“If you had been the only one, Jesus would have gone to the cross for you!”
I know the intention behind that thought, but….
… but what? Well, one of my favourite parts of the writings of the Old Testament are the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah. In a remarkable way we are taken into the innerness of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, 7 or 8 centuries or thereaabouts before Jesus actually walked on the earth to think the thoughts expressed in these Songs. (You can find them in Chapters 42, 49, 50 and 52-53.)
It is the conversation between the Father and the Son in Chapter 49 that interests me with regard to the oft quoted sentiments in italics mentioned above. In that chapter we read the innermost thoughts of Jesus. He says to His Father, “My work seems so useless.” Have you realised that Jesus could be downcast? Depressed? Presumably He was thinking here of the smallness of the spiritual harvest as the cross approached. So few folowers, little apparent impact. The Father did nnot say, “Son, it would have been worth it all for even one.” He actually gives an assurance to His Son, His Servant, that a world wide harvest is coming! “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my slavation to the ends of the earth!”
God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are thinking big! They are thinking expansively. Think big with God!
What does that mean in practice? Well it means that we pray for and actively work for the extension of the KIngdom of God in this world, spreading its righteousness, joy and peace, diligently, creatively, relevantly, thoughtfully, with compassion, seeking to show others that God and His Kingdom love and power have come close to us in Jesus.
Think of yourself as an outpost of the KIngdom of God, as the disposal of One whose love has conquererd the territory of your life, whose eye is on the sparrow but also scans the centuries and distant coastlands, always reaching out with His strong arm to save. Jesus said in Isaiah 49, “I am like a sharpened arrow in his quiver.” Every true believer seeks to become like Jesus. Well, let’s be like Him in his self understanding expressed here: we are sharpened arrows prepared by the Father, ready to be fitted to the bow of his saving love and shot with aim and intention into the world. Perhaps you have felt you have not landed on any target. Perhaps the Father has a target in mind that you have not yet seen and could not imagine.
He has prepared you, the arrow, and he has prepared the target. Can you believe that? I hope so: think Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, if you get my drift.
Why so serious? Why try and carry a burden that is not yours to carry? Enjoy God today!
That’s all folks!
…to Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God I come.”
Back in the days when I was well enough to be involved in leading retreats for ministers and church leaders here and overseas, God graciously blessed many people. Sometimes that setting seemed to be safe enough for very deep thoughts, feelings etc. to be shared. It is an aspect of ministry I miss. Lives and ministries were renewed and transformed by the Father’s love.
Occasionally moments of hard to explain blessing happened in what we called “Prophetic Prayer.” Each person in turn was prayed for not just by the leaders of the retreat but by the others in the group who were learning to use gifts of the Spirit in ministry. Indeed that was part of the purpose of those retreats.
I was remembering a time when a lovely young couple were being prayed for. My memory does not extend now to their names, the country of the retreat or even what they looked like. I shall however never forget what happened. As well as receiving prophetic input they asked for prayer for their childlessness. That is something which we had a rule not to prophesy into for obvious reasons, despite it being quite frequently done in the bible!
It was our practice in these days to record on cassette tapes what was prayed and prophesied for each person or couple. Each tape was new out the packet. After we had prayed for the couple about the particular matter they had spoken about and shared prophetic words on other matters, the tape was checked to see the recording was successful. There were words on the tape at the start that no one in the room had spoken, said in a voice belonging to none of us: “Look! A baby!” It was a fear of the Lord moment. I can’t explain it… and before you ask, I did not check up with the couple in months or years to come. Maybe that shows my lack of faith. Maybe not. But what happened, happened just as I have shared.
I put this in the category of miracle which at times in the bible seems a separate part of God’s work in Christ and the early church from healing, deliverance etc. Into that same category I would put other things I have experienced over the years like the appearance of fragrant oil and/or gold dust in meetings at CLAN and Holy Trinity and on one occasion in Thurso. I would also put in that category an occasion when Morag and I had left something at home that we needed on holiday, but it appeared on the dining table of the caravan. There it was, on the table, when we got back from a walk lamenting our forgetfulness. Then there was the time God transported us car and all to another location… Above all there were times when people found themselves in church and coming to Jesus for no other reason than God had drawn them. No contact with believers, no invitation, just the action of God for which no person or mission effort could claim any credit at all.
Why am I writing like this? Well, for this reason. God seems to be anointing this thought again and again. “Get ready for impossible things. Believe for the impossible.” Get ready for Him to act in defiance of all our sincere strategies for mission, our five year plans, our SMART goals in the light of statistical measurements that lead us to say things like “the church needs to…” or “God can’t… God won’t…. unless we do this…”
We had our rule about not speaking into childlessness for good reasons and kept to that rule. We were extremely happy to discover that God did not feel bound to observe our careful planning.
Would you be happy if God came and worked in a way that defied any planning you have made for yourself, for mission, for church life? Will you happily let Him do what your planning says cannot happen? Would you be happy for Him to show He is God and can do whatever He pleases.
Get ready for the action of the God who defies the sincerest of planning, shows the wisdom of man is at times a sheer and utter nonsense even. Do you want God to do what we cannot predict or control?
If we are willing to humble ourselves and our planning to Him, making it all very much secondary to our desire for Him to do what He wants, well, who knows what people may write about in blogs to come.
In earlier days of adjusting to all the very sudden changes ill health brought into life I was greatly blessed by a Counsellor with whom I was paired by the Church of Scotland. Those Counselling sessions were invaluable to me so in what I am about to say, I want you to keep in mind my great thankfulness and indebtedness to the Counselling ministry.
I want to share a dream I had while still working as a minister. The dream was about a lady I had never met. I had no reason to believe during or after the dream that she was anything other than a figment of my imagination. In the dream she was involved in counselling young adult Christians in a church setting. There was however in the dream a sense of seediness and decadence. The impression was that she was counselling people towards worldly ideas of wellbeing and wholeness even when it meant departure from the ways of God and the teaching of the bible. She could have been a secular counsellor, but in the dream her ministry was definitely happening in a church. There were very few in the dream who were not passing in and out of the hand of her influence. Here is where it gets strange….within a week of that dream I met that very woman. She looked exactly as she had looked in the dream. Despite not knowing her, I felt I just had to talk with her. It turned out that out she was indeed invovled in the ministry of counselling in a church setting.
If or when you are aware that the Spirit of God is leading you towards seeking out the help of a Counsellor, I hope and pray that somehow you will experience a good “match” as was brought about for me. At the same time I would urge you have the same caution as should be exercised when receiving any ministry. Number 1 rule for me would be, “As a result of this ministry, am I being helped to make my own choices of faith, trust and obedience into the paths of God revealed in his Word, the Scriptures, and in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ?” For me that is the test I would expect people to apply to preaching, bible teaching, prophecy, prayer ministry etc. The ministry of Counselling should not be excused from that same positive scrutiny.
I am not sure why I felt led to write about that memory at this point. Perhaps there is someone reading this who has to choose between where a counselling session seems to be leading and where God would lead you by His Word and by His Spirit? Perhaps you are considering going for counselling. I hope what I have written here will not discourage you, but may be helpful truth and grace from God as you pursue that possibility.
… is as important as when to speak. At times Jesus said nothing. He told us there are times to not even share God’s precious truth.
Not long ago He told me there was an issue He would not speak on again nor was I to speak about it to anyone.
Pray to have a disciplined ear and tongue.
Felt a fearful sense of the story from Scripture quoted below being a “now” word for some men in ministry. By that I mean ministry of the ordained, church sanctioned and set apart type. You have a “Revd.” before your name and maybe even a few letters after it. I specifically felt this was for men in such a ministry rather than women and it was for right now, for this moment in time, maybe for this very hour of posting.
Before you either sneak or skip off into adultery read this story, especially the opening words. In the charismatic world, especially in the conference speaking scene, we live in days of easy restoration. The more famous the ministry, the more likely the church at large will be make light of a fall into adultery, calling it just about everything but sin, applauding the return to ministry – usually within a few months, offering mercy where there has been no turning from sin, no repentance leading to the action of breaking an adulterous relationship – conveniently forgetting that somewhere there is a rejected, sinned against wife and often hurting and angry children as well for whom life will never be the same but will have added difficulties which may well hamper them forevermore. Felt such grief about that tonight. That is the reality of adultery.
Anyway, here is the reading, the story. It may well save some of you from taking a wrong step which would mean that even allowing for mercy from God, there will be consequences. I hope that you might not be so far gone as to be unable to look beyond the selfishness of your intended and therefore premeditated and wilful l breaking of God’s commandment. We reap what we sow, and what we sow sadly affects others caught up in our selfishness and sin.
I offer this knowing that any one of us can fall. There is no judgement in my heart towards any other living person as far as I know. I am a sinner saved by grace capable of anything should I move out from the purposes of grace for me. I have in the past, on more than one occasion, sat talking with Christian leaders intending to commit sexual sin, but trying to hide that fact from me, as we talked. The fearful thing on each occasion was that I felt the Lord had nothing to say. Never think the Lord never shows your sins to someone else. He does when it so pleases Him. I found myself strangely silent and unable to talk in the midst of such awarenesses. The feeling of wilful deception being fed into a friendship is not a nice taste.
“But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” (2 Samuel 12:1-10)
I was quite proficient in basic Hebrew in my University days. There is a gold medal I received for it lurking somewhere in the house. I never kept it going though. On the whole I don’t regret that, but just occasionally I do, for there are times when going bak to the original languages unlocks a meaning in the biblical text that English translations hide.
I was reminded of that today in David Strutt’s excellent daily reading book “Sanctuary.” He draws attention to the psalmist encouraging us to give thanks to the Lord in Psalm 105. The Hebrew word is very physical. It can mean to fling your hands in the air in worship, to hurl a stone, to wring our hands in distress even. The point is that physical action is involved in the expression of thanksgiving.
Perhaps you are a person like me who tends to live in your head, in your thoughts. I found todays’ reading a good reminder to involve my body in worship. Something happens when we do, or at least something happens to me when I do! When I extend my hands to God in worship, it somehow makes me feel I am not only giving Him praise, but extending my territory in God into the physical world in which I am living out this day. I feel the scope of my being is enlarged. I feel bigger, which is a great blessing for someone only five foot four inches tall – and possibly shrinking slightly and gradually!
Do you need to get out of your thoughts and step into a bigger space of faith in your circumstances and in the world around you? Why not stretch out your hands to God as you give him praise and feel yourself grow in God?
Are you up for playing, “ The Psalmist says…?”
The Psalmist says, “ Fling your hands in the air and give thanks to the Lord! ”
For some reason, I was remembering back over the years to a time when I was looking for guidance from God and it did not seem to be coming. What I wanted to know about, was not something the Spirit of God seemed to want to speak to me about!
In that quandry, I had a dream of a spirit standing beside me and bending in a very friendly way towards my ear, ready to speak with the guidance I was looking for. However I was aware as I dreamed that this spirit offering guidance was not the Holy Spirit, nor an angel sent by God my Father to my aid. In my dream I said “No,” and the spirit offering “guidance” left.
In the morning, the whole experience crystalised into this decision. If God is not speaking into a situation, I will live with that, and live with that happily. If His Spirit is not speaking to me about a matter, then so be it. He is the Lord. He knows when to speak and when to remain silent on a matter, and His speaking or silence in relation to my life, both come from His heart of wisest love for me.
At Struthers Camp this year, it was mentioned in passing that sometimes there can be a bit of an admixture in us spiritually speaking, esepcially if we are a spiritually open sort of person. I have met people occasionally over the years who will tell me of spiritual experiences that they believe were good, but which the Spirit of God within me is indicating were deception. It can be hard at times to persuade people to let go of what has been meaningful for them, and they are not always open to hear that they may indeed have to. I am reminded of a story which David Watson told of a married couple who told their minister of the clear guidanace they had been given through a ouija board. The minister was wise and saw their unwillingness to think that something that had so guided them and blessed them could possibly be dangerous. So the minister simply prayed that the power behind it all woud reveal itself. A couple of days later she got a phone call from the couple. A destructive wind had swept through their house, overturning furntiure, wrecking everything in its path.
It is good practice every so often to come before God and just to ask him that if we have either deliberately or in ignorance opened ourselves to any other spiritual influence other than the Holy Spirit of God, He would forgive us, cleanse us, and break any hold that deception may have introduced into our living. That may even mean we have to be willing to look upon something that we thought was helpful as an evil which is harder to do than you might think. It is always good to remember that the devil can appear as an angel of light. The warning is there in Scripture and we would do well to pay heed to it.
Here is the test. Did that experience of “spirit” draw you to Jesus Christ, to believe in Him, to trust in Him, to follow Him and serve Him, to glorify Him as God? Did it lead you to a greater love for God’s Word, the Bible, and into closer fellowship with His people, the Church? If not, then for all it may seem to have been a precious moment, may God help you to renounce it, let go of it, and dismiss it without another moment’s hesitation.
Up early today… and remembering…
I was sitting in a wood beside a dark and still stream the other day, having some time alone with God. He spoke to me in a rather unusual way. Very clearly I “saw” a musical chord on a piano keyboard. It was an F Major 7th. It is a chord which when you play it on a piano, invites a further note or chord to be played, suggests a further melody or another movement to come. When it is used to end a song or a tune, it somehow leaves everything alive and lingering in the air to be savoured, enjoyed, and thought about more deeply. It is hard to put the sense of this in writing, but the best I can do is say that is not a closed sound, confident and self assured, but has quite a mysterious flavour especially if played gently with a light touch as an ascending arpeggio.
As I thought about the sound of that chord, I naturally thought of the names of the notes which make it up: F.A.C.E. Through the unusual “word” of that chord, I think God was simply saying to me what I now pass on to you: if we are prepared to FACE up to any reality in our life and circumstances with integrity about where we really are spiritually then one or both or two thoughts will usually emerge. Firstly, we may become aware of a new and onward movment in God’s purposes of mercifual love and grace for us. Secondly, we may feel drawn to linger at the point in the music of our life we have reached, suspecting we have perhaps not heard all of its sound or savoured its depth, be that in its sublime simplicity or in its intricate and well tbought out complexity.
Hugh Black, one of the founders of the Struthers goup of churches, said this on one occasion: “I would strongly urge you to be a realist.” As we stand in the grace of God given us in Jesus, that is something we can become without fear of condemnation. As we FACE up to what is happening in life and to where we are or where we are not with God, the fruit of that honest realism is paradoxically a sense of mystery: a sense of the mysterious purposes of God being unstoppable. What looked like an uncrossable river, a brick wall, turns out not to be. There is always a way through, an onward step; songs of deliverance, a melody of peace and faith, truth and hope, hanging in the air.
I hope this may be of help to you, as it was to me, even if you are not musical at all! At the moment you may feel that if you were to dare to be a realist before God, all you would hear would be a series of jarring and discordant notes that make no sense, as though all meoldy, all tunes have been disallowed in favour of random and haphazard sounds. Of this I am sure: God is not a composer who has a penchant for random, chaotic and unconnected noise. May he attune your ear and mine more keenly to the thread of the melody of His good purpose which He has written into our lives and circumstances, even for this very day and this precise moment.
It may seem obvious that someone should be able to walk into a Church service and hear about God in Christ.
I have been reading Thomas Merton’s confusion upon entering a Protestant Church when he felt he wanted to go to church. The minister seemed to speak of English literature and politics instead of what as a seeker after truth and God he expected, “God and religion.” Merton said that he felt the minister didn’t know what his vocation was and had “taken upon himself some function in society that was not his and which was, indeed, not a necessary function at all.” That impression was affirmed by contact with Protestant Churches and ministers he encountered before and after that moment.
Let’s pray that seekers who decide to try out church this coming Sunday will hear about Jesus and realise He is the One they are searching for. Let’s pray what may seem an unnecessary prayer: that the church in Scotland would remember what it’s vocation is in its essence.:
“Jesus, Son of God, Saviour, we humble ourselves before such a testimony and ask, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ Have mercy upon us, upon your church and all its servants. Allow us more time to share You and your gospel with people in this land and beyond.
You walk among the candlesticks and hold the stars in your hand. Please, don’t remove our candlestick! You say that is a possible happening when you speak and your church does not listen. Let your people in Scotland find our first love rekindled where it has grown cold.”
My fear is that this part of Merton’s testimony, which comes from the early half of last century, may be frighteningly relevant to our own day, and may well be replicated, sadly, in many gatherings called “church.”
“You tell me anyone on this church who has suffered more than me!” So I did…they were not pleased.
Never make your significance, or public or personal identity, out of how hard a time you have had. In Christ you are The Father’s delight. There is no competition. No need to establish your worth or why you should be noticed. Peace to you this day. He knows the story and your suffering can find its rest in His.
Make the telling of your story of suffering what you want people to listen to and make them listen to and listen to listen to and listen to, and make them in an odd way admire, and you will end up very lonely, for their attention will eventually waver and you will doubt their love and your own worth. The rejection you are trying to beat will then overwhelm you once more. It need not be so. Learn to bring down that giant rather than feed its secret growth.
Everyone’s story in unique but not so unique that we need different weapons for the fight from every other person. There are weapons that prevail and weapons that don’t when it comes to Rejection. Humbly learn about them and how to use them. It is not so hard, once you see your story is not to be treasured above your being free from it.
“Do you want to be healed?” asked Jesus. He never asked a superfluous question.
The idea of not needing your terrible story as a crutch will make some who read this react in anger, panic, or break out into a cold sweat. That in itself should be sounding alarm bells for your attention. Take a look at that reaction and bring it to Jesus who will help you understand it and be free at a deeper level; free to be you rather than being an image to impress.
I am sure God likes it when I pray and read His word. I have felt his delight also when I drink coffee, play the piano and listen to Ray Charles and BB King playing the Blues…just saying…He ain’t religious, baby…let me say it again, He ain’t religious baby…and when you’ve got the blues….He’s sitting right there next to you….mmh mmh….uuh uh….yes He is alright…
“I have much to say…but I won’t…,” said Jesus. Listen to the Father today, even in the midst of full flow when you see the next sentence that would press home a point, show the errors of others, really help a person to see truth.
We are not the Father, nor are we called to be. If we are prepared to speak as those who only speak what we hear, not all that we know, the Father will be glorified. If I am prepared to be the child, the Father will be able to show Himself as Father in me and through me.
I remember sitting on a plane to go and speak at a conference in another country and culture, feeling a bit nervous. The conference was on the Father Heart of God. I said, “Father, how can I represent you, I can’t do it…?” He said, “I never asked you to represent me. You go and be a Son, and I will be there as Father.” He made it clear that if I ever ceased to be a Son in my attitude and approach to ministry, if I ever lost the secure vulnerability of being a child, held by His hand, listening to what He is saying, He could not show Himself as Father through me. If the Father cannot reveal Himself through me, I have lost connection with the ministry of Christ.
It is a test of whether we have the heart of a son and daughter of God that we limit what we could say, subject what we know to the Father’s will. It is not an easy discipline, especially if we feel the need to win the argument, prove our point, or look good in the eyes of others.
We are followers of a Saviour who looked utterly defeated. I hope you are free from the need to look and sound good. Maybe that will be the battle we need to win if we are to win the battle to only speak what we hear the Father saying.
You have probably heard of Itzhak Perlman, the Israeli – American virtuoso violinist. When he was young he contracted polio and since then has moved with extreme difficulty. For reasons too long to go into, a story concerning him came to my mind while driving my car today. I cannot verify details, but what I am about to tell you runs true to the essence of what I remember. He was performing somewhere, and having come on to the stage with great physical difficulty and effort, all of a sudden a string broke on his violin. He gave a sigh and sat quietly for a moment. He then reset the tuning of the remaining strings and played the piece as though nothing had happened!
That in itself shows a talent that is beyond the norm, but this morning as I thought about that incident I felt the blaze of the anointing of God, and a rise of emotion as the realisation dawned upon me, that I had, in some sense, done the same in recent years. Several strings are not there in my life that once were: parish ministry, health, etc. However, I have retuned the remaining strings and kept on loving the Lord and serving him in whatever ways seem to present themselves to me.
I do not usually write blogs that seem to pat myself on the back, but God seemed to pat me on the back today in the car to make this connection for me, between the memory of that Perlman story and my life, a connection I would never have made, and a pat I would never have given myself. In fact it was more affectionate than a pat by far. It was the touch of consoling affirmation and admiration in the deepest part of my being, the very heart of me where issues of trust and love and hope and relationship to God, others, life, and myself are formed, are rescued and healed. I usually prefer to boast of things that show my weakness and the power of God in that weakness. I intensely dislike those occasions where one has to listen to speakers speak about their marvellous ministries elsewhere to date as it were – a boasting that is usually not verified by results from the ensuing ministry, I have to say! However, I share my pat on the back from my Heavenly Father, in the hope it will help some of you who may have to retune your remaining strings, having experienced a few snapping at the most inconvenient times in life! It can be done.
Within that general truth, I believe there is someone who specifically needs to hear this who reads this blog. God would call you a “faith virtuoso.” First there was abuse in your childhood (round about or just under the age of 11 at some point). There was the instrument you were never allowed to master. Then there was the knock back in educational hopes. Then there was the series of broken relationships, the failure of marriage, disappointment with regard to children. But you have managed to retune the strings so many times and still sing songs of praise and faith. “Well done, Virtuoso!” Others screech out a tune which only their Father could bear to listen to and does! But your tune has blessed not only Him. Many others, more than you realise heard, savoured and appreciated your overcoming more than you know. It has helped them. Again, I say, “Well done, Virtuoso!”
I was reading John 4, the story of Jesus meting and talking with a woman at the well of Sychar in Samaria. It made me think of the Christ who comes with a winnowing fork in his hand.
A winnowing fork needs a gentle breeze to separate wheat from chaff. You could not use a winnowing fork in a hurricane. The grain would be blown away with the chaff. Everything would be lost.
Truth and love encouraged the woman out of hiding, to own her whole story. Wheat and chaff were separated within her, and the seed of further fruitfulness planted. Harshness does not bring a hiding fearful soul into the light of truth. It makes it seems as though the safer and more sensible course of action would be to keep hiding….
“Ministry” – and we all have one – can develop a life of its own. One door can open another and it is tempting just to go through them all. God may allow you to do that, at least for a while, but it is not the best way to be. If you are the type of person that says “Yes” to every ministry opportunity or invitation, something has gone wrong somewhere. Ask God to show you what it about you that is needing his insight and attention. Less is more when God is more in the less than in the more you may have become addicted to.
I felt this morning that there were some who read my blogging efforts that needed to hear this. Some of you may struggle to allow yourselves to hear what I am saying. Something in you will fight against it. That is understandable. When it is the Lord who cares about the wellbeing of His servants who is trying to speak to you, it will not go unopposed. I hope you may not throw this aside in anger and disgust, like a crumpled up letter. Perhaps though you discard this today, you might retrieve it and read it again when your hostility (or is it a fear? Panic?) has lessened, or indeed when you have become curious about your own hostility and reaction.
This blog came about because of a dream. I could also have written it from experience of many years ministry and ministry opportunities. Looking back, I said “Yes” too often….I wish I had learned to say “No” with equal ease.
God may be warning someone this very day of the imminent danger of a crash.
A story came to mind tonight. I think it cane out of Revival In Indonesia, but cannot check it as it was one of several hundred books that I had to say goodbye to, after my lung condition was diagnosed. If I remember the story with any accuracy, it was about an old minister who heard himself being described in mocking terms as “the old dry stick.” He was cut to the heart, but in pain and humility sought the Lord. The Lord met with Him and now the rumour started to spread, “The old dry stick has caught fire.”
Are you criticising local church leadership? In evangelical or charismatic church settings it can, sadly, be quite common. It is as though if someone has a very definite story of meeting with the Lord in salvation or empowering, that somehow causes them to doubt the minister or the leadership or others in the church as a whole, have had as real an experience, or know the Lord as they know Him. Talk from such a spirit, usually gets back to those being talked about, and it can be hurtful.
It all contrasts so deeply with another memory this evening of someone converted in the Lewis revival of 49-52. I have met them several times. I have never met someone who carries more of God. To be in her presence has always made me cry. I would sometimes cry when I didn’t even know she was around! The presence of God would be sweet and beautiful to the point of unbearable. On each occasion, I turned around…and there was this lady! The first time I met her in her home, she was terribly embarrassed when I asked her to pray with and for me. “How can I pray for you, a man of God?” Well, she saw my disappointment and relented! I cannot begin to tell you how I treasured that simple non showy prayer, in all its glorious ordinariness!
There is a false humility, the sort of “Holy Willie” type of thing, and there is a true humility. This was true unforced humility. Meeting with God in spirit and in truth will always result in thinking others as better than ourselves, and to honour them accordingly. Even areas of actual giftedness or even expertise, if there is such a thing in spiritual life, will not prevent you from considering everyone you meet as better than yourself. This dear lady held those who lead God’s people in high regard.
What about praying for leadership instead of criticising from a place of frustration, or from a place of thinking you know the Lord His Spirit and His Word, better than those for whom God has opened the door of leadership? Listen, you may well know the Lord better than your minister, your church leadership, but if you do you will never think or feel that you do, or express to others in subtle or blatant ways that you do….nor think it privately and smugly!
…and if you are leader who humbly believes you are a dry stick, remember how bright a dry stick can burn….God bless you…real good! You have my highest admiration, even though I may not know you or ever meet you. Leading is not easy…
Jesus, in John Chapter 4, was so at ease with the Samaritan woman at the welll of Sychar – a despised woman in a town despised by other Samaritans and called “Drunkenness”, in a country despised by the Jews – that He told her who He was: He didn’t self disclose to any other individual in the four gospels. In the process of their conversation, she gradually got to a place of being at ease with Him. From that place, she seemed to move into a place of being at ease with herself and at ease living in relationship with others in her community.
Anyway, I am running ahead of myself…indeed a sermon is unfolding in ma heid right at this moment! I really just wanted to ask you if you believe Jesus is at ease with you today? Does He enjoy being with you? I am not asking you to spout forth the “right” answer. What do you think, honestly and truthfully?
OK, I am a Charismatic in the eyes of others. Well, indeed I am, in terms of biblical conviction and in terms of personal experience of the Spirit. However the “culture” of the Charismatic world is not something I am always at ease with as it often runs counter to the biblical revelation of the Sovereign Lord and to my experience of His Spirit. It is a world in which there are successive flavours of the month – well flavours of the month that if marketed well run for a few years. “What God is doing” is in the hands of advertisers with a budget, who expect a profit from those who can afford their product.
I was helped to admit my discomfort with the way things have developed, or I would say regressed, in the current Western charismatic scene by thoughts from Thomas Merton. It sounds patronising in the extreme to say I do not agree with everything Thomas Merton wrote, or thought or taught, but I found this helpful:
“Perhaps if I only realised that I do not admire what everyone else seems to admire I would really begin to live after all… I would be liberated from the painful duty of saying what I really do not think.”
Merton says that when a person begins to sweat or itch under a mask or a role placed upon them by culture, which presumably includes the culture of “church” or a movement within the church, they are beginning to be free. As I read his words today, I began to see what, on reflection, is patently obvious: alienation is not only a societal or economic or political concept, but can be much more personal and spiritual than that. It begins, as Merton says, when a culture divides me from myself.
These thoughts gave me rich pasture to feed on and seemed to have the scent of Kingdom of God revolutionary air about them…. deep was calling to deep.
With the help of David Strutt in today’s comments in “Sanctuary, Moments in His Presence” I was thinking about the fact that people watched Jesus, “insidiously.” Not a nice word and not a nice experience. The amazing thing is that it did not seem to disturb Jesus at all! If we are secure in our Father’s love, these types of things are like arrows that fly over our heads but do not land!
Goodness me, how much time we waste thinking about people thinking about us! “Are they thinking about me properly, justly, are they relating to me rightly, fairly?” Give it up! Grow up even! Remember your time is actually God’s time and Kingdom time. In all sorts of ways we need to remember we are to have this mind in us that was in Christ! We are not our own, we have been bought with a price. Such concerns have no place in the life of Abba’s Child.
I honestly believe that in terms of the Kingdom, we will never reach our potential if we do not triumph over these insecurities and rest in our belovedness. For our own sake, God will limit opportunities open to us, because with greater anointing comes greater adverse and unjust human reaction. Spirituality is at least in part about learning to close the time gap between a happening and reacting to it as a child of God. It would be unkind of God to place you into a calling you feel is for you, until you get the security issue settled, until you meet injustice against you unfazed, and meet potentially insecurity inducing treatment with security.
Sadly the Church is not always Kingdom minded. It fails to see people that should have wider opportunities opened up to them and sometimes opens up wider opportunities to those who will be harmed by that and harm others at the same time. The Church, even in its leadership, does not always have the mind of Christ. Even those who often seem to have, don’t always get it right all the time. I have seen some of the most prophetically gifted leaders I know making disastrous appointments, even suggesting wrong marriage partnerships to people!
We must never become insensitive to truth about ourselves we need to see, even when it is extremely painful and may mean a whole new way of seeing and being in certain aspects of who we are not and who we are in God. But we can never become who we are meant to be if we continually need to feel we are in a safe environment, or if we do not get over reacting strongly or in a prolonged way to the negative or bad behaviour of others toward us….
It was a helpful word to think about today, based on the story of Jesus being watched closely, or insidiously at a meal in Luke Chapter 14….. How gloriously free Christ was to take his cue from His Father who loved Him…. Remember we are “In Christ” as believers, living in His belovedness, in the delight of His Father and ours. Get hold of that and you have the base established for Kingdom of God joy, unruffled personal peace about yourself, and usefulness. Set upon great security in your belovedness, we make ourselves available for increasing adversity, increasing injustice, increasing suffering, and increasing anointing. We can’t get to the last one on that list without setting out to conquer in the other areas rather than being tripped up by them. Resting in our blessedness is the place where we will conquer. From there, it will be safe for us to be trusted with the works and even the wonders of God as He calls and sees fit.
And Jesus did call apart Peter, James and John, and they did enter a room and sit down and talk in angst together: “Did you see the way they were looking at me at meal time? I am really hurt by it. It is so unfair, so unjust. I don’t know how to move on from here.”… NOT!
There has been much talk since the mid 90’s on the Father heart of God. I am so glad of that as a Scot! Scottish religion has been very harsh at times and the truth that Jesus taught, namely that the Father warmly and affectionately loves us, is one that is often met with unbelief or incredulity by Scottish minds and hearts. Though we are a country with a rich heritage in God, we also carry much religious baggage, not all of it helpful or good, which often results in the warm love of God bing pushed away when first encountered either in the preaching of God’s Word or by direct experience of the Spirit.
I am sad however, that in the renewed and much needed emphasis on the Father heart of God, there is often not a full Scriptural telling of that truth. There can be a tendency to fall into sentimentality as the dominant ambience in which the Father’s love is presented. The witness of the Scriptures is much fuller than mere sentiment and warm glow, though as I say and stress Abba’s love is indeed warm, it is indeed affectionate. Our Heavenly Father is not cold or harsh or austere. But, when we are assured of the Holy Spirit of God helping us to cry “Abba Father” in Romans Chapter 8, the tone of the language used there might be imagined like this: a small child has fallen on the street, and is crying out to their Daddy not to be left alone, but to be helped; a crying out from a fearful place or hurt and woundedness in faith that Daddy can be trusted. Despite the faith, the tone is one of anguish and distress.
Rowan Williams is quoted in “Celtic Daily Prayer Book 1, The Journey Begins,” in similar vein; I commend that book to you, as a resource you might like to try:
“The Cry to God as Father in the New Testament, is not a calm acknowledgement of a universal truth about God’s abstract fatherhood. It is the Child’s cry out of a nightmare. It is the cry of outrage, fear, shrinking away, when faced with the horror of the ‘world’ – yet not simply or exclusively protest, but trust as well. ‘ “Abba Father” all things are possible to Thee…’ ”
I have mentioned these amazingly insightful words of Rowan Williams before, but visiting my Mum today in hospital drew me to find refuge in their truth afresh this evening, hence the sharing of his words again. It was not an easy visit. It is never easy to watch someone you love suffering whether in body, mind or spirit, no matter how much wonderful attention is being given to their care. Perhaps right now, the ambience of your life is far from pleasant. You may be suffering a nightmare in some sense, perhaps it is a nightmare involving those you care about, whose circumstances you would wish to change for them if you could, but cannot. Let your cry of pain and trust, that mixture of confusion, yes even anger or outrage mixed with faith go to Abba. This cry out of the nightmare, the crying out after the painful fall, shows we really are Abba’s chldren, and the Holy Spirit is bearing witness to that from deep within. Cry out to Abba for yourself, for your loved ones who may be too weak to cry out for themselves, for Abba’s children lost and found…
It is always good to know that Satan and his hordes are not free to do as they will. They need permission. I have only seen a demon once with my eyes. It happened 40 years ago. There were a couple of incidents where my life was threatened. After they occurred I saw a demon looking to God asking for permission to end my life. Permission was not given. I have never seen a painting, even in salivating mediaeval genre that adequately expresses the horror of the figure I saw. It was not hideous in a stereotypical nightmare sense. Rather it was the epitome of non life, with an unswerving , religious committment, a sense of vow even toward its cause of non life… It is good that all our days are written in God’s book before one of them came to be!
The Father has life in Himself and has granted it to the Son to have life in Himself and to give life to those He wills, those who are given to Him. Non life is a death worse than physical…
OK, this wee post won’t interest all. If it seems to talk about things you find a bit weird, don’t bother about it. It’s about dreams – so decide to read on or not!
The fact is God speaks in dreams still. That has been part of my experience of Him since the age of 3. I had a very significant dream then, another significant dream about 30 years of my life when I was about 7, a repeating dream from 13 onwards, and another repeating dream in my 30’s. There have been loads more, but these were extremely significant and spoke of the shape of life, health, family and ministry as well as spiritual attack that would come, and were fulfilled as time passed, in each detail.
This is what I have been thinking today in the light of dreams of more recent years:
Some teach wrongly that you should only listen to dreams that are birthed from your spirit and ignore those which come from your human soul. It is actually vital to note the content a of soulish dreams. They often give insight into false identities we have taken onboard, false ideas about destiny and worth and can be an indication where we need the healing of God’s love and truth. I had many soulish dreams at the time I had to give up parish ministry. They were vital in my healing, my letting go of old things, letting go of Identities I or others would hold me to, and vital to help me take a leap into empty space and trust God to help me progress to new things in God. Don’t ignore your soul. As a guide, soulish dreams are rarely if ever colourful. That is just what I have found, but I have no basis to make that a rule though others more versed in this type of stuff seem confident to make it a rule. However, yes, in my limited experience, soulish dreams are pretty colourless.
It’s almost midnight! May God bless your dreams or give you a dream free night if that would bless you more!
If you are a leader you don’t need to tell people you are. You have either got it or not. If you have got it some will follow and some will hate you and rebel against you. Both mean you are a leader. If you have not got both in measure, at least at times, well you aren’t a leader in the Kingdom of God sense. It’s the bible way for all leaders, Old Testament and New.
Now, of course it goes without question that you ask God to show you if you have been an idiot and caused dissension by lack of love or sensitivity or wisdom, but having said that, if you want to be a leader a la bible, get over the fact that some folk will just not like you, and don’t keep complaining about it. Don’t lick your wounds and complain about injustice. Uncover the wounds in the presence of a wounded Saviour and Deliverer and Conqueror. He never told anyone of the depths of His suffering or harped on about how unjust everything had been. He left the justice of His cause in the hands of His Father. Allow Him to look at your wounds, the injustices you have met and suffered, and let Him bind them in His love and then get on with leading without referring to them publicly.
It is very boring when leaders talk about their hardships. Folk used to ask me to share a particular story of suffering: I did, but now I regret giving in to that pressure for a few years in a very repetitive way. There may be an odd occasion where we can speak about suffering for the gospel when that gospel is under threat, Paul did that after all, but when leaders talk about such things for any other motivation some unfortunate things happen: they draw attention away from Christ to themselves which is unfortunate as they cannot really help anyone let alone save them; they usually hit the loyal and distress them; the rebels don’t hear the intended rebuke anyway, or if they do, they don’t feel any remorse: if anything, it is more likely to make them stiffen their necks even more.
Don’t try and do the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction for Him… He is better at that than you…. just get on with the “offscouring of the earth” calling to be a leader of God’s people and rejoice in all your losses for the sake of Christ.
God bless you if you are a leader. If you are not, then pray for those who are.