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)

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Good news to the deaf?

I have been thinking this week about how on earth we can communicate good news to a culture that 'hears what it wants to hear and disregards the rest' (thanks to Simon & Garfunkel for that line - The Boxer)

So often we simply revert to type, to what the church has done in the past, even to what has blatantly failed in the past but we do it pretty much without thinking or without assesing the real value and effectiveness of our approach. In fact sometimes, even though we kind of know that our methods aren't particularly relevant, fruitful or effective, it just seems better to be doing something,anything, rather than doing nothing. However when we really go back to basics and think about this the answer is both blindingly obvious, simple and yet the hardest thing in the world to do, which is why, for the most part, even having considered it, we move on to look for other ways.....

If you're waiting for some great revelation, some secret thing, then you will be dissappointed....The answer is for individuals simply 'to live the life'. That's it, no more, no less - just living the life that God intends you to live - and doing it consistently. Now, there's the rub! If, like me, you think the only thing consistent in your life has been inconsistency, if you live almost constantly with regrets and a knowledge of how you've blown it , where and how do you start or restart?

Firstly, let's start with the 'God of our yesterdays' 

When we were in the darkest night

And wondered if our eyes would ever see the light
You were there, Lord
When we were in the stormy gale
And wondered if we'd ever live in peace again

You were there, Lord
You were there in the struggle
You were there in the fight
You were there all the time

We praise You - the God of our yesterdays
We praise You - the God who is here today
We praise You - our God as tomorrow comes

So whatever lies ahead
Whatever roads our grateful hearts will come to tread
You'll be there, Lord
We will fix our eyes on You
And know that there is grace enough to see us through

You'll be there, Lord
You'll be there in the struggle
You'll be there in the fight
You'll be there all the time

We praise You - the God of our yesterdays
We praise You - the God who is here today
We praise You - our God as tomorrow comes
We thank you - for grace in our yesterdays

We thank you - for peace in our hearts
We thank you - for joy, as tomorrow comes
We will trust you, God

You're always closer than we know
Always more involved and in control
We will trust our lives to You -

The One who was and is and is to come
God is the God of the 2nd and 3rd and 4th.......chance. That's what we are told, that's what is so good and what is so hard to believe when inconsistency has been your watchword. A line is drawn, the old isn't denied, but it is dealt with, and you press forward rebuilding a life that becomes more consistent with the God who never left and never will. Does the world want to hear more and more words that amount to little more than theory? Not really.....
How about imperfect people, looking forwards not backwards, moving towards hope not away from it, believing in things like redemption and forgiveness and seeking to live them out in all their wonder and messiness, in all their clarity and confusion. In short, people committed to living the life. For me, as someone who is pretty good with words when the situation demands them, I know in my inner most being that this is the way to communicate, I also know it is not the easy option.  Just being and becoming the person God has called you to be and being open and honest about this, learning from failures and past inconsistency, allowing God to weave them into who you are becoming is not easy and requires acceptance of forgiveness and a focus upon hope. This way, each of us, precisely because of our experiences, not despite them, will be in a position to demonstrate something real about our God. Jesus didn't just come with fine words, he lived them out, he demonstrated God.
Wherever we are, this represents a challenge to continue on the journey, called to a 'larger place', to somehwere new, called to always become someone new. It also represents hope as God leads you into a future where living the life is possible, where actions and words can be consistent, where you have a message the world wants to hear because it's real, it's honest and it's built on things that are less than ideal, but you have an experience of a God who rescues you, even from yourself.
So, after all the words - now to live the life - which is the title of a song by Matt Redman, and really does represent the best way to communicate to a culture that 'hears what it wants to hear and disregards the rest'
Many are the words we speak

Many are the songs we sing
Many kinds of offerings
But now to live the life

Help us live the life

All we want to do is bring you something real
Bring You something true

(We hope that) Precious are the words we speak
(We pray that) Precious are the songs we sing
Precious all these offerings
But now to live the life

Help us live the life

All we want to do is bring you something real
Bring You something true

Now to go the extra mile
Now to turn the other cheek
And to serve You with a life
Let us share your fellowship
Even of your sufferings
Never let the passion die...

Now to live the life...
Now to live the life
Now to live the life
Now to live the life

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Seeing and listening

Acts 8, v6
When the crowds SAW the miracles Philip did, they paid close attention to WHAT HE SAID.

Is this not one of the most important purposes of miracles today - yes they demonstrate the Kingdom, yes they show the intent of the King BUT they should also open a door that enables the King to be proclaimed. How can they believe if they have not heard? This use of the miraculous in evangelism is a truth that John Wimber taught, illustrated and demonstrated very well, and which was outlined in his book Power Evangelism, but it is also a truth that so easily 'drops out of our practice and expectation' although it may remain as the 'language of aspiration'.
Maybe, for many of us and our churches, it is time with regard to this to move into the realm of faith spoken of in Hebrews: 'the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen' so that our aspirational language manifests in our daily Christian ministry. However, our passion for it to be so is not, in itself, sufficient, as passion must be focussed and tested through prayer and a Spirit filled lifestyle. Here is my prayer for today, and each day - Lord give us vision which flows from Your Word, passion to see vision realised, prayer to see passion grow and faith to manifest vision and passion in our daily living.

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