Monday, 29 April 2013

Waiting for the Spirit


In Acts 1:4-9 Jesus - echoing or repeating his instructions in Luke 24:43ff  - tells the disciples not to leave Jerusalem but "wait for the gift my Father promised" which he describes as the baptism with the Holy Spirit. In the subsequent events of Pentecost we see the outcome of their obedience to that command in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But is it meant to be a one-off event?

First,' yes' because Jesus' commands are place and time specific. The place is Jerusalem and they were to wait until the Spirit came, which He did ten days later on the feast of Pentecost.

Second, 'no' because the rest of Acts then tells of a repetition of little Pentecosts as one or more people are baptised by the Spirit after or as they believe in the message of the Gospel. This argues, for me, that the larger Day of Pentecost is meant to be a precursor of many other smaller Pentecosts as the Spirit is given - as promised and prophesied - to everyone irrespective of class, colour, ethnicity etc..

Third, reading later in Paul about the possibility of grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit there must consequently therefore be the need to be filled or baptised again with the same Spirit after due confession and repentance. Also as Paul commands in Ephesians 5:18 we need to go on being filled - today and subsequently - with the Holy Spirit. And we need to stop what we are doing in order to do so. We are to 'wait' or 'stay' where we are until we are sure that the Spirit has come and clothed us with power before tackling the 'impossible' task of making disciples of those who are spiritually blind and deaf to God.

Even Jesus needed the Holy Spirit to carry out his mission and 'waited' nearly 30 years until the right time when John would baptise him in the Jordan. Was Jesus subsequently filled with the Spirit? There is no evidence of it. Why? He never sinned and so never quenched or grieved the Spirit, but we do, daily and constantly. That is why we need many fillings and he only needed one.

D L Moody was once asked why he urged Christians to be filled constantly with the Holy Spirit. "Well," he said, "I need a continual infilling because I leak!" He pointed to a water tank which had sprung a leak. "I’m like that!" he said.

One writer commentating on the above said: "It’s a fact that living in this sinful world we do need to be replenished by the Spirit. A friend of mine, an evangelist, was asked if he believed in the "second blessing". "Of course I do," he replied, "and in the 3rd, 4th , 5th blessing, and so on."

We must not of course forget the other side of the coin which is not so much about having more of the Spirit but the Spirit having more of us! D. L. Moody was being considered for an evangelistic campaign in England, and one of the organisers asked somewhat sarcastically: 'Does D. L. Moody have a monopoly of the Holy Spirit that we're just thinking about him and nobody else?'. The answer came back very quickly: 'No, D. L. Moody does not have a monopoly of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly of D. L. Moody'.

Dr J. Wilber Chapman asked William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, 'Tell me the secret of your great life for God and man', and Booth humbly replied: 'Since the first day God put the poor of London on my heart, He has had all there was of William Booth'.

What the Church in Wales needs


I believe that the problems that the Church in Wales are facing at the present times are not organisational - we need a better way of managing parishes and utilising a diminishing number of clergy; nor financial - we need to encourage more people to up their giving and to manage our financial resources more efficiently; nor liturgical - we need more flexibility and creativity in the type of services we use; nor educational - we need to teach and explain the Christian faith more effectively. Neither are its problems principally to do with the multiplicity of its ageing and costly buildings, its lack of evangelistic outreach or its crippling traditionalism. No the bottom line is that the Church in Wales has disconnected the power lines and is experiencing a spiritual energy shortage that has plunged the whole denomination into darkness. What the Church in Wales needs therefore is a new Pentecost, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will renew and re-energise the Church again and provide the dynamic needed to motivate it to do all that is needed to bring about a resurgence of the Christian faith with its message of resurrection, hope and new life.That is not to say that all the above are not issues that at some point need to be addressed, but only within the context of the greatest need, that of the Spirit of God to come again and breath new life into dry, dusty and lifeless bones.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Satisfaction and the existence of God

"Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exist. If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world."
C.S.Lewis

Friday, 26 April 2013

Whose Church is it?

You know that God is at work in your life when you no longer feel 'in control' of things. This is certainly true of my ministry in the parish at the moment. Things are moving in a particular direction that I hadn't fully anticipated and in a way I didn't plan. I can't say I feel disconcerted or uncomfortable as it is, basically, what I sort of asked for. I say 'sort of' in the sense that I have been surrendering more and more of my life and ministry to God in and during my prayer times partly as an act of service, partly because I realise that as long as I stayed in control nothing of much significance would happen in my ministry. As long as I am in charge God cannot, and will not act. As long as I think I know what should happen or what direction I think the Church should go it no longer becomes God's church it becomes mine.

The key text that brings this fully home is Matthew 16:18 where Peter has just had a revelation from God ("flesh and blood have not revealed this to you" verse 17) and declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. In his reply Jesus says:

"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."

I don't think that the 'rock' in question is not the Pope - as my brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church would have it - but the 'rock' of Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, God's only Son. With that realisation comes obedience and service not human authority and power. On top of this declaration Jesus says "and on this rock I will build my Church." The two key words here are 'I' and 'my' where Jesus takes the onus off us and our petty plans and ideas and places them firmly, where they should be, on him, his will and his purposes. Because it is his Church, his body, and not ours. He is Lord and we are his servants.

Coming to this place has been hard and there are no guarantees that I will stay there. The human heart, even filled with the Spirit of God, is still prone to sin and temptation and there will always be that draw back to doing things the easy way or the way that I think it should be done. After all that is the way things have been done for the past 25 years of ministry. But now God is saying enough is enough, give me my church back and let me build it. And looking at the mess we are in that request is certainly on message.

Having shared this with others I was touched when one of our group sent me a text that she had woken up singing a chorus she had long forgotten and felt strongly that it was meant for me. Here it is my Noel Richards:

I want to be out of my depth in your love,
Feeling Your arms so strong around me.
Out of my depth in Your love,
Out of my depth in You.
(Repeat)

Learning to let You lead,
Putting all trust in You;
Deeper into Your arms,
Surrounded by You.
Things I have held so tight,
Made my security;
Give me the strength I need
To simply let go.

Doug Horley & Noel Richards.
Copyright © 1995 Thankyou Music

It reminds me of that older, perhaps more familiar hymn, the first verse of which runs:

All to Jesus I surrender;
all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
in his presence daily live.

So my continuing prayer will be that this surrender will be continuous and whole-hearted and that I will always, at least in the sense of guidance and direction, 'in the back seat' with Jesus in the front.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Key to Success

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
Bill Cosby

Transformation


Darrell Tunningley started using drugs from the age of eleven.  By the age of sixteen he was selling large quantities.  He became a ‘debt collector’, on one occasion using a petrol grass strimmer on the bottom of someone’s feet who owed £300.

At aged seventeen, Darrell took part in an armed robbery, was arrested, and sentenced to five and a half years in prison.  Whilst inside he went on an Alpha Course.  He prayed, ‘God if you’re real, prove it.  Take away my drug addiction, take away all this anger that’s inside me and if you do that for me, I’ll live the rest of my life for you’.

When he woke up the next morning the thought of touching a cigarette made him feel physically sick.  He threw it out of the cell window and then he got his tobacco and threw that out of the window.  Then he took his drugs and threw them out of the window.  Then he stopped feeling sick.

When he looked in the mirror he didn't recognize the reflection because he was smiling – not just smiling, but beaming.  Since that day he hasn't touched drugs.  He hasn't smoked.  He hasn't drunk.  He hasn't been in a fight.

He started running Alpha Courses in the prison.  Hundreds of people came on the courses.  Prison officers started to come to speak to him for advice and counselling.  When he left prison he became the assistant at a local church run by a pastor who is also a magistrate, Mark Finch.  He married Mark’s daughter, Rebekah, and they now have two children.

When I interviewed him I asked him what difference Jesus has made.  He replied, ‘I don’t say this lightly, I really do mean it, he [Jesus] is more important to me than the air I’m breathing.’  He says, ‘Now he’s my everything.  He’s my lifeline, he’s my strength, he’s everything.  I couldn't live without him and everything I do is through him and for him.  My life wouldn't be the way it is if he wasn't exactly who he said he was’.  Darrell’s life was totally changed because Jesus set him free from all his addictions, all his anger, and all the sin that was destroying his life.

Is it possible for us to change?  One of the most difficult things in the world is to break from a bad habit or to give up sin.  In one of today’s passages Jeremiah asks, ‘Can a leopard change its spots?’ (Jeremiah 13:23).

The cost of being a Christian


Youcef Nadarkhani became a Christian at the age of nineteen.  He went on to become an ordained pastor and lead a church in Iran.  He is now thirty-five years old and has two young children.

In 2010 he was arrested and sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’ (for refusing to renounce his faith).  Thankfully, after sustained international pressure, the decision was finally reversed last month.

During his trial, Pastor Nadarkhani refused to recant his belief despite facing a death sentence.  He told the judge: ‘I am resolute in my faith and Christianity and have no wish to recant.’  The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, paid tribute to his courage.  The Guardian newspaper described him as ‘an inspiringly brave Christian’.

People like Youcef paint a picture of the Christian faith as something of great worth.. You get the impression here in Britain that in comparison we don't value it nearly half as much. This is seen in the refusal of so many Christians to commit themselves to Christian work or mission, preferring instead to become what one clergyman described as 'pew fodder', receiving instead of giving, watching rather than participating. We are saved to serve.

A cracked pot


A water-bearer in India had two large pots, both hung on the ends of a pole which he carried across his neck.  One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.  At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.  For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half potfuls of water to his house.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.  But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.  After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water-bearer one day by the stream:

“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologise to you.  I have been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.  Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts”, the pot said.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?  That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you’ve watered them.  For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table.  Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

Only Jesus saves


Salvation can only come through Jesus Christ, not through tarot readers and fortune tellers, Pope Francis has said. Preaching at morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae in Rome today (April 5th), Pope Francis said: “In order to solve their problems many people resort to fortune tellers and tarot cards. But only Jesus saves, and we must bear witness to this! He is the only one.”

“Mary always leads us to Jesus, as she did at Cana when she said: ‘Do whatever he tells you’. Let us trust in the name of Jesus, let us invoke the name of Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit push us to say this prayer trusting in the name of Jesus … it will do us all good.”

Pope Francis also told his congregation a story. He said: “A humble man works in the curia of Buenos Aires. He has worked there for 30 years, he is the father of eight children. Before he goes out, before going out to do the things that he must do, he always says: ‘Jesus!’ And I once asked him: ‘Why do you always say Jesus?’ ‘When I say Jesus ‘- this humble man told me – ‘I feel strong, I feel I can work, and I know that He is with me, that He keeps me safe’.”

Pope Francis continued: “This man never studied theology, he only has the grace of Baptism and the power of the Spirit. And this testimony, did me a lot of good too, because it reminds us that in this world that offers us so many saviours, it is only the name of Jesus that saves.”

Luke 24:45ff again


Made an interesting discovery today as reading the above passage for the nth time. It was in verse 53 where Luke tells us that the disciples stayed in Jerusalem praising and blessing God (see KJV). Looking more closely at the words praise and bless I discovered the following:

First, that the word 'praise' comes from a word meaning 'story' or 'a commendable thing'. Praise therefore that is directed towards God is about recounting stories or incidences of what God has done which are worthy of praise. So in the Old Testament it meant praising God for his calling of Abraham etc, the deliverance from the Egyptians, the miracle of the Red Sea etc and in the New Testament the raising of Jesus etc. Today it is praising God not only for what he had done in Jesus for us but how that relates to where we are NOW and what God is doing in our midst TODAY. Which begs the question "is God at work among us and if so what can/should we praise him for today."

So praise then can be a wonderful sign of God's life among us as we praise him for what he is doing. No praise - or praise only for the past - is not a sign of life but death!!

Second, blessing. The word means to speak well of, to thank. Praise and thanks therefore go hand in hand. Both help us daily to focus on God, His presence and his contemporary action in our lives.

Praise therefore is imperative and keeps us focused on God and positive about what he is doing. It ignites and fans into flame our faith.

The Holy Spirit and the Church


The positive face of church decline is that it sends us back to the Bible and to God for answers. As part of a denomination that is struggling at the moment - at least in Wales - I have long been asking the question 'why' of myself and my ministry. I was brought to new birth in 1981 when, so it seemed to me, that conversions to Christ were more frequent and I responded to the call of God in the hope that under my ministry I would see more. I have, by God's grace, seen some but nowhere near the volume expected or needed to make the church better equipped for evangelism and outreach. Instead the church has shrunk, built up walls to shut out the world and like Israel of old, kept it's spluttering light to itself. Why is this? The following words were written over a century ago but ring true today:

"The church still has a theology of the Holy Spirit, but it has no living consciousness of his presence and power. Theology without experience is like faith without works: it is dead. The signs of death abound. Prayer meetings have died out because men did not believe in the Holy Ghost. The liberty of prophesying has gone because men believe in investigation and not in inspiration. There is a dearth of conversions because faith about the new birth as a creative act of the Holy Ghost has lost its grip on heart and intellect. The experience of the second gift of grace is no longer preached and testified because Christian experience, though it may have to begin in the Spirit, must be perfected in the wisdom of the flesh and the culture of the schools. Confusion and impotence are the inevitable results when the wisdom and resources of the world are substituted for the presence and power of the Spirit."
Samuel Chadwick: The way to Pentecost.

David Watson on the Holy Spirit


In David Watson’s best-selling book "One in the Spirit", he quotes a humorous adaptation of "Onward Christian Soldiers": "Like a mighty tortoise Moves the Church of God; Brothers we are treading Where we’ve always trod; We are all divided, Many bodies we; Very strong on doctrine, Weak on charity."

"Many Christians today are weary of reports, reforms and reunion schemes, discussions, dialogues and debates.  We spend our time talking to ourselves while the world plunges headlong into suicide and despair.  And it is in this context that the primary need for a dynamic spiritual renewal by the Holy Spirit of God becomes obvious and urgent.  We lack the fire and passion which has always been the mark of the Spirit’s presence."

"It is only the Holy Spirit who can quench the deepest thirst of the human heart, because it is only the Holy Spirit who can show us the beauty of Jesus and fill us with the love of God.  Indeed, when we have drunk this glorious living water, it will spoil our thirst for everything else."

Samuel Chadwick on the Holy Spirit


The work of God is not by might of men or by the power of men but by his Spirit. It is by him the truth convicts and converts, sanctifies and saves. The philosophies of men fail, but the Word of Godin the demonstration of the Spirit prevails. Our wants are many, and our faults innumerable, but they are all comprehended in our lack of the Holy Ghost. We want nothing but the fire.

The resources of the church are in "the supply of the Spirit." The Spirit is more than the minister of consolation. He is Christ without the limitations of the flesh and the material world. He can reveal what Christ could not speak. He has resources of power greater than those Christ could use, and he makes possible greater works than his. He is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of witness, the Spirit of conviction, the Spirit of power, the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit of light, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of help, the Spirit of liberty, the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of revelation, the Spirit of promise,  the Spirit of love, the Spirit of meekness, the Spirit of sound mind, the Spirit of grace, the Spirit of glory, and the Spirit of prophecy. It is for the church to explore the resources of the Spirit; the resources of the world are futile."
Samuel Chadwick: The way to Pentecost

D.L.Moody on the Holy Spirit


In The Life of D. L. Moody, written by his son, is a very simple but striking account of the secret of D. L. Moody's power. Here is the story of Mr. Moody's enduement of power, as given on pages 146, 147, and 149.

The year 1871 was a critical one in Mr. Moody's career. He realized more and more how little he was fired by personal acquirements for his work. An intense hunger and thirst for spiritual power were aroused in him by two women who used to attend the meetings and sit on the front seat. He could see by the expression on their faces that they were praying. At the close of services they would say to him:

"We have been praying for you."

"Why don't you pray for the people?" Mr. Moody would ask.

"Because you need the power of the Spirit," they would say.

"I need the power! Why," said Mr. Moody, in relating the incident years after, "I thought I had power. I had the largest congregations in Chicago, and there were many conversions. I was in a sense satisfied. But right along those two godly women kept praying for me, and their earnest talk about anointing for special service set me to thinking. I asked them to come and talk with me, and they poured out their hearts in prayer that I might receive the filling of the Holy Spirit. There came a great hunger into my soul. I did not know what it was. I began to cry out as I never did before. I really felt that I did not want to live if I could not have this power for service."

Then the book tells of the great Chicago fire, of D. L. Moody's relief work, the building of the north side tabernacle, and of his visiting in the East to secure funds for his work. Then the narrative continues:

During this Eastern visit the hunger for more spiritual power was still upon Mr. Moody.

"My heart was not in the work of begging," he said. "I could not appeal. I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day, in the city of New York -- oh, what a day! -- I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world -- it would be as the small dust of the balance."

Notice in the above account, in the words of D. L. Moody himself, that while he had great joy in the coming of the Holy Spirit upon him in power, yet the principal result was:. "The sermons were not different: I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted."

Secret Power - D.L.Moody


"There has been much inquiry of late on the Holy Spirit. In this and other lands, thousands of persons have been giving attention to the study of this grand theme. I hope it will lead us all to pray for a greater manifestation of His power upon the whole Church of God.

How much we have dishonoured Him in the past! How ignorant of His grace and love and presence we have been! True, we have heard of Him and read of Him, but we have had little intelligent knowledge of His attributes, His offices, and His relations to us....

Let others reject, if they will, at their an peril, this imperishable truth. I believe, and am growing more into this belief,  that divine, miraculous, creative power resides in the Holy Spirit...

Unless He attend the word in power, vain will be the attempt in preaching it. Human eloquence or persuasiveness of speech are mere trappings of the dead. If the living Spirit be absent, the prophet may preach to the bones in the valley, but it must be the breath from heaven that will cause the slain to live....

If we want that power to quicken our friends who are dead in sin, we must look to God, and not be looking to man to do it. If we look to ministers, if we look alone to Christ's disciples to do this work, we shall be disappointed. If we look to the Spirit of God and expect it to come from Him and Him alone, then we shall honour the Spirit, and the Spirit will do His work.

I cannot help but believe that there are many Christians who want to be more efficient in the Lord's service. It's from the Holy Spirit that we may expect this power.
(Quoted in Fresh Power by Jim Cymbala)

"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." John 3:8

Monday, 22 April 2013

Making sense of the Bible

The Bible Society is always producing great resources to help you get familiar with the Bible and the Christian Faith. Here is an excellent resource form their website called 'Making sense of the Bible'.
Click here.

The Fullness of God


...To know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.--Ephesians 3:19

Pentecost means that the Deity came to mankind to give Himself to man, that man might breathe Him in as he breathes in the air, that He might fill men. Dr. A. B. Simpson used an illustration which was about as good as any I (A.W.Tozer) ever heard. He said, "Being filled with the fullness of God is like a bottle in the ocean. You take the cork out of the bottle and sink it in the ocean, and you have the bottle completely full of ocean. The bottle is in the ocean, and the ocean is in the bottle. The ocean contains the bottle, but the bottle contains only a little bit of the ocean. So it is with the Christian."

We are filled unto the fullness of God, but, of course, we cannot contain all of God because God contains us; but we can have all of God that we can contain. If we only knew it, we could enlarge our vessel. The vessel gets bigger as we go on with God.

HIMSELF  by A. B. Simpson

Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word.
Once His gifts I wanted, Now the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.

Once 'twas painful trying, Now 'tis perfect trust;
Once a half salvation, Now the uttermost.
Once 'twas ceaseless holding, Now He holds me fast;
Once 'twas constant drifting, Now my anchor's cast.

Once 'twas busy planning, Now 'tis trustful prayer;
Once 'twas anxious caring, Now He has the care.
Once 'twas what I wanted, Now what Jesus says;
Once 'twas constant asking, Now 'tis ceaseless praise.

Once it was my working, His it hence shall be;
Once I tried to use Him, Now He uses me.
Once the power I wanted, Now the Mighty One;
Once for self I labored, Now for Him alone.

Once I hoped in Jesus, Now I know He's mine;
Once my lamps were dying, Now they brightly shine.
Once for death I waited, Now His coming hail;
And my hopes are anchored, Safe within the veil.

Ambitious for God

Chuck Colson was an ambitious self-made man.  As a student, he arrogantly turned down a scholarship to Harvard.  He joined the Marines, set up his own law firm and entered politics.  By the age of forty he had become one of President Nixon’s closest advisers.  Later he described himself as ‘a young ambitious political king maker’.  He was branded by the Wall Street Journal as ‘Nixon’s hatchet-man’.

He pleaded guilty to his part in the Watergate cover-up and was sent to prison.  By then he had encountered Jesus.  When he left the court after hearing the sentence he said, ‘What happened in court today ...  was the court’s will and the Lord’s will – I have committed my life to Jesus Christ and I can work for Him in prison as well as out.’

Colson did just that.  After release he set up Prison Fellowship and has since been directly or indirectly responsible for leading thousands to Christ.  I once heard him say on the radio, ‘I was ambitious, and I am ambitious today, but I hope it is not for Chuck Colson (though I struggle quite a lot as a matter of fact).  But I am ambitious for Christ.’

Ambition has been defined as the ‘desire to succeed’.  There are ultimately only two controlling ambitions to which all others may be reduced:  One is our own glory, and the other is God’s glory.

I am ambitious to succeed and there are times I feel apologetic for being so. I think I am being selfish or I am somehow denying God. But as Colson pointed out it all depends on where 'self' comes in this. If it is about being ambitious for God, then the key word is 'God' not ambition. Ambition is neutral. It is what you do with it and in relation to who it is referring.

So I am ambitious to see my Church grow, not so that people will say how good Mark is, but how good God is. It is how this is managed that will determine how this actually works out in practice.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Faith

God can only work within our faith not outside of it. He can only work within what we believe to be possible not what we deem impossible. He has to have room within which to move and work. If not he can do very little. We need enough faith for him to work within.

I think this is what Jesus was getting at when he rebuked the disciples about their inability to exercise sufficient faith to heal the boy with a demon in Matthew 17:14ff. When they asked him why they couldn't drive out the demon Jesus replied: "Because you have so little faith." True he said that all that was needed was a mustard-seed sized faith, but in the Kingdom that is enough for God to work within and overcome a demon possessing a young boy. Not only would it be enough to do that but it could also - potentially - move mountains. (verse 20).

So how big is our faith? It only needs to be as small and vulnerable as a mustard seed and it can accomplish much. In fact - within God's will - "nothing will be impossible for you."

Monday, 15 April 2013

Joy

‘Surprised by joy’ is how C.S. Lewis described his conversion from atheism to faith in Jesus Christ.  He had never expected that there was any connection between God and joy.  If anything, he had thought it would be the opposite: ‘For all I knew, the total rejection of what I called Joy might be one of the demands, might be the very first demand.’

Convinced that it was true, he ‘admitted that God was God’.  At that moment he was ‘the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England’.  To his great surprise he found it was the very opposite to what he expected.  He experienced great joy through his new found faith in Jesus Christ.  He discovered that ‘the heart of reality’ is to be found in a Person.

Many people confuse pleasure, contentment and joy.  Pleasure can come from a good holiday, a pay rise or a box of chocolates.  People can become pleasure addicts – always seeking the next fix.  These experiences of pleasure come and go.

Contentment is longer term – being satisfied with your life, your home, your job, your friendships.

But there is another kind of happiness that we call joy.  It is not an emotion.  It is a way of being and a state of mind that is available to everybody.  It is not found in things but in a Person.

Setting free the Holy Spirit

"When he (the Holy Spirit) is set free in the Church, he will first of all generate fresh experiences of every New Testament kind and variety. There will be personal conversions and corporate resurrections and illuminatings and empowerings and sanctifyings, and things will happen among God's people that will make the, exclaim with wonder that "the Lord has done great things for us; we are glad." (Psalm 126:3). Where that wonder and gladness are absent it is doubtful if the Spirit is freely at work."
Tom Smail:  "Reflected glory".Ibid page 13

Thursday, 11 April 2013

God loves the Real You

With the Lord's help I am trying to become who I am. That is I am trying to get rid of the many masks I have accumulated over the years and trying to peel them off like so many onion skins and get back to the real me, the one God knows and loves.

On Sunday's family Service there is a wonderful little liturgy which I will be using which underlines this beautifully using John 21:1-18. Here it is (courtesy of Susan Sayers' Living Stones resource book):

Leader: My child, where are you?
All:        Here I am, Lord, right beside you.

Leader: That is not the person I know and love.
             Where is the real you, my child?
All:        Here I am, Lord. Surely you recognise me now.

Leader: I recognise the face you wear, but where is the real you that I love?
All:       Suppose I showed you and it was unacceptable?

Leader: It is the real you that I love.
All:       Then just as I am, O Lamb of God, I come!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

St. Brynach - April 7th


Brynach may well have been Irish since Bernach is an Irish name and he is occasionally referred to in some accounts as Brynach Wyddel, the Irishman. In his early youth he was described as ’wild’ but when he came to faith his character changed and he became devout and virtuous.

As a young man he made a pilgrimage to Rome and on his return journey settled in Brittany where he made efforts to evangelise the native population. He eventually moved to Wales landing at Milford Haven. He travelled to Carmarthenshire and tried to find lodgings in several places but was denied shelter. Eventually he built a small hermitage for himself in Llanfyrnach where he was once attacked with a spear by a local woman because he rejected her advances ("hell hath no fury as a woman scorned!). Luckily he was rescued by a passer-by and his wounds tended in a nearby well known as “Fons Rubeus'

He next moved to Pont-Faen on the River Gwaun but was chased away by demons and later at Llwyn Henllan on the River Nevern as he tried to build a church the locals stole his wood. An angel appeared announcing that this was not the place God wanted him to be and so he moved on to Nevern  where he settled introducing agriculture to the people teaching them how to yoke wild stags to the plough and milk the hinds.

His preaching made a deep impression on the local king Clether who gave up his throne and became a hermit moving to Cerniw in Cornwall. But before leaving he gave Brynach all his lands and his 20 sons who became his first disciples at the monastery which developed around his little church. Brynach also founded churches at Dinas and Newport (Pembs) near where he is said to have conversed with angels on Carningli.

During his life at Nevern Brynach often moved around South Wales founding churches wherever he went including Llanfrynach in Brycheiniog and Llanfrynach and Penllin in Morganwg. He became a great friend of St. David who often visited him and gave him a carved stone cross, a replica of which is there at Nevern today.

Brynach later left Wales for Dumnonia/lived as a hermit in Braunton, N. Devon where died on 7th Jan/buried there. Here his feast is April 7th -traditionally it’s the day when the first cuckoo said to sing every year from the top of St. Brynach’s Cross in Nevern Churchyard.

Several features of his life stand out:
1. First the change in his character after his conversion, from a wild youth to a reflective, devout and committed Christian. It brings to mind Paul’s words to the Corinthians, no doubt remembering his own transformation when he met Jesus: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  (2 Cor 5:17)

In the original Greek the change is more heavily underlined: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ - new creation!” This underlines the change Christ brought to Brynarch’s life and to all who come into contact with the Risen Jesus. That change often marks a new turning point in a person’s life and can send them in a totally new direction.

2. Second, this new life brought with it a new love for God which propelled Brynarch’s life and ministry and helped him deal with the many setbacks he faced, especially during his earlier life. Again Paul has been there before and talks about how his love for God helped sustain and drive his ministry. He writes: “For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all…” (2 Cor 5:14)

The word ‘compel’ means that the love of God acted as a means of propulsion in his ministry as he desired to tell as many people as possible of how great was God’s love and acceptance of even the most notorious of sinners. Brynarch obviously felt the same and went to any lengths, facing many trials, in order to get the message to as many people as possible during his life. This correlation between God’s love for us and our love for others is what drives mission.

3. Third, mission and evangelism is not rocket science. Someone once described it in these terms: “It is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” All the time we recommend something we have found beneficial to others, whether it is a new cleaner, a new TV programme or a new recipe. All Brynarch did was to recommend to others the love and acceptance he had found through Christ. The rest was up to the Holy Spirit.

So some lessons for us today. Brynarch still lives where people encounter the Risen Christ, learn of his love and acceptance, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit go on to tell others what they have found.



Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Marriage - Dietrich Bonhoeffer


God is guiding your marriage. Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to His glory, and calls into His kingdom.

In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more that something personal – it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As you first gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love.

It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love. God makes your marriage indissoluble. ‘What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6). God joins you together in marriage; it is His act, not yours.

Two stories


I came across the following in an email that was forwarded on to me by a friend. It's one of 'those' emails that seem to circulate from time to time. Some are rather sentimental and are obviously aimed at our emotions, but from time to time you get a good one, and this one is worth repeating. It is about two stories which need to read in succession to get the point:

STORY NUMBER ONE

Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago . Capone wasn't famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed 'Easy Eddie.' He was Capone's lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie's skill at legal manoeuvring kept Big Al out of jail for a long time.

To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends, as well. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block.

Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him.

Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object.

And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.

Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn't give his son; he couldn't pass on a good name or a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done.

He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al 'Scarface' Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. So, he testified.

Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street . But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from a magazine.

The poem read:

'The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still.'

STORY NUMBER TWO

World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare.

He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.

One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank.

He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship.

His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

As he was returning to the mother ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold; a squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding its way toward the American fleet.

The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenceless  He couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet.

Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 calibre's blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent.

Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible, rendering them unfit to fly.

Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, Butch O'Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier.

Upon arrival, he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch's daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft. This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy's first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honour.

A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.

So, the next time you find yourself at O'Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch's memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honour. It's located between Terminals 1 and 2.

SO WHAT DO THESE TWO STORIES H AVE TO DO WITH EACH OTHER?

Butch O'Hare was 'Easy Eddie's' son

Friday, 5 April 2013

Power or we die

We are away this week helping to look after our grandson in Bristol. As usual I take my laptop and my ipad to keep up my reading and writing but inevitably the power runs out and I have to plug in my devices to gain more power for me to use them. Power is fundamental to everything that runs from a human body to a radio. What is forgotten however is that the Church is no different. It too needs power. That is evident from the get-go when Jesus told his disciples that they were not to do anything - another way of saying they would not be able to do anything - until the Holy Spirit was present both in them and with them. Here is one of my favourite quotes from A.W.Tozer whose prophetic ministry continues to inspire continuing generations of serious Christians:

"That the church did not perish was due entirely to the miraculous element within her. That element was supplied by the Holy Spirit who came at Pentecost to empower her for her task. For the Church was not an organisation merely, not a movement, but a walking incarnation of spiritual energy. And she accomplished with a few brief years such prodigies of moral conquest as to leave us wholly without an explanation - apart from God.

In short, the Church began in power, moved in power and moved in power just as long as she had power. When she no longer had power she dug in for safety and sought to conserve her gains. but her blessings were like the manna: when they tried to keep it overnight it bred worms and stank. So we have monasticism, scholasticism, institutionalism; and they have all been indicative of the same thing: absence of spiritual power. In Church history every return to New Testament power has marked a new advance somewhere, a fresh proclamation of the gospel, an upsurge of missionary zeal; and every diminution of power has seen the rise of some new mechanism for conservation and defense.

If this analysis is reasonably correct, then we are today in a state of very low spiritual energy: for it cannot be denied that the modern Church has dug in up to her ears and is struggling desperately to defend the little ground she holds. she lacks the spiritual insight to know that her best defense if an offense, and she is too languid to put the knowledge into effect if she had it.

If we are to advance we must have power. Paganism is slowly closing in on the Church, and her only response if an occasional "drive" for one thing or another - usually money - or a noisy but timid campaign to improve the morals of the moves. Such activities amount to little more than a slight twitching of the muscles of a drowsy giant too sleepy to care. there efforts sometimes reach the headlines, but they accomplish little that is lasting, and are soon forgotten. the Church must have power..."
A.W.Tozer "Paths to Power".

Now bearing in mind that that was written 1911 and published in November that year by Christian Publications that's a pretty accurate diagnosis of the present condition the Church is in, at least the Church in Wales. And yet prayer is ignored, institutionalism reigns and the hierarchy continues to issue dictums on when candles should be put out during Evensong! When are we going to throw up our hands in penitent despair and ask God to help us fulfill his commission to preach the Kingdom of Heaven?

John Wesley and the call to faith

John Wesley was almost in despair. He did not have the faith to continue to preach. When death stared him in the face, he was fearful and ...