16th June 2019
A Story of Grace, Hard Work & a Lot of Prayer:
My home church background: At the age of 23, I was saved at 18, I became one of five leaders voted onto my home church, Markethill Elim’s, Church Leadership Team (CLT). I was by far the youngest member of the CLT. I became Church Secretary & served for 8 years as a church Deacon. In that time I gained a lot of experience in team leadership, in shaping church culture & serving a church. During those years we faced, survived & thrived after a church split, moved into a larger capacity hall, developed Home Groups & reached out into the community through four large scale mission initiatives.
I was the only one of the four church deacons, there were no elders – we did act as de facto elders, focussed on home visiting & discipleship. I created a rudimentary discipleship programme & mentored a number of people who later became elders in the church after I left to go to Bible College. We served with a can do attitude. Our church ran a large young people’s programme, & was involved in several youth projects over the years. We were a very traditional Pentecostal church which also reached a size it never had been before. My favourite gatherings were for Prayer.
Telford Elim’s development: The first time I entered Telford Elim was to a Tuesday evening prayer meeting on 6 May 2003. That is just over 16 years ago. Telford Elim is my first pastorate. Since being in Telford, one of the challenges we have faced is developing a viable church. At the start we were a very small number of committed people. Telford Elim CLT has done an amazing job over the years of stabilising the church, creating a safe space for people to come to, & incrementally growing the church to its present size. It has never been spectacular growth – just steady & through much grace, hard work, setbacks, & a lot of prayer - has led to a church now with the finances to do some of those things that the church always dreamed of.
Many of those who have come to Telford Elim came from difficult church backgrounds including carrying a lot of pain, discouragement & heartache with them. Statistically, the vast majority of those who attend either grew up in the church, were new moving into the area, came from another church, or had spent a number of years outside of church & found us – usually a lot of God in the finding because we are not that easy to find. Unfortunately we have had relatively few people come from the church’s outreach to the unchurched. The only year that we can claim any real, lasting success in this area was 2010 when 25 people came to Christ through the church’s ministries – some stayed, not all.
The vision to build the present church building was to create a new, purpose built worship centre which could also be used to support the church’s ministries. We also had an inkling that it could become a community hub to which we could bring the unchurched into. The new building was to be the first phase of a bigger plan to grow & see God’s Kingdom extended through His grace at work in our labour. The CLT empowered me in 2008 to go out & positively impact the wider Kingdom work in Hadley, North West Telford, Telford, & Shropshire by getting involved in developing church unity around mission. This has produced much good fruit & our church is generally well regarded by other church leaders in the Borough & County.
Developing our Church Youth Work: One area that the CLT particularly felt we were failing in was our youth & young adult’s work. We recognised that we needed to bring in trained & gifted leadership from outside to develop it – finances prevented this for a long time. We readily admit that we failed our young people in so many ways & apologise for that. The process that led to Ben, the church’s Full time Youth & Young Adult pastor, took time. He is here now &, Praise God, his role is being financed by the church. There has been an incredible spiritual battle taking place round this work since Ben’s arrival – it is taking time to establish & is in that difficult rooting phase when nothing much yet seems to be happening above ground. We are seeking to grow a new crop of young people in Christ leading to a good, fruitful, abundant harvest in what has been, up to now, relatively barren ground for Christian youth work in Telford. It is not easy & we need your prayers...
Today Ben spoke at our two morning services about the new Awaken Youth ministry being launched in the church. In his address he spoke about the past & some of the church’s fruitful children’s & youth works including Sunshine Corner which had large numbers of children & teens in attendance. He also spoke about the Present & the launch of the Awaken Youth Club last Thursday evening & his team of five, who are dedicated & have a can do attitude, helped him with it. The Awaken Youth & Young Adult vision is based around three things which are going to take time to develop: i. Relationship – something we hope to get much better at – ii. Word, & iii. Worship. He also painted a picture of the possible future wherein we are impacting the lives of many of the town’s young people seeing them awaken to Christ, & growing in His grace becoming disciple-making disciples. This week’s Church Prayer letter is focussed on praying into all of this – please do use it. May God help us root, establish, stabilise & grow a successful Youth & Young Adult ministry in Telford Elim. In Jesus’ name. Amen
9th June 2019
A Slave of Christ:
Human slavery is a terribly barbaric & obnoxious practice. In a 2016 report by the UN, it is reported that there are 40 million people worldwide being held in the bondage of modern slavery. Of these 40 million people, 25 million are in forced labour ranging from dangerous occupations to sex slaves, & 15 million in forced marriages. Some 10 million of the 40 million are children, & 71% of them are girls & women which is usually through forced labour, servitude, forced marriages, sex industry including trafficking, & slavery-like practices. A further 152 million children are held in child labour mostly working in the agricultural industries.
In the UK, it is estimated that there 13,000 modern slaves, but the number is increasing each year. The Government & National Crime Agency are trying to co-ordinate a response to this epidemic which seeks to tackle it. Their response is based on: ‘Pursue: Prosecuting & disrupting individuals & groups responsible for modern slavery. Prevent: Preventing people from engaging in modern slavery. Protect: Strengthening safeguards against modern slavery by protecting vulnerable people from exploitation & increasing awareness of & resilience against this crime. Prepare: Reducing the harm caused by modern slavery through improved victim identification and enhanced support’ https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/749346/2018_UK_Annual_Report_on_Modern_Slavery.pdf
Slavery destroys the lives of those held in its bondage. In the Ancient Roman Empire it is estimated that 1 in 3 of the Italian population were slaves, & 1 in 5 in the rest of Empire. Throughout history slaves have been treated very badly – one of the greatest curses of human civilisation. The Bible lays down an important distinction between slavery & service. The Israelites were to treat their fellow enslaved Hebrews as it they were servants. After seven years, they could be released. Slavery was often a way for a destitute & debt ridden Jew to be cared for & fed. Anyone who stole another person was to be put to death. A slave who ran away was not to be returned but treated with kindness by the person they ran to.
Foreigners could be enslaved by Israelites; yet even they could be brought inside the community of faith through circumcision & fully participate in the Jewish religious life. In the New Testament, slaves & masters are both addressed – many of the new converts were slaves. Christian masters were not to mistreat their slaves – Christian slaves were to wholeheartedly serve their masters. Paul did not prevent slaves gaining their freedom if they could.
Paul’s great passage on slavery to sin & then slavery to God in Christ is Romans 6:1-23. In it he states that human beings will either serve sin or God. He used the analogy of slavery to represent humanities relationship to sin & the sinful nature. The reason he does this is to show that there is a power that holds human beings enslaved – the power of sin. Sin is much stronger that human willpower & enslaves everyone, as he stated earlier, ‘all have sinned & fallen short of God’s glorious standard’ (Romans 3:23).
The wonder is that ‘when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.’ We are to live in the freedom that God’s grace brings in Christ, but this does not mean that we are free to live as we wish. In Christ, sin may no longer have power over us – we do however have to make a choice not to let sin control us anymore by yielding to its temptations & deceptions. We need to dedicate our whole bodies to the service of God & become slaves to righteous living. By choosing to obey God we become a slave of Christ. Paul, James, Peter, John & Jude all claimed to be slaves of Christ.
The Greek word is often said to mean a servant, but in fact it is doulos, a slave. A slave is owned by another & serves his or her master. Before being in Christ we were owned by sin & served our sinful natures. Now in Christ, we are owned by Him & serve Him & His righteous ways. Lord, teach me how to be a good slave of Christ serving His purposes. I also pray for all those enslaved by other people, a terrible crime – I pray for justice, freedom & healing in their lives. May the curse of modern slavery be broken & many set free across the globe – men, women & children. In Jesus’ name. Amen
2nd June 2019
A Reason to get up in the Morning:
Studies show that unless a person has something to focus on – a reason to get up in the morning – it has a detrimental effect on their mental, physical & spiritual health. These studies show that such a person is more prone to depression, to overeat or to take less exercise. Keeping one’s mind occupied by engaging in work, or some kind of activity, hobby or voluntary post, helps with alertness, retaining our memory function, & in developing our cognitive capabilities. In other words, we are designed to function better if we are being productive. This argument sits well with the Creation Ordinances: 1. Marriage; 2. Procreation; 3. Dominion; 4. Labour/Productivity; 5. Sabbath rest. These are timeless & enduring principles which God has planted into the very heart of His Creation. Labour is being productive – just as Sabbath is productive for our souls & spiritual good.
The difficulty arises in that sometimes the means of keeping focussed, i.e. having a job, can be outside of our control. Ill health, unemployment, family needs, & difficulty in finding a job in the field we are trained in or interested in – can prevent us from working. Many other people find great fulfilment & focus in volunteering & supporting charitable endeavours. Over half a million people over the age of 70 are in paid employment in the UK. For those forced to work because they are below the poverty line – that is terrible; however, many of these choose to work because they really enjoy it, it gives them focus & helps prevent social isolation. Social isolation is one of the great curses of our modern British society. Over 9 million people in the UK say that they are always or often lonely. That is 1/7 of the UK population. In other words, that is equivalent to the population of London saying they are always or often lonely. Work, volunteering or being active all help to prevent social isolation, as well as giving us a reason to get up in the morning.
These issues also affect Christians. People will talk about being stuck in a rut, or being distracted by other things so that they do not focus on Christ. We heard John Bevere tonight in the Men’s Group video use a wonderful metaphor for coming under the lordship of Christ: When a woman walks up the aisle to be married to a man, she is saying that she is choosing to give her heart to this man & no other man for the rest of her life. Their marriage will take time to develop - choosing to invest time, energy, learning & prayer in it will enable it to grow further – but the matter of commitment is settled on the wedding day. When a Christian says yes to Christ, he or she is saying that they are giving their lives to Jesus only – maturing in faith will take time but He only is their Lord & Saviour. Therefore, following Christ must be the primary focus for our lives. Following Jesus in the home, at work, at Church, in the community & as a citizen means that we view everything in our lives differently through the lense of God’s word & His purposes for us.
Getting up in the morning can still be a problem for Christians. A number of factors are at work to dishearten us: Satan, sin, self & the world all can attack our focus on Christ. Many Christians also struggle with purpose, motivation & drive. I believe that three things make all the difference: 1. Faith – applying our faith as a shield keeps out the fiery darts that seek to deflate us; 2. Fire – Walking with & being filled by the amazing Holy Spirit brings an energy & zest for life that comes directly from the heaven. His fire burns up the dross & ignites the passion to serve Christ wholeheartedly; 3. Fellowship – Worshiping together, mixing with & serving alongside passionate Christians helps to build our faith & keep the fire burning brightly.
Father, help me to guard my rest, health, mind, relationships & work so that I do not become discouraged or lose heart. I pray for Divine appointments in order to fully share in Your great Mission to our world, & therefore to increase my zest & passion for living the Christian life wholeheartedly & in a Christ-honouring fashion. May God grant you a Christ-honouring reason to get up each & every morning. In Jesus’ name. Amen
26th May 2019
The following Blog article was written by my daughter Rebekah for a talk she gave at church on Friday evening. I have asked her permission to use it this week – she kindly said yes.
I would like to start off with John Maxwell’s definition of Moral Authority when linked to leadership, ‘It is the recognition of a person’s leadership influence that is based on who they are as a person, more than the position they hold. You obtain it by authentic living that builds trust & is sustainable by successful leadership endeavours. It is earned by a lifetime of consistency but it is only given to the leader by the people, & is built on fundamental truths which are independent of written or positive laws.’
Looking at authentic living, some people have their own moral compass by which they live, what they think is right or wrong. It can become so easy to get mixed up in worldly views, office politics or talking negatively about other people. But we need to keep ‘retraining our mind’ to walk after Christ & obey His words, not the world’s. Leaning on our Church family for support & guidance is important. We need the Bible & its truth to establish the true meaning of living authentically. Therefore, our Moral Authority is derived from God’s Word, & obeying it, & as we grow in faith among our Church family. Unfortunately, many Christians talk & walk differently from God’s word ultimately tarnishing the perfect reflection of God that their lives should reflect.
John 13:14-15 says, ‘Now that I, your Lord & teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.’ This verse reminds us that we need to humbly take the pathway of service looking out for each other as a church family to reflect the example of Christ. This helps us to live consistently & remain true to His word – as it were, ‘wash one another’s feet.’ People whose lives match their words are shining lights of influence in this world. Interestingly, for people walking by God’s word - doing what is right is a natural way to honour God. Their witness to the world - the unspoken alignment between the way they walk & talk - brings trust & respect.
God has given people autonomy to choose everyday about how to spend their time & money, whether that it be right or wrong in His eyes, & even whether we chose to follow Christ or not. God does not force us to do His will. He wants us to choose to do what is right. He sends His Spirit & Word to help awaken within us the knowledge of His will & how to please Him. Yet, God has the right to, & does change the circumstances of our lives & we must be open to change & to submit to God’s purpose for us. The Church urgently needs to speak clearly & forthrightly into this situation of growing moral anarchy. Moral courage, & vulnerability, needs to be summoned in order to create a powerful witness in our ethically floundering world. May we learn to walk & talk as Jesus taught us.
So, what is the authority by which we speak? The authority by which we speak is graciously given to us by God. It is linked to our witness to His eschatological promise, namely that Christ will come again to judge the world. This therefore grants us the authority to speak. The message which we are entrusted with gives us the Christ-honouring foundation, & theological substance, to our biblically inspired ethical voice. Through reading the Bible, we must not only be ‘doers of the word’, but also that we seek to ‘correctly handle the word of truth’ so we know how to please God. It may be the case that we often have to ask for forgiveness if we get it wrong.
Reading the Bible, & seeking to understand & apply it, is to accept the Moral Authority of Scripture. We also need to accept that it both informs us reliably about God’s moral truth, & commands us to do what we ought to do. We must not be surprised by this as faith is equally both believing & then doing. If we reduce the Bible down to a long list of rules & boundaries – we diminish its life-giving force. This Creative authority is rooted deep in the living & continuing relationship between God & His creation. It continually opens up fresh vitas to us as we listen/read & learn to tune in to His voice as His will is revealed in it. The same God who revealed the Law to Moses thousands of years ago, will revel to us the path by which we may follow Christ, & He will fill our hearts with Spirit-inspired inspiration.
Authority in our nation: People may have relational authority, in family or community, or positional authority, because of job or position of responsibility, but it is rare to have a Moral Authority that comes about because of character & integrity - not many people achieve it. To live with integrity over a long period of time creates influence & trust. Leading with a Christian Moral Authority takes courage & bravery in these difficult times. Who has it within them to move onto that vulnerable edge within society? Who has the biblical integrity, empathy & theological grounding to do so in trustworthy ways? Brene Brown says, “you can’t have creativity, courage or bravery without vulnerability.’ It is vulnerability that makes us lean on Christ in faith – we haven’t got all the answers. Proverbs 28:2, ‘When there is moral rot within a nation it’s government topples easily, but wise & knowledgeable leaders bring stability.’ It’s important that people in authority are true, authentic & have a biblical knowledge to bring stability to our country.
As we have learnt, to be vulnerable & therefore Christ-dependent will enable creativity, innovation and courage to envelope the country. This type of leadership can help our nation to respect its leaders once again. Especially in these fractured times, Christians need to rise up as Lions & Lionesses with courage, vulnerability & bravery to speak the true word of God - even if confrontation arises or the biblical view we present is against what the world is telling us is right. As our God is all powerful & great, we need to live an authentic life reflecting His true word.
Dear Heavenly Father, we really need Your help. We want to be people whose lives completely match up to Your words in the Bible. You know there are areas where we fall short. We submit these to You & ask for Your strength to guide & direct us to be the people that You want us to be. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen
12th May 2019
Out of Step:
I remember watching one of the episodes of the TV series, ‘All Creatures Great & Small’ about a vet in Yorkshire before & after the Second World War. The vet, James Herriot, was talking to a rural farmer in the Yorkshire Dales. The farmer told him that he had gone once to the city of Leeds but couldn’t handle it. The problem was that everyone in the crowds on the streets were walking with different sized steps, ‘big uns & little ones.’ The farmer had tried walking alongside people so as not to be conspicuous. He wanted to fit in & not stand out knowing that he felt very out of place in the city among the crowds – he was self-conscious. The way he thought he could fit in was to get in step with others & walk with them. The problem was that everyone was out of step with each other, some with long strides & others with short steps. He couldn’t handle it & never went back to any city.
It was a very funny moment in the episode that has stayed with me. We too can try to fit in & not be conspicuous – trying to merge into the background, into the scenery. The way that Society is changing so rapidly makes it really difficult to keep in step with the crowd. Years ago it was much easier as there was greater uniformity. Most people thought alike, had similar moral standards, & understood what was expected of them within Society. Style, fashion, music, hopes, dreams, work & family did not differ much across the country. That has dramatically changed. The new norm is difference, vive la difference. Conformity is seen as something to be avoided & ridiculed. All the old certainties are mocked & jettisoned in the pursuit of developing a new society based on the Secular, Humanist, Liberal ideals of what is acceptable & not acceptable.
Reflecting on this as a Christian, Jesus challenged His listeners to get in step with Him. He warned them that this would mean that they would no longer be in step with the world, their families, neighbours, communities & religious society. Christians would be conspicuous because they lived by different values, pledged allegiance to a different Master, & would live by a Moral code completely at odds with the World’s. He expected them to face opposition, hatred & misunderstanding as a result – after all this was what He was experiencing & His followers could expect the same.
It is nice to be liked, to be well thought off, for others to be comfortable around us; yet, as a Christian, if we get in step with the Spirit then we will not be in step with the World. These two are poles apart. The Spirit is Christ-honouring & glorifying – the World is antichrist & desecrates what God counts as holy.
In my life there are times when I find it really difficult to stay in step with the Spirit following Christ. It is much easier to conform to Society, much less costly to stay quiet & not present a Christian perspective. I find that if I do this – get into step with the World – it is extraordinarily expensive costing me God’s peace, the sense of His presence & a diminution of His power at work through me. I become spiritually dry, lethargic & more open to temptations. The fire of the Spirit diminishes & I find myself conforming much more easily to the World’s pattern. Maybe God is calling us both to get in step with the Spirit today.
How do we do that? i. Ask the Spirit to help you get in step with Him; ii. Lean into the Lord Jesus in faith filling your mind with His word & cultivating your relationship with Him; iii. Recognising the important of walking together with other believers in a local church as the body of Christ; iv. Allowing yourself to be conformed to the likeness of Christ’s death – that is, dying to self, the world, Satan & sin – Help us Lord Jesus! Amen
7th May 2019
Thinking about Death:
Dying is one of those subjects very few, except the morbid, talk about. As soon as death is mentioned people go a funny colour & start to squirm. We live at a time in this country when, mostly, it is the old who die. In my maternal grandmother’s age, she was from a Working Class background, just before & after the First World War up until the end of the Second World War & the beginning of the NHS & Social Welfare – many more young people died. The average life expectancy for a woman in 1920, in the UK, was 59, 55 for a man; by 1950, 71.5 for a woman & 66.4 for a man. However, life expectancy has always been much lower for the Working Class, on average about 6 years less than for the Middle Classes.
When one digs into the figures for today one of the really interesting statistics is that although, by 2016, a woman’s life expectancy had risen to 83.1, & a man’s, 79.5 – the years of good health that a person can expect are very similar. A woman’s years of good health average 63.9 before ‘not good health’ begins, & a man, 63.3. That means a woman can expect 19.2 years of ‘not good health,’ & a man 16.2 years. If you think about this, then both men & women, on average, will have to work about 3 to 4 years while experiencing ‘not good health.’ For those who have worked at jobs which have been particularly physically taxing – their years of ‘not good health’ can begin earlier.
One of the issues around death today is that society has moved to using terms to try & minimise it – i.e. Passing On, Passing Over, At Peace, At Rest. One reason for this is because there is no collective acceptance of a Christian outlook of Heaven for the believer & Hell for the non-believer after death. Although today’s Society’s terms are much easier to say when speaking about a dead loved one – they also are used by Spiritualists to demonstrate that the spirit of the person has passed on to a better place freed from the constraints of the human body. This is a type of Gnosticism which views spirit as pure & body as weak & tending to evil.
The Bible does not do this. It declares that outside of Christ the person’s spirit is dead in sin. Only in Christ, & by the power of the Holy Spirit, is the human spirit brought alive. In Christ, our bodies are not seen as inherently evil; rather, they become the temple of the Holy Spirit, & can be used to bring glory & honour to Christ as we mortify the deeds of our carnal nature as we mature in faith.
It is very clear that Jesus died. He tasted death just like every other human being. Hebrews 2:14-15 sums it up really well: ‘Because God’s children are human beings -made of flesh & blood - the Son also became flesh & blood. For only as a human being could He die, & only by dying could He break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could He set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.’
Christ died to break the power of death over humanity. He is also able to break the stranglehold of the fear of death. May God empower us to live without the fear of death, to live free in Christ fully worshipping, serving & living Christ-honouring lives. If we do so, then when it comes our turn to die, we will die well in Christ confident of His power to bring us into Heaven immediately after our death.
22nd April 2019
Born of the Spirit:
Easter Sunday is the most special day in the Christian calendar. Easter is a commemoration of all that Jesus did in order that all who believe can establish a living relationship with God through faith in Him & His atoning sacrifice. His blood still cleanses, heals, restores & protects. Easter is also a celebration of victory, & the fact that we can now live to please Him; He also opened the door to Heaven for us & guaranteed us a place there as we follow Him to the end of our lives. Atonement, redemption, resurrection, ascension & glorification are all theological terms which describe all that Jesus accomplished in those forty eight days or so from He arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday till He ascended back to Father in glory to sit at His right hand. He was & is the Victorious One.
As we consider being Born of the Spirit, we see the close partnership between Jesus & the Spirit. The Spirit was integral to His Incarnation including Jesus’ baptism heralding the beginning of His Messianic, anointed ministry with its teaching, miracles, & servant leadership. These truths remind us of the complete unity & partnership between Jesus & the Spirit. He demonstrated His absolute authority as the Son of God while also revealing His compassion & humanity in the Spirit-endowed ministry to the multitudes. At the heart of this revelation is God’s desire, through Christ & His Spirit, to form a living relationship with those who believe in & follow His Son. Jesus taught Nicodemus that the entrance into this living relationship is by being born again or born of the Spirit (John 3). What does it mean to be born of the Spirit? I think three things:
i. Our rebirth is not human in origin. If you want to know how rich & complete Judaism is as a religion, look at the life of Jesus. He was the perfect Jew. The splendour & wonder of His life reflected the noble & righteous nature of the OT covenant & the faith that it inspired. The issue was not with the faith when lived by the One who designed it. The problem was not the Jewish people, their Law nor Faith, but that it was lived out by imperfect people who often got it wrong, or worse, completely missed the requirements for faith, obedience & righteous living. The Gentile world equally got it wrong bringing idolatry, paganism & carnality to the fore. If salvation was based on human endeavour it might appear to be very religious & noble, but it would carry no weight or value before God. Only being born of the Spirit brings God’s life into the human life.
ii. As an act of God’s Spirit, theologically called Regeneration, in salvation, we are made alive spiritually in Christ & thus are made right with God through faith in Him. The Spirit ignites the new salvation life in Christ & then partners with His Word in order to transform us, sanctify or set us apart from the world for a Christ-honouring life.
iii. Living as spiritually alive people is amazing. All the things of God & about God are now opened up to us, or at least the potential is opened up. No more are we spiritually dead. We have all the rights & privileges of being New Covenant people – these are balanced by the responsibilities to lay down our lives as living sacrifices, & enter into the life of faith. If you are not born of the Spirit – ask for forgiveness, repent, turn to Christ in faith giving Him your heart & life. If you are born of the Spirit – pray to be filled to overflowing with the Spirit so that the Lord Jesus is glorified to a greater extent than you can ever imagine by your worship, life, service & witness.
Christ is Risen – is Risen indeed!
18th April 2019
In Church for a couple of Sunday evenings we explored what Spiritual Warfare (SW) means, some of the spiritual battles we face, some of the key principles involved, & some of the ways we can get can involved. We began in January thinking about the important part Praise plays in breakthrough, the role of fasting in SW in February, some of the strongholds we face in March, & at the importance of God’s Church in SW in April. It is important to note that we face more spiritual battles in life than we acknowledge. It is also important not to get fixated on blaming external forces & things for all of our problems. The Fall of humanity into Sin brought evil, violence & sin into the heart of society & nature – we are sinners by nurture & by nature. This inheritance came from Adam & Eve, as well as by our own inclinations, thoughts, words & deeds. God’s subsequent Curses & Disciplines on humanity & His Creation in this world have led to thorns & briers, sweat, toil & tears, sickness, decay, division & death being universal troubles we all have to face.
It is true to say that we face battles with self, Sin, Satan & his forces, & the world. Some of the signs that I am in a spiritual battle can include: i. Job’s example: a sudden onslaught of trouble & trials – ii. increased levels of confusion & disorder – iii. a period of deep darkness, unholy fear & despair – iv. a sudden overwhelming spiritual lethargy – v. a period of intense temptation & the pull towards ungodliness – vi. a sudden rise in attacks & opposition – vii. an unsanctified pull towards worldliness – viii. an unnatural difficulty to focus on the spiritual disciplines especially Prayer, Corporate Worship, Bible Reading, Fellowship with other believers, Fasting, Giving, biblical, theological & spiritual Study, Meditation, Christian Submission & Accountability, & Celebration.
Before I list some of the strongholds we thought off – it is important to highlight these five important principles in setting us free in Christ: i. Submission to Christ – ii. the Fullness of the Spirit & Obedience to His leading – iii. Personal Christ-honouring Sacrifice – iv. The application of biblical principles – v. The ministry of God’s People.
The following are a list, not exhaustive, of some of the particular strongholds that we can face: Self – Religion – Unforgiveness – Control - Soul Ties – the Demonic – Unsanctified Fear/s – Social Media – Rebellion – Food/Gluttony – Pride – Vanity – Sensuality – Bitterness – Addiction – Emotional Baggage – Occult – Ill Health – Racism – Secularism – Pluralism – Paganism – Antichrist Culture – Distractions – Money – Sport – Gambling – Sex – Inherited/Family issues – Idolatry – Materialism – Laziness – Generational Curses – Fear of Failure – Possessions – Fear of Death. As we consider the issues that can lead to bondage, it is right to highlight that Christ has come to set us free & has established the New Covenant & its provision, blessings & power to lead us into victory. He is our true Hero & Captain whose blood, atoning sacrifice & ongoing ministry overcomes strongholds.
Thinking further about the means of Breaking Strongholds – these are important components: i. Identifying the stronghold – ii. Renewing our minds in Christ – iii. Repentance – iv. Obedience to Christ & His word – v. Personal & Corporate Christian accountability – vi. Deliverance ministry – vii. Understanding the nature of Satan’s strategies & attacks, & his weaknesses – viii. Entering into God’s Mission in Christ to the world – ix. Standing our ground in Christ when everything says, ‘give way’ – x. Christian Counselling, Ministry & Care.
In Christ, there is the hope of victory. God loves His Church so much. He asks us to pray for one another in the Spirit, & to use the gifts, natural & spiritual, that He has given to aid us in the battle. If you are in a spiritual battle today – remain faithful & true to Christ, the ultimate statement of our faith. Spiritual Warfare is a vitally important subject which God calls His Church to engage in. May He raise us up to be Spiritual Warriors who bring much honour, glory & praise to Christ. Amen. On Tuesday 30 April we are beginning a 10 week Freedom in Christ course in Church which can be very helpful in this area – please consider booking in.
10th April 2019
Close to Jesus:
The story of the two disciples journeying to Emmaus on Easter Sunday morning (Luke 24), Cleopas, & possibly his wife Mary, leaving Jerusalem for the seven mile walk after having witnessed the Crucifixion, is full of wonderful insight. The two discussed all the events which they had witnessed & had been told about; as they did so they were filled with sadness & despair. As they walked along they were joined by a stranger for part of the journey. This stranger first listened to their take on the events, & then began to challenge their outlook taking them on a journey through the Scriptures explaining what was prophesied about the life, death & victory of the Messiah. It wasn’t until they arrived home & invited the stranger in for a bite of dinner, that they recognised who He really was – the Lord Jesus Himself.
James Boice writes that three wonderful openings into new understanding & insight take place in Luke 24: i. Jesus opened the Scriptures to Cleopas & Mary; ii. Their eyes were opened at the table so they recognised who this stranger really was; iii. Jesus opened their understanding of the Scriptures.
It is still the way God’s Spirit’s works: He first opens the Scriptures so people start to learn about God’s love in Christ – then He opens their spiritual eyes so they can clearly see Jesus, who He is & what He requires – then the Spirit starts to give understanding so people not only know about God – they start to see through the mystery that surrounds God & His ways & begin to understand their place in God’s Kingdom. As Cleopas & Mary reflected on this journey, they stated one of the great comments in Scripture, ‘Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked with us on the road & explained the Scriptures to us?’ (24:32). Only after Jesus left them, with a few minutes of hindsight, did they realise the wonder, the thrill, the excitement of walking with Jesus.
Whenever Jesus turns up in a situation, in a journey, in a time of sadness & disappointment – He begins to focus us on the Scriptures, opens our eyes to see a bigger picture, & brings understanding & hope. As He does so, He transforms the basis of our interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the event. We often base our reaction in our base inclination which Roman Catholics teach is one of three: pride, vanity or sensuality. If our area of sin is pride then we put our own needs ahead of God; if vanity, we put how others will view us first; if sensuality, we put our hopes for a better life with better things first. As Jesus opens up the Scriptures we realise how really sinful these reactions truly are. At that point we begin to despair of ever being sanctified - set apart from the world for God's use.
As the Spirit opens our eyes to see Jesus, & all He can do – then we move from self-focussed living to Christ-focussed living. He has the power to set us truly free. The final stage, opening our understanding, then opens the door through the threshold of human limitations into the realm of God’s Almightiness in Christ. In this stage of spiritual maturity we see & understand that walking with Jesus does not remove our own personal responsibility to live by faith seeking to use our own natural & spiritual gifts in a mature & Kingdom focussed way – no, it teaches us that if we want to be mature disciple-making disciples, then leaning into Christ in faith is absolutely critical. He is the Resurrected, Ascended & Glorified One who calls us to follow Him & invites us into a close fellowship with Himself. Lord Jesus, You are so wonderful. Amen
3rd April 2019
There is something wonderful about being intentional in what we do. Life goes rapidly by & therefore it is easy to always do the same things in the same way - often the easiest way to get through the day. The Dictionary definitions for ‘invest’ include investing in property, finance, shares or commercial ventures with the expectation of a profit or good return - the normal response if you ask what the word means; it also includes something much more profound: ‘devote one’s time, effort or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result; provide or endow someone or something with a particular quality or attribute’ Google Oxford Dictionaries.com
We live in a ‘selfish age.’ At the heart of post-modernism is the exaltation of self. Today’s culture encourages us to think about what am I getting out of anything I do? Of course human nature being what it is, there has always been an element of this type of thinking & attitude. Nevertheless, in Western culture, there has been a definite shift over recent years which encourages individualism & the prioritising ‘my good.’ A generation ago people tended to think more about the ‘greater good.’ There was something about contributing to something bigger than I. Hence people would commit for years to work at developing something, or to see a project through to completion. Of course, today’s workplace is less stable, more short term & young people expect to work at many different jobs in their lifetime. This also contributes to the short-term outlook of many.
Thinking about investing – devoting my time, effort & energy to someone or to a cause is a good thing to do. It is more blessed to give than to receive. It also requires a servant-hearted attitude. Jesus said that He came to serve & not to be served. This type of servant-hearted attitude does not mean that we are to think of ourselves as a doormat for someone else to use for their benefit. No, it is recognising that we are under the authority of Christ & therefore are accountable for how we view others & treat them. This is a worthwhile commitment which often leads to worthwhile results. It doesn’t always work out as we hope, but it does give the chance for the imparting or investment of our knowledge, skills, godly example & purpose.
Providing or endowing someone or something with a particular quality or attribute is Christ-like. Jesus invested three years into His disciples & those He called to be His followers. There were times when He challenged their lack of progress, but He still kept investing in them. After His death, resurrection & ascension – He & the Father invested the Spirit into the Church. It was the greatest bequeath that they could give to their people. The Spirit came to anoint, empower, teach, guide, assist, lead & fill the Church with God’s presence.
As we partner with the Spirit in His great work among us, He will inevitable wish to use us to invest our time, energy, skills, knowledge, experience, counsel & wisdom in other people or things. We are uniquely equipped to do so. It requires sensitivity on our part, patience, a willingness to continue even when there are as yet no obvious benefits personally to us, & a recognition that we are following in Jesus’ footsteps as we do so. May God guide & equip you & I to be good long-term investors in other people & things. By doing so we have the opportunity to see many worthwhile outcomes, much glory brought to our Lord Jesus, & the satisfaction of passing on our Christian principles, collective skills & knowledge, & the joy of equipping a new generation with the age-old generosity of spirit that seeks the good of others above the good of self. This blesses us & others & fills the void of emptiness many live with.
March 17th 2019
I heard an interesting fact a few weeks ago – namely, that our brain automatically dumps short term memories when we walk through a doorway. That is why we often forget why we walk into a room, usually forgetting what we came for. A threshold is that strip of wood, metal, plastic or stone which forms the bottom of a doorway & crossed when entering a house or room. Therefore it often means the point of entry into a new phase of life, a new beginning or a new situation. It is also used to mean the point at which something begins to affect us; some have a high pain threshold others much less meaning that they feel pain earlier & to a more severe degree than others. Some have a low boredom threshold & are much more likely to get involved in risk taking behaviour enjoying the thrill & danger it creates & thus alleviating the boredom.
In the Bible the Hebrew words for threshold can be translated as a boundary or limit, or the threshold of the door of the house. When the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, they placed it in the temple of their god Dagon (1 Samuel 5). This idol was broken, its head & hands broken off, on the threshold of their temple before God’s Ark demonstrating God’s authority over idolatry’s wisdom (head) & power (hands); afterwards, the pagan priests superstitiously did not step on this threshold of their god’s defeat.
In Ezekiel 47, in the great vision of the future Restoration, the River of Healing flows out from under the threshold of the Temple from the very presence of God. Wherever it goes it brings healing & new life. In the wonderful picture of drawing near to God, thanksgiving takes us over the threshold from the earthy setting into the Holy Place – praise then takes us deeper into the Holy (Psalm 100:4) – worship takes us into the very throne room of God connecting us heart to heart with God (John 4:23-24).
As I think about thresholds a little more, these are also often the places to be guarded. In a sense the armour of God (Ephesians 6) guards the thresholds of our lives: i. belt of truth, our morality – ii. Gospel shoes, the basis of our interaction with the world – iii. the breastplate of righteousness, our relationship with God in Christ – iv. shield of faith, our heart/emotions/relationships – v. helmet of salvation, our thinking/mind. We then can then cross the threshold into victory by God’s Word made alive by the Spirit, our Kingdom fruitfulness & usefulness.
Barbara Yoder writes in The Breaker Anointing, ‘We must break through intimidation, faithlessness, fear, hopelessness, despair, or whatever else looms like an unconquerable foe at the gates. The threshold is where we either leap forward or back out. Yet once we leap, it is where we meet the incredible supernatural power of God to break through.’
Perhaps you are standing on the threshold of a breakthrough into a new season of devotion, fruitfulness & service for Christ – I proclaim the anointing, encouragement, biblical understanding needed. It may be that you need to better guard the thresholds into your life – I proclaim over you a new season of prayer with God furnishing you with a deep understanding in how to use the spiritual armour He provides. Finally, maybe you never thought about thresholds in this way – I proclaim a new openness to & awareness of this spiritual concept so that you are trained & equipped for spiritual defence, Kingdom breakthrough & spiritual advance. In Jesus’ name. Amen
March 10th 2019
This morning in Church I quoted from CJH Wright’s book, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Wright states, ‘It is not so much the case that God has a mission for His church in the world, as that God has a church for His mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission – God’s mission.’ This explicitly presents God as the sending God. He sent Christ & the Spirit into the world to open a pathway of hope & salvation. Christ & the Spirit sent Christ’s Disciples out to proclaim the Gospel living authentic Christian lives, & they are still sending Christ’s Disciples, you & me, out into the world to proclaim the Gospel & to live in the same way as the Apostles. This sending includes recognising that it is God’s reign in Christ, & His Kingdom, we are serving – not self interest nor the Church.
The old order of Missio Ecclesiae – that the Church seeks to determine its priorities & primary focus, has been replaced by Missio Dei Trinitatis – with Christ as its Lord, God has a Church for His mission; He is already out there before us in the world, through His Spirit, challenging people of wrongdoing & awakening their need for a Saviour. This required a unity in the Spirit - a Trinitarian mission with all three members of the Godhead fully committed & completely involved in establishing the Kingdom. For many years before Ecumenicalism –working at uniting different denominations, movements or groups of Christians together, was a key goal. In essence it was the logical destination for a Missio Ecclesiae worldview. Today, many see Ecumenism as a false foundation block for working together with other Christians.
It has been my view that we should join with other Christians, when appropriate, in doing missional projects, in alleviating suffering, deprivation & human need, & in fighting for Social Justice. Many ecumenists view denominations as the scourge of the Christian church, the cause of disharmony, and certainly not of God. For me this is a too narrow understanding of both the place of denominations in God’s Missio Dei, and of how Church History is to be interpreted. I believe that Denominations have been important in the development of God’s Missio Dei. Thus Protestant Episcopalians brought a return to a more biblical understanding of the ‘priesthood’ which allowed ministers to marry, the Bible also being read in the language of the people faithfully week by week.
The Puritans sound biblical teaching & interpretation coupled with a deep spirituality; Baptists, adult, believer only baptism; Methodism, the evangelical emphasis on the New Birth; the Holiness Movements, a desire for a deeper faith & holiness in the Spirit; Pentecostalism, the fullness of the Spirit for witness, power, healing & the Priesthood of all believers participating in the ministry of the Church through the operation of the gifts of the Spirit; & the Charismatic Renewal removed the stigma of the Spirit’s fullness from the wider Church & thus that the gifts of the Spirit are an important bequeath by God to His Church Universal. Therefore, in my understanding, denominations are fulfilling God’s purpose for the Church & will only finally be superseded by the revelation of the visible, tangible Kingdom of our great God & Saviour Jesus Christ when history itself will be consummated (fulfilled). May God embolden us as a Church to go out & join Him in His Missio Dei in Telford & Shropshire.
March 1st 2019
Christian worship is unique. Why? Because it finds its fullest expression in Christ Himself, He is the One who enables us to worship Father God from the stability & intimacy of a living relationship. A non-Christian can worship God, but he or she will be doing it from a place of ignorance without truly knowing the One they worship. In John 4, Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman about the fact that the Samaritans knew very little about the One they worshipped whereas the Jews knew all about Him. However, Jesus also said that the time had come when the centre of worship would no longer be Jerusalem nor Samaria – instead worship would be done by people in spirit & in truth. That is worship from the centre of our being in sincerity & in absolute dependence on the One we are in relationship with through Christ. If we are in Christ, then our worship is based in relationship with God, & we will have the Holy Spirit within (Romans 8:9). The Spirit enables us to truly worship - Philippians 3:3, ‘For we who worship by the Spirit of God...,’ our worship flowing from our love for the One we know & are known by.
As we consider worship in spirit & truth, we recognise that true worship is more than singing a song or deeper in origin than an outward action such as giving, although these may be expressions of worship; true worship is acknowledging God as number one in our lives. It is seeing God as He is & worshipping Him for who He is. It is submitting to the fact that God’s truth flows from His reality, not from the reality we perceive. We may hear of an incident & pronounce our truth about it only to find out later that there were a number of other considerations which rendered our truth a lie. God’s truth is fully dimensional, He knows all the facts, & this complete understanding always leads to Him to act rightly in accordance to His nature & the highest conceivable morality. When He calls us to worship in truth, He is calling us primarily to worship in Christ & through the Spirit.
Jesus said that He was the Way, the Truth & the Life. Jesus revealed God as He really is. Everything Jesus did – Father God would have done if He had been acting in the same place. Jesus never misrepresented God, after all He was co-equal with & of the same substance in being as Father God. The Spirit of Truth (John 14:17), also will help people to worship in truth. This type of worship sets people free – free from religious bondage, from human pride, from vanity & from the power of self. God is actively searching for those who will worship like this in Spirit & truth.
Worship itself includes honour, humility & a deep reverence for His presence. It flows from our hearts & shapes our thoughts about God, about Christ, & about the Spirit. It also shapes how we seek to express such worship. That worship finds it fullest expression as we worship together sometimes in singing, sometimes in silence, sometimes in corporate prayer, sometimes in giving, sometimes in service, sometimes in mission, sometimes in the ministry of the Spirit’s gifts, but always leading us into the very presence of God. Together, a local church is a Holy Temple proclaiming the wonder of Him who called us out from darkness into His marvellous light in Christ. This fellowship of worship together is based in our fellowship together with the Spirit. As He fills us together in one place as His Church - then we gain new insight into who God is, what He does for us in Christ, & His love for us in the Spirit.
Therefore our worship can be Trinitarian in nature. Jesus accepted worship from the people He ministered to or taught whereas angels forbade it. The Spirit enables us to worship as God intends since He delights in seeing Father God & Jesus worshipped. Although less emphasised because we see Him as the Helper who helps us to truly worship the Father & the Son - we can also worship the Spirit; after all He is God, called the Lord & the Spirit of truth. He is holy, & He is God’s very breath revealing the deep things of God to us.
The ancient Nicene Creed states, ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father & the Son. With the Father & the Son He is worshiped & glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.’ As we worship together we begin to reflect the heavenly reality - countless multitudes worshipping together in heaven. One day we will join them in their full worship, but until that day – we will determine to worship together here in spirit & in truth & thus witness to the world about Father God, Christ our Saviour, & the presence of the Spirit.
February 10th 2019
Connecting Through Love:
1 John 4:7-21 is a sublime biblical passage. John, the Beloved Disciple of Jesus, writes with such clarity about the love of God. He reaches heights of insight & understanding which are truly inspired by the Spirit, but which also reflect his own life experience walking with the Master. When reading his Gospel, it is clear that John’s heart & life were completely open to Jesus. He sought to walk as closely with Him as was possible, & he soars into beautiful Descriptive writing as he records Jesus’ life, teaching & ministry. The animal chosen to reflect John’s Gospel by the early Church, taken from the imagery of Ezekiel 1 & Revelation 4, & because of how his Gospel soars in narrating its material about Jesus, was the winged Eagle (Matthew was the winged Man – he focuses on the humanity of Christ; Mark, the winged Lion – opens with the roaring voice in the wilderness; Luke, winged bull – focuses on sacrifice).
Twenty eight times John uses the word, ‘love’ in 1 John 4:7-21. Each time it is either agape love or one of its near relatives. Thus, John explores the power of God’s love in one of its most significant forms, – ‘God is love.’ Agape is most often used to describe the divine, completely selfless & overwhelming love of God. In 1 John 4, this is the love that the church is also to demonstrate, v.11, ‘beloved [agape loved ones], if God so loved [agape] us, we also ought to love [agape] one another.’ As we receive God’s love, each person must learn how to allow it to do its creative work causing agape love to grow & establish itself within. This is no easy process because it requires us to engage with Christ at a level similar to John’s 2,000 years ago, also desiring Christ’s selfless love to grow & flourish within.
In verse 16 John states that God’s love is something we can put our trust in – we can rely on His love. His love is not fickle nor is it only momentary until He changes His mind about us deserving it because of how we live or respond to Christ. His agape love is solid, dependable & reliable in Jesus. When we are in Jesus then He is more willing to fill our lives with it than we are to ask Him to do so. His love flows from His very being. If you were to cut God in half - completely impossible but a good analogy – His love flows from the very centre of who He is & it is an inexhaustible, powerful life-force drawn from the overflowing well of His own love.
This agape love within will then materialises through our actions, words, non-verbal communications, & reactions. In fact, John writes, verse 17, that as we live in God, we mature & are more able to receive & benefit from His love. The more we mature, the less insecure we become about our position in Christ. His love removes any fear that we are not truly accepted as His own in Christ. In fact, the inference is that as we are filled with His love, then that love has the power to transform how we live & love others. People very quickly sense if we are real or false. It is also the case that if we are holding a part of ourselves back, not allowing it to be seen or revealed – then that area often sits in darkness, does not change & ultimately prevents us truly connecting with God’s love, life & light.
The challenge which arises is that the extent of our love for Christ will be revealed in how we love & connect with one another. It can be relatively easy to love someone whom we like or get on well with – it is another matter to love someone whom we struggle to like or even who is our enemy. The level of our spiritual maturity is revealed in the extent to which we are willing to submit to & seek to live out verses such as, ‘love your enemies, pray for those who despitefully use you. In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:44-45). In fact, Jesus states in Matthew 5:48, that we are to be mature in faith seeking to be as perfect as our heavenly Father is.
This passage is really relevant to us as a church. The picture I have is that many churches are like a glass with some on the inside enjoying close loving relationships with those others inside the glass/church – while there are others on the outside of the glass who only truly connect with those others on the outside of the glass. I believe God wants us to delve into His love allowing it to do its work of causing us to mature in spirituality & in faith. We may not know how to shatter the glass so that all of us can connect in & through the Church, but embracing & living out His love may be the best place to begin the process. After all, His command is to agape love our fellow believers.
3rd February 2019
Life is complicated enough without making it more so. However, it naturally tends to be complex & often ends up confusing, frustrating or exhausting us. How many times, as human beings, we start out thinking a job will be relatively straightforward only to find that it is so much more than we originally thought it would be. The energy sapping thing is that complexity requires problem solving, &, in the natural, often when one problem is solved - inadvertently two more problems arise because of the solution. I guess this is part of the curse at the Fall of Adam & Eve. It was specifically because of the man’s sin that humankind was held guilty for breaking God’s commandment – known theologically as Original Sin.
The account of God’s response to their sin is recorded in Genesis 3:17-19, NLT, ‘& to the man He said, “Since you listened to your wife & ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns & thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, & to dust you will return.’ i. The ground is cursed; ii. Sustaining life will be a struggle; iii. Work itself & the place of production will be subject to pain (thorns), & unexpected problems (weeds); iv. Nevertheless, enough will be harvested to sustain life; v. Work will be physically exhausting (sweat of the brow); vi. It is never finished (until you die).
I believe, in Christ, we can redeem the workplace & transform it into a new place of hope & productivity. Jobs can be Vocations during which we seek to work & to serve Christ, & other people. We acknowledge that God set in place Creation Ordinances: 1. Marriage; 2. Procreation; 3. Dominion; 4. Labour/Productivity; 5. Sabbath rest. These are timeless & enduring principles which God has planted into the very heart of His Creation. He has endowed humanity with the capacity to rule reflecting some of His communicable attributes including His Love - Spirituality – & Morality, He is always good.
People were made in God’s image with these unique qualities unparalleled in Creation – all other animals were made after their kind or species – humankind after His image. Our ability to accurately reflect His image was seriously marred through the Fall. Calvin said that God’s image in humanity was smashed like a mirror whose glass is broke into pieces but which all have remained in the frame. In Christ, a repair process begins of the broken mirror which continues throughout our lives enabling us to increasingly accurately reflect Christ’s image.
May God help us to reflect Christ’s image & nature in our workplaces so there will be harmony & accord, His blessing & provision at work through our lives. May He supply the grace & power to turn them into productive, caring & enjoyable places to work, fulfil His call, serve His purposes, & other people in love. We pray for the creation of a culture of excellence - for a culture of encouragement which supports & enables people to grow & flourish - for a culture which enables the development of each person’s unique skill-set - for a culture that facilitates good teamwork & produces mature leaders & workers whose combined efforts multiply many times over their own individual effectiveness.
I especially pray that where thorns or weeds grow – God would grant us the grace, strength, resilience & skills to be able to still produce a good, healthy, lasting & bumper harvest. We ask for help to embrace the ‘sweat of our brow’ & the pain associated with production & work recognising His hand, through the curse, of producing this reality, but also the wonder that, in Christ, He has provided sufficient grace to be drawn daily upon to help us thrive, flourish & bring much glory to our Lord Jesus. That He will empower us to be salt & light in our workplaces – good ambassadors for Christ & His Kingdom, soul winners for Christ. Amen
Many Blessings – Pastor Leslie
30th January 2019
Climbing to the Next Level
I recently watched the movie ‘Everest’ about the 1996 death of several climbers on Mt Everest & the events surrounding that disaster. Mountaineering is a specialised & dangerous thing to attempt. It also requires a good head for heights. In the movie some climbers reached their maximum height & could go no further. One reached the top but did not have the energy to get back down again. The reasons for this varied from altitude sickness to illness to endurance issues. Very few of us will ever venture beyond climbing Snowdon, or the Wrekin. Even these two require a certain level of fitness to reach the top. It is not easy setting out & climbing these if you are not used to climbing them or if you have health issues. Last year was the first time I climbed the Wrekin – many years struggling with endurance because of ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
From the age of 28, when I first took unwell, I struggled with endurance issues & could not do many of the things others of my age took for granted. Simple tasks beyond doing my work left me exhausted. I haven’t played football since I was 34, only could play 9 holes of golf at a time until last year, & was not able to join in with the children in strenuous things. It was hard because I loved doing sport with them or doing challenging things that stretched our fitness. One of the main issues I had to face over the years was fear & anxiety. The original illness was so debilitating, & the road back to a measure of health so hard, it deeply affected me. Only Joan really knows what it was like because I hid it well from others. She was important to my recovery.
Other factors included the prayer of others. I may not have got any better when people would lay hands on & pray for me, but I stopped getting worse. Gradually, as I read the Bible, rested & leaned into Christ, stood on His promises, refused to settle for a life of ever decreasing activity, battled through the panic attacks, learned how to cope & keep going when completely exhausted, to step a few centimetres beyond what I was capable of yesterday – I regained an ability to endure seven months after the illness started.
Endurance is the thing, in my experience, that is completely banjo’ed with ME. I would think that I feel okay, step out & find after a few minutes that I had no power & no energy left. Instead, a world of exhaustion & anxiety would rise up & invade my life. Three years later I had a huge relapse, not quite as far as before, but it changed the course of my life. I recognised a call to ministry on my life & knew that I needed to begin to answer that call seriously. I started a part time Church Training Course in Northern Ireland while farming. The two years of that course helped reorientate my life bringing me to a place where I was willing to lay everything down for the sake of Christ’s service. Joan has always been the one who stood with me, & she was also in the place to say, ‘yes’ lets follow the Lord’s call!
Bible College began in 2002 in England. Three years after the last relapse, second year of Bible college, another major relapse very near led to me giving up on Bible college. Again the battle was very tough but I managed to survive until Christmas, & continued into the spring. Out of this suddenly my grades dramatically improved & these marks continued until I finished Bible College. In February 2006 another relapse which was so severe that it really took me two years to even begin to function beyond survival mode. The last relapse was thirteen years ago – it took two years to actually function beyond leading the church, & only since 2013 that I am able to take on more than church. Jon Adams said something about fear which had a profound impact on me which led me to dive into Christ to find victory over it. Praise the Lord – He guided me to a place of victory.
I have actually been able to do things that I never believed I could do again including climb the Wrekin, play 18 holes of golf, & have a quick recovery time after exertion. It is amazing how God has used ME to sanctify me & align my will with His – His Spirit is so full of life. I still, when difficulties overwhelm or the unexpected curve ball comes, lean into, rest & abide in Jesus – He is so full of mercy, grace & love. My story is not unique & I am certainly nobody special. Perhaps you need to read this & lean into & learn to rest in Christ. Climbing to the next level may simply be stepping, by a few centimetres, beyond what you accomplished yesterday. If you do that every day, you may even have climbed to the next level in your journey without even knowing it...
Love & God Bless
22 January 2019
Christianity without Christ:
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the founder of the Salvation Army, General Booth, had a prophetic dream about the new century. He was later asked by an American newspaper to answer the question: ‘What in your opinion is the chief danger, social or political, that confronts the coming century?’ He replied using his prophetic dream as a basis: ‘I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be: 1. Religion without the Holy Spirit; 2. Christianity without Christ; 3. Forgiveness without repentance; 4. Salvation without regeneration; 5. Politics without God; 6. Heaven without Hell.’ His prophetic based statement was spot on. After all, Booth was a Victorian who saw a great need to preach the Gospel & minister to the poor in London’s East End. His whole life was dedicated to the cause of Christ. His legacy includes many people becoming Christians for he was a great evangelist. It is also the Salvation Army & the amazing things it does to alleviate suffering, support the needy & share life with the vulnerable
Booth is long dead, but his words can be equally applied to the 21st Century. Paul spoke about the values & lifestyle of many people outside of Christ in the last days before Christ’s return, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, NIV, ‘But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.’ When Jesus enters a person’s life – He changes that person by renewing their basis for life, Before Christ, we are off Adam’s line – after our salvation – we are now the offspring of Christ. In Adam, we are unable to truly please God & we are dominated by the world – in Christ, we please God because Jesus claims us as His own & God’s grace is the new controlling principle of our lives.
There is no-one like Jesus. He is the most wonderful, gracious, loving & terrible One. He is my Saviour, my Lord & my King. His name denotes who He is: ‘Lord,’ the Greek for Lord, kurios – includes the thought of supremacy & authority. It can mean master or owner, or be a polite title such as ‘sir,’ or can be used about idols or false gods. In Scripture, when speaking of Jesus, God the Father & the Holy Spirit, it is used with exactly the same meaning as the Hebrew Yahweh, Jehovah or Lord. ‘Jesus is Lord’ is the shortest credal confession (1 Cor 12:3). ‘Jesus’ was the name given to Him by the angel in Matthew 1:21 meaning the Saviour or Redeemer who will save His people from their sins. ‘Christ’ means the Anointed One - the One prophesied to come by the Jewish prophets.
True Christianity has Christ at its heart. He is the very reason we can call ourselves Christians. The challenge is that Satan is constantly trying to sideline the Lord Jesus. He wants us to focus on everything but Jesus. The more Christians focus on being good, by being religiously devoted – the happier Satan is. The more we seek to teach people how to be good, about who Jesus was, about following rules & principles to be a good Christian without introducing them to our Saviour - we are short changing them.
Entering into the life of Christ through faith, repentance & obedience – ushers us into a living relationship with Him which opens the door to everything else. Focussing on living out a vibrant relationship with Him, changing our thinking so we recognise that our life comes from Him, & learning to truly lean into Him in faith are key steps in bringing Christ to the heart of our Christianity. It is important to introduce others to who Jesus is, what He requires of them today, & what a living relationship with Him means & looks like. He is absolutely dependable, trustworthy & gracious. Do you know Him? Is your walk with Him like this? May Christ be at the heart of our Christianity. Amen
4th January 2019
Faith, Obedience & Righteousness
Three times over Christmas I heard the same phrase at three different services: Christmas Eve Midnight – Christmas morning – New Year’s Eve. The phrase was: ‘God is always at work.’ It really struck me that first night when I heard it. Is God always at work? The answer is yes, He is. Jesus said in John 5:17, ‘My Father is always working, & so am I.’ In the context of John 5, the Jewish leaders were angry that Jesus had healed a man who had been infirmed for 38 years on the Sabbath – they believed such work to have been proscribed under the Sabbath regulations given by Moses. Jesus answer to their harassment of Him for breaking the Sabbath rules made them even more angry – for His answer meant that He was claiming to be equal with God (5:18).
How can God always be working? Theologically, the Bible has much to say about God transcending the limitations of human energy, endeavour, ability & power. In fact, the Bible clearly states that God is all-powerful, able to do anything, never fails, & never sleeps nor is tired. Jesus certainly in His Incarnation as a man got tired, needed to rest – yet He also raised the dead, healed the sick, set the demonised free from their distress, & delivered the sinner from the guilt of his or her sin. It also says that Christ upholds the entire Creation by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3), & in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). In His Incarnation, even as a baby, although His divinity was veiled it was not diminished. He was still God with all the prerogatives of God.
Out of that first mention of ‘God is always at work,’ I started to think about why we do not see the evidence of God’s work in Christ to the same degree today in our setting as some in the past have experienced it? Is it because He is less present with us than He was with our forefathers in the past? Well actually, no; according to His word the Spirit has come to remain to create the Church & to enable the Church to do the works of God. If the Spirit is just as present with us as He was previously – then why are we not seeing the amazing works that our forefathers in Christ did? First of all, sometimes it is easy to look back & see the wonderful things as an everyday occurrence. The truth is that many times biographies & historical studies gloss over the everyday mundane nature of ministry, also the setbacks, difficulties & opposition faced by many of the great ministry leaders. Oppression, opposition & uncertainty were part of their lot too.
The second answer is linked to something that I recently read; namely, that it is not that God’s power is diminished nor His presence among His people less today. God has not withdrawn. As I reflected on these issues, then three things came to the fore – namely: Faith, Obedience & Righteousness. i. Without faith I cannot please God. When I come to Him I ‘must believe that He exists & that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him’ (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is fundamental to engaging with God on God’s terms. What is faith? John Piper said that ‘the last bastion of human pride is the belief that we are the originators of our faith’ (God has allotted to each a measure of faith’ Sept 23, 1998, www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-has-alloted-to-each-a-measure-of-faith). He wrote this in connection with Romans 12:3-8. This is not the faith which is mentioned as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:9), it is the faith given by God as a gift to each believer through His grace in Christ.
We do not have to work faith up; instead, we are to lean into the faith God already has placed in us as we read His word & hear it being preached. There is also something about associating with people who are living fully in the measure of faith they have received. Their example rubs off on us & we begin to lean more into our own measure of faith. I wonder if many of us today are so indoctrinated with Secularism & Rationalism relying on the world of sense & logic that we are aliens to the life of faith?
ii. Obedience is better than sacrifice. It opens the door to further breakthroughs in our lives (See Psalm 107:10-22). An obedient Christian is not only submissive to Christ, but he or she actually honours Christ’s Lordship in how they live their lives. True biblical obedience is accountable & recognises our accountability to God for what we do, & to one another in love. iii. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus said, ‘blessed are those who hunger & thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.’ This is not the righteousness whereby we are justified before God so that He can accept us in Christ at our salvation – that is imputed righteousness – this is imparted righteousness, the day by day righteousness that comes to us by the Spirit’s ministry within, through applying His word – what is known as sanctification righteousness. This latter type of righteousness is a breastplate for us. The opposite is an unrighteous or sin-dominated life.
May God guide us into a new season of actually walking in faith, being obedient to Him each day, & standing in His righteousness in Christ. As we enter this new way of life, then we will see God always at work around us & be a partner with Him in His work...