DISQUS

Monday, 30 March 2015

SHORT STOP IN JERICHO WITH A LITTLE MAN

SMORGASBORD number 1

Yesterday, in our church, I spoke from Luke chapters 19 and 20. Rather than an in-depth multi-pointed sermon - which I compared to three or five course "dinner" - we took a walk with Jesus through this scripture passage, as He journeys with a gathering entourage from Jericho to Jerusalem. And as we went we pulled out the 'nuggets' that Holy Spirit was emphasising - rather like a buffet, or as I described it, a "smorgasbord". 

'SMORGASBORD': This was the word I had woken up with a couple of days earlier - which I had dismissed as I thought it was a bit weird! However as I reflected, I realised how often God spreads out a table of varied and appetizing blessings for us. According to Wikipedia, "The Swedish word smörgåsbord consists of the words smörgås (open-faced sandwich) and bord (table)..." I like that. The buffet which the Father has prepared is 'open faced', not covered up! He is not a deceiver, as the serpent insinuated to Eve in Genesis chapter three. He is open, true, and trustworthy! And there is something in His buffet for everyone.


Luke 19 commences with Jesus arriving in Jericho. He is not intending to stay there, such is His focus on getting to Jerusalem, where the cross awaits Him. Jericho to Jerusalem is a fifteen mile journey, as the crow flies, though in reality the wining uphill pathway is much longer. It is a climb from 800 feet below sea level to a destination of 2,500 feet above sea level. The journey was treacherous: a common haunt of bandits and thieves lying in wait to pounce on the vulnerable traveller. Jesus has his mind on getting through this trek, but He does, however, have time for a pit stop in Jericho.


We should note that everything Jesus does and everything He says during these final few days prior to His death are highly significant and of great importance as a legacy for His disciples. These are His parting emphases, His reminders of what He considers important. It is therefore vital to our understanding of the Father - Whom Jesus is reflecting at all times - that we grasp what is happening here in Jericho. We can imagine the crowds congregating on the streets as news of the Rabbi's impending arrival reaches them. All are looking to get a glimpse of the celebrity. Probably many are also hoping Jesus will glimpse them. 


Zacchaeus is a small, yet powerful man. He is powerful because he is a go-between collecting taxes for the brutal occupying Roman regime from his own Israeli people. It was tax-collectors' practice and privilege to take large sums of money for themselves by drastically overcharging their clients. As a result they could be financially ok but socially despised. Their only friends were other tax collectors and the 'dregs' of society. Consequently Zacchaeus was a hated man. He was isolated and ostracised. He lived on the margins. Yet the amazing thing is that Jesus interrupted His priority journey to stop and talk with him. Jesus, Who only ever demonstrated the character of God the Father, chose to visit his home, to eat a meal with him, to lovingly give him time and attention. Jesus didn't pick the house of one of the local Elders. He didn't pick the religiously-all-together. He picked the one who was hated and despised; the one who wouldn't have been welcome at 'church'.


Here is the heart of the Father. Here is the object lesson that Jesus felt necessary to highlight before He died. God loves to sit down and eat with 'sinners'. He isn't afraid of being with those whom others, especially the religious, despise. His desire to heap love on them trumps everything else. In this story, the crowds moaned and grumbled over His decision. The word used in the original text implies that moaning gossip spread throughout the whole crowd that had gathered! In their opinion Jesus shouldn't be associating with these kind of people. But He was more concerned with loving the outcast than He was with public opinion of Himself. It was worth being misunderstood by others if He could pour out His Father's love on this one individual. There was no guarantee that Zacchaues would change his lifestyle. But Jesus was prepared to love him anyway, without making demands on him. As a result Zacchaues did turn his life around - good news for the whole community. 


I believe that this kind of demonstration of the Father's love is vital for our generation. Nothing else will redeem and change broken lives. Religion has so often made love conditional on certain rules and behaviour changes. Jesus loves unconditionally. He makes no demands for change as conditions for receiving His love. He risks everything and loves us regardless. But that kind of love has the habit of reaching lonely and hardened hearts, like spring sunshine on a flower. There is a response that often follows, which is genuine and far-reaching. And if it doesn't, well, Love has simply been itself, and left a mark for season to come.


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

WHY I HATE THE PHRASE "BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING"

Three times today I have heard or come across this often-quoted phrase. The first was in a list of songs I was looking through, then later in the afternoon I heard a preacher on a TV show use the phrase again. I felt my anger levels rising! Then I saw it written on a further document! I decided it must be time to blog. Sadly this phrase, that we as Christians are, "Blessed to be a blessing" is preached in many churches, and taught as if it is Biblical, when in fact it is not in the Bible, and is a gross misrepresentation of God the Father. And it's this that really upsets me and makes me angry - that the Father is being presented in an untrue light.
I remember visiting a church where this very phrase was used as the password for their internet sign on! I had to type it into my laptop in order to get online! And as I did, it grated on the inside of me, deeply.
About six years ago I remember I began to get wound up when I heard this bandied around, and I gave a talk on it in my own church. I see it being taught as if it is a fundamental Christian principle, yet in doing so, it only serves to undermine the true gospel of grace, and subtly feeds a false gospel of performance. Let's get this straight; God never said it! It is a misquote of a discussion He had with Abraham in the Old Testament. What God did say was, "I will bless you, AND you will be a blessing." This is not the same thing at all.
Saying that I am blessed to be a blessing means that the reason God has blessed me is so that I can do something for Him. It means that the reason He has loved me is to get something out of me. It makes the purpose of God's amazing blessing on my life into a performance on my part. This is grossly untrue! God did not bless me in order for me to be a blessing. He didn't bless me so that I could serve Him, or work for Him, or witness for Him! Such beliefs cheapen the salvation we have received! If this were the case, the parable that Jesus told about the loving Father and his two sons would end very differently.
It would go on to say something like this.
"The father embraced His son and said to the servants fetch him a robe and shoes, and also bring him a new shovel and a pick axe, and a good alarm clock. After he's showered and eaten he can have an early night because there's a lot of work for him to catch up on in the fields!"
 Oh, may God help us! I think far too many people have this view of God. Religion has made them suspicious that God is out to use them in some way! I am so thankful that this is not the message preached or demonstrated by Jesus! He never mentioned what happened to the younger son in the story after they had a party. But He does say that the music and celebrating was so loud that it could be heard out in the field! He leaves us with the other son who is upset that his own efforts on the farm haven't earned him a similar event. He is looking for the 'receiving blessing' and 'being a blessing' to be dependent on each other, but the father doesn't agree.
The truth is that God has blessed us simply because He wants to. He likes blessing us. He is a blesser. And if we were to do nothing whatsoever for Him, or for others, He would still bless us the same! He doesn't love me so that I can work for Him. He loves me because He loves me! He is love itself! He loves me because He is a lover, who can't stop loving human beings. There is no ulterior motive in it! He doesn't want to use me, or drive me, or get something out of me. He doesn't think like that! Yet sadly, the church so often presents Him in this false light. How His heart yearns for us to know Him as He truly is.
So, going back to the conversation God had with Abraham, His statement presents something altogether different. He said, "I will bless you and [the result of being so blessed is that you will naturally] be a blessing to others." What we are talking about here is the RESULT of God blessing us, not the PURPOSE of God blessing us. The natural result of receiving such amazing love is that we love in return. We can't help it! It is the natural overflow of what we have received. But it is NEVER the reason that God pours His love on us! If for some reason we fail to respond to His blessing and love He doesn't put more blessing and love on hold, He simply pours out more! God is not looking for my performance to be the reason He loves me.
The reason He loves me is because He simply does! I have three children. I don't love them less or more according to what they do, and the choices they themselves make in life. I don't love them on the basis of whether they appreciate my love for them. I love them purely because I love them! Because they are my children. How much more then, God with us His children. Jesus Christ Himself has already 'performed fully' on my behalf. There is nothing I can add to it. But I am so appreciative of that love He has shown me, that it is my desire to pour out my love on Him, and in my limited way become a blessing to others. Please, let's not insult the Father with this misrepresentation of His blessing.
Let's not build a false doctrine out of a misquote of scripture. Let's bask and bathe, let's soak and linger, in the awesome love and blessing of God. And as we do, we will find quite naturally that we become lovers and blessers ourselves.
Wes

Saturday, 13 December 2014

GOD KNOWS YOU - EVERY MOMENT

I came across this reading today in F. B Meyer. Wonderful. GOD'S THOUGHT OF ME "Thou art a God that seeth me."-- Gen_16:13 (R.V. marg.). "How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God."-- Psa_139:17. HAGAR WAS an Egyptian slave-girl, who had been brought up amid the idolatries of Egypt, and had no sort of idea that the gods had any personal interest in so insignificant a human atom as she was. Probably in Abraham's encampment she had heard of Jehovah, but would doubtless think of Him as being equally outside the limits of her little life. What care should the God of her master and mistress have for her, as she fled from the harsh treatment of Sarah, and was in danger of perishing in the lonely desert! Then, suddenly, in her despair, she heard the voice of the Angel-Jehovah speaking to her, and she called Him "The Living One who seeth me". To her the thought was an inspiration and comfort, enabling her to return and submit herself to Sarah. But to many these words have been a note of fear and judgment. They have thought of God as spying upon their evil ways, and have shrunk from the thought of His eye seeing them. That thought, however, is not the significance of these inspiring words, but that we can never wander into the far country, or take one weary step in loneliness without the tender notice of God our Father, who notices even the sparrow that falls to the ground. The Psalmist had the same thought when he wrote the 139th Psalm. When he says that God knows his downsitting and uprising, that his thoughts and ways are all open to His Almighty Friend, it is in a tone of rapturous gladness. It is the prerogative of friendship to love the presence and thought of a friend, and the crowning characteristic of Christianity is that we are admitted into personal friendship with our Lord. He knows our thoughts afar off. With an instant sympathy He enters into our anxieties and discouragements. Wherever we go He precedes and brings up the rear; we are beset by His care behind and before. Let every reader open the door to this great Friend, remembering that His one test is obedience: "Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." Thus you will find His presence the delight of your life (Rev_3:20). PRAYER We thank Thee, O God, that Thou hast been about our path, considering all our ways, and encompassing us with blessing. Thine eye has been upon us to deliver our soul from death, and to be our help and shield. For all Thy gracious care we thank Thee. AMEN.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Great little comments this morning from April Ross

Saturday, 1 February 2014

BEWARE THE HIBERNATING BEARS

Guarding and purifying our hearts is the most important thing we can do on a regular routine. 

"... if we don't let God deal with every part of our pasts, our hurts, our secrets, our errors in judgement, our mistakes, our sins, our handicaps in our backgrounds, any one of them can be like a hibernating bear..."  (Beth Moore - 'When Godly People Do Ungodly Things: Finding Authentic Restoration in an Age of Seduction')

What an awesome quote. I downloaded this book as a freebie on Kindle a few weeks ago - really good stuff. SO VERY IMPORTANT! 


For me the picture of a hibernating bear is incredibly powerful. There always comes a wake-up time! And when it wakes it is hungry; on the prowl - emerging as a predator - violent and destructive. How often do we picnic in the mouth of the bear's cave, oblivious, or believing we are safe?! 

Let's seek grace to deal with everything that haunts our hearts. May they not be the caves of sleeping bears!

Thank you Beth, for sharing this, and for blessing us with your vital revelation.



Monday, 13 January 2014

FOLLOW THE LAMB

I hear these words. It's evening as I write. A cold and very damp winter's evening. "Follow the Lamb! Follow the Lamb!"
I am aware it's easy to follow Jesus as the Lion, but as the Lamb? That is a whole different thing. There were many who in Jesus's day in Israel were expecting Him to be the great warrior who led them in victory against their Roman occupiers. There have been many through history since who have equated following Him as a political crusade. 
Sure, He is the Lion! He is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" Who has overcome sin, death, and hell. His roar against the things that keep human beings in spiritual darkness and defeat still rings out loud. We need to hear it; to reflect it; to repeat it... to follow it. 
But the doorway to His lion-nature is only via His lamb-nature. John said, "Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world." Our first look must be the Lamb. Beholding may mean staring, gazing, focusing, meditating for long hours. Only as we see the Lamb can we hope to truly understand the Lion. The roar is first a cry, "Father forgive them..." 
As the sacrificial Lamb of God, chosen before the world began, Jesus was crucified. His meekness, His willingness, His tender, loving obedience, His gentleness with the weak and broken, reflect the Lamb as He walked towards the slaughter. Here is the heart that transitioned into the Lion, roaring over the nations.
I hear the call today, "Follow that Lamb!"

Friday, 10 January 2014

MORE IN TWENTY-ONE-FOUR

I have a little 'ditty' going around inside me today. "You will give more to the one who will ask for more". It's from a song of Sarah Edwards in a recent IHOP prayer room feed. As I tune in to this word from God to me that He has put in my spirit I reflect on a quote I read last week from the famous 19th century Baptist preacher and pastor, Charles Spurgeon. He is quoted as saying; 
"Whether we like it or not, asking is the rule of the Kingdom. If you may have everything by asking in His name, and nothing without asking, I beg you to see how absolutely vital prayer is."
This is held out by the apostle James when he says, "You have not because you ask not..."
I have to interrogate myself here. Why is it that asking God on a genuine, continuous and consistent level is so much of a challenge? Why? Is it because I'm too 'busy', or perhaps I should say 'preoccupied' with endless activity? Is it because I don't recognise - truly recognise - my need for the miraculous provision of God if I am ever going to truly fulfil everything He has preferred for me? Is it because I live in a cultural mindset of human self-sufficiency which denies our true and deepest needs? Am I too proud? Too ashamed? Too unbelieving? Disappointed with perceived past failures? Or is it that I shy away from the kind of intimacy the Jesus loves, where we walk and talk together moment by moment, year through year?
I'm guessing it is all of the above, and more. But I take courage from the fact that He has lovingly reminded me of the option available to me today, and my heart asks, "Help to ask! Help me to pray!". The outcome, I know, will be 'more' in 2014 - twenty-one-four.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

OPEN DOORS IN 2014

Often at the beginning of a New Year we have a clear mandate or direction from God as to the focus or prophetic significance of that year. We knew that 2013 was a 'year of alignment' and we have spent many occasions in prayer regarding this. There are some who interpret the current Hebrew year 5774 as meaning "the year of the Open Doors".  Whilst I don't feel strongly enough to declare it as THE year of open doors in Golden Valley Church, I do believe that within this next 12 months the Father is wanting to open up new 'doors' for us in many areas of life.
doorBiblically, and within ancient cultures, the concept of doors, gates, and doorways are more significant than we generally regard them in a modern western society. Clearly doors into our homes or businesses are significant as both entry points and security factors. Whoever would come in or go out must do so via the door and through the doorway. Several centuries ago the same was true for our own city of Gloucester. We still have the four main streets named as Eastgate, Westgate, Northgate, and Southgate, but they are merely roads now reflecting a historical reality that once there were literal gates in and out. In the Bible Jesus describes Himself as 'the door'. No-one can come in to God His Father apart from via Him.
'Doors' and 'doorways' represent the only genuine transition points from one locality to another, and the only means of entering of entering an experience of what is on the other side.
First and foremost, we believe, that Jesus Christ through His sacrificial death for the sins of the human race, became the door to the experience of salvation and eternal, abundant life, both in its quality and its continuance in Heaven when this current life is over. He made the way for us all to go through, IF we want to. He Himself became the open doorway into the Most Holy of God's Presence. His own crucified body torn apart because of sin, opened the way of salvation. This is depicted in two aspects in the Bible. First, Jesus broke the bread of the Passover and as He tore it in two He said, "This is My body given for you". Second, the Temple veil was torn in two from top to bottom as Jesus died, thus opening up access and exposing to view, the previously hidden and forbidden Holy of Holies. This was a four inch thick curtain, and yet it was ripped from above by Unseen Hands, which were now ready to make a doorway into Holy territory for unholy people. The writer to the Hebrews says:
"Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." [Heb. 10:19 - 22]
The beginning of all other 'doors' in our Christian lives is in this. This is the foundation. This is the place we continually come back to. We reaffirm it and remind ourselves of it daily. Upon this rock we stand. The doorway into God's Presence stands open. He has made Himself accessible through Christ. Jesus has become our door to the mysteries and pleasures of God's great love. He Himself is the transition point from death to life, for everyone who will receive it.
From this foundational doorway we want to discuss three other doors, as mentioned in the early chapters of the book of Revelation.
1. OPEN DOORS IN LIFE AND MINISTRY [Rev. 3:7,8]. Jesus appears to His now-elderly friend and disciple, John, who is in solitary confinement on the Island of Patmos, as the Divine Keyholder, the One Who opens doors that no-one can shut, and Who shuts doors that no-one can open. He appears as the One Who has authority in opening up and closing off areas of life and experience. He promises the faithful Christians in Philadelphia an open door which cannot be closed off by anyone. We all need transition points; openings for life and ministry. He is the One Who opens and shuts these areas. It may be homes or jobs, opportunities, missions, or relationships. He is our open-door-giver, let's seek Him.
2. OPEN DOORS OF INTIMACY WITH JESUS [Rev. 3:20]. This kind of door is not one Jesus can open Himself. This is the door of the human heart. It is the door of a church's heart. It is the longing of His own heart for true holy intimacy with us.
Rev. 3:20I remember as a child having a copy of the 19th Century painting, "Light of the World" which the artist William Holman Hunt based on this Bible verse and depicts Jesus outside a door holding a lamp, and waiting to be admitted. The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing "the obstinately shut mind".
In this scripture the Risen Lord Jesus speaks to the Christians in the ancient city of Laodicea. They have done well as a body of people and are fairly proud of their achievements. They believe they are living clean lives, that they are experiencing spiritual riches, and have a good measure of revelation. But He reprimands them for being lukewarm in their true love for Himself. When the rubber hits the road, God is not interested in His church placing activity or ministry above passion for Himself. God is love. He wants us to be loved by Him in our own daily experience, and to love Him in return. He pictures Himself as One standing outside the door of this church, knocking. He wants the door of the human heart to be opened to Him, and He promises true fellowship and intimacy with those who choose this way. We must open this door. Let's do so more than ever in 2014.
3. OPEN DOORS OF REVELATION AND ENCOUNTER [Rev. 4:1-3]. This was a call to heavenly revelation and insight, and to encounter the realities of the Throneroom and the Kingdom of God. We can’t make these happen, but as we seek Him, even asking for revelation and encounter, and as we are faithful with doors 1 & 2, He will release revelatory experiences to us, however simple or however unusual they may be. It might be revelation from the scriptures which opens up a new level of faith or expectation. It might be more than that. However, the reality is that God is longing to reveal more of Himself to His people. He doesn't want us ignorant about the times and seasons, and what He is going to do in the earth. Heaven's purposes are still unfolding despite human tragedy. Those who are hungry; those who follow through on what He says to them; those who seek to love Him, position themselves for greater levels of revelation and encounter. Let's believe for more this year.
May the Father bless you.
[First published on "GoldenValleyBlog" on 8th January 2014  http://goldenvalleyblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/open-doors-in-2014/ ]