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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How can I be more fruitful?

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

This verse has been speaking to me a great deal in the last week. It comes from Jesus wonderful metaphor of the vine and the branches.

Jesus is the vine, the source of nourishment and that which is rooted in the soul. We are the branches, attached to the vine for our flourishing. Without the vine we can do and produce nothing. God is the gardener, managing and caring for the vine so that it is a fruitful and productive as it can possibly be. He cuts off branches that do not bear fruit, so that they do not take valuable energy away from fruit giving branches. He prunes those branches that bear fruit, cutting them back so that they can become even more fruitful.

This passage in John 15 warrants plenty of time. It is one that, I have found, needs to ferment and mature in order for it to become more clear.

There are several things that are swilling around my brain.

First, the branch MUST be attached to the vine. No branch can produce fruit if it is not firmly and healthily attached to the vine. A branch can survive for a short time in a vase, but it will die. The place for a branch to be is attached to the vine, so that it can be fed and grow. Verse 5 is very clear. “Apart from me you can do nothing”. It is in our closeness and attachment to Jesus, the vine, that ALL of out ability to flourish as Christians depends. Without it we can do nothing. Without it we are nothing.

Second, fruitfulness is the natural result of being a healthy branch. Branches do not produce fruit if they are separate from the vine, but when they are healthily attached they cannot help but produce fruit. Fruitfulness comes from Jesus. It is a consequential response to real intimacy with God. ‘Apparent’ intimacy will not produce fruit. Fruitfulness is the purpose of the vine and the branches, it is what the gardener desires. So fruit should be our purpose, but only as a response to closeness to the vine.

Third, pruning bloody well hurts. I am sorry to put it so crudely, but it is what I have found. I do not like bits being cut off of me and, if anyone has witnessed an expert gardener pruning a plant, pruning is a violent and surgical activity. BUT, and this is really, really important, pruning works. It is the best and, as far as I know, only way to nurture a plant to greater and better fruitfulness. Pruning hurts, but it is worth it to increase the yield of good fruit.

Fourth, a good vine takes time. It is over seasons that the fruit multiplies. Only with time can the gardener train and nurture a plant to excellent fruitfulness. With time, the link between the branch and the vine becomes stronger and more effective to enable the branch to flourish and produce fruit.

Finally, we should not pray for more fruitful lives. We should pray for a closer relationship with Jesus. It is only and always our closeness to the vine that will increase the quality and quantity of our fruit. If we want to see more evidence of the presence and power of God, then we need to be in the presence of God.

If I want to be more fruitful as a disciple of Jesus, then I need to be more firmly and closely attached to the vine. Apart from Him, I can do nothing.

 


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Paying the price

I wonder if, for too long, the Christian faith has been presented as an easy option?

Let me start by stating that Jesus has paid the price for our salvation, once and for all. We are saved by grace, not as a result of our own righteousness. In this way, the price that we simply cannot afford has already been paid, fully and unequivocally, and salvation is free. BUT…

However, it is not salvation that is at issue, so much as it is the life of a disciple.

To paraphrase Bill Hybels, if the Christian faith is only about salvation, why are we still breathing? Why is it that we are not, as soon as we believe, taken into heaven? What happens after salvation? It is after we are saved that God asks us to pay a price. We don’t have to pay it, but we are given the opportunity to do so over the rest of our life on Earth.

Richard Taylor, at #RMLC2014, talked about an aeroplane where the ones who are in first class are simply those who are willing to pay the price expected to upgrade from standard seating. All of the passengers are heading for their destination, but some have paid more and so find more on their journey. The difference between standard and first class is not where one travels, it is how one travels.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)

These words of Jesus do not say that there is a cost to salvation. Anyone can hear the words of Jesus, comprehend the meaning and believe in the truth. Yet, there is a difference between those who believe and those who follow. Following Jesus costs more, but it means more too.

To follow Jesus we must give up our own preferences and life choices. We must choose to submit our future to him, living in a way that is consistent with his teaching, even if it is different to what we have always known. This might mean that we strain, or even lose, relationships with family and friends who do not agree with us or understand our faith. It might necessitate a change in our priorities of time and effort. Following Jesus will almost certainly mean that we have to sacrifice our need for control over our own destiny, choosing to live by faith instead of knowledge.

Following Jesus ALWAYS leads to change. We will change, our lives will change, our relationships will change and our view of the world that we live in will change.

The Cost of following Jesus is simply that we have to follow Jesus, wherever he leads us… even when it results in derision, persecution and, possibly, death.

Why? Because Jesus Christ is the only way for the people of the world to be reconciled to the God who created them. He is the only way to be forgiven from sin and the only path into the presence of the living God. Further, the people of this world NEED to see the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. It is through the lives of the disciples of Jesus that they will find the evidence of the truth of salvation by grace. We are the body of Christ!

To be saved does not mean that I need to be a disciple of Jesus. I don’t have to pay that price. But, because I am saved, how can I not follow? How can I not dive into God? The question is this… am I willing to pay the price so that my fellow men and women of the world might taste and see that Jesus is the way to full and wonderful life?

“Where else can I go? With you, Jesus, are the words of eternal life”

End Note – This blog is the result of my thoughts following the @RMChurches Leadership Conference in Norwich (#RMLC2014).


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Children of God

Revelation!

There comes a time when things click. Something is said or happens and we respond, “Oh! Now I understand. That’s what it means”.

When revelation comes, the whole colour and meaning of the world changes. It is like putting on a pair of spectacles that make the world suddenly clearer. Before, one was hardly aware that the world was out of focus, but when one begins to use spectacles it is impossible to understand how ever one didn’t notice how fuzzy things appeared.

The shepherds had a choir of angels to lead them to the stable where Jesus was born and, after they had seen the new King of kings, they went home singing because their world was forever changed.

The wise men needed a star to guide them to the new born king and, when they had met him and bowed before him, there was no doubt that the whole world would never be the same again.

God had come to humanity, offering a way by which we can be forgiven, reconciled, welcomed and reunited with the Creator of the universe.

“Yet to all who receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husbands will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13)

The revelation of Christmas is simply this.

If we receive Jesus into the world and our lives as the son of God and saviour of the world, then everything changes. We are adopted by God the Father as His children. Not by birth or nature, but by the will and decision of God.

When we welcome Jesus, God welcomes us. Not because we are good or worthy or without sin, and certainly not because he has to welcome us, but because of Jesus. Jesus is our route to God. Jesus is the key that opens the door to the presence of the living, loving God which is otherwise hopelessly locked to us.

I am a child of the living God. I no longer have to be worried about belonging and having a purpose in the world. I am a child of God. I belong to Him. I am wanted by Him. I am welcomed by Him. Nothing else really matters.


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Jesus who? – Another Christmas cogitation

My children have a wide range of skills and gifts, and I am very proud of them. Not all of them, however, are as positive as I might hope. One of their remarkable skills, that in this case I can only hope they grow out of, could be best described as ‘selective blindness’.

Let me give you an example.

One of my sons will want to wear his favorite sweater. He will ask where it is and my wife or I will tell him that the sweater he requires is in his bedroom, in his sweater drawer. My son will then race off to look, only to return 20 seconds later to say that his sweater is not in his sweater drawer. We will assure him that his sweater is, in fact, in his sweater drawer and send him off to look once more. A mere 25 seconds later, our son will stand before us, speaking with great vehemence, to tell us that the sweater is not in the drawer. We will tell him once again where the sweater is (in the drawer) and he will have. what can only be described as, a ‘strop’, shouting that we are wrong and flinging his foot towards the floor with a passion that can only be felt by a child insistent that his parents are ‘wrong’ and ‘being unfair’.

Any parent will know what happens next. We go with him into his room, to the drawer in question, and find, sitting on top of the pile of clothing inside his drawer, the very sweater that was required. He will then insist that it was not there only a few moments before.

This exchange contains an everyday miracle. The miracle is not that we have found the sweater which our son insists mystically appeared in between his searches. The miracle, as far as I am concerned, is that my son did not find the sweater that was on top of his clothes, in plain sight, in exactly the place we said it would be!

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11)

Where is God? In a beautiful world that is wracked with pain, loss, disaster, disease and more, the cry goes out. Where is God? Why does God ignore us? We are told that there is a God, yet we cannot see Him.

The accusations follow.

There is no God. We have looked and He is not there! We have been lied to. If God is there, why can’t we see Him?

The truth is simple, yet profound. God is with us. He is in the midst of this beautiful, suffering, struggling, dark and painful world. Born in a stable, to live and die and rise again. He is right out in the open where all can see him… yet so many people miss him. It seems that the majority of the world suffers from ‘selective blindness’.

We may stamp our feet and shout our frustration, because we cannot see the presence of God in the world, yet… there he is. Right out in plain sight. Just where he has been declared to be for the whole of our lives. Jesus is God’s presence and rescue for a lost world. God is right there in plain sight for all to see, yet so many simply do not see him.

The miracle is not that God is in the world. The miracle is that we fail to see him! He is right there in plain sight.

It is for this reason that those of us who are Christians and can see God’s presence in the world right in front of us, must not get frustrated with the people who cannot see Jesus. Just as it is a waste of time and energy shouting at our children when they cannot see a jumper that is in plain sight, neither should we scream our frustration at the world’s selective blindness in their faces. Accusing the world of willful ignorance is a waste of energy and in no way displays the love for the world that Jesus exemplifies and calls us to. It might well be that Jesus is right in front of them in plain sight, but they genuinely cannot seem to see him.

What we have to do is simply walk alongside them and show them Jesus. Point to him, right out in plain sight, and hope that next time they will see him for themselves. Because, once a person sees Jesus for themselves, they simply cannot fathom how they were able to miss him for all the time that passed before.

Simple, yet profound. Do not get angry that others cannot see Jesus when he is right there in front of them. Rather, walk with them and show them where he is. Perhaps next time they will see Him for themselves.


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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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Sent by God

In the UK, there is no easier method of evangelism and outreach that carol singing at Christmas. Wrapped up warm, we can open our lungs and blast out all of the old favorites. Hark the Herald, In the bleak midwinter, Joy to the world and all the rest.

The sad, but interesting , thing is that many Christians seem to overlook the significance of the carols and the opportunity.

All of the Christian carols contain a clear gospel message about the rescue of the world by Jesus. The familiar songs declare the Lordship of God, the salvation of the Lord, the redemption of Creation and so much more. What other time of year will unbelieving members of society voluntarily declare and hear the truths of the gospel? At any other time in the UK, one would be met with, at best, ambivalence, and at worst, derision.

The message that we sing at Christmas is nothing new. It is, to put it very simply, the message of the gospel. Declaring salvation for the lost, rescue for the captives, life for the dead and so on and so forth. Our message for December 25th is no different from our message for 3rd April or 35th August. It is the message of the gospel.

“There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John” (John 1:6)

When John the baptizer was preaching and dunking, his message was no different from the message of the Bible. It was the same as the word of Isaiah and the Psalms of David. “Prepare the way for the rescue of God! Confess to God and be made clean”. John declared the truth.

“He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (John 1:7-8)

John pointed unapologetically and definitely to Jesus, the Messiah. He was sent by God to declare the truth of God to a dark world. “Look to the light of God! Find salvation in the chosen one of God!” It was a message that any of the religious leaders of the time might have preached, yet it was only John who had the courage and faith to preach. He even preached it to the king of Judea who lived in a sinful relationship and had the power to kill him.

The message has not changed. It is as simple as it has always been, yet as hard to stand up and preach as it has always been. It takes REAL faith to stand and declare the coming saviour to a world that is lost in darkness. It takes enough faith to believe that it is more important and urgent to declare salvation in Jesus than it is to avoid the opposition and hatred of people who do not want to hear the truth.

We are the ones sent by God as witnesses to the light. At Christmas, but also at all other times. Sent to declare the gospel with courage in words, deeds, attitude and by the Spirit of God. My name is Nigel and I am sent from God. The question is this; do I have the courage, conviction and, most importantly, faith to declare the truth of light in a dark world. Is it important enough to me to declare the truth despite the dangers and darkness that will oppose the truth about the light of the world? Is the light more important to declare than not?

(Christmas cogitation part 5)