Sunday, 12 November 2017
Sometimes we all find it difficult to see the way ahead. As you know, I love to walk in the mountains, and in the summer I led my first walk in the Spanish Pyrenees. We’d planned a 9 hour walk climbing a summit just under 3000m high called Pena Xuans.
The trail was easy to follow, and after a couple of hours we’d climbed steeply to 2500m. It was clear we needed to dive left off the path up a boulder field but when we reached the ridge I hesitated. The problem was the terrain around us didn’t seem to quite match that shown on the map… there was a sharp, peaked ridge in front of us that looked too steep to be the one I was expecting. As I stood and pondered the map over and over, it started to gently snow. It took me 20 minutes to be sure – well as sure as I could be – of the way ahead. I figured we should have left the well-trodden path earlier and now were the wrong side of that sharp ridge. If we traversed the boulder field and climbed to what looked like a razor sharp col between two craggy, inaccessible peaks, we should see our path below us the other side. If we didn’t, we’d have to admit we were lost and call it a day!
Thankfully, my companions kept their spirits up and we reached the col an hour later. Snow was still falling as I looked over the ridge and, not for the first time that day, I was puzzled… again it didn’t look as I’d expected. Then the cloud shifted and a distinctive lake came into view… it was the right place and with that signpost, I could now make out the route we were looking for across the boulders. Our spirits lifted, we slid down the precariously steep scree slope and re-joined our original path. We could now make out our main goal, the peak ahead, which was wreathed in cloud. I decided we’d had enough adventure so if the cloud didn’t lift by the time we got to the base, we’d continue around and not climb. As it happened, the cloud lifted as we reached the foot of the scramble to the summit so we climbed a fantastic lump of rock and slid down an even steeper scree slope the other side.
The day ended after 11 hours of walking, mostly over boulder fields, and we were exhausted but joyful. As we lay in the sun on the way down, we all agreed that it had been one of our best days in the hills! Then God spoke. He said, yes, you may not be certain of the way ahead, but you are anointed to lead the way out. If you keep your spirits up and don’t give up, you’ll reach the goals I’ve set you and you’ll have a great adventure.
When we can’t make out the route ahead, it’s good to know that God loves to guide us. Indeed, in Psalm 32, He promises to guide us. As a leadership we feel God saying three things to us in this season: 1. We have to be clear about why He’s called River, and who He wants us to be. 2. We need to work more closely together as churches, and 3. We all need to play to our strengths. One of my strengths is a deep love of the Bible and helping people see the love of God in every page. I had been wondering whether I should do an MA to build on that strength, but was not sure. A few weeks ago I went to see the Westminster Theological Centre to investigate the possibility and that morning I received a text from a friend in Bulgaria saying they had a word from the Lord for me: they saw me “going back into academia to study theology so I could better proclaim the Father’s love”. Having received such clear guidance, you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m starting an MA in January!
I hear Jesus speaking these encouragements over us all today, and pray this blessing over you: “Play to your strengths, work together and I will guide you. If you don’t give up, you will achieve the goals I’ve set for you and you’ll have a great adventure doing so!”
Monday, 17 July 2017
There’s a tendency in parts of the church to think that few will be saved. This stems from basing thoughts about judgment on stories such as the flood in Genesis 6. If we dwelt more upon the story of God raising up a saviour to save the world in Genesis 41-47, we might finish up with an entirely different view of salvation!
The harsher view is also reinforced by a misunderstanding of scriptures such as Matthew 22:14, which says, “For many are called, but few are chosen”. This statement comes at the end of a parable Jesus tells us about the kingdom of God being like a wedding feast; and it is clear from the context that when Jesus speaks of the chosen few, He is not talking about salvation.
Let me explain. The story starts with a king arranging a marriage for his son and sending out invitations. When the invited guests all decline, because they are too busy, the king sends messengers with more invitations, but the invited guests kill those servants. The king then sends his army to destroy that city and sends his remaining servants into all the highways to invite everyone to the wedding, both good and bad. Once the feast has started, the king notices one man who is not dressed up for the wedding and has him thrown out (into the darkness). That’s when the statement on few being chosen appears.
So who are the many and the few? What is clear is that the guests who are initially invited are the Jews and their city is Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Romans. Those found on the highways are the gentiles (all other nations), so the ‘many’ who are invited into the kingdom is everyone, all the Jews and all the gentiles. So who are the few? That could either refer to the Jews, who were the especially chosen guests, or the badly dressed man who was expelled (*see footnote below, if his treatment has bothered you!). In either case, the few are not chosen for salvation, but, in the case of the Jews, to model the kingdom and ‘bring’ salvation, and in the case of the man expelled, to miss out on the feast. In fact, whenever the Bible talks of God choosing people, it is never for salvation (He chooses everyone), but always to perform a task.
So what was River chosen for? What tasks has Father God asked us to perform? I think these six help make our community very special:
- To live in freedom and bring freedom. It was for freedom that Jesus set us free, and wherever the Spirit is, there is freedom. Freedom from the law and religion, as well as freedom from sin and the fear of death.
- To declare the goodness of God. As Tom Wright says, it’s not that God is angry with people, but somehow manages to find a way to save a few. Rather, God, our loving Father, is determined to bless every family on earth, and therefore works against everything that holds people back from His abundant life and blessing.
- To overflow with joy in the Holy Spirit. River Church was birthed in a joyful outpouring of the Spirit on a bunch of teenagers. Since then we have enjoyed discovering gifts such as prophecy, tongues and healing. Jesus sends us His Spirit to empower us in all sorts of ways to work with Him on His mission to bless and save the world.
- To be family. We are held together by our relationships, our love for one another and our appreciation of these values, rather than a set of beliefs.
- To call everyone to fulfil their destiny. Every person is created in God’s image and made for a glorious purpose. Regardless of age or gender, every believer is an ambassador for Christ and called to represent Him.
- To bring heaven to earth. We have been given authority to serve through being good news to the poor, setting captives free, healing the sick, making peace, and bringing His presence, justice and joy in His name.
This is our calling in partnering with Him to bring revival to our land. So let’s do everything we can to make our calling and election sure, let’s give what we can to live life this glorious way, for we will reap a harvest if we do not give up! (Galatians 6:9)
* For those who, like me, have felt sorry for the badly dressed man... after all he was dragged off the street: I understand it was customary for wealthy hosts to provide wedding garments at the door so his lack of attire is really a statement about him gaining entry some other way, not using the door, or not being bothered to change. Both speak to us as Jesus is the doorway to life and He loves us too much to leave us in a less than glorious state, so has given us every blessing (Ephesians 1:4) and everything we need for a life of godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
Tuesday, 25 April 2017
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Cor 5:17-18)
This is one of my favourite sections of the Bible because it sums up so much about who we are and what we are here for. If we’re truly to understand it, we have to understand who Jesus was: why He lived, died and was resurrected.
The life of Jesus was both ordinary and incredible! Ordinary in as much as He didn’t appear to achieve much: no books, no wealth, not many followers and no obvious kingdom. Incredible because of what He did and said: the sick were healed, the dead were raised, lepers were cleansed, demons and even storms obeyed Him. Not only that, but all were welcomed by Him, the sinner and the saint, the oppressor and the downtrodden, the wealthy and the poor, the Jew and the Gentile, young and old, men and women. He revealed the Father’s heart, not to judge, but to save, not to restrict, but to set free, not to smite, but to heal and not for a few, but for all! Few, if any, understood Him, but many listened to and wondered at Him. His life represented nice ideas, but are they true and could we trust Him?
It has often been noted that the crucifixion of Jesus, His death, without the resurrection, would simply have been a failure, just one more movement that promised much only to end in disappointment. It would have been just one more story of the powerful crushing those who resist them. The end of the dream His followers had of justice, that the oppressive kingdoms of the world would end and the Kingdom of God be established.
But have you ever wondered what the resurrection without the life and death of Jesus would have meant? It would certainly have been weird, a story to entertain, a mystery to be explored or an interesting piece of gossip, but it would probably have been quickly forgotten and would not have been world changing.
Combined, they represent a tremendously powerful story! The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the fulfilment of two thousand year old promises made by God to Abraham and his descendants. Despite man’s rebellion, our insistence on independence from the one who made us, and the tragic results that ensued (the story of Genesis 1-11), God would find a way of blessing every family on earth. This blessing would come through Abraham, because he trusted God. It would come through one of his descendants, who would trust God to the utmost and would turn out to be God Himself bringing salvation! That was the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth, which grows as His followers are empowered by the Spirit of Jesus to live free and represent heaven in begging others to be reconciled to God. It comes through those who show themselves to be Abraham’s seed by also choosing to trust God and this kingdom will continue to grow until it fills the earth! (Isaiah 9:7, Daniel 2:44)
I’m excited about the forthcoming week of prayer, Thy Kingdom Come for a few reasons. Firstly, it is leading reconciliation by bringing churches together who have been separated. Incredibly, the church streams involved represent about 1000 years of church splits! It’s exciting because Jesus said that when we accept and honour one another, it would be a sign to the world that God sent Him. Secondly, it is a call for us to be bold and to invite/plead/beg others to be reconciled to God, the way we work with God to bring His kingdom and salvation to the earth.
Donald Trump may build walls to separate nations, Nicola Sturgeon may attempt to break up the United Kingdom, Theresa May may be taking the UK out of Europe, but God’s kingdom will continue to grow, He will continue to work, tearing down the walls that divide and bringing all things together under Christ (Ephesians 1:10), and that fills me with great hope!