Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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A Psalm of Nigel

This Psalm has already been published on my friends Facebook group, “Write a Psalm a Day”, but I wanted it to be on my blog too. I have become more and more interested in writing short stories and psalms as a method of expressing things to God and so I hope that this might speak to you too.

 

I wait impatiently for the Lord.

He hears my cry, but still I moan.

He sets my feet upon a rock and still I complain.

I cry and weep as time goes by far slower than I would like.

Even though I am certain that He hears me, I say the same things time and again.

I rail against the constraints that he has put on me and I complain often.

 

Yet, my God is patient with me.

He listens, again and again.

My God is patient with me,

even when I am impatient with Him.

He knows me and still He loves me.

He knows me and still He calls me.

And slowly I learn.

There is no one like my God.

 

I know the truth.

God is perfect.

His timing is flawless.

His knowledge is complete.

His actions are matchless.

Even if I have to wait forever,

God’s will WILL be done,

God’s glory WILL be seen.

God’s word WILL go forth.

 

The God I serve is beyond compare.

Nothing in this life even comes close to Him.

He speaks to me with words of comfort and patience.

My Father is always encouraging.

I am his child and He loves me.

 

Who is there like you, O Lord my God?

There is nothing and no one I would rather serve.

I submit to your ways, even if I don’t understand.

Still, I wait impatiently for the Lord… yet, still I wait.

Without His word I will not move a single step.

 

When the prison door opens I will dance into the light!

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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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Happy Christmas! He is in it with us!

Christmas cogitation part 9

For me, one of the most important verses in the Bible is also the most important verse of the Christmas period.

“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the Only Begotten Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV)

I like the translation in Message too;

“The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.” (John 1:14 MSG)

Jesus is the Word. He is the beginning and the end. It is this Word that is incarnated in the person of a human baby. He takes the form of a human being, just like us. Why? So that we can be rescued to be just like Him.

Human beings are separated from God by the sin of pride. It is our pride that leads us to conclude that we do not need God. That we can find our purpose and being in the world we live in by our own actions. This is simply not true.

Without God, there is no purpose or meaning for us. We are formed by God to walk with Him. Our purpose is to live in relationship with God and as long as we do not do so we will forever be disconnected and lost. When we walk alone we are simply not doing what we are supped to be doing. We are like a shoe that is being used as a doorstop. In some way the shoe is up to the task of keeping a door open, but this task is so much less that the purpose that the shoe was intended for.

In the midst of this beautiful, broken and suffering world, humanity is lost and alone. Struggling to create a place of meaning and significance, yet doomed to failure since our meaning and significance rests in God. We will only ever find eternal meaning and significance when we live the life we were created to live. When we walk with God.

God sends His son, Jesus, to be born, live, walk, suffer, die and rise in the same world that we live in. He literally moves in to the middle of the neighbourhood where we live, so that he can point us towards the Father. Jesus is in it with us.

That God would make and enact such a plan is the proof of His glory and the evidence of his commitment to the people that he created. Jesus directs us to the Father, evidence of His grace and the truth and that the only true purpose for human beings is found by being close to Him. We are adopted by God, as beloved children, as a result.

I simply love this concept. Jesus is in it with us! He has moved in to the same situation that we live in, for the profoundly simple reason that we need to be offered a way to come to God. We cannot do it for ourselves, so Jesus does it for us.

An idea and truth that is worth celebrating.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!


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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)


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Living by Faith

I have been spending some significant time in Hebrews 11 recently. It is a remarkable chapter of the Bible that sets out the concept of faith and then uses a massive list of people from the Old Testament to illustrate it.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Hebrews 11:1-2)

This is the BIG IDEA.

When God speaks, we need to live by what He says.

This might seem obvious, but it is profound and important and it is key that those of us who are disciples of Jesus don’t just hear what this says, but live too. So I need to say it again.

When God speaks, we who live by faith need to live by what He says. Even if the world that we observe around us does not seem to conform to what God says, we must.

The writer of the Hebrews illustrates his point, time and again and here are just a few of the examples he uses…

  • Abel – offered sacrifice to God, giving the best that he had, even though he could not see the God that he was sacrificing to with his own eyes. He had faith that God existed and was worth the sacrifice.
  • Noah – built an ark in the middle of a desert to protect his family from flood waters that God had promised, even though it was not raining and did not even look as if it would rain at all. He was ridiculed and pilloried, but he had faith that God was right.
  • Abraham – left his home to travel to another country that God had promised, even though there was no certainty that it would all work out. In fact, God promised that the land of Canaan would belong to his family and he never saw the of this promise in his own in his lifetime. He had faith that God would honour the word that He had given and so lived in the reality of God’s promise.
  • Abraham – again, showed that he trusted God more than his own eyes. As an old man he was promised a son and a multitude of descendants, even though it looked impossible in reality. He had faith that God would honour His promise and Sarah gave birth to Isaac in their old age.
  • Abraham – yet again. Took Isaac, his beloved son, to a mountain top and was willing to sacrifice him according to God’s instruction, even though it clearly appeared to be categorically opposed to the word of God for a multitude of descendants. He heard the voice of God and obeyed. He trusted God over and above his own eyes and the good opinion of others.

“All of these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13)

These people lived by the words and promises that God gave to them, even when they seemed ridiculous in the eyes of the rest of the world. In many cases, they never even saw God’s promise fulfilled in their own lifetimes, but they trusted, by faith, that God was in charge and would see things come to fruition according to His word and time. They accepted that their faith was alien to the world that they lived in, but they accepted what God said as truth and lived according to it. They were willing to be derided and laughed at by everyone else, simply because God was greater than they or their situation.

SO what about us? Are we willing to live as aliens in our own world and have faith in the promises and word of God over and above our own good, preference or common sense?

Our job, as disciples of Jesus, is not to witness the fulfillment of the word of God. It might not happen in our lifetime and the story of the world is not about us to begin with. Neither is it our job to judge the word that God gives us according to our own preferences and logic. Our job is to live by faith… even when, to all appearances, the thing that we believe to be from God seems impossible or ridiculous.

We are not called to witness God’s act, we are called to be witnesses to God’s word!

By grace, it might be that God allows us to witness the fulfillment of His word in our lives but, if He does not, who are we to argue? If God is God then God’s word is true. Faith is believing this fact, accepting it and then living by it.

I would rather live by the truth of God’s word than by the understanding of the world… In all things. Because I have faith in God most High.

Of course, this stand on faith becomes problematic when what we believe is not believed, or even ridiculed, by the people around us. When the people around us do not believe what we believe or even oppose our faith choice. Just off the top of my head, the world I live in has different beliefs in areas that I believe God teaches particular truth on issues of sexuality, fidelity, marriage, honesty, creation, truth, divinity, faith, power, and so much more. The faith that get from my discipleship in Jesus is derided by our society, the people who rule the media and many of the people that I live among.

The question that I must ask is, “what does God say?” Even if God’s words is opposed to the voice of the many, I know that it is God’s voice I must listen for and, by faith, His path I must follow. Wherever that might lead.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)


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Freedom and Circumcision

After 40 unnecessary, but prescribed, years wondering in the wilderness, all but two (Joshua and Caleb) of the people of God who had looked upon the promised land and refused to enter it for fear of the people who lived there were dead. Even Moses, the Prophet of God, who God spoke to face to face, had died on the top of Mount Nebo, looking out over the land. This was a whole new generation.

Crossing over (part 2) had taken place. The million or so people of God had miraculously cross the river Jordon and were now, for the first time, standing on the very land that was the promise of God to them. This was a momentous moment and, having placed their feet on the land, they enact a ritual as a commitment of themselves to serve and follow God. It is an act that has not been performed for 40 years.

After the people had left Egypt, God had commanded that all of the men should be circumcised, in line with the promise to Abraham, as a sign of their belonging to God and commitment to follow God as their King. During the wilderness years, this practice had not been carried out on the children born, whilst all of the men who had been of fighting age at Crossover 1 had died. This left an entire generation of men (with only Joshua and Caleb as exceptions) who were part of the people of God but had not been circumcised as a sign of their belonging and commitment.

Thus, in Joshua 5, all of the men are circumcised. Ouch! No wonder it says, “And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed” (Josh. 5:8).

It is obvious to say, but necessary, that we who are God’s people need to commit ourselves to the plan of God. Contrary to much popular opinion, God does not worship and serve us. It is not we who decide what is right and wrong. We serve God and, even when it is hard to follow or we do not see the sense of it, we follow and submit to him.

God is all powerful and when he leads us to the edge of a promise, no matter how impossible that promise might seem to be fulfilled to our eyes, He has the power to make it a reality. We, the people of God, must have faith in the word of God even when it seems difficult to believe.

When the people of Israel had come to the edge of the promised land for the first time, they had looked at a wonderful place and been consumed with fear of the people who lived there. Even though God had told them that it was theirs, they had refused to enter the land. They were still slaves, in their minds, to the domination of human beings rather than fully submitted to faith in the promise of God. Their bodies were circumcised in submission, but their minds were not.

On this second occasion, the people have had their minds renewed over the period of 40 years and ACTUALLY crossed into the promised land in obedience to God’s word. The people who lived in the land are the same as they had been 40 years previously and the cities, like Jericho, were still surrounded by high walls. Yet the people of God were willing to have faith in the power of God rather than the supposed evidence of their eyes. They were no longer in the mindset of the slaves of Egypt, who were unable to see past the power of human beings. Now they were children of God in body, mind and spirit.

Their act of circumcision was the final sign that they had left the past behind and were moving into God’s future. God speaks to them following;

“Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt” (Joshua 5:9)

I love these words. In that moment, the people of God step out of the wilderness and into the promise of God. They begin to live by faith instead of fear. God, in His grace, rolls away the past so that we can walk into HIS future. These words echo down to us too.

No longer are their minds dominated by the experience of Egypt and the fear of people with whips. Rather, they are defined by their adoption as the nation who are ruled by the one true and living God. God, who took them out of Egypt with miracle after miracle, fed them out of nothing for 40 years and took them over the flooded river Jordon into the promised land, has rolled away the influence of the past.

This people are not longer the people of Israel. Now they are the people of God.

What about your slavery? What experiences and attitudes cause you to act out of fear rather than faith? Have you crossed over into the promised land yet?

Further, what about the Church? Does it live in the attitudes of the past and so called pragmatism, rather than faith in the promise of God that looks far away but is actually much closer?

“Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt” (Joshua 5:9)

I hear and accept these words by faith. No longer will I be ruled by the past. Now I will walk into God’s future. And where my past affects my actions, I will leave it in the wilderness to be rolled away by God.


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Why should I listen to you? (a cogitation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where things start to get uncomfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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