Monday, 31 May 2010

Where do our hearts turn?

As I was reading Acts 7 this morning a sequence of events, starting at v 39, that seemed too familiar for comfort!
'in their hearts they turned back to Egypt' This of course is a common theme for preachers on many occassions, although it's familiarity in no way diminishes it's truth. Familiarity may, however, cause us to pass it by without the considertion it merits or without the depth of 'heart engagement' that allows the word to really impact our life. When we are, for whatever reason, having a bad time, an off day, a spiritual low point we know where we should 'turn in our hearts' but knowing it is no gaurantee of doing it. It is all too easy, and sadly very common, to find your mind and then your heart wandering to some other place, some other time, other relationship, some other activity. In our hearts we turn back to Egypt, to places, times, people, relationships, situations that God has lead is from, and this can so easily trigger a series of events that leads us to places we really do not want to go.

As Stephen,in Acts 7, recounts these events we see that the next stage was the setting up of idols.
As they 'turn in their hearts' to a place they shouldn't be so they begin to turn and look elswhere for comfort, security, encouragement. Before they know it something, someone, some experience has come to the forefront of their heart and is competing for something that belongs only to God. That was stage two in this slippery process - the setting up of idols. They ended up in stage three before they could blink! The focus of their worship had turned away from the living God to other things.

So, firstly,there is a turning in the heart away from where God is leading us to,to where God has lead us from.
Secondly we began to look for our needs to be met by things other than our relationship with, and obedience to, God, and thirdly, the focus of our worship changes from the Living God to other things. This process can be very subtle. The things we can end up worshipping are not necessarily 'in your face' obvious and can include the works or gifts of God rather than God Himself, or it may be ourselves and our needs that we worship and serve -disguised with words about God!
I'm sure I am not the only person for whom that journey is familiar? Four thousand years of time separating us from the subjects of Stephen's story and what has changed? OK so I've got an iPhone and they didn't!! Otherwise, at the important levels of heart and spirit, needs and fears, joys and desires, and a propensity to wander into blind alleys and unhelpful places, very little!

Lord, by Your Spirit, help our hearts to remain focussed on You and where You are leading and keep them hungry for your presence.

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Sunday, 30 May 2010

I have heard with my ears, but now I've seen with my eyes

Sometimes you can read something and think to yourself 'that's really good' and you make a mental note to get back to it sometime in order to give it more thought...but all too often 'sometime' never comes....However, when the same thing crops up three times in a week from different sources, you knw that 'sometime' has arrived!

Firstly, in the 'Unqenchable Worshipper' I read 'Lord, my ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You' . Then, in my bible reading I read the section of Job (42:5) where that particular line is written and then, today, while worshipping at City Church in Newcastle we sang a worship song - Worthy, You are Worthy (Redman), which I personally have never sung before and which contained the lines (see bold below)

Worthy, You are worthy

Much more worthy than I know
I cannot imagine
Just how glorious You are
And I cannot begin to tell
How deep a love You bring

O Lord my ears have heard of You
But now my eyes have seen

You're worthy
You're worthy
You're worthy

You're worthy to be praised
Forever and a day
Glory, I give glory

To the One who saved my soul
You found me and You freed me
From the shame that was my own
And I cannot begin to tell
How merciful You've been

O Lord, my ears had heard of You
But now my eyes have seen

We'll sing an anthem of the highest praise
We'll sound an anthem of Your glorious name

And there they were again - this time reminding me forcefully that 'sometime' really had arrived.......
Have you ever noticed how you can have hear a 'worship' song many times but only when you actually sing it in worship does it impact you? This one is on Facedown, which I have listened to and heard many times - but I had never 'seen' this song it until this morning.
I know that the Lord is 'deconstructing' me in a number of areas and 'remoulding' me because we can so easily get knocked out of shape, or remould ourselves, and become someone who does not resemble the son or daughter that He knows we can be. One of these areas, for me, is about the nature of worship and what it is to be a worshipper. 
As I read, heard and sung this line from God's word I 'saw' Him in a real and decisive way.As I did so I was really made aware of two 'levels' of heart experience which have a direct relationship to us as worshippers. We can have 'heard about' God, heard words from God, heard God's word spoken - all of which are important and all of which form a critical part of our worship journey BUT, there is so much more than 'just that'.
In a previous blog post I wrote about how struck I was by the concept of being a 'presence driven people' . People who are driven by knowing, experiencing and 'seeing' the presence of God, as well as hearing the words.People for whom 'spirit and truth' is more than just 3 words, people who are organising their world around the pursuit of His presence......which in turn drives us closer to Him and where He wants us to be.
'Seeing' God, particularly in the context of worship and our devotional life, is the most important element in the remoulding and rebuilding process that He is engaged in with each one of us, but more important still, we glimpse His Glory, we acknowledge His Worth and we bow before His Holiness.
O Lord, my ears had heard of You
But now my eyes have seen


Saturday, 29 May 2010

Unveiled in worship

I am re-reading Matt Redmans book, the Unquenchable Worshipper, and although there is far too much in it to blog about here, the 'Unveiled' chapter is def worth a mention.
He talks about insight into two areas:
1. the deep revelation of God that can be ours and the massive change this brings about in those who experience it.
2. The greater the revelation the deeper the transformation.
There is the story in Exodus 34 in which Moses was so changed by the presence and revelation of God that he had to wear a veil when he was with the people - but in Gods presence he removed the veil. Unveiled in his worship and given incredible access to the presence of God which in turn brought deeper transformation to his life. Moses was a changed, and changing, worshipper who glowed with the glory of God.
2 Cor 3:18
'And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit'
What an incredible and inspiring passage, what an invitation a privelege and a truth if offers.

Are we 'unveiled' worshippers - it's the future :-)

Two other things that reading this book has said powerfully to me:
Being a worshipper starts and continues in people who want to press on and press into the presence of God, to become 'friends of God' a true worshipper, and even more so a worship leader WILL become a hungry student of God's word.
Moses was on the mountain not simply 'being' with God, he was also listening to the words of God.
Worshippers in spirit and truth - what the Father seeks and the church desperately needs. Such worshippers are those from whom the glory of the Lord is reflected for all to see and the truth is communicated for all to hear.
Lord, give us hearts that desire to seek your presence and revelation more than anything else.

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Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Grace, more than we want?

On the theme of 'more than' I was at a bible study on discipleship last night (if you want to follow this at home you can download the material by following the 'Navigators' link on the 'Bible and teaching' page at ) and one of the areas we were looking at was that of 'grace'. What a liberating concept - actually a reality, not just a concept! To be given something wonderful, something that no money can ever buy or no worldly position ever secrue - for free. Something we 'so don't deserve'..... One of the problems with this is that 'humanly' or 'rationally' it just seems too good to be true, too easy, so the  enemy soon pops into the picture and begins to persuade you that it isn't true, it is 'too good' and you really need to do more to deserve it! But of course that really is what is 'so amazing about grace' - you don't and never will deserve it but God gives us stuff anyway. Grace is variously described as an 'unmerited gift' , 'divine favour' , 'undeserved blessing' and so on.

The bible creates what can only be described as a 'virtuous circle':
Ephesians 2:7-9 (New International Version) order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Romans 5:1-3 (New International Version)

Peace and Joy
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. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
So, we have gained access to grace through faith (Rom 5) but that very faith is itself a gift of God's grace (Eph 2).
We are given grace to have the faith to enter more deeply into grace - this grace in which we now stand.
Anyway, back to the study - it dawned on me as we read the bible that in His grace God has far more to give us :
a) than we understand
b) than we are ready to accept
(us not being ready doesn't mean we are waiting on God it means He is waiting on us!)
In other words God wants to give us far more than we receive and God wants to show us far more than we are prepared to see and God wants to move us far more quickly than we are often prepared to travel...... because He is gracious He will not force us, but let's not be fooled into thinking that somehow we are hanging around waiting for God...that is rarely if ever true. God is way out ahead, giving more, revealing more, calling us more urgently. I guess an analogy to the way we so often treat the grace of God is that of turning up at our own birthday party to find that our parents or loved ones have got us the most unexpected, lavish, 'over the top' gift and we can hardly believe it, so rather than accept it, be grateful for it, enjoy it to the full and make maximum use of it we say 'could I just have a little of it please, the timing isn't right, I'll get the rest when I am ready'..... Why would you do that?
God grace is just such a gift - almost unbelievable spiritual riches, resources and most importanntly, an intimate relationship with Him that cannot be earned, cannot be entered by works but is based purely on His love for us. So, are there areas in our lives where we are closing ourselves off to the fullness of his grace? Let the Holy Spirit speak to each of us about this and may our eyes and hearts be opened to the genorosity of our God and may He give us an urgency and desire to be where He is, not simply stay within the constraints we place upon ourselves.
Ephesians 1:18 (New International Version)

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

More than enough....

I was reading Exodus 36 this morning (5-7):
"The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done." [6] Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: "No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary." And so the people were restrained from bringing more, [7] because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.

The people brought more than was required for the work the Lord had commanded!
What an encouragement that must have been for Moses and what a challenge for us, especially in these recessionary times. I don't know about other situations, but here at WACC there is so much excitement and anticipation about what the Lord is leading us to do, and whilst it is an incredibly generous church, bringing far more than is required sets the bar pretty high! Mind you, I'm not entirely sure about 'restraining people from bringing more' (end of v6) - I'm fairly certain there must be a new testament principle that supercedes that particular section of Exodus :-)

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Sunday, 23 May 2010

Listening to your heart?

I was listening to Aled what's his name on the radio this morning and he had a guest from the All Faith Foundation (or some such thing) whose mantra was 'One God, many ways'. Basically it was the usual well meaning but, I have to say, quite condescending stuff that does not really take the claims of each faith seriously let alone try and understand the implications of those claims. Anyway, the point of this is that when asked why she had chosen this particular approach to faith(s) her reply was 'it just spoke to my heart'. The implication seems to be that as long as something speaks to our heart, it must be right! The fact that it rides roughshod over the 'truth' claims of a number of the worlds main faiths doesn't seem to matter so long as it has spoken to your heart. That got me thinking about how tempting it is to allow a warm and fuzzy 'heart feeling' to become the guide for our beliefs and the ultimate arbiter of truth. We can all very easily, and even inadvertently, walk this path. We may be well meaning and driven by good motives or we may just be lazy and not willing to invest time in seeking the truth but the results are a confused and confusing mish mash of half baked theology and unintended but nonetheless insulting conclusions.
This is not in any way supporting an intolerant approach to others with whom we differ. It is a plea to be open and honest about our distinctives and our sometimes mutually exclusive truth claims but to allow each other to listen and respond accordingly, and peacefully. It's also a warning to be guarded about just how we seek to discern what is or is not 'true'. Perhaps a 'nice feeling in the heart' is not sufficient?

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Accused,identified and undone

If I may be permitted ever such a slight bit of poetic licence there are 3 statements in scripture in which the truth, spoken by others, causes the people involved to have to make a split second decision and declare where they stand in relation to the truth.
In 2 Sam 12 there is the powerful assertion by Nathan the prophet to David: 'You are that man'. This is surely one of the most powerful and devastating 'punch lines' ever spoken. It causes David to have to make a decision about where he stands, and the realisation of his shortcomings revealed by this word of truth leads to immediate and profound repentance.

Next, in John, there is the 'I am that man' on the lips of Jesus when asked by Pilot if He was really the 'king'. This brought from Jesus an immediate acknowledgement from Jesus regarding His relationship to the truth in which He accepted the will of God and whatever that may mean.
Finally,also in John, there are those fateful words from Peter when recognised and asked if he was one of the men who were friends with Jesus. 'I am not that man' was his responses - a denial that attempted to avoid the (probably painful) implications of the truth. But the truth gnawed away at him and he entered a wasteland of guilt.
Three responses to the truth:
'You are that man', followed by Acceptance and repentance
'Are you the king?', followed by Acknowledgement and obedience
'Weren't you with Jesus?' , followed by Avoidance and guilt.
What is our track record when confronted by, and having to make a public response to, the truth? I have a rather patchy history, but we're working on it.

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Saturday, 22 May 2010

The difference between what & how

It struck me today, as I was reading through 2 Samuel, of just how relatively easy it is to discern when you are stepping outside of WHAT God is doing but how much more subtle it is to understand when we step away from HOW God is doing it.
Regarding the former, whilst we may try to fool ourselves that we are still 'right up there' with the Lord, we know, and others surely know, that this is not really so. However, what about when we have kept hold of the same noble objectives or ends, but begun to use different means to acheive them? Is God as passionate about our obedience in the means as He is about our determination to acheive the ends?
It strikes me that the latter is a far more subtle, and therefore deceptive, error than the former - certainly from the point of view of our enemy.
If we can retain a common agreement about the ends to be acheived but then be diverted to seek their acheivement through unrighteous, unbiblical or disobedient means, we end up building poor foundations that almost certainly spell death for our original (good) objectives.
In the 'step away from God camp' (that's the easy one to spot) we might include 'Alexander the metalworker' from 2 Timothy, who pretty obviously abandoned any pretence at following the Lord - no problem rumbling him, but, then we have those who apparantly 'bewitched' the Galatians with their 'zeal' and much talk of God and righteousness. Despite the words, however, they had adopted other means of acheiving those fine sounding ends. Their 'means' sounded reasonable at first, speaking as they did about the law and the promises.... but the means were not God's and if they were pursued, the ends would never be acheived. Has this any relevance to us, today?
No idea, what do you think? Maybe certain American 'evangelists' currently active in Uganda may have a twinge or two......but us?

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On being a worshipper

I am reading Matt Redmans book 'The Unquenchable Worshipper' and it is a great stimulus to start back at the basics in thinking about worship. Even the chapter headings are a blessing and get you running off down some really interesting avenues...apart from the 'unquenchable worshipper' we meet up with the worshipper as 'undone' , 'undignified' , 'unpredictable' , 'unveiled' , 'unstoppable' , 'unnoticed' , 'undivided' , 'unsatisfied' and 'unending'.
What a great chapter list, not only to get you meditating on worship but also to get you back to the heart of the Word.
Throughout the book Matt throws out lines that you know are going to sustain you as you develop in worship...such as the reminder to 'ensure you keep putting yourself in a place where you are likely to receive revelation'. Without a worshippers heart you don't even know what that sentence means, with a seeking worshippers heart it develops in you a growing appetite for God and His Word and His Spirit.
He looks briefly at 3 ways in which the Spirit and worship can be extinguished in our lives - sobering reading! By the time we get to the unpredictable worshipper you, like me, will I am sure be raring to go....which is great, especially as he quotes G K Chesterton 'sometimes our worship is more of a theory than a love affair'....great stuff, certainly recommended reading. It also shows that easy reading does not need to mean shallow content. 

Friday, 21 May 2010

God's timing...what's it all about?

I have had cause recently to consider the issue of God's timing.... This arose because, on this occasion, I had run off towards a goal faster than the church was ready (or able) to follow, but it did get me thinking about this.

In the history of God's people, particularly after Pentecost, (this is a genuine question to which I do not yet know the answer).. is the main problem people moving slower than God is urging or people moving quicker than He is moving? It's an interesting one. My feeling is, looking over the span of 'church history', that the main problem is people not seeing God clearly enough, not following God closely enough and not keeping up with Him when He is moving. Perhaps those who know me would say 'well he would say that wouldn't he..' which may be fair bearing in mind I have just admitted to wanting to move quicker than the church was ready.

When talking about this to other people I often notice an attitude that owes more to the Muslim faith than to Christian truth. There is an almost 'fatalistic' attitude implicit in the 'you've got to wait on God's timing. It is very close to a 'what will be will be' mentality. The often unspoken implication of this attitude in answer to the question 'How do we know when it is God's timing?' is 'when it happens of course!'.

A 'fatalistic' attitude is not really acceptable on pretty much any level but certainly not biblically or theologically, (not unless you are hopelessly determinist). The other 'chestnut' that is usually hauled out at this point, if it's not too tired, is the 'waiting for the Spirit in Jerusalem'. I'm really not convinced that a group of followers waiting, as directed by Jesus, for a specific and unique event is necessarily the pattern for all future Christian activity when it comes to God's timing. We always seem to want to give the answer 'wait' rather than 'catch up'. Anyway, this does not presuppose an answer, although my suspicions are obvious. If one can generalise to this extent, in terms of God's timing, the problem besetting the church has rarely been that of moving too quickly.

I am always interested in Acts 16 v 6 onwards - called 'Paul's vision of the man of Macedonia' in the NIV....but that's not the point. Paul was dashing about trying to get into places to do God's will - but he kept being prevented from doing so (how frustrating). That in itself is a bit of a conundrum. Should Paul have simply waited on God's timing and not moved till he 'had the vision'? Or was he right to rush onwards trying to gain entry to countries hither and thither. Was he rushing ahead of God or was that 'reaching out' part of the process of discerning the timing? Was the discernment in the activity rather than the waiting? Well, that could be one model, but it certainly won't be the only one.........

Well, I know for sure that those who are not steeped in God's Word and open to His Spirit are not particularly in a position to know if they are moving too fast or too slowly, in fact they are hardly in a position to recognize where God is at all. Sadly, I am not a stranger to that state. So, familiarity with God's Word and closeness to His Spirit are good places to begin the timing discussions. I am going to have a look around the Word, read what others have said and experienced and see if I can get to the bottom of the timing issue as it seems getting it wrong has the potential to either push a church beyond where it wants, or is able, to go (which is destructive) or missing out on blessing that God wants to give, which certainly not a course any Christian would knowingly want to pursue. It's always good to get into God's Word with a purpose.