Monday, 21 September 2015

Following God's Lead

I have a passion for writing and speaking God's Word, and although there have been opportunities to share my faith on this site and others, and He has opened doors to me to talk to individuals about my Faith and relationship with Jesus, but I find myself unsatisfied with where I am. Like when you're driving and you know you missed your turn and you can't turn around for who knows how long without getting even further off course. That's how it feels for me.

Both my wife and I have health issues which would be if not resolved completely, would be easier to manage in a First-World economic environment with First-World healthcare available. For example, in January my medical insurance company chose profits over patient care and I had to change medication for diabetes management because the medication I was using - and had been controlling my glucose levels perfectly - is too expensive. In England, my home country and a place we may consider moving back to, patient care comes first, not profits - although cost is an issue as it is a Government paid service. I am thankful that after six months of adverse reaction to the medication that replaced the original I have been able to revert - because the price came down.

And that is but one of many examples.

Some days I find it hard to believe I am in the right place.

Yes, I have been open to being used by God, as His instrument and voice, but how much more could have been done had I listened to the voice saying "This is the way" a year ago?

We had the opportunity to move to England in March 2014 but it would have meant major changes in style and size of home. We chose creature comforts over instinct. Not a wise move. I did something similar 20 years ago and it took me another 18 years to start writing - something I knew I was called to do from a teenager.

Right place and right time, or the concept that I am automatically where God wants me to be is a popular misconception. It creates complacency. God uses us where we are, and He can use us effectively if we are open to it, but He has a plan for our lives. The problem is that our ideas may not line up with His plan if we don't take them to Him.
"There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death." [Proverbs 16:25 NKJV]
Imagine when it was going well for Paul in Ephesus that he had said "I'm comfortable here. It must be where God wants me." He could have chosen to stay there making tents and we'd have lost most of the New Testament.

Consider that the Holy Spirit had a direct hand in allowing persecution of the disciples as they became comfortable in Jerusalem, forcing them to move abroad and reach the World with Jesus's message - the Great Commission.

Often what God calls us to is uncomfortable. It is difficult and challenging so our Faith can be developed. Without challenges ministers like Billy Graham, Jesse Duplantis, Dave Duell, Andrew Wommack and many others would never have reached the millions they have reached through their ministries, travelling evangelical and church-support conferences and the other events where lives have been changed. Preachers of the past and Godly men like Wilberforce, the Wesleys, Luther and Whitefield could have succumbed to outside pressure in favour of comfort.

Change is uncomfortable. Growth hurts. When a seed falls to the ground it must die before it can grow. The caterpillar must cease to exist for the butterfly to emerge. So it is with us. We strive to stay in our cocoons when God wants us to be a rainbow of colours with wings to carry us that He longs to provide.

So yes, some people are where they are meant to be. Bruce Wilkinson wrote a wonderful book called "The Dream Giver" some time ago. It is the story of Ordinary, a man living in the Land of Familiar, who has a dream to move away and follow the dream. He battles with giants and seemingly well-meaning friends and family to reach his dream and after much struggle he finds he is able to reach the city he's dreamed of with a message of hope for them.

In the sequel book, "The Dream Giver for Couples", Ordinary marries and he and his wife must travel together to reach a shared dream. Again they fight battles with giants and times in wastelands where it seems they have lost their way, but by trusting the Dream Giver they reach their new destination to follow their shared dream.

So before you get comfortable - too comfortable - where you are, ask yourself: "Am I where I should be? Lord, Am I where YOU want me to be and in the centre of YOUR will?" If the answer is "Yes" to all three questions, Go with God.

If the answer is "No", find out where and what your purpose is through prayer, meditation and sharing your vision with people you trust in the Faith.

The Old Testament history books are a guide for us. We don't have to learn by hard knocks all the time. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land they captured city after city, each one in a different way. Jericho was defeated by the sound of a trumpet. Jericho was a city terrified of the Israelites, and the only city God commanded the people take no spoils from. Achan and his family did, and as a result the Israelites were defeated by a smaller army at the city of Ai when they reached it. After the sin was dealt with, Joshua sent an army to the city again under God's instruction. The battle was won and the city taken. In Joshua 9, the next cities deceive Israel by negotiating a treaty which the leaders did not take before God before swearing it. As a result the cities were left intact and ungodly influences that would eventually lead Israel into the worship of false gods were allowed to remain in the Promised Land.

Forwards in time, King David took each plan of war campaign before God and waited for His reply before he sent the warriors in. What happened was not the same twice.

Jesus healed more than one blind man in His ministry, but He used different ways to do it.

Don't make my mistake and let apparent comfort hold you back from God's Will for your life. Take your plans to God in prayer and wait. Wait as long as it takes before you act to be certain that you've heard His plans for you. His plan is one for the best for us (see Jeremiah 29) to keep us with hope for the future. Paul writes that Faith, Hope and Love are eternal, and the writer of Hebrews 11 reminds us that faith is the substance of what we hope for.

Get out there and Follow His lead.

You'll never regret it if you do.

The Affair Phenomenon

There's been a lot of press recently about the leaked members list of the Ashley Madison website. Frankly any site with the tagline "Life is short: have an affair" should be something people who claim Christ dwells in them should run from as fast as possible, but at the end of the day we're all human as well as Christian.

I've been married for 12 years next week. I'm 43 now and I'd be lying to myself if I said I'd never in those 12 years looked at another woman and thought she was attractive. I doubt any honest man could do that. It's the way our brains are wired. Even those of us with conditions like ADD, depression and bipolar mood disorder would agree that men in particular are hardwired to find attraction in the female form.

I know there are men my wife finds attractive as well. Neither of us is threatened by this in our marriage as we are completely committed to one another.

But what exactly constitutes an "affair"?

My closest friend is a younger woman. We have a lot in common spiritually and have had many conversations about our shared Faith and interests. She knows me intellectually and probably emotionally as well as my wife does. Our friendship has been a support for both of us through difficult times and a joy for both of us in good. Spiritually we have a closer understanding of the Bible than I have with my wife. Emotionally I feel a connection with her I don't have with anyone else - but it's not romantic.

The problem is how others perceive the friendship. I don't make friends easily due to my past still haunting me. With this person however things were very different. A few years ago before I was married I would probably have been nervous to strike a conversation with her. I never imagined when we met that a friendship so strong and supportive would come from it. After God stepped in and the friendship encountered what I can only call a baptism of fire we became very close friends and have been in a position to counsel and support each other as a result.

I was accused several times of cheating on my wife with her emotionally by colleagues. I've had close female friends before and so was able to deal with the comments easily, but it would be foolish to assume the possibility for an inappropriate level of emotional intimacy could have developed. I think both of us recognised that and as a result it simply didn't happen. I came very quickly to see her as a sister I could depend on and tried to be a brother to her.

But where does the line fall?

I think the Ashley Madison site is repugnant. Life is a precious thing - and unlike the site's tagline states - and it goes a long time after we leave this world behind. Marriage is under enough strain without this kind of attack being flaunted. Apparently reports of several hundred church leaders being active members have surfaced. Their behaviour too is repulsive. To disrespect your spouse in private is one thing, but this is so far beyond that. To put some perspective on the site from God's side, let's consider Joseph's encounter with Potiphar's wife:
"[Potiphar] is not greater in this house than I am; nor has he kept anything from me except you, for you are his wife. How then can I do this great evil and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9)
How can I sin against God? Joseph's question when offered adulterous sexual relations with his owner's wife. Not "How can I do that to Potiphar?" Joseph's rebuffing of her makes it clear against whom the offense is.

It's an offense against God.

This one passage among hundreds in the Bible underscores the need to recognise sin when we see it for what it is. True a physical encounter with another person may give some pleasure for a time. But God gives us a conscience and it is set off by that kind of behaviour.

When I was accused of having an affair it wasn't by my wife but by colleagues. If anything was said to her she didn't share it with me that I recall. To both of us - as far as I know - the concept was moot. I was married and committed to that relationship. We both knew that and although my wife and my friend never personally met (yet) there have never been any secrets between the three of us and all of us have had telephonic contact independent of each other.

Ashley Madison is different. It is set up explicitly to destroy lives through extramarital relationships. These sites have been around for years, it's no secret. But this one in particular got caught. And marriages have disintegrated, trusts have been destroyed, churches have been left without shepherds.

All because of a few clicks on a website.

What next?

We need to look at what an affair is. Did I have an emotional affair with my friend? Was I emotionally unfaithful to my wife by turning to another woman for support at a time of crisis in my life?

I don't believe so because I was totally honest with my wife about the friendship from day one. I made no attempt to hide anything from her about my feelings for my friend. I'll be brutally honest: I love her dearly. But I love her the way I would love my sister.

It's a choice.

Contrary to what the world would have us believe we are not slaves to our hormones. We have a choice. Even my dogs are faithful to each other. I'm better than a dog.

So are you.

The affair starts in the imagination we develop. Before I was married I was in love with a woman I'd known for years and had a very close friendship with. She came to stay with me several times - separate rooms I stress - and I with her. I had to fight my emotions every day I had contact with her.

For me, THAT was an emotional affair. I loved her deeply, and not as a sister. I told her my feelings and she never told me if she reciprocated, but the friendship got much deeper and closer afterwards.

In different circumstances things could have turned out very differently. I feel I must add that we were both single, but we lived a long way (in British terms) from one another. I spent a long time imagining what it would be like to be involved with her. And not just physically. It was an affair of the heart.

What Ashley Madison does is it attributes those lustful feelings as being positive and something to be explicitly sought out in every sense of the word.

The existence of a dating site is not in itself damning. I met my wife through one - we were both single. But a site specifically designed to promote adultery is a completely different animal. To become a member you have to be in a relationship as I understand it from what I've read. The implications are damning.
"Shun immorality and all sexual looseness [flee from impurity in thought, word, or deed]. Any other sin which a man commits is one outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you, Whom you have received [as a Gift] from God? You are not your own, You were bought with a price [purchased with a preciousness and paid for, made His own]. So then, honor God and bring glory to Him in your body." (1 Corinthians 6: 18-20)
Jesus said if we even looked lustfully at another woman or man we were guilty of adultery in our hearts.

Folks, we're all in deep trouble.

All of us fall short of God's standard.

But that's the point. We all fall short. We can't keep the Law. That's the point of Jesus.

We need to take this time to reach out to those hurt by this adulterous website, both it's members and their families, and extend love to them, not condemnation.

If we use God's standard as laid out by Jesus we're all guilty of an affair.

Let's lose the hypocrisy the World is so quick to point out to us and rally as a Family should. Support the hurting, yes we should discipline the offenders, but we should do it from a place of love.

God's kind of Love.

So what is an affair?

You decide - based on your own actions and conscience. Mine tells me I may not have joined Ashley Madison, but God can still lay that charge of adultery against me for thoughts I've pondered on through my life.

None of us is perfect. Get used to it.

Forgive. Love. Support each other.

Get over it.

A year from now most people even in the World will not remember Ashley Madison.

Let's make sure they don't forget the Cross as well.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

The Power of a Covenant

"For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the Living God?"      1 Samuel 17:26
The shepherd boy, fresh from the field hears the taunt of the giant. The giant who the entire army of Israel is afraid of. His chain-mail alone weighed 5000 shekels - about 125lb. I weigh about double that, and the thought of even trying to walk, never mind do battle in that kind of weight makes me need to rest.

Goliath is a huge man. Six cubits and a span - around 9' 4" tall. I'm 6' tall. Half as tall again as me, plus four inches.

David is a youth. Nothing more than a young farm-hand, tending the sheep in the fields. It's doubtful he's more than 5' 5" tall as he's still basically adolescent - if he weren't he'd already be in Saul's army with his brothers.

For forty days, twice a day, Goliath has been issuing his challenge. And for forty days the Israelites have been silent. They see as the spies who first went into the land with Joshua and Caleb did. They are small in their own eyes.

David sees him how Joshua and Caleb saw the giants. Just another notch in the Covenant-holder's belt.

David's own brothers doubt him. But David is a man with a Covenant, and he knows what that Covenant means.

The challenge is accepted. Casting aside the sword and armour Saul tries to give him, David picks up a few smooth stones, his sling and his staff and walks out to meet the derisory Philistine. Goliath is insulted and sneers as David takes his stand. David's response to the jeering of the giant is simple:
"You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied." 1 Samuel 17:45
Goliath rises slowly and makes his way to the field of battle. David runs to the field. He arms his sling and releases. Goliath falls and David takes the giant's own sword and beheads him.

It's a familiar story told in Sunday-schools all over the world. It was taught to me when I was so young I don't remember the first time. But it's only recently re-reading it with a more mature mind that the point of the story sinks in.

David, on paper, didn't stand a chance. Goliath has been a warrior longer than David has lived. But David knows his God. He knows the promise of his God, and most importantly he knows this Philistine is facing his God, not him.

We find ourselves in the situation of David from time to time in our lives. We all face giants. Poor health, loss of income or home. Hunger. The giants taunt us daily. Every time we enter a borrowed room to sleep. Every time we take the medication the doctor says we need. Every mealtime we have nothing to give our family. The giant rattles his armour and declares war.

Too often we behave as the Israelite army does. We stand back and let fear take our hearts.

But we see in the movies a glimpse of the Truth of the covenant. Think of Aragorn's speech in "The Return of the King" as the last army of Middle-Earth faces the army of Mordor, outnumbered and surrounded. Think of Theoden's rally cry to the Rohirrim earlier in the movie to urge them to battle.

And we have David as an example. The best example as this is not fiction, this is Biblical. This is the Covenant our God has made with us. He will not desert us. He walks every step alongside us. He fights our every battle through us.

And that's the point. Through us.

We sit and wait for God to solve our problems for us. But that's not the promise.
"Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do super-abundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]— To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen (so be it)."                                                                                                                                            Ephesians 3:21-22 Amplified
We stop too soon when we read this passage - if we read it at all. Most people read " Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (NKJV) and stop there. The important part, the Covenant, gets missed. Of course God can do more than we can ask or think. He's God. But He works through us. Any work He does is tempered by our actions - or lack thereof.

The Covenant stood to prevent the Philistine destroying the Israelites in single combat, but it took a young shepherd who had faced lions and bears to see that this un-covenanted fool was no different than the beasts he killed on a daily basis to protect his sheep.

The Covenant we have with God is the name of Jesus - even more potent than the Old Covenant David had. But just as it took David to pick up his sling and face the giant, we must pick up our weapon and face our giant. Your weapon may be your voice, your training, your experience. It could be your past. Whatever it is, ask God to guide your hand and go and face down the giant before you. 

Let His power work through you the way David let God's power work through him to destroy the Philistines.

Anyone reading this could be the next William Wilberforce. John Wesley. Billy Graham.

Why not let it be you?

The Covenant of the Blood of Jesus stands beckoning.

Why wait?

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Faith like Parsley

One of my favourite worship songs a few years ago was “More than Oxygen”. I loved the idea that we need God’s presence in our lives so much. We can’t survive as humans for more than around 3 minutes without drawing breath, and God’s presence is so much more essential than that for us.
I recently went to a burger restaurant here in Cape Town, and was served the burger without the normal sprig of parsley sat on top of it. I didn’t even notice until the waiter apologised and offered to “refresh” the plate.

Since my normal use for the garnish is to dump it on the side of the plate anyway I told him not to bother, but in the last couple of days it’s had me thinking about God and His place in my life, and the lives of Christians in general.

Many who profess the Faith are genuinely aware of God’s presence the majority of the time. But it started me thinking about times in my life when God’s presence – or even his absence – has been like the parsley on my burger – something I hadn’t noticed. It scared me, and I don’t scare easily.

I’ve been in a situation for the last four years where on a daily basis if God didn’t come through for me I would literally lose everything. My wife has a life-threatening illness – currently in remission, but could return any time – our finances are a mess as she was the principle earner in the family. We’ve moved in with my mother and had to sell our home to reduce our financial outgoings, our medical insurance has only gotten more expensive, and more than half the life-saving medications we need are not covered by the insurance itself, leaving us with crippling costs each month.

And it’s been going on for four years now. A daily struggle where we have been forced to rely on God. And He’s never once let us down. Sometimes if it wasn’t for the last minute we’d not have received it, but the fact, no – the Truth – is that when God promised He would meet all our needs in Philippians through the writing of St Paul, He meant it. My God provides my needs.

Parsley is not a need. It’s a garnish, and it’s not noticed if it’s missing most of the time.

We – especially I – need to remember that God is not an “optional extra” on the sideline of my life. He needs to be the central character. It needs to be Him that I revolve my life around. God’s not the parsley, He’s the patty. Without Him, there’s simply no burger. There’s no life, no hope and no future.
In the last fifteen years He’s saved me from accidental death on motorcycles and prevented suicide attempts when I put him into the position of parsley in my life. He’s been faithful to me when I abandoned Him.

I read somewhere that the story of the Prodigal Son should really be regarded as the Story of the Father’s Heart. The son may spend his life with the pigs and repent, trudging home to beg to be made as a hired hand, but the Father has been watching the road waiting for the son’s return since he left, never abandoning hope that he would return and remember his place in the family. God’s heart for us is revealed in the story, for just as He should not be parsley to us, the story shows we are not parsley to Him. He seeks us out, waits for our return and greets us with full restoration so His family can be complete once more. This is no parsley welcome. There may have been parsley on the fatted calf, but the point of the meal was the beef, not the garnish.

How does it affect us on a daily basis though?

Brother Lawrence wrote about practicing God’s presence, and although I’ve only read a few passages, they struck me with the simplicity of the way we make God central. Make Him the centre of stirring the soup. Make Him the centre of mowing the lawn, of washing the car, of cleaning the dishes or doing the laundry. Make every action we do consciously an act of service to Christ.

My brother-in-law is a professional musician. He plays the bass trombone brilliantly, but he practices his scales every day. I was an amateur musician. I played double bass and a bit of guitar, but I never practiced my scales. I didn’t see the point. They were tedious and boring. Then I got into the exams and the first thing the examiner wanted to hear was not the pieces, but the scales. It’s a miracle I ever passed an exam. Lucien, the trombonist, plays every day, every scale. He has work regularly. I sold my bass because I never used it any more. There’s a huge difference between a professional and an amateur. The professional recognises the importance of the foundation that the scales provide. As an amateur I saw them as parsley. Optional. Scales were something to be avoided so I could get on and play the “real” music.

When I sold my bass, the guy who bought it played it for a few minutes to get a feel for it. He played scales. They were the sweetest sound I’d ever heard that instrument make, then he went from scales into free jazz and suddenly I got it. What I’d thought was parsley was the meat.

And I have done the same with God in the past. When everything was running smoothly I didn’t do much more than lip-service to God and His presence in my life. I didn’t realise the training opportunity the time of rest gave me to strengthen my faith for the onslaught to come.

Right now I am battling a badly infected wound on my foot which could – had it been left just a day or two longer – have cost me at least two toes or even the whole foot if left much longer than that. The infection had entered my blood and that kind of blood-poisoning can be fatal. Diabetes affects my body. I do not lay a claim to it or refer to it as “mine” as I believe it is an affliction, not something to embrace, but to fight. So I fight. Every day I fight. But I miss things and I miss the sensation in my toes that would have told me this problem was there. Instead I have ulcers the size of a quarter on my feet and nee to find suitable footwear to allow the wound to dry and heal. So I turn to doctors for guidance, and Christ for healing. I see no conflict here. My faith to see instant healing is not developed for myself, although I do sometimes see it for others (something I don’t understand).

I don’t sleep well, but that gives me time to write and pray. I figure if the enemy wants to deprive me of sleep I’ll use it to strengthen my relationship with my Saviour. Eventually he’ll realise it’s better to let me rest as God provides me with the strength for the day.

When my wife and I were opening a business recently our funding evaporated overnight and we were facing having to cancel the plan. God opened doors in the most unexpected places which allowed us to move forward with the plans easily. The business plan is amended to include the details of our new investors, and the banks are now prepared to seriously consider loans for the shortfall. I have meetings set up this week to see what we can raise through these “traditional” organisations now we have concrete investors sent by God to back us.

Meat, not parsley in this life.

What I had treated as a garnish for so long, even while leaning on Him for the major survival stuff, was that for a long-term future I HAD to trust Him for that as well as our daily needs. Like David’s plans before the Lord where he petitions about battle strategies, so I have to humble myself before God and look to His guidance to show us where to look for investors. They have been unexpected and amazingly generous in their faithfulness to us. Some are known to us to be Christian, others not.

But it is written that “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, But the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22 NKJV), and it seems we are now beginning to receive that wealth coming through to us to allow us to have a business to put our hand to so God can Bless it, the fruit of our hands labour. It is written that we have been given the power to create wealth “If you start thinking to yourselves, “I did all this. And all by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!”—well, think again. Remember that God, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth so as to confirm the covenant that he promised to your ancestors—as it is today.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18 – The Message) A timely reminder to some couple on the brink of what appears to be a breakthrough that the breakthrough comes not from parsley God, but by substance, that the parsley is chaff in the wind and nobody notices if it’s not there. I never saw a single person send their order back because the parsley was missing. The burger, yes. But not a sprig of irrelevant leaves.

Keeping God central is a conscious thing to do. We have so many things to distract us. I made a conscious effort to cut out listening to all news bulletins and reading newspapers. All they report is the bad news and the occasional cat stuck up a tree. I rather read and listen to things that will uplift me. Music, books and even some DVD series which can help me find God in what may seem unusual places, but there He is, every time, waiting for me with a new spin on an old story. I never simply watch for the sake of watching. There’s always the thought “what are You wanting me to get from this?” in the back of my mind whether its science-fiction and fantasy, adaptations of Tolkein and CS Lewis or simply quietly reading Max Lucado, John Eldredge or the Narnia stories again. I try to read as though I’ve never read it before, and read with the mind of a child to allow the deepest truth to sink in.

There are horrors in this world. Things we cannot understand with our feeble minds such as the events of 9/11, and we have eternity to figure it out and forgive it. But we need to remember what the main ingredient in our sustenance is spiritually.

Parsley doesn’t nourish us. In the context of a good quality burger you don’t even notice its presence or absence. More so with a steak dinner.

The leaves stuck on the side of the plate. The “garnish” makes it pretty, but it lends no weight to the meal.

We need to stop putting God into the position of garnish and our own selfish pride and ambition as the meat. That path can lead only to utter desolation and ultimate destruction.

Sentiment is parsley. It distracts us from doing what needs to be done. Heirlooms which in days gone by may have been passed from generation to generation now gather dust and tarnish. The meat it could produce could produce a legacy for our children’s children that is spoken of in Proverbs 13:22 “A good man leaves an inheritance [of moral stability and goodness] to his children’s children, and the wealth of the sinner [finds its way eventually] into the hands of the righteous, for whom it was laid up” (Amplified), again promising the wealth of the sinner falling to the righteous, but beginning with a moral stability foundation to build it on.

So when I can’t sleep I get up and write. I have a quiet time and I throw away the parsley and sink my teeth into the juicy meat of God’s word – washing it down with Spiritual Milk to make it easier to absorb.

But the parsley of this world needs to be discarded. It detracts and distracts from the point of the meal. It draws us away from the passions that first drew us to God. His heart for His Family. His Love for us, boundless and unfettered lavished upon us. Not an easy situation, but one we must make a deliberate effort to do. Jesus is the Centre of our life, and we need to fight to keep him there. His Love, Strength and Power through the Holy Spirit will be what gets us through the daily walk of the sinner and into the victorious march of the Victor. We were once Sinners saved by Grace, but now we are More than Conquerors through Christ, and we need to live as though we are. Confident and standing tall, fighting where we need to. A shepherd must tend the flock, but that involves fighting off wolves, bears and lions that would seek to shred it.

We are all pastors to a group. There are always a handful of people when you serve spiritual meat to. The need to know the meat from the parsley. But in order to show them, we must first recognise it ourselves. That can only come through a deeper relationship with our Creator and Saviour by means of the Holy Spirit guiding our every move – from where we walk, who we speak to and how we interact with people.

Driving will bring out the worst in most people. It does in me. I am an angry driver. It is a daily battle, made easier when I ride a motorbike as I’m not surrounded by armour. We need to learn to be exposed and vulnerable, because it’s only then that the Holy Spirit can work in us. Imagine trying to open a stone with a dripping tap. Use a hammer, it’s faster, but if you use tumbling to polish the stones, smooth pebbles from nothing but water come. Iron sharpens iron, and stone takes the edge off stone to produce things of great value and beauty.

When I get behind the wheel of a car, the horns and tail appear automatically, and I fight to control my temper. Just today a pedestrian stepped out in front of me and I had to fight the urge when he slapped the bonnet (hood to American readers) to not let my foot slip from the clutch. My wife, a true Blessing in situations like that, defused me with a single word: “Gun”. Meaning he probably has one, and I don’t. I didn’t lose the anger, that came later, but the need to retaliate was defused.

My wife struggles to accept she and I are good for each other. It doesn’t seem to matter what the circumstances recently, but historically we’ve been good together. Not always easy, good. Today was just another example. Meat, not garnish.

So don’t be a Parsley Believer. When I was, I was forgotten immediately by me, never mind the people I spoke to. Parsley is almost worthless. Don’t let that be the fate of your testimony.

By the blood of the Lamb and the Word of their Testimony promises Revelation that we will overcome the beast. Make no mistake, the beast is here.

He is called “Apathy”, and he feasts on Parsley testimonies.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Held to a Higher Standard

We are Christians. There is no higher call on a human life than that to accept Christ into our life and let the Holy Spirit renew us.

Some are called to preach, some found local churches. Some - like me - write. We all have a gift in us to use for God's Glory. Each of us is unique and each of us is essential.

I personally dislike big church congregations. I've attended a few and it was abundantly clear that many people were feeling the same thing I was - my presence won't be missed if I stop coming. In each case the same thing happened for me. I filled in a visitor's card every week for the first few weeks I was there. Only one church bothered to call me to ask if they could do anything or if I needed anything. I was invited to a homegroup at that church, introduced to the members and then left to my own thoughts. When I stopped going, no calls came. I wasn't missed. I wasn't necessary.

This may sound like a bitter rant, but nothing is further from the state of my heart. I was a member of several churches over a number of years, each with a weekly congregation averaging around 100-150 people. If someone was missing, everyone knew there was a face missing and calls and visits were made if nobody knew why. It was a community. Especially the younger people - of which I was one back then - shared what we had with each other. Meals, cars (and motorbikes) for lifts, homes for gatherings. We all knew what was happening with each other and we had accountability to one another.

It was well known that we were a Christian group in the town. And you could feel the expectations as you walked around. We were held to a higher standard than other young adults. It was assumed we were all celibate, didn't drink or smoke and never allowed foul language to cross our minds let alone our lips.

Now I'm in my 40's and I live several thousand miles from that community and have very little contact outside my own family where I am now. I'm under constant spiritual attack as I try after a break to get back into becoming a member of a local church with a solid Biblical foundation. Outside my immediate family my spiritual support is basically three people, the closest of whom geographically is a 16 hour drive away - if I take the short route.

I'm vulnerable in a way I've never been before as a Christian. I allowed myself to get drawn away by the cares of this world and get out of the habit of being in a real Fellowship. Fighting alone is exhausting. Isolation is crippling.

Yet still when I mention I'm a Christian, which comes up a lot in general conversation for some reason, I see immediately a change in behaviour of the people I'm talking to. I've had people put out cigarettes and stop drinking their alcoholic drinks round me. It shocks people when they see me in a bottle-store from time to time buying wine or cider. I've even been asked who I was buying it for more than once - and the looks I get when I say myself are priceless!

Much of the community outside the church in the neighbouring areas to my home here is ruled by alcoholism and drug abuse, heavy smoking and gang crime are commonplace. A dear friend of mine is often afraid to leave her home because the gangs are out. In just one week last month there were ten killings within 100 yards of her front door as rival gangs fight for turf to sell their filth. It always surprises her that I'm not scared to go and visit her and her daughter from time to time.

I drink, but I don't get drunk. One or possibly two drinks in a day at most, and never more than once a week. In fact this week I had my first real drink in over 2 years. I used to have the occasional cigar but haven't had one in over 12 years and was never a regular smoker.

It freaks out people if for some reason I've been target shooting and see them while I still have my pistol clipped to my belt. It's just an air-gun but I'm a marksman so I like to keep my eye in. I'd love to get back to rifle shooting again. There's an archery range just opened down the road from my home I'm considering joining.

For some reason the World thinks as Christians we should not enjoy these secular pastimes. I don't hunt for sport, but if I were offered the chance to go on a hunt to track and shoot game such as buck or warthog I'd probably accept as long as I could have the meat. I would never hunt "Big Game" for sport as the majority are endangered species and anyone who gets a kick out of hanging a lion's head on their wall is clearly missing something upstairs. The only way to hunt Big Game is with a guide and a camera.

People expect that of us as Christians. I used to be a biker, torn jeans, long hair, leather jacket and a Harley-Davidson. I got looks as I'm a big guy. At the time I was 6 feet tall and well over 200 pounds. I was also on the welcoming roster at my church. I helped run a Youth Alpha course which was attended by several kids who simply wanted to be seen with a biker. They got a shock when I turned out to be a Christian and not there to kill the Principal.

We are held to a higher standard than the World by the World. They expect us to be walking around with our hands folded and a bible hidden neatly under our baggy sweater or inside our tailored jacket so we can use it much like an undercover cop might pull his gun.

We should be held to a higher standard. But by ourselves.

I've heard preachers advise young people they shouldn't worry if they're sleeping with their girlfriend. The reasoning? Nothing St Paul wrote, simply "in today's society..."

We are conforming to the pattern of this world. We compromise a little chip here and a little chip there. Eventually there's nothing left of our conviction but empty rhetoric.

We need to be better than this World society. There's nothing new about the society we live in now, especially in America and England, that wasn't going on 2000 years ago in the Roman Empire. Now we call slaves "minimum wage earners". It's a politically correct way of saying it's ok for a young woman abandoned by her "husband" to fend for their children to have to work three jobs to pay the rent, school fees and food bill. I read an article today about a NYU student who has been a prostitute for over a year because her school fees were so high she couldn't pay them and rent and food. And in the interview she stated most of her co-workers were also from NYU or other nearby colleges.

I've been opposed to Christians being overly political until recently. I was reminded by the news that President Jimmy Carter has cancer but insisted on continuing to go and teach his sunday-school class that real Christians can achieve real change against the odds.

We live in a time where, as William Booth predicted, we have religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, Forgiveness without Repentance, Salvation without Regeneration, Politics without God and Heaven without Hell. He predicted it in 1903. 112 years later he must be turning in his grave as we have sat back and let it happen.

The World expects us to be better. They hold us to a higher standard and watch for us to fall so they can cry out that there's no God.

It's time we held ourselves to a higher standard too. The standard of the Cross.

Christianity needs Christ. For forgiveness there needs to be repentance. True salvation leads to regeneration and change in our lives. Our politicians desperately need a moral compass. Who better than Christians to provide it? And from His stories we know Jesus believed in a real place called Hell. It's time we remembered that not everyone goes to heaven automatically.

There are two songs I heard recently quoted. "Highway to Hell" and "Stairway to Heaven". The titles say it all. They speak of the expected traffic numbers.

Hold yourself to a higher standard, no matter how high your personal bar is right now, raise it. Push the boundaries of your Faith in God and let Him set the standard to aim for.

Be held to His Standards, not the World's

Faith under fire

I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.] John 16:33 (Amplified)
I'm not sure how I feel about the jailing of Kim Davis for refusing marriage licenses. When I'm not writing I work in a secular job - in fact I own the business. I manage a medical practice. My faith tells me that God is the one who says His own name is "I am the Lord who heals you" (Exodus 15:26). It tells me we are called to lay hands on the sick and they will recover and that the prayer of faith will make the sick person well. There is precedent in plenty of the authority to see healing in the name of Jesus in the Bible, and I've both witnessed it and received it several times in the last 30 years I've been a Christian.

But my business is a secular one. In the business I manage we have different religions represented among the practitioners and among the patients. As such we avoid putting up any religious symbols in common areas and by so doing we avoid offending others. We avoid talking religion in front of the patients - although my former PA and I enjoyed many conversations about our respective beliefs.

Ms Davis was jailed for standing up for her beliefs over man's laws. I'm not going to comment on the specifics as she stopped all licenses not only same-sex marriages. Each of us must make up our own mind about where we stand on that particular issue and face God about it on the day of Judgement. And we must remember in our thoughts that this woman's faith is personal - her conviction is personal. She does not speak for all Christians by any means.

Meanwhile a muslim flight attendant who refused to serve alcohol on a flight - something on long flights is a way to relax and enjoy the movie for many travellers - thereby increasing the workload of her colleagues and inconveniencing the passengers to the point of insulting them by her actions if not her words, has not been dismissed, merely suspended.

The "Planned Parenthood" program violates Federal law as I understand it, yet to my knowledge nobody has been arrested or convicted of that. So-called "sanctuary-cities" are also in violation of Federal laws - why are no mayors or town leaders even being sought for questioning? Even after violating a federal law with regard to classified information in private emails and admitting it, Hillary Clinton is still a presidential candidate, not under arrest.

Living in South Africa as I do, we have to rely on outside news sources for international news. In the twelve years I've been here this country has gone from a country to be proud of firstly under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, then under Thabo Mbeki, a man who, whilst not embodying the internal needs of the country spent his administration rebuilding South Africa in the eyes of the world's economic communities.

Now we have gone to Jacob Zuma, a president who was charged with rape before his election yet acquitted somehow, has publicly under oath stated that taking a shower can prevent HIV infection after sex, has squandered millions of dollars of taxpayers' money on renovations to his personal home and made nepotistic appointments in influential positions - including the news department of the national broadcaster - who will spin anything to get him in a more positive light.

He allegedly personally had knowledge of, if not actually arranged for, the escape instead of arrest of a man wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity.

But what does this have to do with Christianity?

Simple: Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, is apparently a leader of some kind in his local church. Many of the people who put together the law-defying programs in the USA are churchgoers.

It all paints Christians - the real ones, not just the nominal ones - in a very poor light.

We are a Faith at War. The god of this world is not Jesus Christ, it's Satan. Jesus has overcome him, but there's still a battle to be fought. Just as after D-Day in 1944 there were many battles between the Allies and the Nazis before the war ended, our D-Day - the Cross - merely signalled the beginning of the end. Just as the Germans knew full well the war was lost when the Allies took Normandy, Satan knows his time is limited. The orders given by the German high command at that point were beyond barbaric. Orders for the immediate execution of all survivors in concentration camps. Destroy all art collections and eliminate as much as possible of pre-Nazi historical development.

There can be little doubt given the way ISIS is spreading like a plague across the middle-East that their campaign, whilst a smaller scale for now than Hitler's, has the same agenda: eliminate anything that contradicts their dogma and fanaticism.

Christianity is under fire in a way not seen in almost 2000 years. Christian persecution by ISIS includes torture and murder. In the West we see jobs being denied and jail sentences imposed where no actual law was broken simply for standing up for a heart-felt belief in their understanding of Christianity.

There is a war going on. We have to acknowledge it. For a hundred years or more since the last major revivals in Wales, Scotland and America at the end of the 19th Century we have been a complacent people. We stood as nations against tyranny where it suited our nations to do so, but allowed our Faith to be whittled away little by little over the decades. The new religion of Atheism - and it's a religious movement, just look at how they conduct themselves and that's obvious - gains ground all the time. It convinces the World the devil doesn't exist, and without a devil there's no need for a God.

I say it again: as Christians we are at war. We live in a time where speaking out as a Christian will result in hard choices. We may lose friends, family, jobs, homes. We may lose our lives. Jesus told us it would happen. Believing in Him sets us on a path to war with those allied against us. The American and British Civil Wars have nothing on this fight we are embroiled in, simply because it's so subtle mostly or so far away from us geographically we disregard it.

Praying alone isn't enough. It's time for the Church to rise up and fight the way Christ did. Lay down our lives if necessary, whether figuratively or literally, to serve Him. By not trying to hold onto this life we save our Eternal Life.

It's time to remember our God is a Warrior.

It's time to be radical in our resistance to the pressures of this world.

Our Faith is under fire. We've been given a shield to defend us from the fire, but we also have a sword.

It's time to use it like it's never been used before.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

God Thinks We're Real

At Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival in 1991, the late Mike Yaconelli told a story to us in a seminar. I don't know if it's true or anecdotal but it stayed with me:

A little girl and her mother - who was in a bad mood - went into a diner for lunch. The waitress came over and took their order. Addressing the little girl she asked "what would you like?" The child replied "I want a hamburger". The mother interjected "She'll have meatloaf". The waitress said "what would you like with it?" The girl replied "I want french fries". The mother said - getting angrier - "she'll have vegetables". Finally the waitress asked "and what do you want to drink?" The girl said "I want a coke!" The mother said "she'll have milk!"

The waitress went into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with two trays of food. She pulled the lid off the little girl's food and there was a hamburger, chips and a coke.

Amazed the little girl turned to her mum and said "MOMMY!!! The waitress thinks I'm REAL!"

We often look at our life and think God treats us like the mother in the story. Ignoring our wants and desires and giving us something we find unpalatable.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4
 Many read this verse the wrong way. First we must delight in the Lord, whatever our circumstances. Consider Paul in prison who sang praises in his dungeon and refused to escape when the earthquake opened all the doors because of the consequences to the jailer. Once we delight in God, He places desires in our heart so we can ask for them and receive them. It sounds convoluted to us, but we still have a choice.

The attitude of the World is "the heart wants what the heart wants" and it uses it to justify affairs, embezzlement, lies, slandering political opponents (yes I do mean Donald Trump there), and a host of other "white" lies.

There's no such thing. Either it's the truth or it isn't. Better to stay silent and get before God to thrash out your feelings than speak and destroy families and friendships as a result. Sadly I speak from experience on this. I lost several very dear friends because I was too quick to speak and as a result spoke in anger not truth. My Old Nature took control and I deliberately said things to wound. As a result I lost friendships I valued more than I can say.

God sees us the way the waitress in the story saw the little girl. He listens to us, to the cries of our heart. Just as Daniel prayed and the angel was sent but delayed by a demonic power with the answer, so when we pray God answers immediately but we allow the enemy of our souls to distract and confuse us and ultimately lose hope, and with it faith. This in turn allows in the lie that God doesn't care about us.

We have to cling to hope with all our might in His strength.

We fell on financial difficulties some time ago and the only thing that has kept me going is the certainty of God's love for me, and that when Hebrews says that my faith is the substance of that which I hope for it gives me the strength to keep on hoping despite the circumstances and the accusations of the enemy seeking to destroy me.

Part of my testimony is that in 1999 I became depressed to the point of trying to take my own life several times. God pulled me through each time and what the doctors told me should have killed me several times over merely allowed me to sleep deeply. God protected me from myself and this blog, these articles as a direct result of His intervention in my life. He brought me through it my rekindling hope in my heart which seeded hope and resulted in a renewed faith in Him. My physical circumstances - my dad having died, fiancee leaving me, losing my job and being told I was diabetic - didn't change. What changed was the attitude of my heart.

And it happened because I realised that God cared about me. Enough to go to the cross.

Because He thought - and still thinks - I'm real.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The Unfaithful Faithful

OK, this week I was bombarded by emails regarding Ashley Madison. I don't spend much time reading newspapers or watching TV as quite frankly I find the news depressing.

This was different. It's rare for a news item to chase me as I generally subscribe to feeds from Christian sites. But as I say, this story is very different.

I'm a Generation X baby. I'm in my 40's now (yikes) and still remember the days before Facebook, Youtube and dating websites. My first computer was a BBC model B computer with 32k or RAM. My current cellphone has more power than that and it's obsolete. The internet changed how we do things forever.

I met my wife on a dating site, so understand I'm not against the reputable ones in principle. I was socially outgoing on the surface but very insecure underneath so our courtship was for several months regular email and instant messenger chats. We didn't even exchange pictures for three months and it didn't matter.

Ashley Madison is different.

Any site that starts with the tagline "Life is short: Have an affair" fails to hold any respect for human beings. My dogs show more fidelity than they suggest married couples should. It also fails to realise that actions have eternal consequences.

I've written about post-Christian society before, and spoken about it as well. The West in particular is not a Christian society. Laws originally crafted based on Biblical principles have long since been overturned or abolished and secular - and frankly unGodly - laws put in their place to legalise pretty much every sin listed in the Bible. Even murder is now condoned in many countries but the "politically correct" way of saying it is "assisted suicide" or "euthanasia".

Which reminds me - I must update my living will. I suggest you do the same.

In response to the emails and texts about the Ashley Madison situation I found myself drawn back into reading the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. I was reminded of a conference I went to in my late teens where the keynote speaker - Tony Campolo I think - was talking about sin and repentance. He said something that stuck with me and helped me get out of a bad situation (eventually). His comment was that the sin of the cities was not their sexual promiscuity, rather it was that their society no longer recognised that behaviour as sinful. It was simply how it was.

Fast forward three or four millennia to today and what's changed?

Basically we now have the covering of the Cross to shield us from God's wrath we can call on. So no need to build an Ark just yet.

There is a serious human tragedy in sites like this trash even existing. The assumption that it's impossible for a faithful, monogamous relationship to be fulfilling is a joke to the World. Which is to be expected. The World is, after all, the dominion of the Father of Lies.

God didn't include "no adultery" to limit us, but to free us to new depths of intimate relationship that we were created to have. Adam didn't have Eve on speed-dial so he could call her for a quickie. It says he knew her. The implication is far more than him being aware of her existence as a fellow inmate in Eden. They had a relationship of intimacy far beyond a lustful encounter, and sadly beyond what many couples achieve these days.

My wife told me this evening after 12 years of marriage that I was the first man who made her feel beautiful. I was lost for words - which doesn't happen often. We've had health and financial hardship for the last few years but that Love between us has become deeper and more intimate than ever before. And no, I'm talking intimacy not sex here.

Ashley Madison sells a counterfeit product. It's a spiritual ponzi scheme. Eventually it will bring your world crashing down around you. It cheapens marriage. It blatantly lies about the nature of life. Life is not "short". Life is Eternal, unending. With sites like this around - and I realise it's not the only one - it sells the 21st Century problem as something to be chased. It makes sin sound desirable.

Like all the schemes of the enemy it builds on lies and half-truths to deceive the people it ensnares.
I'm sure the CEO thinks he's done a wonderful job creating something so popular. He's clearly a charismatic leader.

We would do well to remember Hitler was a charismatic leader. Lenin was popular. They were also the most repugnant embodiment of sinful behaviour of the last 100 years.

Sin - ALL sin - is driven by selfishness. Ashley Madison happens to focus on sex. A few years ago there was a financial scheme called PIPS which convinced many people of it's legitimate business structure. It ran with huge profits for about nine years before it collapsed and was exposed as a massive ponzi scheme. It was popular because it fed on people's greed for money. This site focuses on greed for carnality.

So where to now for those exposed?

Leaders need to step forward and admit their sin to their flock and resign, allowing Godly discipline to be placed on them. Families need to be loved, both the hurt and the wanderer.

It should also be remembered that actions don't happen in a vacuum. There is always, always a reason things happen. Affairs grow where there is something missing in a relationship - INTIMACY! Lust meets that need as a counterfeit that looks real enough.

We all need to be accountable to others. We need people we can turn to in times of crisis to get support and not judgement to prevent falling into traps like these sites.

There are steps for those exposed or who have fear they will be:
  1. Acknowledge your sin to yourself, your spouse and your church leader before someone else does
  2. Take action. Delete your account in their presence. Ask them to place a block on your computer preventing further access to the site that is password protected.
  3. Recognise that trust has been broken and allow mourning for what has transpired
  4. Press into Christ and begin the long road to forgiveness. Be aware that for some marriages this will be a wound that won't heal easily and for some not at all in terms of saving the marriage. Whether it leads to reconciliation as a couple or not, forgiveness is the only way forward. Forgive the person who signed up. Forgive yourself.
  5. Don't withdraw from fellowship. This is vital. The Body of Christ can help heal the broken-hearted in a way individuals cannot do for themselves. They keep us honest.
  6. Accept discipline with grace. Irrespective of your status in the church, submit to the discipline of the elders whether you are the pastor or the newest member.
  7. Finally and most importantly: DO NOT JUDGE THE SINNER. We are called to Love the way Christ did, not stone the adulterer. Remember the woman caught in adultery didn't get hit with a single rock. We've ALL sinned and fallen short of God's standard.
Forgiveness is a path, not a destination. It requires effort every day. I have formerly close members of my family I don't speak to because it's easier to forgive them if I'm not around them. We can't change others but we can ask God to help us renew our heart to be like Jesus every day.

Isn't that the point?