‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Isaiah 60 v1-3
Today I would like to encourage you. It seems as if the world is still gripped by the spectre of fear because of Covid, and it’s cadence can be felt in the conversations taking place and the decisions being made. No longer is the prime intent to delay the spread of the disease until the health system is more able to cope. No, rather now it is to try and squash any significant reappearance. A giant game of whack-a-mole, if you like. One in which the leaders wield the hammer of fear.
Now, this is not to diminish the disease, the pain of those who have lost loved ones, or to scorn the attempts of those dealing with it on a day to day basis. But I can’t help but notice how the goalposts have shifted, and how much appears to be driven by fear. Fear of an outcome that will claim 100% of us all, eventually. Almost as if a darkness covers the earth, and a thick darkness remains over the people. Don’t face us with our own mortality!
That’s where the Church can come in. For we can bring a Light into a dark situation, and good news to a world without hope. That’s the gift we are given. To shine His light. Because we know that death is a defeated foe, and no longer something to be feared. That in the midst of all the shifting sands of the world, there is a Rock that is immovable, unchangeable, and in whom is found a place to stand. That to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and has immeasurable power. But be clear – this is the gospel of Hope and Salvation, not the gospel of health and safety. We will get nowhere by preferring the latter over the former. We must march to a different drum. My encouragement to you today is to pause, listen, and wait to hear the beat of His heart. Then, let you heart begin to beat in the same way. In that new rhythm follow Him wherever He sends you.
We often ask God, Why? Why do these things occur, why do good people suffer? Why have I not got what I deserved, why has he/she got something they never deserved? Why….why….why?! The Psalms speak these questions better than I ever could, and it is well – God is more than equal to our real questions and our hurting hearts.
But yet, often enclosed within is a pride in a status we do not enjoy. Job, more than anybody, had reason and standing to ask Why – and expect answers. But yet, he came to the realisation that…
‘Tell us what we should say to him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.
Job 37 v19
We cannot draw up our case, because we do not have the standing. Our darkness precludes it. Bad things do not happen to good people, because no-one is good.
All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Romans 3 v12
That is not to say that bad things occur to people because they must have sinned and therefore deserved everything coming to them! Don’t fall into that mistake – this is never a simple equation. But it is true that we have no rock within ourselves where we can stand to ask the questions and demand answers.
Walk with God long enough, and you will come to understand that you are the one to whom the questions are addressed. Perhaps we start by reading the Bible, but spend long enough in that activity, and you’ll find it is the Bible that reads you. And what we find in there is often excruciating. Like having a correct mirror held up to you after so many years of distortion, false coloured lenses and blinkers!
Excruciating. And also necessary. Unless you have the correct diagnosis, the prognosis never going to make any sense to you. There is a reason the Bible says
Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.
Luke 7 v47
Is it because there are some who do not need much forgiveness, the very holiest amongst us? No, rather because so many of us have little understanding of our own hearts and how much we need to be forgiven. Righteous in our own eyes, we can miss the very Gift that would allow us to be reconciled with the One who sees our ways and numbers all our steps.
So, perhaps we would do well to, like Job:
Brace yourself like a man (or woman!); I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Job 40 v7
The questioning will not be easy, it never is, but that road leads to the narrow Way of Salvation – Jesus Himself – and He is the Hope and the future that God desires for all of us!
Last week I spoke about time, the importance of living in and celebrating today, as a gift fully given by God. This week I’d like to briefly reflect on space.
In the midst of troubles, of viral pandemics, economic recession, a culture that has allowed thistles to grow up and choke the very plants we rely on for our survival, when there seems forces too big, too important, too irresistible to even begin to counter, when we seem to be marching towards the long defeat – it is tempting to despair, to be discouraged, to helplessly wait for whatever comes next.
If that’s where you are, let me bring you a different voice. You think perhaps you are little, insignificant, of no importance. Against these forces, perhaps this is true. But yet, you contain within you the pearl of great price. A mustard seed that if allowed to grow, can become a tree full of flowers and fruit.
The space you have been given may not seem like much, but it is your mission field, and you have the divinely purposed capacity to assist in remaking this garden into a new Eden, full of promise and hope. Within this world, you bear the hands, feet and heart of Christ, and through Him you have the capability of spreading his perfume within it, and literally remaking it as a foretaste of the new heavens and earth.
The world may think nothing of the little light shining through you, but do not be deceived by the world. What you do, who you are, has infinite value in the heart of God, and as His co-creator in the garden He has given you, everything you do from the heart of Christ is treasured by Him and will grow up towards eternity, ever remaining in Him.
So do not be deceived, both the day and the space in which you dwell is an essential part of His kingdom. You can’t affect the days headlines. You’re not called to. Your Father has all those things in His hands. Just tend to the garden that he has called you to steward, and do and be all that you can within those walls. It has so much more value than you can ever imagine.
Recently I read a post that I thought very helpful. You can find the full thing here, and excerpts below. Mark, like me, perceives that we are at the end of an age, and that times of increasing shaking are upon us – to sift the wheat from the tares and to usher in the new age. And, this inevitably lead to the questions…
“What’s the use? Why bother planning anything? Why start any projects or invest in the future if everything is going to collapse anyway?” These are the questions some of you are asking as you begin to grasp the seriousness of the hour; as you see the fulfillment of prophetic words unfolding and examine the “signs of the times” for yourself.
What indeed is the point of investing in anything new, when we see what is coming? The answer lies in today.
Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6 v33-34
As Mark says:
The “business” of being about the Kingdom of God is manifold. It is taking the “talent” that God has given you for “today” and using it accordingly. If the Lord has blessed you with finances, then use them wisely today. If God has given you a home, then repair its roof, paint its walls, and mow its grass today. If the Lord has given you a family, then tend to their needs and desires today. If you are inspired to write a book, to renovate a room, or plant a tree, then do it with great care and attention today. This is what it means to invest your talent “in the bank” to gain at least the interest.
But you might say, “Why begin building a house today if the economy is going to collapse tomorrow?” But why does the Lord pour out rain upon the land “today” if He is going to send a purifying fire to cleanse it all “tomorrow”? The answer is because, today, not only the trees need the rain but we need to know that God is always present, always active, always caring, always providing. Maybe tomorrow His hand will send fire because that’s what we need. So be it. But not today; today He is busy planting.
For, after all, today is the only day we will ever have. And, if this day is good enough for the Lord to sustain, create and bless; then it is good enough for us. Tomorrow is a foreign country. We may be able to see the fig tree, and know these things are near. But we do not know the time or the hour. Precise timings and events are in His hands alone!
So, to live fully in today – whether that means a day or a season – is to live in a place of peace, trust and hope. Because this is the now, today’s manna is today’s, the sun shines today and we are invited to enter in fully – living, creating, providing and thriving.
Do you remember the previous era of free speech, when it was fashionable to say such things as “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it“?
To me, it doesn’t seem that long ago, although at the same time these days it can really feel an age away.
Now might be a very good time for those people who said that to put their words into action, even if the death is not physical, but social, economic and suchlike.
Because these days, to disapprove of what someone says is often grounds to begin a persecution of them. As long, of course, you are the one holding the ‘correct’ views.
In the age in which I used to live, speech that was banned was on the edge – calling for someones murder, or the classic of yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded cinema. Speech that would result in real harm, not just to ones feelings.
It’s not that way now. Now, anything defined as ‘hate’ is beyond the pale. Of course, it raises the question, who defines what is hate? The answer of course is – the powerful. Those who hold the social, media, governmental and increasingly commercial levers and who can impose their definition on everybody else.
Rather less than remarkably, the definition of hate by the powerful is expanded to encompass all opinions that are held to be disagreeable to the current zeitgeist. As a result, we find that we are fast losing our previously treasured freedom of speech.
This is no blessing to anybody, whichever side you find yourselves on the current cultural discussions of the day. One day you may bask in the righteousness of the mob, the next day you may find yourselves instead the subject of their wrath. The only escape is to turn yourself into a moral chameleon, which is the way of the coward.
This is the era in which we find ourselves. Much like I observed with Tolerance, Diversity and Inclusion, it is often those who are most anti ‘hate speech’, who are themselves full of hatred for others.
To be a Christian, in fact to be anyone who holds a principled moral worldview that is at odds with the latest correct opinion, is to ask for trouble. But then, this is nothing new.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
I’ve had this post sitting in draft for a couple of months; I’m usually wary about wading into the tribal wasteland of politics, and as such it never seemed quite the right time to publish it. Nevertheless, after my post last week regarding the dissolution of marriage, this seemed the right time.
Recently, I was considering John the Baptist, a man who was willing to put his neck on the block – literally:
For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
Mark 6 v 17-18
This man, the greatest born of women, imprisoned and eventually executed for the temerity of challenging what the leader of the time was doing in his private life.
Now, let us bring this to the current day. Can you imagine any Church authority being willing to make a similar pronouncement to the current leader of the United Kingdom? Willing to stand up, against both the enmity of the secular leadership and the opprobrium of the nation, to speak Gods truth? To follow Jesus Christ in his teaching?
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Matthew 19 v 4-9
Who would actually be brave enough to do this, to stand up and risk all social standing, to be ostracised and condemned? To speak a truth and bring into the light a behaviour that diminishes us all?
However, this is not just a matter of leadership. Are we not all to be salt and light? For, if not:
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
Matthew 5 v13
These are hard words. But they need to be, and we need to hear them – again and again. For friendship with the world is enmity with God. And failing to speak the truth, to go along with the status quo – however easy that may be – is friendship with the world.
In a culture that is increasingly unmoored from the Rock that used to underpin it, we all have this choice – and it will become increasingly stark.
Do we go along with the world, keep silent, acquiesce, for fear of being judged, ridiculed, persecuted? Or do we find the courage to be prophets to our culture, to stand up, and speak the truth of God into the soul of our nation? At whatever cost? Indeed, it may well prove to be a Jeremiah mission. But perhaps that is what the Church will need to be in the coming season.
We were never promised an easy ride. Indeed it is entirely the opposite.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 10 v 16-28
So let’s not pretend otherwise. To live in this world, to be salt and light where we live, will become an increasingly hard task, and will require a choice about who we are going to serve.
We will perhaps come to know, in a deeper and more real way the truth of these words:
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 10 v 32-37
To be the salt of the earth is to be despised by men, and loved by God. That is the choice that lies before us, and silence and acquiescence will not prove a sufficient shield. We will all have to make this choice. Choose wisely.
This week in the United Kingdom, MPs backed the first stage of the introduction of a no-fault divorce law. From what I can see , socially it seems to have significant support. After all, who would be against reducing conflict, making a painful time easier for all parties? For all parties that matter, anyway.
We’re told that it will benefit children, who will no longer have to suffer the pain of bickering parents. Now, I know there are certain situations where that may indeed be the case – but there are many where it will not be. When children are left bereft of their security – stripped of a father or mother – tell them that it is better! They know the truth, and have to live the rest of their lives with it. But they are little, unformed and helpless. They don’t get a voice.
Having bought into the lie of ‘happily ever after’, we seem to have devolved further and have now bought into ‘unhappily ever after’ instead. There is this assumption that because a marriage is in a rocky place and that ‘happily ever after’ did not work, that somehow ‘unhappily ever after’ must be the new truth. Since one was shown to be false, why on earth should the second be true?
Both are ridiculous nonsense that we seem to have somehow absorbed without ever really thinking through. I mean, it doesn’t work that way in any other human relationship, right? Sometimes things go well, sometimes we have struggles, and then often we can work through that. Conflict is part of human existence.
I do understand there are some serious cases that require separation and divorce. I am not ignoring the reality of physical and emotional abuse. But it seems to me that for the sake of the great god Me, Myself and I, we often conflate things like ‘s/he is being mean to me’ or ‘I just don’t feel like I love him/her any more’ with these much harder cases.
This is of course entirely congruous with the pagan and dissolute society in which we live, so it should come as no surprise. Marriage is being steadily reduced to what now seems like a social ‘boy/girlfriend+’ status.
So, here’s my thought, something maybe to ponder. For centuries, the state and church has pretty much marched in lockstep regarding marriage. Over maybe the last 100 years, that has slowly and now more rapidly changed. To the point where what the state and society regard as marriage has become a weak imitation of what the Church has traditionally practiced.
At what point do we cut the increasingly frayed link between the two? To state most clearly that what the church calls marriage is no longer reflected in the anemic social contract that the state has substituted?
That if you want to get married – truly married in the eyes of God and His Ekklesia on earth, you marry in the church. And in doing so, you are making a commitment to each other and to the wider community which recaptures something that is increasingly being lost – fidelity, trust, hope, sacrifice, honour, through good times and bad, together, until death us do part.
This form of true marriage could then be severed from the state legal apparatus. This would require the Church standing up, and entering into our authority – to bind and loose on earth and heaven. To regard our duty before God as higher than our duty tothe state. To proclaim a marriage that has deep meaning; not one derived from the state, from tax codes or legal systems.
I know that such a separation would require thinking through much more deeply than one post can discuss. It’s part of a tension – how to be in but not of the world? At what point do we as the Church say to the world that what they have redefined marriage to mean is no longer something we can support? Are we there yet?
Many years ago, I had a good friend, let us call him James. James was the dearly beloved pastor of our church, and had walked together with the community through all kinds of blessings and challenges, on both a personal and corporate level. We often shared key high days and holidays and he and his household, together with other deep connections in our church, were something like family to us.
So, it came as a deep shock to us when, one day, James asked us for a meeting during which he excitedly told us he was going to join another denomination and would be leaving us. The denomination in question isn’t overly important here, other than to say it was one with which we had some serious doctrinal issues.
When we got over the initial shock, we wanted to understand what had motivated him to make such a radical change, in particularly without discussing with friends. But, to our dismay, it did not prove possible to have a meaningful conversation. His mind was completely made up, and any conversation was as if through a one-way valve – seeking to convert us to his viewpoint.
Shortly after, he left the church, and suffice to say unfortunately our friendship became rather strained. Over the subsequent months we sought to understand what had happened, and eventually we came to the thought that this was really about matters fundamental to the heart. Even though I have intentionally obscured the story, I will not divulge what I believe those matters were, though they were not something bad in and of themselves.
However, as a result of that time, it brought me to a deeper appreciation of how our heart drives us. How we can make a decision in our heart for reasons that we perhaps don’t really understand, and then we employ all the extensive resources of our mind in defence and justification of that decision.
It is not for no reason that God says:
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17 v 9
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Proverbs 4 v 23
We often think that we control our heart, that we can make the decisions and our heart will follow along. Sometimes, maybe that is true. But do not be deceived, for it is so often not the case.
I want to be good, until I encounter urges in my heart that corrode my very being. I want to be holy, until I encounter other people. I want to do the right thing, until someone needs to take the garbage out.
St Paul understood:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
Romans 7 v 15
In the rest of Romans 7, Paul goes on to talk about what is today an unpopular concept – sin! He knows that “good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” And it is this law of sin, our DNA of rebellion, our heart sickness, that is still responsible for the darkness and marring of the world.
Secret sins are corrosive, our hidden idols reach out to claim what is not theirs, and false doctrine and perversion of truth comes from men trying to justify themselves and their unrighteous pleasures.
And what is interesting, much like God confirmed Pharaoh’s hard heart after the first 5 plagues, so does He confirm the lie within those who have ‘pleasure in unrighteousness’.
And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
2 Thessalonians 2 v 11-12
And don’t be deceived by the ‘them’. The them is also us, in our base nature.
In our popular movies, traditionally we identify with the ‘good guy’. Nobody wants to identify as the villain! It is a strange thing then that, in the vista that God presents over the millennia, in all the stories, that we are almost completely identified as the rebels. The ‘good guys’ are few and far between , and usually fatally flawed themselves.
Well, this is all a bit of a downer isn’t it? For sure. But until we have plumbed the depths of the illness , correctly diagnosed and accepted it, we can’t really move forward. Without understanding the very deceitfulness of our hearts, the likelihood is that we will continue to try to blame others, blame our environment, minimise our faults and continue to whitewash the tottering walls that we constantly erect.
We won’t get anywhere until we can agree with G K Chesterton who, when asked “What’s wrong with the world today?” was able to answer “I am.”
When we can get there, when we reach rock bottom and stretch out our hands and plead for help (real help not help* (*conditions apply)) – when we know there is nothing we can do in ourselves to push back our darkness – then comes something new.
For God also says something else about the heart:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36 v 26
And this is the essence of the Christian message, that
because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2 v 4-9
This is the hope of the heart, that God takes our darkness and sinfulness into himself, and replaces it with light, grace, peace, mercy and love. And this is not of our doing, but by grace alone.
One last thought. How may these things be? If you are like me, you may be tempted to ‘help’ in the process. And by that I mean, take ownership. If so, hear this:
for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Philippians 2 v13
That is to say, it is God’s good work in us. Fur sure, we need to be obedient to the work, but it is His work. One he will complete over a lifetime.
This is the hope of our hearts, that one day we will enter His presence, and find that somehow this work has been completed, and that we now fully and completely reflect Him – the author and finisher of our faith.
As I am somewhat sick at present, what’s sitting in a draft state will have to stay there for now. What I want to do today is link to an excellent article over on Prophecy Today. Some excerpts here, but I do encourage you to read the whole thing.
Just as almost exactly 80 years ago the heroes of Dunkirk were the little boats, perhaps today’s lockdown heroes are the faithful small groups coming together to pray.
But more broadly, denominational leaders collectively seem to be ‘on mute’, not really sure of the nature of the crisis and possibly hoping that it will all end soon and everything will carry on as before. Except it won’t.
Local church leaders need to be challenging and encouraging their congregations (and others) to repent of sin and seek the Lord while he may be found. Concerted, serious prayer and fasting is necessary and days of prayer are to be commended – but God is looking for more than mere confession of sin. He wants us truly to repent (true repentance requires action) – whether of sins of omission or commission – and then to model biblical practice, whether in the family, at church, in the marketplace or wherever else.
What is more, Covid-19 is only the harbinger of many more cataclysmic events to come (see Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 and Revelation) – albeit a future that will also be characterised by great opportunity.
I would suggest that while Covid-19 is part of God shaking all nations (including the UK), our Government in particular is also being shaken, in part because so many of us look to Government as the answer to our problems, when we should look to God.
To whom much is given, much is expected. The UK has historically been greatly used and greatly blessed by God. We are now in a very precarious place, which could become much, much worse (e.g. with the collapse of sterling, indeed possibly of our whole economy and body politic too). The urgency of the hour is critical – but what will it take for the Church to lead the way for the country as a whole in the sort of repentance that God requires?
God has brought us out of Egypt (the EU) for more than this. Soon we will reach a crossroads, where the signposts read ‘Back to Egypt’, ‘To the Wilderness’ and ‘To the Promised Land’. We as believers need to be in the right place to pray in and help politicians make the correct decision(s).
This time, for many (though clearly not all), the lockdown has been relatively easy. It is warm and there is food and water. But if we don’t engage seriously now, will God require that we have another unprecedented crisis (in much more challenging circumstances, and sooner rather than later) to get our full attention in a way that I am not convinced he currently has?
God will have his way in this nation, and if those who call themselves his people do not do as he requires, he will find someone else. In this war with Covid-19, it is time for the true Church to arise.
The question I have in my mind is, how to get the Church listening? Today, I was acting as technical support for a family member whose email wouldn’t send at all, but kept going to their local Junk folder.
Maybe that is an analogy for what’s happening in the Church! It feels a bit like the prophetic message isn’t even getting out of our own ‘junk folder’ to be received by the intended recipient. While we as the wider Church body are bombarded with so much mail, some urgent, some not, some true, some false, that any message may be drowned out even if it did end up in the correct inbox.
I do understand that our responsibility is to speak as we are called – and it is in God’s hands how that ends up getting disseminated. But at the same time I wonder – how should this kind of message be effectively ‘sent’ – heard – even if it is only then actually received by a few?