Lent: Blessings and Miracles

I’m not splitting hairs here.

There’s a real and massive difference between Receiving a Miracle and Living in a state of Blessing.

At some point in our daily walk with Jesus we will need a miracle. I’ve never met any Christian who hasn’t. Whether it’s healing, finances, free time, rest or work we all need a miracle from time to time.

A few years ago I needed rest, time to reconnect with my wife and get away from the pressures of our life at that time. It was impossible. We couldn’t afford it, our diaries were booked months in advance and we were at breaking point. So I asked God to do the “impossible” and provide us the finances, time and venue to get away from everything for a few days.

His answer was a wonderful place called Jongensgat about 3 hours or so from our home in Cape Town. There is no cellphone reception, no television and no visible man-made light other than the light from the cottage itself after dark. There are 2 log cabins on the beach and the only sounds are the waves on the ocean and nature around us. It was miraculous as we suddenly received finances, time freed up and were able to walk into it within 48 hours of praying and asking for help.

Specific help.

I used to “pray” in terms of what is referred to as an “arrow-prayer” by some people. Just look up and shout “HELP!” Now in all fairness perhaps it’s not crazy, but that kind of praying seems to be like shooting a shotgun into the air and hoping to hit a duck. It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely to find the mark.

I’m not saying you can’t pray quickly, but every prayer Jesus, the Prophets or the Apostles is recorded as praying is specific. No exceptions – correct me with chapter and verse if I’m wrong in the comments.

Miracles require specifics. Pray for finances. Or Time. Or whatever you specifically need as a miracle. As I wrote in my last post, sow what you need to reap, but in this instance we need to ask for what we specifically need. Don’t ask for bread if you need milk. Don’t ask for time if you need money. God wants to give good things to us, but He says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:7-12)

Incredible. Jesus actually says And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:29-34) 

Yes, there is conditional structure here. Not asking for ourselves, but trusting for our needs. But ask for more than we have to be a Blessing to others. Set our hearts on Heaven and see what happens. That’s moving into the realm of living in the Blessing yourself and instead of asking for a miracle, asking to be the miracle. Ask to have enough to be able to provide God’s miracle supply to others when He tells you to. But most amazing in this statement and teaching is the concept that it gives God pleasure to give to us. We give God pleasure by letting Him give to us – and through us as well.

It’s a higher realm to live in a state of Blessing than from Miracle to Miracle. It takes more effort to live bouncing between miracles too. Stress is increased, and it’s not God’s best for us. We have the opportunity to fear if we are constantly looking for the next miraculous supply. We have a choice to panic or trust.

Trust is a higher form, and it requires a deeper relationship. It’s what Jesus is talking about in Luke 12. Living in a Blessing, not miracle to miracle. Yes, He will give us miraculous finances, but it’s better to be in such a relationship with Him that our finances are blessed like Abraham’s. Jesus provided “miracle money” to Peter to pay the Temple Tax. But the disciples carried a purse and worked with money for the poor. Paul worked as a tent maker but received offerings from churches to aid him in his ministry. And logic tells us Jesus had money. For 3 years he travelled the country with 12 men. That costs money. It wasn’t thought unusual at the Last Supper when Jesus told Judas Iscariot to go out and do what he had to do. Judas was the keeper of the purse. It infers that Judas leaving (with the money) was not unusual. Jesus gave and instructed His disciples to as well.

In the Old Testament we see men of God with immense wealth. Abraham was thrown out of nations because the lands could not support the flock of the nation and the flock of his household. Solomon was wealthy beyond out imagination. David gave what would be the equivalent of billions of dollars of gold and precious stones for the temple – and still had left afterwards. 

Living in a state of Blessing requires a deep relationship with God. Not that relying on Him for a miracle to pull your skin out of the fire doesn’t, but there’s a deeper relationship for a Blessing. Kind of like
the difference between your dad and the banker. Your dad will bail you out any time. The banker, not so much – and it may require much pleading before your miracle comes through. One wrong tick on the form and it gets rejected.


Now obviously it’s an imperfect analogy, but you get the point.

The deeper the relationship, the more inherent the trust we place in God to provide our daily need. Once that is consistent we deepen the relationship and begin to trust more for being a supply of other people’s needs. As the relationship deepens we can trust for bigger and bigger projects – and we can never out-give God!

That, ultimately, is the key. God’s heart is to give. If we can align our heart to His, then we can emulate Him in a spirit of generosity. That generosity comes from relationship, which leads to life in a state of Blessing. We still need miracles as the unexpected happens and the enemy fires his darts at us, but the relationship is the key. Its depth will determine the level of trust we can place in God, and the depth of the Blessing He can give us.

We need to remember that in His hometown, Jesus could do no mighty works because of the people’s lack of faith. If we can find it in ourselves to trust Him, we will reap a mighty harvest and move into a time of Blessing greater than we can imagine.

Lent: Sowing for a Harvest

Continuing the theme of Lent, I found myself praying about God’s method of supply to us.

Through the entire Scripture, God places a high emphasis on seedtime and harvest. Timing is a central theme in Ecclesiastes – arguably a book which could lead to severe depression if read in the wrong perspective. I had a friend who used to say he’d read Lamentations if he felt he was too happy, and Ecclesiastes if he wanted to be suicidal!

I don’t hold to his viewpoint, but it’s easy taking passages out of context to see why he had this view (which I think was an attempt at humour, but I can’t be certain!)

Timing of events is central in much of the Bible, but timing of provision is a different matter. There is not one episode where an individual came to Jesus in faith where He turned them away or refused to help because the timing wasn’t right. In fact, His first miracle – the wine at the wedding in Cana – He actually says to His mother “[<sup class="footnote" value="[a]”>Dear] woman, what is that to you and to Me? [What do we have in common? Leave it to Me.] My time (hour to act) has not yet come.” (John 2:4b Amplified), then proceeds to perform the miracle anyway. This sets a precedent for us in asking God for something. The bridegroom would have been embarrassed – utterly humiliated in fact – if it had become known that there was insufficient wine provided. Jesus apparently cared enough about this man’s reputation – and bear in mind we know nothing about him other than it was his wedding day – that Jesus provides not just a few bottles, but six water jars of between 20 and 30 gallons of the highest quality wine the taster has had. At an average of 25 gallons, that’s 150 gallons of top quality wine. Over 750 standard bottles of wine of today’s size.

Extravagance. Generosity. Selflessness.

Jesus could have announced the miracle. Rowan Atkinson parodied the miracle in one of his sketches by having the servants (who did know what had happened) push him to do another “trick”. Whilst the sketch is amusing, it demonstrates his lack of understanding of why Jesus provided, and more importantly ignores the fact that He then makes no mention of it to the family, the wine taster or anyone else. Presumably John, the Gospel writer, as one of Jesus’s friends, may have been present as a witness, or told about it by Mary. In any event, it makes it clear that the organisers had no clue, but the groom was not humiliated, and Jesus was not self-promoting.

What has this got to do with Harvest?

Jesus teaches about seed. When a seed falls to the ground and dies it produces fruit. A single apple pip can produce tens of thousands of apples if planted in good soil. Grapes, corn, oats, wheat. Any living thing operates on the same principle – including Jesus Himself. Die to self and reap a harvest. Jesus sowed His Life, and reaps ours as His harvest. But the principle is what matters.

If we want an acre of corn, the last thing we should plant is apples. Apple seeds do not produce corn. Neither do barley, pomegranate, oats, pears, oranges or anything else that’s not a corn seed.

What’s the point here?

You get out what you put in.

Our life is the soil Jesus talks about in the parable of the “sower”. Really, it should be referred to as the parable of the Soils, as the seed sown is the same, and the sower doesn’t change, rather it’s the soil that differs. Soft, fertile ground that is free from weeds produces a harvest. Hard ground prevents roots from forming, and the seed is wasted. Shallow soil withers a plant and it (usually) dies or bears no fruit. Soil contaminated with weed seeds will result in the crop being choked.

In each case, the seed is the same. It’s the result that varies. Our lives are no different.

We sow Love, joy, a smile, and we reap what we sowed. The same happens when we sow anger. Anger usually breeds anger.

Sowing and reaping are integral. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22) is God’s promise to mankind following the flood. “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 [NKJV])

Jesus says we receive proportionally what we sow – a small sowing results in a small harvest.

It’s also applied to our giving by Jesus and through the Old Testament prophets. The tithe was shown by God to be a seed – His Children are invited to bring the whole offering into His house and He will open up Heaven and shower Blessings onto His children “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:10)
In Malachi, God has spoken of His desire to Bless Israel – and by inheritance the Church – through the seed of tithes and offerings, but He also demonstrates that reaping is a Spiritual Law that He has placed in action. He will not violate His own Laws.
This is critical to our understanding of God. The Law of Sin and Death was
replaced through Jesus by the Law of Faith. We are still under God’s Law – except now we have a fuller understanding and availability of it.
Seed is sown in an act of Faith, whether in nature or Spirit. It takes faith to drop something you can use today to feed your family into the ground and bury it. But this simple act of faith is so common that we refer to it as a “law of nature”. What it really is is a manifestation of a Law of God: Faith.
We need to sow in all areas of our lives. The enemy will try to steal our harvest, however. We need to guard our hearts and minds to prevent our Spiritual harvest – including things sown for our material needs – from being stolen. He will try to get us to sow despair, heartbreak, pain and suffering. Often he succeeds, and we sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.
This is why Paul tells us to submit even our thoughts to God. We manifest what we imagine. Our imaginations are where we first sow the seed for Faith manifestation. It is the soil, and it is fertile. Whatever we plant will grow – positive or negative. So Paul says to think on positive things – not denying the negative, but limiting the hold it has be simply acknowledging it and nothing more or less. We then must use Praise and Worship as weapons to overcome the mental issues by emphasising our memories to remember God’s Goodness, just as David did in the psalms. Just as Paul and his companions did in prison. Praise energises us – it fertilises the soil for our seeds of Faith.
And then eventually we can reap a mighty harvest of whatever we sow, be it finances, health, joy, or any other fruit we seek.
But a harvest takes time, and we need to be patient. We must sow now for the future, not just for today. But God will use miracles to provide in the short term, and Blessings through harvest in the long.
In a future post I’ll look at the difference between reaping a Blessing and receiving a miracle.
For now, Sow to a Harvest to come in season.


Lent: Sex and Sexuality

I have been following a page via Facebook for a while called “Kissing Fish”, which I’ve mentioned before in this blog. It’s a “Progressive” christian page, which I’m not going to address again in this article as I’ve devoted time to it previously. If you want to know my opin ions on the subject look at my posts from earlier this year.

One of the things I find on this page mentioned a lot is sex and sexuality. The majority of the posts and articles seem recently to be focussed on acceptance of “alternative” sexuality, the “LGBT” issues.

I have opinions about sex and sexuality, as any person does. It is something intensely private and was designed by God as a way to bring a deep closeness and unity between a husband and wife. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall become united and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 (Amplified)

Now the more I read and re-read this passage, the more it strikes me that this is a description of conception. The purpose of marriage in God’s plan is for the unity of a man and a woman to result in a literal unity – a baby. One flesh made from two.

Now I acknowledge procreation isn’t the only reason God made Marriage. Marriage itself is a metaphor of His relationship with us, and allows a language to develop of the roles of a husband and wife within the structure. Equally important, but quite different. My wife and I are very much equal, but we are completely different. She is a medical doctor, a driven “A-type” person whose Myers-Briggs scoring showed her to be an ITFJ. I am a “B-type”, ENFP – almost a perfect opposite. In fact, when our results were mapped on a graph they formed a near perfect mirror which when placed together formed a rectangle. My weaknesses are supported by her strengths and vice versa.

Being polar opposites has it’s drawbacks, but it also means we see a massive picture over our lives. Her detail-oriented nature allows her to help me move towards the vision we share for the big picture I see when we look together at our relationship and future.

But I digress a little. Only a little though.

Sex is a part of marriage. It brings intimacy and more to the union, and is designed for pleasure – in the context of the marriage bed.

I find the concept of sexuality and sexual immorality one which is troubling. So many teachers today seem to disregard Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 6 about sexual sin as being worse than other sins. The words used are “catamites and sodomites” [6:9] (depending on the translation) to refer to homosexual acts, joining with prostitutes to refer to heterosexual acts. The instruction is clear – “Shun immorality and all sexual looseness [flee from impurity in thought, word, or deed]. Any other sin which a man commits is one outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you, Whom you have received [as a Gift] from God? You are not your own, You were bought with a price [purchased with a <sup class="footnote" value="[b]”>preciousness and paid for, made His own]. So then, honor God and bring glory to Him in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (Amplified)

Note Paul’s reasoning – sexual sin is a sin against our own body. All other sins are external, but sex not so. There is a difference. We all have this internal self-destructive behaviour.

A few years ago a young lady I was friends with had a pregnancy scare. She and her boyfriend (du jour) had slept together and then split up, and now she was – she thought – expecting his child. “David, it was an accident. The sex – it just happened” she told me when I asked her about sleeping with the boy.

She actually couldn’t grasp the concept (and later when we spoke to the boy neither could he) that they made a decision. They chose to have sex. I’ve never been sitting watching a movie with my wife and suddenly found us to be having sex without making a decision to do so.

In that respect, sex is like any other sin outside marriage – a choice to make. The result is different. It affects us on a deeper level.

My previous relationships before my marriage haunt my relationship with my wife. I never met a couple this wasn’t true for whether they were Christian or not. Comparisons, expectations and all manner of issues arist because of these acts. Stealing a watch can be overcome more easily. Either it can be paid for or returned. But losing a piece of yourself in sexual immorality is irreversible. It’s why God prompted Paul to say to flee from it.

In a secular society same-gender couples are going to happen, but let’s not kid ourselves that God accepts them.

Now I’m not saying the people are evil. The individuals are loved and cared for by God like all of us are. Sinful nature, inherited through the bloodline of Adam, means we all carry sin in us. Some more prone to some types than others. It says all sexual immorality is equal in God’s sight. Homo or hetero, God sees immorality.

But let’s give up the crusade to try to force everyone to believe sexual sin is irrelevant when the scripture – Old and New Testament – makes it clear it isn’t.

Let’s get back to the centre. Jesus Loves us and calls us to be like Him.

Love.

Accept.

Forgive.

Encourage others and ourselves to move away from sinful behaviour. Quit trying to embrace it.

God won’t. We mustn’t.

Live pure – not just sexually, but particularly sexually.

Lent: "Christianese" – Exclusive language

There’s a brilliantly written scene in Blackadder Goes Forth, where to prove his insanity, and therefore ensure his safety, Blackadder puts his underwear on his head, pushes a pencil up each nostril and responds to every question with the word “Wibble”.

At the end of the episode, inevitably, he is sent to his death, like so many others during the war, in a futile attack that was insane in it’s conception and execution.

Because the leadership didn’t learn to listen and actually hear the reports coming back from their troops, or they just plain didn’t understand the messages.

A more serious movie, Gallipoli, had a young Mel Gibson in his pre-meltdown youth as a trench runner carrying a message to halt the attack back to his commanding officer – arriving seconds too late to save the lives of hundreds of young men from being needlessly slaughtered.

Again, miscommunication was the cause.

So what does this have to do with Christianity?

Consider the language we use in churches. Words like “Gospel, evangelise, advance, retreat, home-group, neighbour, idol” and a host of others flood the pews (there’s another) with images of starched collars and grim-faced patriarchs screaming “You’re all going to Hell, Directly to Hell. Do not pass ‘Go’, Do not collect $200” (Thanks Tony Campolo at Greenbelt 1990 for that phrase!) Campolo said he had imagined God as a “transcendental Shylock demanding His pound of Flesh” from us (Tony Campolo “The Kingdom of God is a Party”, Greenbelt 1990). Let’s be honest, most of us see that image portrayed in the news. Battles described as being fought between “christians” and “muslims” in Africa are common in the news here in Cape Town, with unimaginable atrocities committed by both sides. Churches barricaded closed with the congregations inside and then burned down like a scene from “The Patriot” (I seem to be on a Mel Gibson theme today) or Muslims being machine-gunned down as they approach their mosque by “christians” are so common they barely raise an eyebrow here. It’s just something that happens.

The language used is “christianese” to justify these actions inspired by the Genghis Khan Evangelical Method. Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend”, although I can’t give a reference to time and date, and I’m assuming he didn’t manage with John Wilkes Booth, but he was right. Once a man is a friend you can disagree, but he isn’t an enemy an more – simply a friend with a different viewpoint.

I struggle with my temper. I have a tendency towards violence if I’m honest, and recently it manifested in a very ugly way. I’m repentant, obviously. It’s ten years or more since I exploded like that, but it happened. And my wife caught the fallout. And the blast-wave.

But here’s my issue. As a Christian I know what “repent” means. But we have so many terms that leave non-Christians baffled. Even some of those who are Christians are confused by the terms. I don’t know if I’m a “conservative”, “liberal”, “post-modern” or a plethora of other terms used to describe “brands” of Christianity as we have them today. If I’m confused as a Christian writer who’s been a Christian for well over 20 years, how much more confused must someone new to the Faith be?

The language has become exclusive. And it has been for centuries.

In the dark and middle ages the church kept latin as the language of the scripture, resulting in people being guilty of heresy they didn’t even understand. Today we use terminology that excludes anyone outside the denomination. Some words have so many different meanings it’s simply frightening, and it drives people away from the Church.

That’s the point.

This exclusivity can only come from one place. It pushes people away from God. It drives a wedge between christians and the world that makes a chasm that seems uncrossable. The simple language of Love and Hope and Faith that Jesus taught has been corrupted and twisted into a legalistic minefield that the Pharisees would be proud of, and a language concocted that would baffle a skilled linguist to unravel.

It can only be the work of a power seeking to keep people from meeting Jesus and finding Salvation. (oops, there’s another confusing word).

What is Salvation?

It’s simple: a concept so straightforward that it had to be undermined, twisted and demonstrated to be irrelevant to life on this plain of existence in order to keep mankind from realising their innate fallibility, frailty and need for strength beyond themselves.

Huh?

Salvation = Relationship

Now.

Every “Christian” word was originally used to simplify and make the Good News of Jesus – that we can be returned to a relationship with God that we all are seeking – easier to grasp. Jesus didn’t talk about nuclear physics and particle accelerators. The people were shepherds, widows, fishermen and prostitutes. He used terms they understood. We think of a shepherd as some guy sitting in a field with a border collie in a land-rover. If we look back, we think of a guy standing in a field with a long stick with a bent end – a “crook” – with the collie and everything else. But in Jesus’ day the shepherd was the guy out in the mountains, armed with a sling who fought lions, wolves and bears. Jesus didn’t have a land-rover.

We need to find a new way of expressing Christianity that retains the power of the message, and keeps it accessible.

I don’t pretend to know what that language is in full, but I find when I am in a situation where someone asks me about my faith – which thankfully happens quite frequently these days – I can rely on the Holy Spirit to give me the words to tell the person I’m talking to that my Faith is relevant to today, essential to my daily life, defines who I am and what I do, and most importantly is something that will allow me to reach beyond anything I could dream of doing in my own strength – and see it happen.

So this lent let’s find a way to make our language relevant and welcoming.

Just like Jesus.

The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/abrahamlin163041.html#gGGiDEYyybRyu6tG.99

"If I Give Up Now" A Poem by Thuli Nkoyana

Thuli

A lady I am honoured to call a dear friend posted this on Facebook on  3rd May 2010 at 13:2, and has given me permission to share it. I can’t introduce it more perfectly than by simply letting you read it…

IF I GIVE UP NOW…

If I give up now I’ll never know
The goodness of God and the chance to grow
The fruit and harvest of seeds I have sown
The Blessing of being called “Jesus’ own”.

If I give up now I’ll never see
His glory and splendour revealed in me
Treasures and secrets and mysteries
My future, my purpose, my destiny.

If I give up now I’ll never hear
His voice as He whispers in my ear
His footsteps ahead making my way clear
His comforting words that dry my tears.

If I give up now and stop running this race
I’ll never encounter Jesus nor see His face
I’ll never reach my potential nor know my fate
Nor see the treasures beyond the surface

I trust in Him who knows my future
Who knows my past and loves me still
I won’t give up, no I won’t quit
Till the space in my heart He completely fills

What if…?

We live our lives enslaved to fears much of the time. So much of it that we’ve lost sight of the cage. We look around and see things we actually need – not a new car or a bigger house, but a better quality of meat or veg. Something that will nourish our bodies and minds

Needs, not wants.

And we get hit with the accusation “What if you ‘need’ that money later in the month?”

So we buy the cheaper cut. Or the lower quality veg.

And it ends up costing us more.

Our health suffers. We go on fad diets “in case” we develop weight problems or heart disease or diabetes. The irony that the stress we pile onto ourselves about having a perfect figure and being “healthy” actually often is what triggers the very condition we were stressing about avoiding!

I take medication for diabetes. I refuse to say “I’m diabetic” or “my diabetes” (except in these circumstances) because I do not feel that it is “mine”, and I know it doesn’t define me.

In South Africa, Diabetes is considered a “disability”, and if left out of control it can cause disabilities such as blindness, sexual dysfunction, nerve damage, kidney damage and more. But controlled properly I can live a completely normal life.

And I do. I eat and drink what I feel like. The only difference is I jab myself with a pin a few times a day to see what my blood sugar level is. And it’s (usually) normal.

But I digress.

Fear grips us. We live under it constantly.

I live on the coast – South facing – of South Africa. The next land-mass is Antarctica.

After the tsunami hit Japan, my wife said “What if that happens here? We’d be killed!”

Huh? Seriously?

I suggested we move up and live on the mountain instead. Her response: “What if the snakes come in?”

Fear rules us. We live as slaves to it without even being aware of it.

I know one person who is so afraid of dying from an illness they caught that they are seriously contemplating suicide – and in retrospect, I’ve known several others (including myself) who have been through something similar. My own story is that – and I admit it was a bad year – the final straw was being diagnosed with diabetes. I thought my life was over. And that belief was a huge part in not one, but four (yes 4) attempted suicides on my part. I wasn’t prepared to live with this illness.

That was 15 years ago, and I’ve not had the thoughts since. But I understand them. Rational thought goes out the window, and fear takes over, often masquerading as rationality. It’s insidious, and unchecked it will destroy us. That’s the enemy’s plan. Steal, kill and destroy.

But what if we learn to recognise it.

What if we choose to not be afraid?

Viktor Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, did so by choosing to focus on freedom. He summarizes that he had more freedom than his guards.

If one man can do it, we all can. God won’t withold that.

What if we stop being afraid?

What if there is no spoon?

Neo’s experience in the Matrix is like ours as Christians. The World tells us what is and isn’t possible, and we believe it. Accept it. We don’t question it. But what if there is no spoon? What if what we fear most is smoke and mirrors?

Often it is. Just smoke and mirrors.

What if we choose to look beyond it.

What if we choose Eternal Life? What if we choose to believe we are not given a spirit of fear, but of power, Love and Sound Mind? “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7) How would we live differently?

Would we in fact take the chances we believe God is pointing us to? I believe we would.

It’s taken me 20 years to start writing in a place where people can see what I’ve written. In the last 3 years since I started this blog there have been over 3000 hits from all over the world. America, Russia, China, Europe. People I’ve never met have read what I’ve written. It excites me when I get another “view” on the site. Maybe someone’s life has been touched by what I wrote, but mine has definitely been touched by them just opening the page. And what’s more, some of the hits come from people who entered the actual address of the blog – that means you came back.

20 years ago I was too scared to try writing. Now I’m almost finished writing a book and looking into how to publish. And regretting letting fear steal 20 years of my life.

What if you learn from my mistake? What if you step out?

Peter was going to drown if he stayed in the boat. He had nothing to lose by getting out.

What if we do the same?

Lent: Judgement & Condemnation

We all do it. We all judge other people. Their actions, clothing, lifestyle, choice of car. We judge.

Worse, we condemn. After passing judgement, we sentence the offender.

It’s said that what a writer writes often reveals more about the writer than the subject. I accept that. I write about what’s important to me, issues I struggle with and things that just plain tick me off. (Censored!)

I don’t try to hide who I am. If you don’t like me or my writing, it’s unlikely you’ll find me behind you with a large gun trying to force you to. (It doesn’t work anyway)

Something that bugs me is judgement issued by other people on individuals.

Now I’m not talking about a juror weighing evidence and deciding if the defendant is guilty or not. It’s the judgement we pass in our hearts on other people’s choices.

Paul tells us we will judge the angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), but nowhere does he allow us to judge one another. Jesus didn’t condemn sinners during His earthly life. He will bring Judgement on the Last Day – something we conveniently forget in these days teaching about Grace and nothing but Grace – but it’s His place to Judge, not ours. And the only unforgiveable sin will be blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29/Luke 12:10). Now my understanding – by which I mean what I have been taight by the (few) teachers I’ve sat under – is that the Sin referred to is to reject Christ’s Sacrifice. That was the most significant work of the Holy Spirit – the Resurrection, and this fits with Jesus declaring nobody can come to God except through Him.

I try, thanks to the wisdom of several excellent teachers such as Andrew Wommack, Dave Duell, the late Paul Wilson (my old vicar in Buckfastleigh), and many others, to use the Bible as a commentary on itself. Many passages refer to other sections of Scripture and expound on them in more detail. This is seen in Kings, Chronicles, Psalms and several of the Prophets. Peter refers to Isaiah, Stephen refers back to the Old Testament saints and Prophets standing before the Sanhedrin and speaks more explanation than is found in the current texts.

Using this method you can glean an almost infinite amount of wisdom – limited only by our lifetime – about what and who God is, and His plans and desires for us.

But there’s nothing allowing us to judge other people.

In fact, we are warned against it. If we judge others then we will be judged by the same measure we use. It’s one reason I try to stop judging – I’ll be in in serious trouble!

Condemnation is reserved for God. His judgement is final, and only He can condemn.

And condemn He will. Anyone who can read Revelation and not see the condemnation the devil and his followers will suffer is blind to the Truth in the book.

But we judge and condemn in our hearts. It’s a dangerous path to walk. If we will be judged, then we surely will also be condemned. The wages – the condemnation sentence – for Sin is Death. There’s no probation. Purgatory is not a concept I’ve found in Scripture (but please, comment with book, chapter and verse if you have it and I’m wrong). There’s no “penalty box”, no “time-out”. Just Death.

Jesus said that Eternal Life was knowing God and Jesus Christ sent by Him (see John 17:3). Perhaps everlasting existence knowing God is there but being unable to have access to Him and His presence it the opposite – eternal death? Again, it’s a theory – and one I’ve wondered about for a long time without being able to find an answer from outside my own thoughts and contemplations. And again, I want – no, I need –  to hear feedback from people on the idea.

A friend of mine is not a Christian for one reason – he can’t reconcile “God” making him what he is with the sin in his “nature”, then condemning him for it. The issue is that it doesn’t matter what the sin is – God didn’t put it there, Adam’s actions that put a block between us and God did. Christ’s actions removed the block, but there are sins which people fixate on as being worse than others. I never heard anyone say “I can’t help being a greedy person – God made me that way”, but greed is usually idolatry (if we possess the item already) or coveting (if we see others with it). Paul says he learned to be content in all circumstances: 
 “I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty andlive in abundance. I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency andenough to spare or going without and being in want. I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency].” (Philippians 4:12-13 [Amplified])

Now it’s irrelevant what the sin is. Greed, idolatry, murder, sexual immorality, any sin puts a barrier between us and our experience of God in a relationship. If I repeatedly do something that my wife can’t live with then it will break down our relationship, and if I don’t change then the relationship ceases to exist. Why should God be any different? It’s our behaviours that lead to judgement – and our behaviours are motivated by our hearts.

King David is described many times as a man after God’s heart, yet he committed murder to cover an adulterous affair. The issue was not his action, but the attitude of his heart when he was challenged. Saul flew into a rage when confronted with his sin. David repented and humbled himself before God. Saul was judged by God through Samuel. David was forgiven – the Grace of Christ extending through all time. Abraham was justified by Faith thousands of years before Jesus was born, but the Faith he had was in the mercy of God which we now see through Jesus. Lot’s wife was destroyed by her unwillingness to let go of her past life in Sodom, but Lot walked on. Noah was righteous in the sight of God, but he failed after the flood. But although God reprimanded him, he wasn’t condemned. Neither was Moses after he killed the Egyptian.

Neither was the woman caught in adultery.

Neither are we.

There will be judgement. For those guilty of the “unforgiveable” there will be condemnation.

But it will be God who passes sentence.

Until then, starting now in Lent and going on beyond, it’s another thing we need to give up.

Lent continued: The Pride behind "Yes, but…"

It’s something I find myself saying a lot.

It used to be when I was asked if I was “up to doing” something.

“Yes, but don’t expect too much” or “Yes, but I may not be very good”

I realised it was a form of pride actually. By emphasising how inexperienced or incapable I implied I was, I would pretty much universally be complimented when it went well.

Now it wasn’t always pride. Although I enjoy writing this blog and I’m working on a book I primarily write because it’s my heart to write. I believe God’s placed writing in me – NOT scripture, don’t misunderstand me here – but a message nonetheless. Sometimes it’s only me that reads it, and that’s ok. Sometimes it strikes a chord with someone else, and that’s cool too. I don’t “Yes, but” when it comes to writing.

But I do with other stuff. We all do.

We seem to have a need to be praised for our accomplishments and skills. Sometimes we express it forcefully and arrogantly – some “celebrities” are like that. When they don’t get the top position they complain bitterly. As if their fame and talent are synonymous.

They aren’t.

Other people try to pry praise out of people through self-deprecation. They make themselves out to be less than they know themselves to be, and when they then perform at a higher standard than they have suggested they were able to, naturally others praise them.

I’ve fallen foul of both, as most people who are users of oxygen do. Puffed up and arrogant or self-deprecating makes no difference. It’s all pride.

Jesus gave us a model for behaviour. “Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19) This was His response when the religious leaders wanted to condemn Him for claiming equality with God – announcing His Divinity. There’s no arrogance here. No self-deprecating “Yes, but”. All He gives is a simple statement that boils down to “this is who I am, take it or leave it – but I won’t exaggerate it by making myself to be any more or less than who I am”.

So something else for us to try to surrender from Lent onwards. We all seek relationship with God in our hearts – an equality with Jesus. We do this because we were designed to do it. Made in God’s own image, Adam rejected himself as well as God, and all Adam’s descendants desperately seek to recover that which was lost.

Let’s surrender Pride. Both arrogance and false humility.

Give up making ourselves to be either more or less than we know ourselves to be. Acknowledge who God says we are, the gifting He placed in us. Don’t minimise it. Don’t exaggerate it. Accept it.

It takes a humble individual to acknowledge fully who they are.

But until we get there, here’s something to remember if you honestly think God can’t use you as you are…



Lent: Jesus "Lite"?

of sin – have been eroded to the point that if they were the foundations of a physical building any structural engineer would condemn the place. But not only do we (and yes, I include myself in this as an offender) dilute the message, we try to make out that under the circumstances where we were it was the “right” thing to do. I have a good friend from childhood with whom I differ on several things, including the nature of sin with regard to sexuality. I have spent, I realised when I started writing this blog, 30 years or more avoiding certain topics from my Faith to avoid making people uncomfortable. Greed, sexuality, idolatry, self-righteousness and more get swept out of the way as an embarrassing faux-pas on the part of the church now we are in a more “enlightened” time. But God’s wisdom is foolishness to men, and God laughs at man’s wisdom. While we swallow camels and strain gnats in our conversations and outreach we can never make true disciples. We may make socially acceptable ones. Disciples who don’t make waves, whose primary drive is social conscience and equal rights. Disciples whose version of christianity bears a terrifying similarity to marxism in its pure form (as opposed to Soviet, Chinese and Korean interpretations). Jesus did say we were all equal. All of us are equal in that we have Sinned and fallen short of God’s Glory. We have forgotten that we, the Church, are the ones through whom the World will see True Righteousness. That unnerves me. I don’t feel righteous. I certainly don’t feel like an example to be held up as a way to do things. Possibly as a cautionary tale… But Christ in me allows me to be an example. The problem is that in our haste to make converts we forget that Jesus gave us a Commission to make Disciples of all Nations. So we tend to present a socially acceptable version of the christian faith, playing down the concepts of sin, Hell and Judgement – all of which are warned of in Revelation, just so anyone has any doubt can remember that. Jesus will return to Judge the living and the dead. Makes a sudden difference to the urgency of the message, doesn’t it? I knew a biker a few years ago who had a great badge. It said “If you meet me today, and forget me tomorrow, who cares? But if you meet Christ today and forget Him tomorrow, you will.” The message had punch and was simple. It invited people to ask him questions about his Faith, and if you are called to talk to bikers, you really need boldness and, often but not always, an invitation. Questions are an invitation. I’ve never seen a placard waving, condemning and screaming person protesting on the news or in the street being approached by someone broken considering an abortion, or hurting because their entire earthly family has rejected them because of their orientation, or shattered because of physical, psychological or sexual abuse drawn to one of those people. And I’m certain Jesus would ignore these people too. They don’t offer Love. They push people away. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in calling sin a sin. It’s essential to Salvation and Relationship. If you were to try to be my friend and every time you saw me you kicked me in the crotch, I’m not sure I’d be convinced of the sincerity of your friendship if I’d told you not to. The relationship would not be sincere, and your continued assault would be proof that you didn’t want it anyway. So why do we treat Jesus any differently? Sin is sin. Yes, Jesus forgives us. He paid the price at Calvary. There’s an excellent line in a Don Francisco song called “It Ain’t no Sin to Get The Blues” from the late 1990s that says “Jesus paid your lifetime membership, But you still gotta pay some dues”. Take what you like from that, but what I found in it was the realisation that – Like St Paul – I often find myself doing what my Spirit tells me, and I know to be opposed to what Jesus would do. I am absolutely certain that Jesus would not have responded the way I do to my neighbour shouting at my dogs. I battle daily to find just one thing that the surgeon whose mis-management of my wife post-operatively almost resulted in her death so I can find a place in my heart to forgive him. So far the list is not long, but every day it gets easier. He was a gentleman who never made her feel judged, ridiculed or inferior. Yes he made a mistake in the after-care, but he actually did care about her recovery – he just got blinkered and didn’t put the collection of symptoms together. But I’m not trying to forgive him for his sake. I’m trying for mine. I don’t subscribe to a Jesus “Lite” version of Christianity. Cutting bits out to make it easier to accept results in death. Jesus was hard with people. Read the Gospels and you can see it. But the way He was hard drew people to Him. He didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery, but He told her to stop sinning. He didn’t condemn the Samaritan woman living with her boyfriend, but He told her to stop sinning. He healed the cripple, but warned him to stop sinning so nothing worse would happen to him! (see John 5:14) The people flocked to Jesus. Zaccheus, a tax collector who was the most despised man in his town, climbed a tree, allowed Jesus to invite Himself to dinner and repented, giving back more than he had cheated people out of – and Jesus didn’t tell him that was a condition of Salvation. Infact, Jesus declared it to be a sign of Salvation. This fits with the idea of signs and wonders following the believer. First believe – wholly and completely – then act. And enough of Jesus Lite. Don’t trim the uncomfortable bits to trick people into the Kingdom. It won’t be the Kingdom of Heaven they end up in. If the path is broad and easy, and there’s no discomfort involved, there’s a good chance it’s the wrong path. Look for a narrow way, a steep climb, and hardship along it. If you don’t run into opposition from the devil and his cohorts, you’re probably moving in their direction. So continuing the “Lent” theme, if you want something else to give up: give up cutting corners to fit in. Give up making Jesus in your image. Be Transformed by the renewing of your mind. I’m trying. I’ll be honest, since I started my life has been so much harder it’s not funny. I lost a business, my wife and my mother are both seriously ill – both potentially terminally should treatment fail, I lost a job as well, and I find myself unemployable in my location (South Africa). There’s a temptation to quit. Every day I find a reason not to. Every day it’s the same one. Jesus didn’t quit on me. He’ll give me strength for today. I’ll deal with tomorrow when it arrives. No more Jesus “Lite”. It doesn’t taste right.

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