Sunday, 16 May 2021

Attending to what is important?

What do we need to do differently individually and collectively to seek the face of the Lord for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit?

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I am in a dilemma really – sitting here wondering how to start this blog and where it will lead? When I was at work in my last real job (I worked as a contractor for two stages of my ‘working life’ so I am talking about being employed here) I had a team of 46 people working on healthcare projects. We needed to work closely together so I/we used every opportunity to develop teamwork and good communication. One of the things that we did was to develop this teamwork around three principles. The principles themselves are not important here, but on my last day when we were having a ‘leaving party’ one of the lead members of the team said, ‘what are those three principles that we were supposed to be using to guide our teamwork’!?

Well, I was frankly in the words of my generation ‘gob-smacked’! What?! There I was thinking that I was being a pain by ‘keeping on’ - trying to remind people of these principles for the last couple of years or so at every opportunity - and here we were after all this time with one of the team leaders (and a much-respected colleague) who couldn’t remember what they were! It was a lesson at a number of levels but the simplest one was that in the jumble of life and all that we have to respond to, we can’t remind ourselves often enough about what is really important.

In this respect Mary keeps coming back to mind; Luke 10:41-42 where Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her’. (In sitting at Jesus’ feet and seeking a deeper relationship with God she was not only 'letting down’ her sister by not helping her, but also breaking a cultural norm about the role that she was expected to take given the circumstances of the day). It causes me to think about how difficult it is for us to abandon our normal patterns of behaviour to seek the Lord’s face. 

How important does something need to be to cause us to make real changes to the way that we live? Let’s think about something that we might do that breaks our own cultural norms or current behaviours in response to the Lord telling us to ‘seek His face’; Psalm 27:8 (ESV) ‘when You said, Seek My face’, My heart said to You, Your face, Lord, I will seek’. (Our minds do readily respond to the Lord sometimes, don’t they? It’s easy to mentally get that God wants us to seek His face or to be convinced of a biblical principle. It’s quite another to alter the way that we behave or radically change something in our lives to enable us to respond to what the Lord asks?

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For example, it’s not too hard to understand why the Lord has been teaching us to abide in Him, the true vine. We get that it’s only in the vine that we can we get the sustenance that we need and remaining in the vine is the only way that we can walk with the Lord day by day. But how do we abide? It isn’t understanding the words that brings us into this relationship with the vine, it’s the Holy Spirit that brings us in to the relationship. Let’s apply a test. The scripture is John 15:5,7&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… If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so, you will be My disciples’.

I guess if we can tick the boxes:

√ asking what we desire, and it being done for us and 

√ bearing much fruit to the glory of God the Father 

… then there is no need to be alarmed? But if we are more like; ‘without me you can do nothing’… then are we really abiding?

Often the bible’s answer to things that are not right, is to seek the face of the Lord. In the New King James version, the word ‘Seek’ appears 310 times not including all of the related words like ‘inquire’; these are not all referring to ‘seeking the Lord but a good many of them are. There are a number of Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) words that are translated as ‘seek’. 

In Psalm 27:4 David seeks after the Lord with delight: ‘One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire of His temple’.

In Jeremiah 29:13 the prophet is answering a question as to why the Lord has not answered: ‘And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart’.

I suspect that Mary’s heart was seeking in the manner of Psalm 27 – with delight she was seeking the face of God and establishing her relationship with Him.

In the Laodicean church of Revelation 3 the Lord is urging people to seek His face because He was revealing to them the massive gap between where they thought they were and where they in fact were in His sight – miserable and poor and blind and naked

In the early 1900s, when God was pouring out His Spirit in a new way in churches in different places, three Godly men quite independently declared that in ‘about 100 years’ time’ there would be a similar outpouring. They said that the difference this time would be that it would not be identified with any one person/individuals and that it would be global. In response to this I am reminded of Daniel. Once he saw through prophesy that the years of exile were ending, he sought the face of God to make that word a living reality.

So here are three reasons (not the only ones) for us to seek the Lord for a fresh outpouring of His Holy Spirit:

- As Mary and David, with a deep hunger and delight at knowing the Lord – for the sheer love of Jesus and wanting His name to be honored and lifted high.

- Because we know that something is wrong and are desperate for the Lord to move in power for the sake of the church and those who have no knowledge of salvation at all.

- If we hear (as Thelma reminded us not long ago) the sound of ‘moving in the mulberry trees’ and recall God’s promises to pour out His spirit when His people rise up and seek His face and are convinced that this is the time of our visitation, then we will seek His face for a fresh outpouring. 

I think that this message is coming to us again and again through different people not just so that we will understand it but so that we will live in it. What do we need to do differently individually and collectively to seek the face of the Lord for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit? We need to remember that God rejected the Jews of Jeremiah’s time because they did not seek Him earnestly and in truth. Sometimes we need reminding again and again so that we determine what’s important and change accordingly?

Me with a quenchless thirst inspire,

A longing, infinite desire,

And fill my craving heart.

Less than Thyself, oh, do not give,

In might Thyself within me live;

Come, all Thou hast and art.

                                           (Charles Wesley)

Author: Chris Pearson

May God bless and enrich your life

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Sunday, 9 May 2021

The Peace of God that Surpasses all Understanding

We can say that we trust God in all things, but we don’t really know that we do, until we have been through trials and practically put our trust in God through them

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A dictionary definition of peace is ‘Peace is freedom from hostile aggression, a lack of conflict and freedom from fear of violence between individuals or diverse groups’. This represents the world’s view of peace, basically the absence of conflict. True peace, however, is the peace that only God can give. In Philippians 4:7 the Apostle Paul says, ‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’. Also, in John 14:27 Jesus says, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid’. So, know that God’s peace is far beyond anything we can understand and that it protects our hearts and minds in Jesus, it is a gift Jesus gave us, it is not the peace that the world can give. Jesus tells us not to be afraid, but that is easier said than done. 

Of course, worldly peace is short lived. There are always wars going on somewhere in the world. There are always major conflicts between countries or within governments and all sorts of examples of man’s inhumanity to man. Even in our own lives and among the people we know and love, we see disagreements, unexpected sad and tragic circumstances that appear unjust to us.  So how can we have God’s peace with all that going on? Well, Jesus’ promise of peace does not mean we are free from tribulation; John 16:33 ‘And everything I’ve taught you is so that the peace which is in me will be in you and will give you great confidence as you rest in me. For in this unbelieving world, you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world!’ (The Passion Translation (TPT)).

There are many more scriptures to back up the fact that God says, if we believe in Jesus and walk in His ways, we will certainly face trials and persecution in this world. Sometimes, even as Christians, we can mix up the world’s peace and God’s peace. When we go through trouble, we can think God is punishing us for our sins or we are not good enough. We can believe God does not love us or has abandoned us and we can even believe that life should always be a happy and joyful existence if we are leading a Christian life. However, all of these are false. It is perfectly clear that as Christians, we will suffer but God’s Word tells us that we can still have peace in all circumstances. 

God lets us go through persecution, but why? Firstly, if we are followers of Christ, we will suffer because he suffered; John 15:20 (TPT) ‘So remember what I taught you, that a servant isn’t superior to his master. And since they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. And if they obey my teachings, they will also obey yours’. Secondly, God is instructing us. He allows bad things to happen to us, he is not punishing us, but rather teaching us. When we are taught something, it is to further our knowledge and understanding. We can learn a lot from textbooks and teachers, but we also need to get practical experience. As Christians we have the most amazing full and complete textbook, the Bible. We also have wonderful teachers and other books, that help us understand and interpret what God is teaching us. Just as in education there are certain things we have to accomplish practically before we can say we can do it.  Each of us have our own walk with God. We can say we have faith, but unless our faith has been tested practically, then it is just words. If we say we are long suffering and have perseverance or patience, it is just words, if we haven’t been tested through it practically. We can say that we trust God in all things, but we don’t really know that we do, until we have been through trials and practically put our trust in God through them.

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James 1:2-4 tells us; ‘Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’. We can’t be expected to feel joy at all times, can we? No, of course not, we are not expected to be robots without feelings and emotions. When my mum went to be with the Lord, two good friends of mine prayed with me that my grief would not overwhelm me. I didn’t understand at the time what they meant, but later, I realised that though I needed to grieve, my grief did not overwhelm me, as it does with some people, because of my relationship with Christ and the gift of His Peace.

Numerous devout people in the bible suffered many trials. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Stephen, who was stoned to death, Paul who came close to death many times and was eventually killed for his faith. There are many more examples, and all of these had the peace of God in them because they trusted God and lived to please Him and not themselves or the world. Jesus himself, in the knowledge that He was going to suffer an inhumanely painful death of crucifixion, went ahead with the Father’s Will for Him. He didn’t, smile with joy, no, He went into the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed a heartfelt prayer to His Father in heaven, sweated blood, asked for the cup to be taken from Him but then obeyed the Father and died for us so that we might have eternal life. 

Some of us can tend to get temptations and trials mixed up, however, temptations never come from God but from within ourselves or from satan. Satan only tempts with that which is desirable to us. He put temptation in Jesus’ way, but as we know Jesus resisted him every time. James 1:13-15 tells us ‘Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death’. James 4:7 gives us some advice on how we might deal with these situations; ‘Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you’.

So, how can we obtain this peace that surpasses all understand? The bible, as ever, offers this advice:

Pursue our relationship with God - Acts 4:12 ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’.  Peace will allude those who don’t have a relationship with God. Without that knowledge of Jesus there will always be fear of death and judgement within the hearts of people. Yet knowing the Lord enables believers to have peace even within the worst of storms.

Put away anxious thoughts and place our trust in God - Philippians 4:6-7 ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’. Believers can struggle with doubt or unbelief leading to anxious thoughts. However, we are clearly taught not to worry about anything! By praying to God and giving thanks to Him for everything and trusting Him in everything we can receive His peace

Prioritise our spiritual walk - Matthew 6:33-34 ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. ‘Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble’Peace can be difficult to find when we become distracted with the cares and worries of this world. It is easy to fall away from our spiritual walk after a series of small compromises of faith that slowly drain peace from our lives.  Making our spiritual growth a priority is essential to having a life of peace to sustain us in hard times.  We have to ask ourselves: How is our prayer life? Are we constantly in the word? Do we fellowship regularly with other believers?

Push past our present situation - 2 Corinthians 5:7 ‘for we walk by faith, not by sight’. It is easy to get stuck in our present situation and let our peace evaporate just like it did for Peter when he stepped out on the water to walk towards Jesus. Peace isn’t the absence of a stormy situation - it is the ability to remain calm and faithful in spite of the uncertainty. Faith is about hoping for what we don’t yet see in this world and as we grow in our faith, the peace of God will infiltrate our heart and minds with his peace.

Peace, be still – In Mark 4:39-41, When the disciples were afraid for their lives because of the fierceness of the storm, and in a frenzy, they woke Jesus. He said three simple words ‘Peace be still’ and the entire weather system complied. Can you imagine the amazement of those tough and experienced fishermen? The Lord desires that we step back from the anxieties and perplexities of this world to see His power displayed in magnificent ways. Jesus knew about the storm brewing while He slept on the boat and He knows about the storms hovering over our lives even today, yet He still says, ‘Peace be still’

We can take great comfort from what the Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13 ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength’. I pray, that as followers of Jesus, we may demonstrate the peace of God every day so that others may know Him too. Philippians 4:4-7 ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let our gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus’.

I leave you with these final words from Philippians 4:8-9 which I use as a prayer for all those read this and myself too; ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you’.

Be blessed.

Author: Barbara Dragunas

May God bless and enrich your life

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Sunday, 2 May 2021

Two Kinds of Blessing

The Bible doesn’t promise us an easy life. There will be struggles, but one day we will understand their purpose. In Christ we have a future and a reason to live today.  

We all want to be blessed, but what kind of blessing are we expecting, Happiness? Health? Wealth? Prosperity? Power? Jacob was a man who wanted to be blessed by his father Isaac.  The name Jacob means ‘heel grabber’, he was therefore by name and nature a trickster.  First, he caught his brother Esau in a moment of need and stole his birth right, then, aided by his equally scheming mother, he stole his brother’s blessing. You may want to remind yourself of the story by reading from Genesis 27 to Genesis 28:9. Jacob’s character is revealed in that he had no conscience about deceiving his father, only a fear of being found out and cursed instead (Genesis 27:12), but God had plans, as the rest of the story reveals.

Looking closely at the text, we see that Jacob was blessed by Isaac twice; the first in Genesis 27:27-29, the second in Genesis 28:3-4.  There are however some key differences.

Blessing One - The Stolen Blessing

The first blessing promises both wealth and power – the ‘fatness of the earth’ and ‘lord over your brothers’, even ‘blessing for those who bless you’. This is the blessing for the easy life – ‘La Dolce Vita’ in which everything goes right, no struggles, no pain, no trauma nor tragedy.  Did it come to pass? Not at all. Jacob struggled with man and with God, being renamed Israel to testify to his struggling. He ran for his life from his brother, was continually deceived by his uncle Laban, ran away again, bowed and grovelled before his brother, was bereaved of wife and favourite son, and lost everything, becoming destitute in the famine, finally living out his day’s dependent on his re-found son Joseph. Living his last days in exile in Egypt he described to Pharaoh his 130 years sojourning as ‘few and evil’.  Clearly the blessing he gained by deception did him no good at all.

Blessing Two - The Real Blessing

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There was however another blessing; the real blessing, given willingly by his father to the son who now obeyed (Genesis 28:3-4). This time there is no mention of personal prosperity but the promise of offspring, becoming a ‘company of peoples’, and possession of the land – all the promises that God had given to his grandfather Abraham.  In this blessing Isaac invokes the name of God Almighty, ‘El Shaddai’, the all sufficient One who provides.

So, Jacob, and subsequently the nation of Israel, will struggle, will be rejected and mistreated, but will fulfil the promises of God in covenant continuity for a people and a land. Jonathan Sachs wrote: ‘Time and again God blesses the patriarchs – but always and only in terms of children and a land.  He never promises them ‘the richness of the earth’, or that they will ‘rule over their brothers’.  Wealth and power have nothing to do with the covenant.  They are not part of Israel’s destiny’.

As Christian believers we have been included in these promises. The Bible doesn’t promise us an easy life. There will be struggles, but one day we will understand their purpose. In Christ we have a future and a reason to live today.  

Philippians 3:20 ‘Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ’.

Be blessed!

Author: John Plumb

May God bless and enrich your life

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