Who Wants This?

I’m moving to a new location in a few weeks and I’m trying to train my replacement to take over from me. I’m still going to be Director of the company, but the day-to-day stuff will be done by the new manager. We have a similar sense of humour – which is a mixed blessing. It means we get on well – vital for business – but sometimes we spend too much time laughing at dumb things I’ve accidentally done instead of me getting on and teaching her the nitty-gritty of managing the practice.

But I think about what I’ve been doing for the last thirteen years a lot. As well as creating this blog for Eagle’s Wing Ministries, my day-job has been managing the medical practice my wife and I own, and for the last 3 years keeping things ticking over at the medical centre for her, a dentist, a physiotherapist and an optometrist. It’s hard work sometimes. People management is the worst. Hiring I can do easily, but three times now I’ve had to fire someone, and only once did I not lose sleep over doing it. We’re a small business and consequently we work closely together and inevitably I tend to care about the people as friends. So if they let me down, it hurts on a personal level beyond the professional.

One receptionist we suspected of theft, but couldn’t prove it. She was popular with the patients and I didn’t want to believe she was a thief. I was right. She wasn’t a thief.

She was an addict.

We gave her two months paid leave to get clean. We’re a dispensing practice, so we carry a lot of stock in terms of medicines like morphine, pethidine, codeine, ephedrine, and a range of tranquilisers, all of which are highly addictive and dangerous in the hands of an addict. She managed to get off the “tik” – a form of crystal meth – she had been hooked on, but when she relapsed we had no choice for her sake or our own but to let her go. I hated that. I had to tell a young mother she no longer had a job because of her addiction.

The other one I was troubled by was a single mum who had been set-up by her ex. We got an anonymous tip that she was an addict, so we carried out a random drug test from our in-house stock. She failed it, showing signs of opiates (heroin) as well as cocaine and marijuana. I couldn’t believe it. Again – as is my protocol – we gave her one month to get clean. During that month we began to get strange calls asking if she still worked there. We got unusual emails showing the inside of the centre with clothing strewn around the waiting area as if someone were sleeping there. The messages claimed she was sleeping in the centre and offered the photos as “proof”.

I was not surprised when, a month later, a test I bought on the way in to work was completely clear of all drugs. My reason? I’d changed the locks. It turned out her ex had been able to access the building. Suspecting this, I’d thrown out our old drug-test kits that morning and replaced them. We were all relieved when not a trace showed up. But timekeeping was a problem. We finally managed to get rid of her ex, but the local public transport is a nightmare. Unreliable rail service and not on a bus or “taxi” route all added up, and chronic lateness ensued. After complaints from the practitioners about it, we had no choice, and I had to fire a friend.

So leadership. Who really wants it?

I get emails every week from groups and individuals inviting me to visit and preach. It’s an honour to be invited, and I keep every invite (at least, the ones I save from my stupid computer’s “junk” box) and reply. If you sent an invitation and didn’t get a reply, please try again by writing directly instead of the “contact” form. (Address at the bottom of this post)

In among the ministry emails this morning was one titled “Why Do You Want To Be A Leader?”

It made me think.

I started my own business in South Africa because it was almost impossible to find a job where I’d be able to do what I’ve spent over 20 years now doing because of the way the labour law is structured. But nobody could stop me being my own boss.

In England – where I’m now moving – I was written off by the system as “permanently disabled due to mental illness” in 1999/2000. This was major depression following my father’s death, the breakup of my engagement and the death of one of my dearest friends. Moving back now, I’ll have to convince the establishment that 17 years later and having completed a degree I’m actually not “disabled”.

Are there things I can’t do in terms of changes in me resulting from that specific time in my life?

Yes.

They are things like:

  • I have no tolerance level for bull. Life’s too short.
  • I won’t tolerate discrimination based on skin colour.
  • I won’t be bullied into taking a job with no real responsibilities – that was what finally triggered my meltdown.
  • I won’t let someone else tell me what I’m not capable of.

It’s a simple list, and mostly things I thought before I needed the break mentally. “Stress” is something different to everyone. Some people thrive in environments that would crush others.

So now I look at where I am, and I think “why do I want to be a leader?”

Then I think “DO I want to be a ‘leader’?”

The simple answer is “no”.

Eagle’s Wing Ministries isn’t about becoming a “leader”, it’s about being a “follower”.

I think if people go into ministry because they want the title, power or perceived respect that they think comes with it then they probably shouldn’t be considered for a leadership role.

I was asked by a church leader who pastored several churches across a large area about a situation that had arisen. There had been civil unrest some years before and one of the young leaders of that time, who had been involved in stirring up hate in the area of Africa they were in had now become a Christian and joined his church. The congregation had struggled. He had been a visible member of a group known to have recruited child soldiersd2ce8-military_helmet_and_cross from some of the families in the church, and now they struggled to get past his past.

It’s very understandable. I thought for some time before I replied. Since the church leader had personally brought this man into the church, it needed to be his choice that resolved the issue. But he was so close to the situation he needed help to find perspective.

My reply was that since he had several churches far away from where the conflict had been, perhaps for a time he should send this man to one of them. This would allow him to work with the congregation to find a place of forgiveness, and work with the young ex-guerilla to grow spiritually. Alternatively, he could leave everyone where they were and try to sort it out together – a much more challenging option, but possibly a faster one.

Last I heard, the ex-guerilla had moved far away from the church where they had feared him, to a place where his past was unknown to the people personally. He was being considered for eldership in that branch of the church group, but was struggling with the invitation to lead because of his own feelings about his past.

I always ask people who write not to call me “Pastor”, or “Prophet”, or “Bishop”. I’m none of those things any more than anyone else. If the writing on this site blesses you, then that’s great – it’s my aim in writing it. If it helps you avoid mistakes I’ve made, fantastic! But I’m still not any of those things any more than you are.

We all are “sinners saved by Grace”. We also all have Spiritual Gifts through the Holy Spirit. And choosing to move in those gifts doesn’t make someone “better” or somehow “more holy” than anyone else.

Nobody has gifts more important than any others. More visible, perhaps, but not important. My grandmother’s brothers were pilots during World War Two. They were very aware that the only reason they got to fly the planes was the small army of mechanics, welders, drivers, and ground staff that kept the planes and airfields in a usable condition. “Pip”, as my uncle was known (Flt Lt Wilfred Rowland Travell DFC, 220 Squadron), told me many stories about his exploits as a pilot, but he always spoke of how much the guys on the ground meant to him. For every plane in the air there were around 75 people on the ground making sure it could be. The pilot got the recognition, but if just one person was missing from the “support” team on the ground, the plane didn’t get off the airstrip.

It’s the same in ministry.bc346-sheep

Not everyone is called to write, or speak, or sing, or lead worship. Some sweep halls. Some erect tents. Some rig lighting or sound. I do what I’m called and gifted to do. Something that stopped me writing for almost 20 years was the thought that I couldn’t write like CS Lewis or Max Lucado or John Eldredge. It wasn’t until recently (when I began this blog on “blogspot.com”) that I realised God already had a Lewis, Lucado and Eldredge. I’m not called to be them. I’m called to let Him make me into the best “David Beddow” I can be.

Nobody else.

Just be “David Beddow”. Be myself.

It’s critical.

So I don’t want to be a leader. But we are all leaders. We all have people that follow us, listen to our words and watch our actions.

So watch your step.

I guarantee someone else is…

 

 

 

If the “contact” form hasn’t got you a reply from me, write directly to me: david@eagleswingministries.org

The True Value

Realize The  Value of the Tree.

 

I’m 44. I’ve been a Christian since November 1985 – coming up 31 years.

Currently I don’t go to church every week. I’d like to, but it’s not always easy. When I do go, I’m not well known or easily recognised these days. I sit and pray, listen to the Word being taught and worship with all my heart. Sometimes when I worship I even join in the songs.

I’ve met one of the pastors once or twice personally, but I’m not known by them – or them by me. I simply go when I can to be around other Christians.

I usually get raised eyebrows when I “confess” my current non-member status of a local church. I’ve applied for jobs where I’ve been rejected because I don’t have a “current” pastor and the last Pastor I had is not in “ministry” any more so apparently he’s not a good enough reference. I’ve been self-employed most of the last 20 years, but organisations want the reference of my last employer or manager.

Eventually it always comes down to one thing when I tell people I write a Christian Blog and I’m working on a book.

“What makes you think you’re qualified to write or talk about God in your current ‘spiritual condition’?”

There is much in my life I don’t share with everyone. There’s a good reason for that. It’s none of their business.

What I do share s what Jesus in my life means.

I didn’t become a Christian so I would avoid Hell – and yes, I do believe there’s a literal Hell. I didn’t become a Christian because I wanted a comfortable life. Or a good job. Or no problems.

Or a million other reasons than people who don’t really know Jesus think I became a Christian for.

I asked Jesus into my heart at the age of 13 because I knew I was terribly broken, and He could fix me. The break was something missing. I recognised I needed a relationship with God to be whole. And no matter what I did on this earth it would never be enough to earn that relationship.

I realised the value of the Cross.

I read an article about a man who described himself as a “secular follower of Jesus” a few days ago. He said how he was better for living by following Jesus’s example. He befriended prostitutes, the homeless, the broken. He made time for veterans begging on street corners in his city. He refused to judge people by their skin colour or religious background. He simply went about doing “good”.

And missed the point completely.

 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:40-43

The thief on the cross next to Jesus didn’t go out and make friends with the poor. He never even compensated the people he’d stolen from. All he did was accept Jesus as Lord. He realised Jesus’s Kingdom was not of this world, but rather was a place beyond and above this mortal coil. He didn’t go and embrace the LGBTQ (and any other letter they want to add) community.

All he did was realise the value of the tree Jesus was hanging on.

I’m looking forward to meeting that guy. I’m longing to know his name. But I know his story. His story is my story. He realised he was broken and the only was to find the relationship He realised in his dying moments he needed was to embrace the one hanging next to him. Jesus.

Somewhere in the last 150 years we’ve lost sight of the Cross.

How did it happen? How has the central message of Christianity become so sidelined by false issues?

We’ve become so politically correct in the way we treat one another we’re afraid to say anything for fear we’ll offend someone.

A few years ago I worked in property maintenance for a while. I loved the job, but the best part was the friendship with my boss, Duncan. We used some tools manufactured for American companies although we were based in England, and the safety instructions were amazing. All the instructions were in cartoon form – no words. There was a cartoon of a man chopping his fingers off by putting them into the rotating blades of a lawnmower.

Now I may not be the sharpest tool in the work-shed academically, but I don’t need instructions, cartoon or otherwise, to tell me if you have a razor sharp blade rotating at 300rpm underneath a solid steel plate which wraps around it and holds it close to the ground that it’s probably not the best idea in the world to flip it over and put my fingers into the path of the blade.

What does that have to do with Jesus?

It’s an example of how we’ve become so obsessed with coddling people. The manufacturer of the mower was sued by a man who cut his fingers off by putting his hand in the path of the blades while it was running. 75 years ago he’d have been called an idiot for doing such a daft thing. But 20 years ago, he won the case.

Because of a side issue.

The real issue was his foolishness to put his hand into a moving lawnmower. The case made it about the manufacturer not putting adequately visible warning signs to keep fingers clear of the moving blades.

Our real issue is we are inherently sinful and consequently separated from God – He even gave us an instruction manual we call “The Bible” outlining what the real issue is and how to circumvent the consequences.

The sheep mentality of the 21st Century has spent all it’s timebc346-sheep screaming about women’s rights (which would be advocated in a truly Christian society), whether Bush was a good President, whether Obama was a good President, why the Republicans chose Donald, whether Hillary should be wearing a pantsuit, what went wrong with Brad and Angelina, can Justin Bieber sing, is the Hulk stronger than Thor and most importantly, will there be another “Harry Potter” book.

Incredibly, the fact that Islam is a false religion that leads people away from relationship with God and back into slavery of religious duty has become a dirty statement for Christians to make. What God says about sexuality – which He designed in the first place – has been decried as outdated and anyone who dares mention out loud that the Bible says God never changes, that He is the one constant, is now called a heretic. We’ve had 30 years of “famous” preachers who have become household names. Those who have stuck to the Biblical teaching are ridiculed and those who bow to the tide of public opinion instead of the declared, known Will of God on the topic are lauded as the “real” christians because they don’t “judge” people for their choice.

What they actually do is become sightless guides, leading people into a pit.

Now we’re not called to judge people, but we are called to recognise them by the fruit they bear as to whether they are from God. Jesus spent His time talking to prostitutes, tax-collectors, adulterers and Samaritans. But it didn’t mean He was making use of the prostitute’s services, swindling the people out of their money, cheating on people’s spouses or abandoning God. It meant He saw in each of those people a fertile soil for the seed of His Word to grow in and lead them away from the actions that pulled them away from God.

That’s what the Cross was about. Rebuilding relationship with a Loving God who created us specifically in His own image so we could have a relationship with Him.

The “progressive” message is insidious in it’s phrasing. It starts with a measure of Truth: Jesus wouldn’t reject this person because he/she is gay/queer/trans/Muslim/etc. I completely agree – He wouldn’t. He would offer them unconditional Love. What He wouldn’t do is leave them in the place He found them – which is what the “progressives” want us to do.

Take the woman brought to Him from the very act of adultery. Probably at least partly naked. Terrified because this mob wants to kill her. Thrown to the ground in front of this man known for His Holiness, His righteousness. The Law is clear…

So this Rabbi turns away from her a little, crouches down and begins to write in the sand.

Everyone looks at Him. What wisdom is He writing? Why has he crouched there?

How tender. How merciful. A moment before all eyes were on her – and her nakedness. Now everyone’s attention is on Him. She has a chance to cover herself. She has an opportunity to restore some dignity.

He stands and turns back to her. What is most significant now is what Jesus doesn’t say.

He doesn’t say “Where is the one she was with?”

He doesn’t tell them “The Law says do it!”

He turns the accusation back on the accusers.

However, when they persisted in questioning Him, He straightened up and said, “He who is without [any] sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:7 (Amplified)

And they walk away.

Then He turns to the woman.

Again, Jesus doesn’t ask who she was with. Or if it was a man or a woman. Or for the details of what they did. He knows what they did was sin – that’s all that matters to Him.

Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She answered, “No one, Lord!” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

John 8:10-11  (Amplified)

The “progressive” attitude omits His last sentence. “From now on sin no more.” But that’s the key to the real issue. Sin separated mankind from God. Trusting Jesus, giving our life to Him and really nailing our past to the Tree with Him, is what restores that relationship. Sin no more.

Every time Jesus talks to someone crippled because of sin He tells them to stop that sin. In one case he even warns something worse may come. (John 5:14)

Forgiveness without repentance. It’s the “progressive” gospel, but it’s a lie. Unconditional acceptance is not the message of Jesus. There’s one condition: repent. Repentance means realising the significance of the Cross. It means accepting Jesus and the price He paid for us and as a mark of that acceptance, turning away from our past life. An outward manifestation of this Salvation is Regeneration – a change in behaviour, speech, even associations.

But the lie of the “progressive” movement is that you’re saved and forgiven. It’s a lie of omission. To be forgiven we must repent. To show we are saved we must demonstrate the regeneration inside us.

For the geeks out there, imagine Dr Who goes through his regeneration and is still exactly who he was before. He looks the same, he talks the same. He is the same. Now for fans who like David Tennant (or Tom Baker if you’re my age) that might be a good thing, but the story doesn’t change. There’s no difference. It’s as though the regeneration never happened.

I never imagined I’d quote Dr Who in an article here.

But it’s a brilliant analogy. Each regeneration of the Doctor changes his character. Tom Baker’s Doctor was nothing like William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton or John Pertwee before him, and Peter Davison bore no resemblance to Tom Baker and so on. The character changed when the regeneration happened.

So our character should change – be restored actually – to what Jesus intended it to be when He designed us and gave us the Gifts we carry. I’m still quick tempered now, like I was before I committed my life to Christ, but what I get angry about has changed. Mostly. Like everyone I’m a work in progress. As Andrew Wommack is fond of saying in his sermons, I may not have arrived – but at least I’ve left! Praise God!

Go to the Cross.

Right now. Go there in your heart.

Look at it. Really see what Jesus did.

I have no words better than Isaac Watts, so I’ll leave with this thought:

 

 

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

 

Standing Up

Being a Witness for Christ isn’t always easy.

In fact, in today’s climate it can be downright precarious.

The biggest issue right now is understanding the idea of “persecution”.

Huffington Post recently ran an article titled “8 Countries Where Religious Freedom Is Actually Under Attack”, the understanding being that persecution does not happen in the West, especially America, because nobody holds a gun/sword/knife to anyone’s throat/head and tries to force them to deny their faith or die.

And if that is all you understand persecution to be then they are right.

But 2 Timothy 3:12 says:

Indeed, all who delight in pursuing righteousness and are determined to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be hunted and persecuted [because of their faith]

(Amplified)

So we are faced with the need to redefine persecution. No, maybe decapitation and baking a cake are not physically the same. I’m not saying they are. But where is the line? What makes someone a sufferer of persecution?

Any action which forces someone to adhere to a rule that contravenes their belief in Christ can be deemed persecution. I admit, the clerk who refused to issue the marriage license was not my favourite person, but it was a valid stand she took. When she accepted the job, same-sex “marriage” was not an issue. The terms changed after she began working there. She was not the only person, surely, who could issue the license. So why was she forced to violate her beliefs for the sake of someone else’s or lose her job? Similarly, the couple who declined to provide a cake did so because of their beliefs. By standing by their faith over the hypocrisy of the World that tried to force them to provide their service to someone standing in opposition to their sincerely held beliefs, they have lost their business and reputation.

How is that different to the Romans forcing a sacrifice to Mars or Venus 2000 years ago? They lost their means of putting food on the table, paying for their homes, cars and any other obligations they may have had.

Because they stood up for what they believe in. They weighed the possible outcome – loss of their material goods – against what Christ said “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV). They chose to follow this command rather than compromise.

Western Persecution is insidious in nature. It convinces people that if there are actual demons they’re all in the Middle East or Africa. More often it presents itself as “reason”. “Logic” dictates that the resurrection couldn’t be true. And logically it’s crazy to think. But consider for a moment that at least 120 people saw Jesus after the crucifixion. The sightings were noted by non-Christian sources such as Pliny and Josephus. The disciples were prepared to die for the sake of not shutting up about it. In fact, of the Apostles (including Paul), 11 out of 12 were executed for talking about it. Only John died of old age, but wait: he lost everything financially that he had and died in exile. He was no longer a fisherman with a boat. Talking about Jesus and refusing to compromise cost him his business first.

Sound familiar?

Things never start at maximum throttle. Any movement trying to derail Christianity will first have to undermine the idea of Christianity. So a Just God becomes a “Loving God”, which He is, but then the idea gets warped. We end up with “How can a ‘loving God’ condemn people to Hell?” and rather than point out the system of Free Choice He set up in the Bible it gets capitulated into “He wouldn’t” and POW there goes the need for repentance. Everyone suddenly gets a “Get Out of Hell Free” card and so there’s no fear of the coming wrath and judgement. It’s been going on so long now that we can’t grasp the idea that there can be a coming Judgement. Next, trivialise the ideas. Armageddon and Judgement Day are suddenly movie titles with Bruce Willis and Arnie, and Satan looks a lot like Gabriel Byrne.

We are living in the situation where we see people expecting Salvation without sacrifice, Christianity without Christ, Forgiveness without repentance and heaven without hell, just like William Booth predicted. What began as a minor blip is now the substantive belief system of the majority. Alarmingly, many evangelicals are stuck in it as well. It may be what makes Trump’s cohorts so dangerous. They at least recognise there’s something wrong. (No clue how to fix it, but it’s a start!)

So what do we do?

Firstly, we must look at ourselves. Examine our own life and get any plank out of our eyes. It’s not easy, but if we are going to be Ambassadors of Christ it is absolutely essential.

Secondly, quit compromising. True, not everyone who disagrees with us is persecuting us, but equally true, it doesn’t mean none of them are. If standing for Christ will risk everything it might just be the right thing to do.

Finally, brace for impact. We need to anchor deep to weather the storm coming. So many Christians I’ve met have fallen silent at best and away from God completely in some cases because they have never built ready to weather a storm. The storm itself cannot kill us. It cannot take what is most precious, but we can surrender it. It is vital we don’t quit when things get tough. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Ephesian 6:13)

Stand firm and be a Witness of Jesus Christ.

Keep Calm and…

Carry on Learning

23rd August saw the 17th anniversary of my dad’s death. I don’t usually keep track of the day, for several reasons – not least of which is that the event was a major part of the trigger that launched me towards depression and four [failed] suicide attempts.

Keeping calm isn’t my strongest suit. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have a short temper. But I do consider myself to be a lifelong learner.

We essentially have two options in life. Growth or death. There is nothing else.

For over a year after my dad died I actively sought death. Instead of allowing myself to grow, I sank into a black pit of depression.

Just a few weeks before dad was diagnosed we had gone to a conference in Devon, just for the day. It was around the time of the Columbine shootings.I remember as one of the teachers had to return to his church in Littleton. We listened, worshipped and prayed. We went and had lunch, then the afternoon and evening sessions. Great teaching and amazing worship. Then a call for someone with cancer to go and receive healing. Nobody moved.

I didn’t know at the time, but my dad was already taking massive doses of painkillers for headaches. And I mean MASSIVE doses. A box of Nurofen a day.

A month later he collapsed with a massive brain tumour. He lived just 3 months more.

We both learned a lot from the experience. One important thing I learned was that not every minister gets it. At my dad’s bedside the day he went Home, the vicar came to pray with us and for him. He asked Jesus to take dad to himself and give comfort to those left behind. He said we can’t know God’s plan.

Dad had fought this sickness. Even then, he was fighting. I told him if he wanted to go that we’d be ok, even though I wasn’t sure. John, the vicar, was a decent guy. He wanted to do the right thing. But my dad was 56, just 12 years older than I am now, and far short of three score and ten. God limited man’s days to 120 years after the flood. 70 or 80 was an observation by Moses, not a decree of longevity by God. There were prophetic promises spoken over dad just a few weeks earlier that went unfulfilled because of his death. God’s Word does not return void, but we can curtail it’s effect.

When Jesus went to Nazareth in His ministry, the Bible says He could do very little in His hometown because of their lack of faith. He was not honoured because they thought they knew Him.

They didn’t.

They knew their concept of Jesus. Son of the carpenter. Brother of James and son of Mary. His earthly siblings were still living there. They couldn’t see the forest because their own trees obscured it.

I love to look at nature. The complexity of a flower and the intricate design of a pollinating Beeinsect like a bee or a butterfly. I try to not allow my own concept to prevent me seeing the glorious design God has put in place. Bees are truly incredible creatures. There is so much we owe this humble insect, yet most people seem terrified of them. Most people don’t get that if a bee stings you, it dies. Stinging is not on a bee’s “to do” list every morning.

The bee flies because it has no concept of aerodynamics. I’d never get into an aircraft that looked like a bee because at school I studied aerodynamics. I don’t know how a bee flies. It shouldn’t.

But a bee doesn’t know it shouldn’t, so it does. Simple faith.

I sit on chairs in the faith that they will hold me. I’m a big guy, 220lbs, and there have been times that faith has been misplaced. But generally chairs hold me. Otherwise I’d stand all the time.

I learn.

We do what we know we are. Proverbs 23:7 says “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.” The context is of a selfish rich man paying lip-service to giving, but the concept holds true to all of us. We cannot behave in a way other than how we perceive ourselves to be. If we are not committed to growth, we will perish. It’s that simple.

Growth is not just the concept of new ideas, but to be prepared to stand fast on ones that have stood for thousands of years despite current societal and political trends. It’s hard when the World labels us “backward” or “x-phobic” (whatever the “x” of the moment is). But I’m more concerned about opposing God than man. We all should be.

God doesn’t change. No “shadow of turning” as the hymn puts it. “Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not; As thou hast been, thou for ever wilt be” (Great is thy Faithfulness).

We forget because remembering puts us in a quandary. There is no genetic reason for most behaviour. Including homosexuality, but not limited to it. Nature vs Nurture would seem to suggest heavily that Nurture – or errors in it – plays a role, a significant one, in our development.

I was accused often of being gay at school because I wasn’t a sportsman I was a musician, and outside school my main hobby was ballet. At six feet tall and about 190lbs I was the least likely dancer you could meet, but a dancer I was. I loved it. It was a “safe” place for me. I got the chance to express something through dance I couldn’t anywhere else, even in music. But I never doubted my sexuality. Very definitely NOT gay! I learned that respect for women Marilyn Monroe spoke of in one movie, a girl can walk through a backstage area nearly naked and not be molested, but put the same girl fully dressed in an office and she’ll be harassed was the sentiment. I forget which movie it was, I seem to remember a billionaire pretending to be a normal guy to woo her in it. I just remember the idea and thought about it a lot. Several of the girls at dancing were also at the sister-school to the boys school I went to and the comments the boys made were usually disgusting about them fully dressed. I can honestly say I never even thought that and I’d seen WAY more than they had over the years. The ladies were people to me, not objects.

I also learned young that looks change in a second. It’s folly to base a life on appearances. What taught me was the story of Simon Weston, the young officer badly burned in the Falklands War in 1982. He became a hero and a celebrity after his injuries on the HMS Sir Galahad scarred him physically, but the strength of who he was came through.

Learning is not optional.

Actually, I suppose it is. We can walk around ignorant if we choose to. Dad used to say “You can lead a horse to water, shove it’s head under the surface and waggle it’s tongue up and down. It drinks or it drowns!” He never literally tried it, but as a teacher he saw it with kids in his care, and the colleagues he worked with. The older, more experienced ones retired as the younger, inflexible and arrogant became the bosses and learning was replaced with memorising for testing.

The burden of working with the short sighted system pushed him into retirement.

We try to carry more than we should much of the time. We forget or ignore Jesus’s 8e422-unequal2byokeinvitation to take up His yoke and let Him give us rest, so we end up laughably unevenly burdened.

The result is burnout on a massive scale.

I know many people, formerly solid foundation (seemingly) based Christians who have walked away after a rough time hits them.

Broken marriages, depression, rejection by churches that should know better. They contribute to the destruction of the lives of the men and women, and the children they bring up.

Sadly, it’s too often the case. The psychological persecution is more effective than threat of a sword or a gun. A better example for the enemy’s camp is to turn one away from God, because that’s what people remember, not the thousands who stay, but the one sheep that wanders off.

But if we remain open to correction and growth, we can withstand anything.

Ask, Seek, Knock…

Craving

Deep inside all of us there is a desire for God. Our souls cry out for Him, even when we try to deny it. Most people will end up filling this void with meaningless junk and false idols. Nobody is immune.

We crave God’s presence in our lives.

For once I stayed out of an online conversation between an atheist and a Christian recently, choosing this time to watch as the argument unfolded.

Sadly, atheists are blinded to their own situation.

 For ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through His workmanship [all His creation, the wonderful things that He has made], so that they [who fail to believe and trust in Him] are without excuse and without defense. For even though they knew God [as the Creator], they did not honor Him as God or give thanks [for His wondrous creation]. On the contrary, they became worthless in their thinking [godless, with pointless reasonings, and silly speculations], and their foolish heart was darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God for an image [worthless idols] in the shape of mortal man and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles.

Romans 1:20-23 [AMP]

9a93a-wrong2band2brightPaul doesn’t pull his punches when he writes to the Roman church. The city was in a very similar place spiritually to 21st Century Western society. There were so many false gods, Apollo, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and many more, that it was inevitable that the Christians would be exposed to them. The temples often had prostitutes working in them so sex was offered as a “sacrifice” of sorts to whichever deity it happened to be. Switch to 21st Century times and in place of the Roman gods we find actors, pop stars, politicians and even televangelists being “worshipped”. The prostitution of pornography on the internet and television & movies may be less exposed, but it’s no less real. Remember Christ told us that even looking lustfully at someone was as bad as adultery to God. Porn is designed to incite lust. Satan doesn’t need to have actual prostitutes any more, the images on the screen mean tens of thousands of men and women give themselves over to his influence on an hourly basis. North Korea, by blocking contact with the outside world may be isolated in terms of technology and society, but it’s about the only place relatively unaffected by the sewage flowing from the porn industry online.

And then there’s the modern “golden calf” brigade. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Harley-Davidson, Daimler-Benz and so on. Every brand has its devotees and fans, but few conjure up an image like Harley does – and I can’t think of another company that is so worshipped that its acolytes actually have the company logo permanently tattooed onto their body!

The difference is that the “educated” atheists don’t realise they are worshipping a false god when they religiously polish the chrome or wax the paint of their chosen steed for three hours on a Sunday while the neighbour goes to Church. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God for an image [worthless idols] in the shape of mortal man and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles.” Today I’m sure Paul would add television and movie stars and most of the brands we “have” to own.

Now I’m not knocking the brands – don’t get me wrong. I have owned a Harley a few years ago, and I would buy another if I had the resources for it, but my reason has changed over the years. When I was a kid I liked the idea after watching “Any Which Way You Can” and “Every Which Way But Loose” with Clint Eastwood as the bare-knuckle fighter “Philo Beddoe”. I was very young, and didn’t notice the surname was spelt differently to my own – but even now I’m in my 40s I love the movies! Since then I learned to ride and ended up getting my first Harley based on a test-ride and finding it was simply the best put together machine I’d ridden. In terms of the “look” I was more drawn to the Yamaha Virago!

We look for something to fill the hole in our lives. As Christians, we know that hole is God-shaped and nothing else but Jesus will fill it. The World, however, can’t see it. It runs around trying to put a square peg into this round hole and no matter how close it seems for a while, it never quite fills the void.

Everyone worships something. At our core it’s what God designed us to do: build relationship with Him through worship. Satan corrupted this and now we look in all the wrong places. Sex, money, drugs, science, titles, “success” in the eyes of the World. All this and more are used to try to fill the gaping void.

Atheists are so blinded that they can’t even recognise the infirmity of 03382-atheismtheir own standpoint. They decry the teaching of Christianity in schools because it disagrees fundamentally with their belief that there is no God. They are so blinded by this that they then insist that evolution be taught as scientific fact. In truth, evolution is a theory. Maybe it’s a good one, but it’s still a theory with no conclusive evidence to confirm it beyond a scientific doubt: which is why it’s a theory. It’s technically a philosophy.

From a non-Christian perspective, this makes some sense. But then it begs the question “where is another theory to compare evolution with?”

Christians can point to Intelligent Design at this point. But the millisecond the concept of a creator higher than mankind on their evolutionary scale is mentioned the poor, persecuted atheist announces it can’t be because scientific proof can’t establish evidence of God’s existence. But from their perspective, Christianity is also a philosophy.

And so the argument goes on. Carbon dating to show age in millions of years, then the hard-core fundamentalists jump in and declare the planet is only 6000 years old because of Genesis.

Personally I think the Truth is lost in the argument. It doesn’t matter if the world is 6000 years old or 600 million or older than that. What matters is that God Loved us so much that He took on the form of His creation to win back the authority Man had surrendered to Satan rather than destroy everything and start again.

We devote our lives to a search for meaning. We ask what we think are deep, meaningful questions and debate them endlessly. We argue among ourselves and become divided about minutia that are irrelevant.

So what should we do?

Jesus had the answer.

Three steps that we see illustrated perfectly in Paul’s life.

  1. Ask. Ask God who He is. Trust me, He can take the question. When He knocked Paul off his donkey on the road to Damascus the first thing he says is “who are you?”
  2. Seek. Search out intimate knowledge of God through Jesus. Sit under teachers with a solid foundation and learn from them. Paul knew the Old Testament, but he went after he met the Risen Christ and learned from Ananias and the disciples in Damascus, then joined the Apostles in Jerusalem for a time before he went on his journey.
  3. Knock. Paul took every chance he had to knock on the doors of people’s hearts. It’s impossible to read Acts without seeing this in his every action. The nickname “Christians” was given by the church in Antioch. It literally meant “little Christs” or “little anointed ones”. The only way they would be given that title would be if they acted like anointed ones who had the same Spirit they spoke of in Jesus.

Ask. Seek. Knock.

It’s so simple when you think about it. And oddly, everyone does it.

Everyone asks. The nature of mankind is inquisitive. We invent new and varied ways of doing everything from hunting for food to moving around to finding shelter to heating our homes. It’s said Edison tried 10,000 combinations before he made a light bulb. He kept asking “what if”. We all do.

What if I apply for this job?

What if I ask her out?

What if we live in this town?

And we all get answers. All who ask, receive. What the real trick is, however, is asking the right questions.

Paul asked two: “Who are You?” and “What do You want me to do?”

Seek. We all seek something. What we eventually (hopefully) realise is that we are seeking Jesus. But the reason is the issue. Why do we seek Jesus?

We seek Jesus so we can find God. So Satan puts up counterfeits everywhere. The tin-pot idols of today that satisfy for a moment or two but then leave us thirsting, craving, more. Like drinking salt water, it cannot meet our need. Our being was created to run on God’s intimacy and input in our lives. I worked at a filling station for a while and one day this beautiful sports car pulled in and the attendant somehow filled the tank with diesel instead of petrol. A petrol engine can produce power from combusting diesel, but it’s not going to give the performance it was designed to. The car pulled away, coughing and spluttering with billows of smoke behind it as it burned the wrong fuel. It still moved, but it was not happy. We drained the diesel, flushed the tank and filled it with petrol. The result was immediate. With the right fuel, the engine purred as it ticked over, and screamed as the car drove away.

Knock. We don’t do this very well. It involves being around other people much of the time. Knock to have the door opened for us. Not “push”. Knock. It allows us to be dependant on God working for us through someone else. Paul was good at it. We, generally, are not so good. Modern society praises the “self-made man”. Frankly I like it when someone describes themself as “self-made”. It means they accept responsibility for the screw-ups they’ve made. Of course, they just sit with a blank expression and wonder why I’m laughing…

I don’t like relying on other people. Growing up I played individual sports. Tennis, Squash, Badminton, Fencing. I hated team sports like rugby, soccer and cricket. I had trust issues from being “different” from everyone else. I didn’t mind being different, but it meant I walked to the beat of a different drummer, and as a result I am still not very good at the “knocking” part of the Christian life. Yet it’s vital to our maturity. Salvation is a solo path, but Church is a team sport. We don’t all have the same gifts, but to mature we need to be exposed to Pastors, Teachers, Evangelists, Apostles and Prophets. Miss any of them and we don’t get the whole picture.

And our craving grows bigger.

But if we do get the right mix it grows better. We crave more of the right things. I did the Atkins Plan for a while to get healthy in my late 20s. It worked brilliantly. My body ran smoothly eating fats and protein instead of carbohydrates. My muscles were stronger and more defined and I had less brain-fog. But I went back and began eating starch again. The weight came back and the muscle tone vanished. Now in my 40s I’m trying to move back to the higher protein & fat diet I had so my body will grow right again.

Spiritually it’s the same. I’ve been in churches that were like McDonald’s. All starch and no substance and ultimately highly toxic on a Spiritual level. I’ve been in churches that were the opposite as well. Lean and fiery. And I crave that in my walk again. But when you’ve been toxic long enough it’s hard to break the habits even though you know they’re killing you. Like an alcoholic keeps drinking or a lung cancer victim keeps smoking, we sit in toxic spiritual environments because we are addicted to the junk.

But all it takes to satisfy our true craving is to Ask, Seek and Knock.

The "Microwave" Ministry

Slowly

The word has little relevance any more. We live in a fast-food society in the Western and pseudo-Western cultures of the world. Everything needs to be instant.

I lamented in a post several years ago (I can’t find the item now, but will link in comments if I do) about an experience I had at a drive-thru McDonalds where in complete earnest the young cashier apologised that I would have to wait “about a minute” for my food.

A minute. For this I got an apology. More recently I was offered a free drink because my order would be five minutes – and that was in a sit-in branch.

We are a people obsessed with instant gratification.

And it’s hit the Church as well. No sooner has someone converted than they are made a leader. And we wonder why so many churches are in crisis.

There is a brandy I read of where a whole pear in contained inside the botpomme_prisonniere_800x600no_boxtle. “Pomme Prisonniere” is expensive, last I saw it was about £100 a bottle so too rich for my pocket, but what struck me was the time and patience it takes to make.

The pear is selected just after the fruit sets. A bottle placed over the new fruit and secured in place. Then the fruit is nurtured carefully and allowed to grow to ripeness inside the bottle. At the time the fruit is ripe it is carefully cut from the tree, the bottle filled with good quality brandy, corked and prepared for distribution.

Aside from the time it takes to distil a fine brandy, the producers add months to the process by waiting for a pear to mature. Producers can lose 30% or more of their crop because the fruit may drop before it ripens or a contaminating agent manages to get into the bottle. Most places that produce this fine liqueur don’t produce much as a result, so the final product is justifiably high-priced.

Imagine the producer wants to make it for sale next week. It’s not possible.

I am privileged to live in a country that, while it seeks to be “Western” in its style, is still very much a developing country. South Africa’s neighbour to the North West, Namibia, is even more left in the past in many ways.

This, in many ways, is a good thing. Age is respected for the wisdom it brings. Character in the small communities is more important than personality. Sadly this isn’t reflected in the political scene in South Africa as the population 25 years after Apartheid is still stuck with a minority elite who hold the money and power, except now they are ethnically black instead of white, and the poverty the majority live in is in stark contrast to the opulence of the fat-cats at the top who feed off them.

I knew a man who worked for a company in Namibia that sold microwave ovens. He was sent to find out why in the smaller towns their stores hardly sold any. His quest returned with the simple answer in the form of a question: “Why do I need a microwave? I have my fire!”

Much cooking in this part of the world is done slowly in a black iron pot over a fire. Not much use for a microwave. I’ve come to appreciate this, and when I go on holiday I look for self-catering places that have a fireplace and iron pots available. The richness of a stew that has been allowed to cook for hours over a slow fire is something I’d never experienced in England, and something should I ever go back that I will continue to do myself.

Mutton has a deeper, richer flavour than lamb. But it takes longer to cook or it is tough. But it’s worth the wait because the meal is richer for the maturity.

So we look at the Church.

Jesus didn’t call the disciples on Monday and send them out on Tuesday. They walked and Jesus Israellived with Him for at least 3 years before the Crucifixion. I looked at a map of the Holy Land recently and realised just how much time they must have spent walking. Jesus’s ministry took Him from the far North to the far South of Israel.

We know He spoke of Tyre and Sidon in the far North of the country, and ministered around Galilee and South to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

That’s a long way to walk. The disciples weren’t marathon runners. A journey on foot of a hundred miles would take days at best, and the group travelled extensively.

Time consuming.

But Jesus probably didn’t walk in silence. He would have been talking and teaching the disciples the entire time. So much that the Gospels don’t directly record in detail because there would be so much to write down.

After Paul’s conversion he goes to be taught of Jesus for several years before he began his missionary journeys. If you’re determined, you can read all four Gospels in a day. But to truly know them takes a lifetime.

By the time I was 11 I knew the basic highlights of Jesus’s life, David and Goliath, Jericho’s walls, Daniel in the lions’ den etc, but I was no way ready to lead a church. In my 20s I sat as a member of the parish council in the church I attended. More prepared, but really I think looking back I was too young and headstrong. I offended many people, and was offended by them during my time in leadership there.

As I got older, my fire was tempered and became controlled. The result was the ability to preach effectively and not alienate people. Now I’m in my 40s and my fire is more explosive again, but with a different outlet – this one – for the words I’ve spent the last 30 years learning and fully expect to still be learning for decades to come.

My ministry of words has taken three decades to reach this point. I have much respect for those who have been able to learn the original languages of the Bible as it’s something I’ve never been able to do. Languages in my own alphabet are not something I’ve been able to master. Ancient Greek and Hebrew alphabets and their associated sounds have thus far been beyond me. But thankfully I have access to dozens of translations that I use to reference my learning. But it’s taken 30 years to appreciate that it takes 30 years.

There is a need for “relevance” in society that is a red herring in Christianity. Jesus talked of fishing and tax collectors and shepherds because his audience was made up of fishermen, tax collectors and shepherds as well as the Pharisees and Sadducees who looked down on them. But His stories are still relevant today.

I lost R100 (about $8) a few weeks ago. It doesn’t sound like much, but in a country where many earn less than R5000 ($400) in a month, and some even less than half that, it’s a lot of money. I turned out every pocket of every item of clothing I’d worn that week. I looked in every bag and under every chair at home and in the office. Eventually I found it fallen under the seat in the car, crumpled up and looking like a till receipt ready to be thrown away. Nobody can tell me the story of the lost coin has no relevance today.

A few years ago my dogs escaped when someone broke open the gate to my home. I spent hours going through the local township opposite my house looking for them. One came home on her own, one was hit by a van and spent time recovering – several weeks. His father sat guard over his broken body in the road and refused to leave him. Finally I found his sister far away from home, put her in the car and took her home. Don’t tell me the lost sheep isn’t relevant.

This country is paranoid about immigrants. At times it makes Donald Trump look tolerant (not often, but sometimes). Xenophobia, racism, sexism are part of daily life here. As an immigrant I regularly encounter it. I live daily as a member of a racial minority where the law is stacked in favour of the majority – at least theoretically.

The leaders need maturity, especially the Church. The necessary wisdom to be a moral compass can only come with time spent in the trenches of the Church. It’s impossible to be a good leader until you know how to follow.

This is obvious to most. But it gets overlooked because an individual is popular and they are promoted to positions of power they are simply not equipped to handle. bc346-sheepThe result is disastrous for followers. They produce borderline heretical teachings (both sides of the border) and like sheep the people follow, assuming that their “leader” knows what he’s talking about because they know the face.

It’s impossible for someone who hasn’t yet matured to impart maturity to others. Look at the secular dictators and pseudo-dictators “elected” in the last century, as well as the “popular” choices being offered come November in America. Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Peron, Mussolini, Mugabe and so many others were swept into power on a surge of popular opinion and given positions no sane people would offer such tyrants if they understood the facts. But their nations were so indoctrinated by fear that they let themselves be led into wars by these men because they were blinded by the rhetoric they spouted. They could all have been truly great leaders if they had been able to follow before they were handed power. Instead they had power get them drunk and paranoid.

6d3b6-shepherd-leading-sheepWhat we need in the Church now are real shepherds. Men and women who have sat and learned from experienced leaders from the past and have a sound foundation and understanding to build on. So many “mega-church” congregations have recently hit trouble because they were built on the personality of their founder instead of the teaching of Christ. The need is perhaps greater now than ever before for maturity in leadership. The strength to stand against popular secular opinion unflinchingly, teaching the Truth of the Gospel rather than pandering to popular opinion.

There’s a reason the Bible says God is unchanging.

It’s because man’s opinion isn’t.

Anyone who’s ever led a group in business knows the danger of “Group-think”. It’s the phenomenon where the group simply accepts without question what everyone in that group says simply because they are in that group. Cults are born when that happens in Church. Heretical teaching leads people away from God by simply not challenging one another. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. It seems impossible to stop and inevitable that it will happen.

The church I was a member of in Torquay a few years ago had wisdom over it. The individual home-groups were regularly shaken up, members moved around and the result was a solid foundation in a young church. In 3 years I was a member of about 7 cell groups. The shake-up was initially an irritation for me. I wanted stability as my dad had recently died and my world was a mess. It’s only looking back that I realise the changing was what kept me stable and gave me the strength to walk out of depression that almost killed me. Different people at different times in those 3 years spoke words into my life that guided my recovery, something I didn’t see at the time.

But everything hinges on maturity.

My wife tells me to not “druk die vrugte ryp“, or try to force the fruit to ripen. You can’t make the pear in the bottle ripen faster by poking it to make it soft. All you do is end up with rotten fruit.

Spiritually we try to microwave our ministry too often. Granted sometimes we miss the season by waiting, but seasons change and the chance comes round again because God’s promises are without repentance. It took me 20 years to do more than think about Eagle’s Wing Ministries, despite having the chance in the late 90s to step out and create an organisation. I was too afraid, partly, that I lacked the maturity needed to do what I’m doing now. I was nervous that I didn’t know enough about following to be able to lead.

Looking back, I think in some ways I was more equipped then than now to do this. I had a larger support system, more friends – real friends, not acquaintances – who were prepared to call me out if I was wrong, and financially in a significantly stronger place. Today I can count my real friends on one hand, and I don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like to. I rely on email and phone calls to keep me strong and on-track.

But I know more about following now than I did then.

I hope age is giving me maturity.

Jesus: The Unwelcome Guest?

Guest

We all get those annoying calls.

light_ofthe_world_hunt
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to dine with him, and he with Me.” Revelation 3:20

Be it the doorbell, telephone, email, whatsapp or delivery method of the moment, we all get the call from that person we really don’t want to hear from at that moment (or ever sometimes).

 

Just when you want to spend time on your own, or with your spouse there comes the chime.

“Can I pop round for 5 minutes?”

Your heart sinks.

To be fair, I’ve been the annoying caller as often as I’ve received them. When I first left home I wasn’t used to having friends – real friends – my own age. I didn’t know the etiquette. I’d lived a very isolated life, partly by choice to avoid pain, and partly because my pain overflowed and infected everyone near me so I got left out a lot until that point. I was not quite 20 when I left home, and I was welcomed into my then girlfriend’s group of friends from her university Christian Union. I was wary because I felt quite hurt by church at that point. I’d been set on a path to study for ordination in the Church of England, then because I was considering moving away and – for financial reasons initially – sharing digs with the girl I was dating my vicar told me he was withdrawing support for my application.

“Living in sin” wasn’t something I’d thought about, mainly because I recognised already that as far as sin goes we’re all pretty much in the same boat, just wearing different coloured blocks of concrete on our feet as swim-fins. Any sin separates us from God.

But I had this radical idea that Jesus was bigger than that. That He got into the boat with a chisel and chipped the concrete away so we could be free of the burden and walk with Him.

Apparently I was wrong was the message I got.

So I abandoned the hope of becoming a “professional” Christian and found myself wandering aimlessly into business management and customer service, never finding a passion for what I was doing, and resenting having been coerced into that stream.

I kept coming back to the idea of Jesus knocking on my door though.

My Grandfather was a minister, a Salvation Army Officer in his youth. He would advise me “The Holy Spirit is a Gentleman, David. He never forces His way in. You need to invite Him.” I didn’t get it back then. I was too young angry to grasp what he was telling me.

coyote vs tunnel.gifJesus is a guest in our life. He will not force His presence on us or His wisdom over our own. If we choose to follow a different path, He will wait patiently while we smash headlong into the cliff, like Wiley Coyote in the “Roadrunner” cartoons, then pick up the pieces and help us back to the safe path with Him after we’ve tried to force our way through the painted illusion a few times.

Basically, He waits for us to get tired of the constant bruising from running into an imaginary tunnel we painted in the first place and reach a place of acceptance where we invite Him to come in and share Wisdom with us.

I’ve heard preachers say God can’t be surprised. I don’t believe that’s true. There are several places where it’s recorded that the behaviour of the Israelites was so bizarre that God says “And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart.” (Jeremiah 7:31) God is horrified that people created in His image could do something as horrific as human sacrifice, to the point that t was something He had never even imagined – He was surprised.

Even more surprising was that it was a regular happening, not just a once off.

We look back today in horror at the practice. Maybe a thousand years from now people will do the same when they look at selective abortion in lieu of exercising choice before the pregnancy.

But Jesus waits to be invited in.

If you don’t believe in healing, don’t worry: you’ll never have to deal with it. Same goes for financial Blessing. Jesus is a guest. He will never force us to accept a gift we don’t want.

Just consider for a moment: We were given Free-Will that God Himself has said He will not interfere with.

Imagine you go to a friend’s home and during your visit he kicks the cat. It’s his cat. You can sympathise with the feline, ask him to stop, threaten to leave, even threaten him with bodily harm for the assault; but at the end of the day you can’t un-kick the cat. And you can’t force him to never kick it again unless you take the cat away from him.

But you’re a guest in his house. And maybe what you see as abuse is a game they play together. The “kick” may have been more gentle than it appeared. I rough-house with my dogs. Anyone seeing me play with them would think I was being harsh, but I guarantee I come out of it worse for wear than they do.

As a guest in another’s home, we are invited in and the homeowner has the right to eject us should they choose to, or not let us in in the first place.

Jesus comes as a guest to us. He’s not SWAT with a search warrant and breaking down the door – although He has the power to do that. He comes as a guest and awaits invitation.

A personal example. When I moved to South Africa I wasn’t 100% certain it was the right timing so I invited Jesus to show me it was. I went to an estate agent to put my home on the market at 12pm. On the way home I got a call from the agent saying he had someone wanting to come and see the property right now. At 12:30pm I pulled into my drive to find agent and prospect waiting for me – I still don’t know how they got there before me. At 12:40pm the prospect accepted the full asking price and by 1pm the paperwork was signed confirming the sale of the house. In context: two doors away and identical house had been on the market for over a year for a lower price. The buyer had seen that house and rejected it as the price was too high.

So I moved to Cape Town. Very relieved I might add.

I had diabetes and gout at the time. After I’d been here for about a year the gout flared up and I was essentially crippled by it. I couldn’t walk and just the weight of a sheet made it feel like there was in insane imp inside my toe joint using dynamite and axes to hammer his way out. I prayed and felt the Holy Spirit tell me the gout was done.

Within an hour the pain, swelling and discolouration had gone completely. It’s never come back. I’ve not changed my eating habits in any way, in fact my eating habits should have made it much worse by now, but the gout is gone. When God does a work, it’s complete.

But I’m still diabetic. I couldn’t trust Jesus enough to let go of that. So I still have it. Every so often I get the prompt “Ready yet?” My heart says a resounding “YES!”, but my mind gets in the way. I get filled with “what if” questions. “What if it doesn’t work?”, “What if this isn’t God?”

So I’m stuck with diabetes until I can get my head out of the way. I know from Isaiah and Peter that by Jesus’s stripes I’m healed – of everything. I’ve seen in not just with gout but also with acute injuries to most of my body at some point. But somehow I can’t get it through for the diabetes.

That doesn’t mean God doesn’t heal diabetes. I know people He has healed of it. It just means Jesus won’t force Himself on me. He goes as far as I allow him to.

He is a guest.

If you visit a friend for a week, you don’t redecorate the house. It’s not yours to do. You’re a guest.

Why do we think Jesus would be any different when He comes into our life?

He stands and knocks, and waits for an invitation.

Surely you have room for a guest?

Paradise Lost

At once as far as angel’s ken he views
The dismal situation waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed:
Such place eternal justice had prepared
For those rebellious, here their prison ordained
In utter darkness, and their portion set
As far removed from God and light of heaven
As from the center thrice to th’utmost pole.

Paradise Lost: Book 1 [John Milton]

What a description. Milton’s vision of Hell, a realm of Darkness

This place, forged by God before time itself began in preparation for any rebellion.

Adam and Eve were sent from the Garden of Eden, but Satan was sent to Hell. Milton’s imagery is stark and unrelenting. There is power in the words, but as vivid as the description is it does not begin to describe the war we are fighting.

 In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. He was [continually existing] in the beginning [co-eternally] with God. All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being. In Him was life [and the power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].

John 1:1-5 Amplified

“The darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].” How much more of a description of the situation in the World today do we need than these words, penned by John, the Beloved Disciple around 2000 years ago?

Prophetic? Maybe. Accurate? Certainly.

We walk as figures of Light in a dark world, just as Jesus did. Soldiers of Christ in a war that makes the Normandy Invasion look like a kindergarten outing.

The World – especially in the West – stands against everything the Gospel stands for. We must live in the World, without being corrupted by it. And that’s not easy.

We start out as children of darkness, then we are born into the Kingdom of Light when we accept Christ. But this transformation is an ongoing process. It only truly ends when we pass from this fallen World into the World to come, where Christ makes all things new, wipes away every tear and Death itself is vanquished.

Some of my wording in this entry is deliberately reminiscent of the older hymns I grew up singing as a child and young Christian.

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to War”L_Middle_Ages_-_Crusader, “Soldiers of Christ! Arise and put your armour on”. Calls to battle. Powerful words from an age when Christ and Christianity was taken seriously, when Christians shaped all walks of life by building schools, prisons, hospitals and a welfare system to support the poor – which in the majority of places have been taken over by Government and the Christian beginnings eradicated until we are left with schools where God is eliminated from the curriculum in favour of the religion of Atheism; prison systems where if you weren’t a hardened criminal when you went in, you are by the time you come out; hospitals where religious influence is minimised at best and usually restricted to prayers over the dead; and a welfare system that encourages the poor to stay poor rather than seeking to help them find a way out of their poverty – it encourages the disabling of the most vulnerable.

Where did I lose youHow can we not see the darkness in this change? As Christians, how can we live with the bastardisation of what was created by our forefathers to uplift and help all people, beaten into a tool to keep the weakest weak and protect the most powerful and rich?

I think Jesus would look at the Church today, or rather what passes itself off as it, and wonder what happened. There were so many things in the first hundred or so years of Christianity that were done by Christians without hesitation. They gave up possessions, land, houses, family and ultimately their lives rather than see another person in need or deny the presence of Christ in their life.

Today, things are somewhat different. Too often church has become a social club we go to on a Sunday – sometimes – rather than a description of the people who make up the group.

I had the experience of living in the lives of about 30 or so young Christians when I was in my 20s, from the area around Totnes in Devon, England. We lived in each others lives, ate at each others homes. If one person had a car and another needed transport there was no question of demanding petrol money – it was practically forced on the car owner! We would go over to see someone for coffee and end up staying three days. We met together as a group, yes, but the group didn’t define us. Our presence in each other’s lives did that. It was the most amazing time of my life, Spiritually, and although it somehow evaporated those people remain fast in my heart. I would not, no: I could not be the man I am today without the input from those young men and women of God. At 25/26 I was one of the oldest in the group. I was regularly admonished and corrected by younger members, some of them still under 17, who held wisdom and insight far beyond many adults – and I deeply miss their presence in my life on a daily basis.

There was Light in that group. A Light that the darkness of the World couldn’t grasp and couldn’t overpower. We shared everything and thought nothing of it.

But the driving force wasn’t from us, the members. It wasn’t from the church eldership either. The power behind it was we were drawn together by something much bigger than ourselves. Bound together by love, respect and a desire to grow ever closer to Christ as one body. Young men and women sharing space with no question of impropriety even occurring to anyone. We’d crash on the floor together at the end of an evening, sleep on sofas and beds in spare rooms without any question of “motive”. It was simply we were drawn by a desire to grow together.

Darkness never entered the group.

It couldn’t. We looked out for each other too much for it to have a chance to.

It was a reflection of Paradise for me. Heaven on a smaller scale (with less gold on the floor).

It’s not too late. If it could happen in a small group of youth, it can happen on a larger scale.

We can build a vision of a reflection of God’s World in this Fallen state simply by returning to the principles of the Church as led by Peter, Paul and the Apostles.

Paradise does not have to be lost.

Seeing Despite the Clouds

Clouds

A dark cloud is no sign that the sun has lost his light; and dark black convictions are no arguments that God has laid aside His mercy.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
There’s been a lot of turmoil recently in the world. Brexit, the bombing in Istanbul, continuing political turmoil in America. A lot of problems.
The World loves problems. It loves to try to block out the Light by throwing clouds across the sun, or rather trying to hide the Son.
CS Lewis said “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” There’s a lot of truth in that, as with most of what Lewis wrote. The man had a deep and profound wisdom that I hope in another 30 years I might have 10% of.
But the World hates the Light. It wants to try to dim God’s Glory by throwing clouds across our path. As I’m writing this there is a heavy rainstorm going on outside my window, rattling on the roof and a draught blowing through a crack in the window-frame. It reminds me of another storm.
Jesus had just fed 5000 men, plus their women and children. Conservative estimate may put the total at 12-15000 hungry mouths. And He did it with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
Pretty amazing stuff. You’d think it would make an impression on His closest friends.
I love the disciples. They see such an amazing miracle and then a storm on a boat and they forget exactly who it is they walk with. Clouds cover the event from less than a day before. They get focussed on the immediate situation, the storm.
The clouds.
They lose sight of the One they are walking with.
Peter does a bit better. They all see Jesus walking across the surface of the sea through the storm towards them. The boat is sinking, but Peter realises there’s something more here. He cries to Jesus.
Now something I’ll write about another time is how to ask Jesus a question. It’s too big to go into here in detail. Suffice to say Peter generally before Pentecost tended to open his mouth for the express purpose of changing feet. “If it is you” he calls to Jesus.
“If”.
What’s Jesus going to say? “It’s not me Peter, stay in the boat”? He puts God on the spot. He opens up himself as well.
The storm rages on. The swell is swamping the ship. It’s sinking, and there’s nothing Peter can do to stop it. He’s a fisherman. How many times might he have lost friends to a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee? Now it’s him that’s caught in one.
But for a blinding moment Peter sees through the clouds and gets out of the boat. In the middle of the sea. And he walks to Jesus. Only when he begins to see the clouds, when he takes his eyes off the Christ, does he begin to sink.
I’ve never “begun” to sink. I step onto the surface of the swimming pool and I don’t “begin” to sink.
But Peter begins to sink. The clouds of the storm have distracted him, but he is still aware of the Son behind them – so he calls to Jesus again. And they walk back to the boat together, over the surface of the water.
What clouds are in your life? Finance? Sickness? Unemployment? Losing a home? Unhappy marriage?
The worst thing you can say to someone who’s depressed is “just pull yourself together”. The clouds of that illness overwhelm to the point that they are blinding.
We lose sight of the light behind the cloud. It’s easy to do.
About 17 years ago my dad was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a particularly nasty brain cancer with a life expectancy of around 12 to 16 weeks after diagnosis. Treatments available at the time didn’t increase the time he had left, they simply made his last weeks miserable with nausea, drug induced diabetes, and so many tablets it took my mum aver an hour to get them all into him. He’d just be settling from the breakfast dose when she had to start with the lunchtime round.
Dad and I were close. He was my closest friend, my Spiritual brother. We had played and prayed together for most of my life. Now I was losing him. The clouds closed in around me, and despite having been a Christian for almost 15 years at that point I lost sight of the Son behind the clouds.
Depression followed, and brought 4 suicide attempts – a much longer story that I’ll share another time. The clouds swallowed me because I forgot how to look behind them.
Just a few days before he died there was a total eclipse in England. We went up to the top of the local hill where the parish church had stood until arsonists destroyed most of it a few years before. It was an amazing experience, watching the moon’s shadow cover the sun. Birds went to roost, flowers closed, New Age hippies rattled tambourines (much to everyone’s annoyance) but not once did anyone – even the smallest children – doubt that the sun would come out again.
We can deal with an eclipse, but we think the world is ending because of a cloud!
I see death and suffering on a daily basis in South Africa. It’s hard seeing someone come through when they just got the news that they have cancer, or HIV, or whatever the reason is they come to see us (I work at a medical practice). It’s part of the reason I’m getting out from working in that environment. It’s secular. I can’t turn to them and remind them that the Son is still there and on their side. We see many different religious beliefs as well as agnostics, and it tears me up inside to not be able to shake them sometimes and rattle the clouds away even if just for a moment.
I do get the chance sometimes, and that’s very rewarding. But I need more.
We are called to be the Light to the World, to let Jesus shine through us. But then we wrap ourselves up in the same clouds everyone else is covered by and try to hide so we don’t “offend” them.
It’s time to offend some people. Ever notice how the World doesn’t think twice about offending Christians? A conservative estimate suggested a couple of years ago that there are over ten times the number of committed Christians in America than homosexuals – not taking into account those who claim to have a foot in both camps.
Ten times the number.
Where are the “Christian Pride” rallies? Where are the vocal Christians? And I’m not referring to the cranks and crackpots lining up to endorse assorted political “leaders” (and I use the word under advisement), but the voice of the real, grass-roots Christians who can see through the clouds and smokescreen the media whips up.
How have we reached the point where the darkness is overcoming the light?
Clouds blow over. The sun is always there, just behind them.
Look past the clouds in your life today and see the Son shining, reaching out to you.
I’d like to hear: What are three things we can do to help us remember that even when the clouds are there, the light shines through?
And please, no “read the Bible more” or “pray harder” type answers.
Blow the clouds away!

1984

The Church in Crisis
We live in a time where the Truth of the Gospel is challenged more fiercely than at any time in history.
Televangelists spout their message across the airwaves in such a way the Truth often gets missed in the message. No ministry can run indefinitely without funding, and there comes a time when funds need to be raised, but the World hears this and screams “All these preachers want is your money!”
Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes the ministry in question is questionable.
More often they’re wrong. A minister of the Gospel spends hours each day researching, learning, reading, praying, counselling, writing and teaching the Gospel of Jesus. It’s a full time job.
You never hear “All that doctor wants is your money!” when you go to the office with a stomach bug and he charges you for his time, his knowledge, his research, his counsel and the writing of a prescription.
The World ignores them because they don’t conflict with the World’s values.
Jesus dropped into 1st Century Palestine at a time when there was universal deceit. He spoke only Truth, and they killed Him for it.
Today you can be charged with inciting violence by hate speech in many countries, but these laws are never enforced on the people who use it the most: politicians. Rather they are pushed on simple and ordinary people. Bakers who don’t want their store associated with homosexuality because their understanding is that it’s sinful and they want to take a stand for their Faith, the Truth as they understand it. Clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples for the same reason. Preachers who have the audacity to say that a collection of writings from two millennia ago is still applicable in full in modern society, that God doesn’t change and His decrees are absolute.
In some countries they get fired or put out of business. In others they get decapitated. Both are persecuted.
Now I’m not saying I agree with everything here in terms of action. We are called to allow ourselves to be subject to the law of the land, sometimes that means doing what it says, and sometimes it means not doing it and accepting the consequences. Should the clerk issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple? The law of the land says yes. But what is marriage in the eyes of the law and what is marriage in the eyes of God can be very different things. In law, marriage is primarily a financial institution. In Faith it is much deeper than that and goes to the core of humanity’s sexuality.
Be subject to the laws of men. Eventually God will have the last laugh anyway. Two men may enter a non-sexual “marriage” in law so that they have a person they can turn to to make hard choices in the event of failing health. In modern terms, it could be argued that King David and Jonathon may have had a union of this kind as they are described as being of one spirit – yet there is no hint that they were sexually involved. I have lived with men as a younger man. One of my closest friends was my house-mate and confidante for over a year. I introduced him to his wife. At that time he knew me better than anyone else alive, but there was no hint of sexual intent on our part towards each other. We jammed music, ate, shopped, prayed and travelled together regularly. When his fiancee came to visit we found space. I wasn’t dating at the time, but if I had been there would have been the same consideration there as well.
Then came the “Politically Correct” crowd.
It started as a good thing. A moral compass led by men and women of value and principle who wanted to take a stand against the decay of society. But it got taken over by “equal” rights groups.
Language changed. Simple terms like “chairman” were designated as sexist. Describing an individual of African origin as “black” was racist. So we moved into a world where individuals were not short, they were “vertically challenged”, paraplegics were “differently-abled”, those considered not to fit into society’s image of attractive were “aesthetically challenged”. Schools could no longer stream pupils in terms of A and B because “B” would feel inferior. No matter that group “A” was working on quantum mechanics and group “B” was still learning the basic times tables.
And then the PC crowd turned it’s head to God.
Suddenly real Truth is offensive. Christmas has to be called “Winter Festival”, Easter “Spring Festival”. The Bible was removed from schools in America because it was not politically correct to “brainwash” children into believing in God, whilst the doctrines of atheism were planted firmly in place. It reached the point where public schools can’t put on a Nativity play in case it offends someone. This in a society that glorifies sex, violence, drug use, vampires and all kinds of nonsense.

 

Most children are taught sex education at primary school these days unless the parents specify that they must be witheld from that. I was horrified in England about 15 years ago when I was taking part in a church school activity to find the seven and eight year olds were coming from sex education classes. These kids knew about erectile dysfunction before they knew how to spell it.
Like the Roman Empire, we are desensitised to violence from an early age. An estimate in the 1990s suggested by the time the average high school student graduates he (or she – must be correct) has witnessed 100,000 murders thanks to television and film makers. I pulled out an old movie I enjoyed a long time ago recently, “Malone” starring Burt Reynolds. It was given an 18 certificate for graphic violence when it was released. Compared to films that today get 12 and 15 certificates it was nothing. Even “Highlander” as a movie in 1986 got a 15 certificate in the UK, but the TV series was more graphic and broadcast at peak viewing time just six years later.
I read 1984 by Orwell as a teenager and thought it could never happen. “Animal Farm” and “Lord of the Flies” were also on my reading list. The concepts in them were so inconceivable that we had to suspend disbelief to follow the story and remind ourselves that in a civilised society this could never happen.
Fast forward to 2016 and we have Government bodies regulating what we can say and where we can say it. A Christian TV channel in England moved it’s base of operations away from the UK because it was not allowed under UK law to air any program that stated Jesus is the only way to God because it might offend those who didn’t believe. In my experience with television if I tune in to an Islamic program I expect it to try to convince me that Islam is the truth. So I switch it off. Not so any more, the thought police of “1984” are beginning to arrive.
“Free Speech Zones” are another PC thing. Very Orwellian in their construction. You can say what you like, but it will never be broadcast.
There are certain issues which rightly need to be addressed. Men and women doing the same jobs should be paid the same salary. If a man and a woman have the same qualification they should receive the same compensation for their work as long as it is of the same standard. There should be no place for saying a woman is simply there to make a man look good or vice-versa.
Consider the Gospel for a moment. Jesus is teaching and the woman caught in adultery is thrown at His feet. What does He do?
He writes in the sand.
Huh?
Immediately the crowd take their attention off the woman and her humiliation and focus on Jesus. “What’s He writing?” “Is He drawing something?”
He could have been writing out the theory of relativity or doodling a cat. It’s irrelevant. His action restores the woman’s dignity by allowing her time to cover herself. These Politically Correct accusers are seeking to trap the Teacher. So He hits them with Truth. Instead of calling for the stoning or asking where the other party involved is, as adultery generally requires more than one active participant (or it did before the internet), Jesus simply says “Ok, but the first to throw a stone must be sinless himself.” Then he goes back to doodling or calculating pi or whatever He was doing.
Thud, thud, thud. The stones fall to the ground beginning with the longest grey beards and finally the youngest walking away leaving only the woman and Jesus – the only one qualified to throw that first stone.
And Jesus restores her. He tells her to leave her sinful ways, but He refuses to condemn her. Read the story in John 8. I love the version in The Message, but they all say it. Jesus refuses to condemn her.
Once a year in Cape Town there is an event called the “Sexpo” for a few days, and predictably there are the “christians” outside waving banners and shouting “You’re all going to Hell, Directly to Hell, Do not pass ‘Go’, Do not collect $200” like some transcendental Monopoly card. How different to the act of writing in the sand.
Researching an article I was working on some time ago I was looking for accounts of life changes and how acceptance works out in the real world. I stumbled on a blog by a writer called Jennie Ketcham called “Becoming Jennie”. I’d never heard of her, but I read an entry or two and found myself cheering for her as she told her story through this blog of leaving the sex industry and trying to find a place in the real world again. Hopefully in the not too distant future nobody will know her for her past, but for her skills as a writer on the Huffington Post, a published author and a counselling psychologist. I don’t know where she stands from a Spiritual perspective, but her actions show a clear repentance – completely turning away from her past life.
That’s what we are called to do. Repent. Turn away from the past and set out in a new direction. Learn from it, yes. But not repeat it. It takes incredible strength to turn away from past addictions. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling or even things we don’t think of like washing the car. Anything that puts itself between us and God we need to turn away from.
I find personally that I’m a work in progress. Like Paul, I do what I do not want to do, and I do not do that which I want to do [paraphrase of Romans 7:19-20] and I find myself spinning in ever decreasing circles.
But thankfully, the thought police are there to remind me how despicable I am.
No, wait. That’s Orwell.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit witnesses inside me that I am the Righteousness of Christ. He convicts me of Righteousness and that gives me the strength to turn away from whatever the sin of the moment is. Currently the big one for me is coveting. Mainly because of things that I had in the past that the old me wants back. I covet the things from my past and trying to recapture them often gets in the way of doing what I know God has called me to do. Procrastination is another one.
The Truth of Jesus is becoming known as hate-speech. We need to guard our tongues and hearts and make sure what we say lines up with the Bible, not the twisting of specific verses to fit the current worldly morality, but the Truth that is constant through the entire Scripture. We need to remember that the Word of God is Jesus, not the book. The book is there as a way for us to find Him.
But if we’re going to follow a book, better the Bible than “1984”.