N.T. Wright reflecting on what his parting words to his family would be – Look at Jesus!
N.T. Wright reflecting on what his parting words to his family would be – Look at Jesus!
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!
Just over 16 years ago, I was a confirmed cessationist. I grew up in an evangelical Anglican church, and things like prophecy, tongues, signs and wonders just weren’t a part of my experience of the Christian faith. Then, at a youth holiday run by Crusaders on the Isle of Wight, I was filled with the Holy Spirit for the first time. Suddenly, I felt that God was no longer remote and distant, but right there with me, filling me. Tongues were no longer weird, miracles were to be expected from the hand of our almighty loving Father, and I accepted the idea that God now spoke today apart from, though never in contradiction to, the Bible.
However, to start with, it was much more the case that I was comfortable with the idea of other people doing these things. It was a little while before the thought of doing them myself became something I could do myself. I desperately wanted to get going, especially with prophecy, but I just didn’t know how to. Then I read Surprised By The Voice Of God by Jack Deere.
As a recovering cessationist, with some lingering questions from the way I used to see things, I found this book incredibly helpful because Jack Deere had made the exact same journey himself. Formerly a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, he found himself questioning his former cessationism and re-evaluating what he believed about prophecy and the voice of God speaking outside the Bible. This book is the result of that study, as well as the fruit of putting into practice what he learned.
A good chunk of the book is spent reviewing the voice of God as talked about in Scripture and throughout church history, coming to the conclusion that the Bible itself indicates that we should expect to hear the voice of God outside of itself. A particularly good chapter is “Confessions of a Bible Deist”, exposing the mindset of those who believe that God spoke in the Bible and the rest is up to us. These chapters of the book did a lot to resolve the lingering doubts and concerns I may have had about whether it was biblical to expect to hear God today.
The remainder of the book is chock-full of helpful practical guidance and advice about how to start learning the language of the Holy Spirit and launch out into ministering prophetically to one another. Firmly picking up the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, Deere shows that this ministry isn’t the reserve of a select few, but the birthright of all believers to exercise. He tackles various issues of how to avoid abuses of prophetic ministry, as well as reasons why you may not be experiencing God speaking to you.
Throughout the whole book, Deere emphasises the necessity of keeping close to God in prayer, fellowship and the Word. As such, I believe this is the perfect introductory book for anyone looking to learn how to hear God and start moving in the prophetic. Since reading this book, I have taken a lot of the principles I learned herein to lead seminars and home group meetings about getting going with prophecy, and have often found that people have started prophesying for the first time as a result.
Get it, read it, stick close to the Lord, and get activated to share the word of the Lord!
The preacher at my church this week referred to Hebrews 12:15 as part of his message. The author to the Hebrews says: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God…”
There is a very real danger that this life is spent failing to obtain the grace of God. It’s frighteningly easy when you think about it. There’s two basic ways it can happen, though most people only really give attention to one of them.
The most widely noticed way of missing the grace of God is to live in licence. This is where you crack on with living your life without worrying for a moment about whether you’re doing the right things or the wrong things. As long as you’re enjoying things, forging ahead with what you want, it’s all A-OK! In this way of living, you are the centre of your own universe, your very own God around which everything else orbits, and for whom all things exist. With only yourself as your vision, you miss the grace of God because you’re not even aware of needing it! Or else, if you are aware of God’s grace, you treat it as your own personal Dimplomatic Immunity card – carrying on with living to please yourself, flashing the “Under Grace” card if your own conscience or anyone else ever challenges you on it.
That seems fairly straight forward and obvious as a way of missing out on grace, but there’s another way that isn’t often called out for the evil that it is. It’s the polar opposite of living in licence, and it’s all too common in Christianity. It’s the way of legalism – living as if your standing before God all depends on you.
Where licence is often ignorant of God’s grace, legalism is also ignorant of God’s grace. People stuck in legalism spend their lives trying to live according to ideas of right and wrong. They passionately avoid the bad and seek to do the good, always keeping one eye on themselves to check how they’re doing. If they’re doing well, they feel like God is shining down on them and getting ready to pour out abundant blessings. If they’re doing badly, they’ll be in a deep slough of despond, certain that God is ticked off and just waiting for a chance to whack them for what they did wrong most recently. This leads to a manic-depressive, bi-polar faith where you can be up one minute and down the next.
Legalistic people miss out on the grace of God because they’re so wrapped up in themselves that they variously think they don’t need it (when they’re doing well) or don’t deserve it (when they’re doing badly). Either way, they’re not looking to God as the very source of their life, but rather to what they do or don’t do. This is such a subtle way of missing out on God’s grace and it can take years to de-program yourself from dead, works-based religion.
I have read Hebrews many times with a legalistic mindset, reading warnings to not miss the grace of God and renewing my efforts to not sin in my own strength, seeking to avoid licence at all costs. If you’re like I used to be, it’s important to remember that the author of Hebrews wasn’t writing to people who were in danger of licence. They were in danger of returning to the synagogues and temple worship of 1st century Judaism, a system devoid of God’s grace in the New Covenant as the author has been expounding it up to this point.
So what does it mean to obtain the grace of God? Pure and simple, it means seeking, finding and walking with Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Obtaining grace sets those stuck in licence free from a slavery to sin that they’re not aware of or willfully ignoring. It sets the legalist free from their slavery and drudgery that sees sin and danger everywhere it looks. Both the legalist and the libertine are trapped in self-centred ways of looking at the world. If there’s a space for Jesus in their universe, it’s placing Him in their orbit as a crutch to make them feel better when needed. When we obtain grace, we’re set free from placing ourselves at the centre and Jesus becomes the centre around which we gravitate.
We live seeking Him, talking with Him, worshipping Him and looking to please Him. We make Him our pursuit, no matter what life brings our way. When things are going well, we remember that our every breath comes from Him and that He is our life. When things aren’t going so well, we don’t lick our wounds, sulk, wonder if we did something wrong and start begging for God’s forgiveness just in case. We remember who we are in Him, that we are already forgiven in Him, that there is no condemnation for those who are in Him and that He is our righteousness. We are picked up by His grace and moved forward by the power of the Holy Spirit. Knowing His love and grace toward us, we are progressively liberated from the sin that dominates us when we live under licence or legalism.
When we obtain grace, Christ Jesus is our all in all. Our very identity is built on Him and Him alone, leaving us free to know Him in intimate, loving fellowship. There is no better way to live!
So, we’re at the end of another year! If I thought 2009 was a big year with moving away from Hexham, moving to Derby and getting married in September, turns out that was all just preparation for what 2010 had for us! It’s been yet another year of life-changing events.
We started off by moving from the little apartment in Derby where we started our married life. We spent about four months in total there, but left in February to move into our first house. It was a good place for us – 2-bedrooms, room for our own dining room, closer to the city centre and much closer to the closest friends we’d made in Derby.
We had our first anniversary celebration at the Community Church Derby (CCD) building in September. It was a great day where we celebrated our marriage with UK friends and family who weren’t able to make the wedding in Brazil last year. We were able to look back on our first year together, and re-affirm our vows to each other one year in to our life-long commitment of love. Standing at the end of this year and looking back as a couple, it’s great to see God’s faithfulness over our lives. It’s been a definite year of ups and downs, but we’re ending it in love, more committed to each other and to the future we’re building together with God’s grace. I stand at the end of 2010 utterly amazed at the woman the Lord has given me – a woman so beautiful, so patient, able to help me see things where I’m blind, and willing to listen to me when I’m spouting all kinds of rubbish! Here’s to what 2011 has for us
As far as we were concerned, the house we moved into in February was going to be our home for at least a year before moving to Leicester in 2011, but as you might remember God had other ideas We ended up spending just over 7 months there before moving to Basingstoke in October. Our time in Derby was definitely good, and a good place for us to have our first year of marriage. CCD is doing fantastic things in reaching out to the people in and around Derby. It was great fun getting to know people, they really helped us by giving Laluna plenty of work in the kitchen for the events that are run in their building, and it was a real privilege being able to serve a bit in leading worship and preaching once. We found a great spiritual home in the small group led by Gary & Eileen Wright, and really enjoyed our time getting to know the people there. It was a real wrench for us leaving this group, and we still miss the people. We’re hoping to get back up to visit very soon – probably need to get my driving licence first though
Since we’ve been in Basingstoke, we’ve got ourselves nicely settled into Town Centre Community Church, slowly getting to know people, and getting stuck into a great small group. We’ve enjoyed getting a feel for the church, and for me it’s been a real sense of coming home to vision, values and style that I’ve known and loved before. God has done a great thing in bringing us back to Basingstoke, and we left Derby with a word or two that we would find a home and a place for us here. It’s fair to say that’s already happening, despite the fact that we’ve yet to find a house of our own!
Just before we left Derby, there was one more surprise God had for us that I don’t think I’ve mentioned on this blog before, but it’s certainly done the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. About a week and a half before our moving date, we found out that Laluna is pregnant with our first child! I’ve written about this on my new blog, Daddy Sidnell, where I called it a welcome surprise. Since moving to Basingstoke, we’ve had scary moments with the pregnancy, we’ve had fun moments, we’ve had morning sickness, we’ve had two scans when we should have only had one, and in two weeks time we’ll hopefully be finding out whether we’re expecting a little boy or a little girl. We’ve got another five months until the wee blessing arrives, and it’s safe to say that we can’t wait to meet the little one who’ll be our responsibility for at least the next 18 years!
On a final note, spiritually speaking, this has been an interesting year. Chris Welch used a phrase on Facebook today “Bless you as the Word continues to root”, which I think summarises nicely what this year has been about. I’ve been on a journey where the gospel of grace has been taking more ground in my heart, and there are new vistas opening up. This year has seen a fresh vision of what it means to be in Christ, to be one spirit united with Him, and starting to get an idea of what it is for Christ to live in me. There’s also been a fresh vision building of radical church restoration, solidly building on the understanding of God’s eternal purpose as described in Ultimate Intention by DeVern Fromke, and the fresh understanding of our union with Christ. I’m still thinking, praying, and talking through with Laluna what some of the implications might be, but I’m not stressed about it. I’m in faith that the Word is taking root in our lives, and will work it’s way out in the Lord’s fruit.
I think that’s where I’m at now that 2010 is coming to an end – in a place of peace that the Lord who already did everything necessary to save me is also willing and able to do everything necessary to lead us where He wants us. I don’t need to understand everything – I’m happy to let Him lead us where He wants at the right time, in His way. After all, a great passage to live by is “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Here’s to another year of adventure with the Lord
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”
You may remember a wee while ago that I announced that we’re planning to move to Leicester to be part of a new church plant that’s in the works. We had been thinking for quite a while about it, and finally got to a point where we felt like we were sure that God was leading us to be involved. We told all our friends and family, published it on Facebook and wrote a blog, so it was final!
Well, after all that, God has surprised us!
Recently we had a bit of a holiday, and spent a weekend with my sister and bro-in-law. On the first evening, we spent quite a bit of time chatting about some difficulties we’d been experiencing recently, and despite there being other things they could have offered us in practical advice, the first thing they did was ask us a question. “Are you sure you’re in the right place?” They recommended that we take some time out, take all plans off the table and really chat about who we are, what we want and where we’d really like to be.
That question and bit of advice really hit home – in truth, we’d been feeling a bit unsettled about Leicester for a little while, but we’d been trying to keep the faith and carry on with what we’d felt God say. Being set free to ask these questions, we started talking and realised that the most important thing to us is to be near family. The Midlands isn’t more than a couple of hours from my home town, but that’s far enough when there’s no direct train and we often end up going through London! The one thing we knew is that we didn’t want to head back to Basingstoke itself – we didn’t want to actually be back in the same town as my parents
So we started looking around to see if we could find a place that we could afford in Reading, Southampton, Bournemouth, Portsmouth and pretty much any other place we could think of that wasn’t actually Basingstoke. Until we saw a job advert that was pretty much perfect for Laluna in…… Basingstoke! This was the last wall to come down for us to finally give it up and say “Let’s just give in and go back!” In 48 hours, God had taken us on a journey from planning to go to Leicester, and never wanting to live in Basingstoke again, to seeing Basingstoke as a natural progression for us.
As we chatted to people, it turned out that almost everyone we spoke to had some kind of lack of peace about us being involved in Leicester. People generally seemed to support the idea of us moving back to Basingstoke, with some people saying that they’d been wondering for a while now about why we hadn’t moved back there already. After visiting the church we’re planning on joining to make sure that we could see ourselves there, we made a final decision that we’re definitely moving back.
After making our decision, we found out that my brother-in-law had originally been thinking that we should head back to Basingstoke, but didn’t say because the first thing we said was that we definitely didn’t want to go back there! Hearing that was a nice bit of confirmation
The only question outstanding in my head is “What about the time we felt God speak about Leicester?” I was fairly sure that I had heard Him speak about it, but when I think back on it, I can see that we didn’t really act in a wise way. According to James 3:17, the wisdom from above is among other things peacable and open to reason, and I don’t think I really gave anyone an opportunity to speak into the decision regarding Leicester. Instead, we kept discussions to ourselves, and when we’d finally made up our minds simply presented the decision to everyone without giving room for comment. This isn’t a good idea!
So yes, we had one occasion that we felt was God saying to go to Leicester. However, as I looked back over the three years I was at University in Preston, I spent pretty much the whole time believing that God was planning for me to go back to Basingstoke when I was done. I can see why it wasn’t right to head back to my home town immediately after uni, but everything that has happened in the last few weeks actually makes a lot of sense out of those years where I was so sure that God’s plan was a return to Basingstoke. I’d always written those years off as mistaken hearing, but weighing it all up, I think I’m happier calling the one occasion we thought we heard God speak about Leicester a mistake rather than the three years I was so sure about Basingstoke at uni.
So, we’re still totally for the new church being planted into Leicester, and will continue to cheer it on from the sidelines all the way from where we’ll be down south. It’s been great getting to know the people who are planning to be involved, and are praying every blessing on them all, especially Ben & Esther Rook who are heading up the plant. Our plans were to go, but the Lord’s purpose has prevailed – we’re really off to Basingstoke!