Why do you keep filling gallery after gallery with endless pictures of the one ever-reiterated theme, of Christ in weakness, Christ upon the cross, Christ dying, most of all Christ hanging dead? Why do you concentrate upon that passing episode, as if that were the last word and the final scene, as if the curtain dropped upon that horror of disaster and defeat? Paint Christ not dead but risen, with His foot set in scorn on the split rock with which they sought to hold Him down! Paint Him the Conqueror of death! Paint Him the Lord of Life! Paint Him as what He is, the irresistible Victor who, tested to the uttermost, has proved Himself in very deed mighty to save!
You hold my every moment
You calm my raging seas
You walk with me through fire
And heal all my disease
I trust in You
I trust in You
I believe You’re my Healer
I believe You are all I need
I believe You’re my Portion
I believe You’re more than enough for me
Jesus You’re all I need
Nothing is impossible for You
Nothing is impossible for You
Nothing is impossible for You
You hold my world in Your hands
I’m reading The Grace Outpouring at the moment which tells the story of what Roy Godwin has had the pleasure of watching God do in and around the Christian retreat centre, Ffald-y-Brenin. It’s an easy read, but a wonderfully deep book, touching on many areas of our faith that are increasingly relevant as we adjust to living as disciples of Jesus in the post-christendom 21st century. The following excerpt is Roy’s summary of the gospel Jesus preached – the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
So what is this good news of the kingdom? The message is actually much more than “You can have your sins forgiven.” God has chosen to enter time and space, to destroy the works of the evil one, who had usurped, by man’s invitation, the rule of God over the earth. This unfolding of God’s purpose on earth involves the created order as well as individuals. His reign has started, and it’s here on earth. The kingdom of God has come, it’s been activated, all things are being redeemed. This is the good news.
When the Father raised Jesus to life and exalted him to his right hand and gave him all power in heaven and on earth and the name that is above every name, that every knee should bow, it meant that all the existing powers on earth were now called to yield to him (Philippians 2: 6– 11). When the kingdom of God is released on earth, those other rulers and principalities have to bow, they have to yield; their power is broken.
Jesus did not preach about a kingdom that was way off in the future but one that is in the here and now, in the present. It has drawn near, he said, and it is among us; it has come, and it is amazing news for all who have ears to hear. The fullness is yet to be seen, but right now, where we are, heaven can touch earth.
The disciples were to declare the very same gospel of the kingdom as they went from town to town. He had called them to be with him and to declare the kingdom in power. They were told to bind and loose and to heal the sick as part of their kingdom mandate.
Godwin, Roy; Roberts, Dave, 2012. The Grace Outpouring: Blessing Others through Prayer (p. 151). Emphasis mine.
N.T. Wright reflecting on what his parting words to his family would be – Look at Jesus!
I’m going to say at the outset that not all traditions are bad – some traditions are enriching, valuable parts of what it is to be human and live in fellowship with other humans. As a fairly new Father, one of the things I can’t wait to do is establish family traditions that will give my family a sense of unity and history as we go through life together. So this is by no means an anti-Tradition rant for the sake of it.
However, there are other traditions that aren’t so good. For example, there’s an old story about a newly married couple and their first roast dinner.
Watching his wife prepare the joint of meat, the husband bemusedly watched her cut two inches from either end of the meat and threw it in the bin. Thinking it an awful waste, he asked her “Why have you just cut those ends off?”
“That’s just how my Mum taught me to prepare a roast. She’s done it all her life, and I never thought to ask her why,” she replied as she carried on seasoning the meat.
“Fair enough,” the husband said. “I don’t want to cut across family traditions. After all, Mum knows best!”
I know it’s the middle of May, but I’d like to share a bit about a Valentine’s Day with my wife where I got it completely wrong. We had talked a bit about what we wanted to do to celebrate the day together, and my wife made it clear that what she really wanted was to have a night out. In the end, we didn’t manage to find a baby sitter, so she then said that she’d be happy with a posh ready meal from a supermarket so that we’d be free to spend the time after dinner not cleaning up the kitchen. She left me responsible for working out what we’d eat, which is where things started to go wrong… Continue reading
Grace is one of those things that can be very difficult for our religion-addicted brains to grasp. From the cradle to the grave, we’re told by the world that we get what we work for, and that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and in all honesty we’re not generally communicating a better message in the church! I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that taking hold of and believing the gospel of pure grace has been the biggest challenge I’ve had in my walk with God. There’s just so much confusion and effort-based preaching that I’ve taken in, and even delivered, over the years that it can all seem a bit too good to be true.
If this sounds a bit like you, I’d love to commend The Naked Gospel to you. I have had this book for a really long time, but finally got around to reading it while I was on holiday recently. Within the pages of this brief and easy-to-read book, Andrew Farley takes aim at the very foundations of law-based religion and the compromised mixtures of law and grace that are so prevalent in the church today. Having shown the impotence of the law to lead us into the life God desires for us, he then shows us how the New Covenant founded on Christ’s blood is infinitely better than what was given to Israel on Mount Sinai.
Using modern-day illustrations and Scripture to challenge widely-held beliefs that fall short of the New Covenant, Farley has written a fantastic guide to the true gospel that is all of grace. Along the way, he presents clearly and persuasively the truth of our identity in Christ, the futility of human effort in serving God, the true purpose of the Law, why it is no longer binding on believers in Christ today, and how we go on living in grace day-by-day.
I read The Naked Gospel in three or four days, and I found it an incredibly encouraging and faith-building read. At the end of the book, I was much less impressed with myself and much more impressed with Jesus, which can only be a good thing! I intend to read it again, going through much slower, so that I can get my mind renewed and be even more amazed at what Christ has done and continues to do in my life by grace.
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering “What is so amazing about grace?”, get this book and find out for yourself. Your religious pre-conceptions will be challenged, but bear with it and you may well see the way to freedom in Christ more clearly than you have before.
God has challenged me on my intellectual pride recently. I have a constant temptation to think that I have to understand everything, and that the route to spiritual growth is the ability to remember and regurgitate Scripture and doctrine. Maybe it’s because I’m someone who reads a fair bit of theology and Christian literature. Maybe it’s because I’ve been known to preach and teach in various contexts. Maybe I’m just a bit of a know-it-all! I don’t really know the root of it.
What I do know is that this tendency has held me back. I will often sense God reminding me of a scripture, or a particular aspect of doctrine or faith, and my knee-jerk reaction is “I know that!” While it can sound like I’m acknowledging what God is saying, I’ve started to realise that this is my pride saying “I already know this. I don’t need to hear that again, so tell me something new!” I’ve been unwittingly rejecting the day-by-day bread God has wanted to give me from His word.
Being a bit thick-headed, it took God pushing back for me to finally see what I was doing. The last time I told Him “I know that!”, He lovingly responded “No you don’t, Jon. If you knew it, I wouldn’t need to tell you. You need to stop telling me you know things just because you’ve heard it before, or even because you’ve preached it before. Trust me when I tell you something, and please listen to me!” If ever there was a word to cut through the fog of pride, it’s that one!
It’s so important to realise what you do and don’t know. There’s a reason Jesus said we must become like children when describing how we enter the Kingdom. Children aren’t in the place of being experts or teachers. On the contrary, children are learning everything new for the first time. It takes time for them to pick things up, and a father knows both what his child needs to learn and when they have learned it. I know that with my daughter, I don’t have to teach her how to sit up or walk any more – she’s already mastered them! Likewise, God, the perfect Father, knows exactly what we need to learn at each point and, as His children, we need to be ready to receive exactly what He wants to give us at each moment.
So here’s my new posture. There’s all kinds of things I think I know. I’ve studied and read a lot, but one of the things I’m finally learning is that there is so much I don’t know. There is so much about grace, faith and who I am in Christ that I still need to receive and meditate on. If God speaks to me about something, I’m going to take it on faith that I need to hear it and take time to meditate on it and get my mind renewed. Yes, I want to grow in wisdom and understanding, but wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord and knowing that there’s so much still to learn. So instead of feeling like I need to master truth, I want to focus on knowing Jesus who is the truth, and then let truth master me.
The wait-a-bit tree by Quintin Abrams
In Southern Africa there is a tree, actually more like a bush than a tree that is called the wait-a-bit-tree. It is called this because if you walk too near it, it has thorns all over its branches that latch on to your skin. It’s awful, as you have to unhook those thorns trying not to rip your flesh. So, one has to wait a bit to get untangled.
I am reminded of a scripture which says (Hebrews 12:1) Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Created For His Glory by Glen Scrivener
God creates from fullness not need. His glory is not about demanding but giving. From the Father’s eternal begetting of the Son comes the logic of creation’s in-time manufacture. Creation is not the first time God has to relate to another. Instead, creation finds its origin in His already-outgoing nature.
Hearing One Side Of A Story by Frank Viola
I remember it well. A zealous but naïve follower of Jesus in my mid-20s. That was me.
One of my friends had been part of the church to which I belonged. He had recently moved to another city and joined another group. He called me on the phone from the other state to unload. He told me how he had been mistreated by this other group. And he singled-out one particular person who was (according to him) the source of his pain.
As I listened to him vent, my blood began to boil. I was angry at this group . . . and I was angry at the particular person who mistreated my friend.
The Art of Being a Jerk Online by Frank Viola
Jerk: Slang . a contemptibly naive, fatuous, foolish, or inconsequential person.” Not a cuss word. Source.
According to recent studies (you know, the same ones that show that research is known to cause cancer in rats), if two Christians disagree with one another online for more than three consecutive days, there is a 97.3% chance that one of them will end up calling the other a “child of Satan” or a near-equivalent.
With that in mind, here are nine sure-fire ways to perfect the art of being a jerk online…
These two posts by Frank Viola have been used to highlight how I have recently been seeking out gossip and scandal online. It’s no real secret that there is some controversy about spiritual abuse circling some reformed charismatic church groups in the USA. While I’m not criticising those who are sharing their stories of what they endured at the hands of some believers, reading these two blog posts I realised that I have sought out gossip about these groups that I was already a bit suspicious of.
Everything I was reading confirmed what I’d already been thinking about these groups, so I uncritically accepted the reports and built up an unholy sense of self-righteous satisfaction in seeing these people exposed. I remain convinced that these stories coming out now are a part of the Lord’s discipline and refining of His body, but I have never suffered at the hands of those being talked about and it was simply wrong for me to indulge in deliberately dwelling on the stories and assassinating my brothers in my heart.
Thankfully, I didn’t indulge in posting about these directly. I feel a huge sense of relief that I read these posts before giving in to the temptation to do so!
Hebrews 10:26 by Escape To Reality
I get asked more questions on Hebrews 10:26 than any other verse in the Bible. Evidently, this is a verse that troubles many Christians:
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left (Heb 10:26)
Wow! That looks scary! Let’s take a quick survey. Please put your hand up if you have lived a sinless life since accepting Jesus as your Savior. Hmmm. I don’t see any hands. I have been saved for decades and – if I’m honest with you – I cannot say my performance has been flawless throughout that period. I’m pretty sure I sinned this one time back in 1987…
Ha! It’s easy for me to make jokes. I’ve been set free. I no longer mine at the pits of religion with condemnation. I’m drawing from the wells of salvation with joy!
A month or two ago, me and my daughter discovered a fun game. She’s still a baby, just starting to recognise certain words, and one of the phrases she’s already picked up is “1, 2, 3!” I’ve said this to her since she was a couple of months old to let her know that something was about to happen – you know, random tickles, attempts to help her to sit up, being thrown into the air, that sort of thing
One day, my wife showed me what happens when we hold her in our arms and count to three. She pushes herself back for us to catch her and rock her in our arms! I was sure that she wouldn’t do it if I was holding her out of fear that I wouldn’t manage to catch her like Mummy did, but I decided to give it a go. Lo and behold, as soon as I said “Three!”, she pushed herself back, in full confidence that I would catch her and make sure she was safe.
The look on her face as I caught her was absolutely precious, and was a large part of the fun of the game, but do you know what really touched me? It was that she had complete trust that I, her Daddy, was there and would make sure that nothing bad would happen to her. As this flooded my heart, I sensed the Lord telling me that this is what thrills His heart too. Nothing thrills God more than when we are in the middle of circumstances and trials that seem difficult, and instead of clinging on for dear life, we just lean back into His arms in total faith the He is willing, able and ready to catch and bear us up.
Since then, in the last couple of weeks or so, there’s now one of two things my daughter will do when we count to three. One time she may throw herself back as she has been for the last couple of months, but the new thing she has learned is to throw herself forward, going in for a big hug! If the trust and faith of throwing herself back filled my heart with joy, just imagine what the freely given hug of my daughter did! Trust is good, but loving affection is even better!!
As I’m writing this, I get the sense that there are people who will read this who need to hear God counting to three. It might be that you need to lean back and let Him bear you up, going against every instinct you have telling you you’ll fall and hurt yourself. Fight this instinct and just let yourself go in complete dependence on Him. Or it might be that you really need to lean in to Him, expressing a heart of love and devotion to Him, finding a new intimacy again as you embrace Him and He embraces you.
Whichever one you need to do today, get alone with Him, hear Him calling you and show Him you love and trust Him.
Ready? 1… 2… 3!