Losing my Religion

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NightWieselWhile thinking about the Auschwitz memorial last week I read the moving story of one of the inmates, Elie Wiesel, who wrote about his experiences in his book “Night.”

Because of the terrible persecution and massacre, Elie found himself losing his cherished faith in God. At Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, he was unable to bless the Lord, finding only words of execration in his tragic inner conflict.

“Blessed be God’s name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fibre in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers end up in the furnaces? …But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy.”

This isn’t the intellectual atheism that comes from science and psychology – inevitably relying on its own fiduciary framework, but the bitter cry of the believer trying to salvage a faith that is being shipwrecked on the rocks of incalculable suffering.

Perhaps Christ himself battled with the same agony when he cried out:

“My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

This strident cry, owned by millions over the years, still questions the goodness of God in a world where there is both personal and universal suffering. Some noble fellows, like Elie, prefer to choose atheism – or agnosticism, in a brave effort to exonerate God from the responsibility of being a despot!

Every generation is confronted with the basic question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil – a question which the thinker Leibnitz framed in the term “Theodicy”. Is it possible to answer both of the following questions in the affirmative?

Is God good?
Is God all powerful?

For Wiesel, an affirmation of God’s power was in contradiction to an affirmation of his goodness. Why didn’t the all powerful God step in and change things if he really is good?

I remember hearing a young Rwandan lady testifying. She hid behind a large chair while Hutu rebels invaded her home and began to massacre her Tutsi family. She watched them raise the blade of a machete over her beloved father and brother. She said how hard she had prayed at that moment, asking God for help and divine intervention. In spite of her prayer, the deadly blade still drew blood and killed.

“It was at that moment that I lost my faith,” she continued.

Is it possible to still affirm God’s goodness in the face such apparent contradictions?

The Biblical Patriarch Job faced the same contradictions in his own life. Why had he, a just man, been so painfully afflicted and suffered such unbearable loss? In his struggle for understanding – and it always is a struggle, he refuses to compromise on God’s goodness.

“Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised. In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job 1:21-22

Never sin by compromising God’s essential character of love! Always begin your answer to the theodicy question with a relationship, with intimacy, with total affirmation of God’s goodness. Begin with the person before the power. This is the tragedy of Wiesel – having begun with affirmation God’s omnipotence he finds his faith overcome by the inability to equally affirm his goodness in the midst of such horror.

Convinced of God’s immutable love, we can now dare to consider the question of his power. Let God himself answer the question. The apostle Paul was faced with dreadful suffering from a satanic messenger. In spite of his earnest prayers and upright life he found no relief. In despair he cried to God and heard the Lord answer him.

“But he said to me. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…”  2 Corinthians 12:9

We need to reframe our idea of power. True omnipotence has vulnerability at its heart. The apostle John, weeping at the tragedy of world history, received a paradigm shift on power when he had a vision of the Sovereign throne of heaven.

“Then one of the elders said to me, Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” Revelation 5:5-6

Lions and thrones – the things of power, and yet at the heart of all that is a little, suffering lamb –“Slain from the foundation of the world.”lamb

We cannot simply affirm a pagan, totalitarian power to God. His power often seems totally defeated by evil, only to rise again in the perfect sevenfold strength of resurrection.

Paul, still painfully pierced by his thorn, also understood such a radical concept of God’s power which passes through a cross.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Many have asked the very legitimate questions of why it is necessary to “rejoice in weakness.” No easy answers here. Suffering is always shrouded in a certain mystery. However, here are some thoughts?

My first advice is to always resist suffering in all its forms. Paul prayed three times! Don’t seek it out. There are basically three approaches.

Resist – A huge amount of suffering is a direct result of Satan’s attack on the human race. God has sown good seed but evil seeds are also sown in the middle of the night.

“An enemy did this!” Matthew 13:28

Before having the knee jerk reaction of blaming God, it might be worthwhile considering that there may well be an evil adversary at the origin of such suffering.

Linked to this, is the notion of suffering as a consequence of our own wrong decisions, sins and errors. The Apostle Peter speaks about this.

“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” 1 Peter 2:20

“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” 1 Peter 4:15-16

Don’t blame God for the consequences of your own bad choices. Resist the enemy and he will flee from you. Turn away from your sins so that times of refreshing may come upon you.Hiding Place

Grow – St Irenaeus saw suffering as a necessary part of “soul making.” The simple, sin stained clay of Adam is destined to sit with Christ on a throne alongside God. When suffering comes it can purge us of human dross and transform us to Christ’s image.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5

Purpose – Corrie Ten Boon, The famous Dutch author of “The Hiding Place” – which recounts her ordeal in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, saw suffering in life as two sides of a tapestry. Sometimes we only see the ragged, incomprehensible, disordered strands from our side. However, on the other side there is a beautiful tapestry woven in heaven. This is her famous poem which brough her comfort in the horrors of the camp.

“Life is but a Weaving” (the Tapestry Poem)
My life is but a weaving
Between the Lord and me;
I may not choose the colours–
He knows what they should be.
For He can view the pattern
Upon the upper side
While I can see it only
On this, the under side.
Sometimes He weaves in sorrow,
Which seems so strange to me;
But I will trust His judgment
And work on faithfully.
‘Tis He who fills the shuttle,
And He knows what is best;
So I shall weave in earnest,
And leave to Him the rest.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needed
In the Weaver’s skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

TenBoomTapersteryThere is a sense of some divine plan, some redemptive suffering, some purpose behind it all.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Suffering will always cause various emotions to rise up in our hearts. Let’s call them the tree “R’s”

Rebellion – This is the most natural emotion. It is important to give it space to come out, but do not let it take root.

Resignation – When you realise that you can’t actually change some things a certain stoic fatalism can set in. This is better than rebellion but must never be our final destination.

Resurrection Hope – This is the place of glorious victory – the place where the dry bones live again (Ezekiel 37:1-10), where a devastated Marie Magdalene hears her name (John 20:16) and where the world finds hope.

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:19-20

God was not entirely lost to Elie Wiesel. During the hanging of a child, which the camp was forced to watch, he heard someone, outraged by the cruel spectacle, ask:

“Where is God? Where is he?”

Not heavy enough for the weight of his body to break his neck, the boy died slowly. Wiesel filed past him, seeing his tongue still pink and his eyes clear.

“Behind me, I heard the same man asking: Where is God now?
And I heard a voice within me answer him:
Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows.”

We end with a paradox. Is God hanging dead in the Nietzschean sense – overcome, vanquished by horror? Or is he hanging with us in our deepest sufferings, identifying fully with our pain as the little slain lamb and leading us to the hope of resurrection?

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The Synergy of Generations

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“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (2 Timothy 1:5 NIV)

It is good to know that we all have roots. We do not just appear out of nothing with no history or inheritance. Whether we know it or not we are part of a continuing purpose.

Paul thought it useful to encourage his young protegé Timothy to be fully aware of the divine plan that was being handed on to him. For the Jewish Paul, ancestry – traced through the mother’s line, was very important to maintain a valid witness. Accepting this cultural reality in the narrative, I would dare to say that we all need to be strengthened and encouraged by finding our spiritual history. Linking our purpose and prayers with those who have preceded us can create a powerful synergy to bring more of God’s ultimate plan and presence into our current exP1100423perience.

Honouring parents – recognising the contribution and foundations laid, is a strong Biblical principle guaranteeing success and sustainability.

“Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:2, 3 NIV)

The prophet Joel’s words – also echoed by Peter at Pentecost, push to align the dream of the old man with the vision of the new generation.

“No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:16, 17 NIV)

Bridging the Old and New Testaments, the prophet Malachi (4:5-6) cries out for a reconciliation, a healing, of generations – the older Jewish root with the budding Gentile nations, a reconciliation which is taken up centuries later by the ministry of John the Baptist.

“And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17 NIV)

Timothy, having a Greek Father, was a young man who incarnated the diversity of a new global season of God’s work which needed a new form but which also needed the substance of faith from the past. He represents each new generation having to struggle with the age-old equation of inventing new forms but maintaining the foundational substance of the past. Listen to what Dee Hock – the founder of Visa, has to say about this:

“Substance is enduring, form is ephemeral. Failure to distinguish clearly between the two is ruinous. Success follows those adept at preserving the substance of the past by clothing it in the forms of the future. Preserve substance; modify form; know the difference. The closest thing to a law of nature in business is that form has an affinity for expense, while substance has an affinity for income.”

Can you discern the essential difference between form and substance in the challenge to build mission in today’s world?

Indeed, Paul’s challenge to Timothy was to preserve the substance of faith, not throwing the baby out with the water of a changing world. He encourages Timothy to do at least three things:

1) Guard the good deposit.

“Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:14 NIV)

Partner with the inner conviction of the intelligent fire within to discern the essential substance of your life and mission and defend it as a good soldier against the onslaught of the enemy.

2) Fan into the flame the gift of such substance.

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Timothy 1:6 NIV)

I do not think that the laying on of Paul’s hands was just a charismatic transfer of power. It was more of an apostolic recognition of the synergy of generations that was coming to bear on the young man. He wanted Timothy to be energised by this recognition of his specific place in the history of God’s purpose. May we too “fan into flame” the inheritances that await to be discovered on our own faith journeys.

3) Be bold, loving and pure.

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV)

A great crowd of witnesses is looking on (Hebrews 11). Don’t let them down.God and kids

Recently I went back three generations into my own family history. I discovered an amazing deposit of faith handed down via a “Penny and a Prayer!” 

Why not try and find out what you might discover in your own synergy of generations?

I think the same principle might also work for the history of churches and missions? My own beloved mission is in its third generation, launching young Timothy’s out into an ever-changing world.

Not all of our inheritances are useful. We can sadly – and only too often, get bequeathed pain and curse rather than love and faith. Often, like the parable of the garden sown with both good and bad seed in Matthew 13:24-30, we struggle between the positive and negative of our pasts.

What do you do with such wounds?

This is indeed the subject of a whole new devotional, but, in a nutshell, we need to bring “such empty ways of life” into the eternal redemption of Christ.

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Peter 1:18-20 NIV)

We are still in these “last times” following Him who was from the beginning into the final frontiers of world history. Like Timothy, may we “preach the Word”, “endure hardship” and “fight the good fight.”

Seven lessons from Jesus’ prayer for us all…

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1)  Revelation – “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.”  John 17:6

God wants to be known. Eternal life itself depends on this ultimate knowing. “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” v.3 The apostle Paul also echoed this reality of revelation when he prayed for the Ephesians:WisdomRevelation

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” Ephesians 1:17

The generous Father has already “given” us people to whom He will reveal the beauty, glory and salvation of His Son Jesus. Who are your “given?”

2)  Edification and Sanctification by the word of truth – ” For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them…Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:8&17

You must give people “words” that you have overheard from the Father. Such words are found in the disciplined and loving meditation of the whole Bible. Try reading it through at least once every year.

3)  Prayer “I pray for them.” John 17:9

Jesus “always lives to intercede for” us according to the writer of  Hebrews 7:25, and we should also devote our lives to pray for those God has entrusted to us.

4)  Protection “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name…My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” John 17:11&15

For the Jews there was great power in the revealed name of God. That name is now incarnated and fulfilled in the name of Jesus before whom every knee must bow: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

Proclaim the name of Jesus over those you love, your church, your friends, family and your nation.

True protection can never come from just hiding away behind the four walls of the church or barricading ourselves behind a marginalised religious culture. We are in the world as salt and light. Engage boldly with it, also releasing those you love to their culture and friends, trusting that your prayers will protect them from all evil influences.

5)  Unity “so that they may be one as we are one.” John 17:11unity through diversity

Staying together always requires effort, sacrifice and love. It is the mark of the mature and the reflection of true Christian character. Unity is never separate from the truth of God’s Word.  Heeding the apostle Paul’s advice we must all work towards this goal. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3

The Puritans put it this way. “Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, charity in all things.”

6)  Joy“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:13

Jesus is a joy bringer. Cultivate joy in your life and sow it into that of others. The atmosphere of the Church, where Jesus is present,  should be impregnated with joyous freedom. The cold stoney sadness of many religious edifices, simply signals the absence of the true Beloved. “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

7)  Mission “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” John 17:18

There is a great river of purpose flowing out from God’s heart. He wants all of us to be caught up into this passionate current of love which seeks salvation and restoration for the world. Jesus began the “domino effect” of such a mission as He laid down His life, was “sent” and knocked on to His disciples the same “sacrificial sentness.”

May your own domino fall on to those around you adding to the great teleological history of salvation.

From Rejection to Intercession

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If someone asks him, ‘What are these wounds on your body?’ he will answer, ‘The wounds I was given at the house of my friends.’ Zechariah 13:6

woundedAfter many years of living on this earth it seems to me that one of the deepest wounds that most people feel is that of rejection. The contexts that inflict the deepest pain are those that involve relationships and friends. Who has not been wounded in the “house of their friends?”

That “house” may be a marriage or family, a place of work, a church, a mission or any other relational context. For this article I’d like to look at our church family, but the principles discovered may well help in handling rejection in all the contexts mentioned.

We are so very much a body of friends in our churches and mission agencies, but our very nature – our fellowship,  has to be closely watched as it in itself has the potential to wound. The happy few, the  “Band of Brothers” on a mission, has the potential in changing seasons to inadvertently exclude and reject. New lamps may be exchanged for old, the pioneer personality gives way to organisational maintenance, and a new generation necessarily grows up with a desire to forge ahead rather than interpret the future through their history.

This seems to be the case when we look at Israel’s Biblical history.

After the inspiring leadership of the Patriarchs, Moses and Joshua,

“another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10

The Lord tested the heart of the new generation by leaving the problem of taking the land of promise. Judges 3:1. Each new generation must prove itself by engaging in battle – the inner and spiritual “Jihad” for our context,  and proving character.

Decline inevitably set in and instead of taking full possession of the promise the people were mainly oppressed by their enemies with occasional bursts of revival through various “Judges” who brought the people back to the Lord and their mission.

The great prophet Samuel seems to be one of the last in a long line of Judges. He gave himself to the people wholeheartedly and set them back on track with God. However, like every ministry, he had a sell-by date. He grew old and wanted to appoint his sons as judges, but they lacked the moral fibre of their father, seeking gain rather than God.

“So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 1 Samuel 8:4-5

“You are old!” – For the more silvery haired amongst us the challenge of adapting to a new season, and surviving the rejection of those you have led, can be devastating.

We read in the text that Samuel was “displeased” !

He prayed and the Lord led him to come to terms with the wound of rejection that was eating him up.

“And the LORD told him: Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” 1 Samuel 8:7

In the end, all of the wounds of rejection that we endure, all the exclusion that we encounter, falls on the ultimately rejected one, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The naked man lifted up on a cross, the rejected God, sucked into himself all our pain of being left out and marginalised.samuel

How did Samuel survive this season and move on to anoint and bless the new “Messianic” season by discerning and nurturing the gifting in the young David? How can I move beyond my own painful rejection and bitter words to become a blessing?

The key is found a few chapters later in 1 Samuel 12:22-25. It seems that after the initial shock, Samuel has come to terms with the fact that nothing is going to prevent this new season emerging. He has found a place of peace. How?

He has chosen to pray for those who rejected him.

“As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.” v.23

When we feel rejected we often speak from the wounded overflow of our heart, harshly criticising and judging others. We need to move from this tree of good and evil and feed on the tree of life. Begin to pray and not sin! Then stand and proclaim what is “good and right.”

No easy task, but ultimately the only way to move on and enter a new season.

In fact it seems that the very wound of rejection may even in itself be the catalyst to new beginnings.

At the end of  the Gospel of John, on that post resurrection evening, we find Jesus launching His disciples into a new season. He begins by making it very clear that ministry – all living and loving, will involve wounds.

“…he showed them his hands and side.” John 20:20

In an unmistakable visual he is saying, “This is how the Father sent me – to be wounded.”

And, as Jesus may be speaking to you His own disciple today, he continues:

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” v.21 – The wounding is a new sending!

We need so much help to own this. This is why Jesus breathes on us intimately, allowing us to receive the Comforter – the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit puts the very character of Christ within our own flesh in our own time and culture. He brings healing and the potential to forgive, move on and pray for the “house of my friends.”

“And with that he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:22-23

 

 

The Provision and the Passion

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As I was sitting under a beautifully blossomed apple tree in our garden, my thoughts turned to the teaching on intimacy with God that I had been sharing in our church.

We had been looking at the various degrees of intimacy which God illustrates through wonderful metaphors – almost sacraments, in His Word. We are his “workmanship” – from the Greek “poema”, his listening and learning “sheep”, his obedient “child” and beloved “bride.”

The last two images of relationship lead us to the intimate embrace of the Father receiving back His repentant son, but also to the passionate embrace of the Bridegroom for His Bride.

I suddenly began to wonder in whose embrace I was in?

For many years I had been cultivating a growing experience of the “Father heart” of God. Like the son in Luke 15:20, I had learned to receive grace, provision and restoration in the loving arms of my Heavenly Father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

But it was harder for me to feel the tender touch of the Bridegroom. I had discovered something of this a few years previously when I realised that my heart needed to deeply submit to the love of God. This submission is still leading me on a journey of discovery – limited of course by the now/not yet tension of experiencing God’s Kingdom in this fallen world, a journey of intimacy into the embrace of the Beloved.

“His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.” Song of Songs 2:6

“But who is embracing my soul?” I wondered. The Father or the Bridegroom Jesus? That’s at least 2 embraces in one God!

I found a measure of answer in coming back to a Trinitarian God. God is indeed three in one. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You have the Father and you have the Heavenly Bridegroom Son Jesus. The Holy Spirit applies their embrace to our heart in the appropriate context.

The context of intimacy with the Father leans more to that of Provision – The Father knows what you need, He provides for all creation, He sacrifices the fattened calf, the Isaac, the redemptive ram – He is Yahweh Jireh, my loving Provider.Baptism-of-Christ

We see the Holy Spirit bringing this intimacy to Christ Himself at His baptism in Luke 3:22 –

“…and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

The context of intimacy with the Bridegroom is very much with a revelation of the resurrected Son. The Beloved in the Song of Songs is no “pièta” at the bloody foot of the cross. She is an ecstatic worshipper, enthralled with the beauty – as was John in his Revelation vision of Christ, of an eternal King. Compare Song of Songs 5:10-16 with Revelation 1:13-16 – Obviously the earthly Solomon is no match for the truly divine but the key here is to fall in love with the vibrant, eternally living love in Christ which transcends all things.

The context is that of Passion as the Holy Spirit once again applies this intimacy to the heart of the Church – both individually and universally, as she cries out for the Bridegroom in Revelation 22:17 –

“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”

We indeed tread on holy ground as we explore such things. Both “embraces” are important, but it seems that there may well be a whole new paradigm to discover in the embrace of the Bridegroom Son. For example:

A passionate view of mission.

The Father/child paradigm, as in Matthew 21:28, says “Son, go and work…”

The Bride in Song of Songs 1:4 doesn’t need asking: “Take me away with you – let us hurry!”

A passionate view of identity.

1 John 3:1-3 talks about how the Father has lavished His love upon us calling us “children of God.” Such hope calls us to “purify ourselves” in Holy obedience.

The Bridegroom’s perspective on His Beloved Church/Bride – she with no stain or wrinkle, takes us into a whole new dimension concerning our identity.

“All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” Song of Songs 4:7

embrace_II_1A passionate view of my prayer.

As the Prodigal son I have the privilege of “metanoia”, thinking again and turning back to the Father. The essential component of repentance is often found in our prayers and liturgies. We beat our breasts and say, “I have sinned…I am no longer worthy…” Luke 15:18-19. All very necessary and edifying this side of heaven. But while genuine repentance is useful, beware of getting locked into a repetitive ritual of superficial religious repentance which brings no lasting change and no living hope.

And if heaven should suddenly invade our human space? If the Holy Spirit applied the Bridegroom’s embrace in the midst of our everyday encounters? What might we pray?

“I am faint with love.” Song of Songs 2:5

 

 

If you enjoyed this article you will find its ideas developed and expanded in the e book or PDF file, “The Three Powers of the Kingdom.”

Why not find out more or order your copy now by clicking on the link?

 

A Declaration of Resurrection

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declarationLife is full of declarations. Some come in the form of political manifestos, others as works of art, and the best as manifestations of love. In France this is the time of year when we have to make our tax declarations!

However, as Easter celebrations come amongst us, we must remember that greatest of declarations:

The Declaration of Resurrection!

Paul sums it up well at the beginning of his letter to the Romans:

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 1:1-5

Paul was so impacted by this declaration of life that he had encountered on the Damascus road that he also made it one of the major elements of his Gospel:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

Easter celebrates the scriptural and historical fact that Jesus “died for our sins…was buried…was raised.” Paul builds up to the glorious resurrection by emphasising his physical appearing to the Apostles – remember the Emmaus road and the upper room, and to over five hundred people! Just think about that for a moment. Some people seem to have a very abstract, virtual idea of Christ’s resurrection, but there was nothing virtual or metaphorical about five hundred eye witnesses!

Believing in the physical resurrection of Christ is so important:

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” 1 Corinthians 15:14

I do not want to have a” useless” ministry. I want it to be utterly “useful”, totally filled with the faith dynamic of Christ’s resurrection. More than just believing, I want to experience Christ in this risen life and make it my life’s goal:

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11

The powers of the age to come began to break into this world as Christ broke free from the grave.resurrection_kone

Vitality, health, peace and happiness can be ours as we allow His new life in us to overcome the sin and pain inherited from the clay of Adam.

“And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” 1 Corinthians 15:49

Who is your icon? I want to be an “eikon”, a living “likeness” of the heavenly man!

Own your own resurrection experience this Easter! – it may bring you physical healing and well-being as the Holy Spirit infuses new life into old bones.

“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Romans 8:11

The missionary message is based on a declaration of resurrection.

New Dawn

In the famous passage of Matthew 28:1-20, we see the two Marys going to look at a tomb. The tomb seems to be the final destination for us all…but there is more. Whatever the disappointments of life there is always a new “dawn”. Mission, sharing the Gospel message, must bring this new dawn, this new beginning to people’s lives.

Supernatural Intervention

Hard ground quakes open and heavy obstacles are removed. Light invades darkness and angels displace demons.

New Perspective

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” Matthew 28:5-6

Move from fear to faith. in many cultures Jesus is always portrayed as stuck – almost forever, weak, pale and broken on a cross, while shining over Him is His radiant all-powerful, Mum! In some churches there are so many stations of the cross, and crucified Christs that I don’t actually meet the real thing! “He is not here!” He is no longer in the tomb or on the cross. Stop lamenting and making your life an eternal good Friday! There is obviously a place for the cross – a terrible place where Jesus shed His blood and paid the price for my sin and the sins of the world…but He has moved on into glorious resurrection life. He still bears the scars, but they are transfigured trophies of victory.

Find Him in your Future

“Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” Matthew 28:7

If the cross frees us from our past, the risen life of Christ awaits us in future opportunity and vision. He has gone ahead of you preparing a place of blessing, mission, anointing, Word and service. Move on to join him. Where is He waiting for you?

Get Sent – Tell and Teach

“Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me…Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 7 &19-20

Mission MandateA resurrection vision spurred on the Marys and the men to a missionary mandate. May this Easter give you your own missionary mandate as you contemplate the risen Christ, and are empowered afresh.

The Lying Declaration

I would have loved to do without this last section. Unfortunately, in this world, a declaration of resurrection will always be challenged and opposed by the devil’s declaration.

The guards in the story could have had the marvelous privilege of being the first witnesses of resurrection to the world. They could have become apostles…but they chose to be liars!

“While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” Matthew 28:11-15

The power of money, manipulation and self-preservation overcame the testimony of life. So often the same evil spirits are at work today, trying to “steal away” the Gospel power in our own personal lives and also in the world. This “anti resurrection” lie is still alive and well today and widely circulated as a morbid anti-life mandate. Many “guards” still sign up to proclaim it, obeying the “instructions” of this world’s spirit, and keeping themselves out of the “trouble” that a strong resurrection declaration brings.

Who will you be this Easter? A guard, a Mary or a disciple?

Declare the truth – declare the resurrection. He is Risen! – He is Risen indeed!

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

Embrace, Create, Destroy – The Three Powers of the Kingdom

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Big Cover EmbraceEmbrace – Create – Destroy

“Panga Wenam”
The Three Powers of the Kingdom
One Song,
Three words,
Three prayers and
Three actions!

Panga Wenam!

The sun was beating down mercilessly on the rusting corrugated roof of the small church as folk gathered in Ouagadougou for their Sunday worship. Gleaming black faces shone with expectancy as the drums began to beat out a Holy rhythm. Hips began to sway; hands began to clap and, amid the twirling colour and noise, a bit of heaven began to invade this African earth.

“Panga Wenam, Panga Wenam, Panga Wenam, Panga! Panga!! Panga!!! Wenam Hallélujah”  

Caught up in the crescendo of faith filled words, which ran on and on in delightful repetitions, I found a deep inner strengthening as I sang. It was as if the heat had melted some liquid love which was now pulsating deeply into my inner man, healing hurts and implanting fresh hope.

“But what were they singing? What does Panga Wenam mean?”

Through the dust, sweat and dancing I managed to glean a translation from my African friend who was part of the Mossi tribe who had so willingly and generously embraced Christ into their culture.

“Panga means “Power” and Wenam is our name for God. It is more than just a song. It is also our heart cry in prayer…”Send us your power God!”

Today is the launching of my e-book, “Embrace, Create, Destroy” and I leave this devotional as a brief introduction. You’ll have to obtain the book from the HeSed  website if you want to discover more.

And this book too is my own heart cry in prayer for you.

As you read, may you find a wild but gentle power inspiring your own soul – much more than a power – a holy personality bringing life, friendship and illumination on all you do and are.

Three cries – “Panga, Panga, Panga”

Three appeals for “Power, Power, Power”

Three prophetic paradigms emerging – Embrace, Create, Destroy.

Of course we only have one magnificent Holy Spirit, dwelling beautifully in the ineffable dance of the three fold Godhead. And yet this one Spirit, this primal power and personality, like a diamond, has innumerable facets. This book will take us on a journey to discover three of these vital powers, three emerging paradigms, a dynamic trinity of “dunamis” that will empower your life and ministry…Enjoy the ride…it may well change your life!

Sing along with me in this “Panga” video.

Written to celebrate the virtual e book launch of “Embrace, Create, Destroy.”