Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Why do we rebel?

There seems to be a trait in humans, and we see it especially in kids of a certain age ( but hope they will grow out of it), that wants to rebel and kick against the very people who love them and want the best for them.
Why is this?
Whilst it may be understandable in a teenager it is both sad and tragic when it carries on through adulthood. An inability to see or realise or appreciate that somebody is actually and genuinely motivated by doing what you need rather than just what you want. A frightening ability to persuade ourselves that what we want IS what we need.
In Hosea 11 we find these words:
"When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me.......... It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.

If we could hear God's voice it would be full of love and anguish, as He does what He knows is best for people, offering care and love, protection and provision, but His heart is rejected and He goes unrecognised by the people He loves. They think they know best but actually they want something that is way less than His best for them.

In the last para it seems to indicate that God often shows us His love and support through the people we are closest to or people he brings across our path - through human kindness and love - but that people simply fail to recognise the activity of God in good human relationships and actions often rejecting those who love them and the God who acts through them. And all because we know best, that what we want is really what we need, and nothing else will satisfy us. Anyone coming with a different story becomes the focus of rebellion and rejection.
Why not ask God to open our eyes to recognise not only what really is best for us, to differentiate between want and need and to value those people who have our real best interests at heart and express this through their actions?

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Sunday, 5 December 2010

Orthodox heretic and other impossible tales

This isn't so much a blog as a book review - or recommendation... I am reading The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins who is the founder of Ikon in Belfast. Why did I buy the book? - because Michael Gungor recommended it on Twitter (twitter.com/michaelgungor) while I am on the subject (a slight diversion) Please be my strength is a great track by him....as is most of his stuff.
Anyway, The Orthodox Heretic is definitely not for those who are afraid to question some of the ways they have come to understand the faith and some of the preconceptions about what 'God's Word' really is. Without giving too much away it is about parables, or, specifically about the way parables communicate and what they communicate, which may well take some of us by surprise.
In a western Christian world where the tendency is often to preach in such a way that people are being told what to think or believe in simple bite sized chunks there are some classic and quotable sentences.
"Parables subvert this desire to make faith simple and understandable..." and a little later,
"A parable does not primarily provide information about our world. Rather, if we allow it to do its work within us, it will change our world - breaking it open to ever new possibilities."
Then there is a real killer paragraph that strikes to the heart:
" ....parables represent a mode of communicating that cannot be heard without being heeded, in which the only evidence of having 'heard' its message is in the fleshly incarnation of that message. The parable is heard only when it changes one's social standing to the current reality, not one's mere reflection of it. The parable does not create more sef-aware purveyors of irony - whereby one mocks the very behaviour that one engages in, thus enjoying the activity in the very moment of disavowing it." Ouch......!

The remainder of the book is a collection of parables - but not the one's you will be expecting - followed by some personal commentary. They will certainly cause you to stop and think. It's a difficult book, a hopeful book and something that should cause youto consider things in a slightly different light.

The Orthodox Heretic, and other impossible tales. (Canterbury Press)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Stop praying...... NOW!

Have you, as a Christian, ever prayed and asked God to give you the power to stop doing this or that, stop saying this or that ?
This week I got a clear word about why those prayers are just plain wrong.

A pastor friend of mine was once asked by a member of his congregation, who was struggling to get to morning prayer meetings, if he would pray for him to be able to get up and get there.
The reply from the pastor was an emphatic 'no' , followed by "use an alarm clock" The ball was back in the members court, the choice was his!
This may well be a more trivial matter but when it comes to sin it becomes more serious.
God has given to Christians the Spirit of holiness and of power....... and of self control. If we really believe that, and if we believe that we have one in heaven who intercedes for us, then it becomes much more about what we choose than what we pray.

If we continually pray about something when the means to achieve what we are praying about has already been given to us it will inevitably be a fruitless exercise. We are praying a prayer, the answer to which is already within our means because of what God has already done for us and given to us, in other words we are wasting time when we could be living the answer.
In many of these instances God's answer is already there - "don't pray, CHOOSE to use the resources I have already given you"
CHOOSE not to do that
CHOOSE not to say that
CHOOSE TO SAY the right

Some people won't like this message because it means we actually have to act as responsible agents under God, taking responsibility for actually doing what He has equipped and empowered us to do!
There are plenty of things to pray about that are well outside of any ability God has given us to answer them - pray about these things. We really must learn when to pray and when to CHOOSE AND ACT using the resources already available to us.
Many Christians and many churches will be a lot more aligned with God's will, therefore more effective, when this lesson is learned and put into practice - and that most certainly includes me!

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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Characteristics of a leader?

I am not a great fan of leadership books. You know the type I'm sure.They present a menu of stuff that, if followed, can apparently make you a leader ( in an hour if it is one of those from a motorway service area)If, however,it's one of the more 'subtle' books then it will present pretty much the same list but rather than tell you to 'do these things in order to become a leader' it will say that leaders are born not made - but if you correspond to this list then you are a naturalleader ( see what they did there?).....

However, reading Psalm 78 (and dipping into 2 Sam 6) I read how and why God commended David as a 'leader' of His people.

Firstly He uses the word 'shepherd' (Ps 78:72) - a one who is concerned first and foremost for those under his care - more than for his own advancement or well being. So, firstly, a leader has a shepherd heart after the heart of God Himself - modelled perfectly by Jesus.

Next there is a really central principle that is so lacking in much of today's 'practice of leadership' - integrity of heart. It's sometimes very difficult today, until after the event, to know the difference between the appearance of integrity, the product of highly paid,spin inducing PR gurus, and the real thing. In fact there are often only 2 people who know the difference - you and God!

Then the Psalmist mentions actually having skills for the task - another word we would use today would be 'competency'. In 2 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV) we read that "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant..." The skills and gifts to lead are so important but often forgotten, with very little being invested to develop this area in the lives of many who would be leaders. I am not referring just to 'external' investment such as an organisation may offer in terms of training and development but, because ultimately this competence is 'given from God' the most important investment is the internal. The commitment of time and effort to focus on, and spend time with, Jesus.

Finally, when we look into 2 Samuel we glimpse another crucial characteristic of a leader - enthusiasm. To be enthused and to enthuse others. When we consider the etymology of the word, quite literally 'possessed by God' we need to recover the understanding and rediscover the reality.
So, leaders: shepherd heart, integrity, skilful and possessed by God.
Me? Very much a work in progress, although sometimes feels like regress! But He is able.

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Monday, 27 September 2010

A larger place?

Firstly, if you are an agrophobic this is probably not going to be a great help - sorry....

A number of years ago there was a song by Wiley Beveridge called 'a larger place' and it struck many chords with me. I always love driving on mountain roads or walking in the mountains and coming to an unexpected ridge or viewing point to be faced with an immense and awesome vista....

I can stand for hours just looking and thinking - for me the scene is full of potential, full of possibilities, you can be taken time and again to the edge of adventure, to the borders of new discoveries...and all you need to do is set off, put one foot in front of the other and the adventure begins.....

Recently, in my reading, God has been calling me to revisit this fascination with the possibilities of being on the verge of that larger place and how it can be such a springboard for a journey of discovery.

Romans 5:1-2
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[ rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Ps 18:19
He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Ps 139:5
You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.

I love the paradoxes and non rational lines of thought that scripture so often points us to. There is no place as large as the grace of God - the universe pales compared to that wonderful place - or as Michael Gungor refers to it 'prodigal grace'. The thought, in Psalm 18, of being on a journey with God during which He constantly takes us to the verge , to the crest, onto the ridge and shows us ever more awesome scenes of greatness and vastness and then the paradox of Ps 139 - that to be 'hemmed in' by God is actually to be in the largest, safest place that is full of promise and opportunity, challenge and fulfillment, peace and security.

Is this the journey you are on with God.....letting Him take you to a larger place.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A place of blessing.....

Sitting outside on a glorious morning in the Pyrenees looking at blue skies, dew on the ground and luscious plants and greenery, reading the 'song of Moses':

Deuteronomy 32:1-4 (NIV)
Listen, O heavens, and I will speak;
hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.

What God has created, and continues to create, in the realm of nature, majestic mountains, the vastness of the sky, the beauty of the plants and forest all speaks of His glory, but also of His care and provision. The song from Deut 32 recalls and reminds me of this beauty and fruitfulness and points to the same creative and glorious work in our lives as well as in nature. As we focus on and are shaped by His word and as we honour His name so the effect on our lives is like that of the dew and the rain on plants. He brings out beauty and He produces fruit. He provides in abundance and He does it to perfection.

So, His word and His name are central to fruitfulness and blessing but there is another scripture that adds one further element to this fulness.
The image of dew producing abundance and blessing brings to mind Psalm 133, where the dew that brings blessing is directly linked to the quality of lifestyle of God's people. The particular hallmark of that quality being unity.

The centrality of Gods word, the lifting of His name and the people living in unity. This is where we discover blessing and fruitfulness.

However, perhaps most importantly we are reminded of God's greatness and His utter faithfulness.

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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

It's always the fruit that gets me

Some things in life are so fundamental, so basic to the way things work that they ought to be 'hard wired' into us, genetic 'no brainers'.
Nobody, they say, has a good enough memory to keep telling lies, fabricating the 'truth'. Lies beget more lies and they will catch you up and catch you out. We know this so why on earth would anyone lie?
But we do!
Living with a high barrier in a relationship is an uncomfortable and often unnecessary situation to be in. They are so often begun by a 'sortable' or even a minor issue - but propelled by pride and poor communication into the 'too hard to deal with' category where they fester and become cancerous. We can even reach a point where we are not even sure what caused the barrier or why we keep it there, but by this time it has become part of life and we feed it. We know this is not healthy and we often know very early on in this spiral of despair how we can avert the inevitable 'emotional crash & burn' that will follow. We know that God commands a blessing where there is unity, but, even knowing all of this, we let it happen. Why?

In Matt 3:8 Jesus says 'produce fruit in keeping with repentance' this is so obvious, such a basic principle that it surely must be part of the spiritual genetic make up of all Christians? Well, I must be the single exception as well as being particularly stupid. In Corinthians Paul talks about two types of sorrow, Godly, which is real repentance, and worldly, which is not and which leads to dark places. Basically the latter mouths the words - which may be genuinely meant at the time- but there is no follow through with life change and outward actions, whilst the former results in the 'u turn' of repentance and noticeable changes in life, action and attitude. It's obvious that so often the words are not enough, but how often does worldly sorrow prevail? How often do our repentant words fall short of repentant actions? Our words intend the 180 degree u turn but our pride, selfishness or immaturity keep the momentum going and make it a full 360 degrees! - the right words but the wrong result. A life rather more full of words than righteous works.
Well, in God's strength and by His grace, no more! Let's away with worldly sorrow and reap the benefits of abundant fruit. That is my prayer.

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Saturday, 28 August 2010

Late have I loved you, you were within me, but I was outside....

I am often surprised to find (although I don't know why I should be) that many of todays great worhip leaders reflect a deep knowledge of earlier Christian hymns, hymn writers and teachers. The relevance and impact of these hymns and teachings can be so powerfully demonstrated as the ancient truths are communicated in ways relevant to our culture. However, it is sad how many 'modern Christians' I meet who gain vicarious benefit from these ancient truths via modern songs but have no idea of their roots with some even decrying anything old simply because it's old! When a culture, movement or organisation belittles or ignores its history or fails to appreciate and understand its significance it is probably heading into some sort of self satisfied cultural culdesac. I was reminded of this powerfully and by way of a blessing this week as I got into my newly discovered group 'Gungor' and read some of St. Augustine's confessions (I know, it's not everyday etc etc)....

From St. Augustine:
Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so. I entered, then, and with the vision of my spirit, such as it was, I saw the incommutable light far above my spiritual ken and transcending my mind: not this common light which every carnal eye can see, nor any light of the same order; but greater, as though this common light were shining much more powerfully, far more brightly, and so extensively as to fill the universe. The light I saw was not the common light at all, but something different, utterly different, from all those things. Nor was it higher than my mind in the sense that oil floats on water or the sky is above the earth; it was exalted because this very light made me, and I was below it because by it I was made. Anyone who knows truth knows this light.

O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”.
Accordingly I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who is also God, supreme over all things and blessed for ever. He called out, proclaiming I am the Way and Truth and the Life, nor had I known him as the food which, though I was not yet strong enough to eat it, he had mingled with our flesh, for the Word became flesh so that your Wisdom, through whom you created all things, might become for us the milk adapted to our infancy.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
.......and then as I was listening to Gungor I came across their track 'Late have I loved you'.....

Late have I loved You
Beauty so ancient, so new
Late have I loved You
You were within me
But I was outside You
It was there that I searched for You

Late have I loved You
Beauty so ancient, so new
Late have I loved You

You were here with me
But I was not with You
And it was there that You found me
It was there that You found me

You called and You shouted
And You broke through my deafness
You flashed and You shone
Dispelled all my blindness

You breathed Your fragrance on me
You breathed Your fragrance on me
Late have I loved You
Late have I loved You

You called and You shouted
You broke through my deafness
You flashed and You shone
Dispelled all my blindness
You breathed Your fragrance on me
You breathed Your fragrance on me

I drew in Your breath
And I keep on breathing
I've tasted I've seen
And now I want more

'Cause You breathed Your fragrance on me
You breathed Your fragrance on me
Late have I loved You
Late have I loved You

Credits :
songwriters: michael gungor,

As devotional words these have great power - from us being outside of Him to us being the fragrance of Him - this is our journey. The reading of the words from St Augustine and the listening to them from Gungor lead me to Romans 2 and that great reminder that it is the kindness of God that leads us to that place of repentence -  the atmosphere within which our journey makes most headway........

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Examine ourselves.....

Doctors strongly advise that men and women regularly perform certain easy 'self examinations' ( no need for too much detail here ) A few simple tests can give vital clues and early warning of serious problems that may lie ahead.
In Corinthians ( 1 Cor 13:5 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20cor%2013:5&version=NIV) Paul urges us to examine ourselves regularly, a sort of spiritual health check on where we are in the faith. In a twitter post today Matt Redman ( @matt_redman ) wrote the following questions, taken from the words of John Wesley,
1.Did the bible live in me today?
2.Am I enjoying prayer?
3.Is Christ real to me?

Three short but, if answered honestly, really helpful questions by which we can put Paul's words from 1 Corinthians into practical effect.
If you come up short in this 'examination' then 'there may be trouble ahead' - and no amount of singing, dancing, moonlight or romancing is going to sort it out (old song reference there!) but you can go a talk and pray with a trusted mature Christian friend or pastor asap - that is what I would prescribe.

If you would like to dig around a little more in the words of Wesley you can access his complete works here: http://www.godrules.net/library/wesley/wesley.htm
And a really good resource for finding your way around the bible is 'bible gateway' :
"Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith....." is not so much about are you or are you not a Christian as it is about are you living, acting, speaking and developing as a Christian, becoming mature rather than remaining an infant - but that's another blog...

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Monday, 23 August 2010

It's been a while

It's been quite a while since I have blogged - all sorts happening at work and, of course, holiday season. I've been away to the Cambridge Folk Festival, had a bit of a break around N. wales and been to the Edinburgh Festival - all of which has been great, but my greatest discovery this month has been a band I found whilst journying around the internet tonight - and they have really blown me away. Gungor


They are on iTunes and here are the lyrics to one of their songs from Ancient Skies - and boy did they get me.


I’ve tasted Your glory and I left it there.
Your poured out Your Spirit and I didn’t care.
Still you loved me

I’ve lived for myself with nobody to blame.
I took what You gave me and squandered Your grace.
Still You loved me.

Nothing compares to what You’ve done for me
Nothing compares to what You’ve done for me.

I could live for the broken and share in their pain.
I could die like a martyr or live like a saint just to love You.
I could sing like the angels and gather Your praise:
Be blessed beyond measure and give it away just to love You.
Still nothing compares to what You’ve done for me.
Nothing compares to what You’ve done for me.

My heart has been broken; I’ve laid out my shame.
Because of Your mercy,
All I can say is I love You.
So I’ll tell of Your story
I’ll carry Your name
I’ll live for Your glory Lord,
I’ll share in Your pain just to love You.
Nothing compares to what You’ve done for me.
Nothing compares to what You’ve done for me.
Nothing compares to what You’ve done for me.

Nothing can separate us
Nothing can separate us
Not death or life
Or depth or height
Or unseen power

Now or ever!

Words and music by Michael Gungor and Michael Rossback

I have also had some adventures in God's Word which I will be sharing when He and I have completed one or two things......

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Are you a still a learner?

Learner drivers - you gotta have them but you don't like getting stuck behind them! Learning is an interesting topic because in one sense you don't and shouldn't ever stop learning, life is one big learning journey.
It's a journey that favours the curious. Babies become very curious very quickly and whilst it can be a real handful for the parents - all the what, why, where, how, but, what if etc - this initially tiring time is repaid in full as the children become both interested and interesting, as they both seek and give knowledge, as they engage in a life that understands the importance of putting into practice what they learn. Sometimes you learn an important truth or lesson and move on. It is a valuable and useful lesson - but you don't need to dwell there - fire burns, don't touch it! Lesson learned, move on. Sometimes, however, there needs to be continuous learning, a subject or topic that just keeps on opening up new areas of discovery, new avenues of exploration, new paths to follow.

In Hebrews 6 we are told to:
" leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity," in other words learn them, leave them and move on into newer and deeper areas! Leave doesn't mean forget - like you don't forget that fire burns, it remains a useful, invaluable and practical guide for living. There are other areas, one of which is worship, where we must remain as learners, we must retain a real curiosity and desire to keep on exploring for to do so keeps us moving deeper into God but not to do so leads to a life that stagnates and lacks passion.
I have found so many resources that keep me pursuing worship as a student, a learner - not in theory but in practice. These resources include God's Word, worship songs from all era's the books of A W Tozer and many others, but currently a little book by Matt Redman called 'Facedown' which I cannot recommend highly enough. It is not so much new material - although there is plenty of that- as it is a revision and reminder of much I have learned but forgotten or simply not put into practice. I have treated worship as though it is one of the Hebrews 6:1 categories - but it isn't!
It is one of those books that has great 'one liners' that send you off in many interesting directions:
'when it comes to worship the heavenly throne must set the tone'
'Any genuine celebration of God's glory WILL be followed by a humbling before His greatness'
'Worship thrives on wonder'
'Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms'
'we convey a tame and domesticated God, and find ourselves stuck in the endless pursuit of the ordinary'
'God is God and as such He owes us nothing - not even answers'
'what the church needs today is a restoration of a vision of the Most High God'
'God does not delight in fast food spirituality'
'so often paradox is the gateway to mystery and wonder in worship'

That's probably enough - and it's a fraction of the 'food' in this small book that has jolted me into increasing the depth and pace of my learning about ,and experience of, worship.
I'm pleased to be a learner and happy to wear the 'L' plates when it comes to worshipping the Most High God.

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Saturday, 7 August 2010

Are you sold out?

I recently attended Holy Trinity in Cambridge and heard a great message preached by a young girl who had been a student there and who was now studying evangelism at 'the other place' (Oxford apparently). She preached on the (sad) life of Samson. I was hoping the message may appear on the HTC website as a recording - but it hasn't (yet) and as some of the main points hit home so forcefully here they are:
1.Samson was set apart but sleeping around.
In his case, quite literally, with the Philistines - people who followed false god's but also sleeping around with wrong ambitions, motivations and desires. He was sleeping around with many things that were contrary to his calling and which diluted his dedication to his Lord. What about us? As Christians (if you are) the bible makes it clear we are set apart (see 1 Peter 2:9 - 11 ) - BUT are we sleeping around with things and thoughts, activities and desires that are contrary to our calling and damaging to our discipleship - ouch, strike 1.

2.Next we saw how Samson was physically strong but morally and spiritually weak - he was spiritually gifted but not spiritually mature! He even reached a stage where he forgot that the gifts he had were from God - thinking he could simply 'perform at will' whenever he chose. Today, the church and individuals often confuse gifting with maturity - so much so that the two can easily, in our own minds at least, become equated! This is the time when we start to ask God to bless what WE do rather than spend time discerning where God's blessing lies and pursuing it in His strength. This is the territory where our giftings so easily become our goals. That which God gave us to ACHIEVE a goal - glorifying Him and do His bidding becomes the focus of our Christian life. We must get better at what we do for God..... we pursue what we do rather than God Himself! Strike 2.

In fact Samson had strayed so far down this road that he did not even know when God had left him (Judges 16:9) He stepped aside from the grace which set him apart. He went beyond the 'gift as goal' error and took up residence in the 'gift is my 'right'' camp. He treated the grace gifts from God as his 'God given rights' and that is a rapid descent into a lifestyle that is all about me rather than Him. Strike 2.5

Samson gave very little voice to his calling and did not realise that:
3. Being set apart for God is not the same as 'being sold out' for God!
How many of us are quite content to be set apart and do not hunger and strive to be 'sold out' for the King? Strike 3.......

Those are the main points in which I heard the Lord speak powerfully. And the hope - God called and used Samson despite his frailties - and there was never a time when the road back into the fullness of his calling and gifting was not available to Him. The Father was always there at the end of the driveway awaiting His return, ready to kill the fatted calf and behind the celebrations!

Fo you want a lifestyle 'aspiration'? Try: set apart and sold out for the King of Kings'

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Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Faith and activity

This has been prompted by a tweet from @clearingtheroad in which I read the phrase 'faith and inactivity' which got me thinking, and I was off on one of my tangents.....
One of the ways I like to describe Christian faith is 'active belief in Jesus' which obviously requires some further explanation and is not the only description.... However, for me, the concepts of 'action' and 'activity' are inseparable from biblical faith, but not just any old activity with a 'God' label stuck on it! It is so easy in life, at every level, to content ourselves that busyness equates to usefulness, that sheer momentum is the same as worthwhile activity, and this is no truer than our approach to the things of God. It is too easy for our activity and busyness 'in His name' to become a substitute for a listening, obedient, reverent relationship in which activity is focussed, fruitful, faith inspiring and often preceded by periods of reflection during which we don't simply read God's word - we wrestle with it and seek to understand it ( something very different from learning and remembering it).
When it comes to our faith driven activity the words 'quality' , 'effectiveness' and 'fruitfulness' spring to mind. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 3:12-13 (NIV)
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.

I pray that my faith would, in part, be defined and recognised through activity and that the activity would be more than 'busyness with a veneer of Godliness' riding on an 'inadequate grasp of His living word'. May the activity be derived from Him, focussed upon Him, result in Glory to Him and be used by Him for the increase of His kingdom. May it pass the quality test of 1 Cor 3 and may it liberate and be liberating. Mere activity in the name of faithfulness is a poor substitute for the radical biblical faith filled activity that communicates Jesus in culturally relevant and powerful ways, that is passionate about the eradication of injustice and which relies on 'His power at work in us' rather than 'our power trying to work for Him'
This is the level of activity that, by His grace, I aspire to. It is the enemy of apathy and a cause for Satan to tremble........... Powerful and effective. Let if be so in Your Church Lord.

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Jesus will 'land in force'

I came across these few words on the second coming by C S Lewis - they are awesome:

Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force. We do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited until the allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over. God is going to invade all right. But what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe, melting away like a dream, and something else, something it never entered your head to conceive comes crashing in. Something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left. For this time it will be God without disguise. Something so overwhelming, that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you could choose to lie down when it is become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing. It will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen. Whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment is our chance to choose the right side.

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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Bring in the new, throw out the old

I am re-reading the account in 2 Kings 22-23 when, after years of wandering around in some 'spiritual netherland', King Josiah ordered some restoration work to be done in the temple. In the course of doing this work the Book of the Law was found and the impact of this was astounding. Josiah was cut to the heart as he read and realised the extent to which they had strayed from God and had disobeyed him in their lives and as a nation. In the account that follows we see a powerful example of the real life impact the living word can have when let loose in the lives of men and women.
I readily admit that I don't relate easily to the tearing down of various physical altars and shrines and so on, BUT, when I ask what these things point to in my life now, it is a different story. The misguided, disobedient, wilful, selfish and ignorant forces and feelings that were so dominating that nation and its leadership are very real forces at work in my life - and they need to be torn down, removed and subdued if I am to rise with Jesus to the heights He has in mind for me. What I see here in this passage is a fading away of all that is not of God and a magnifying of Him and His work. This is what I pray for my life - that the living word of God would have that continual renewing impact and that it would wage war against the false altars and shrines that I so easily clutter my life with and which so quickly block the truth and light of His presence to me and those around me.

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Thursday, 22 July 2010

An honest, desperate and faithful cry

I often wonder what the original author of a written piece intended to convey and how necessary it is for the intended meaning to be the one that remains 'meaningful' as successive generations read the words. In many ways this can take us onto thin ice in terms of interpretation, but sometimes thin ice may be the only thing we have to walk on as we continue an exploration into new areas. I don't go for the whole postmodern thing which can so easily disassociate words and context from an attachment to reality but nor am I big on the 'thin end of the wedge' arguments often put forward by insecure people intent on preventing any exploration at all.

I often struggle to find a way to relate to certain Psalms where, usually David, is bemoaning his 'enemies' and which usually ends up with him asking God to do something fairly fatal to them. I have no doubt that David had in mind real people who were real enemies - presumably the same 'enemies' that Jesus commands us to love and bless rather than hate and curse?
I simply cannot relate to many of David's words if I have a 'real' person in mind whenever I read 'enemies' However, as I read the psalm this morning it struck me that I have 'real' enemies - and they all reside within me. As I re- read the psalm, thinking of all those enemies within (the worst type of enemy), it struck home with a new power and uncomfortable relevance. Verses 3 & 4 in particular have a resonance that stops me in my tracks - and verse 8 is a lifeline of grace. There is many a morning when I seek that 'word of unfailing love' The word that is alive and lifts me from guilt and despair to freedom and hope. The word that recognises and defeats the enemy within.

Psalm 143:1-12
O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. [2] Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. [3] The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. [4] So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. [5] I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. [6] I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah [7] Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. [8] Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. [9] Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in you. [10] Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. [11] For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. [12] In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.

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Saturday, 17 July 2010

Snakes and poles!

Reading Numbers 21 again I was struck (again) by just how strange the story is - mind you that is in keeping with much of Numbers! In case you're not familiar with it, the people had sinned (again), they continued with their perpetual moaning and complaining so God sent poisonous snakes to bite them - an odd sort of punishment when you think about it. However, when viewed in a salvation context ( metaphorically) the story is clothed with new layers of meaning and depth - or so it seems to me. Leaving aside the New Testament analogy between snakes on poles and Jesus on a cross there are subtleties that go deep.

For me the most obvious question is, why, after the people repented, did God not just remove the snakes? Job done you would have thought. However, there seems to be something important about the fact that after repentance God always provides a way to ensure sin does not and need not follow it's natural course and lead to death. A number of truths flow from this , firstly it is God who has to provide the way, people cannot achieve it on their own, secondly that way is only explicable by God as it defies rationale and logic and thirdly the people were not guaranteed any immunity from the initial consequences of their sin - they could still get bitten! This, for me at least, contains some phenomenal and powerful truths which not only foreshadow and prefigure Jesus, they also make sense of my experience.
There is one other thing (at least on this occasion) and that is the poisonous and insidious nature of sin that gets deep into our system affecting every aspect of our lives - you don't get bitten by a deadly viper and just continue as though nothing has happened. It very soon becomes obvious to everyone and the wise person looks quickly for a permanent cure.
Well, that's how it spoke to me - this living and active Word.

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Friday, 9 July 2010

Receiving grace

'As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain' 2 Cor 6:1

As I read this today it got me thinking about 'receiving God's grace' and all the joy and privilege ..... and responsibility this brings. Everything we receive from God is utterly undeserved and totally for our benefit, so what should we do?
The options seem to include keeping it secret or unashamedly flaunting it!
Telling, showing, demonstrating and living the reality of His grace at every opportunity. Making totally certain that people around us are struck by a driving force to our lives that is so clearly 'not of ourselves' and, what's more, has a subtle but almost irresistible appeal, that generates curiosity and questions, that points to the kindness of God from where derives our ability to repent and repentance is the place where the gates of grace are fully open.

Here is the testimony of a new Christian from our church (www.westaucklandcc.net ) who is receiving grace - and not in vain:

Clearing the road
This is my story, experience and thoughts on how I became a Christian...

Can't say I have had a terrible life, it's just that I've never treated myself with too much respect. Always making the wrong choices sometimes because it was easy and other times because I didn't really know. Carried lots of guilt for the way I behaved and some pretty horrible feelings. Generally, wandering aimlessly through life without any direction. I was going downhill pretty fast.

Then things started to change. In January I received a phone call inviting me to attend an ALPHA course. Actually it was refreshing to speak to someone who spoke their mind and without the usual 'heirs and graces'. This started me thinking, "Christians are not as fluffy as I thought".

During the course, I met some great people and lets just say I experienced what it was like to change from the inside and the amazing realisation that Jesus really did die for us all and he really died to take away our sins. For me that meant so much. A man, a pretty special man without sin, carried on his shoulders all of our sins. He died on the cross to take away all those feelings that we carry around with us on our shoulders everyday. I even started going to church!

On one particular Sunday I experienced what it would be like to ride the emotional roller coaster, quite literally. I wept for no apparent reason, and even in front of my Dad! I have never really experienced feeling vulnerable, but I did then. That day I experienced every possible emotion. I remember being sat in my living room asking God for forgiveness, asking for His help and literally handing my life over to Him.

Surprisingly things just became worse, more tears and more emotions. I received a phone call from a Christian friend to see if I was OK, because I hadn't been to church that day. You got it, I burst into tears again. I was instantly invited to join them in Christian Fellowship. Plenty more tears followed and then I knew what to do. I asked my Christian brothers to pray for me.

At that point, I genuinely felt a force pushing me to the ground. I couldn't stop laughing and felt this great sense of inner peace and comfort, I was filled by The Holy Spirit. The Lord certainly did not want me to get up. I think he wanted me to rest. You see I asked for my sins to be forgiven and they have been, and The Lord through The Holy Spirit is guiding my life. Through Jesus Christ a huge weight has been lifted. You see I am now free and I am without a chain. I was Baptised on Pentecost and now there is "no looking back".

...and with God's Grace I pray you find your path.

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Act 2:38 (NIV)

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

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Monday, 5 July 2010

Which type of sorrow?

I was struck, yet again, as I was reading some familiar words and God stopped me in my tracks in order to consider what I had read.
Have you ever noticed how you can sometimes look at your watch but if someone asks you the time just afterwards you cannot tell them? You've looked but haven't seen! If we are honest, how often is our reading of the bible a bit like that? It doesn't mean God can't use such 'shallow skin reading' but it is so much more valuable and edifying when we look AND see. We went to the church of a friend of mine last year for a leaders day, RCC in Blackpool, ( http://www.rccblackpool.com/ ) and one of the exercises we did was to all take a short and familiar passage of scripture and read, prayerfully, it for about 20 mins, which meant repeated reading. Following that we began to share what God had said during that time, and it was, quite literally, a revelation. We had looked and seen, listened and heard and God spoke! An exercise never forgotten although not repeated as often as it should be.
Anyway today I read 2 Corinthians 7:10 :
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Then I went back and read it a few more times and God clearly said 'now apply it to your life, is there anything you need to say to me?'
As I sensed His word I was cut to the heart with the realisation of which 'sorrow' I too easily became more comfortable with! All too easily 'sorry' is a tool used to get our own way or to get us out of trouble 'cheaply'. There too easily becomes a superficiality about the way we use it in daily life that all too soon characterises our approach to God. What should be heartfelt and deep can become shallow and meaningless, manipulative and deceitful and whereas we may get away with it for a while in the world, God will not be mocked (Gal 6:7 ). However the reason such a cavalier attitude to sorrow is taken seriously by God is nothing to do with Him being mocked or otherwise, it is because of the damage caused, the trust that is undermined and the fact that the person using 'sorry' in this way is missing out on the depth of repentance and subsequent richness of experience and relationship with both God and others. God always wants the best for us, which includes the deepest, closest and most authentic relationship with Him and others. The worldly sorrow, where so much of today's culture and media would, perhaps unknowingly, guide us will lead to a slow inner death in which we become overtaken by deceitfulness, content with superficiality, manipulative in relationships, distant from God and our spirits begin to 'wither on the vine'.
We are told in Romans that it is God's kindness that leads us to repentance, and it is that same kindness that stops us short when reading His word and gets us to examine our lives and have them realigned with His ways and kingdom values.

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Psalm 119 guidance for life

I love the way The Message interprets Psalm 119 - a challenge and a hope. It is a cause of prayer and thankfulness. A source of inspiration and comfort.

You're blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.
You're blessed when you follow his directions,doing your best to find him.
That's right—you don't go off on your own;
you walk straight along the road he set.
You, God, prescribed the right way to live;
now you expect us to live it. Oh, that my steps might be steady,keeping to the course you set;
Then I'd never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel.
I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;
I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.
I'm going to do what you tell me to do;don't ever walk off and leave me.
How can a young person live a clean life?
By carefully reading the map of your Word.
I'm single-minded in pursuit of you;
don't let me miss the road signs you've posted.
I've banked your promises in the vault of my heart
so I won't sin myself bankrupt.

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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

What we need right now?

In one of our house groups we have been working through a study on repentance, which, not surprisingly, had quite a focus upon David, particularly his 'have it away with someones wife and get the husband killed episode' or Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite for the more biblically 'up market'. Seriously, apart from one of the most devastating punch lines in scripture, when Nathan declares to David 'You are that man' (if you're not sure about this read it in 2 Sam 12 ) there is Psalm 51, written by David after the event when the enormity of his actions had really struck home.
On that note, why is it that we don't feel 5 secs before an action the way we feel 5 secs after it? how much better would our lives be if we did? Uriah would certainly have appreciated it. Anyway, as we worked through this 5 week study we got to Pslam 51, where we could so easily have spent another 5 or 6 weeks...at least. In the course of this we looked at some of the key words used in the Psalm and the two that really hit home for me were 'wisdom' ( v6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.) and the phrase 'create in me a pure heart', with particular emphasis on 'create'.( Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. )
'Wisdom' has a number of aspects to its range of meanings but in this context the notion of 'making the right decisions at the right time....... consistently' is right at the top of the list. In the light of what David has done this is a plea for, and an acknowledgement that, God will enable us to do just that. I don't know about you, but I know my life would be, and have been,  a lot more effective if I had operated within that gifting far more frequently than I have thus far managed... It's a challenge, but the promise it contains is also an encouragement....it needn't be like it has been...look at David!
Then there is the plea for a pure heart.....the plea is, I am sure, common enough, but the word used for 'create' implies an understanding that something is being requested that only God can supply. This is a really important truth for those of us who seek to follow Jesus. There are things that MUST happen in our lives that we cannot and can never achieve in our own strength, things where we rely on God producing something where there was nothing. Yes I have a heart, but a 'pure heart' is something else entirely...something needs to happen that I cannot bring about, try as I might! What are the areas in our lives in which we need to submit to the One who can create something where there was previously nothing? Again there is a challenge and the most hope-full of promises. As David experienced, you need not be defined by your past when the One who can create something from nothing gets to work on your life....what you will be can define who you are now, rather than being constrained and bound by what you were. This is why the gospel liberates.
I think we have all found our study on repentance a source of liberty and a cause of joy. Next we are moving onto 'Can conversion change your personality'....ooooer, scary....but a bit exciting as well.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Wise and persuasive?

"My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on man's wisdom but on God's power. (1Cor2.4-5)

I remember being told the (I'm sure apocryphal) story of a visitor being taken around the Vatican, and, as he was being shown all the treasures his guide, recalling the story in Acts, said "no longer does the church have to say, 'silver and gold have I none' , to which the visitor replied, "no, but no longer CAN the church say 'in the name of Jesus Christ get up and walk'.
It is a story to which I return in my mind often, by which I am challenged and made more than a little uncomfortable. I believe it is a 'holy discomfort'.

I am not one to decry the worth and importance of human intellectual endeavour, especially when it comes to matters of faith. However, I remember a good Christian friend once reminding me that anyone who was argued into the kingdom could be argued out when a more persuasive speaker came along with a contrary view. There is a lot of truth in this.

So what are we saying? Most certainly don't despise human wisdom and persuasion, but please don't come to depend upon it as our primary means of seeing people come into the fullness of a relationship with Jesus. I think it is this balance that has been fairly comprehensively tipped in many of our churches and teachers. It is rather more 'comfortable' and culturally acceptable to talk than it is to lay hands and 'pray with power in the name of Jesus'. I wonder, of myself as much as anybody else, to what extent we really do expect our 'words about God' to be accompanied by the visible, demonstrable and/or experiential power of the Holy Spirit- 'signs from God'?
In Acts we read about Philip, and it says that 'when the people SAW saw the miraculous signs..... then they LISTENED intently to what he said'. Not the only model by any means, but certainly a one that many of us could do with 'rediscovering'.

"My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on man's wisdom but on God's power.

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Sunday, 13 June 2010

Getting it wrong by not looking right?

On the day that the declaration of independance was signed in America, King George, back in England, wrote his diary entry: 'nothing of much importance happened today'

How easy it is to fail to recognise the importance or significance of a situation - especially for small minded or selfish people for whom little or nothing exists outside of their limited shpere of interest. How costly has that mistake proved to be time and again through history.
On the day people took to the streets in what became to Russian revolution, the church leaders were meeting to discus the colour of clerical robes
Looking at the world through the wrong lens, the lens of self centeredness, will always cause us to miss, misunderstand, miss out on the significance of what is going on.
Looking at the world through the right lens, the eyes and mind of Christ, will lead us into areas we can hardly begin to imagine, with a significance the selfish mind can never perceive.

In the OT a group from a tribe called Issachar were commended because they 'understood the times and knew what they should do'.

How desperate it is in our villages and towns and cities for Christians to look outside of themselves, to 'look right' and to understand what is happening, the significance of what is happening and how God has equipped us by His spirit to follow Jesus into those situations and to make a 'kingdom' difference.

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Friday, 11 June 2010

Don't mess around!

Reading Acts today,I was struck with a sense of how driven Paul must have been. It is one of those times where the story sets you off on another track and it's interesting to go with it for a while.

Basically Paul had been teaching in the synagogue for quite some time having ".....devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ" http://read.ly/Acts18.5.NIV
but they really weren't interested. In fact it says they were getting abusive. Paul was investing himself in their spiritual and eternal future and they couldn't have cared less. So "Then Paul left the synagogue ... "

Then what?
Well, had it been me, probably sulked, ranted about them, got upset and turned inward, got angry with them, any or all of the above - for about a week at least!
But not Paul. It says he " went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God." http://read.ly/Acts18.7.NIV

I imagined him coming out of the synagogue, thinking 'OK, right, where to next? I've got all this teaching bursting to get out and woe unto me if I don't preach the gospel and all that.... Oh, there's a house next door, that'll do....... Knock Knock......

I'm sure it wasn't quite like that but I think the picture it painted for me, is of a man full of passion and focus who just isn't going to waste time getting upset and sulking and messing around when he could be talking about Jesus and worshipping God. .... Give me more of that Lord, please.

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Thursday, 10 June 2010

Making every effort?

I was Reading Romans today and got to:
"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." http://read.ly/Rom14.19.NIV

which is really hard, I thought to myself.......

Clearly we are not being told just to say nothing and put up with anything just so there can be some kind of 'peace' because elswhere we are informed ( and I paraphrase) 'that for evil to triumph it only requires the good to do nothing'

So how do we 'make every effort'?

One of the hardest areas in which to demonstrate wisdom, in any aspect of our life, is that of knowing which battles to fight and which are not important. So often human pride overuns our otherwise better judgement and stubornly refuse to yield a single inch on a single point. All the while your mind can be screaming 'this is stupid, this isn't worth it....' but onward you press, looking and acting like anything other than 'a Christian soldier', piling damage upon damage. We see this irrational, but sadly too common, character trait kill relationships, destroy fellowships, make life miserable and, ironically, lose the bigger more important battles.

How do we decide on which issues we must take a stand and disturb an apparant peace in order to acheive a deeper and lasting peace? It is a simple enough question that we consistently fail to answer correctly, usually because we succombe to self righteousness and self justification. Ok, I'm beginning to sound like it's too difficult to even bother trying.......

Perhaps the focus should on the word 'peace' and in gaining a biblical and correct understanding of that. If the sentence was changed for the benefit of English speakers 2000 years after the event perhaps it would read something like:
"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to deeper and closer relationships with Jesus and wholeness of life and to spiritually benefit and build up everyone involved."

This then becomes the criteria used to judge if an action, argument or battle really is worth 'pursuing to the point of disruption'.
Go through each point, 'on our knees and with the bible open' and ask: "will this course of action, my attitude and my motivation"
1 lead to a deeper and closer relationship with Jesus?
2 bring deeper wholeness or healing into a situation?
3 result in spiritual benefit, and strength?

Even if it is clear, agreed and appropriatley confirmed that the aim we are seeking to achieve is 'right' we must still ask these questions of our attitude, motivation and intentions.

The right battle fought in the wrong way is hardly any better than fighting the wrong battle!

Even if this does nothing for anyone else it is my own finger pointing back at me, because, as one of our worship leaders often says,
"I am guilty as challenged" and still have serious lessons to learn.
Never underestimate the strength of the pride that surfaces and embeds within us the overwhelming need to win every little point. Learn to yield to grace - that's my advice to me!

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Friday, 4 June 2010

Thoughts and reflections on worship

Reflections on worship.

I must start by saying that these are 'random' reflections and are more for thought and discussion than any attempt to say 'this is the way it is'.....
It is interesting to reflect on the journey we are all travelling with regard to worship both as a church and as individuals. When we consider ‘worship’ as an activity and as a subject it is immediately obvious that there are a significant number of elements come into play and questions to be asked.
These include the ‘purpose’ of worship (as perceived by those involved AND those worshipping), theological and biblical considerations, the calling and character of those involved in planning, leading and participating in worship, the place of worship in the life of the believer, and I am sure more could easily be added to this.

What is worship?
There are obviously a number of ways in which this question can be answered but I will say that ,primarily, worship is an attitude of the heart, flowing from a passion for God, that spills over into and actively shapes our attitudes and activities in everyday life. The bible shows us that worship finds perfect expression in ‘heaven’ and we can infer such a lot about worship from that truth and from accounts of ‘heavenly worship’. Worship flows from, and is offered from, lives that are fully oriented towards seeking increasing closeness and obedience to God and in the uninhibited overflow of God though our life. This will include our acknowledgement of His Kingship, glory and greatness, His worth and His deservedness of our worship and praise and it will also include an increasing passion to see His character formed in our lives and shape our daily living. True worship is a very real engagement with, and service of, the living God from which we will not depart unchanged. Indeed, Paul, prompted by the Holy Spirit, speaks of being transformed and changed from one degree of glory to another, which is a theme borrowed heavily by Charles Wesley as a concept and truth in his worship.

Notice that, in beginning to seek to understand and describe worship, we have not yet focussed on singing or on music. That is because worship is primarily about something much more ‘core’ than that, as Paul teaches in Romans 12:1:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy,to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

If we do not have that core desire – to offer ourselves as living sacrifices – then whatever else happens, it is unlikely to be worship.

What is the purpose of worship?
I have asked this question specifically because it is a strange question to ask. It is a one that often gets asked but I am not sure it is the right question. The question, on the lips of Christians, almost gives away a fundamental misunderstanding about worship. What does the word ‘purpose’ mean in common usage?

Purpose is a result, end, aim, or goal of an action intentionally undertaken.

Once we escape from seeing a particular time on a Sunday as being ‘worship’ then the question becomes either harder to answer or less meaningful.

The ‘intentional act’ on our part is the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices, the worship is a direct and unstoppable effect of that. From that point on it is about how where and what are the best ways to express our worship. This is where one of the important contexts for worship, meeting together with fellow believers to express our hearts’, becomes very important. Within this understanding it makes a lot of sense to ask about the purpose of this particular overflow of our worship.

The intentional act of expressing our worship by meeting together in order to hear from and respond to God does have purpose. Whilst Christianity is personal in terms of our relationship with, and obedient response to, God in Jesus, it is communal in almost all other aspects. When we meet together for worship, and that worship is God honouring and Spirit lead, then one of the ‘purposes’ is that of strengthening the church.

How do we ‘order’ proceedings when the church comes together?
Orderly Worship (1 Cor 14:26)
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
As people together express their love for God, together sit and listen for God, together are open to the Holy Spirit to lead through them, then the believers are strengthened and encouraged as individuals but also we find that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and the church receives strength and encouragement (and vision and passion and......) that is beyond simply adding up what has happened to individuals.

For most of us it is our expression and overflow of worship in fellowship with other believers (often but not always Sundays) that contains elements of music and corporate singing.

We need also to consider another basic scriptural principle when it comes to any activities that involve elements of ‘leadership of God’s people’
1 Peter 4:10
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.
This verse from 1 Peter is representative of a range of important teaching on the ministry of the church and how that ministry has been ‘ordered and equipped’ by God.

Firstly, while we use the word leadership (which is correct) we are reminded that in kingdom terms leadership equates to service. Another crucial truth in the biblical teaching about ministry is that it is God who calls and equips and He equips by giving gifts whose source is primarily spiritual as opposed to ‘just’ natural talents. This is not to say that he will not take what is ‘natural’ and purify and magnify it......

The next part of the verse underscores the responsibility of those called and gifted in a particular area of ‘leadership’ / service. This concept is important in understanding the ways in which God’s calling and gifting operate, or should operate withing the church.

‘Responsibility’ has certain implications inherent within it. Firstly there is a general recognition within the church that the person is called and gifted in a certain area or areas. Next there is the acknowledgement that this person has not just the responsibility but also the authority to serve in the appropriate calling. And finally, they are accountable, to God and the church, for their service in the areas to which they are called.

In the light of this brief background we can now consider the particular subject of ‘corporate’ worship, when the church comes together to use Paul’s phrase.

There are generally (in our ‘type’ of church) 5 main people or groups involved in planning, leading and participating in what we commonly (but perhaps mistakenly) call ‘worship’, (only number 1 is in order of priority)

1. The Holy Spirit
2. The person sharing God’s Word
3. Worship group (musicians and singers)
4. Worship leader (who may or may not be a musician)
5. All gathered believers

In terms of 2 – 4 we would expect there to be both calling and gifting present and acknowledgement of this by the church. Also, in each of these areas, it is likely that there will be a mixture of spiritual gifting and natural ability. Each also bears a responsibility and accountability and has been conferred spiritual authority to serve in the area to which they are called.

Whilst there will of necessity be much overlap, there are also specific areas that each must focus upon as well as some basic requirements we would expect all to be active in.

The foundation areas in which we would expect all to play an active role are:

a. Personal prayer and bible reading
b. Openness to, and active seeking of, the presence and gifts of the Spirit
c. Participation in the prayer, fellowship and study life of the church
d. Attitude of ‘being called to serve the church’
e. A sacrificial lifestyle marked out by discipleship
f. Giving our attention to those things God gives His attention to (it’s all in His word)

These areas are crucial if we are to emphasise the importance of not just ‘gifting’ and ‘calling’ but also ‘character’.

Then we have areas that are more specifc to the particular area of service:

Sharing God’s Word (Preaching)

The calling:

To serve and equip the Church through sharing what God is saying through His Word, and to do so in ways that are faithful, prophetic, relevant and engaging.

We can expect, encourage and hope that people called to this area of service go well beyond the bible reading and study that is referred to in a. and c. Above. This would include reading around the bible and commentaries in order to better understand it, having an active interest in theology, seeking to develop as a communicator and so on.

Worship group (musicians & singers not ‘worship leaders’)

The calling:

To serve and strengthen the Church by leading the musical aspects of the worship ministry in submission and openness to the Spirit and serving and supporting the worship leaders and the congregation

A passion for worship, natural abiliities given over to God as well as spiritual gifts and openness, activley setting aside quality time for rehearsal, fellowship and creatively exploring how God is developing their gifts.

Worship leader

The calling:

To lead and serve the church through the planning and leading of specific aspects of worship and ministry activities that are honouring to God, true to His self revelation, prophetic in nature, accesible by the church and which offer the opportunity to meet more intimately with God in ministry. To be responsible and accountable for the worship times they lead.

Passion for worship. We could expect, encourage and hope that they would be eager to seek understanding from acknowledged worshippers and worship leaders past and present through reading, prayer and personal spiritual development.

Gathered believers
To offer themselves fully in worship and to be open to the promptings of the Spirit and the realisation that ‘to each one the manifestation of the Spirit has been given for the common good’

Each of these ‘groups’ must be allowed, encouraged and enabled to fulfil their calling to service.

I think one of the most important concepts in teaching on worship that I have read is that of God operating ‘in seasons’, as this puts the focus on what we believe God is doing among us at this time and how best this can be reflected through worship generally and our gathered meetings partcicularly. This includes the important truth that God so often does things among his people for a season (which of course varies in length and is about the prophetic nature of what God is doing and intends to do among His people)

This is reflected in the bible when we read about ‘times of refreshing’ , ‘times of repentance’ , ‘times of celebration’. These phrases are rarely talking just about a single event – such as one worship service – but about a period of time in which God’s Spirit focuses upon certain things.

In 1 Chron 12:32 we read about:
‘men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do’
There has always been great importance placed on God’s people seeking a prophetic understanding of where God is leading them and of then reflecting this in life and practice. This is no more important anywhere than in that aspect of our lives together that is worship.
 Interestingly, in the Greek, the final phrase ‘spiritual act of worship’ seems equally able to be translated ‘your reasonable service’ and both concepts would be correct. This gives us an important connection between offering ourselves to God, our service resulting from that offering, and the heart attitude and corresponding actions that flow from that sacrificial relationship (worship)