which is the greatest, priciest miracle of all. It’s a simple truth, but it is the most incredible gift that we ever receive, bought for us on the greatest day (or three days) of history. It’s what the hymn writers of old obsessed over. It’s the message that Wesley and Whitefield travelled the nation to proclaim. It’s the message of Jesus, God made flesh, paying the price for our rebellion, forgiving us, removing the blemishes from our record, giving us a new nature so that we can live in His presence again.

Why not meditate on these words, and remember that you can now live in God’s great deal of love because of costly forgiveness. As you do, I know that you will be taken into worship. 

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice 
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there 
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
(Stuart Townend, 1995)

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow
(Elvina Hall, 1865)





The Gain in Suffering

26 09 2014

2 Corinthians 1:3-5
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

If I were to ask you, what are the greatest attributes of God which we can both experience and replicate, what would be on your list?

Love, grace, mercy, righteousness, compassion, faithful, holy will all be in every Christian’s top ten, I reckon.

What about Sufferer and Comforter?

Whilst these are not eternal attributes of God, within this age they are key activities of Jesus and of His church.
Some Christians believe that we should never suffer, that if we live by faith, no harm will come our way. That does not reflect what Paul writes to the Corinthians. He recognises the suffering and persecution that the Corinthian Christians are experiencing because they follow Jesus, so he pens these words.

He intimates that to suffer for decisions we make based on our faith in Jesus is to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. He suffered for declaring, embodying and preaching the Kingdom of God, and so will we in some form at some stage, although we can also have favour with men too.

So how’s the suffering?

There is a wonderful upside to suffering for Jesus’ sake – we receive God’s comfort. And that blankets everything.

The word for comfort is the same root word for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. There is a sense of God’s presence that suffering for his sake brings us into – maybe because, having given all for Christ, we have emptied ourselves of the stuff of earth which competes for our soul’s allegiance. We enter into true joy in knowing the Author and Perfector of our faith. Jesus prayed in John 17 that to know Father was life itself – he was MORE than comforted. He was strengthened by the comfort, the presence of God for Gethsemane and the suffering of the cross which he faced.

Today, Christian children in Iraq were threatened by IS militants, and commanded to denounce Christ. As parents watched, helpless, one by one each child refused, and parents looked on as these murderers beheaded their children, one by one. Shocking, compassion- inducing stories such as these are hard for us to conceive as real, sat here in our comfort zones.

But the point is this; what incredible comfort our brothers and sisters will receive from the Lord through their sufferings.

Let’s pray today for the suffering church, for that abundant comfort to be so present in the hearts and lives of our brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria, the Sudan, North Korea, those dear girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

And let’s be provoked by the thought that we need to be ready to suffer for His sake, to stand for Jesus and His Kingdom in this world, and take heart in the comfort which is ours as we do.





Aids for praying for the Middle East and the 10/40 window

1 09 2014

1. Be aware that the Bible has predicted much of what we see happening today. Scripture tells us there must be unrest of this nature before Jesus returns.

2. Begin praying with acknowledging who God is. He sits, unmoved on his throne. Isaiah 40 is just one of the chapters that will help you pray in confidence, not fear. It is important that we move into faith, even whilst we may cry out to God in desperation.

3. When praying for the situation with Israel, separate the political state of Israel from the nation of Israel that God sees, and will still figure in his plans. God does not condone and support every act that Israel does. But pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm122:6). In a sense, we are praying for the Lord’s return as well when we do that.

4. Concerning the conflicts in the Muslim states, avoid praying what you think should happen politically. These are centuries-old issues, and are not just religious and political, they are also tribal. Get some understanding, but don’t over-complicate. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray. He knows all things, and will reveal what we need to pray.

5. We don’t battle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. Pray with the authority of Jesus against the dark forces behind the Islamic extremist ideas of jihad, shari’a and caliphate state.

6. Pray for supernatural protection for Iraqis and Syrians, and those in many of the Middle Eastern countries who stand against these extremist ideas, especially opposers of ISIS at this time.

7. Pray for protection, peace, provision and powerful testimony of Christians in these crisis zones. Pray for Canon Andrew White and the amazing work of his church in Baghdad. Pray for comfort for those who mourn.

8. Pray that, through this darkest time, the spread of the Gospel would increase rather than decrease in the Middle East and the 10/40 window of North Africa.

9. Pray for our nation and the Muslim communities here. Pray that they will not become hotbeds for Islamist extremism, and that those working to stop this will succeed. Pray for disaffected Muslim youths, that they will find greater purpose than fighting abroad.





Posh houses or Presence?

14 08 2014

The people of Israel returned home from exile to find a desolated landscape. The reason they had been taken captive in the first place was their departure from Yahweh’s rule and presence in their lives. When Israel acknowledged and feared the Lord, and when her king was righteous, it went well with them. They prospered when they prioritised Yahweh’s presence.

So here’s the rub.
How is it going in your life? Are you prospering today? Or at least positioned today to prosper?
There is an order to our lives becoming what they can be. The prophet Haggai points it out to the people.
He says “whilst you are restoring and refining your houses, God’s presence is being ignored! His temple lies in ruins!”
I’m glad that God doesn’t primarily live in bricks and mortar any more. Through the new covenant that Jesus cut for us, He now resides in people.
But that residence needs proper attention and priority.

In the verse above, we see the Holy Spirit at work. He’s not healing, or making people fall on the floor or prophecy. He is stirring people’s spirits to work; to put self-interest aside, and re-establish the place of His presence in the land.

Today, how about us putting our interests, concerns and obsessions to one side?
How about what he wants you to do which will make him central in your life, and then work at the process to His glory?
We will find such pleasure in doing this. And, who knows, we may find that where we have tried and tried so hard for so little gain in life, that a shift of priority will open up God’s blessing over our lives in a new way.
I reckon we will prosper when we work at prioritising God’s presence in our lives.





To be, or not to be? That really IS the question.

11 08 2014

“He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach…”

Mark 3:14

I love reading books and articles about world-shapers; ground-breaking people in history (and contemporary people too) who have shaped and are shaping the way we think, how we live, the sort of world that we have inherited. I know, it could be quite demoralising to look at great men and women of history, and especially those in the Bible who did extraordinary things in this world. But if we avoid comparison, and if we can stay away from trying to find a blueprint for our lives in one individual (apart from Jesus!), then we can learn SO much that will help us from others’ lives. Virtually all started out in humble beginnings, anonymous people in their towns and villages.

The disciples are a case in point. What a mixed bunch! How on earth did they do part 2 of what Mark 3:14 says? Jesus DID send this motley crew out to preach, make disciples, cast out demons, heal, start churches, and establish God’s Kingdom in the earth. This blog is one of many of the results of one inspiring 12, who in turn tipped the world upside down!

The key to part 2? Part 1. He appointed these guys “that they might be with him.”

I spend time with my boys for three main reasons;
I love to be with them.
They love to be with me.
I want to mould their souls.
In fact, I have a responsibility to help mould their souls. It’s what a father does. Or should do. It’s discipleship at a fundamental level. Paul wrote to his Corinthian disciples, “imitate me as I imitate Christ”.

I might write more on fatherhood soon, but I want just to express today how important BEING is. When I am with my boys, I don’t have a specific agenda all the time. But I want to show them a life worth copying and impart truths to them along the way which hopefully they will not depart from. All that happens as we ARE (or “as we BE”, as my home county Devonians might say).

The blueprint to your life being fruitful, to doing something of eternal worth in this life does not first and foremost lie in your efforts. It’s not in doing.
Doing has to be a consequence of Being. Being with Jesus. For us today, that means taking intentional time to be alone with God, to listen, to invite him to speak to us, to meditate on His Word. And then to just be with him all the time, acknowledge His Presence by His Spirit throughout the day. Doing cannot help but flow when we Be.

To Be, or not to Be? That really is the question today. And every day.





“Why this waste?”

25 06 2014

As a man, the head of a family, a wage-earner, a pastor, I am constantly having to redress the balance of things. In my own life, and for the sake of others. My desire would be that I and we really catch God’s passion for those who live on the margins, the forgotten ones in our society, the messed up, the broken, the poor, the downtrodden, the misunderstood, the people who desperately need a second or fifty second chance; the ones of whom Jesus said, if we engage with them and meet their needs, we do it to Him. Our attitude to such people is a huge challenge to our lifestyles, but it is what the Kingdom of God is about. My wife and I constantly face this battle and try to redress the balance in our own lives for the sake of others less fortunate. There are a number of creative ways to do this, which I may look at in another blog.

But there is an incident involving Jesus in John chapter 12 in which he seems to contradict the importance of Christian charity. Jesus is at his friend’s place in Bethany, and one of the sisters, Mary, is not helping. She is not engaged with serving, preparations, clearing plates. She is transfixed by Jesus. She slips away, fetches the most previous thing she has – her financial security, which was a vial of expensive perfume – and does something extraordinary. In full view of everyone. She pours it over Jesus’ feet, and massages them with her hair.

There is so much in this story regarding this as a prophetic act, and also regarding the nature of true worship. But at the time, it was seen as a waste.
“Why this waste?” Says Judas. “This was worth a years’ wages, and could have been given to the poor!”

Yes, it could have. That would have been the “Christian thing to do”, surely?
Doesn’t God want us to reach out with his compassion and with the resource we have to bind up wounds and set captives free?

Jesus’ response is defensive of Mary. “Leave her alone! She did this in preparation for my burial. The poor you will always have among you, but you will not always have me.”

For that moment in time, it was fitting for Mary to do what she did. But the disciples thought it was a scandal that Jesus defended luxury over justice and compassion. What Mary did exposed their hearts.

There are not many things which are as precious to God as helping those who are poor and oppressed. But He makes Jesus pre-eminent. Mary made Jesus pre-eminent. Jesus is more important than any ministry, no matter how noble and God-ordained. Those ministries are not to be worshipped. They need to flow out of extravagant worship of the the pre-eminent Jesus. We can easily slip into idolising anything, including family, justice, health, helping the disadvantaged, fellowship, even worship itself! But only Jesus is to be central. Everything else is to Him and for Him.

So, there can be no waste in worship. To waste is to give more than necessary. It is impossible for you and I today, or this week, to give more devotion than necessary to Jesus. “Why this waste?” If we can see Jesus’ true worth to us, we will gladly and extravagantly waste ourselves on Him.

This is our priority as His rescued children; to recklessly give to Him first. And in doing so, I believe we will naturally find ourselves giving to the poor, feeding the hungry, binding up broken hearts and setting captives free – doing all the things that Jesus would do. As we do them, those whose lives we touch will pick up the aroma of Christ on us. The most important need anyone has is to become a true worshipper. We can introduce people to that life with Jesus if we are willing to be extravagant worshippers ourselves.

The perfume, the worship, is not wasted.

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What my 5 year old does when he finds my iPhone…

29 01 2013

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