Easter: Recognising the Risen Christ

It can be difficult to recognise God in some of the things that happen. And it’s critical that we remember that some things happen in spite of God and ot because of Him.

We have certain authority in our lives, including – as the people of Jesus’s home-town demonstrated – the authority to stop God working in our lives. Even Paul chose to not heed a warning given by the Holy Spirit, choosing to go to Rome as a prisoner to be held before Caesar rather than wait and possibly later have been able to go as a free citizen of the Empire because he believed he had to stand before Caesar at that point. Perhaps the New Testament would have been longer had he waited, we can’t tell and ultimately it doesn’t matter.

The important thing is to recognise Paul made a choice. He recognised the Holy Spirit was warning him, and chose to allow his own arrest. He recognised the Risen Christ, just as he had on the road to Damascus so many years before. He made an informed choice to allow his own arrest as he believed it would allow him to accomplish what he knew God’s plan for him was.

We need to do this as well. We need to be aware of Christ. To recognise Him in each move we make and see His hand in the events unfolding in our lives. John Eldredge wrote a great book called “Walking with God” in 2008, which illustrates how we can be aware of God continuously. There’s too much to quote here as I’d need to quote the entire book, but it documents John’s walk over the course of a year, good and bad, listening and rejecting – and the consequences of both.

But simple awareness is not enough. The disciples were aware Jesus had risen. After all, he’d sat and had supper with them, invited Thomas to stick his finger in the nail marks and restored Peter. But every time they saw Him, they failed to recognise Him. They had walked with Jesus physically for over three years, and when His risen form appeared they didn’t recognise Him.

At least when Paul got knocked off his donkey he recognised the light and the voice were God. The news it was Jesus came as a shock, but he immediately surrendered his life to Him when he realised the Truth.

Recognising Jesus in our lives, and more importantly what isn’t Jesus, is a key to moving in His Will. It sounds obvious, but all too often we do what we think is the right thing without actually going to Him and asking. The result is we run into obstacles at best, and serious problems, illness, injury and even death at worst. Nobody is immune to the effects of missing the point. Nobody ends up “accidentally” doing His Will as our old nature rears its head and drags us off in the opposite direction.

Yes, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, but we still sin. We still fall flat on our faces. I’d learn more easily if I listened instead of insisting on Hard Knocks University as my tutor, with a major in Faceplanting. Paul writes to Timothy that scripture is what God intends to teach us. Every situation we can possibly face is in scripture somewhere. Murder, suicide, adultery, poverty, riches and how anything can become an idol that draws us from God.

Yes, we need to recognise what isn’t God as much as what is – and make sure we follow the right voice.

Recently I ran outside to help a woman who was screaming. A voice inside me said “grab a walking stick – you’ll need it” so I did. As I got there, her dog had been attacked by two large boerbull-cross dogs – at least 70 – 80lbs each. Soaked in the dachshund’s blood they looked at me next, and the stick started swinging. I am certain that had I not had it I would have been badly bitten, but with it I chased them off. The lady was ok, but her little dog didn’t make it. The point is that I recognised the voice warning me to take the stick. As a result, aside from being out of breath I suffered no harm. The dogs were eventually captured by someone else and taken away, but if I’d ignored the voice, interrupting a kill by two dogs who together may have outweighed me would not be a smart thing to do. I’m a big guy – 6ft tall and over 190lbs – but against two large, heavy dogs I’d be kibble now. That recognition saved me.

One time, some years ago, I failed to regognise the voice warning me to go a different route I ended up being mugged by three assailants in a dark street alone at night. I was able to escape serious injury, but was bruised and battered before I got away. Because I didn’t recognise the warning voice. More accurately, because I ignored it. The result was painful, but could have been worse.

Recognition is not enough on its own. We need to act on the recognition as well. We must follow the instruction, heed the warning we’re given. Sometimes, like Paul, we will take it as a way to prepare for what is coming. Sometimes it is a way to avoid unnecessary pain. Sometimes it is a way for God the Bless us through what we come across on the alternate direction.

An example would be the home I lived in in Devon for almost ten years. We found it by accident after I went down a little alley at a prompting by God and found a new development I didn’t know about at a time I was looking for a new house. The house I bought was brand new. I got to choose (some of) the fittings and fixtures, and enjoyed a long time living there and having it to be able to not only be Blessed in, but to Bless others. I was able to open it to my friends who were still living with parents or at university accommodation who wanted to getaway for a bit and sleep in a quiet environment. I was truly blessed by inviting a dear man called Tony to stay for a few nights – a tramp living rough who needed somewhere warm in a harsh winter. His presence blessed me, and I was able to be a blessing to him.

All because I listened and walked down an alley.

I don’t seek praise for my own actions. God already blessed my socks off at the time. But it serves as a part of my testimony to God’s Goodness. His guiding voice encouraging and enabling us to be a blessing in His name. To deliver someone else’s need through His supply to us. To avoid trouble.

If we listen.

If we recognise.

If we act.

The book is the Acts of the Apostles, not the Sitting-about of the Apostles. They waited for His voice after the Ascension, were hit with Holy Fire and then began doing everything Jesus had said they could and would do. If He’d do it through them and their obedience and recognition, He’ll do it through us. The World has a desperate need for Jesus right now. Even the Church needs a reminder sometimes. We all do.

Our constant need to hear Him starts by recognising Him.

One guiding voice at a time.

Easter: Waiting is not a Passive State

After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared repeatedly to the disciples. Upper room dinners, Galilean Sea breakfasts, countryside hikes. Normal, daily stuff for a normal existence.

The disciples waited. They saw Jesus, met with Him – albeit on His terms – just as they had done before the crucifixion. They went fishing. Jesus met them on the beach with a fish breakfast cooked and waiting. As John Eldredge noted in “Beautiful Outlaw”, there must have been a twinkle in His eye as He casually suggests dropping the net on the other side of the boat – for a record catch. He restores Peter, helping the man recognise his own limits which allowed him to become the mighty Apostle whose first actions after Pentecost include a sermon that saw thousands accept Jesus as their Saviour and a cripple walk and dance into the Temple.

But he waited.

After the ascension – more on that nearer the remembrance of the day itself – Jesus told the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit. They waited for Him between the Victory of Easter Day and Ascension Day. But they were hardly passive.

They met daily. They prayed together. They celebrated what we now call “Holy Communion”, but they called “Dinner” together.

Jesus pitched up and sat with them. One of His first statements was not “Thomas… For your doubt I’m dissolving the hair on the front of your head.” Rather He said (Paraphrase here) “Guys! Feed a brother please. I’d love some fish!”

The normality of Jesus after the Victory is incredible, but the way He just waits is what is truly fascinating.

He waits to ascend and sit at God’s Right Hand so He can chill out with His friends and finish telling them the last details they’ll need after the Holy Spirit hits them. He waits for Thomas to be with the disciples the second time he pops in for dinner so He can share the joke of the New Life and Victory over Death with all of them.

I believe He was heartbroken about Judas Iscariot. Scripture doesn’t mention it explicitly, but He had walked with this man for several years, spent time with him, shared His life with him. Offered him everything. Even washed his feet knowing, perhaps hoping he wouldn’t, that he was about to be handed over to the Jews by him.

He let him choose.

Peter rejected and denied Christ. Judas rejected and denied Christ.

Peter waited and was reinstated. Judas allowed his self-pity to consume him and committed suicide.

Where do we stand?

Waiting is hard. It means doing things we may not want to do. It may mean doing things we didn’t expect to ever have to do.

I currently am staying in my mother’s home. My wife has been seriously ill, and my mum has had cancer since the beginning of this year. In December our business was closed by a fire marshall because of an unscrupulous landlord. I ask God what to do and He replies “Wait”.

But He never said “Sit and do nothing”. I put my hand to things and He Blesses them, but still I’m waiting.

My wife would not have been able to be supported by me the way I’ve been able to support her if I’d hurried to be busy. My mum would have been having to fend for herself with still healing wounds from surgery.

Instead my work while waiting has been to cook, clean, sort. Pray. Write.

I try to make waiting an act of worship. Some days that’s easier than others.

Some days my impatient nature gets the better of me.

But I take comfort in the story of King David, who was not known for his smart decisions in the heat of the moment – just ask Uriah and Bathsheba. Peter’s restoration comforts me. Mr Swordsman himself is restored after running away in the heat of the moment. He doesn’t point fingers and compare himself with the ones who didn’t go to the fire. He simply weeps and accepts forgiveness after he waits for Jesus.

None of the waiting in the Bible is passive.

Moses didn’t set up camp in one place for 40 years. They followed the cloud and fire. Before that, he waded into the Red Sea before God parted it – but his wading was still a form of waiting. If he’d stood on the shore the Israelites would have been massacred.

Elisha waited for Elijah to be taken up to Heaven. Elijah waited for the rain.

These men were not passive.

Paul waited for God to give a direction – but kept moving in the one he was headed in until the new orders came.

Waiting is not passive.

We need to remember that. Our lives depend on it.

But wait. Sometimes it’s just a case of the road being laid for you to walk on.

Easter: After D-Day

My Grandfather was one of the lucky ones. He never really spoke of his experiences duringWorld War Two, and it was a number of years after his passing that we discovered from a family friend that he had been involved in one of the first waves of assault on the Normandy Beaches invasion on June 6th 1944.

He was miraculously uninjured in the assault – one of the few who were.

I watched the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan” some time ago. The battle for the beaches was fierce and bloody.. It was horrifying to realise my grandpa, this gentle man was there as a battle-hardened warrior.

I walked on the beaches as a teenager. Stood in some of the remaining gun implacements and stared at the ruins of the landing platforms left littering the beaches.

The battle was ferocious. The Allies succeeded in capturing the beachead and pushing the Axis powers back, allowing the reinforcements to be brought through.

But the war didn’t end on June 6th 1944. It ended in 1945.

Our Spiritual D-Day happened on Good Friday 2000 years ago. The ground was taken, but the enemy continues the fight despite the certainty of knowledge of his loss.

Just as the Germans knew they could not defeat the onslaught of Allied forces crushing them and forcing them back into a contunuous retreat until their commander in chief took his own life, so Satan’s minions continue to attack and resist the inevitable defeat tey will suffer at the hands of the believers in Jesus’s Name.

Allied soldiers died between D-Day and the surrender in 1945. The never tasted the vistory their deaths had won. But they knew it was secured.

After the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, the surrender was immediate and absolute. Not so in Europe. The battle raged on for almost a year and thousands more died.

So it is for us as Christians.

Easter Day, the Resurrection was our D-Day. Jesus stormed the gates of Hell and took captive Death and vanquished Sin.

But the battle rages on.

We fight habitual sin every day. We are in a contant war which ends only when the Enemy finally surrenders on the Last Day. We know from Revelation that this day will come. We can be certain of the promise.

We can be trained by the greatest Commander of all time, Jesus Christ Himself to fight with His strength in our arm.

But be not deceived – the war rages on around you, even as you read this. Even as I write it.

Our lives are still in danger from persecution, from the insidious and pervasive nature of the enemy’s weapons to distract us from the Truth of the Fulness of the Gospel. He may not e able to prevent us from accepting Christ, but if he can prevent us receiving the fulness of the victory then that’s a close second.

The Gospel is “GOOD NEWS”

What’s good news to someone dying of cancer? What would good news be to someone financially destitute? What is the good news for someone trapped by abusive spouses or sexuallt molested children?

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Good News: You can be freed from this situation – NOW!

In Exodus, the plague of frogs fills Egypt and Pharoah calls Moses to ask him to remove the plague. Moses response is interesting, and profound: “Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.” Moses said to Pharaoh, “I leave to you the honor of setting the time for me to pray for you and your officials and your people that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for those that remain in the Nile.” “Tomorrow,” Pharaoh said.Moses replied, “It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the Lord our God. The frogs will leave you and your houses, your officials and your people; they will remain only in the Nile.”” (Exodus 8:8-11)

“Tomorrow” say Pharoah. Why not “NOW”? Anther night of warfare against a plague of frogs.

We do the same. We fight because we don’t surrender the strongholds in our hearts.

D-Day has gone. We have the Victory. Live Holy lives and kick the frogs out!

But we fight. We battle. We struggle.

We have something my Grandfather didn’t have. We have the authority to command the victory in our Spiritual life. Grandpa had to fight to Berlin and take the city by force. We have the honour of following the commander who has already marched in and destroyed the enemy’s power.

We will meet resistance. We will be scarred. Battles are ugly things, and we will be hurt and betrayed. The German spies didn’t quit after D-Day. Neither do Satan’s minions.

We must remain dressed for battle, but fight knowing we are coming from a place of unstoppable Victory.

So what if you’re broke right now? Or sickness is in your body?

We have the Victory. By His stripes we are Healed. He has provised all we need in His riches in Glory.

Realise it. Learn it.

Live it.

Fight for it. With every breath you have.

And in the words of Winston Churchill “Never give up. Never Give up. Never!”

Fight on in Jesus’s Name. And never, ever give up.

Easter: New Life. New Beginning

So it’s Easter Day. After 40 days of Lent the World breathes a sigh of relief, as to chocolate sellers everywhere rejoice as their sales return to normal.

The month or so of self flagellation and religious claptrap and nonsense is over and we return to the behaviour types we had prior to the annual attempt at self control in irrelevant areas.

Easter needs to be more than that. Like Advent, which is supposed to be a time of eager expectation waiting for the second coming, Easter should be a time to rejoice over Christ’s Victory over Sin, Death and Hell. Instead it almost invariably becomes a time for us to relax and return to the norm of our mundane lives. Envying the neighbour’s for their new car or girlfriend/boyfriend. Resenting the family member who only gave you a single mini egg instead of the giant one you’d asked for.

What’s wrong with us?

We’ve become jaded by the World. It’s insidious grip has tightened around our throat once more and we have been blinded once again to the needs of the masses. Celebrity gossip fills the news as some starlet is arrested and this takes precedence over the hundreds killed in an earthquake – unless it’s in the USA.

The message is simple: the media tells us the poor in far off countries don’t matter because they’re poor and in far off countries.

And we buy into it.

Without thinking.

Without challenging.

Without caring.

Ouch.

We send a few dollars to some arbitrary collection to ease our conscience, but we make sure it’s from the “it won’t affect us” fund before we do.

Ouch. Drive another nail into Christ.

This Easter let’s try to start something new.

Let’s carry on what we’ve looked at over the last 40 days.

Let’s continue to move in compassion – but to actually move. If all you can do is give money, make it a sacrifice – or don’t bother to say it’s in the name of Christ. Give time to a soup kitchen to help the poor and homeless in your community – I guarantee you have them. The Southern Hemisphere is moving into winter. People die of cold in Africa too. Find out what aid agencies actually ship blankets for children. Find out which ones support education projects in countries where the state is too corrupt to care because the biggest challenge to a corrupt leadership is an educated people.

Celebrate the New Life in Christ we have already been Blessed with by making a New Beginning that Lent has prepared our hearts for: Fight for injustice – not the paper cut-outs of “gay” marriage that cover the newspapers, but the injustices of a pastor handing out food to the homeless being told he has to stop because his truck is unlicensed for food distribution and needs a $500 permit. Not the tut-tutting of the overindulgent actor whose choices put them in a coma but the half starved inner city single mother who’s working 3 jobs to try to get her kids through school alive but gets no publicity because she’s not important to the world.

New Life.

New Beginning.

This Easter, make a difference that will last. And do what Jesus would do. Let the World laugh. Make Christ rejoice.

Lent: Righteous Anger and Jealousy

There is a time to be angry. Anger is not always a negative thing. God Himself has anger and jealousy in Him, and we are created in His image.

But where is the line between anger and jealousy shift from righteousness to sinful behaviour?

It’s a difficult question, and one that I often have to ask myself as I go through my daily walk.

I have – as my wife and oldest friends could tell you – a nasty temper. I can get angry at small things. But recent years have taught me that it’s not always a bad thing.

A few nights ago a careless owner allowed their two large and untrained dogs to escape in our road. We live in a cul-de-sac which is quiet and – mostly – friendly. Everyone thinks they know everyone else, and there’s an air of friendliness (mostly) all the time. The children play safely in the road and people walk their dogs – mostly small mixed breeds – around the place.

The arrival of the two unleashed and untrained large dogs shattered the stillness of the evening and changed a family’s life. A small dog had wandered out to see what was going on with the two strangers. A fight ensued between the dogs, resulting in the small local dog dying in my arms from the injuries it had received.

Everyone went into shock. There was blood everywhere from the attack. My instinct was to immediately catch and kill the two killer dogs. Once a dog has a taste for blood it will attack again generally. Often once they have a taste for the kill, they can’t be trusted around other dogs again.

What has this got to do with Anger and Jealousy?

My anger burned with a fierce heat towards the dogs, and the owner who had so carelessly allowed them to roam the streets freely and let this killing happen. I felt justified in the “righteous” nature of it.

Then I met the owner.

The dogs were big, powerful animals. She had been begging her partner to get rid of them because she couldn’t control them. She had opened her front door to greet someone and they had charged past her, knocking her over in the process. Her devastation at what had happened was so evident that she moved me. And my “righteous” anger evaporated – towards her anyway. Yes, because of what happened I still believe the dogs should be put to sleep. But I was filled with compassion for this lady who had been worried from the day they got them that something like this might happen.

My dogs are a similar size to the two who were involved. I love them, but if they were to attack a small dog like that even though I would be devastated to do so, I would feel I had no choice but to euthanise them. Once a dog has the taste of the hunt, it is virtually impossible to remove it. I’d never be able to trust them with other dogs or with children. They rough and tumble with each other, but they all weigh over 60lbs – even the one with 3 legs! Add a 9lb dog to that mix and it won’t last long.

I realised my anger was self-righteous, not Godly. My own sense of “justice” was offended.

Moving to jealousy now.

My wife has been in hospital recently. Actually, the three people I’m closest to have all been in hospital in the last 2 months. It’s been a bit stressful. (To the point I’m considering checking in myself for a few days to recover!)

I visited her every day, and found I was jealous of the number of visitors other people got. She had me. That’s it. Nobody else “bothered” to come. Now I put “bothered” in inverted commas for a reason. I know full well why no-one else came. Her mum is still recovering from her stay in hospital. So is mine. Her brother has been seriously ill and is still recovering. Everyone had not only a legitimate reason, but a reason that would have made both me and her very upset if they had come to visit! But I was still jealous.

Other people “appeared” more loved than she did. Visitors, chocolates, lattes, flowers all brought by well-wishers. She had me, a bearded biker with a mop of hair and no cash this week to buy more than a pack of wine gums. I felt inadequate, accused and jealous of the designer clothes and quoiffed hair that visited the first night. So I put on cologne and tried to keep my hair under control – not easy under a crash-helmet (yes, I am actually a biker). My best golf-shirt instead of a normal T-shirt and a smarter pair of jeans.

I still felt bad.

I felt like I wasn’t enough. The accuser got under my skin.

Until she began to tell me the comments other people had made. I’m not going to repeat them, because it’s not relevant. Suffice to say I realised my jealousy was a result of my pride.

But God has a “righteous” jealousy we can access as well. God is jealous towards Israel repatedly when they wander off to other false gods. He looks out for them and us with a ferocity we cannot match.

There was another patient who was “admired” by a male patient. Her husband came to visit and she held close to him, as I did with my wife. More importantly, he held close to her. He guarded her. He made it known that this lady was his wife and she was under his protection – back off. That is the jealousy God guards His children with. That is righteous jealousy.

It doesn’t come from self, but from a desire for the best for others – to protect them from undue and undesired influence and attention. God’s kind of behaviour towards us. Because at the same time as protecting, it still allows freedom of association for the individual in the relationship. Friendships are not hindered, but inappropriate behaviour is demonstrated to be just that.

My wife has regular contact with her ex-boyfriend. I have semi-regular contact with one of mine. There is no harm in that. We don’t have a problem because boundaries are clear and the exes both respect them. The friendships we have are clean and our marriage is not negatively impacted by them. In fact I encourage her to have contact with him – he’s a colleague with knowledge she needs to do her job well. There’s no threat and no jealousy – but if the line were crossed we know where I would step in. And there is a Holiness in that.

Holiness is they key to staying on the right side of anger and jealousy.

I wish I could say I’m sorted in that area, but anyone who cuts me off in traffic will testify that I’m not completely Holy in my attitudes. I admit it. I’m overly aggressive and it’s something I need to work on more. And more. And more.

And more.

Paul writes that we shouldn’t let the sun go down on our anger in a couple of places. There’s two ways to look at that. Firstly, we need to never stop being angry at the things God is angry about. Genuine injustice against His people, His children. We need to be angry about it. That kind of anger inspires Godly action to free prisoners persecuted for being Christians in places where false gods such as Islam rule. I was recently advised if I travel to certain places not to carry a Bible or Christian literature with me as I can be arrested at the airport. I find it interesting that some of these places are places where there have been a relatively high number of views of this blog. There is a hunger for God’s Truth that I will not back down from.

The second concept is that we must not allow ungodly anger to fester in us. Deal with it straight away. Don’t “sleep on it”, but get before God and get it out of our systems. The longer it’s there, the bigger it gets. Like a cancer it eats away and the bigger it becomes, the harder it is to get out. My dad died of a brain tumour, which if it
had been caught earlier they may have been able to remove completely. My mum had cancer recently – caught so early it took two operations to find the tumour, but as a result she’s cancer free! Such a difference.

Deal with unholiness swiftly and decisively.

Be angry.

Be Jealous.

But make sure it’s Godly.

Lent: Blind Obedience

Whilst I was pondering the concept of Leadership for my last post, I also found myself thinking about obedience.

We need to follow the lead of those wiser than us, but not unquestioningly. God gave us a mind for a reason. We are like sheep, yes. But we are more than a sheep. Modern sheep are not that bright. They sit in a field and eat grass and occasionally bleat at a passing collie. There’s not a lot they do.

We are called to be sheep in the 1st Century sense. Listen for the voice of our shepherd – Jesus, not the pastor – and follow Him.

Sometimes the pastor forgets he’s a sheep too.

So do we.

We get so tuned in to listening to our own voice that we lose track of the quiet guidance of the Holy Spirit within us. We forge ahead and stop listening for the voice saying “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”” (Isaiah 30:21). As a result we miss the path. We head off on a tangent and miss most of what God has for us.

We follow blindly as a leader who has got hold of a single truth such as healing marches on, and we leave the rest of what God has for us sitting behind. We focus blindly on social justice and miss Salvation. We become obsessed with filling pews and forget to make disciples – and to remember discipleship is often an uncomfortable experience.

More and more we want to produce a watered-down version of the Gospel which eliminates suffering and persecution and turns Jesus into a teddy-bear instead of the Lion of Judah. As CS Lewis described Aslan, the Christ-figure in Narnia, He’s not a tame lion – but He’s good.

The blind adherence to a “happy” message which requires little in the way of sacrifice and struggle on any level will only lead, ultimately, away from Jesus.

We run the risk of becoming the sightless guides Jesus referred to the Pharisees as. Leading the blind and both falling into the pit, both literally and figuratively.

I may not end up as a popular teacher or writer, but I refuse to compromise what I have understood the message of the Gospel to be for over 25 years for the sake of getting a few more “likes” on facebook or followers on twitter. I’m not out to win a popularity contest, I’m fighting a war.

In the epic poem “Charge of the Light Brigade” it is obvious the soldiers knew their commander had made a mistake. They charged the cannons anyway, and the entire brigade was slaughtered because of blind obedience. Blindly following orders only results in getting killed in war. It’s no different when Jesus says He calls us friends and invites us to ask Him and seek His counsel as He does in John 14,15 & 16 to the disciples – including you and me – that we can know God’s purpose and ask Him of things to come and how to achieve them.

Not only is there no shame in asking, it’s encouraged by God!

As we come towards the end of Lent, Easter just a few days away, let’s give up blindly accepting everything we get spoon-fed from “popular” movements. Look to see where progress is ultimately moving towards. And if it isn’t the Cross, turn away.

Lent: Christian Leadership – Humility is Critical

No man appears in safety before the public eye unless he first relishes obscurity. No man is safe in speaking unless he loves to be silent. No man rules safely unless he is willing to be ruled. No man commands safely unless he has learned well how to obey. No man rejoices safely unless he has within him the testimony of a good conscience.
— Thomas á Kempis

Written centuries ago, the sentiment still holds true today. God opposes the proud and exalts those who don’t puff themselves up (see Proverb 3:34 and 1 Peter 5:5)

It’s a bit of a concern that so many of the “big name” preachers are so high profile. Some of them are, admittedly, from very humble beginnings. Others give their testimony and demonstrate that they are not acting as independent ministers outside authority so they testify that they are under the authority of a local pastor.

As á Kempis noted, unless you can sit under authority, you should not be in a position of leadership. We are all accountab;e to each other, and it’s been refreshing to see the actions of the current Pope, Francis, in his humility and a genuine return to accountability and Holiness in the office, losing the pomp and ceremony in favour of humility and acknowledgement of Jesus’s redemptive power in his life.

Compare the attitude with that of prominent polititians. In South Africa, Jacob Zuma’s arrogance is second only to that of his neighbour, Robert Mugabe. British Prime Ministers, American Presidents. Most leaders display these megalomaniacal tendencies and place their own ego above all else. The days of the humility in leadership shown by the likes of Nelson Mandela and even Winston Churchill seem to be a thing of the past, to the detriment of society as a whole.

Jesus came washing His disciples feet when He could have called on a legion of angels to back Him up. He touched lepers, addressed women as equals and didn’t discriminate against anyone. He spoke freely and gently to anyone – including the pharisees like Nicodemus – who would seek Him with their hearts, but even Jesus declared Himself to be accountable to one higher – His Father.

He needs to be the example of a Christian Leader. Yet so many pseudo-charismatic leaders in Christianity pump themselves and their own image up. Self-named ministries abound, almost guaranteeing that if the leader were to die the ministry will cease to exist. Obviously there are exceptions to this, the most obvious being Billy Graham, where the leaders are humbe men who are known for their humility. But too often these leaders use emotion and manipulation to increase their power. People flock to hand over money to them as a “tithe” or an “offering”.

Now don’t get me wrong. I consider myself to be charismatic (to a degree) in my outlook. But I won’t try to play on emotions for profit. I hate when people have tried to label me in the past with a particular gift as a title. These people who call themselves “Pastor Bob” or “Prophet Jim” or “Apostle Harry” or whatever their gift may (or may not) be have their reward already. I’d rather be simply “David”. I don’t want accolades and titles. I see no point in them. If you have to tell people you’re a prophet or whatever your claim is, you probably aren’t. I have moved in prophecy, word of knowledge, healing, and many other gifts, but I detest the idea of someone classifying me as a particular “type” of preacher as I believe there’s more than one facet to my role in the Church. By labelling someone as a “Healing Minister” you run the risk of other messages being missed or rejected by the listeners.

Humility is essential in a leader. We need to be able to say “This is who God says I am: no more and no less”. There’s humility in acknowledging a gift you know that you move in. For years – over 2 decades – I refused to acknowledge that God had placed a prophetic gift in me, playing it down and minimising it until a local minister of a small congregation spoke to me alone one day and told me I was dishonouring God by belittling what He had placed in me. I realised he was right – it resonated in my heart as true. I’d been guilty of pride in the form of false humility, which had meant others had kept puffing me up.

It hurt to recognise it. It was hard to repent of it. I still fall into it.

God opposes the proud. The proud include the ones who make themselves out to be unworthy as well as the ones who make themselves out to be more than they are.

We walk a fine line. Jesus holds us straight on it, but He won’t stop us veering off it. The good news is He’ll wait for us to come back and then help us walk the line again. Just as He did when Peter denied Him. Or when he walked on the sea towards Jesus and took his eyes off Him.

Jesus leads by example. He calls us to do the same. After Pentecost the disciples understood that, finally. They recognised they needed to look for people who were anointed to perform certain tasks within the Body and not to abandon their own call or micro-manage others. Leaders were men and women, as can be seen in Paul’s letters where he addresses the mother and Grandmother of Timothy and the church meeting in various people’s homes in others. When Paul says he won’t allow women to have authority over a man, he was not being sexist. He was acknowledging God putting the husband as the head of the home and making the likeness. He would have known well about Deborah, Rahab, Bathsheba, Esther and the other strong women who led Israel at various times during it’s history. But he would also have been aware that women at the time of writing were often not educated in the Roman Empire. QWhen he writes they should be silent in church, he was more likely referring to the constant asking of questions rather than gossip, which people have suggested. His call for wives to submit to their husbands is tame when taken in the context of a husband’s responsibility to give himself for his wife, to the point of laying down his life for her as Jesus did for His Bride – the Church.

Paul’s own leadership was an example. Although he could have been a first-century equivalent of a televangelist and pulled on emotions to get donations and had a Rolls-Royce donkey or a Cadillac carriage and Armani togas. But instead he chose to make tents. He even begged places to stop giving when they begged to give. That kind of integrity is what the Church and the World needs in a leader. Again, Francis has hit the nail on the head by his lifestyle. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela saw his salary and was horrified at the amount – he believed it to be too much. There would never have been the kind of money-grabbing or power-mongering behaviour from a man of his calibre that we see in other world leaders today. Or Christian leaders.

I don’t think Paul would have recognised a megachurch as a realistic place for intimate Christianity based on relationship to flourish. I’m not attacking megachurches, there’s a place for them as long as within the structure there is a place for an intimate group, platoons of no more than 10 people who live in each other’s lives and are accountable to one another.

I’ve been in churches where the “cell-group” mentality has been used well, and some where I found it exasperating. In some the leaders felt the groups should be shaken up every six months or so – which would be fine except it prevents real depth of knowledge of one another. Others where the groups had been the same people for years and new members to the church couldn’t break into the clique. The balance needs to be maintained. And that balance needs to be kept by the pastor
overseeing the church as a whole – who should himself be a member, rather than a leader, of a small home group. If a man cannot follow, he should not lead.

It all comes back to humility. Moses is described at one point as the humblest man in Israel. And Moses wrote the book in which the accolade is recorded. It’s not proud or boastful to declare yourself to be what God says you are. But it is to make out yourself to be more or less than His description of you.

For me – like most – it’s a work in progress. Just ask my wife! I have days where I get it right, and days where she stays out of my way. I tend to not like the latter part of me. Neither does she. It’s a part I have to work on.

Finally, a thought to bear in mind. All of us are leaders. We have people who follow us and who we influence. Leadership is not a title necessarily. A Leader in Christianity is anyone who is emulated and respected as an example of behaviour – irrespective of title or position in the local establishment. I have enjoyed the wisdom of some amazing men of God (and women of God) since I chose to follow Jesus in 1985. Some of them were ordained ministers, but most were lay people who simply had a close relationship with Jesus. One of the wisest was a farmer who lived in the middle of the moors in Devon. He was in his 70s and still working his land, praying and talking to God all day, every day. When he spoke, you could feel the Holy Spirit in him. When he prayed his words were few and filled with almost unbearable power. He spoke little at the meetings I went to, but when he did everyone was silent until he finished because the depth of his relationship gave him a genuine humility and holiness I’ve never met in any other individual. Yet he was, in his own words, just a farmer who loved his Saviour and allowed his Saviour to love him back on His terms, not his human conditions.

Ultimately, that’s the key.

Be humble enough to accept what God says you are and not make more or less of it. Be honest enough to recognise your limitations and your strengths.

And remember: Whether you know it or not, someone is following you. You are a Christian Leader simply by being a Christian.

Lent: Character Growth

There’s few things that build Character like problems.

How we deal with an issue that arises defines and shapes our character. If it’s a previously encountered issue then we can refine our responses. If it’s a new experience – good or bad – we define them.

This evening I encountered an issue. I heard screaming in the road outside our home. A woman’s voice screaming for help. Adrenaline wasn’t an issue. I picked up the first heavy, blunt and useable object I could find – a walking stick – and ran out to meet the assailant in battle if necessary.

I was confronted with two large and aggressive dogs tearing apart a smaller dog. No hesitation, I charged at them, screaming and swinging the “club” I was carrying with full intent of killing them. The small dog was still alive, but after the tow assailants had run off I knelt down and looked at the small bleeding bundle they had left. It’s injuries were severe and it was obvious, even to my untrained eye, that this sweet dachshund type dog was not going to survive the injuries. The owner was by this point being comforted by someone else, so I did the only thing left to do. I knelt down and gently stroked his head, whispering to him and felt his pulse. It weakened, got slower and then stopped.

It’s shaken me. It’s not the first dog to die in my arms, and I daresay it won’t be the last since I have 3 of my own. But it’s the first time I have to comfort a dying animal that has been so savagely attacked.

I prayed over it, commanding the pain to ease and peace to fill him. His struggling eased and he calmed as I prayed, and I know my prayer was heard and answered.

There’s a neighbour I’ll call Bob who I’ve not exactly seen eye to eye with. He’s my mum’s peer – late 60s/early 70s – who doesn’t approve of how I keep my dogs. Now it’s true we don’t get to walk them as often as we’d like, but they get our undivided company most of the day and sleep in our bedroom overnight. Nobody can claim we don’t love those animals.

Bob suggested they should be put to sleep a while ago as they make noise barking. Which is news to us. Tonight was the first night I’d met him face to face. He saw first hand how I treated the injured pup and he was singing my praises. Then I introduced myself. His response was immediate.

He apologised to me.

Now up to this point I imagine you thought I was going to write about my own character. Wrong.

Bob, it turns out, is an older chap who just wanted peace and quiet in his retirement. There are a lot of dogs in the area, and they set each other off. Ours were just the last straw the day he spoke to my mum – we’re staying with her for now.

After he saw me with this little injured pup, and watched me comfort it as it slipped from this world, he softened. His real character showed through. His compassion for animals. His respect for animal lovers. We both learned something about each other, and suddenly there is respect in place of antagonism. He saw me rush to help a woman I’ve never met from two attacking dogs I didn’t know to save a dacschund. Even though I wasn’t able to help it live, I was able to give it a dignified end.

It changed the relationship to mutual respect.

Which grew both our characters. For now at least we have put aside our difference of opinion and uited in a display of unity.

Character develops over time. We need to understand the need for this development as it allows us to grasp what God has for us. Our character is designed to reflect His. We need to be passionate and resilient. Forgiving in our pain, and slow to anger. When we do anger it must be from a place of righteousness – covered by the Blood of the Lamb.

We want to have character NOW. It’s the fast-food mentality we are stuck in.

It’s also insane. We can’t build character in a week any more than we can train for a marathon in a week. Character requires perseverance, which requires stamina. Stamina can only come through time. Granted many of us have both good and bad stuff in there, but character allows us to recognise them and act appropriately.

So in the last week or so of Lent, let God start to work more deeply onj your character. Allow His hand to guide you to be more like Jesus in all the areas of your life, and recognise His hand in the situations you come across.

I know I’m going to.

Lent: The Heart of Worship

Worship is a touchier subject than you might think. I came from a background where the only time anyone raised their hand in church was if either they needed the bathroom or someone was holding a gun! Other churches I’ve been in since have equated worship with music, and used the terms as synonyms, and others have hinted that it’s not worship unless there’s dancing.

Or if there is dancing.

I loved Tony Campolo’s answer in 1990’s Greenbelt festival when asked if he thought Baptists could dance. He smiled and said “Some can, some can’t”. Nice attitude.

The Heart of Worship is making our cations reflect and point our hearts towards Jesus.

As simple as that.

But what is worship then?

Washing the dog. Tidying your room – without being asked. Cooking dinner. Eating dinner.

Any activity can be an act of worship. It depends on the heart behind it.

Something as simple as cooking for another person can be an act of worship to God, but can also be an act of selfishness. We receive our reward based on our heart.

For example: If I write this blog only to get people to comment and then a comment is left, I have my reward. But if I write it with the attitude of wanting to draw closer to Jesus and to share that closeness with others so they can draw closer too, then that is worship – irrespective of whether I get a comment or not.

To be honest, my track record is probably 50/50 on that one.

I want this to be an act of worship. Sometimes I miss the mark, sometimes quite horribly in fact.

Sometimes I get wrapped up in an issue and the issue becomes an idol. Tearing it down becomes more important to me than putting God first. What may have begun in a holy way becomes selfish and self-righteous.

We all do it. Some of the “mega-churches” with massive congregations have a “rock-star” mentality for their worship leaders. The stages are meticulously lit, lights and even pyrotechnics are employed. A far cry from a Jewish carpenter sharing a meal with 12 buddies. The point can get lost.

Which is fine, unless Jesus is the point.

If my ego is the point, by all means lose it. But if Jesus is the point, it’s essential to not lose the point. We need Jesus more than oxygen. More than water. There’s a formula that suggests a rule of 3.

Three minutes without air. Three days without water. Three months without food – maybe. But we die without God just as surely as we do without air. The difference is we don’t realise sometimes.

We need to keep a heart of worship at the centre of our being. Every action can become a learned act of worship to draw closer to God. For Brother Lawrence it was stirring the food at the monastery. For others it may be sitting in silence or singing that is where we start.

I love the scene in “Chariots of Fire” where Eric Liddel says to his sister that when he runs he knows God made him fast, and when he runs he can “feel His pleasure”. That knowledge of God delighting in us is a key part of worship. We rejoice in God, and God delights in us. Our Worship lifts His heart as well as our own. In drawing close to Him, we allow Him to come closer to us.

So drawing Close to God is the heart of Worship. It sounds obvious. But drawing close is something we miss too often by striving to hit the right note. I remember Mike Yaconelli at Greenbelt in 1991 saying about children coming to Jesus just as they were. They simply loved Him. John Avanzini at a conference I went to in the UK in the late 1990’s – I can’t be sure of the exact year but around 1997/8 said we need to be like kids getting before God and yelling “Hey Daddy – Watch THIS!” like a little kid does.

Accept like a child and enter His presence.

Accept like a child and hit the Heart of Worship – Holiness – as a by-product. We can’t help it. It’s too obvious.

So yes, the topic is the heart of Worship, but like I’ve written over the last few weeks, the centre of Worship comes back to a Holy attitude in our lives. We must set ourselves apart to be with God. We need to set ourselves apart to spend time with Him every day.

I may not publish a post every day, but a significant portion of my day os spent researching and praying about what to write. Either I’m working on this set of essays or on the book research I need to do to complete my work on my book project. Or both. Whatever I do, for that time, my whole being is focussed on Jesus. Everything else dissolves into it’s proper place and perspective as I bring my heart close to His.

Mostly.

But I’ve found the Heart of Worship to be more than singing. More than reading.

True Worship involves stripping away anything that gets between me and God. Sometimes that literally means I need to be naked before Him – physically and Spiritually. It’s been impossible to kid myself about where I am with God when I’m stripped literally and figuratively of everything.

Obviously, this is private worship I’m referring to. Even my wife isn’t involved in that part, but in those moments, figuratively locked in my most private room, my phone turned off and the TV and CD player silent I sit and wait. My silence is my Worship. My Worship is through my silence. I listen for God, and He answers. His answers are that He listens to me.

And for that time I know beyond any doubt that I am His child, and He is my daddy.

And my Heart, refreshed, renewed and whole, is ready, willing and able to Worship with all it’s might.

My heart. Your heart. Beating in time with God’s heart.

That’s the Heart of Worship.

Lent: The changing nature of the World

In October 2011 I wrote about Change and the transient nature of opinion.

In the two and a half years since I wrote the piece the “Progressive” movement has risen up, basing itself on claiming to meet people “where they are”.

This isn’t about trying to take on that particular group as I’ve touched on them previously. Rather it’s an examination of some of the changes that have taken place in society over the last few decades.

In the 1950’s it was humiliating to admit you were divorced, and an unmarried mother was something to be ashamed of. Older people were respected and taken care of in their twilight years by their children. The wisdom they had learned in the decades they had lived was valued not for their technological expertise, but for their experience of life.

By 2000 teenage mothers were commonplace, so much so that the church didn’t think twice about it. Behaviours that would have been incomprehensible fifty years before were common. Not only is divorce not something to be ashamed of as a symbol of inability to communicate and compromise, it’s become something planned for before the marriage vows are taken. For business purposes to protect assets in the event of financial collapse an agreement that each partner retains what they have when they enter the marriage as separate is wisdom. Even contracting that any earnings by an individual partner within the marriage could be argued as making sense to protect the family in the longer term. But any contract that begins with the phrase “In the event of separation or divorce” is planning for failure.

How things have changed.

But the more worrying aspect is that the church seems to be looking at changing with it. It seems to be accepting the concept of “acceptable” sins.

What is an “acceptable” sin?

These days anything that rocks the boat is hushed up by too many people claiming Christ as their own. We have groups setting up and proclaiming that parts of the Bible are obsolete because they were written before we “understood” what we know now.

But God’s wisdom is foolishness to men. And Man’s wisdom makes God laugh.

God is a Holy God. He never changes. He is still the same as He was 2000 years ago when Jesus embodied Him. He’s the same as he was when Moses raised his staff over the people and walked into the Red Sea. H hasn’t changed since Abram became Abraham, and He’s the same as He was when He closed the Ark for Noah.

But society has changed. Babel, Jericho, King David, Jabez, Jeremiah, Isaiah and the Apostles all saw different manifestations of humanity. In the last century and a half we’ve moved in Western society from God-fearing to agnosticism and panantheism masquerading as Christianity and being endorsed by bishops and church leaders who should know better.

We need a Martin Luther for our generation. Someone who will stand up to the heresy of these pseudo-Christian beliefs that are so prevalent and unite the Church behind them. We need the wisdom of CS Lewis and Charles Spurgeon mixed with the Wesleys and Wilberforce for social good in a truly Christlike manner.

God didn’t change.

The World did.

And we bought into it. We bought consumerism as a concept to replace “greed” and declared it to be acceptable. But it’s still greed, and greed comes from coveting what you don’t have. We bought “hero-worship” in place of “idolatry”, but an idol is an idol no matter what you rephrase it as.

God is not deceived by these renamings, we should be aware of them.

“Free Love” replaced “sexual immorality” and a genocide of abortions was created along with a higher instance of sexually transmitted illness per capita than at any time in history.

Men and women forfeiting the natural order of God’s creation and renaming it, declaring it to be acceptable and ignoring the stagnant waters they are using for baptising their believers.

Stagnant water breeds death. The water of the World is rank and rotten, yet the church claiming to represent Jesus bathes in it and invites others to do so. They accept the invitation because they don’t need to change. There’s no challenge to their lifestyle. Nothing to give up in order to follow Christ makes it easy. There’s no chance of persecution because they’re moving in the same direction as the enemy – they just don’t realise it.

The best, most believable lie has a percentage of the truth in it. When Satan tested Adam and Eve, his lies were masked in mostly truth and by the time the big lie came they were sunk. He tried the same with Jesus in the wilderness, even quoting scripture in an effort to deceive Him. Of course, Jesus saw straight through it and rejected the temptation. We tend to lean towards believing the lie though. It’s easier. Our life doesn’t have to be complicated with the petty morality stuff of two hundred years ago. We’re wiser now.

Not.

Mankind has bought the lie and is throwing away the future for an easy life now.

The world has changed. It’s harder and colder. But it’s wrapped in a pseudo-soft blanket that makes us forget how it’s actually sucking the life out of us and leaving us hollow shells instead of vessels filled with the Holy Spirit. Many are walking the broad path to death simply because they genuinely believe they are actually on the other road – because nobody’s shown them what Spurgeon pointed out – that if we want to glorify God we “…can count on many trials. No one can truly shine for Christ without enduring many conflicts.” (Morning by Morning)

But the “fuzzy blanket” christianity doesn’t recognise this.

Christianity isn’t a soft option. It’s a daily battle in a vicious war against an enemy who seeks to steal, kill and destroy everything we stand for. And he doesn’t take prisoners.

God never changed. But the world tries to convince us He did.

Beware, Christians. The world will suck us down and kill us if we let it, simply because the nature of the attack changed. Be wise and keep Godly counsel. Remember there’s a difference between “Fellowship” and “church”. The terms are not synonymous. Going to a church won’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage will make you a car. Even small groups can be nothing more than a religious experience. We need true Fellowship – living life Spiritually accountable to other believers, adjusting our behaviours and growing in understanding and wisdom as a result of growing strong together.

Don’t be fooled by the changing nature of the world. Remember the “facts” the world speaks are temporal. God’s Truth is Eternal, unending and unchanging. He laid it down before He created time, and it will be there after time has been forgotten.