A Gospel to get drunk on.

A Gospel to get drunk on.

The love of this world will accept you when you deserve acceptance. “But God demonstrated His love in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Now that is a verse to hear again and again and again, a verse that needs to rain down on our hearts like the kisses of the Father rained down on the prodigal son. We need to go away and receive that verse like kisses from heaven, until a thanksgiving is birthed in our heart, a thanksgiving that you can feel well up inside you to something like joy inexpressible and full of glory (1Peter 1:8). Only such a thanksgiving, brings a joy powerful enough to melt and remould the hardest of hearts (Luke 7:47, Luke 19:8,9). Only a repentance borne of the Spirit, a true metanoia, a true revelation of the heart of the Father, brings such a joy, such a strength to a believer’s life (1Cor.12:3). That’s why everywhere across the Church, were repentance has been watered down, to merely what we need to do for God, we find no-one drunk on the Gospel anymore, for true repentance is seeing, how completely God has saved us in Christ (Eph.2:8,9). It is seeing the heart, the generosity of the Father and through that “seeing by the Spirit”, finding His gift of faith in your heart (Rom.2:4).

There is no end to the generosity of our heavenly Father, for even the faith that receives His life, comes from Him. It is His faith in you, for as the apostle Paul declared, “we are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph 2:8,9) Repentance is not a work of the flesh, but a work of the Spirit for, “No man can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ but by the Spirit.” (1Cor.12:3). In other words, the production of faith, is God’s part, not ours and it comes by the hearing of how generous He is; the hearing of the Gospel of His grace, not the gospel of our repentance!

Faith comes by hearing the gospel of what God has given, not the gospel of what He might give, if you repent. No-one gets drunk on that gospel!

Never tell anyone they need more faith. Just give them more of the Gospel that brings faith, the Gospel of God’s grace, not the gospel of their repentance, or their faith (Rom.10:17). Receiving is not a work of the flesh, it is a work of the Spirit, because it is seeing what no natural eye can see, or ear can hear, or heart can imagine about the nature of God, His love, a love that accepted us, while we were rejecting Him (1Cor.2:9,10, Luke 23:34). A love that didn’t say, ‘I will accept them when they repent of their ways and stop rejecting me’, but a love that declared in effect, ‘I will love them and give all I have to them, not in the hour they have repented, but in the hour when they are reviling me and rejecting me and spitting in my face and crucifying me. That will be the hour that I reveal to them the only love that has the power to set them free from themselves; the love of one who gives all He has to them, before they have repented.’ “For God demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. (Rom.5:8).

The more we see repentance as a work of the flesh, the more we will preach the Gospel as what men have to give to God, rather than how much God has given to men and such messages will always sound as earnest and necessary as the need that carried the prodigal son home to His Father, and by such messages men may find themselves back in church, but they will not find themselves drunk on thanksgiving with a joy inexpressible and full of glory (1Peter1:8), for in the modern church there is not the joy that throws such parties. Instead, there is a works ethic, that will more likely see prodigals brought into the house simply to be trained up for the fields, where they can quietly join their elder brothers and spend the rest of their lives working for God, in order one day, in the by and by, to be worthy of the inheritance they were promised. Church, I don’t think we had permission to postpone the party that the heavenly realm rejoices in, over one sinner who repents (2Cor.6:2). The whole earth is groaning for such a proclamation of victory, for the manifestation on the earth of the joy that is in heaven over the completeness of Christ’s work of reconciliation. To see it, is to see no man after the flesh and to beseech all men to be whom Christ sees them to be (2Cor.5:16-19).

For many years, whenever I heard anyone talk about repentance or faith, my heart used to sink because I wrongly understood these words to be words about me and that God was looking to me, to come up with a certain level of repentance or faith, before He would do something for me. No wonder my heart used to sink, because believing that you have to produce something ‘of yourself to move God, leaves your hope on yourself and do you know what I have found, after years of watching myself and others believe that repentance and faith were something we had to produce for God? A hope on yourself, is not a strong enough hope to get drunk on!

That’s because when my hope is constantly directed onto my performance, my repentance, my faith, my prayer life, my church service, I no longer can find in my heart a thanksgiving welling up, to joy inexpressible and full of glory, because I find it impossible to be thankful to a God who is always demanding more (Prov13:12). A hope in yourself, is not a strong enough hope to get drunk on.

Now the natural man cannot see/perceive God to be that generous, for he has never seen such generosity in this natural realm. As the apostle Paul said to the Romans, someone might dare to die for a good man, but God died for His enemies. (Rom.5:6-10). All men have ever heard of God, is religion (self-effort. You get what you deserve.) So, without a revelation of the Spirit, natural man cannot speak of a God who freely gives because he cannot imagine such a God, especially when all his natural vision can see around him is lack, not provision. All his natural understanding can deduct from that, is that God has not freely given, so He must be a God who is waiting on something from us. When such a man opens his mouth to speak, all that can come out, is what is in his heart, what he is believing and so the Gospel from this man’s mouth will always sound like a message on what men need to give to God.

How can I convince you that’s not the Gospel? I don’t have to. I only have to ask you to look into your own heart. If today, you cannot find there a joy inexpressible and full of glory, then ask the Holy Spirit to show you why. Ask Him to show you, why feet that were made to run into the streets with good news, can now only walk to church for more good advice.

Fathered by love

Obedience is a fundamental aspect of the life of Christ. Christ’s obedience took Him to the Cross, but His love for us was not birthed out of His obedience. It was the other way around. The source of His obedience, was His love, which is His very nature (1John 4:8). God’s plan was not to send Christ to live an exemplary life, that we now must try and imitate, through obedience. He never had a plan to save the world through our obedience. His plan was to save the world through His love.

To God, obedience was never something that we bring to Him, as if we have made it ourselves! The only obedience that pleases God, is that which His love has birthed in our lives, obedience that is of the Spirit, that is the gift of God (Eph.2:8,9). Godly obedience is not about will power, but about a will empowered by the Spirit of God. Jesus told Nicodemus that flesh always gives birth to flesh (John.3:6). Obedience that is birthed out of a life filled with the fear of rejection, will never lead to the character of Christ, for love was the root of His obedience, not fear. Threatening people never produces godly obedience, but a self-centred and self-serving obedience (1John 4:18). Such obedience can look impressive, but even if it results in me giving away all I own and sacrificing my own life, if it was not birthed by the love of God then it “profits me nothing” (1Cor 13:3) The obedience of the religious in Jesus’ day, led only to pride and division. It was that sort of obedience to God, that persecuted and then crucified Christ. Such obedience has a zeal for God but does not know Him, because it is self-centred (Rom.10:3). 

For every believer, our union with Christ in God means there is no longer ‘your’ obedience, in the sense that you have been left alone to produce obedience by yourself. The Father expects you to produce nothing by yourself, not even repentance! (1Cor.12:3, John 15:5). You do not have that sort of life anymore, an ‘alone by yourself’ life; a life that boasts that “I have been obedient”. Instead, every Christian should be able to say what the apostle Paul said, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me and the life I live now, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” (Gal 2:20) The obedience of the believer arises from their union with God in Christ, not from their separation from Him.

God’s plan was always to make men righteous not through their obedience, but through His. The apostle Paul boldly declared to the Romans that ‘men are made righteous by the obedience of the one man’. (Rom.5:19) Here is the news that sets you free from a life of self-effort (religion). That one man is not you! It is Jesus Christ. Yes, we are made righteous by obedience; His!

Our lives are an open book, as to whose obedience we are now relying on and operating in. Let your faith be rooted in His obedience, His life, and what will manifest in your life is the righteousness of God (John 15:4). But if you let religion, the spirit of the world, the spirit that says “You can do it for Him” subtly move your faith off His obedience and onto yours, then more and more what this world will see in your life is not God’s righteousness, but self-righteousness and all the division and finger-pointing that goes with it. If the gospel we have been sitting under has produced in us a self-righteousness, that loves to measure and define people according to their level of obedience to God’s commands, then somewhere along the road, we have been robbed of the power of the gospel (Gal.5:4). The power of the gospel is that it reveals the righteousness of God to be the gift of God (Rom.1:16,17) and that very revelation; that Christ has become for us our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption (1Cor.1:30), sets us free from the power of sin and death, for that came through the lie; that we could be like God, by ourselves. God never had a plan to save the world through our obedience. His plan was to save the world through His love. The obedience of God in our lives, is the work of His Spirit, His nature, His love in our heart, from which obedience is birthed (Gal.5:16). Obedience is only pleasing to God, if His love is the root, the source of that obedience. Let me put that another way. Obedience is only pleasing to God, if He is the Father of that obedience (Rom.8:14).

Imagine a young pastor in Africa who marries his sweetheart and he and his wife are very happy, but as the years go by, it becomes apparent that they cannot have children. They take medical advice and they pray and get their friends to pray, but months turn into years and she never conceives. Their constant prayer is “Lord we don’t want to remain barren. We just want to bear fruit.” The pastor’s wife becomes increasingly focused on her barrenness. One Spring he leaves to travel into the bush to lead an evangelistic campaign that will keep him away from home for 8 weeks. There is no phone coverage where he is going. When he finally returns home, his wife runs to greet him with the happy news that she is expecting. She proudly shares with him how she has been to the doctor that week and a scan has shown that she is six weeks pregnant. The pastor says, “But how can you be six weeks pregnant if I have been away for 8 weeks?” His wife replies, “But what does that matter, compared to the fact that I have a child? The goal was that I bear a child, right?”. “Wrong”, her husband replies. “The goal was that we bear our child!”

Any ministry that puts obedience before love, will be content with an obedience fathered by fear, guilt, or shame. But these fathers will never produce the obedience that the love of God conceives in us. They are the dead-beat dads of the spiritual world, for they leave us as orphans having to provide salvation for ourselves and our hearts full of anger and frustration. Jesus promised never to leave us as orphans, striving to make a name for ourselves and His medicine for that spirit of religion (self-effort) is His Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, by which we cry “Abba, Father” (Rom.8:15). He never asked Mary to produce a child, but to bear the child of His Spirit. He is not asking us to produce obedience, but to bear His, the obedience fathered by love.

Phelim Doherty.

The world cannot be in awe before the church is.

Acts 11 tells us that when Barnabas arrived in Antioch and saw ‘what the grace of God had done’ he encouraged them to abide in (remain in) that grace.[1] He was so convinced of the importance of them being deeply rooted in what Christ had done, that he left Antioch to go searching for Saul in Tarsus. On finding him, they both returned and taught the new believers “for an entire year”.[2] It is significant that the result of this is not recorded in scripture in terms of what they did, but rather who they were. Acts 11:26 simply records, “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

How did Barnabas know to do this? Because in Jerusalem he had personally witnessed the remarkable fruit of believers remaining in, abiding in, what the grace of God had done there too. I have been struck by the profound importance of that little word “in”. Listen again to the account from Acts 2:42 of what the early church were doing during a season of great growth.

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles……. And the Lord added [q]to the church daily those who were being saved.”[3]

All this, came from continuing steadfastly in. In light of this, consider the following question. How much of our modern church life, is more founded on continuing steadfastly to, rather than continuing steadfastly in?

If the diet we are feeding our congregations on, (the messages they are being reared under), consistently speak to them more of what could be, one day, rather than what is today, then inevitably their hope will slip, from what Christ has done for them, onto what they could do for Him. Now certainly one way to grow a church, is to communicate a great vision that excites and motivates the congregation and attracts people who desire to be part of something ‘big’. All of us desire to see something big happen in our cities and in our nation. That is commendable, but is ‘desire’ the foundation of the growth we see in the Church in Acts? I want to suggest to you a different foundation in believer’s lives, one that better withstands a storm; thanksgiving!

The pattern of Church life we see in Acts, isn’t that they were continuing steadfastly to a goal, so much as continuing steadfastly in a reality. Jesus didn’t say ‘Dream big and you will bear much fruit.’ He said, ‘Abide in me and you will bear much fruit’.[4] Thanksgiving is always more lifegiving, than desire. Yes, it’s exciting to dream, but to abide in Christ, is to abide in a dream fulfilled, for “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.[5]. The Church is founded and grows, from what God has done for man; Christ and Him crucified; the tree of life.[6] Desire is never as life-giving as thanksgiving, which is why you can only keep people together for so long, by always pointing them to something big in their future, because hope deferred makes the heart sick. Only a dream fulfilled is a tree of life. It is not the hope of some thing big in our future, but the reality of some one big in our present, that sets the Church apart.[1] Neither the threats, nor the promises of this world should move us, for the Church of Jesus Christ is not hoping for a victory. We are a people coming from a victory! We don’t bring advice, we bring news![2]

Hope deferred makes the heart sick. In some parts of the Western Christian world, local churches have been fed for so long on a diet of what could be, rather than what is, that their sickened hearts are now full of resentment, anger and fear. Being spiritually blind to their life in Christ[3], they find themselves grasping for earthly power and being known for their complaints and lack of grace towards their ‘opponents’. It is hard to know which is more astonishing; how far they have fallen from the language of thanksgiving, the mark of all those filled with the Spirit[4], or the fact that they can’t see how far they have fallen!

Acts 2:11 says that on the day of Pentecost the gathered nations each heard the Church declare in their own language “the wonderful works of God”. The Gospel of God’s grace is not the proclamation of wonderful works that God might do, if we… It is the proclamation of the wonderful works He has done[5]. The effectual communication of faith is not found in the speaking of what could be. Philemon v6 declares that “the communication of our faith is made effectual by the acknowledgement of every good thing (already) in us, in Christ Jesus.”  We see the effectual communication of faith in the early Church, not because they continued steadfastly to something, but because they continued steadfastly in something; the grace given, the life given to them by His Spirit; the IN Christ life.

The ‘big’ thing, in fact the biggest thing, in our cities or nations, is not what the church will do. It is who the Church is! To the church in Corinth, grasping for worldly power, the apostle Paul had a question; “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”[6]. How can we complain that the world isn’t listening, when we aren’t seeing! It is only when we start to live as those seeing by the Spirit, that the world turns to listen.[7].

The storm of the last 15 months has served to test and reveal the foundations of lives and ministries. Those whose lives are founded on thanksgiving for what Christ has done; His eternal plan, have fared better than those who had built too much of their lives on their temporal plans. Paul and Silas in that jail in Philippi, weren’t singing and giving thanks in order that God would move on their behalf. Even if that building had not been shaken, they would have continued that night in thanksgiving, for they weren’t giving thanks for what could be, but for what was! They weren’t continuing steadfastly to some preferred better life. They were continuing steadfastly IN the grace, the life, they had been given, a life described by Paul as “hidden with Christ IN God.”[8].

The real proof of the enormity of what we already have in Christ; His overcoming life, becomes most evident to us and to the world, not in the day when all appears to earthly eyes to be going well, but rather in the day when nothing appears to be going well and yet we still find within us a spring of thanksgiving and joy, keeping us in His perfect peace.[1]. This is why it is seasons of trial that often better allow us to test and approve the foundations of our lives. It is the season of shaking that allows us to see again, what He never wanted us to take our eyes from; the unshakable work of His grace; His life in us. This is not an inward-looking life, but an upward looking life. For to see your life already hidden with Christ in God, is to set your eyes on things above, not on the earth below[2].

I believe the Holy Spirit wants the Church to begin to see our lives so clearly from a heavenly perspective, that we are filled with a great awe, a great awareness of the reality of God’s presence in us, what the Bible calls ‘the fear of God’. It is only when the Church awakens to the presence of God in their midst, that the world is stirred. Look once more to what Acts 2:43 describes happening, when the church continued steadfastly in the grace already given. “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” (NASB) Notice the order. Awe came first. Why? Because the world cannot be in awe, before the Church is!

In this season, the church has been stripped of much of her earthly trappings. What better time than in a storm, to see the difference between temporal and eternal foundations and to see that the communication of our faith will not be made effective by a bigger building or more resources, but by how much we continue steadfastly in awe, of the wonderful work God has done in us. It’s great to have plans, but the source of our joy, or strength, our growth, must not be found in what we are continuing steadfastly to, but rather what we are continuing steadfastly in; the heavenly life in Christ we have been given, by the grace of God. If all that the last 15 months brings about, is a change in our doing but not in our believing, (our seeing in the Spirit), then from eternity’s perspective nothing really changed. Just because we move the chairs back again, doesn’t mean we are any less socially distanced from expressing the fullness of Christ in His body than we were before.

How can we complain that the world isn’t listening, when we aren’t seeing? The world cannot be in awe before the Church is. This is why the great apostolic prayer for the Church, is that which prays for our eyes to open that we may see, that the riches of His glorious inheritance, ….is already in us![3]. If our hearts are sick of waiting for a glorious future, let the Holy Spirit open our eyes to a dream fulfilled; our life hidden with Christ in God[4]. Let the awe of that so consume us, that out of our hearts springs a sound that brings down every man-made wall in our lives and causes the world to listen; the sound of thanksgiving![5]

[1] James 1:2-4

[2] Colossians 3:1,2

[3] Ephesians 1:18

[4] Colossians 3:3

[5] Acts 16:25

[1] 2Cor.5:17

[2] Acts 13:38

[3] Ephesians 1:3

[4] 1Thess.5:16-18

[5] Acts 10:34-44

[6] 1Cor.3:16

[7] Acts 3:4-11,Acts 16:25

[8] Colossians 3:3

[1] Acts 11:23

[2] Acts 11:26

[3] Acts 2:42,43,47

[4] John 15:5

[5] Proverbs 13:12

[6] 1Cor.3:11

Schools out!

From students to sons, by the power of the Gospel.

“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.”  (1Cor.4:15)

Strong’s definition of the Greek word translated ‘guardian’ or ‘instructor’ includes this phrase; “a servant whose office it was to take the children to school”.

If multitudes in the church are not growing up into the mind of Christ and are still not seeing themselves after the spirit (2Cor.5:16), could it be because we too can still look at the church today and say what Paul said, “You have ten thousand servants taking the children to school, but not many fathers.”

As long as believers remain without a revelation of their sonship in Christ (Rom.8:14), their acceptance in the beloved, they can only live as eternal students.

In all honesty, how many believers in our churches have spent years accumulating knowledge, but have never entered the rest and confidence that only a child who knows they are the apple of their father’s eye can enjoy? Many entered this ‘school system’ decades ago but still feel unqualified to do much more than invite others to join the school.  In the natural world, maturity is defined as attaining the capacity to reproduce. Is our dependence on a model of church that revolves around producing ‘events’ to attract unbelievers, simply an admission that many of our churches are not raising disciples but managing converts? Maturity has always come by the building up of the body “in love” (Eph 4:11-16). Children enter the school system to be built up in knowledge, but it is to another institution that society looks for them to be built up in love; the family.

Changing the model of school, does little to heal the heart of an orphan. There has been much discussion about the ‘how’ of ‘doing’ church in a pandemic, but the real question is not “how will we be doing Church?”, but “who will be being Church, sons or students”. In the Kingdom of God, exploits are done by those who know their Father, not just know about Him (Daniel 11:32).

Schools demand a focus on self and hold out the promise of making something of oneself. Families do not promise identity, they impart it. Families are not a means to a better end, they are God’s better end, our source and our destiny. Families speak to a child of who they are, not who they could be.

This difference, between speaking to people according to their works, their performance and speaking to them according to their true worth, is the difference between speaking as a manager and speaking as a Father. A manager can give you great advice, that can result in increased productivity in your life. But unfortunately, managerial language tends to speak to us of who we could be, one day, if we, rather than speak to us as who we aretoday, because He! The danger is that such language keeps our vision on ourselves and our hope on our performance. Better days are always promised, but never seem to arrive, sparking repeated waves of introspection. Earthly vision is always looking for more because it can’t see the enormity of what has been given (2Kings 6:17). It always speaks of a future goal; what we are going to achieve, but never a present reality; who we are today in Christ.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick. There is only so long that faith can survive in a measuring atmosphere. Our hearts were built to celebrate, not endlessly calculate. The Father’s house is, in truth, full of the sound of a finished work, the sound of music and dancing, but all work and no celebration indeed makes the church a very dull son.

The language of earthly vision is not the voice of a Father entreating us to enter into His joy, but that of a manager entreating us to try harder to do better. Such language creates in the church a culture of good advice, not good news. Where has that culture led us? It has left us with the local church blending right in on main street, alongside all the other charitable organisations who are also offering good advice …and serving better coffee than we are!

Keep watering down the Good News of what He has done, with a little good advice on what we still need to do, and the result is that too many of us as believers struggle to see ourselves as who we now are in Christ, who we are in the Father’s eyes, for we are being reared on the vision of who we are in our elder brother’s eyes! Such short-sightedness is the result of our vision being formed by the words of those who see us primarily as workers for His Kingdom, rather than sonsin His Kingdom, for to be short-sighted in the Spirit, is to be living as if what Christ achieved wasn’t enough to qualify us to live in communion with His Spirit (2Peter1:9). When the blind lead the blind, the only way is down and how the angels must wonder at the sight of sons of God living as mere men (1Cor.3:3).  

So how are the sons to be raised to maturity? How are we to see in the Church, the Gideons rise out of the hole they have stepped into and the Saul’s of Tarsus breathing out the Spirit rather than anger. We need the fathers to arise, those who will not measure the children of God according to their performance, for only those men and women who carry the heart of the Father, can see as He sees and so speak as He speaks (1Cor.2:13). Only the words of a father can impart what a manager cannot; a revelation of identity, that transcends earthly performance; the life of a son, not the life of an employee working his way to a promotion.

When believers come to see that they are a Christian, not because of their new behaviour but because of their new birth, (that they are saved by grace through faith and this NOT of themselves), a remarkable thing happens. They finally stop trying to be a Christian and start living as a child of God because they begin to see themselves as their Father sees them; hidden with Christ in God (Col.3:3). To see yourself the way the Father sees you, is to be filled with joy inexpressible and full of glory and any believer full of thanksgiving, is holier by accident than the most sin-conscious, self-absorbed zealot (Rom 10:1-4).

So how is this vision of the father imparted to His children, to raise up sons to maturity? Is it through a new model of church, or a different system of training leaders, or perhaps a fresh wave of self-examination? How did Paul become a father to the Corinthians? The answer is right there in the verse we began with.

“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” 

Only a gospel that reveals salvation as all of Christ and “not of ourselves, lest any man should boast” (measure), can unbind the Lazarus church from being so wrapped up in its own performance, as to remain blind and deaf to the reality that we died and this life is now an entirely new creation (2Cor.5:17).

Irrespective of whether He finds them returning from the world stinking of drink, or finds them working away in the church stinking of self-righteousness, the Father always greets His children in the same way; as the apple of His eye, a cause for rejoicing (Luke 15:20-24). Only a gospel that reveals such a loving father, can raise children who live so well loved, that they speak the language of heaven in all circumstances; thanksgiving, and by this the will of the Father is done on the earth (1Thess.5:16-18, Acts.16:25,16). Only a father can greet his children the way Paul greeted his churches. Irrespective of the moral failures or heresy at work in their lives, he greeted them as the saints in Corinth, not the sinners, because he understood that their fundamental lack was not will-power, but vision and the vision of the Father can never be imparted through a gospel that says, ‘Try harder’, but only one that with great rejoicing declares ‘See further, See Christ and Him crucified, was enough!’

Such good news creates a sound in the realm of the spirit, the sound of music and dancing, the sound of the Father calling His children in from the field, a sound powerful enough to cause a metanoia in the Church, a repentance unto life, a looking up from self to Christ. It is the sound of this outbreak of joy in the church, that will cause the world also to look up and ask, “What does this mean?”, for up to now, all they have heard is the sound of servants bringing the children to school. How different is the sound of sons, entering into the joy of their Father, for it is the proclamation so many have longed to hear; “Schools out!”

Let such great commotions once more break out in cities across our land, the sound of the joy of the poor and the consternation of the religious, a sound that can only be caused by the proclamation of a gospel foolish enough to set men free from themselves (1Cor.1:23).

(This article was written for ascensionforum.uk)

A Pandemic of camel swallowing.

You may think your greatest need right now, with so many strong opinions flying around this world, is to know who is right and who is wrong, that you may choose the right side of an argument. But we all have a greater need, than to know the right thing to do. We need to know the heart of Him, who went to the Cross, not so that He would be right, but so that we, who were his enemies, could be right (Rom.5:10). In the coming days and for the rest of your life, no matter what the issue is, from politics to vaccines to artificial intelligence, information without love cannot bring you to Christlikeness and any decision founded on fear, will never bear the fruit of a decision founded on thanksgiving. You may be convinced that the only issue that matters, is whether it is right or wrong to do a particular thing, but there is something greater at stake, the state of our heart.

  • What’s the point of making the right decision, of being right on an issue, when your attitude to those who oppose your position, shows your heart to be full of fear, not love.
  • What’s the point of being right, when the Holy Spirit would rather you be wrong, because your idea of ‘being right’ is hindering people from coming to Christ? Listen to what the apostle Paul, full of the Holy Spirit said to the Corinthians, who were so set on being proved right, that they were taking each other to court in front of the world. He said to them; “Would you not rather be wronged? Would you not rather be cheated, than behave like this before the world? (1Cor.6)
  • What’s the point of being right, of holding all the right positions on all the right moral issues of the day, only to end up, as far from the heart of God, as the elder brother lecturing his own father on the rights and wrongs of welcoming home the prodigal (Luke 15:29,30)
  • What’s the point of being right, when the heart of God, felt by Paul for his Jewish brothers, was to rather be wrong and cursed and cut off from Christ, than for them to perish (Rom.9:3)
  • What’s the point of being right, when the very God we claim to serve, is one who chose to be wrong, to be cursed, to be sin, in order that we might become right, in God (John 3:16, 2Cor.5:21)

To be filled with the nature, the Spirit, of Him who is Love, is not to ask, “What should I do, in order to be right?”, but rather it is to ask, “What should I do, in order that my brother be right?” That’s why the church has never matured in Christlikeness by information, but always by the revelation of the love of God (Eph 4:11-16). God’s answer was never to educate our old self, but to put him to death because a self-centred life can never be right in the eyes of God (2Cor.5:17).

Throughout the New Testament, you can find accounts of issues that were as controversial for the believers in Paul’s day, as some of our medical questions today. Some believers in the city of Corinth wrote to Paul to ask about one of these issues; his opinion on the question of whether it was right for a Christian to eat food, (meat in this case), that had been used in pagan temples, to sacrifice to false gods. Like many people today, they probably believed that the answer was a simple Yes or No, because they thought of the act of eating such meat as either right or wrong. All Paul had to do, they thought, was to give them a simple Yes or No. But he didn’t. Instead, we read these words at the beginning of Chapter 8 of his first letter to the Corinthians; “Now about food sacrificed to idols:” and then, instead of a yes or no, we get three chapters explaining why his answer can be yes, or no, because for Paul the fundamental question was not, whether his action made him right or wrong, but rather, what effect would his action have on others?

Do you know the reason, why so many in the Church are so desperate to be right, that they have no problem cursing those whom they see to be the enemies of all that is right? Because they have no revelation of their own righteousness in Christ (Hebrews 5:13), and without that, you will always be trying so hard to be right, that all of your decisions are more about you being right, than others (Rom 10:1-4). But a self-centred life can never be right in the eyes of God. No matter how many issues you are right on, at the end of the day, the self-life can only ever produce a self-ish life (John 3:6).

Don’t be taken in by how passionate and zealous many Christians sound on the great moral issues of the day. No matter how right they sound, if you really want to know if they are being led by the Spirit, listen to the way they speak about their opponents. Do they speak in the language of the One who laid down His life for his? Do they speak the language of thanksgiving? Some of the most zealous Christians on the subjects of morality, have little or no revelation of the things of the Spirit because as long as you are trying to establish your own righteousness, you cannot submit to the righteousness that comes from God; the love that would rather be found wrong, that others would be found right. Where is the love that would rather lose the argument, lose the reputation, or lose the election, than hinder a soul from coming to Christ? Christian, you don’t take the moral high ground by winning. Our Saviour already took that hill by dying. As long as multitudes in the body of Christ remain short-sighted to the point of blindness to His Kingdom (2Peter1:9), they will continue to fight over the Kingdoms of men. Their communities need them to swallow their pride, but they are too busy swallowing camels (Matt.23:24). At the current rate, camels will soon be extinct!

The body of Christ, the Church, has always grown up in Christlikeness, not through the impartation of knowledge, but through the impartation of love. To be filled with the Spirit, is to be filled with the love of God and a thanksgiving that lifts your eyes off yourself. That’s why my answer throughout this year, to all the questions before us, is simply to keep preaching the Gospel, the news that fills men with thanksgiving because the only immunity to the pandemic of unbelief in this world, is thanksgiving!

There is a lot of good advice out there, both on how not to catch the virus and how to get immune to it. There is nothing wrong with taking good advice. Good advice will help you not to catch Covid. But good advice is not enough to stop you catching unbelief because the only immunity to the unbelief in this world, is a level of thanksgiving in your life, that only the Good news of the Gospel can produce,

  • a Gospel that reveals you to be right, not because you did the right thing, but because He did,
  • a gospel that reveals you to be now right, because you are now right where He wanted you to be; hidden with Christ in God (Col3:3)

Nothing you or I will ever do, will make us as right as that! Only when we start to see that, start to see by the Spirit, can we leave our self-centred life where He left it, in the grave and rise instead every day, to live that others would be right, for that is what it is to live, as the body of Christ.

The Great Renewal

You may have heard the story of the two shoe salesmen who were both sent by rival companies to a foreign country at the turn of the twentieth century. After several days there, both sent a telegram back to their respective head offices. The first man wrote “Research complete. Unmitigated disaster. No-one here wears shoes”. The second salesman wrote “Research complete. Glorious opportunity. No-one here wears shoes.”

So, what do we see as we look at this present situation? That may depend on whether we are looking by natural understanding or by the Spirit. Surrounded and hemmed in by the enemy, the prophet’s servant could only see problems everywhere. But filled with the Spirit, Elisha prayed “Lord open his eyes” and when the servant looked again, by the Spirit he saw the hills were filled with an angelic army (2 Kings 6:15-17). Do you really think that this present pandemic came as a surprise to God? It is for such a time as this that we have been prepared, to be a people so rooted in our identity as children of God, that we live knowing we have in Christ all we need, to thrive in all seasons (Philippians 4:12,13).

None of us likes anything that appears to restrict our liberty to worship, but it was the capacity of the early church to worship under much more severe restrictions than these, that spoke powerfully to their society. We respect and pray for the governing authorities placed over us, but we do not look to them to provide us with the right conditions for worship. The authorities in Philippi provided Paul and Silas with a dungeon and chains and from that confinement came worship that shook the earth! No external restriction can hinder our worship, only what we believe in our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). By God’s grace, external pressures only serve to reveal in us what cannot be crushed (2 Corinthians 4:7-12). Whatever restrictions are put on our ability to gather together to worship, they still pale before the restrictions confronting the church for the first 300 years after Christ’s ascension. Yet from kitchen tables in humble homes they radically transformed their society.

For years we have prayed for ‘revival’ to come, without much idea of the great change and upheaval that would come to our lives at such a time. In our natural understanding, we have got so used to tying our hopes to carefully laid plans, that to enter a season where such plans count for little, has challenged us to think profoundly about the expression of our faith in this generation. To all the plans of each Church generation, Jesus gives the same reply; “Follow me!”. As Elisha discovered, there cannot be a following without a leaving! (1 Kings 19:21). With the call of God comes the grace, the capacity, to leave behind what needs to be left behind.

This may look like a time of great restriction on the Church, but it is in fact a time of great renewal. We are being pushed out of the nest and must leave behind much of the tradition and form of ‘doing’ church, in order to grow in the revelation of ‘being’ Church. We will be surprised at the effectiveness of believers thrown into living one day at a time, but the early church would not have been. They saw the Kingdom of God impact society to a measure we have not, while living day to day under oppressive conditions.

The Ekklesia of God is not a building or a denomination, but the people of God living one life, in one mind, by one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is the expression of the life of Christ, through a multitude of diverse lives rooted and established in their identity in Him, bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to the world of business, education and culture. Buildings and denominations are simply servants of this Kingdom, not the Kingdom itself.

Paul shed no tears over the wreck of the ship that brought him to Malta. He simply used the pieces left to press on into the new day before him, for he knew that God was with him, not the ship! I recommend we don’t waste time trying to rebuild the ship. Let us also use what we can salvage and set out boldly into this generation with the message, “The Kingdom of God has drawn near you, for look, it cannot be contained nor defined by a building!”

The harvest the Church has been praying for is now knocking on our door. It looks as alien to us as Saul did to Ananias, but the Spirit is here to open our eyes and ears to the truth; ‘those who are with us, are greater than those who are with them’ (2 Kings 6:16). Welcome to the great renewal!

Reformation and Renewal.

If you have not already done so, I am sure that one day you will look back over your life and recognise, that the greatest blessings of life were not pre-planned by you. They came as gifts from above and many were not always recognisable as blessings to begin with. We all love to be in control, as we find change to be discomforting. It gets in the way of all our carefully laid plans. We all just want things to get back to ‘normal’. But what if our ‘normal’ is so far below God’s best for us, that He is not at all disturbed by the changes!
This week I read again David’s account, of how He had killed a lion and a bear that had attacked his flock. I was struck by how he recounted chasing down the predator and killing it and yet he described those victories as “the Lord rescued me” (1Samuel 17:37). The appearance of the Lion and the Bear, to kill, steal and destroy, initially looked like events that would lead to loss, discouragement and despair, but they became in fact the foundation for David’s life; “God is with me!”
Notice that believing God was with him, didn’t leave David on his knees praying about the Bear and the Lion! Rather it caused him to run after them and take back what had been stolen. The grace of God, His presence in us, is not given that we would live our lives as spectators, as if we had no more control over what is happening to us, than we would have over a drama we are watching on TV. Leaving the safety of his camp to run into the dark, didn’t feel to David like he was leaving the presence of God behind, but rather that he was running deeper into the life of Emmanuel (God with us).
I believe that one day many of us will look back at our lives and recognise that at times when things appeared to be taken from us, these were opportunities to grow in the revelation that “God is with me”.
Church, now is not a time to try and figure out how we can get back to our plans for safety, but to rise up in the knowledge that wherever we go, He is with us. There are victories to be experienced that cannot be known in the camp, but out in the field. In Christ, we have all we need for the season we are in and that includes each other. One of the most powerful manifestations of God with us, is sharing the life of the saints around us, carrying each other’s burdens and letting others carry us and inspire us, for none of us can reach our calling alone.
Yes, God wants our prayers to be answered, but what we want Him to do FOR us, He has always desired to do WITH us. We have His Spirit, not so as we can tell Him what He knows already, but so that we can speak with His voice into this world and into each other. Prophecy isn’t so much foretelling as forthtelling, speaking forth the things that cannot be seen; eternal things, such as the grace and purpose given to us in Christ from before the foundation of this world (2Tim.1:9,10) It is through the speaking forth of these truths into our own lives and those of others, that the Spirit brings order out of chaos and light out of darkness!
I want to encourage you to look up. We are living at a time in history that folk will look back on one day, as a time of reformation and renewal of the Church. Jesus told His disciples that they were to carry very little with them, as they set out into this world proclaiming the Kingdom. (Luke 9:1-6). It was as if He was saying; “To proclaim the Kingdom as enough, in power, then you must live as if the Kingdom IS enough! You must live fully in the day you are in, experiencing my grace as sufficient for that day”. (Matt.6:11)
As we live through the discomfort of not having solid plans and dates for the coming weeks or months, don’t miss the gift that is being presented to us; the opportunity to grow in the power of the Kingdom; the life of living fully in the day you are in! If there are days when despair, or frustration, or fear from lack of knowing the future threatens to overwhelm you, then on that day pick up the phone and start to minister to someone and I promise you that as you set off into the dark, you will become aware of His presence ministering to you and through you, for your call and His grace in your life, was always for you to run toward giants, not away from them.
Remember that in this season, multitudes in our communities are now intimidated by the giant of anxiety and despair. You only have to live in confidence and rest before them, to stand out as David did, among 40,000 others who stood before Goliath. This does not mean that we have to prove our faith by refusing what the world offers. David said that He struck the Lion. He didn’t say that he put his head in its mouth! As one friend said to me, “I take precautions, but I do it in faith, not fear.”
Be encouraged Church. You were made for such a time as this. The world is running out of resources to tackle the challenges of this season, but the Church has barely scratched the surface of her resources in Christ. We are living in the best days of our lives and they only get better in Christ!

Seeing beyond the storm.

But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along.” Acts 27:14,15.

Just because the Spirit came as a mighty rushing wind, does not mean that the Lord is behind every ‘storm’ that comes upon us. But for all the great storms of this life we have greater promises; “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28) and “in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37).

The unexpected ways in which God turns to our good, even that which comes to kill, steal and destroy us, is something that every believer sooner or later, comes to stand amazed at. But He gives us His Spirit, not so that we stand around as amazed spectators, but so that we step out into our new environments as amazed participants.

When he first washed up on Malta, Paul had to literally shake off the lie that God was against him (Acts 28:3-6) and as he did, not for the first time, unbelievers stared at how the life in this man overcame the world around him (Acts 16:25). By the time Paul finally departed Malta, that storm of destruction had been so ‘turned to the good’ that the only wind generations on that island would remember from that time, was the wind of the Spirit that blew across that island, bringing healing and salvation.

We too have been given the same Spirit that carried along those early disciples through every storm, by opening their eyes to who was with them; the One who causes all things to work together for good. Now if He is with us, then whenever a storm drives us to an unfamiliar place, all that has happened is that the presence of God can now manifest through His body in an unreached place.

We are not promised that this ‘turning to the good’ is a pain free process. When Jesus spoke to His disciples about entering the harvest field, He described the Lord of the harvest as ‘ejecting’ or ‘casting out’ workers into His harvest (Matt.9:38). If being cast out from behind our ‘structures’ into the harvest field is a good description of a move of the Holy Spirit, then let us take hold of the grace now available. Now is not the hour to stand on the shore of this new land, wondering how we can put the ship back together. Let us take what we can use from the old structure and head inland full of confidence, believing that generations to come will remember the new life we brought, long after they have forgotten the manner of our arrival.

The answer that he has given

You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions, stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.”                2Chron.20:17.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Eph.2:6.

From our position ‘in Christ’ we can “see the deliverance the Lord has given us”. We have been delivered out of death (separation) and into life (union) with God (Eph.2:1-6). We are all growing up into this life and even now, our minds are being renewed daily to the benefits of this life, including authority and power over every disease (Matt.10:8, Luke 10:19).

None of us despise earthly wisdom. We all use seat belts, avoid sour milk and check the brakes in our car! And so we should. It is with gratitude that we accept the wisdom of those in authority, who would seek to protect us from danger. If a natural disaster such as a flood or a fire was affecting our communities, we would all look to play our part in resisting that threat together and the threat of contagion is no different. But our hope is not in avoiding disaster or disease. It is in knowing that, right in the midst of such enemies we sit at a heavenly feast and our cup runs over. (Psalm 23). Such peace is not given, so that we may chastise the world for being in fear, but that we may be still enough to hear the Fathers heart, beating for every soul in distress.

What is the Father doing about this pandemic crisis? He has planted the Spirit-filled body of Christ in every nation, a river of healing and wholeness. We are salt and light. We know what Spirit we are of. We are of Him who came to save men’s lives, not destroy them (Luke 9:53-56). We have good news for a dying world. God loves you and His love is not like this world’s. His love is not conditional on your behaviour, for He set His heart on you, before you had done anything good or bad (2Tim.1:9). He knows the only love powerful enough to change your heart, is a love your heart doesn’t know, a love that keeps no record of wrongs, a love that nailed that record to a Cross (Col.2:14).

When this world looks to us at this time for answers, as to Gods view on all this, let us point them to the answer that He has given, His eternal view and opinion on each person’s worth to Him; Christ and Him crucified. We have not been left as orphans. We have the Spirit who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death and opens our eyes to see that that the Father’s table of blessing, communion with Him, is not a place removed from trouble, but a table in the midst of our enemies (Ps.23:5). All the darkness can do, is better reveal the light. When all that this world trusts in is being shaken, it only reveals more clearly the things that cannot be shaken; eternal things (Heb.12:27).

In Christ, we have the same Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead, living in us (Rom.8:11). We are not passing away in this eternal world. We are living eternal life in a passing away world. We are of another Kingdom, an eternal Kingdom, into which we were transferred by He who qualified us for this Kingdom, our Father (Col.1:12,13). To have His Spirit is to have His heart, His vision and His voice, that each of us at this time, may carry the testimony of Jesus, (the spirit of prophecy), that we make say to this generation too; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  (Luke 4:18,19)

What is the Father doing about this?

“You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions, stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.”                                   2Chron.20:17.
“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”                                                                             Eph.2:6.

From our position ‘in Christ’ we can “see the deliverance the Lord has given us”. We have been delivered out of death (separation) and into life (union) with God (Eph.2:1-6). We are all growing up into this life and even now, our minds are being renewed daily to the benefits of this life, including authority and power over every disease (Matt.10:8, Luke 10:19).

None of us despise earthly wisdom. We all use seat belts, avoid sour milk and check the brakes in our car. And so we should. But our hope is not in avoiding disaster or disease. It is in knowing that, right in the midst of such enemies, we sit at a heavenly feast and our cup runs over. (Psalm 23). Such peace is not given so that we may chastise the world for being in fear, but that we may be still enough to hear the Fathers heart, beating for every soul in distress.

What is the Father doing about this crisis? He has planted the Spirit-filled body of Christ in every nation, a river of healing and wholeness. We are salt and light. We know what Spirit we are of. We are of Him who came to save mens lives, not destroy them (Luke 9:53-56). We have good news for a dying world. God loves you and His love is not like this worlds. His love is not conditional on your behaviour, for He set His heart on you, before you had done anything good or bad (2Tim.1:9). He knows the only love powerful enough to change your heart, is a love your heart doesn’t know, a love that keeps no record of wrongs, a love that nailed that record to a Cross (Col.2:14).

When this world looks to us in the coming weeks, for answers as to Gods view on all this, let us point them to the answer that He has given, His eternal view and opinion on each persons worth to Him; Christ and Him crucified.