Proverbs Day Sixteen | Bags

By | Blog, Death, Doctrine, Foundational, Revelation, Suffering, The Bible, The gospel, Wisdom

The Lord demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standards for fairness. Proverbs 16v11 (NLT)

A just balance and scales are the LORD’s; all the weights in the bag are his work. Proverbs 16v11 (ESV)

This proverb strikes me as a beautiful description of the sovereignty of the cross. The justice, mercy, love and wrath displayed on the cross – God’s chosen means to administer justice and apply forgiveness through the sacrifice of the second Adam (Jesus) in order to deal with the sin of the first Adam.

  • The cross is right
  • The cross is just
  • The cross is His work not ours

Let us boast in the bag entitled “the Cross of Christ” not the one with our name on it.

Proverbs Day Fourteen | Graveyard or labour ward?

By | Blog, Church, Church Planting, Death, Discipleship, Foundational, Holy living, Holy Spirit, Life change, Wisdom

I often think that the place the church meets should be regarded as less 'temple' and more 'mountainside' or 'public square'.

The reason is that the more I read the New Testament the more I read about crowds, noise and mess.

Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest. Proverbs 14v4 (NLT)

If we want a good efficient and effective harvest, then we need a strong large oxen. Does anybody seriously imagine that the stable where the oxen is kept will be clean! The mess is an indicator for an abundant harvest.

Graveyards are quiet, tidy and dead! Everybody stays where they and does what they are suppose to do. Everything is neatly labelled and the flowers are beautiful! But it is dead. Whereas the labour ward is full of blood, poo, screaming, pain, pain relief and joy! Whilst it is packed with noise, mess, it is also overflowing with new life!

1 Corinthians 14 verse 40 encourages the spiritual togetherness of the church to be done in a fitting and orderly way, but that is more about ensuring the "oxen" are all pulling in the same direction than anything else. So don't let that instruction rob us of a harvest reaping church!

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. Proverbs 14v4 (ESV)

Proverbs Day Twelve | The Hope of Dunkirk

By | Blog, Character, Death, Devotionals, Discipleship, Doctrine, Foundational, Holy living, Holy Spirit, Life change, Wisdom

I have just watched the film trailer of Dunkirk. One of the screen shots is labelled with the phrase “Hope is a weapon“. During the past year I have learnt a lot about hope.

Hope is life-giving. Hope is not easily quantified. I have often described hope as a spectrum (a horizontal line). There is hope for eternity (one end of the line), but there is also the need for hope in this life, hope for tomorrow, hope for today and even just hope for now (the other end of the line).

Whilst the good news of Jesus Christ is an indestructible hope, we need to give sufficient hope to people where we find them. Here lies the sheer power of an encouraging word or a word of affirmation.

Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up. Proverbs 12v25 (NLT)

The first type (encouragement) calls people to lift their chin and press on. This is the “You can do this” word.

The second type (affirmation) declares what is already present in that person which shows the world they are made in the image of God. This is the “You are this” word.

Both are weapons in the hands of the righteous. Encourage what can be, and affirm what is. People need the hope of both.

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. Proverbs 12v25 (ESV)

Proverbs Day Ten | Weather watching

By | Blog, Character, Death, Devotionals, Discipleship, Foundational, Holy living, Life change, Suffering, Wisdom

In the UK we are privileged to have four seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Seasons teach us about life and certainly gives us imagery which helps us understand our own seasons.

Spring might represent new beginnings, ventures and effectiveness. Summer might be like blessing, momentum and just good times. Autumn could be understood as dying, fading, weakening or saying goodbye. Finally, Winter may mean grieving, loss, vulnerability and more challenging times.

A wise youth harvests in the summer,but one who sleeps during harvest is a disgrace. Proverbs 10v5 (NLT)

Seasons in our life are not in sync with nature's seasons in terms on timing, order or longevity. Therefore I need to regularly ask what season am I in?

Using 10v5 as my teacher I should seek to enjoy, be thankful and make the most of Spring and Summer. Whereas if I find my self in Autumn and Winter I should fix my eyes on the God of the seasons. I should draw from the memories, moments, truths about God and relationships established in Spring and Summer to help sustain me during the tougher seasons. And as Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes 3v1 "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…" My greatest challenge is not to waste the season I find myself in.

He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame. Proverbs 10v5 (ESV)

A Brother Who Made History

By | Death, Love, Provoked Within, Suffering, The gospel

For the final 3 years before I left Gracechurch to move to Swansea we ran a yearly camp for the men and boys in the church called Band of Brothers. During that camp I would take the opportunity to teach about a brother who made history.

Nate Saint is one such man. He with his four friends were murdered on the 8 January 1956. Today is the anniversary of his death.

These men had determined that God had called them to share the news of His Son to the Waodini Tribe in the Amazon Rain Forest. This tribe had a proven reputation of murder using the spear. In fact most of the tribe had a relative that had been likewise killed. It was a risky and dangerous calling.

On the 6 January 1956 after several weeks work they made direct contact with three of the tribe, and were particularly excited two days later when they saw a group of them heading their way. The men’s wives were expecting a radio update at 4.30pm and it never came. The radio was silent.

A few days later a search party was dispatched. They found the bodies of Nate and his friends, and their plane destroyed. They had been speared.

End of the story. Wasted lives? No.

Their deaths opened two doors. The first door was that when the story hit the news in 1956, it compelled many thousands of men and women to lay down half-hearted lives for Christ, choosing rather to live for Him with everything they had.

The second door was that within a few years some of the men’s wives and their children were living with the tribe, and many of the tribe came to put their faith in Christ. Indeed Nate’s son, Stephen, would later call one of his father’s murderers Grandfather.

Here is the video I used on Band of Brothers to share the story. It has clips from the film End of the Spear. In the story you will see a dramatised encounter of ‘Grandfather’ telling Stephen Saint that he killed his father.

Nate Saint knew the one who had been pierced by men (Isaiah 53), and with his life he led others to lay down murder with a spear for good.

33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16

Nate Saint Tribute from The Hill on Vimeo.

NB: You can read the story as told by one of the wives in the book Through the Gates of Splendour

Putting ballast in your boat…

By | Death, Doctrine, Suffering, The Bible, The gospel

Following my talk today I wanted to take the opportunity to add the quotes I referred to that have been so helpful to me:

“Only if God can say things that make you struggle will you know that you have met a real God and not a god of your imagination” Timothy Keller

“I can not see my role as a pastor in such days as simply entertaining you… to help you have a superficial cheerfulness that you just like to come to church, its a bit of relief from the severity of the times. That can not be my goal, not if I care. Rather as I understand my job, my calling… is to put ballast, the ballast of truth, the ballast of weighty glorious doctrine in the belly of your little boat. So that when you try and navigate these strange days, and these kinds of winds batter your life, you won’t capsize but rather you will make it all the way to the harbour called heaven with your faith intact and your joy overflowing. That’s my job – Ballast in your boat. Others can decorate the decks. I don’t have time to do it all. I do hope the decks are clear and the sun shines on us from time to time. Those are easy days. I am here to keep the boat from tipping in the hard days.” John Piper

Finally I wanted to share with you the reflection from my friend 12 months almost to the day when her mother died in a car accident (please see my previous blog entry):

These last 12 months would not be a time that I would want to repeat again, but I would also say that God has been amazing throughout. I have a son who likes to hang around my neck, even if I let go. I feel that God has been like that to me. I have learned so much about his character and sovereignty during these 12 months and where my life is unquestionably secure in Him. I am also at times like my son – holding on for all its worth, but I know more than ever that he is not going to let me go and he knows what he is doing. My mum knew where she was going and who she trusted in and that was Jesus. I do not know how I would have coped without God during this year. To be firmly rooted in God so that when hard times hit is more important than I realised. There have been times when I know I would not have coped without God.

I thank God that for my friend’s mum she had placed her life, and also her inevitable death, into the indestructible hope and security that is found within the life and death of Jesus.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8

So we go into Christmas not with a superficial seasonal joy, but a steadfast joy in the Son of God.

10… but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. Luke 2

Avoiding taxes

By | Death

It is often said that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. However, you can still avoid taxes. Indeed the ultimate tax avoidance scheme is surely death!

Why write some thoughts about death during this happy seasonal time of year? Because death is no respecter of our calendars, holidays, plans or presumptions.

Today at 1.52pm my friend’s mum died. Very very sad. She was not terminally ill or elderly. She had been celebrating Christmas and presumably making plans for 2012 only days earlier. Yet her ‘days’ finished this afternoon. Unexpected, unannounced, unintentional and unwanted.

Two days earlier a teenager died outside the Foot Locker store in Oxford Street. Unconfirmed suggestions are that it was the climax to an argument over a new pair of trainers. Different cause but same result. Today North Korea buried Kim Jong-Il. He died at 69 years of age. Different cause but same result. We will all die.

Last week I finished reading the book called One Day. The novel follows the lives of two people and does this by re-visiting them every year on the same date. The author stated that the idea came from a book by Thomas Hardy. There is a passage in one of Hardy’s novel in which a woman gazes at herself in the mirror and a shiver runs down her spine at the thought that perhaps this is the date on which she’ll die. She realizes that while we mark the date of our birthday each year, we also unwittingly go through the anniversary of our death time after time.

Unwittingly the reader does not appreciate that the date chosen in One Day is later to become the anniversary of one of the main character’s death. And how does the author choose to record that moment?

Then Emma Mayhew dies, and everything that she thought or felt vanishes and is gone. forever.

As quick, clinical and unexpected as that! Death can be like that. It is certain that there is a date with death out there for us all. Yet how many of us seem to give any considered thought to the certainty of our death, and more importantly what follows that. Perhaps more of us can give time and thought to the avoidance of taxes than the acceptance of death. Or perhaps we are more obsessed or pre-occupied by shoes, sales, savings and the opposite sex.

The Bible teaches that all of us will die and after that face judgement by God. The issue will then be whether we are relying on our life in that encounter, or whether we are relying on Jesus’ death to be the game-changer. We are told that only one will really count. Only one will remove the sting of death.

Which one are we relying on? Is it the deeds in our fragile transient life, or the deeds of the indestructible life of Christ Jesus who defeated death so that we might live.

I thank God that for my friend’s mum she had placed her life, and also her inevitable death, into the indestructible hope and security that is found within the life and death of Jesus.

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. 35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8

Old Jesus was as dead as a doornail!

By | Death, Doctrine, The gospel

In town a little while ago I noticed the shop window of a photography company where the shop banner confidently declared The greatest story ever told is you. I disagree. My life is definitely not the greatest story ever told, if it was it would be a sad day for the history of literature. Last night my family went to a small production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – an infinitely better story than my own. The play (and the book) begin with the following:

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

The story would mean nothing without Marley being dead. Indeed Dickens quickly adds:

There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

But as good as A Christmas Carol is, it is neither as good nor as enduring as the story of Jesus Christ… Which is the greatest and truest story ever told. If it was a modern book it would have the following précis on the back cover:

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)

Let us never forget the key points to this story. There is no doubt that Jesus was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story we are going to relate. Jesus was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was acknowledged by the Jews and the Romans. Peter and the other eleven signed their names to it. Old Jesus was as dead as a door-nail. Without that there is nothing more to say on the wonder of the resurrection.