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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Love

In recent times I have heard of a friend of mine who is suffering from rather advanced cancer. They did not have any hint that it might be there and simply found a lump one day. Within just a few weeks, they have found themselves in hospital, too ill even for chemo therapy. My heart breaks for them and their family.

This friend has many Christian friends who have been made aware of the situation and it has been wonderful, in a melancholy manner, to witness the outpouring for love and concern for my friend. Believers have been fasting and praying, committing themselves to pursue God for my friends healing and wholeness. I too have committed myself to fast and pray for my friend, in the hope that they will be healed and we will witness a true miracle of God.

The Bible reassures us that we will see healing in Jesus’ name and there also have been many words of prophecy and encouragement for our church and for Braintree, telling us that we will see an outpouring of healing in Jesus’ name and to Jesus glory. I believe. We believe. And we pursue God for the life and the healing of our friend, claiming the promises of God. “You have said… so please, we want to see it!”

Praise God for this move and passion for healing in our church and in Braintree, and for our friend who we hold before God. It is utterly correct to do so and the outpouring of love is brilliant and fantastic to witness. More, Lord, more.

Yet… it has raised a question in my heart that is an itch that I think too serious to overlook.

What about the stranger? What about the struggle of the person that I and my friends do not know personally? How do I feel when I hear of a stranger’s struggle, illness, hurt or pain? What is my response when I am not their friend and they are simply another stranger among thousands that I see every day? Does my heart break for them? Do I feel the motivation to fast and pray and fall to my knees before God on their behalf as I do for my friend?

No. I am sorry to say that I do not.

For my friend I am driven to my knees to pray and seek God on their behalf. For the stranger… I feel sorry for them, compassion for their struggle, but no heart break or desire to fall to my knees and pray! No drive to pursue God on their behalf with the intensity and passion as I do my friend.

What about God? Does God care more for my friend than for the stranger? No. I know that the answer to this questions is a simple and resounding NO! God loves them both. Equally, sacrificially, overwhelmingly, passionately; God loves them both so much that he sent Jesus to die in their place. My heavenly Father’s heart breaks at their struggles and his love is boundless for their circumstances. When my Father God hears of the cancer of my friend and the cancer of the stranger, I believe that my Father is moved to heal and transform.

Yet, I have to admit that I have far less passion to pray and pursue God’s healing for the stranger than I have for my friend. Oh yes, I want to them to be healed because I want to see a miracle… but I am not sure I want the stranger healed out of a sense of overwhelming love for them. Who will ask for their healing and weep for their circumstances and bang on God’s door for their rescue? If not me, who?

I am ashamed to say that it is unlikely to be me, because I simply do not beat with the heart beat of God for the lives of the people I do not know. My friends and family… easy. I love them and want to see God move with a passion that overwhelms me in prayer. For the stranger… I just don’t feel it. I am ashamed that I simply do not love them as my Father God loves them.

Jesus said in Luke 12:31, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all of the other things will be added to it.”

Somehow, I have to seek the heartbeat of God for His Kingdom. I have to know God and move to the beat of His heart. Loving the people he loves, whether I know them or not. I have to pray for my friend… but I also have to pray for the stranger with the same love, passion, intensity and commitment as I pray for my friend. How? That I am not sure of, other than to seek Father God with all my heart.

If I am honest, I find it hard to write such a confession of shortcoming. And it may be that my fellow believers pour scorn on my struggle and callous lack of love for others… but I am not alone. Where is the heart of God in the people of God? If we move so closely to the beat of the heart of God… where is our self-sacrificing, passionate, overwhelming love for the people that God loves. Even those who we do not know?

What are your thoughts?


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Paint yourself Blue!

Even as I read this passage from Philippians I feel my heart racing and my blood rising. I feel a Braveheart moment coming where I look across the valley at the enemy and feel the call to battle. I want to (metaphorically at least) paint myself blue and charge naked at the enemy with my sword in hand. I feel the call to sacrifice everything, even my life, in the cause of Jesus because there is nothing of more import or value than being found in Jesus.

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, 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 is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9)

In comparison to knowing Jesus and being found in Him, everything else pales into insignificance. When I find Jesus, He is wonderful, vibrant HD colour in comparison to 8 inch, valve driven, cathode ray black and white. There is nothing in the world that is as wonderful or fantastic as knowing Jesus. Every other thing that I could have or inherit is not just rubbish in comparison, but toilet detritus. Every other thing is worthy only of flushing in comparison to knowing Jesus and being found in Him.

This makes me so excited! It makes me take a moment and consider who Jesus is and what he is like. I remember what it was like the first moment when I got up and followed him as my response to his sacrifice and call. It makes me consider afresh the amazing nature of His love for the world that he would leave the Father and take the form of a man and make the ultimate sacrifice on the cross so that the punishment for my sin is paid. I am made alive in Him. Everything else is death. It is shadow in comparison to the life and color and resonance and wonder of Jesus.

HE IS ALIVE AND I AM FOUND IN HIM.

How is it then, that the Christian faith is most often simply a grey, boring, lifeless institution? Is this really the fullness of our inheritance in Jesus and the result of His love and sacrifice? A bland, liberal, middle of the road social club for bland, liberal middle of the road people who fool themselves into thinking that they are ‘radical’ and ‘accepting’ but find the teaching of Jesus too radical for them to accept?

The Church is called to be a reflection of Jesus. A taste of the kingdom of God in a world that is lost in sin. If Jesus is vibrant colour with the full and incredible healing power of God’s Spirit then the Church should be the same. This Jesus who is worthy of total sacrifice is the model of what it is to be a Christian and the image to which the Church should conform.

When I look at the church, however, it does not make me want to paint myself blue and charge at the enemy. (For a start, the pews would get in the way). If I am honest, when I look at the church, the beloved bride of Jesus, it makes me want to walk away. There is so little vibrant life in comparison to the life I find in Jesus. Why should I dress in grey when there is a coat of many colours on offer?

I would rather paint myself blue and charge than dress in grey and cower!

But I cannot walk away because the church is the bride of Jesus. If I walk away I will not find Jesus, because Jesus is with the Church. The Church is the Bride of Christ and he has purchased (as in olden times) with a price so high that only the Son of God can afford to pay it by His blood. The Church is beautiful in His eyes and He is profoundly in love with her.

The fact that the Church often chooses to dress in grey is not a reason to consign her to the rubbish heap. The matter that the church of Jesus has become so used to wearing grey that it seeks to, falsely, justify grey as ‘the will of God’ and ‘the real intention of Jesus’ is not sufficient reason to walk away. Jesus loves her and is coming back to reclaim his bride.

The Church needs a makeover and there are 2 things that need to happen…

  • First, we, the Church, need to look at Jesus instead of the world.

When I look at Jesus I feel my blood rise and my chest fill and the strength of a warrior course through my spirit. I feel that in Him there is a cause worth living for and fighting for and, if necessary, dying for. When I look at the cross I know that my freedom and life has been paid for with the blood of an innocent man and I perceive the overflow of my heart in response. Oh, to be found in Jesus! He is world changing, life transforming, sin saving, life giving and I am his man forever and always.

When I look at the world I feel myself lose hope and sink into despondency.

  • Second, we, the Church, need to remember that we are the beautiful bride of Jesus.

Chosen, purchased and being prepared for unity and new life with Him. Not dressed in grey and enrobed in defeat and fear. Dressed in the image of our vibrant, wonderful, colourful Christ Jesus, who taught the truth, healed the sick, confronted sin, offered salvation and opened the way to God the Father by utterly destroying the power of sin! We are His chosen people, a royal priesthood, the bride.

When I look to Jesus I find motivation and power in the Holy Spirit to BE who Jesus calls me to be. I find the courage and power to charge naked at the enemy so that the battle is joined. The enemy is not the Church…

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

This is no empty and dead religion! I have no idea how we let it seem like such… But it is time to get out the blue paint and charge!

Does anyone want to borrow my blue body paint?


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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

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…