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Moses’ Corpse

Moses’ corpse

After Moses died, according to Jude, the devil and the archangel Michael had a ding-dong over who would get his remains.

“But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”” (Jude: 9)

Evidently, the devil wanted to use Moses’ remains for his purposes, whilst Michael wanted to use them for the glory of God.

Arguments are like that. Different sides enter dispute, utterly conviction that their point of view is correct. They can so quickly and easily slide into slander and accusation, the original subject of dispute entirely forgotten in a blizzard of accusation and slander.

Let me give a simple illustration. Imagine if I were to argue with my sister over who would get the last biscuit. Before any time at all has passed, the biscuit lies forgotten on the plate whilst my beloved sibling and I fling accusations and past hurts at each other (Not that this sort of thing has ever happened, eh Debs?).

Jude tells us that Michael’s reply was the name of the Lord. We can be sure that this was the last thing on the devils lips, but Michael does something very interesting. He does not base his argument on the nature or value of Moses’ corpse. Instead, he simply gives the argument to God and allows the power of the Lord’s name to resolve the dispute.

I have to be honest and say that, most often, my disputes are not with the devil. I KNOW that the father of lies is wrong. Instead, my disputes tend to be with people I love. My children (often), my family, friends and other Christians. Further, ordinarily, these are not necessarily huge disputes. They almost never have to do with the bodies of dead prophets. It is almost always not worth losing relationship for the sake of the last biscuit on a plate. Biscuits are just not that important.

Sometimes, however, disputes are about matters of truth and theology. When there arises a dispute between the meaning of one prophet and who has the correct interpretation, both sides of a discussion might claim the metaphorical body of Moses as the evidence of their argument. Such a discussion can quickly slip into personal accusation and slander, causing a breakdown in relationship and, at worst, a split in the family.

It seems evident to me that ‘being right’ can, more often than not, lead to unnecessary division and hurt. At times it is necessary to agree to disagree and walk in separate directions… but not often. Most often it is necessary to guard unity because the root of our unity is not our ‘identicality’, but Jesus. In the end, it is the Lord’s name that will settle disputes and bring light to dark places. Accusation and slander NEVER bring peace and unity.

“All who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Phil 3:15-16)

Paul’s perspective is very interesting.

He was utterly convinced that he was right on matters of faith and he wrote and spoke about his theological understanding with passion and vehemence. He confronted others when he disagreed with them (even Simon Peter) and planted churches by teaching the Gospel, as he believed it. It was his belief that if a person was in Christ and mature in their faith they would simply agree with him.

Yet, his security in his faith was such that he didn’t need others to admit that he was right. Often, the issue with arguments is not that we want to be right so much as we want others to tell us that we are right. Paul was happy to let others disagree with him and was not in any way shaken in his faith if they did so. He believed that he was right and his faith was founded in Jesus, rather than in his own understanding.

Paul’s faith, therefore, was that the Holy Spirit would lead others to the truth and that it was his task only to speak the truth in love. The Spirit of God would lead the one who was wrong to a position where they could come around to the truth and if the person who was wrong was Paul himself, then so be it. Paul seems, in the context of Philippians, to be entirely focused on the truth of Jesus and so is willing to be submit anything that he has wrong in order simply to be in step with Jesus.

That is not to say that he allowed people who were opposed to his theology to prosper where they might be dangerous to the health of the people of God. He had not truck with Gnostics and was more than willing to let those who taught a different gospel to be put out of the church community. His primary task was to protect and build the flock, in line with the calling of all Elders. He did not, however, accuse them or condemn them. He simply had faith in God.

It is so easy for a disagreement to become divisive and to slide into accusation and slander in order to win an argument. Yet, if we have a mature faith, the truth is God’s and our responsibility is to speak the truth in love and leave the persuasion up to the Holy Spirit.


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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”.