Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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Grasshoppers

The Bible is very clear. It tells me, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1) So why don’t I live like a child of God? Why do I, so often, quail in fear? Why do I act so weakly and powerlessly when the Bible tells me that I am supposed to be a powerful, Spirit filled, inheriting child of the King of kings?

Identity.

I simply don’t live in the light of the truth that God speaks to me through His word. I am a child of God, with all of the rights, privileges and power that this identity gives me. In John 14, I am told that if I know Jesus, I know the Father. That Jesus is the epitome of the Father and that I am called to be his friend and imitate Him. That by the power of the Holy Spirit, I am equipped and enabled to live as Jesus lived. To be light in a dark world, pointing to the Father God.

Without wanting to go into every verse and proof here (it is a blog rather than a tome), I believe whole heartedly that I am called and empowered to live as a disciple of Jesus with the same power that Jesus has. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Yet, in reality, I do not.

I am full of fear and I believe so many lies about who I am and what I am unable to do. I look at the world around me, the state of others, my own weaknesses and insecurities, and I withdraw in fear. I cower from what I see Jesus do, justifying it as ‘real’ and ‘pragmatic’ to do so. I look around me and say, “I am weak and insecure, and that is how everyone else sees me.”

Yet, I can no longer claim to be honest and believe the lies I tell myself. The Bible tells me that I am more than a conqueror, I am a child of God, and ambassador of Christ. That, if I am full of the Holy Spirit, I will manifest the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, transforming the people around me by shining light into the dark world.

So what is going on?

“We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:33)

This short verse from the narrative of the spies who went into the Promised Land speaks to me quite clearly. Ten of the twelve who were sent out (the two were Caleb and Joshua) returned from their reconnaissance mission to the Promised Land with the words from Numbers 13:33. They had already shared with the rest of the people of Israel their observation that the fertility and fruit of the land were amazing… yet they did not think it was possible for the people of Israel to take possession of the land. They believed that the people who already lived in the land were simply too big and strong to be defeated by the grasshoppers of God.

“We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

I can relate to the fear of doing something new. The feeling of being overwhelmed by what I see standing between me and what the word of God promises.

Yet the spies had had a pretty incredible journey to get as far as the spying mission. They had heard the word of God spoken, promising their freedom from slavery that has lasted hundreds of years, seen the plagues of Egypt and been protected from them, been freed from slavery, taken incredible riches with them as they left Egypt, been protected from attack by the very presence of God in the fiery cloud, crossed the Red Sea with the waters piled either side of them and watched their enemies drowned. As if that were not enough; they had been guarded and led through a wilderness, day and night, by the presence of God, been miraculously provided with water and food despite the fact that there were close to a million people in their group, received the book of the law from God on the mountain where his presence was manifest in glory, witnessed the power of God first hand and reflected in the face of Moses… and the list could go on.

Then, these twelve men, are chosen as the best representatives, each from one of the twelve tribes of Israel, to scout out the land that the God Himself, who has been with them, literally and evidently every day, had promised would be theirs. They had seen the fertility of the land and carried some of fruit back to the people as evidence of their story… and here they are. “We are not big enough to take the land.”

Notice, they did not say… “Those people are huge and we are small.” They said, “Those people are really big and they must have thought we were small because we certainly felt like we were small.” The report that they give is not based on the truth of the word of God or evidence that they have gathered, it is based entirely upon their own image of themselves.

“We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, chose to believe the word of God. They said, something like, “it will be hard, BUT GOD HAS GIVEN THE LAND INTO OUR HANDS! Let’s go for it.”

What was the difference? Simply put… Joshua and Caleb believed God before they believed their own perception. They came to the conclusion that, whatever their own eyes saw and their hearts said to them, the promise of God was more powerful and important. They chose to believe the world of the Lord over their own misgivings, fears, perceptions, thoughts and everything else.

That is what I want… Father God, what you promise I choose to believe. Please help me live in the reality of the things you say. Let your Kingdom come!

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

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The temptation to ambivalence

This blog is not really a Bible study. It is more in the line of a reflection that comes out of where I find myself in recent months.

I used to watch people slip away from church and wonder how it could happen. I would believe that if they had a passion and faith like mine, then they would not be able to slip away.

In the last month or so, it has become very real to me that there is a temptation to simply fall out of church. I would call it, ‘the temptation to ambivalence’.

It is not that anyone has said anything, or that the church where I go is teaching heresy. It is most certainly not that I have lost my faith. I BELIEVE! It is simply that I am tempted to give up caring. There is something missing, either from me or the church, and I feel increasingly disjointed and utterly discouraged. The only word I can use to describe it? Meh.

I am a passionate man. I am not used to feeling ambivalent. I want to see things happen and I love to make stuff happen, yet… nothing is happening. I believe in the Gospel with a passionate zeal. Jesus is Lord! The world needs to know it! I love Jesus with all my heart and want nothing more than to see the people I love, and the people of the town where I live, come to know Him. I want to see the power of God move.

Yet I can understand how easy it is to simply fall away. Not deliberately. Not out of a fit of pique. Certainly not because I have lost my faith in Jesus. Simply, because… Meh!

It would be so easy to take a week off. And I know that the week would soon turn into a few. In the end, it would be easier to not go to church than to face the questions and the smiles where I to return. Without a doubt, my faith would suffer and before long I would have less faith in Jesus and… Devil’s job done. I would be taken out by the enemy. Not with violence… but with ambivalence.

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)

I will not slip away! I will hold on. Somehow, I will hold on.

So I pray! I pray for God to speak… where am I supposed to be? I pray for God to move in power… fill me Holy Spirit! I pray for my church, my family, my friends, my leaders, my colleagues… God’s will be done! I pray for encouragement.

There is nothing else for me to do. I hold on and pray!

Speak Lord, your servant is listening. And when God speaks… Boy will I jump to action!


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Testimony to the light

There is a basic question in Philosophy which, when all is said and done, is pointless. “If  tree falls in a woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a noise?”As far as I am concerned, if a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, it does not matter unless there is an impact and a witness to that impact. Noise is irrelevant. It might be that the tree falls on a house when there is nobody to hear it. Then, the noise matters not a jot but the fact that a person witnesses the crushing of their home and the loss of their possessions is of huge importance. What matters is the effect of the tree.

What matters is the witness. If the tree falls, whether it makes a noise or not, and there is no witness to its effect, then it is does matter at all what happens. The fall of the tree is only given significance by the witness to it; it’s effect and impact. Without a witness, the whole world will be ignorant of the tree’s effect and life will go on as before.

“[John] himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light” (John 1:8)

Jesus is the light of the world. His effect on the world is incredible and has a huge impact. He came to illuminate the truth about the sin of humanity which stops us knowing God. To save us from our sins, so that we can be reunited with God our Father and have an inheritance of life instead of death. John too was saved by Jesus because he was subject to sin, and it is this that John witnesses to. The coming of the light of the world. The messiah and saviour of the whole human race appears and the world is changed forever.

“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (John 1:9)

John is a witness to the light of the world. Seeing who the light was, pointing to Him, encouraging others to follow Him. The impact of Jesus, the light of the world, is witnessed because it changes everything. Jesus leads people out of darkness and into light and truth. As Isaiah 9 says, the people of the world are walking in darkness. Yet with Jesus they see a great light. And those who do not see the light hear John, together with the apostles, the disciples, Christians, you and I, pointing to that light and crying out, “LOOK!”

“John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me’” (John 1:15)

“John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”” (John 1:29)

If we do not point to the light of the world and exclaim His existence and work, there are huge numbers of people who will miss Him. Like a tree falling in the woods, they will carry on life regardless because they neither saw nor heard its impact. People NEED to hear about the light of the world. Why? Because they live in darkness. We need to shout and point to the light of the world. Why? Because we have seen the light.

The people of the world do not need to be told that they are lost in darkness. They need to be shown the light so that they can see the darkness.

(Christmas cogitation part 6)


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Why should I listen to you? (a cogitation)

I have long thought that, in the UK at least, Standup Comedians are the new preachers. They stand before an audience and, with the use of comedy, open the minds of their listeners to the ideas and theories that they talk about in their set. There is a plethora of TV and radio shows where these funny people make their audience laugh hysterically whilst sneaking in comments about society and morality.

It is entirely understandable that the Comics would use their platform to express ideas and thoughts that they believe to be of value. The specific ideas and thoughts that they express, however, cause me far more concern because, for the most part, I disagree with them.

The medium is dominated by ideas of liberal sexuality and jokes at the expense of, most often, the Christian faith. The surge in acceptance for what were once alternative lifestyles is, I believe, mostly down to the preaching of comedy. In areas of pornography, family, sexuality and faith in God, comedians ridicule the establishment and preach that anything goes because as human beings we can do what we want.

It has become the commonly accepted norm in Britain that if a person can stand up and make you laugh, then what they have to say must be true. Stephen Fry holds the position of all-knowing authority, and others too speak with authority that derives from laughter. Dara O’Brien speaks for science and against faith, Sandi Toksvig for feminism and against faith, Jeremy Hardy for anything as long as it is against faith, Russell Howard, John Lloyd, and the list can go on. It is not so much that they hold opinions and ideas that are liberal so much as that they see faith as a target for ridicule and as the root of opposition to their own views.

Please do not get me wrong, I am not against comedy. I love comedy and it has affected some really important changes in society. Racism, for example, would never have been opposed effectively without comedians who ridiculed attitudes of racism. What I have an issue with is, what gives these men and women the authority to speak into culture and society? Why is their ideology authoritative?

“By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit…” (Matt 7:17-18)

This is where things start to get uncomfortable.

I disagree fundamentally with many of the ideas that are presented on TV and radio by comedians, who are culturally leading society in a direction that is un-scriptural and un-godly. Yet, it is not enough for me to say that what they preach is wrong simply because I disagree with them. There comes a point where I have to justify why they are wrong and I am right.

At some point there has to be a line by which we can come to a judgment on the authority of a speaker. It cannot be preference, because I might be wrong or deluded or misguided. It cannot even be scripture because, whilst I hold it as the foundation of my own action and authority, many others would not agree with it at all.

As I think about it, I can think of nothing better than fruit. The visible evidence of people’s live is their fruit. The question that lies beneath any claim for authority is, “what fruit is visible in the lives of the people who tell us what to believe and think?

This is uncomfortable because it is true for all points of view. There are celebrities who speak about female equality whilst simultaneously proclaiming their passion for pornography, which is almost certainly exploiting the people that they are claiming to stand for. There are also those who preach the love of Jesus who act in the most unloving and unforgiving ways. In both cases, their fruit is not consistent with their words. Their authority is seriously undermined.

What sets Jesus apart is that he preached a gospel of freedom through submission to God the Father, and lived a life that was evidence to his words. More impressively, his preaching led millions of other people into lives of freedom through faith if the Father. The fruit of his life and teaching gives overwhelming authority to the very thing he taught.

A problem comes when human beings take the teachings of the Bible and use it to justify their own opinions rather than allowing them to shape their lives. It is no wonder that the established Christian Church has lost authority to speak into society when there are scandals of sexual abuse and investment in weapons and tobacco. The life of the Church in this case is not consistent with its teaching. No wonder the ridicule of comedians hits so hard.

The truths of Jesus in scripture, however, simply transform lives. They bring freedom and life and healing. They might not be wholly acceptable to our liberal society, but the power that they display in the transformation of society cannot be ridiculed. The gospel of Jesus is simply too powerful to be challenged by the opinions of an individual. It is the power of God and it saves.

As a disciple of Jesus, the message I preach must be true and seen to be true. I am not perfect, but the fruit of my life is evidence to the truth of my faith. If I am judged on perfection then I will always fall short. If a person looks at my life and sees no evidence of the power of Holy Spirit then there is a serious problem.

What gives a person authority to speak is not the persuasiveness of the argument, or the position they hold, or the size of their audience, or that they speak words that are agreed with… Authority resides in the fruit that they put forward. Do they bring life and freedom and transformation and light and love?

This is simply my cogitation, but what do you think?


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Your Mission, should you choose to accept it…

I have a very simple, yet important, point to make.

The mission that Jesus gave to his disciples is VERY, VERY important!

It is so important that Jesus used the last verbal words that he spoke to his disciples to tell them about it.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20)

His disciples obviously understood the importance of the mission of Jesus, because they started the Church and the number of disciples multiplied at a fantastic rate. Further, the mission to share the message of Jesus and make disciples was so important that it was included, in some form, by all four of the gospel writers (Matt 28; Mark 16; Acts 1:7-8 (written by Luke as the follow on for his gospel); John 20:30-31).

Disciples, then and now, must understand that the mission of Jesus is far bigger than they are. That if they are disciples, it is their mission too. That Jesus gives his disciples power to carry it out. The truth is, this is not a choice for disciples. It is what being a disciple is all about.

This is not mission impossible, but mission imperative!


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I don’t want balance… I want Truth

It is always great to receive comments following a blog post. Keep them coming readers!

After a recent post, where I offered some suggestions about useful web resources for theology, I received a comment from a friend who offered me some alternative sites with some theological views that were different to the ones I had offered. I would summarise them by saying that they were less Reformed and more Post-evangelical. He suggested that they might offer some balance to the sites that I had suggested and give people some alternative ideas. This got me to thinking…

Do I want balance on this blog?

I did have a look at the sites and they were very interesting. But I did not particularly agree with the theological perspective from which they were written.

This is not, in itself, a problem. If a person is a mature Christian and interested in theology, then there is nothing to fear from reading ideas and opinions that are different from their own. In fact, it can be both healthy and educational.

When I was studying theology I looked at many ideas that were properly opposed to my own theology. I had severe concerns about the writings of Fredrik Schleiermacher, Rudolf Bultmann and John Spong, who were on my reading list. There are also whole swathes of the works of Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and Karl Barth that cause me some trouble. In honesty, even now, there are certain things that Mark Driscoll teaches (who I recommended in my previous blog) that I am not sure I agree with.

But that is OK. People do not need to agree with me to be saved. They need to believe in Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life. If it were up to me, Bolton Wanderers supporters would not get into heaven and anyone who thought computer games were a waste of time would be dancing on the edge of heresy.

One of the things that Mark Driscoll teaches, which I have found incredibly useful, is that idea of Closed and Open handed issues. Mark says that the closed handed issues of theology are those for which one would face death to uphold. Among these would be the divinity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, the Sovereignty of God, the Trinity and so on. The open handed issues are those which, were an agent of evil to hold a gun to my head, claiming that they will pull the trigger if I did not back down, I would back down. One of these, for me, might be 6-day creation. I am in no doubt that God Created the heavens and the earth, but I am not really sure I would take a bullet over whether he did it in a literal 6 days or a metaphorical 6 days. (I am sorry if this offends you, dear reader).

As far as I am concerned, on the closed handed issues, I do not want balance, I want truth. On the open handed issues, I am open to discussion.

This Blog is my own work and my own ideas. I am concerned less with balance, and more with expression of what is bubbling up inside of me. There are aspects to it that people might not agree with and that is OK. If you believe that Jesus is Lord and have accepted Him as your saviour, then I am happy. You might be wrong on some things, but that is the most important one and the rest we can discuss (vigorously if necessary).

In our society, it is not acceptable to say that someone is wrong. It is believed by the majority of people that, as long as a person’s belief does not hurt anyone else, they have a right to hold that belief and that it is ‘true for them’. This is a travesty of truth. If a person is wrong, then they are wrong. There is nothing wrong in my pointing it out to them, or their pointing it out to me. It is what one does to that person when they are wrong that matters.

You might be wrong… but I promise not to burn you at the stake or hand you over to the inquisition. I hope that you will offer me the same respect. I don’t want balance, I want truth! But I don’t need to stone people when they disagree with me.

It comes down to this…

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

It is not about being right; it is about how we treat people when they are wrong.

I hope that this does not read as too much of a ramble and I would be fascinated to have people’s thoughts on this subject. I look forward to your replies.


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The Wilderness Years

It seems like such a long time that I have been walking in the wilderness. I am sure I am not the only one. I would certainly be interested to hear other people’s stories.

I am in the wilderness; travelling to a new place that God has prepared but totally unsure where this new Promised Land might be.

Everywhere I look there is wilderness and many people wandering through it. We have faith that there is more to come and that there is a promise that we are travelling towards. Yet, all we see is rocky places, stubby growth and the very occasional spring of fresh water bubbling from the ground.

I hope I am not the only one who feels this way.

Every month, Kings Community Church in Braintree gets together for a worship night. It is a good, encouraging time where one or two of our musicians simply lead us in songs and music. We sing to the words and in the Spirit, and we listen for the voice of God in pictures, prophecy, tongues and any other way that God wants to speak.

Last night we met and, although there were only a few of us, the presence of God was wonderful. We sang songs that declared the truth about the character and work of our Father God, and we simply basked in the simple joy of knowing God’s presence. The Holy Spirit made the wilderness melt away as we bathed in an oasis.

What God said to me was simple.

Do not despise the wilderness

He spoke to me of the people of God as they travelled between Egypt and the Promised Land. The wilderness was harsh and water sources were few and far between, but the presence of God was with them. God was closer to them, for longer, during those forty years than at any time before the coming of Jesus.

  • For forty years, God’s presence was visible in the cloud and the fire.
  • For forty years, God fed them every day so that every person in every family had enough to eat.
  • For forty years, God spoke to them directly through Moses.
  • For forty years, in the wilderness, the evidence of the love and grace of God was on the people of God. Time and again they complained and sinned and struggled.
  • But for forty years, the presence of God was a daily reality for the people of God.

It is not about the wilderness. It is about the presence of God.

As far as I know, whilst God promises to return the years lost to the locusts, he never promises to return the years that were spent in the wilderness. Why should he? Who in their right mind would want to give back to God the years when they were closest to His daily presence?

Please, do not get me wrong; I am not saying that the wilderness is a good place to be. Neither am I saying that Christians should look to remain in the wilderness. What I am saying is this…

The presence of God is a good place to be!

We should not seek wilderness or promise, desert or valley. Rather, wherever we are, we should seek the real presence of God. Our Father loves us and wants to be with us.

I hate being in the wilderness, but I love the simple fact that for these last 3 years I have known the presence and voice of God more palpably than at any other time in my walk as a disciple of Jesus. I will not despise these years in the wilderness, no matter how long they continue, because God is with me. And when I come to the end of the wilderness and step into the promise of God, God will still be with me.

The important thing is this… it is all about the presence of God. It is all about Jesus.

Let me finish with this passage…

“Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting’. Anyone enquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshipped, each at the entrance to their tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young assistant Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” (Exodus 33:7-11 NIV)

I have no problem being like Moses, spoken to face to face as a friend. But I want to be like Joshua, never leaving the tent of God’s presence because I simply want more.

Father, never take your presence from me.