Sunday 26 July 2020

The prophets and Lockdown

“I am fed up with what you have made my worship - you do not keep my laws and statues your leaders abuse the people, your hearts are far from me and I am fed up with your sacrifices – for goodness sake just stop”! 

During the “Lockdown” I have just happened to be reading the major prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah and now Ezekiel. I have been left with a real sense of resonance between what was happening in the world of the Jews at that time of approaching / impending exile, then exile itself and what is happening around us. Many of the passages are difficult to interpret and hard to understand. I read the commentaries and wonder where the people who write them find their ideas? They seem to come up with such detailed and ‘certain’ views of what is meant from such flimsy evidence.
I commented on this to Jan, my wife this morning and she said – “well just ignore that and ask the Lord to speak to you out of your reading” – so I did and this blog is made up of a few snap-shots that came to me.

As many people have reflected “Lockdown” almost overnight, caused many things to come to a sudden halt including all of our church practices. For some the response has been an immediate attempt to “get around” what has happened and find different and often innovative ways to get as near to “normal service” as possible. (The old TV notice “normal service will be resumed as soon as possible” comes to mind)! 

For others the response has been different – now that all of our normal business of running church has halted, the “noise” of daily life has lessened, and we are alone with God – where are we with Him and what has He got to say to us? This seems to reflect the cry of the Lord through the prophets paraphrased its almost like in certain chapters the Lord is saying to His people “I am fed up with what you have made my worship - you do not keep my laws and statues your leaders abuse the people, your hearts are far from me and I am fed up with your sacrifices – for goodness sake just stop”! 

In our fellowship stopping has resulted in a focus on a few simple but profound things like Jesus’s call to abide in Him (John 15) and all that this means.

Of course, we know what the response of God’s people was back in the day – they ignored His warnings and persecuted His prophets who brought the message – even when they were proved to be right. Poor Jeremiah had a hard time of it:

* He warned the people of impending invasion and they persecuted him for it, he was proved to be right but the people would not listen.
* He told the people in Jerusalem to surrender and if they did, they would come to no harm and was persecuted for it, again he was proved to be right but the people would not listen and many died.
* He told the people to settle down and accept the Babylonian rule and was persecuted for it, again he was proved to be right but the people would not listen and many died.
* The people asked Jeremiah whether they should go to Egypt and he told them “no” and was persecuted for it, again he was proved to be right and many died – and so the story goes on. 

One of Jeremiah’s problems was false prophets. I was reading Jeremiah 23 and some words caught my attention – it was Jeremiah’s complaint about the false prophets in verse 10 “their course of life is evil and their might is not right”. The verse brought me back to some lectures at college a long time ago where we were taught ''You cannot devolve (transfer to someone else) responsibility for something, and authority is the ‘right’ to do something whereas power is the ‘might’ to do something''. I have always thought that these were very powerful ideas and there they are in scripture raised by Jeremiah and then the Lord adds substance to them by spelling out what He finds wrong with the behaviour and pronouncements of these people and their prophesies.

To give an example, someone who is an appointed official or manager of a railway can legitimately stop the trains operating for a day and has the authority to do so. A disgruntled employee might sabotage the workings of the railway and prevent the trains from running – they have the power (might) to do it but not the right (authority) to do it. So, God is saying that these false prophets had the ability to speak supposedly in the name of the Lord and also had an audience of willing listeners but they had no right to do it – He had not sent them.

The warnings about false prophesy are harsh – the scripture says that time and again. God sends His prophets to warn people of the error of their ways and in mercy warn about impending or future disaster. It says that anyone who prophesies about “good things” must be watched carefully because only when these things come to pass will the prophet be exonerated and shown to have spoken with the authority of the Lord. The judgement on false prophets was stern and several are recorded to have lost their lives because of leading God’s people astray. 

During ''Lockdown'', there have been many different voices  saying different things in the Name of the Lord, giving interpretations about what is going on. We are warned to test both the spirit and the messages of those purporting to speak in the Lord's Name. These speakers also give us reason to be cautious about certain practices that are prevalent today where intention is to teach people ‘how to prophesy’.
Again, the bible warns about people prophesying what are essentially their own thoughts (even if they appear to have some face validity).

On the other hand, God made Ezekiel a watchman. In this position he was told that if he failed to warn the wicked of God’s judgement upon them and they died in their sins, he would be held responsible for their death. If he warned them yet they did not turn from their sin, he would be innocent of their blood should they die. Also, if a righteous man be taken by sin and Ezekiel failed to pass on God’s warning, he would be held accountable (he could not pass on that responsibility to others – it was his appointed task). (Ezekiel 3 v 16 – 21). Unfortunately, today we appear often to have many words but little observable results or fulfilment of what is said? People are encouraged to share without accountability and we would rather hear and speak what is acceptable and comfortable to society rather than the word of the Lord. How accountable are we for this?

In Ezekiel 6:9 the Lord reveals to Ezekiel the extent of the grief that He feels over the way that His people have abandoned Him and gone their own way: “I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from me…” and in chapter 8:6 “… do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the House of Israel commits here, to make Me go far away from my sanctuary”? The sin of the leaders was both seen and unseen (Ezekiel 8 v 12) “Have you seen what the elders of the House of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols”? Also, there were greater abominations in the Lord’s eyes – even in the inner court (Ezekiel 8:15-17) “So He brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s House; and there…. Were 25 men with their backs towards the temple of the Lord and their faces towards the East. And they were worshipping the sun towards the East”. The Lord speaks of the leaders filling the land with violence and injustice, not walking in His statutes and not executing His judgements, provoking Him to anger so that He is going to act in fury.

The consequence of this is that the Lord puts a mark on those who fear Him and “who sigh and cry over all of the abominations that are done within Jerusalem” (Ezekiel chapter 9:4). He then commands judgement on those who are not following His ways and are responsible for leading others astray, beginning with the Elders (verse 6). In chapter 10 the Glory of the Lord leaves the temple in fulfilment of what the Lord declares over the nation, the impending destruction of Jerusalem and dispersal of the Jews throughout the gentile nations. BUT in chapter 11:16-21 the Lord also speaks in this way:

“Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’ 17 “Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.’ 18 “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. 19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

In this way the Lord declares a message like this (please forgive the paraphrase):

I have brought your worship to a full stop and judged you for not fulfilling your role as my people. Nonetheless, although where I am sending you there is none of the paraphernalia of your temple worship, (none of the trappings of your usual church services) I am going to be with you and I myself be to you your Holy Place. When you return, I want you to abandon / get rid of all of the stuff (detestable practices – things that have glorified people and not God?) that has caused me grief and restore rightful worship. Then I am going to get close to you, I will give you one heart (true unity), I will fundamentally change your heart into a soft, vulnerable one and pour My Spirit out upon You… Hallelujah! Grant it Lord Jesus; please work in me!

Author: Chris Pearson 

May God bless and enrich your life

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Sunday 19 July 2020

God is Always with us.

After he left, God just turned up and His amazing peace and presence filled the room. I was in awe and just continued to give thanks and bask in His almighty presence.

I woke up Monday morning (6th July) and realised something wasn't quite right. Knee pain and fluid on my knee is not a new thing to me. I'd had fluid on my knee since Christmas but it randomly disappeared overnight a couple of weeks previous. Having had two weeks of a 'normal' knee, I thought it was on the mend. Waking up in pain on the 6th of July soon burst that bubble!
I got up and carried on with my day as usual but I noticed my knee became more red, swollen, warm and painful throughout the day. My condition became so pathetic that by the end of the day my husband resorted to throwing me over his shoulder just so I could get to the bathroom!

We were hoping it would improve overnight but if not, we'd take a trip to the hospital to get it checked out in the morning.
That is exactly what happened but in a much less organised and planned manner. I'd passed out twice in the morning - the second time I'd apparently stopped breathing and was totally unresponsive. Hubby calls for an ambulance and vwallah! I get my morning visit to the hospital!
My trip to the hospital wasn't as short as I expected. I ended up staying in for four days. This wasn't going to be an easy journey. Due to Covid-19 I wasn't allowed any visitors while I was in Emergency. Nearly two days in and I desperately wanted hubby to visit - to see a friendly face - someone I knew who wasn't coming to see me just to take more blood or perform more super painful tests!

The doctors and nurses were so friendly and helpful. They told me everything...EVERYTHING! I'm hearing words like sepsis being thrown around and they're worried the infection in my knee will spread to my organs. I'm not scared of death. Through Christ, death has lost its sting. Problem is, the enemy found a new way to mess with my head. I couldn't help but think of my two children having to experience grief and growing up without their mother. This broke me.

Over the next two days I was an emotional wreck. This is where God stepped in and took control of the situation.
A pastor friend and his family helped out with the children massively while my husband was visiting (by the end of day 2) and trying to keep normality in check. This gave me some peace of mind, knowing we have people around us who care and are willing to help when I'm not there. 

Another big thing was these messages that came over the public address system every evening. I could hear the Lord's prayer and messages about Jesus. With all the noise and beeping that goes on in a hospital I couldn't always make out exactly what was being said but knowing that prayers and words from the bible were in the air was soothing to my soul. I brought this up with a nurse and asked if someone from the chaplaincy team could come pray with me.
I'm finally asleep. It's midnight. Then a Catholic priest walks in! I found this rather amusing as that wasn't quite what I was expecting, being Christian and all. That and the guy in the bed next to mine was also a Catholic priest!! 

This was to be my final night at the hospital and I was fairly certain I was starting to improve now. I had a strong urge to pray with someone. But not asking for more intervention from God. This time I just wanted to give thanks. To give thanks that the infection didn't spread. To give thanks that I didn't have to be transferred to another hospital to have surgery. To give thanks that my family was taken care of so well and for all the small, daily ways that God stepped in to remind me His mighty hand was on it all.
The priest didn't stay long. He asked a few questions, we prayed, he went on his merry way. After he left, God just turned up and His amazing peace and presence filled the room. I was in awe and just continued to give thanks and bask in His almighty presence.

I was discharged from hospital on the Friday afternoon feeling sore and wobbly but incredibly blessed.
It's still bothering me that my children could have ended up without a mom had things taken a turn for the worse. But I can look back now and know that God will step in and carry us when we have no control over the situation we are in.
Thank you Lord for never letting me go!

''Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.'' (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Author: Sam Tarplin 

May God bless and enrich your life

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Sunday 12 July 2020

A Word of Encouragement

We can't avoid strife in the world around us, but with God we can know perfect peace even in the turmoil.
Finding Peace 
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the rock eternal. Isaiah 26:3-4
"You will keep in perfect peace" that is help and complete protection against fear and worry. This scripture also says, where fear and worry come against the mind, its source is the powers of darkness attacking our minds and it needs to be renewed continually by the Spirit of God. 
Do not confirm to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2

Finding Grace
We can't avoid strife in the world around us, but with God we can know perfect peace even in the turmoil. Committed to Christ, we can be secure and stable, and not stricken by the chaos around us. We are able to trust and find grace in God's unchanging mighty power.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7  
Imagine never "being anxious about anything" Paul's advice is to turn our worries into prayers. If you want to worry less, pray more! True peace is not found in positive thinking, it comes from knowing that God is in perfect control of all things.

At times, our minds are attacked by negative spiritual forces, which want to feed us lies. This is where the battleground is.
However, we are told to "Submit yourselves, then to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you.'' James 4:7

Renewing of The Mind
Paul also reminds us "to be renewed in the attitudes of your mind" Ephesians 4:23. Not giving credence to ungodly thoughts on folks who have hurt us in the past, or things that could happen in the future. Allow our minds to focus on all that is good. Focus on God, on His Word, proclaiming it aloud, where able. Thanking Him for His many blessings, our families, our friends, His constant love, even when we get it wrong.
Finally, brothers, whatever is right, whatever is  pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praise worthy, think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Being Overcomers
In the UK today, due to Covid 19 many are experiencing mental problems, being lonely and isolated. Many are turning to drink and other means to find temporary peace. Before coming to Christ I was the same. Now, I can honestly say, that Jesus set me free from worry, fears, and hopelessness. It has lasted for nearly 50 years!
At first, a fierce battle ensued, with the powers of darkness, but with the Holy Spirit, victory came, as I began to learn to cover my mind with the blood of Jesus. There are still battles, but with God's help, I can overcome them.   

Standing in The Victory
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

We can never fully understand the perfect peace of God, but receive it by faith and trust, knowing that Jesus is sheltering us under His wing, and will lead us in the way of everlasting. When the onslaughts come, quote Jesus's words, ''Get behind me, satan! You are a stumbling block to me, you do not have in mind, the concerns of God, but merely human concerns. Matthew 16:23.

Author: John Yates 

May God bless and enrich your life

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Sunday 5 July 2020

Abiding 4 – The fruit

Jesus was abiding in the Father in the same way that He wants us to abide in Him.

I was thinking this week about an experience that Jan my wife had when looking at the “Chosen” site on line and sharing my thoughts with my friend, Ben. Jan wrote a blog about her experience (see Sunday 17th May 2020) and the thing that she shared from it was about reputation and how we guard it when Jesus abandoned His for us. As I talked to Ben though, and shared what had happened on that exchange between Jan and the other person, another seed thought began to germinate in my mind.

What struck me was how Jan could have responded like the others who were defending their views about the video. They were arguing from one viewpoint or another trying to undo the comments and arguments of the non-Christian. Jan took a step back and asked the Lord what to share with this guy, who was clearly angry about the message being conveyed on the “Chosen” site. She opened her heart and gave him a completely different kind of answer, full of the love and compassion of the Lord for this dear person. It pulled me up short because the response from the other person changed fundamentally – it became engaged and sincere and open.

This made me think about the scripture that says that our job is to plant the seed and water the seed – but the Lord gives the increase. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase”.
Paul is saying that the ‘ministers’ are nothing in themselves, the power is in the seed (the word of the Lord) and God who gives the increase. 

I thought about how so often we can be tempted not to ask the Lord how to respond in a given situation but try and manipulate our message to a desired end. Effectively we stop trying to sow and water the seed – share and live out His word - but instead argue to a particular end out of which often comes stress and emotion that does not bring glory to the Lord. Also, as a consequence if we think that we have won an argument or achieved something who does the glory go to – not the Lord but ourselves?

This isn’t the picture that Jesus paints about abiding in John 15:5-8 “I am the vine; you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so, you will be My disciples.
In John 15 it is abiding that brings forth fruit to the glory of the Father. In a previous blog we looked at our need to fully embrace what Jesus says in this chapter, including “without Me you can do nothing”. So, if we make up our own answers and live our own living, what are we producing (no matter how good it appears to others) – does not bring glory to the Father.

I am sure that we can all relate to the circumstance where we are in conversation with someone who doesn’t know the Lord and suddenly there it is – a moment that we recognise as a “divine appointment moment” – the conversation turns and presents an amazing opportunity to say something about the Lord. Only, instead of saying what we feel we should be saying, we are hunting wildly for words to say – a gospel punchline or a way of bringing the Lord into the conversation that occurs to us either not at all or 5 minutes after the moment has passed. Or maybe there is a difficult situation with a work colleague and we want a sanctified and righteous way of addressing it without resorting to manipulation of some kind?

I can relate to this latter situation well because when I was in my last job there arose a number of occasions where I felt righteous indignation about a situation within my team of peers and totally failed to find a way through that dealt with the issue and also gave testimony to the Lord at work in my life. This grieved me greatly I have to say and I felt that I glorified the Father not at all. When I thought about these things and talked with my friend, it occurred to me in a new way that whilst on earth, Jesus Himself was never in any of these situations without an appropriate response. From the accounts that we have He answered even those who were trying to kill Him with wisdom and grace, and for those He met with issues of faith He got right to the heart of the matter.
For example, to Nicodemus He said: “Truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3 v 3) and to the woman at the well in Sychar: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4 v 10). At the same time He responded with righteous anger when He found the temple grounds full of marketplace activities: Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Matthew 21:12-13)

Sometimes His response was silence, as with the Pharisees who accused a woman of adultery in John 8:6 “This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear”.
It occurred to me that Jesus, called in Revelation “the faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14) was completely congruent in thought, word and deed. Leaving the issue of wisdom aside for this blog, where did this wholeness and congruency come from?

In Jesus’ prayer for the disciples and us in John 17:20-21 He prays: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me”. So, Jesus was abiding in the Father in the same way that He wants us to abide in Him. Also, all that Jesus thought, and said and did was to glorify the Father – that was His sole concern. In John 8:28-29 Jesus tells the Jews: “… I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”

As I thought about this I thought about the power of it – its not the whole answer I know, but the power of changing the issue from working out what to say to pleasing Jesus is all that we think, say and do changes the problem in my mind completely. My prayer changes from “what do I say Lord”? to “How do I please you in this situation Lord”? It changes from “how do I work out what I should do here”? to “how do I please you in this situation Lord”? It changes from “how do I think this through”? to “how do I please you in this situation Lord”?

Now we see more clearly one of the reasons that Jesus is telling us that we must abide – and why there are so many gaps in some of our responses to people. If we are abiding (“being one in us” as in John 17:21 above), then all of this becomes a natural part of the way in which we live. We will sow and water as we live our lives and the prayer “how do I please you in this situation Lord”? does not become a desperate scramble for words as much as a part of the way we live our lives and relationship – abiding in Him. If we have a close loved one, we know that oftentimes it is not necessary to speak to ask a question – a look or a small facial expression will do – even so the Lord wants our communication not to be as strangers but close family members.

If this is the way that we walk with Jesus and our prime goal is to please Him then maybe it doesn’t matter so much if we get the words exactly right on every occasion – He is the one that brings forth fruit and if our chief concern is His glory then I am sure that He will deal with the rest. As with life in general and Jesus in particular, sometimes the words matter a lot and the Father provides exactly the right ones, and sometimes they matter less. Jesus tells us that if we abide in Him and His words abide in us, we can ask what we will and it will be done.

One final thought; my assumption was always that it was the fruitless branches that were cut down and burned – but no, let’s look again – it’s branches that are not abiding that are cut down and burned. Fruit is the Father’s business, let us seek and find the place of abiding and to please Jesus and glorify the Father in every situation.  ”For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord”. (Ephesians 5 v 8-10)

Author: Chris Pearson 

May God bless and enrich your life

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