Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Spirit

Ok, so it's not an original thought for an entry on Christmas Day. I don't care.

2011 has not been my happiest year. There have been some major upsets during the year, two in the last week.

In the end, the Spirit of Christ inhabits the day we call Christmas, and every other day. He infuses each and every moment to the level we allow Him to. I accept that this year I have limited God. Even today, I have limited how much He can give me. The Blessing He longs to lavish on each of us are beyond our dreams. His dreams are bigger than ours. His thoughts beyond ours. His desire to give to us far greater than ours to receive.

We hesitate to ask Him for things, yet He longs to give to us, just as a human parent loves to see the delight on their child's face as the gift exceeds the request.

This New Year, 2012, (and what's left of 2011) I'm resolved to be like Jabez. I will ask of God, and expect Him to answer. I don't want to be wealthy or famous particularly. I enjoy my quiet anonymity for the most part in this world. But I want to be where God wants me to be. I know that means changing my thinking, and I know it may take time, but I resolve to place fewer limits on God from now on. I want to live in everything He has for me, and I want those I love to see that in their lives too.

Happy Christmas, dear readers. May God Bless us indeed, enlarge our circle of influence and territories. May His hand be with us, guiding us, and let us cause no harm.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Courage of our convictions

It is a sad indictment of the Catholic Church that Daniel Avila has been forced to resign following his article "Some fundamental questions on same-sex attraction" was withdrawn by The Boston Pilot.

It took some doing to find a copy since the article was deleted by the paper just a couple of days after it was published following pressure from Gay Rights groups, but I managed to eventually. The article suggests, to the horror of the Gay community, that God might not have made homosexuals homosexual, but that sin may actually be a product of the Devil.

Something conveniently avoided by organised religious bodies these recent days seems to be the concept of sin, and its causes. It's odd really, considering that their business is the forgiveness of sin.

This man, Daniel Avila, had conviction enough to write an article stating that "God does not cause same-sex attraction." The Boston Pilot initially had the conviction to publish it. Unfortunately, a little pressure made both retract.

In Genesis 19, God sends two Angels to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and to save Lot and his family. Lot is an honourable man, and rather than hand the two visitors he has taken into his home over to be raped by the town he offers his own daughters to them. They blind the townspeople and lead Lot and his family out of the town to protect them from the Judgement about to be levelled there.

The people's sin, however, is not homosexuality. I had never thought about it until 1990 when I heard Tony Campolo speak at Greenbelt Christian Arts festival in the UK. He raised an interesting point: the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was that homosexuality had become the norm, to the point that it was no only accepted, but expected. They had removed the concept of God's laws and replaced them with their own lusts. God brought judgement on the cities for this. Lot maintained the courage of his convictions at this point. He failed later, but in this one point he stayed the course. Lot's wife looked back. The implication is more profound, however. The inferrence is that in her heart she never left the city. The pillar of salt she turned into may be literal or figurative, but she died just the same because of where her heart was.

The world today is in turmoil. As Christians, we need to have the strength to not only say what is right, but to stand by it, even when it is unpopular with lobbyists and pressure groups. Sin is always a path to death, emotionally, spiritually and even physically. We die daily. We need to be as Paul wrote, so that for us living is Christ, and dying is gain. We need to focus on Christ so much that the fear of man's wrath and what it can bring is rendered void in our lives.

I accept that not everyone will agree with me and my opinion. But I will stand by it. God declares through the scripture in the Bible that homosexual acts are sinful. Old and New Testament alike share this conviction. If you don't like the rules laid down by God, take it up with the one who wrote the rulebook.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Vital Sequence

In the last few weeks God has been showing me that the order things happen in the Bible is very important. Vitally so.

This was driven home to me tonight when I was talking with my wife. God dropped the 23rd Psalm into my mind, bringing it back to my remembrance so to speak.

Recently we've been through something of a battle. I won't go into details here, but the battles we've been fighting have been life-threatening, literally. Our finances and health have been rocked, and we have been tempted to give up our faith as the onslaught has continued, although we haven't given in to that temptation. It has felt like we have literally and figuratively been walking through the shadow of the valley of death.

This has taken a heavy toll on us emotionally. We're tired and broken and some days it feels like this journey through the valley will never end.

Then Psalm 23 came to me. Specifically the order of the psalm.

In verse 4, we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. God guides us with His rod, correcting us as we move forward through the valley; and protects us with His staff, the primary tool of a shepherd to keep his flock safe from predators that would try to devour them. We have seen this in a very practical way. From the way job opportunities for me opened up from nowhere, to provision to manage our financial worries by professionals whose advice and assistance we could never have hoped to afford being given to us for nothing by those professionals. Legal and medical advice from experts at the top of their fields being placed around us to guide our steps who we could not have approached, or even known of a few short months ago. God has guided our steps at every turn.

Then comes verse 5.

God prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies.

I used to think that was referring to Heaven. Tonight it hit me: we won't have enemies in Heaven to prepare a table in front of. The Contemporary English Version translates the verse by saying "You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch." A feast. Bounty. Plenty. Abundance. In the presence of our enemies. That can only refer to this world, this life. In the life beyond this one, no matter whether you believe it's Heaven, a re-created Earth or something in between, there will be no sin, and therefore no enemy to set the feast before.

As Christians, we need to move away from the recent concept that has been taught in some denominations that we must wait for the next world to see Victory manifest. Each of the great men of faith through the last 2000 years has held fast to the conviction that Victory comes in this world. We feast at a table God places before us in our enemy's presence. Peter walked in a powerful anointing of God's Spirit, and saw healings and miracles following in his wake. Recently, men like Smith Wigglesworth saw healings and miracles which have been documented by independant witnesses. A "Feast" of God's Power working through them. Each of them had great hardship in their lives before seeing God's power work to turn their past experiences into powerful testimonies of His Grace in their lives.

Paul writes that Faith, Hope and Love endure eternally. The promised feast gives us Hope, which allows Faith to grow, because He Loves us.

The order remains, however. Be strong, because after the Valley comes the Feast!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Everything changes...

When I was at primary school - under 11 - we had assembly most days. There would be a hymn and a short talk, usually from Mr Ward, the Headmaster. One hymn that has never left my head goes like this:

Ev'rything changes,
But God changes not;
The power never changes
That lies in His thought:

Chorus: Splendours three, from God proceeding,
May we ever love them true,
Goodness, Truth, and Beauty heeding
Ev'ry day, in all we do.

Truth never changes,
And Beauty's her dress,
And Good never changes,
Which those two express:

Perfect together
And lovely apart,
These three cannot wither;
They spring from God's heart:

Some things are screening
God's glory below;
But this is the meaning
Of all that we know:"

The meaning in this little hymn is lost on many. Yet it's based on scripture. Hebrews 13:8 to be precise.
I was reminded of it again earlier today when a friend said to me that we should remember the world is changing, and we need to change with it.

That is a lie.

We need to base ourselves on something better than the current whims of the world.

At one point in Holland, tulip bulbs were worth more than houses. Then the world changed and they weren't any more. In the Roman empire at one point tin was the most valuable metal. Things changed. Through the whole of history only one thing has remained constant. God.

God's values don't ebb and flow with the tide of popular opinion. He will always hate Sin, no matter how it is dressed. Even when the world's view is that it isn't sin any more.

I remember reading a story of a man in his late 90's who applied to be re-patriated to England from Australia. He had been in the country for decades, and had never left since his arrival almost 70 years previously. When asked why he now wished to go back to England, he reportedly replied that as a young man when he arrived he was informed the penalty for homosexuality was death, by the time he was 40 it was 20 years hard labour, by 60 it was a fine, and it was legalised a little while after that. When the debate about gay marriage began he decided to leave before it became compulsory...

The world changed, but God didn't.

Sodom and Gomorrah had the opinion of the modern world regarding sexual sin. God judged them. The Greek and Roman empires both fell as they became more and more obsessed with appearances than substance. Israel fell into the trap more than once in scripture. The world's views change constantly, like shifting sands. We build on them at our peril.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Walking on Water

I've been looking at things from a worldly perspective for too long. I realised this a few months ago, and with that came the lightning bolt that told me I had to make a change.

My wife, whom I love very dearly, is seriously ill. This has been going on since March, and whilst I've been writing here about health and prosperity I couldn't understand what was going on in my own life. Her health has deteriorated despite my belief and prayers that I know God's atonement buys us healing. Our finances have been depleted massively, we lost our business, and for several months now we have been largely supported by our family, despite knowing God's plan was different than our reality.

In short I have felt for months like I was drowning, which is a big part of why it's been a few weeks since I wrote here.

Then I found a recording online by Andrew Wommack that I used to have a few years ago about becoming a "water walker".

I've been meditating on this for several weeks now, and as I started to really listen to it with my heart instead of my ears things started to change.

Drowning is not a pleasant experience. A few years ago while I was at the beach with some friends we swam out to a buoy in the sea and back. It was great fun, and so a few hours later - after the tide had been coming in for some time - we swam out again. Unfortunately for me, I was too fat and unhealthy (and stubborn) to make it now the distance was almost twice what it was the first time we made the trip. The tide was against me, and by the time I was alomst at the buoy I knew I was in trouble. Not enough strength to turn back, and the shoreline getting further from me. Somehow I made it to the buoy, but barely had the strength to hold on to it.

I knew I was going to die.

Thankfully, the friends I was with also realised this. They were able to get the attention of a lifeguard stationed on the beach with a boat. They helped me hold on to the buoy, then get my terminally exhausted self into the boat. By the time they got me in to it I'd taken more than one breath with my face in the water. It was not good.

Emotionally this year has been much the same as that afternoon on the beach. Over my head, and no possibility of saving myself.

Peter had that experience in Matthew 14. The waves were swamping the boat, the disciples were drowning, and Jesus noncholantly walks towards them on top of the very thing killing them. Peter did something I didn't fully grasp until I really listened with my Heart to Andrew's teaching on the passage.

Peter called to Jesus, and walked on the water to Him. I always remembered that Peter sank. I always remembered that Peter failed. It never occurred to me that Peter had walked most of the distance to Jesus before he started to sink, but when Jesus took his hand there is no indication that Jesus then slung Peter over his shoulder to get back to the boat. Jesus and Peter walked back.

Peter refocussed on Jesus and was able to walk again on the very thing that would otherwise kill him. As soon as I began to understand this, and I in no way claim that I've got it completely nailed, things began to change. I got out of the boat.

In my last post I touched on this. Doors began to open for me that ought to be closed here. I am a white, male, mono-lingual immigrant to South Africa. I should be unemployable. God has opened doors according to my faith in Him. As my understanding of how God works has increased and I have been able to stop limiting His power in me in certain areas of my life.

More accurately, I have begun to understand that it is not so much that I need more faith, but that I need to have less unbelief. Peter didn't stop believing in Jesus's power to let him walk on water, but he allowed his fears and doubts to overwhelm him as he saw the wind and the waves again. As I have focussed on Him again, Jesus has lifted me up and empowered me as I have allowed Him to.

It is almost impossible to lift yourself out of a bad situation. Especially when you're drowning. But God can. One word from God can lift you out of your circumstances and place you on top of them. We are more than conquerors by His strength. No circumstance, no matter how desperate, can overcome the power He has made available to us. We can be Water Walkers in His strength.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Unexpected Blessings

For the last month God has been restoring hope in my life. Since the end of March, my focus has been somewhat skewed by the swipes the enemy has fired at my family.

Since March we have been under a constant attack which has seen our health and finances decimated by the enemy's attacks. In the last month we have seen the tunnel come to an end and the light begin to filter in again.

Daniel had to wait for the answer to his prayers for 21 days when the enemy withstood the angel carrying the answer. Sometimes we end up having to do the same.

Jesus promised that everyone who asks receives - no exceptions. Everyone. But we often find that we limit God because of where we look for the answers.

From March to early July that's what I was doing. I was looking for God to Bless my efforts. I did what looked right to me, and then asked Him to make it successful. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. Sometimes we can reach a place where we are so focussed on God that this behaviour is the exact way to do it. But mostly we do our own thing, and ask God to turn it into His thing.

I realised this in mid-July, and changed my prayer. I asked Him to show me where He had planned for my growth and sustenance, and to guide me in where I should go and what I should do. It took a while for this realisation to get from my head to my heart, and then praying became easier, and answers started to come from unexpected places.

I am a white, male, able-bodied, mono-lingual Englishman living in South Africa at a time when that combination makes it hard in the natural to find employment. This is not necessarily a bad thing after the atrocities my adopted country has witnessed through the decades of Apartheid, but it makes things less friendly in a work environment than they could be. My applications were rarely even acknowledged, and when they were it was always "we are sorry, but..."

Since my heart changed, God has opened doors where I didn't expect to find them. I was blessed by a local businessman who offered me employment as an assistant manager in his business. I have been working there now for a month and finding it incredibly satisfying and fulfilling. I did feel that I should follow up on some of the other applications I had submitted, and out of the blue on following up on one application I had made weeks before I was invited to interview, follow up and aptitude tests, then offered a position with one of the largest businesses in the country! The paths have opened up for me to move there, and all since I changed my heart and started to ask God to direct my steps.

Blessings come from all sides and in many different shapes. We need to recognise that the ways that look right to us might be God's plan, but in a different route than we expect.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

But God...

Sometimes life hits you with a side-swipe you don't see coming. God usually counters with something equally as unexpected.

I had to leave a job recently, one I've done for 8 years since I came to South Africa. The business closed and I found myself out of work. My wife has not been well for some time, and this left us without any income.

Major side-swipe.

In the blink of an eye we went from where God was taking us to fighting massive health issues and having creditors from personal and business environments hammering on our door. The enemy hit us hard with a massive attack that we just didn't see coming, and were far from prepared for.

Massive swipe.

One of my favourite phrases in scripture is "But God".

In this case, I had my own "But God" experience.

After applying blindly to as many potential employers as I could I was getting nowhere. We were getting desperate and it felt like I was getting blocked at every turn. Then God came through - from a place I had never applied to, and might never have considered applying to. The owner of the local filling-station and store offered me a job as manager of the shop/station. More than that, he offered it on the understanding that if I got a better offer after I started he would only need 24 hours notice before I moved on! A serious "But God" experience.

There was a man once who went out to do what he fully believed was God's will. He travelled a lot, speaking to everyone who would listen and eventually arresting, judging and imprisoning people. But God knocked him off his donkey one day. Jesus himself spoke to him and overcame the side-swipe of the persecuting ways he'd had. God's swipe gave us nearly two-thirds of the New Testament.

Another man was excited by what God had shown him. He shared it with his family. His brothers threw him in a pit, sold him as a slave and told his father he was dead. His new owner promoted him, then the owner's wife falsely accused him of rape, he was thrown into prison and forgotten. But God had other plans. In 24 hours he went from imprisoned slave to second only to Pharoah in Egypt and saved the nation and surrounding nations from starvation.

David, Joseph, Abraham, Paul, Peter and the giants in the scripture all experienced "But God" experiences in their lives. Wesley, Luther, Wigglesworth, St Patrick, and so many other Godly men since scripture was closed also experienced these moments.

I don't know any God focussed people who can't look at their lives and see it littered with "But God" moments, big and small.

Look for them. God is just waiting to surprise His children at every opportunity.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Battle Perspective

A few weeks ago I wrote about Perspective. As Christians we almost invariably need to take another look at ourselves in every situation. The most crucial however, is Warfare.

I'm not talking about joining the US Marine Corps here, but rather the Spiritual Warfare we are involved in on a daily basis.

The battles we fight are not against flesh and blood, as Paul puts it, but rather we fight against ideas. "We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5 The Message)

Ideas, philosohpies, imaginations. These are what we must fight against.

I heard someone say some time ago that they imagined King David as the shepherd boy going toe to toe against Goliath. It gave them comfort to think of David looking at this giant and being scared. Goliath was a massive figure, and dressed in full battle gear he would have cast an impressive figure, it's true. But when I read the story I see David's heart. He was a young man powerfully driven by the Love of God, whom he had an incredible relationship with already.

He saw a man, nothing more, who dared to defy the army of the Living God. Armed and assured by his knowledge and relationship he went out and fearlessly first stunned the giant with the weapons he was most familiar with, then finally used the enemy's own weapon to behead him. True, the sling may have killed the giant outright, but the removal of his head certainly completed the job!

We need to look at the attacks we endure with the same attitude David had.

Firstly we must look at what we already have in our armoury. God has given each of us tools to use in a fight we are familiar with and can wield with just as deadly accuracy at the enemy as anything he can launch at us. Saul offered David his own armour. David was unfamiliar with the weapons and had he chosen to use it the story would have had a very different outcome. Encumbered with what Saul had given him and unfamiliar with the use of the weapons, David would have died quickly and Israel would have fallen. When we come under attack we must use the familiar. The World will seek to have us use other things. Often, as Saul was at this point, well-meaning people will give advice that will result in our falling, not because the weapons are inherently bad, but simply because we don't know how to use them. David went on to become a battle-hardened warrior in his own right, and fought many campaigns with a sword in his hand. But first he had to learn.

Secondly, once our familiar weapons have felled and stunned the initial attack, we can then look at how our enemy's own weapons can be used to ensure his utter defeat. Ill health, financial loss, even death of a loved one can be turned around to Glorify God and defeat the enemy if we look to God's wisdom on how.

In the midst of the first step it may now be obvious, but as the initial onslaught stops we can often see where God is directing our steps and how we can now use the very thing that the enemy wanted to use to destroy us, be it sickness, death or financial ruin (or any combination thereof!) to rebuild stronger and more Blessed than ever before, while the enemy is utterly defeated.

The Simple Things

Last night for 12 hours we were without water to our home. It was a hassle. I couldn't shower, the dirty clothes needed to wait and I couldn't have my evening cup of tea. This was an inconvenience, not a disaster.

I wasn't well last night. I felt thick headed, my mouth was dry, I was nauseous and I needed to use the bathroom...

The little things like turning on a tap are what get to us. A few years ago I would regularly go camping for the odd conference. These camping trips were well organised with stand-pipes dotted about for supplying water and an ablutions block. But for cooking I had to fetch water. I would walk from my tent site to the tap nearest, which always felt like a trek, fill a couple of 25 litre jerry cans and walk back. That would do me for the day's cooking, washing (don't like to shower on camp) and drinking water. Some campers had mobile homes with fitments allowing them to drive to the tap and fill water butts with enough water for the whole weekend. Some made several trips a day because they had smaller containers.

Overnight last night I was reminded of this as I went and pumped water from the wellpoint in the garden (sulphurous and very much NOT drinking water) into jerry cans again for the toilet cysterns in the house. It struck me that this simple luxury we take for granted is an absolute necessity we cannot do without.


Jesus didn't stand up and announce that He was the living egg and chips. He didn't reveal himself to be the beer of life. Water. Simple water.

We cannot live more than a couple of days without water. Spiritually we need to be filled constantly with the Living Water of Jesus' Spirit. Why? Because we leak.

Imagine taking a nail and driving it through a 25 litre container about an inch from the bottom and leaving it there. Then fill the can with water. You might not notice immediately, but the water immediately begins to flow out of the hole. The pressure from the air surrounding it forces the water out. Gradually the water all drains out until it reaches the level of the nail, and it levels off there. You can't stop the flow on a camp site, you need to simply return to the source and top up. Regularly.

Spiritually it's no different.

Top up or dry up. And Sundays aren't enough alone. We don't drive big mobile homes with enough storage space for weeks at a time. But we do have a link to the source. What we need to do is to plug ourselves into the source and we can keep going back as often as we need - that tap never dries out.

Jesus would withdraw from the disciples and go alone to pray. He needed to top up. If Jesus needed to, how much more do we.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Single Minded Focus

I really get hung up these days on being single minded. It never really occurred to me that I wasn't until the latest battle I've had to fight. My wife is going through the biggest fight of her life, and as a result I am as well. She's fighting illness in a way I've never had to before now. If she loses, she really loses. Faith requires focus. I firmly believe that it is not God's will for her to be going through this. I have absolutely no doubt that He will ultimately be Glorified through it, but H e didn't cause it. So I need to pray.

Previously when I've had to pray for something there has been an "acceptable" alternative that I could go to when it didn't happen how I expected the answer to come. I shifted my expectations according to what was happening in the natural world around me. As a result my experience was hit and miss to say the least. Every so often I'd hold on despite what was going on and I'd see God work in big ways. It finally dawned on my lightning fast mind that I needed to hold on to my focus and to stick to it no matter what.

I used to be a marksman when I was at school. I was a pretty good shot with a rifle, and reasonable with an air rifle. The key was to focus on a single target. I realised recently that I need to apply that same focus to my Sprirtual battle that I use when I have a gun in my hands.

I used to love the old westerns growing up where there was some old-timer with a "scatter" gun. The sawn down barrel of a shotgun that would spray buckshot over a wide area was something that made me laugh and wish I'd been around then. As I learned more I discovered those guns are only really effective up close. The scattering of the pellets diffuses how powerful the shot is and actually in a fight a pistol was far more use for bringing down your enemy.

Prayer is like being a sniper. A scatter-gun prayer sounds great but is virtually useless. We need to pick out our target and fire directly at it - kill shots only. The enemy does nothing less to us. When our health or finances are attacked we often shout at God about it. We lose our jobs and we shout at Him some more. The sickness deepens and we still just scream impotently at God.

Impotent. Weak. Defeated.

This is not what God made us.

When we pray we should do what Jesus told us. Praise first. It's like a sniper drawing his breath out to steady his hands. It clarifies the mind and puts us into a position where we can really see the target. Line up the kill shot second. Pick the point on the enemy where it will cause most damage to him and the best result for us. Fire and keep firing until he falls. There is no point in shooting once and walking away without making sure the enemy is fully defeated.

King David was a sniper of his day. He was skilled with a sling - deadly from a distance. He loosed the stone at Goliath's head, hit the mark and the giant fell. Then for good measure, despite having buried a fist sized rock between his eyes, David takes the giant's own sword and beheads him with it. The action simply states "This guy's not getting up!"

Peter sees the man at the Gate of the Temple and fixes his gaze on him before he prays, then as if that's not enough he drags the man to his feet. Healed.

Jesus set his face like flint as he moved towards the city of Jerusalem and kept his focus on the Joy set before Him... Us.

Single focus. Single target. Kill shot. Victory. Hallelujah!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Constant Change

Change happens. We can't stop it. In fact, whoever it was that said "change is the only constant" first really knew what they were talking about.

But do things change?

Life moves on at an ever increasing pace, yet on a global scale nothing changes really. A Roman historian I remember studying 20 years or more ago in school lamented the breakdown of the family unit, the lack of respect children showed to their parents and the growing problems teachers faced with disruption and bad manners in the average classroom - 2000 years ago!

Even in our lives we have change that merely makes us more the same than we are different.

We diet to lose weight, yet the more we change our eating patterns, the more that final pound needs to be attacked. We go to work to make more money to buy the new things we "need" to survive, only to find they are obsolete, but just a little more and we can get the latest version, wich will then be obsolete.

I recently found myself in the detestable position of having to get a new cell phone. I'd rather have to find a new kidney. I liked my old phone. I knew how to work it, it didn't use a lot of airtime to receive email and check the odd website online. But it was 3 years old, so the manufacturer has stopped producing the software updates it needs to function and now it is a paperweight.

And so I find myself back at the store being confused by the promises of wonder and hope that each new model brings. I finally pick one, a Nokia - perhaps a bit big, but it comes with the software and hardware I prefer to use (a qwerty keyboard instead of a touchscreen). I tell the assistant my choice and he tells me it's not available on my package. The ones I really like are all not available on my package.

The worst thing in the world to me is to be shown something, convinced it is what I need and have always wanted by the sales department, and then told I can't have it - or that there's a hefty pay-in you don't know about until you sign the paperwork.

So now I sit with my new phone beside me. It's not one I wanted - in fact I distinctly and expressly stated I did NOT want this phone. Repeatedly. But it was what I could afford, and actually now I'm using it I find it is quite a good machine - and even is saving me money because I was able to get everything I need on a cheaper package!

Life sure can be complicated. I look back at this little event playing out over the last couple of weeks and remember 3 years ago I went through much the same before I got the much lamented and very deceased paperweight I mentioned. It happens to be one of those things that doesn't change.

We resist change, but it is forced on us sometimes. But change defines who we are - how we handle the changes in our lives demonstrates to us and the world at large who we are and what we stand for.

Recently we underwent some major changes because of ill health in my family. We will have to make more as a result in a few weeks time. Yet the changes only make us more the same where it matters. On the surface much changes. Jobs come and go, houses rise and fall. Even friendships are transient. I have only occasional contact now with some of the people a few years ago I believed would be major players in my life for ever - even people I have lived with and my own family have drifted away from me as a result of changes, yet at my core I remain the same.

I am, in essence, a fallen man, redeemed by the Grace and Mercy of God through His sacrifice on the Cross, who has been raised to Son-ship and is a joint-heir with Christ in the Kingdom. No matter what cellphone I carry, what job I do or what happens to my family's physical health THAT will never change.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Who's it all about?

I've recently been going through a lot in my life. Sickness has struck my family in a devastating way, our finances have been assaulted in a hard way and our hopes for the coming year and our future in general have been attacked and on the surface it has looked as though much is no longer possible.

It has been difficult to bear the issues we've had to deal with. Physical loss hits hard, the apparent loss of dreams and hopes hits even harder. The Bible tells us "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Proverbs 13:12a), which suggests depression, and that we should "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23).

The trick above all else, however, is to retain our perspective.

When our focus is on self, the things of this world will grow massive. They weigh us down and leave us desolated by the sheer enormity of them. Our inability to see past them because of our perspective cripples our ability to move on and beyond the initial pain.

Focus on God, however, allows us to overcome the issues we face in any circumstance - and I do mean any circumstance.

On the night before he was crucified, Jesus took his disciples on a "crash-course" of what they would need to get through the loss of everything they had placed their future on. In the course of the next 24 hours they would face loss and grief, the possibility of arrest, torture and even death. They would apparently lose the hope they had placed in Him, and everything they had built their entire future on.

Jesus took them through His teachings, but the first thing He taught them was to maintain perspective - "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me" (John 14:1)

That perspective alone was enough to keep the disciples strong. In the years after the resurrection they endured much that when we look at it now seems almost unendurable. They were persecuted and executed for their faith in horrific ways, yet their perspective kept them strong - and it can do the same for us. Paul lists some of the things he endured in his life after his conversion en route to Damascus, and then describes them as "our light affliction, which is but for a moment" (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Our perspective is paramount. In the end, everything is about God. We were created to worship, and we all worship something. When we direct that worship where it was designed to be directed - at God - we can deal with anything and everything the world can possibly throw at us. When we direct at self, or anything else for that matter, we inevitably cannot cope when things go wrong because we have no support for our hearts.

It's all about Jesus at the end of the day. We cannot live without Him and we cannot hope to move forward without His perfect guidance in our lives.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Dreaming Big

We all dream. It's natural. God gave us imaginations and the desire to use them. Without dreams we would stagnate and eventually die. It is our imaginations that allow us to look to the future and plan. The longings of our heart spoken of in Proverbs are possible because of our imagination.

Imagination gives us hope. We live in an imagined world all the time, it's just that we don't see it that way. When we give directions, or if someone tells us to describe an elephant, we see in our mind's eye the thing we are describing. That requires our imagination.

Without imagination Donald Trump would never have built Trump Tower in New York, Bill Gates would never have developed the Microsoft organisation, Mozart would never have composed his Great Mass, the Wright Brothers would never have left the ground, and Jesus would not have gone to the Cross.

That's right, Jesus used His imagination in Gethsemane. He used it to see the joy set before Him. He imagined the resurrection - saw it's conclusion and what it would achieve - and it gave Him the human strength to go on through the crucifixion. He encouraged the disciples to use their imaginations the very night He was betrayed. He encouraged them to think about what was to come in His Father's House. We cannot be troubled when we focus on eternity, and that really requires an Eternal perspective - which we cannot have without our imaginations!

Dreaming of the future is something we all do. It is these imaginings that allow us to develop our lives. A God-centric imagination will result in us moving (more-or-less!) in His direction, where focussing on ourselves or the world will draw us away from Him.

In the 1990's I went to a lot of Bible conferences in the UK. There I saw some amazing works of God, from salvation to healing to financial provision. I watched in awe as one of the leaders at one conference prayed for a young boy who had one leg over an inch shorter than the other, and at the prayer the short leg grew to match the length of the other. It sparked my imagination, and I began to pray more for healing, finance and so on. For a while I saw it too. Nothing as dramatic as the young boy's leg, but small healings, finances provided where it was seemingly impossible, hardened atheists joining churches with tears. Then my circumstances changed and I gradually went to fewer conferences and although I still had the memories the imagination I had was not fuelled in the same way and what I began to see was less spectacular than back then.

My imagination had become less potent because I did not feed it in God's way. I studied for 8 years towards a commerce degree which required me to watch the news reports and read the newspapers where I had previously been able to spend that time in more spiritual study, and as a result my thinking became more worldly and I began to expect the world's results - and that's what I started to get. Now I am more concentrated on my Spirit again, although not as much as when I was younger, and the answers I see are more expectant of God showing up and seeing results.

When Peter prayed for the cripple at the Temple he must have imagined him walking. Paul imagined planting a Church in every city he set foot in, and those places he went almost all had a Church when he left.

We must be wary of what we imagine. Books like "The Secret" will make seemingly incredible promises based on using this same concept, and the world will indeed provide some very convincing counterfeits for God's dreams for our lives. I'm not talking about any "law of attraction" or such nonsense. These would be the very things we are told by Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ"

What we listen to will affect our imaginations. We inevitably burn less brightly when we are set away from the rest of the coals. But we were made to dream, and to dream BIG. But we must go to the one who dreams a dream for us. God has a dream for us. He places it in us whilst we are still being formed and gives us every chance He can to live it. But dreams are risky things to follow. They can cost us everything safe and secure, and most people never leave home in pursuit of our dreams, we rather sit in our comfortable chairs and read articles, blogs or watch tv shows about people living out their "dreams".

Maybe your dream is to sing, or act. If it is God's dream for you then ask Him to make a way for you to do it. Maybe your dream is to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher. Whatever God's dream is for you, seek it with all your heart. Don't let the world draw you away with shiny baubles that will rob you of the real treasure you will find when you live your real Big Dream.

For further reading on the concept of dreams in a Christian perspective, I recommend Bruce Wilkinson's excellent book "The Dream Giver" ISBN: 978-1-59052-201-1

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Half the Story

There's a guy wanders around the place near my home in Cape Town putting up posters he's made himself. They are simple, hand-written messages I'm sure he intends to encourage people. The trouble is, they only tell half the truth.

On these posters he's written "Resist the Devil and he must Flee" along with the James reference.

It's all well meaning, and most people just shrug it off or ignore it completely. Then yesterday I was driving past a church building in the same area with an official notice board outside proudly proclaiming "Belief in God will not get you into Heaven - Obedience will"

This trend worries me. With the increase in number of false prophets proclaiming the end is near - or that we missed it a couple of weeks ago - it is worrying in the extreme that churches and their members are proclaiming half-truths in print like this.

Yes, we must resist the devil and his schemes. But it is fruitless to do that in our own strength. The whole concept in James states "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded"(James 4:7-8) Before we can resist the devil effectively we must submit ourselves to God. Doing otherwise is fruitless. We must draw close to God. His power is what we must use to defeat the enemy of our souls.

Even blind obedience is pointless. That way leads to legalism and religion rather than a living, breathing relationship. It is the difference between expectation and expectancy. Religion places expectations on us. "We must be obedient or God will not bless us" is the attitude. Paul wrote and spoke against such things by criticising those members of the early church who were insisting new converts be circumcised and follow the teachings of the law. The Truth sets us free, it doesn't tie us to a life of concrete rules with some transcendental Shylock sitting on his throne muttering "you're all going to Hell, directly to Hell, do not pass 'Go', do not collect 200 sheckels". Rather we are yoked to a living Saviour who seeks to lift the burdens of this world from us and free us to be the people He created us to be. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and all the other "paths" the world would have us look at to learn the 'right' way to live and find God all set out rules from what to eat, to what direction to face when you pray to how your body must be positioned. Christianity must differentiate itself from these religious ideas or it becomes the very thing it was created to destroy - dead!

Our faith is one of Life, not death. We serve a Living and Loving God who presents Himself to us where we are, He doesn't wait for us to be worthy of His love, for to do so would condemn us all! Paul writes in Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us". God is on our side. The world will seek to tear us down and imprison us in itself, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

That is the real Truth. God is on our side. God is for us.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Wellspring of Life

We all have times when we feel down. Depression hits without warning apparently, and we can be left feeling drained and hollow by the circumstances we find ourselves enveloped by.

The real issue, however, is where we draw our strength fom on a daily basis. What do we treasure most?

The Bible teaches us "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."(Proverbs 4:23) This is a particularly true statement. We give our hearts over to all kind of things during the time we have. As young men and women, it is often to a partner. Our whole being becomes wrapped up in that individual, and if the relationship breaks down we are left feeling desolate. Many teen suicides are attributed to this.

As adults we are not exempt from this folly. We put our hearts into getting the corner office or the house with the pool or the Ferrari, then Bob, the 29 year-old newbie gets the promotion, the pool is cracked or the car is stolen and we are left feeling cheated and forgotten. Our hearts get crushed, bruised and beaten.

Sometimes we build our hearts on the hopes we have made for ourselves, hopes and dreams like children or continued health. Then the news comes: "I'm sorry but it looks like you'll never have kids" or "It's cancer", and we are devastated because that's where our hearts are.

We also find irrelevant issues all consuming because of where our hearts lie. I know people who can tell you the names of every player who has put on a Manchester United shirt and kicked a ball in the last 40 years, but can't tell you what their children's favourite food is. The focus of our heart is what will determine the kind of men and women we become. If we focus on the irrelevant then we can never be relevant ourselves to the people who matter.

One of my personal favourite teachers, Andrew Wommack, can quote hundreds, even thousands of scriptures from memory. His heart is focussed on what matters, and this is demonstrated by his expression of his faith, the way he talks of his family and the way he relates to others. I had the priviledge many years ago of meeting him a few times and chatting to him. He struck me then as a man who has a simple faith, uncluttered by caring about people's opinions. "Only Christ matters" was the message I got from the conversations I had with him over a few days in 1997 at a bible week in England. He, Dave Duell and a few others were real and present. They had hearts which radiated love. A wellspring of life which was clearly not their own but was fuelled by something far greater than a mere man could hope to have in his own strength.

This may seem like a shameless advert for these teachers, but it is intended to be an example. I hope that one day people will see that same love and commitment in me, and in you. There is something powerful in a guarded heart. The life in it is not our own, rather it is given to us by a God who sees what we are in ourselves and loves us anyway. He places His own Spirit in us to guide us and speaks to us through our hearts daily if we will only listen.

"Today, if you will hear His voice, Harden not your hearts" (Psalm 95:7b-8a) If we will hear His voice. If we are going to hear God speaking to us, we must keep our hearts fixed on Him. King David understood this and kept his heart inclined towards God so that even after he had tried to hide his sin with Bathsheba he was sensitive enough to God that when the Prophet came to him he immediately repented and humbled himself before God.

We must guard our heart today. There is so much in this world that seeks to depress and destroy our life, but the Good News is "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

God is for us, and with that as the food for our heart we can live with a wellspring of life in our core being at all times, anduring the light afflictions of this world and moving beyond them by keeping an eternal perspective.

Saturday, 21 May 2011


As we walk life's path we are forever changed by the experiences we ecounter. Sometimes these are easy and incremental, sometimes they are massive and painful.

Change is a constant, which is not a contradiction. The only thing we can be certain of is that we do not leave this day the same person we were when we entered it.

In the last few days I have seen friends experience joy and sorrow. I have seen myself experience much life changing as well as a result of their experience. Every life we touch is changed. One friend has a new love in his life. Another has suffered the breakdown of a relationship where a child is involved. Still another has begun a new life in a foreign country.

These are actually minor pieces of information to me that represent major upheaval to them, both for the good and the bad as they experience it.

Business may be good, health may deteriorate. We cannot know what the world will throw at us this day. There is no constant but change...

...and God.

To give us hope and an anchor in the storm of this life we have a God who is an absolute constant. His love for us is the same yesterday as it will be tomorrow. His desire for us is constant. For God, everything is now.

I believe Einstein surmised that at the speed of light there is no passage of time. Everything is now. Jesus declared Himself to be the Light of the World. "God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all" declares 1 John 1:5. It makes sense. Everything is now.

There is no change outside time. Time exists within God, rather than the other way around. We tend to forget this. It's easy to do that. We get caught up in what's happening in our lives and we forget that God is outside it all. He's bigger than our problems. He knows the beginning from the end. He is the beginning and the end!

What would life be like if, just for a moment, we could perceive it through God's eyes? How would we change things? Would we change things?

Should we change things? What we should perhaps rather do is to understand.

Paul had an eternal perspective, and his life gradually became a constant movement towards God as a result. The world threw everything it had at him and he just kept his heart guarded and followed his path.

"Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life. Put away from you false and dishonest speech, and willful and contrary talk put far from you. Let your eyes look right on [with fixed purpose], and let your gaze be straight before you. Consider well the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established and ordered aright." (Proverbs 4:23-26 Amplified)

I love that "consider". We move in response to circumstance. Paul considered his path. We are tossed about by the changes in our external conditions. Paul fixed his heart and moved towards Jesus with an unswerving course.

I would love to be like Paul, keep my eyes fixed on the prize and not be swayed by the troubles of this life. But I'm not. I have my moments, we all do, but generally I'm thrown about by the troubles of this world. Changes overpower me and I wrestle with decisions I need to make and those I already made. Only where I have actually cut off the possibility of change do I have peace about staying the course - my Faith in Jesus and my marriage. These areas are the strongest in my life. They are also suffering the greatest attack. I am challenged to change what I believe about both by circumstances daily.

My Faith is based on a secure and unchanging foundation - the person of Jesus. My marriage is built on this same foundation - the person of Jesus.

Change in our external circumstances is inevitable. This life brings troubles and sorrow with it much of the time, especially if you choose following Jesus as a life to live. But we must guard our hearts against being undermined by circumstances.

We must be single minded and focussed if we are to survive the constant onslaught of the changes in the world.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


Even as Christians we are susceptible to attack. Our health and finances are the enemy's favourite targets. We lose sight of what Christ bought for us through the atonement and when we do we are open to assault in any area.

We stop watching our backs and we become complacent because of modern medicine and credit agreements. We get sucked into darker places easily once we start relying on our own strength and "street-smarts" to move on in the world. Then once the circle is big enough to trap us, the enemy moves in ans snaps shut, then suddenly we are serving two masters. The trap catches us unaware and our life changes.

We are not aware in this modern world of the battle we are caught up in. John Eldridge likens this world to the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. From a Spiritual perspective we are storming the beaches of Normandy and taking heavy fire all the time. Many of us are walking around broken and bleeding from life-threatening wounds that left untended will eventually kill us.

We leave ourselves open to heartache, sickness and death both physical and spiritual when we lose sight of the battle we are in.

Paul writes to the Ephesians about the Armour of God and lists the items - breastplate, shield, sword, helmet, foot-guards and belt. The list is based around the armour of the Roman empire. Roman legionaries were famous in antiquity for not retreating or turning their back on the enemy. There's no protection for the back. It's a blind side.

If we keep facing the enemy we are fully protected. The Belt of Truth holds all the rest of the armour in place. The Helmet of Salvation protects our minds. The Sword of the Word is an offensive weapon which Paul says is mighty to tear down strongholds. The armour of preparedness on the feet lets us move forward to spread the Gospel.

All of this is great, but the most essential part that gets forgotten so often is the shield. Faith is our shield. It protects our blind side. The "fiery darts" Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6 are a likening to the flaming arrows fired in ancient warfare. The shield in Roman armour was thick and heavy. The wood it was backed with would absorb the arrow deeply enough to extinguish the arrows fired. It had to be hooked onto the belt because of the weight. It was not enough to have the shield alone. Truth supports the shield.

What much of the trap of the 21st Century has delivered to us is a false truth. Medicine, although useful - it must be added that right now I myself take several medicines daily for unresolved chronic medical conditions - is not God's first choice. We are comfortable with it because we can live with the issues that just 50 years ago were almost always fatal unless God intervened. When we need finances we turn straight to a bank or "micro-finance" lender. The concept of turning to God to meet financial needs, despite being a central theme through Jesus's own teaching, is virtually condemned by most churches (note the lower case "c" there). Christ's teaching of reliance on God for our daily needs has almost been completely lost. We need to get back to basics, and it protects our blind side.

The enemy will sometimes get a shot past us. We may get wounded or even killed by those shots, but if we keep our mind set on the Truth and build our Faith on that Truth, then we can overcome even potentially fatal wounds.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Walking the Talk

It's easy to sit back in our comfortable chairs and spout platitudes about how to live as a Christian. Platitudes are easy. They are pure theory, like the scientist who sits looking at pieces of paper and uses mathematics to explain how a star can exist, or more accurately a business man called in to "streamline" a company talking about how many jobs must be cut, then returning to his million dollar job in his million dollar car.

Reality is harder.

In World War One the soldiers doing the fighting sat up to their knees in filth, mud, water and rats. Many lives were lost because of the conditions the men were forced to live in. Even today, you can visit places and see sanitised versions of the trenches. I saw the reconstructions as a teenager at Vimy Ridge. I saw the massive memorial at Thiepval to over 70 000 men whose bodies were never recovered on the Somme battlefields.

But the Generals who sent these men to their deaths sat growing fat at HQ, eating steak and attending dances whilst their men were close to starving and waiting for death to call.

As Christians we can fall into the trap of believing we're Generals.

We sit and spout theory about why things are the way they are. God being God allows certain things to happen to teach us. He has His "master-plan" and we can't understand it.

We're living in a world where we are at war but we think we're at HQ. Then the shells start falling around us. Cancer, unemployment, death of loved ones strike at us and we are reminded that we are not safe behind the lines, but rather we are stuck in the middle of the front line, and the enemy soldiers are well trained and relentless.

Suddenly we have to start to walk the talk. And we usually fail.

Peter was so filled with the Holy Spirit that people placed the sick in the street so his shadow could touch them. When it came time for them to look for someone to wait on the tables they sought out those anointed men to do it - Primarily Stephen, the first martyr.

They talked the talk, yes. But they walked what they talked. Peter laid hands on the sick, He raised the dead. He had freely received - not in theory, but in reality - and he now freely gave. He taught others what he knew, sometimes he even used words to do it.

We are quick to talk, but walking it is another matter. It's hard to stay strong when it looks like your life is falling apart. Death and sickness haunt your every step. Loved ones die and are diagnosed with terrible illness. Fear is a natural response. Grief hammers on the door of our heart and we open it up and weep.

It's normal. It's part of healing. It opens the door to what comes next...

hang on...



"Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, 'See how He loved him!'" (John 11:33-36)

Jesus wept because He loved Lazarus and He loved Martha. He felt the grief tey felt. He felt the loss. He wept.

Then He acted.

Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.  Jesus said, 'Take away the stone.' Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, 'Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.' Jesus said to her, 'Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?' Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.[c] And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, 'Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.' Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth!' 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Loose him, and let him go.'" (John 11:38-44)

First Jesus felt the grief, then He acted. And Lazarus came out of the grave.

Jesus walked the talk. Peter and Paul and Timothy and all the apostles walked the talk. They saw miracles. Jail cells opened, blind eyes seeing, lame walking, deaf hearing.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer in 1999 I tried to believe for a miracle. I wanted him to live and recover. He didn't. I didn't understand at that point. I said all the right things, even outwardly did all of them, but my heart saw him die when the doctors made the diagnosis. As a result I prepared for his death in my heart, and not for his health being restored.

I talked the talk, but I didn't walk it. I know that now, and although I'm saddened I don't feel guilt or shame about it. It's been taken care of by giving it over to Christ, something we all must do.

Walking the talk is hard. It means taking hits, often from people we are very close to.

It means having to watch sometimes and wait for the moment to call our Lazarus out.

We weep. We bleed. We feel the despair and the heartache this world holds.

We drown it out most of the time. Numb ourselves to the cry of our hearts by watching TV or drinking, or partying. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. But then we go to sleep alone, and in the darkness He calls to us, and our thoughts return to where we should be.

So we get up and we talk the fight. Once in a while we even fight the fight.

Then a new attack comes and we crumple.

Unless we consistently walk out our faith. We can build ourselves up through fellowship to a point where when the storm comes we can weather it. The wave breaks on the Rock on which we stand, rather than swamping us

Talk the talk, yes. But we must walk out what we believe, whatever the cost personally if we are to stand.

Walk the talk. "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Positive from Negative

Every so often in our walk something truly catastrophic happens. The Enemy of our soul gets a shot in and on target and we are left reeling and wounded in a huge way.

It's happened several times in my life.

Each time, however, life goes on.

My younger brother was killed in a road accident, my favourite aunt died in a house fire, cancers in the family, more and more things went wrong.

Each of these incidents had the potential to destroy my life. And they nearly did.

Thankfully, God is here.

These incidents have all been redeemed. Jesus used Robin's death to reveal His amazing Love for me to me. My dad's first cancer shook me, but eventually drew us closer to each other and to God. His second cancer, which took his life in 1999, led us into a level of closeness and relationship we'd never experienced before, although we had a very close relationship. I was able to hold his hand as he went home, and I believe he could have been healed but chose to rather go as he knew our Lord was with me.

The issues we face are not sent from God to test us. He loves us unconditionally. He redeems us perfectly. He gives us only good gifts.

Cancer is not good.

Death is not good.

No illness is good.

God gives us only that which is good, perfect and pleasing. If it's not all of those things, God didn't send it.


He can and wants to redeem it.

 "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good" (Genesis 50:20a) That doesn't mean God sent it - I'm certain when God showed Joseph his future He didn't intend for him to be sold as a slave and imprisoned on false charges for years before it came to pass. Joseph's brothers were motivated by jealousy and greed. They were filled with anger and acted on it.

But God redeemed their actions and saved thousands through Joseph despite their hate.

No matter how negative the situation you're facing God can redeem it, and wants to. He has a perfect plan for our lives, one with a hope and a future. He wants us to live in an abundant life. Jesus Himself said "The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)" (John 10:10 Amplified)

So basically, if you are going through hell right now, God wants to redeem it. If you went through hell recently, God wants to redeem it. God will guide us through the valley of the shadow of death, not help us set up home in it. He leads us through the darkness in this world into life and light.

Life is short. It has hard knocks in it. We all miss what God is saying to us from time to time and then we have consequences we must deal with. But God wants to redeem them and make us live better, setting up a table for us in the very face of the enemy who tried to destroy us.

Hold fast to the Cross. Anchor to the Rock of Christ and never let Him go. No matter how bad the situation looks now, God wants to redeem it.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Load We Were Never Meant to Bear

Every so often something comes into your life that you don't expect. It can come in many forms, but it is so out of the blue that you can't brace for it.

"Mum, I'm pregnant" - and 14
"I'm sorry, it's cancer"
"There's been an accident..."

The ground gets pulled out from under us and we just stagger under the load.

God didn't design us to cope. This isn't a flaw in the design, or in the programming of Mankind. We were made for paradise. We were designed to live for ever. When God made us, He made us in His image. Immortal and unflawed.

Enter Satan...

When sin entered into the world God had made everything in creation changed as Death entered with it. Everything except our programming.

Suddenly we were going to die. There was a finite time period for existence in this world. Worse, we were separated from the only one who could help us.

Sin, sickness, Death. This world was opened up to everything Hell had instead of the riches of Heaven.

Adam was over 900 years old when he ceased to exist in this world, but we don't know how long he had existed before the fall. It's possible he and Eve had lived for centuries before they tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Adam sinned and condemned all of us.

Jesus came to put it right. God had a choice. He could eliminate everything and start over, or He could redeem His creation. From the very moment Adam ate the fruit he had been forbidden to eat Jesus began to move. "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel" (Genesis 3:15) It was the child of a woman, not a man who would crush the serpent's head. Jesus was born of woman, but His Father was God Himself, just as Adam's was. He would face the same temptations and the same trials as Adam, but where Adam had fallen, Jesus would succeed. Instead of surrendering to Satan, Jesus did what Adam was meant to do -  He rebuked Satan and walked away. Satan was left powerless against Him.

It's because of this that we have a share in Eternal Life. Jesus chose to give to everyone who accepted His sacrifice a share of what He had gained. He gave us a piece of Himself, and took from us what we were never designed to cope with.

The enemy will still try to put a load onto us. Cancer, HIV, alcoholism, addictions - the list is long and sounds daunting. Whatever comes against us is merely a distraction designed to draw us away from God and trusting Him and His goodness though.

We are bombarded with facts. They add to the load. Words like "inoperable", "Incurable", "chronic condition" and "lifetime illness" are thrown around and destroy our faith. The facts can build us up, but the enemy will use the facts to distract us from the Truth and to put onto us a load we should never have had to bear.

We have been given the Name of Jesus. In His name we have authority over all sickness, and even death itself is not an obstacle that is insurmountable.

Until our faith develops to the point that we can do like Jesus and then Peter did and see health return at the command in Jesus name we have the Comforter to teach us and convict us. But even this is twisted. The Spirit comes, but "...when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness". (John 16:8). He will convict of Sin, but He will convict of Righteousness. Since He has come, we are therefore convicted of our status. Satan deafens us to the whole message though. We readily accept te burden of being a sinner, and accept the sin we have been living in, because we can see it. But we get so bogged down in that we don't hear the rest. Because of Jesus we are righteous. We are made in right standing with God. He sees us as sinless as Jesus because the burden was taken from us again by His sacrifice.

Lift the load from our shoulders and give it to Jesus. He said we must take His yoke. His burden is light. He wants us to take His load, and He will take ours.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Never Beyond Our Endurance

There seems to be a shift in thinking in some places today that we are on our own as Christians. God has set things in motion and now just lets everything run until the end of time.

This is simply not true. God knows the end from the beginning, yes. He does NOT however pre-destine individuals. There is a big difference between knowing what will happen and making the choice.

In the Matrix movies, the problem the machines have is they cannot comprehend choice. Free will is a mystery to them. They are bound by the programming in them and cannot comprehend choice.

We seem to think God is like that - or that is the impression you can get. I once heard Tony Campolo say when he was young he believed in predestination so strongly that when he fell down the stairs he thanked God it was over with!

The problem of Free Will is that we make choices that are bad for us. God allows them, and ultimately uses them to further His will in our lives, but the enemy has a plan to drag us away from His love into destruction, and Jesus Himself said most people will take the broad road to destruction rather than the narrow, hard road to salvation.

When I was still quite young, probably in the summer of 1984 when I was 12, my family went on holiday to the Gower peninsular in South Wales. We used to walk together from Langland Bay to Caswell Bay and back by following a footpath round the headland. It was a wonderful walk, uphill in both directions, or so it felt! We would wander slowly round the cliff walk and sometimes get an ice-cream before heading back. This one paqrticular day was hot. Very hot. We walked in shorts and t-shirts, or just shorts, and open sandals. As we walked we heard crying from above us in the gorse bushes over the path. Two young girls had wandered off the path and got lost in the gorse, somehow managing to get into a place where they couldn't get out by going up or down.

My dad was a schoolmaster, and had a real love of children. Without hesitation he pushed through the brambles and thorns, lifted the two girls up onto his shoulders and carried them back down through the brambles to the path, then on to the lifeguard station at Caswell bay where they were reunited with their parents. Dad's legs were badly cut and bleeding from the thorns, and it took the first-aid attendant over an hour to clean him up.

I have often had the image of my dad that day come back to my mind. He gave no thought of what it would cost him in terms of pain to help these children who were complete strangers. I remember marvelling at the way he just brushed through the thorns. I did ask him why he'd done it later. He simply smiled and pointed out that he knew he could help, so he knew he had to. He could endure what they could not, and they were rescued as a result.

Now my dad was not perfect. He was as flawed and fragile as any human, yet he retained a strength throughout his life. His faith carried him through the ups and downs of existence, and although he eventually succombed to cancer in 1999 he held fast to his convictions to the end. I had the honour of holding his hand as he went home, and although it hurt immensely to lose him, he left us in such a peaceful way that I was strengthened by his example.

We all have to endure things in this world we were not designed to bear. The human psyche as designed by God is not designed to deal with the loss we experience when death comes, or sickness or poverty. We were made for paradise and designed for peace, and we spend our lives trying to find it in spite of the world.

Endurance is something we must learn, but it is something we can do. He promised we would never be given more than we can handle. We forget this and it leads to depression, anxiety, stress and a myriad of other problems. Illness follows and we succomb to the ravishes of the dread diseases of this world. But even then by turning to Christ again He will support our feet and lead us through to safety held high on His shoulders through the brambles and thorns that surround us until we are reunited with our Heavenly Father.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Trusting Despite the Circumstances

Sometimes we can do everything right and still the Enemy of our soul scores a point. It's not that God doesn't care, or is incapable of intervening, rather it comes down to something in us missing the ball. Eventually we all must encounter this experience, since in this world we are far from perfect. Even St Paul may have had some issues, and we know Timothy did from Paul's advice to him to take wine for the sake of his stomach!

Our health and our prosperity are perhaps the two area where Satan will attack most, since they are the areas most of us are most vulnerable in. We can generally cope if our health is intact, but then the bills start piling up and we scream "God these BILLS!!!" He gives us prosperity and we find ourselves with sickness in our lives, either in ourselves, or in those we love.

Sometimes it's easier when the sickness is in our own body. We can rationalise that. But having to sit by whilst a loved one, even a saved loved one, is diagnosed with cancer, diabetes or some other illness with no "cure" can be even worse.

I wrote recently on the difference between Truth and  Fact, and the point I was trying to make is that facts are subject to change. Truth is, by it's nature, unchangeable. Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) He was also heard to say "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." Either that was very profound, or Jesus had no concept of correct grammar. I suspect the former. Truth is unshakeable. If we place our trust in the Truth of God's Word, which He places above His Name, then our foundation is solid.

For us to trust God in our lives, we need a foundation of Truth. When that is in place, we can endure whatever the enemy throws at us. The house may shake, but it will ultimately stand.

Building a relationship on fact alone when talking about God is like building on sand. If I base my relationship with Him on the fact that there is money in my bank account and health in my body, then I am set up for a fall. But if I build it on the Truth that if He is with me I am prosperous whether I have money or not and He has healed me according to His promises in Isaiah and Peter, then whatever my bank balance or my doctor may say the Truth will hold me firm.

So the circumstances will come in this life where we have the occasion to accept or reject Truth because of what the facts tell us. We then start to live under the circumstances, and we are tossed about in the storm. It is infinitely better to anchor deep, hold on to the Truth, and ride out the onslaught of facts. They can always be changed. The Truth is eternal.

So smile at your issues. Laugh at your problems. Trust Jesus with your heart in spite of the circumstances, and live life to its fullest.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Fulfilling our Potential

We were created in God's image. It's an awesome concept. I don't mean physically, but rather our essence, our persona is God-like.

It's a unique construct in creation. First God makes the entire universe, with all it's intricacies and foibles, then as his final flourish he creates Man in His own image. A self-determining being with free-will and a purpose to determine what path he will follow.

That being said, we have a responsibility in our freedom. God placed in each of us the seeds of greatness. Every human being ever created has the potential to do incredible things for God and to change the world.

The responsibility is mind-blowing. Each one of us changes the world with every breath we take.

William Wallace in Braveheart says something to the effect of "Every man dies, not every man really lives." In our lives for Christ, how true is this? We are called to do incredible things for God, but every day we chicken out. I wrote in another entry of how I failed to act when a young father had died, how I missed a God-sent opportunity to minister to a grieving family because of fear. I am not paralysed by this memory, nor am I afraid to declare my humanity. I long to live in the way God wants me to live, but my human nature gets in the way.

St Paul had the same issue. He said "I can anticipate the response that is coming: 'I know that all God's commands are spiritual, but I'm not. Isn't this also your experience?' Yes. I'm full of myself—after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary." (Romans 7:14-16 The Message) If the great writer and scholar such as Paul had these struggles, how arrogant would I be to try to say I have it down!

Paul lived his entire New life based on two simple questions after he met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Those questions were:

1) Who are you?
2) What do you want me to do?

Everything in Paul's life stemmed from those questions, from his missionary journeys up to his execution for declaring Jesus as the Christ. Even then there was more he probably wanted to do, but he lived his potential from those simple questions.

We can do the same.

Part of the reason I write this little blog is that I asked God what I should do, and I believe He told me to write. I asked what I should call what I do, and He led me to Isaiah 40:31 "But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired." (Amplified) He told me not to be afraid of men or of criticism, but to write what I felt He placed in my heart, so this is what I do.

I became a Christian after my brother was killed in a road accident. I blamed God, I blamed myself, actually I blamed everyone except the driver that hit him - mainly because I know how he used to ride a bike! I had an encounter with Jesus that turned my life around in a quiet way at first, but has guided me ever since. I had a wandering away in my late teens and early twenties, but He kept calling me back. Through the early years in my marriage, He kept nudging me back to Himself. I've had the urge to write, to proclaim God's goodness for years, and only now have I begun to find an outlet for that.

Potential is tricky. Bruce Wilkinson refers to what I thinnk of as potential as a person's Big Dream. I love that concept, and I have immense respect for his writing. I have read and re-read "The Dream Giver" over and over again, and it was the inspiration that finally gave me the nudge to start writing myself. I recognise myself in Ordinary. I have a dream in myself of who I can be, who I should be.

I have more potential than I know what to do with, but potential alone is worthless. We need to take action on that dream, move towards the potential for it to be worth anything.

One of my favourite concept ideas was told me many years ago by a friend who had been in the navy. He used to remind me that God treats us like a ship, and He is the rudder. Basically He doesn't make us go anywhere, but He directs our course once we start moving. It doesn't matter where the rudder points if the ship isn't moving.

It's easy to sit and procrastinate. We can watch ministers stand up and criticise the way they talk, or what they wear. I had hair I could sit on a few years ago, and a beard I could tuck into my belt. People who met me for the first time then were shocked when I started to talk about Jesus as though I knew Him. I've been guilty of judging others the same way. We all have.

Our potential is not limited by how we dress, but by what we do. When I rode a Harley and looked like I was a wild-man I found other bikers and wild-looking men and women talked to me. I had a lot of comments made about how I looked, but the ones making the comments were people the bikers I met avoided. It was a priviledge to be able to meet them and talk to some real people.

Each of us has gifts and a calling. You and I will meet different people and impact their lives in different ways. I work in the same place as my wife. She meets every person who comes through the door, I only meet them if they don't pay their bill! I have a different interaction with our reception staff than she does. We impact people in the same environment in very different ways.

Our potential is God given. It is inspired and purposeful. He means us to use it to Glorify Him. We are called to do that which He created us to do - Worship Him and have full relationship with Him - and in doing that we can fulfil our potential, truly live a life that is full and passionate, exciting and constantly stimulating, and build a deeper relationship with Him on a daily basis.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Truth or Fact?

In this 21st Century world we live in, we often miss the difference between Truth and the facts. This subtle difference is more than mere semantics, rather it is central to our understanding and ability to fully live in the fullness of Life as Christ died for us to be able to.

500 years ago, the accepted facts were that the earth was the center of the universe and all the heavens moved around this flat space we live on. The known facts today tell us something completely different. Facts are generally accepted without question, although every so often there are people who choose to shatter these facts.

Even in the last 100 years many accepted "facts" have been debunked. The concept of a human running a mile in less than 4 minutes, an atom being the smallest possible measure, the possibility of space flight, supersonic flight, cures for all kinds of illnesses previously deemed uncurable. These facts have changed our way of life and made us less aware of the Truths surrounding us.

Truth is immovable. It never changes. Popular opinion and understanding changes facts daily, but Truth is unchangeable.

Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”(John 14: 6,7)

Jesus not only spoke the truth, He is the physical embodiment of the Truth. Everything He said and did was an embodiment of Truth, from healing all those who came to Him and asked in Faith to driving the money changers out of the Temple. Never once did He say "come back later" or put sickness onto someone in order to teach them something.

He never took anything from someone without them receiving a Blessing in return far greater than that they had offered.

Facts were never a big part of Jesus' teachings. Satan used facts to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus overcame these temptations with Truths.

Today we are quick to look for the facts. But facts can be misleading. It is a fact that there is more skin cancer now than at any other time in recorded history. It is also a fact that there is a hole in the ozone layer. It is also a fact that more sunscreen lotion is sold now than ever has been sold. The facts are suggestive that the hole in the ozone layer may cause skin cancer. But the same facts can suggest, if you choose to interpret them that way, that sunblock may cause skin cancer.

Now I'm NOT a scientist, and I don't know the details of how sunscreen works or understand the workings of UV rays. But I do know that my own dad used sunblock, a vest, a t-shirt and a tracksuit on the beach and still got skin cancer. I also know many many people who use sunscreen and don't develop cancer. Those facts suggest wearing too many clothes on the beach may be a cause of cancer.

We are quick to accept facts, but slow to accept the Truths we see.

Jesus heals. I've watched legs grow, have been healed of some physical ailments and met 3 people who have been raised from the dead. Truth is unmoveable. It is irrefutable. Facts are refuted and adjusted all the time. If we look for Truth, we must look in the Word of God. Jesus' life and teachings, not just the current popular interpretation of them.

I heard of a church leader who refused to allow a song containing the line "here with the power to heal now" to be sung in his church because it may raise people's hopes unrealistically when we know the fact is that healing just doesn't happen.

Truth trumps fact. Every time. God heals. God prospers. God loves unconditionally.

If our body has symptoms, those symptoms are facts. Jesus heals.

Fact: I take medication for diabetes. Truth: By His stripes I have been healed.

I used to take medication for Gout. By His stripes I am healed.

Just something to think on...

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Image vs. Character

We have no idea what Jesus looked like. No clue if He was tall or short, muscular or chubby. Did he have acne as a boy?

The disciples we allot physical types to. Peter, the Rock, was a fisherman. Muscular, ruddy complexion and imposing physical size. Levi, Tax collector. Less impressive, perhaps he looked like Danny DeVito.

But we have no descriptions. David was described as "ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features" (1 Samuel 16:12), and we know Moses didn't think much of himself, but we couldn't pick them out in a line up.

I think there's a wisdom in that that is overlooked. The disciples who walked with Jesus didn't recognise him cooking breakfast on the shore after the resurrection. They saw initially with their physical eyes, rather than their Spiritual eyes.

I knew a man many years ago who was a farmer up on the wild moorland in Devon. He spoke little and listened a great deal. His appearance was one that would have caused many to pass him by and pay no attention, but there was something in his gait that spoke more strongly than words. He had a presence about him from spending many hours alone in the wilderness on the moors with just his Bible for company. Eric was a man who spoke with authority because he knew his God.

Image meant nothing to Mark. He was born blind, and was offered prayer in his 20's by a man who had seen blind eyes created seeing in the past through the power of God. He refused because he didn't want his experience of God to be watered down by sight!

There are many more examples of men and women who have joyfully sought to rid themselves of any kind of image in order to find the Truth.

In the current climate Image is everything. Here in South Africa, Julius Malema - Leader of the ANC Youth League - regularly speaks out about anything and everything so he can change feet. Jacob Zuma, National President, said at a recent rally that a vote for the ANC means you go to heaven. The image that portrays is truly terrifyng!

Young men in particular are falling victim to the image-mongers. Cars, suits, hairstyle, skin condition, sunglasses are all essentials to say "I am a success". Young women are bombarded with images on magazines like never before of "perfect" celebrities - but not told the details of the airbrushing that took them there. A few years ago I worked in Torquay, Devon, when some actors and actresses appearing in the local theater came into my place of work to relax. I stood and chatted to them for a while, then helped them get set up and enjoy their evening, totally unaware of who I was talking to, because out of make-up and costume they were just men and women like you and me. It turned out that when one of these men had been on TV, I'd been an avid fan and not missed an episode, but I couldn't connect the real man with the character he'd portrayed - and rightly so!

Any magazine stand will scream the latest gossip from the covers about Charlie Sheen's antics or Britney's new hair or some other individual who we'll have forgotten by next week existed as if the future of the human race depended on it. It's all image.

George Burns made a series of movies in his later years in which he played both God and Satan. The Satan character had the flashy cars, suave suits, fawning women and money very obviously in his hand. The God character had a more "everyman" look to him. Grey jacket, loafers, flat cap and understated. Obviously, the characters were initially drawn to the flashy guy in the red suit, but as the movies progressed they found the image was hollow and the gentle guy in grey who was quietly waiting for them and offering advice ended up being the way they found they had to go to have peace.

In his song "Hollywood", Michael Buble sings "Remember when you're rich that you sold yourself for this - You'll be famous coz you're dead" It's a great line, but how it gets lost in society.

Image is not improtant if you mean how others see you. What is important is Character, the person we are when nobody's around to pat our back and say well done. That's the image we should develop. It comes through every time.

For what we are in our most private moments is who we are. I'm a quiet guy with a bad temper that thankfully is mellowing with age, who longs to be a dad, a leader, a writer, a singer, but mostly a Husband and a Lover of God. I don't care if people notice and ignore or notice and praise or even attack me for my beliefs and the way I live. I have chosen to develop my character. Granted it's a work in progress, but I'm on the road at least.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Heart Surgery

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." (Proverbs 4:23 NIV 1984)

I never really thought about this passage in great detail until today. The "wellspring of life" is an interesting way of putting it.

I see a psychologist every couple of weeks. Unlike some of my favourite people I see nothing inherently problematic with this - as long as a correct perspective is kept on the whole activity. I have tremendous respect for her, and I understand myself better as a result of our sessions. I have, over the years, kept counsel with many people in a similar role in my life. I have opened my heart and shared the deepest recesses of my mind in an effort to better understand my motives and actions.

In truth, my current counselling leaves me feeling lifted and supported just as much as any of the Christian counselling I've had. My heart feels protected, and on an emotional level I feel strong.

Now I'm not advocating the path of psychology for every issue that arises. There are certain things we need to feel rotten about so we can move out of that area of sin. The issue is that once we have moved out of the area we must as a matter of urgency stop beating ourselves up about it.

I had a friend who used to go to AA meetings but stopped because he found a single issue with them. He still doesn't use, and he is sober now for several years. He had a problem with every time he introduced himself having to say "My name is X, and I'm an addict." His issue was that after he'd been in the program for several months and fallen flat on his face many times he had received prayer and the addiction had been taken from him. He simply no longer desired the alcohol he'd desperately needed just a day before.

Now don't misunderstand me. AA is an important organisation, one I advise people to go to when I'm asked for advice. I just know my friend found the declaration broke down his heart.

Our physical hearts are fragile - ask any doctor. Our Spiritual heart is even more fragile than the physical one though. It can be bruised, pierced and broken in a far more deadly way than the physical one can - and if it hardens we can get to the point where we don't even realise it. That's where counselling comes in.

The people who know me best know I had a lot of loss in my youth. But the pain I carried hardened my heart in ways far beyond what I had experienced.

My brother died in a road accident when I was almost 13 and he was almost 10. It was a life-changing experience, but the power it held over me for many, many years was disproportional. I used it as an excuse to not develop close friendships at school. The school I went to was an all-male environment, and to say I didn't fit in was an understatement. I wasn't an athlete, I was a dancer. I wasn't highly academically inclined (for the school), rather I was a musician - and I didn't even reach the full potential I could have done in that because I didn't bother to practice as much as I ought to.

I left school at 18 feeling like I was a worthless failure, then set out to prove the theory. I got a rude awakening in my first job - as a classroom assistant - where I got affirmation daily about my skills and knowledge. I left home and moved to Devon, where I would live for the next ten years, and received more affirmation that I was actually a capable, caring, witty and intelligent person who was worth being around.

I really struggled with that because I didn't have that image of myself - but it was what I wanted me to be.

Now I'm nearly 40, I've finally completed a business degree - which I studied for part-time whilst running a medical practice - and I find myself advising younger men to guard their hearts from worthless advice given by older individuals who actually have no maturity. They stopped their hearts from maturing by locking them away and although its been 30 years since they were saved they have never moved beyond that initial level!

Now I'm not saying I've arrived. There are many areas of my life where I need to unlock my heart and allow it to grow and mature - hence the visits to a counsellor - but I've at least understood this and I want to move.

Movement is painful though. It involves having a heart replacement - stone for flesh. I'm comfortable with my stone heart in places. It's familiar. I dislike change in a major way - so do most men. But change is essential if we are to grow close to God. We must not stay where we are, but we cannot change our own heart, any more than a surgeon - no matter how skilful - can perform his own heart transplant.

Jesus offers us a new heart, one piece at a time. My Grandad was 80 when he went Home to be with God, and he was still learning after over 60 years as a Christian - most of those as a minister.

Heart surgery. We all need it.