Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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Caleb – Man of Faith

In the last blog I spent some time thinking about Caleb’s faith and God’s response to it. My thoughts there lead me on to a line of thought about Caleb that is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but is true by implication.

“Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your forefathers, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord whole-heartedly” (Deut. 1:35-36)

Having believed the promise of God in regard to the Promised Land, as well as a further specific promise in regard to His own inheritance in the Promised Land, Caleb holds on for 40 years before he sees it become a reality.

Think about it.

Caleb is assured that he and Joshua would be the only men of fighting age to enter the Promised Land and see the inheritance that God had spoken of in Egypt. Every other man and women who had left Egypt as an adult would die in the wilderness. Apart from Caleb and Joshua, the only other people who would remember what it had been like to be slaves in Egypt, who would enter the Promised Land, would have been children at the time.

For 40 years, Caleb and Joshua wondered in the wilderness with the tribes (about a million people) waiting for God to speak the word to send them back to take the land.

  • Let’s estimate that there were 600000 adult men and women at the time when the spies entering the Promised Land.
  • There are 14610 days in 40 years (including leap years).
  • This means that for 40 years an average of 41 people died every day.

Everyday, Caleb and Joshua watched men and women who were their peers, as well as those who were those older than them, die in the wilderness. Every day that passed meant that Caleb and Joshua become more and more set apart.

  • Caleb was 40 years old when he was sent to spy on the land of Canaan and we can assume that Joshua was of a similar age.
  • The age of adulthood for a Jewish male is 12 years old.
  • This means that, by the time Caleb reached the Promised Land for the second time, he was 80 years old and the next oldest man other than Joshua would have been 52 years old.

Caleb’s faith in the word of God is awe-inspiring. With each death and each passing day, it must have seemed more and more unlikely that he would see the fulfillment of the promise of God. Yet, he held on for 40 years (14610 days). He continued to believe, even though it must have seemed as if nothing was happening. Caleb was a man of faith.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)

How often do we get impatient with God? He promises so much and we believe Him, but for how long? If God’s word has not become a reality after 6 months, what do we do? What about after 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? At what point do we throw our hands in the air and shout, “It wasn’t true!!” and move on? What about after 39 years? If we were holding on to the promise of God for 39 years without seeing it becoming a reality, would we keep going?

This is a very serious point. How steadfast is our faith in the word and promise of God?

Let me illustrate from my own situation in the hope that it might be helpful.

3½ years ago I heard the clear call of God to step out of church leadership for a time. At the same time God promised that I would return to church leadership in the future and see amazing things happen by the Spirit’s power to God’s glory. 3½ years ago… and it still hasn’t happened. 3½ years later I am still in the same position. What now? Was the word wrong? Have I missed it? Do I need to do something to make it happen?

The core issue is the steadfastness of my faith.

I firmly believe that, when the right time arrives, God will speak clearly and simply and things will change. That, unless I hear the voice of God, I simply have to hold on and keep going. Until that time, I must be patient and listen intently for the word of God. I must learn to use this time in the wilderness to grow and learn and listen whilst I mature as a disciple of Jesus.

It is really hard. Really hard. There is nothing I want more than to be living in the Promised Land. I am impatient to see things happen and bored of the endless sand and manna and quail of the wilderness. Yet until God say “NOW!” I simply have to walk the path in the wilderness he sets before me.

What about you? What has God said? How long can you hold on?

Let me encourage you. In the end, Caleb received what had been promised to him. God responded to his faith and he received everything that he had been promised.

In the end, whether I receive what I hold to be a promise of God or not is irrelevant. All that matters is that God is God, His love endures forever, and the ONLY place that is worth being in is the place where God wants me. Right now, I am wondering in the wilderness and I have no idea when I will cross over into the Promised Land. But God is in the wilderness. The tent of meeting is always here and I can go in any time I like. The other stuff is just not as important as being close to God.

I want to be like Caleb.


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Caleb – Man convinced

Some thoughts on Caleb following my recent morning studies at home. It will probably take 3 blogs… but I will keep going until they are finished as I believe there is some great stuff to be learned here.

“The Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders… from the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh” (Num. 13:1-2 and 6).

Here’s what we know about Caleb at the point he appears in the Bible narrative.

  • He is about 40 years old, which means he was a slave in Egypt and has witnessed the whole Exodus.
  • He comes from the tribe of Judah, which will later produce David and Jesus.
  • He is a respected and trusted leader in his family tribe.

Caleb is chosen, with 11 other men who are leaders from the 11 other tribes of Israel (among whom is Joshua, son Nun, who becomes leader after the death of Moses 40 years later), to spy out the promised land. The people of Israel have walked pretty much directly from Egypt to Canaan at this point (although with well over a million people, it has taken some time).

Canaan is a land described as ‘flowing with milk and honey’ and God’s plan is clearly that the people of the Exodus will go in directly to take possession of the land that God has promised to them. The only delay being for a quick scout around.

When the spies return with a massive bunch of grapes about 40 days later, they declare that the land is indeed rich and flowing with milk and honey (Num. 13:27). But they also point out that there are powerful people living in Canaan already, in cities with high walls.

This report means that fear starts to grip the people, so Caleb stands up;

“Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land for we can certainly do it” (Num. 13:30)

What is it that we act upon? Do we believe that the word of God is real and act upon it, or do we do as the people did?

The people of Israel stand on the brink of having their own homeland by the promise of God. Yet, when they find out that they are not going to be able to wander nonchalantly into Canaan and take up residence, they say; “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites” (Deut. 1:27).

I love Caleb, because he sees things entirely differently. His are words of faith, not fear. He too has seen the opposition that they face in moving into the land of God’s promise, but he chooses to believe only in God’s promise. He says, “God promised us, so lets go. We can certainly do it if God says we can”. Caleb believes God’s words and is willing to act upon them, even though the things that he sees suggest that the process might be harder than expected.

Let’s remember something. Nowhere does God promise the people that they will simply walk into a vacant land flowing with milk and honey. Rather, God tells them that they will be led to a rich land and that the land is theirs. He does not say that it will simply fall into their lap. Further, the results of the spy mission does simply lead to a conclusion that the task is impossible. Why would they believe that?

The God that these people are following has sent plagues on Egypt (the most powerful nation in the world at that time), parted the red sea, fed and watered the people in the middle of a desert, defeated enemies and given the people a faith and purpose. This is the God who stands with them on the edge of the Jordon having promised that the land is for them… and the people question whether he can give it to them?

Compare the words of Caleb above with the words of the 10 other spies.

“We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Num. 13:33b)

These are words of fear. They define the feelings of the people and lead them away from God’s plan. “We fell small and our enemy looks big… we are stuffed.” These words assume that, because they see themselves as small, the enemy sees them as small. Despite the proof of God’s power and love over many months, the people choose to believe something else.

The words of Caleb are words of faith. He believes what God says and is convinced by the evidence of the power of God, that he has seen ever since Moses turned up in the brick pits of Egypt and told them that it was time to go. 40 year old Caleb has been there all along and, together with Joshua and Moses, he is the only person who believes that God can do what he has promised.

We need to have faith in the word of God, build ourselves up with testimony about God and act as if God’s word is true even when we do not understand it.

What follows is heartbreaking. The people of God ignore the men of God (Moses, Joshua and Caleb) and convince themselves that it will be impossible for them to take the land. They miss the opportunity to take hold of the wonderful promise of God because they fear.

This God, who is real, responds (perfectly understandably) in anger. “How can they not believe? Have they not seen what I have done for them?”

Moses asks God to forgive the people, and God does so, but He responds to their faith. Since the people believed that God would let them die, He did let them die in the Desert (Num. 14:28). He does not withdraw His promise of Canaan, but He delays it until the generation without faith has died and a new generation rises up. – Except for Caleb.

“Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your forefathers, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord whole-heartedly” (Deut. 1:35-36)

God acts on the faith of the people, since their faith is failure and death, but he also acts on the faith of Caleb who believed that God is good for His word. Caleb believed with the same faith as Abraham, who left his home to go somewhere he was not sure was possible. Caleb trusted the word of God and was willing to go into a land that was occupied by strong people. Caleb was unsure how things might work out, but he was full of faith that they WOULD work out one way or another.

The BIG IDEA! – God responds to the faith of His people.

What is our faith in? How often is our faith defined by our fear rather than the Word of God? What do I believe? The inheritance of the people of God is that which they have faith for.

This is not a gospel of prosperity, since we do not define the actions of God by our faith. Rather, it is a gospel of faith. We receive from God that which He has promised, if we have faith for it. If we do not have faith for it, then we receive less than he promised. God always promises more than we can imagine or hope for (Eph. 3:20). If we are satisfied only by our own hope and imagination we will receive less that we are promised. Faith in God’s promises will always be a stretch because God’s promises are so much more than we can imagine.

I want conviction of faith like Caleb!


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Who is my neighbour?

I was interested to hear about a new UK government initiative to help the lonely and isolated people in our communities. The Social Care Minister, Norman Lamb, wants neighbourhood watch groups to practice ‘neighbourliness” in connection with those who are older and housebound.

Leaving aside questions of budgets, priorities, and resources (important though they are, this is not a blog to rant about politics), it seems to me that there is a far more fundamental issue at question here. When government has to encourage the citizens of its country to do something that has previously been a present reality, there is a problem.

What has happened in the UK that has led us to a place where loving the people in our street is an exception?

As our society has become increasingly secular and individualistic, the lonely and the lost are overlooked. Evangelical atheists bemoan the influence of the Christian faith and speak about the ‘essential goodness of humanity’, only to witness the marginalized made increasingly marginal and the gap between rich and poor widen all of the time. Our society loves less than it used to. I believe that this situation has a great deal to do with the waning influence of the Christian faith.

‘Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

It is a fundamental part of the Christian faith to be a good neighbour. Offering love and support to those around us, not just to our family and friends. Time and again the Bible commands us to care for foreigners, strangers and people who live around us. To offer love and hospitality, whether we know a person or not.

This seems a very obvious point, but a vital that we consider it.

As Christians, we should love our neighbour.

Not because we are told to, but because it is the natural overflow of discipleship. If we do not have love for our neighbour, then there is something very wrong with the root of our faith in Jesus.

The Bible commands love for our neighbour.

Love is not a gift to be practiced, it is a fruit that results from good roots and healthy growth. We are not encouraged to interact with our neighbour, we are commanded to interact with them. Love is what flows in to the relationships that we have with those around us because it flows out of the relationship we have with our Father God.

As Christians, there is no greater opportunity to show the truth of the power of God’s love than through the relationships we have with those around us. There is no excuse, claiming that one is too busy with church work to drink a glass of wine with the people next door or a cup of tea with the lonely older person. To claim ‘busy-ness’ as a justification for being disconnected with the people around us is a disgusting travesty of righteousness.

Jesus commands us… Love one another as I love you.

Lets talk to our neighbours. Eat with them. Drink with them. Talk and share with them. Then they will become friends. Perhaps they will become friends of Jesus. Everyone is a winner!


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Not converts… Disciples

There is a difference between a believer and a disciple.

A believer is a person who accepts that the Jesus is who he says he is. They believe that the message of Jesus has merit and that there is something of great value that is gained through faith in Jesus. They believe Jesus, when he says that he is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

It is easy to believe.

A disciple is a person who believes all of the above AND lives their life according to the reality of these truths.

We see in the Gospels that thousands of people follow Jesus, believing that he is a man of miracles and a great teacher, but not all of them are disciples.

It is far more challenging to be a disciple than it is to be a believer.

In the New Testament there is a Rich Young Man who comes to Jesus (Matt 19:16-22). He speaks to Jesus, declaring his belief that Jesus is a good teacher and asks how he might be assured of eternal life (salvation). Jesus tells him that he must live a life in service of God, following the commandments. The young man seems to be pleased with himself; “I do all of that”, he declares.

Jesus sees to the heart of things. He tells this young man to give up his money, which Jesus knows is the real thing that rules his life, and become a disciple. This breaks the young man’s heart, because he REALLY loves his money and all that it gives him. He walks away from Jesus.

Compare this rich young man with Matthew.

Jesus is walking along the street and he sees a typical booth within which the tax collectors work and take money (Matt 9:9-13). Matthew is a tax collector. This means he is well off and hated by most of the people of the town because he takes their money and works for the despised Romans who occupy the land. We see in Luke’s gospel (Luke 5:27-32) that whilst Matthew (who was also called Levi) had few friends, his money allowed him to throw parties and have powerful friends.

Jesus walks up to the booth and says, “Follow me”. Matthew simply gets up, leaves everything and follows. He leaves his comfort for salvation. As a disciple, he was trained by Jesus, was one of the twelve, built the Church, wrote a book of the Bible and, it is believed, died as a martyr.

Both of these men believed in Jesus, but Matthew was a disciple. The rich young ruler believed in Jesus, but, because he was unwilling to live the true reality of his belief he left Jesus’ side to follow his own path. Matthew put Jesus before everything else in his life and knew the Son of God because of it. He walked and talked with Jesus, every day. He was present at Pentecost when the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, filled him and gave him power. He lived each day close to Jesus, knowing the voice and closeness of God.

“…go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19)

Jesus’ mission for us is not to make believers who hold on to what they have already. It is to make disciples who gain what Jesus has for them by following and imitating.

People who see the changes in those who follow Jesus cannot help but believe that Jesus is something special. Our mission is to make is possible for them to turn their belief into life.

Making disciples is the goal of the Gospel lived and preached.

Disciples are so much more than converts.


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Jesus was overwhelmed

As I spent time meditating on the Bible this morning (25th June), I was struck by a verse in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus, about to be arrested and crucified, goes to Gethsemane to pray. When he arrives he turns to the closest of his disciples and speaks these words.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matt 26:38)

This statement and request are so rich and poignant.

In the darkness that precedes the whole purpose of Jesus’ ministry on earth, his death on the cross, he feels overwhelmed by the prospect and cost of what is to come and he shares it with his closest disciples.

Jesus displays such vulnerability. It is not a weakness to be honest and his confession of such sorrow and darkness does not disqualify him from what is to come. Ultimately, his disciples cannot share his burden or his task, but they can watch with him and Jesus tells them that he needs them to do so.

Jesus is so honest. In his darkest time, Jesus does not push people away or hide his feelings and pain. He tells them what is going on and asks them to be with him in prayer. Time and again, Jesus told his disciples to imitate what he did. I find this quite a profound implication as a leader and as a disciple.

There is an honesty that is breathtaking about the way Jesus speaks out his situation to his disciples. There is also a deep security that is evident in him. That Jesus feels able to share such a dark feeling without fear of the perception of others.

We do Peter, James and John a disservice if we simply move quickly on to the fact that in the next hour they fell asleep. “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (v 41) . I think that Jesus’ friends will have seen the depth of his pain and sorrow in his eyes and movements, as well as hearing it in his voice. They would have been deeply concerned that their master was so close to breaking point and full of sorrow. Yet all they could do was watch with him.

Praise God for the people who simply make themselves available to watch with us during times of great sorrow and stress. Those who we are aware will simply be next to us. A presence of comfort and a gift of loving friendship.

How many of us know friends who are going through a wilderness time? All we can do is listen and pray. It seems like so little, but it is as much as we can do. Someone once said that prayer is the least and most that we can do.

This verse has profound implications for me and, I think, for others. As a leader, I find that to witness Jesus’ vulnerability and honesty is humbling. As a disciple, seeking to follow my master, I find the depth of Jesus security in His Father and faith in the midst of darkness a simple inspiration. As a friend to others, I see the need for others, to simply watch with those who are at their most vulnerable and pray, unable to do any more. It is a profound encouragement to show love by simply drawing alongside and being present in Gethsemane.

  • If you are going through a dark time, share it with honesty and openness with someone you trust and pray together.
  • If you know of someone who is ‘overwhelmed’ with what they are facing, watch with them and love them.


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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.


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Burdens 3

I have a good friend who likes to ask a question whenever he hears a sermon or reads a book. “YBH?” “Yes, but how?”

In previous blogs I have looked at Contentedness and I have looked at Burdens, twice. I have said that our burdens come from God (Luke 9:23 and 14:27) and that we are called to be content in all circumstances despite our burdens (Phil 4).

YBH?

How do I carry a burden without being crushed under the weight of it?

All disciples carry burdens, yet our burdens should not drive us to distraction or overwhelm us. Instead, our burdens should drive us to our knees! The way we are able to carry the burdens that the Father has shared with us is by prayer.

The burdens of God should not drive us to depression or make us buckle under the weight. They are not our burdens. We should not take them to ourselves and neither should we quail at their enormity. As I have written previously, burdens should all be handed to Jesus (1 Peter 5:7). Burdens should drive us to pray.

When we pray, we come into the presence of the Living God and we begin to see things according to their proper perspective. Time and again, we see in scripture that God is so much bigger than anything we can face or fear.

In the meeting with Goliath, David hears the giant warrior ridicule God’s people and sees the fear in the reaction of the whole army of God. David says, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the army of God?” (1 Sam 17:26). He knows that the true battle is not between the giant Goliath and men, but between a man and the Living God. When David faces Goliath on the battlefield he says, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty… for the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:45-47). This young man could have been overwhelmed with fear in the same was as his brothers and his king, yet he saw the true perspective. Goliath was not a giant, be was a man facing the Almighty and living God.

The burden we carry is the burden of our Father. Who is our Father? He is the true and living God. Creator of heaven and earth. The One who raised Jesus from the dead and saved us from the sin that we are powerless to defeat in our own strength. He is the only God. The One who accomplishes the impossible and rescues the lost. Our God is Almighty, all powerful and all sorts of other amazing things.

“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God’?

Do you not know?
 Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
 They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:27-31)

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer and ministry and he exemplifies them. Time and again he goes to a solitary place and seeks the Father for the next step. Most strikingly, on the night of his trial he is overwhelmed by the enormity of the burden that he carries and prays in the Garden of Gethsemane;

‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:42-44)

The proper response to the burden of God that, when we do not hand it back to God, threatens to overwhelm us, is prayer. It is in the place of prayer where we come to discern the will and direction of God and receive the power to carry it through. It was true of Jesus and it is true of us.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

  • The place of prayer is where we are aware of the wonderful love of God. It causes us to overflowing with the true reality in our whatever predicament we find ourselves. We are saved! He is Lord! We are His!
  • The overflow of this reality is evident in our living to those around us. It is evident to all.
  • We do not need to be anxious… we need to take it all to the Lord. Anxiety is ours alone; peace is of God.
  • Peace comes to us from the certainty in faith that it is all in God’s will through Jesus Christ. It is His burden and we can give it back to Him.
  • The peace that transcends understanding is in Christ. It is this same peace that we find in Philippians 4; the secret of contentedness in all situations.

God shares His burden with us, as a Father to a child. Therefore, we should take it back to Him as children to our Father. It is His burden that we share and so we do not need to take responsibility for it. Our responsibility is to be close to the Father so that we can discern the direction that he moves in. Our responsibility is relationship and our relationship flourishes in prayer and intimacy with Him.

YBH?

  • Prayer. In all things.
  • Pray!
  • Seek God!
  • Pray!
  • Discern!
  • Pray!
  • Act out of relationship!
  • PRAY!!

Burden is a call to intimacy and prayer. Our sense of the burden of God should not drive us to ministry, but to prayer. Nothing we do can make a dent in the mission of God because only God can accomplish that mission. In prayer, however, we go with the flow of God and share in His work, mission and accomplishment as children with their Father.

And Finally…

As Christians we spend a deal of time and energy complaining and moaning about stuff. We struggle with the weight of responsibility in ministry and mission and find ourselves overwhelmed by the scale of God’s mission in a world that rejects the very notion of God. We grumble about our leaders, our churches and our contexts; claiming that we do not have what it takes to do what God wants us to do. Claiming that we do not see the Kingdom of God because we do not have what we need… but we do not pray!

We will try anything else before we try prayer. We will not lay down the burden, ignore the pressures and simply pray because we see only the burden. We are afraid that if we lay it all down then things will not get done and we will not see God’s will. We say that we will pray, but we are too busy at the moment. We say we will pray when we have done what needs to be done!

IT IS NOT OUR BURDEN TO CARRY! IT IS ONLY OUR BURDEN TO PRAY!

The truth is that, UNLESS we lay down the burden at the feet of the Lord we will not see the true power and will of God. As long as we take the burden of God for our own, we will see nothing but the burden we carry. God is so much bigger than we can conceive or imagine; yet we cannot see Him because we carry this enormous burden. PUT IT DOWN AND LOOK. PRAY! Don’t say that it doesn’t work until you have done it.

YBH? Pray!


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Burdens 2

I should not be surprised that I have a burden. Jesus tells us that, when we come to faith in him, we will have to pick up our burdensome cross in imitation of him and follow to the same place where he is going. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), and more, “whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

Having a burden to carry is an integral part of being a disciple of Jesus. If one does not have a burden then I would say there is something wrong with one’s discipleship. Further, when one has a calling to leadership or responsibility (and leadership can be of many different types other than church leadership) the sense of the burden one carries is only increased.

And so here I am… both carrying a burden and called to contentedness. They seem to be incompatible, yet the Bible tells me that both burden and content are a part of what it is to be a mature disciple of Jesus. The truth is this… burden and contentment are only really compatible when we are close to God.

I believe that it is true to say that my burden is either my own, someone else’s, or it is Gods. In whatever case, it should not be impossible to be content and burdened.

  • If my burden is my own, then I can be released from it by taking it to the Father in prayer and receive rest and healing. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28).
  • If my burden is someone else’s then there are two possibilities. First, for many reasons, I may not need to carry it at all and so I should lay it down. Second, I may be sharing in it out of brotherhood and love (Galatians 6:2) which means I can pass it on to Jesus in the same way as I pass on my own burden. This can also be the case when a burden is God’s and I adopt it as if it is my own (such as the success of a church or the healing of an individual).
  • If I am close to God, however, then I will sense God’s burden for the world. His burden is of love and compassion for a broken world that is overwhelmed by the sin of humanity (John 3:16-17). In this case, it is not my burden, it is His. I simply share in it. God does not really need my help to carry this burden, he allows me to share in it out of love and as a part of my discipleship.

Let me illustrate the final point above more clearly. I have a 4 year old son who loves to share my life with me. He wants to be with me and he imitates my actions (which can be very embarrassing when the actions that he imitates might, at times, be less than edifying). Recently, I was moving a heavy object in our house from one side of the room to the other and my son wanted to help me. I could easily have said “no”, since there is no doubt that it would have been easier for me to do it alone and that he would be no real help. Instead, I said “yes” and we moved it together. In truth, he was no real help at all. He did not have the strength or control to make a difference and he even got in the way a little, making it harder for me to shift the furniture accurately without hurting him. So, why did I let him assist me?

  1. I love my son and I appreciate his desire to be with me. If my son wants to be a part of my life then I need a really good reason to say no to him. Inconvenience is not a good reason.
  2. By doing the task together, I was able to teach him how to do the task for himself, maybe with his own son, when he is more grown up.
  3. He tasted a real sense of responsibility by helping his dad.
  4. When we have shifted the furniture there were high fives all around. It gave him a share in the achievement and it encouraged him.

These may seem like simple things, but they are profound for his training and belonging. My son, by participating in my burden, learnt how I carry it and what I do with it. Further, he shared in it and experienced it for himself.

Let’s be brutally hones with ourselves as Christians. Jesus does not need us to help him with the burden he carries. The truth is that we gave him the burden to begin with and, more often than not, we seem to get in the way rather than assist. I know that this can be hard to accept when we really, at the heart of things, hold the belief that Jesus needs us and cannot really grow the church or change the world without us. He does not. Jesus’ burden is to save the world and, truthfully, there is no way that I can even make a mark on that burden. Jesus knows it. I know it. We all know it. The burden is carried and the victory won wholly through the grace of God (Ephesians 2:4-5). Yet he shares his burden with us and invites us to follow him.

Why? Because, he loves us.
God is our Father and we are His children. He loves us and wants to be with us and wants to see us grow into mature imitators of Jesus.

If I am as close to the Father as I can be, then I will be both burdened and content. I will be burdened by the same things that reside in the heart of the Father. I will also be content because the Father is God and nothing is too difficult for him. The burden I carry is not my burden… it is His. He allows me to share in it because I am His child and he will allow me to share in his achievement for the same reason.

What happens if we still feel a weight and burden with little sense of contentment? I know that this is a state that I often find myself in. Burdened with little contentment. What is the answer that allows both contentment and burden?

First, we need to understand fully, right at the guts of our being, that the burden is not our own. There is nothing that we can do to save the world from sin and death. That burden and that task are God’s. Completely and utterly God’s. His is the burden, the mission, the answer, the power, the glory, the honour, the everything. It is ALL God’s.

We might still take the weight of the burden onto ourselves, feeling a yearning to find an answer and make a contribution, but it is a futile and pointless exercise. The burden is God’s and the solution can only come from God. He might let me share in His plan and to witness His solution, but as soon as I begin to think that I am God’s answer to any part of that burden I have lost the plot. ONLY GOD HAS THE ANSWER. The answer is always Jesus.

In Philippians 4, Paul had come to realise that wherever he was, in prison or in charge, the mission and the burden were in no way his. He was probably the most gifted, highest achieving church leader in the whole of the history of the Church. Yet he was content to spend 7 or more years chained to guards under house arrest with no real influence, power or position. Paul trusted that, whatever was to befall him and whatever situation he sat in, God would be the one who would accomplish the goal. He did not take God’s burden as his own, although he picked up his cross and followed on a daily basis.

The burden of the cross is not to take responsibility for the things that only God can accomplish, but to follow God wherever he leads. No amount of worry or effort on Paul’s part would help meet the needs of a lost world. It is ONLY through Jesus that the world can be saved. Jesus is the ONLY way, truth and life (John 14:6).

So Paul was content. Not necessarily in his situation as a prisoner, but in the Father’s love. His situation was entirely irrelevant to his sense of contentment, because his contentment was not dependent upon his ministry or position or situation. Paul’s contentment depended wholly upon his proximity to Jesus. As long as he was with Jesus the nature of his task was unimportant. And so Paul could write; “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21)

It is entirely incorrect to believe that the way to address a sense of burden, no matter how justified that sense might be, by focusing on the burden itself. It is tempting to see an issue or problem and seek to address it through ministry, programmes, service or counseling, but to do so is futile. The burden is not mine and the solution is not in my power. All I can do is look to the Father and follow where He leads. He carries the burden and offers the solution. So I share the burden and follow Him as my son shared my burden and followed me.

So what are the implications of our burden? Or to put it another way… Yes, but How?

I will have to write another blog… Burdens (Part 3)


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Burdens

Having blogged previously about contentedness, I am led to another subject that, on the surface at least, seems to be the antithesis of content.

As Paul, I am learning the secret of contentedness in all situations (Phil 4). At the same time, as a leader and a man seeking the heart of God, I have a whole set of burdens that constantly chips away at my sense of contentment.

  • I have a burden to draw close to God. Of all of the things that weigh on me, the sense of urgency and priority to draw close to Jesus is the greatest. It wasn’t always the case, but I have a sense of unmet hunger to know the closeness of Jesus. The image I get is of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus sits with his disciples and teaches them. I want to be in that circle, listening and learning from my master. I want to know Him and be known.
  • I have a burden for discipleship. I want to see men and women who follow Jesus so closely that they come to act like him, having a relationship with the Father and living in a way that overflows from their closeness. Living in the reality of change that results. “He [Jesus] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:28-29)
  • I have a burden for the Church. I want to see communities of faith in Jesus that are modeled on the New Testament, where the Spirit of God is alive and vital, transforming men and women through encounter with the living God. A Church in the image of Isaiah 6:1-8, where the presence of God is so overwhelming that the people are driven to their knees in realisation and confession (“Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’” (Isaiah 6:5). Where they find forgiveness and restoration, healed by God, so that they might respond to the call of God to go into the world and take the presence of the Living one with them. I want to see Church that is evidently the living presence of God in the world, outshining and defeating the rule of sin and death.
  • I have a burden for the world. I do not want to see the world judged and condemned, but saved and transformed. I know that judgment is coming, for all of us. I know, in faith, that God will judge the living and the dead and that not all people will be welcomed into the eternal presence of God. That not all people have been recreated by submission to the loving power of God (Romans 8:1-8) and so are subject to the death of sin. I take no joy in judgment although I thank God for my life. My burden is to see AS MANY AS POSSIBLE SAVED so that when we stand together before God we will not be subject to the judgment we deserve for our sin, but will receive the freedom that Jesus purchased for us by dying in our place on the cross.
  • I have a burden that lies upon me like a huge cross of wood. I want to see the presence of God in a way that, currently, I don’t. I believe that in the real presence of God people cannot ever remain the same and that it is only through the presence of God that people will be changed from sinners lost into sons and daughters recreated. People are not persuaded to receive salvation. (So many churches waste their time seeking to provide a rational argument for faith in God). The only thing that really persuades people to come to faith in God through Jesus is a real encounter with Him through the Holy Spirit. Faith in God is not an exercise in rationality. Rationality is simply knowledge that can be conceived by the human mind and validated by human understanding. GOD IS SO MUCH BIGGER THAN THE HUMAN MIND! How can we expect the knowledge of God the Father to be contained in human understanding? The knowledge of the love and power of God is only understood in faith by the whole being. Body, mind, and spirit.

So I find myself struggling. How am I supposed to find contentedness? I cannot express my feelings and thoughts in words so I will, once again, borrow from Paul;

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

I struggle. I have a burden for God’s Kingdom that I am helpless to express, let alone achieve. Yet, I have a desire to be content because it is clear that contentedness is a key sign that one is entrusting one’s faith entirely to the Father God.

More will follow…


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Am I Content?

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12b – NIV)

How is it that Paul, the great apostle of the church, can write these words? Paul who, more than any other character in the New Testament, was ‘driven’ in service of the Gospel to plant churches, write letters, confront the authorities inside and outside the community of faith, take down heresy and so much more. This Paul, who had such conviction that the what he believed was the truth that he faced regular and multiple imprisonments, beatings, accusations, torture, natural disasters, hardship and, eventually, death.

To me, he seems to be the last person in the world who one would expect to be content under house arrest, chained between two guards, with almost no public influence. Yet he writes from this very situation to the people of the church in Philippi; “I have learnt the secret of being content in any and every situation”.

Paul was content. In all of the change and difficulty of his life Paul was able to remain content. Why? His security was not in his position or work, but in Jesus. As my friend Andy said to me the other day, “It is not about who you are, but whose you are”.

I have been tremendously challenged by this concept of ‘being content’ in the last weeks. I am not sure that I have ever been entirely content. Even when I was doing the thing to which God has called me, I was never fully content. I was constantly frustrated in a deep part of my being by opposition and a sense of not being good enough. I would strive to do things well and still feel as if it could and should have been better. It did not matter how many came to Christ or grew in faith or encouraged me, I had a sense of restless underachievement.

I realise that there is an element to these feelings that stems from my personality. I am an ENTJ who is driven, analytical, an external processor and an extrovert. Yet, there is something much deeper that has been going on. The truth is this; my security did not, in the past, reside in my relationship with God but in my work for God.

I feel no sense of fear at such a confession because I know that, really, when we are honest, the great majority of people in leadership in churches go through the same thing. We work so hard for God and the church that we lose time for relationship with the very one we serve. We are so busy that we simply cannot find the time to prioritize quality time in the presence of God. We snatch a little time whilst we prepare talks or stand in church but, if we are honest, it is not priority time so much as it is incidental time.

This is not to say that those of us who are good Christians do not know the answer. We know that the answer to getting to know God better is to pray, read and meditate on scripture, worship, and fellowship with fellow disciples; but we simply cannot find the time. We speak the words that claim that time with our Father is important to us, but we do not live a life that reflects our words.

Paul was content. Why? He wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). His security was no longer in what he was or what other people saw him to be, instead it was entirely and utterly embedded in Christ. The drive that was very evident in Paul was not focused upon achieving religious success or gaining honour from other people, it was focused with the intensity of a laser on the single task of pursuing a relationship with Christ Jesus.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11 – NIV)

The words of Paul in Philippians have enormous testimonial power. We see in the chronicles of his life that Paul lived these words right up until the end. His circumstances and position were entirely secondary to his discipleship and closeness to Jesus. His life was a true, consistent reflection of his words.

For any one of us who have tasted, even for a moment, what it is like to be close to Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we know that what Paul writes is the truth. We know that there is nothing as vital as the priority to nurture closeness to Jesus. We know, in the very depth of our being, that it is truth of the greatest importance that contentedness and security are found only when we draw close to Jesus. And yet… Do we live it?

I want to be content.

I want to be as close to Jesus as I can possibly be, because I have come to understand that there is no other place where I will be content. I want to be able to not just read the words of Paul, but say them with integrity. “I have learnt the secret of contentment in all situations… it is being found in Jesus.” Further, I will sacrifice and get rid of anything in my life and person that acts as a barrier to being immersed and surrendered to Jesus. Deliberately and as quickly as I am able to do so. Only then will I be able to say, “I am content”.