Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Background Noise

I realised yesterday how easy it is to be frustrated with God, but not really acknowledge it. I've been frustrated over a particular issue for a number of years (related to sickness / suffering). But it occurred to me yesterday that I was in fact holding it against God, for allowing it to happen and not intervening. Subtle thoughts can run deep in your subconscious, which you dismiss and bury because they're not "text book", but somehow they won't go away.

Had to acknowledge and repent of it, which felt really good. Felt a new freedom with my relationship with God. Feels like a real weights been lifted.

It occurred to me that a very dangerous type of anger is the one you feel but don't acknowledge. Because then it just seethes under the surface and you don't deal with it.

Abstractions

"All concepts of reality that ignore Jesus Christ are abstractions"
Bonhoeffer, p469

Wheels of Sorrow

A friend made me laugh when he came out with the following quote:

"Money will never make you happy, but it does help to oil the wheels of sorrow".

Life and Peace

A verse I've been chewing over these last couple of days:

"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace."
Romans 8:5-6

This verse has really spoken to me as I definitely feel the weight of conviction that I'm more caught up in the physical world (the flesh) than I should be. Preoccupied with material possessions, benefits, pursuits and pleasures, the Spirit is so often shoved into second place.

And this verse says that is death.

Death!!!

That's not good. And the truth is you can feel a death within you when you get preoccupied with the physical. Because it doesn't satisfy, at all. When time with God gets squeezed out you feel very hollow.

These last few days I've reprioritised a few things and it's been really liberating. Setting my mind on the Spirit has been very refreshing. Physical, material things fall out of focus. All of a sudden, they're not so important. Your weight, fitness, bank balance and leisure time — when you set your mind on the Spirit you remember they're just temporary things. This physical world is all passing away.

"but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" — how awesome is that promise! Life and peace are two things that everybody craves. To be alive spiritually and at peace with God is very, very good. There's an eternal ring to that phrase.

Friday, 22 February 2013

There is nothing difficult

This morning I was thinking about God and the concept of difficulty. We often say phrases like "nothing is too difficult for God". Like some things for him are harder than others, but nothing manages to overwhelm him.

But then you think, does the word 'difficult' even apply? Does God find anything remotely hard? God just speaks and the Universe obeys. In fact, the whole universe was created by his word. God speaks, stuff happens, there is no 'difficult'.

As I was thinking about this I had the book of Psalms open and happened to read Psalm 29:


3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters.

4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.

8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, "Glory!"

10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!



When we think about prayer, no request is bigger or harder or more difficult for God than any other. And nothing is too small, because his love is great and his capacity is infinite. We just need God to speak, to hear his voice.

Get with the times...

"In the whole of world history there is only one really significant hour—the present... If you want to find eternity, you must serve the times."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p80-81

Growing and Shrinking

Had an interesting conversation with my brother-in-law yesterday. We were talking about various opportunities in life that can be very nerve-racking and challenging. Challenges that basically throw you in at the deep end in a sink-or-swim scenario. Challenges that freak you out a little bit, and threaten you with a good dose of humiliation should it go bad.

They're the sort of challenges that can offer something amazing, and make you feel like a king, but where the risk of failure is quite high.

When those opportunities are presented to you, there's no going back. You will either shrink or grow as a person. If you take it on, you will grow and learn, whatever happens. And it may go very well. If it goes badly, you will still grow as you will no doubt learn something. And you had the courage to give it a go.

But it you decline such an opportunity, you inevitably shrink as a person. You reject a new experience, and perhaps reinforce your fearful tendencies. The opportunity may never come round again.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Total proof

I have to say that experiencing the birth of a child has to go down as total proof that God exists. At the beginning of this year Beth, my daughter, didn't exist in anyway. She had no soul, she had no body, no mind, no personality, no character. But one little act of love and BOOM!... she starts growing, rapidly, with unbelievable design and complexity. Nothing that man has ever created could be as awesome and as intricate as a baby. She's alive. Living, breathing, fully conscious and self-aware. She's beautiful.

If ever there needed to be total proof that this universe was created by a Great Designer, this is it. Billions of years and random chance could never create a baby. Especially not Beth.

A hope that crushes

Over the last couple of years I've seen a few friends of mine really struggle with health, in ways that are quite gut-wrenching. Your heart just goes out to them.

What I find quite paradoxical is that a lot of the suffering inflicted is actually due to the advances we've made in modern medicine. We are offered hope in what would have been totally hopeless situations a few hundred years ago. But sometimes it's just a flicker of hope, a percentage, a chance. You have to fight, battle and strive. And then cope with the crushing disappointment if it doesn't happen, or the problem is never truly overcome.

Sometimes there's no end, no final resolution, no way of moving on. Because treatment still offers some hope, the battle is never over.

Modern science and medicine is amazing though. But you really have to take the good with the bad. Last month, an emergency c-section probably stopped my wife from dying in childbirth. Incredible. Open heart surgery saved my brothers life. But cancer still claimed my Granddad when he was 58. Some situations work out really well. Others open you up to the torture of hope, met with failed treatment. Sometimes that flicker of hope seems to loom slightly out of reach and never delivers.

God, we need you!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Two levels of belief

When you think about it, it seems there's two levels of trusting and believing God, particularly regarding sin and our proclivity towards idolatry. At the first level, you understand that God has set certain things off limits and he says 'no'. But you still desire it, you're very much tempted, and you struggle and strive to be obedient. You grit your teeth and you desperately want to obey God, but the thing still looks good. It still has a certain power over you. In one sense, you strive to be obedient without really believing. You don't fully trust God, but you know he should be obeyed.

The second level is when you genuinely start to believe and trust. When God says a certain thing is bad, and not what he intended, the thing itself looks tainted. When you truly grasp that God is the great designer, you know that nothing can work outside his design. Everything else leads to death. Opposing God has the stench of a rotting corpse.

In this sense your believing and trusting changes your perceptions and desires. Sin loses it's power as you get closer to God. The way you think really starts to change.

King David's word really start to make sense in Psalm 119:

11  I have stored up your word in my heart,
         that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord;
         teach me your statutes!
13  With my lips I declare
         all the rules of your mouth.
14  In the way of your testimonies I delight
         as much as in all riches.
15  I will meditate on your precepts
         and fix my eyes on your ways.
16  I will delight in your statutes;
         I will not forget your word.
...

19  I am a sojourner on the earth;
         hide not your commandments from me!
20  My soul is consumed with longing
         for your rules at all times.
...

34  Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
         and observe it with my whole heart.
35  Lead me in the path of your commandments,
         for I delight in it.
...

77  Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
         for your law is my delight.
...

92  If your law had not been my delight,
         I would have perished in my affliction.
93  I will never forget your precepts,
         for by them you have given me life.
...

97  Oh how I love your law!
         It is my meditation all the day.
98  Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
         for it is ever with me.
...

174  I long for your salvation, O Lord,
         and your law is my delight.
175  Let my soul live and praise you,
         and let your rules help me.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

No Special Effects

Just read this in Matthew 17 where Jesus pays his tax in a rather miraculous way...

"However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself."
Matthew 17:17

It's interesting the way Jesus does miracles. There are no special effects. If I was Jesus I would be tempted to stretch out my hand, have a beam of light descend from Heaven onto it and have the coin materialise out of nothing. There would be no mistaking your power and authenticity.

But his miracles don't seem to go like that. Most of the time he leaves space for faith. He does miracles, but in quite an ordinary, understated way. Like when he feeds the five thousand. You get the impression that people couldn't really see where the food was coming from. It didn't fall out of the sky, materialise in front of them and drop into their hands. All they knew was that Jesus was giving out food, and it kept coming.

When Jesus healed people, there were no bolts of lighting, no thunder, no earth tremors. He just speaks and it happens. You just see the end result, not the process. When he raises people from the dead, there's no awesome sight of regeneration. No elaborate process of a corpse gradually coming back to life. They just wake up as if they were sleeping.

Interesting. Jesus, even when performing miracles, seems to leave room for faith. You can find another explanation if you want to. You can call it coincidence, some sort of elaborate trick, or create some bizarre scientific explanation. Faith is always required, even with the supernatural.

(The only exceptions I can think of are when Jesus walks on water and when he has the transfiguration on the mountain. But even then it's just for the disciples – a very select few who get a special insight.)

What you want vs what you need

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."
James 1:2-3

I've been chewing over these verses for quite a while. They are two verses which imply trials of all shapes and sizes are good for the exercise of your faith. If we didn't have such trials, our faith wouldn't be strengthened.

But what's interesting is if you're a 'good Christian', you've most likely been praying for a resolution. For God to get you out of a situation, to fix things up. And then, when there seems to be no definite answer, we may start questioning why.

Our lack of faith? Perhaps we haven't been praying hard enough, or often enough. Perhaps there's some sort of spiritual battle going on, and we haven't been praying in the right way.

But the first thing these verses say is 'count it all joy'. Obviously our natural reaction is to do the opposite, to get stressed and freak out. Otherwise that particular instruction wouldn't be written. 'Count it all joy' implies the trial is a blessing, and that we have to reconfigure our pattern of thought to acknowledge that.

The verses state that our trials produce steadfastness. Jesus says elsewhere that 'the one who endures to the end will be saved' (Mark 13:13).

It seems steadfastness, perseverance and endurance are what God is developing in our lives. They are qualities of unbelievable importance, and perhaps very central to his work of regeneration. Trials, of shapes and kinds, are the process in which they are developed.

It seems that trails are often the thing we ultimately need, and not always the quick fix answer to prayer we were looking for.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Nervous Vs Fearful

I've been contemplating lately the fine distinction between being nervous and being fearful. It's easy to confuse the two, but there's a world of difference.

Being fearful means you want to run from situations. You want to run and hide, to take flight and avoid certain trials and challenges. You're afraid of what might happen, how you might perform, and you don't want to embrace the challenge. In fact, you would rather the challenge didn't exist at all.

Being nervous is different. A situation or challenge might be very daunting and you might be very unsure of how you will fare. But many people who are nervous about something are also very brave at the same time. They throw themselves head first into the fire, they put themselves on the line.

Watching shows like X-Factor and The Voice is very interesting from this perspective. Some of those guys get so nervous, but they've willingly embraced it to get a shot at achieving their goals. As Tom Jones kept saying, "being nervous is good. Being nervous means you want to do a good job. If you don't feel nervous, then you're not alive."

It's also interesting watching the Olympics and how many of the athletes talk about being very nervous, but how the nerves sharpen them. They heighten your senses and make you more alert.

In a lot of ways, to actually operate at the peak of your abilities, you have to be nervous and you have to embrace it, and channel it into what you are doing. A lot of what God's called us to do is outside our comfort zones. The work he's got for us requires bravery and courage. The key is embracing the nerves and embracing the challenging, rather than running away and living a fearful life.

    "I remember the answer I received when I once said to my venerable grandfather, 'I never have to preach, but that I feel terribly sick, literally sick, I mean, so that I might as well be crossing the Channel', and I asked the dear old man whether he thought I should ever get over that feeling. His answer was, 'Your power will be gone if you do.'"

    Charles H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, p73-74.


First Sunday Preach

My first preach on a Sunday morning at Kings...

Assurance_of_Salvation.pdf


'Assurance of Salvation' and 'Conscious Change' from Kings Church Eastbourne on Vimeo.