Doing the Word (by Tim Coles)

Guest-blogger: Tim Coles

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (Jas 1:22)

Once we have heard from God (whether through prayer or reading the bible) we can't simply make a note that we have heard from God and frame it and hang it on the wall as our Certificate of hearing. We need to obey the instruction that we have received. Failing to do so results in our own reasoning coming in and rationalising it away.

[Note from Chris: Tim is a great friend of mine, and faithful member of our Nuneaton cellgroup. It has been a real joy for me to see him continue to grow in God and in his involvement in Living Rock. He is one of those "Behind the scenes" guys who is a real blessing to the life and operation of the church. Though he prefers to stay behind the scenes, he has a rich deposit of the word inside him and is always a blessing when he shares from it. I'd like to see him come out from behind the scenes more often, so please be generous with your encouragements!]


My glory is nothing

Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing." (Jn 8:54a)

I was quite taken aback as I read these words this morning. Of course I have read them before, but I don't know if I ever stopped to think about them. This is Jesus, God incarnate, to whom all glory on heaven and earth belongs speaking. How could there ever be any circumstance or situation where his glory could be less than the awesome glory of heaven, let alone "nothing"? Yet Jesus clearly says that if he were to take any glory upon himself, even though he would be justified in doing so, that glory would be worthless and meaningless. The glory Jesus has, he has because it was given to him by someone else - his Father in heaven.

It made me think along the lines of Roger's last post. If Jesus could not take any honour or glory upon himself, even though he was entitled to it, how much less should we seek to take upon ourselves any ministry or title, label or office that has not been recognised by others. We may be correct in our estimation of our gift and anointing, we may have correctly identified our "ministry", but if we apply it ourselves it is worthless and means nothing.

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips. (Pr 27:2)

I'm impressed by the men of God I relate to. I can't recall a single time one of them said "As a <insert-label>, I say to you..." Although the apostle Paul introduces himself in all his letters as an apostle, he never uses this label as a badge to make himself look bigger, or as a stick to give his words more clout. If a man is lacking in anointing or gift, he cannot acquire it by invoking a label. If a man lacks authority in his words, he does not gain anything by "pulling rank!" Self-apportioned honour is worthless. If it was for Christ himself, it certainly is for us!


Through the Church

so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Eph 3:9)

from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:16)

Keri Jones, the apostle we relate to, said at the Elders and Leaders' conference that what the church needs in this generation, more than ever, is a correct understanding of ministry.

It is not through an apostle that the manifold wisdom of God is displayed to the world. It is not through an apostle that the church is built up into its fullness in Christ. Nor do these things come through an eldership. An eldership cannot represent the fullness of Christ to the world or to the body either. It is through the church that God has chosen to reveal his manifold wisdom, and through the church that the body ministers to itself to build itself up into the fullness of Christ.

It's not that apostles or elders are not important. They are vital! There can be no representation of God's kingdom rule without the delegated authority in the men God has chosen. Whenever God chooses to do a work in the earth, he first chooses a man. But there is a key difference between office and ministry, authority and gift.

Keri warned of the dangers of any man, or group of men, in office or recognised ministry thinking they are distinct or separate from the rest of the body. There is no "elders and people". There is only people, of whom some will be elders. The shepherds are themselves part of the flock of Christ. The teachers are still students of the word. "The ladder is laid flat", as Keri put it.

As a preacher, this is something I have been very conscious of for some time. When I bring the word of God, I am not coming as someone distinct or separate to the people I am preaching to, but as one of them. Although I am bringing the word, I am also one of those who is receiving it. I do not say "You need to....", as if I was coming as one who is already past such things, but "We need to...", because this is for me as much as it is for everybody else.

The job of any ministry in the church is never, "Hey, look at me." - although there is a requirement that such men should be an example in conduct. But to equip the saints for the work of ministry. So that as each and every ministry gift in the church is released to operate as it should, we can all together, like God himself, say "Look at his Church!" The wonderful, beautiful, radiant Bride being made ready for the coming of the Bridegroom.



I'm back; quite tired after all the traveling: Cardiff, Hudersfield, Portsmouth in three days. It all went well, so thank you to all those who prayed.

The Elders and Leaders' conference was fantastic, just as I expected it would be - plenty to take away and chew over, on holding fast to our inheritance, responding to the call and living full of the Holy Spirit.

The wedding was also a really good time. Someone thought I was a "Minister" after my reading, so I guess that means I delivered it well! ;-) John and Jolene will be off on honeymoon now, and I wish them every blessing in their life together.

My time at the funeral was bitter-sweet. It was a deeply sad and moving occasion, but it was wonderful at the same time to see my uncles from America, and other family members that I only tend to see at such occasions. It was also a joy to discover that my cousin had a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus, and so is now in a much better place, free from all pain and suffering, and that on the last day we shall be reunited.

One common occurrence in each of these three very different events, was that in each case there was a meal together. Eating together is very significant in every area of life; even before you take into account the spiritual significance of the covenant meal, just sharing food with someone is an act of sharing life. What sustains you, sustains me.

I took away a real nugget from something that was shared at the wedding, as the bride and groom broke bread together. Not sure if I had heard it before, but it blessed me again even so. The word companion literally means "bread sharer"; from the Latin com (together) and panis (bread). Those we eat with, and especially those we break bread with, are our companions on life's journey through all the sorrows as well as all the joys.


A conference, a wedding and a funeral

I've got a busy few days ahead, so don't expect any posts here until Tuesday next week.

Tomorrow, I head down, bright and early, for the Elders and Leaders' conference in Cardiff. I'm looking forward to it immensely. Last year's conference was so significant for me. It was not just a time of instruction, but of powerful impartation. I still hold deeply and passionately in my heart some of the things that were imparted to me from last year.

So this time I'm going with an increased expectation and excitement, knowing I'm not just going at our apostle's invitation, but that the Lord himself is expecting me, and has more to impart to us all as we stand together as covenant brothers to see his Kingdom advanced in our generation.

On Sunday we are heading up to Huddersfield for a wedding. An old and faithful friend of mine is getting married. It's going to be such a joy to witness him make his marriage covenant before God and men, and a privilege to do one of the Scripture readings for them at the service.

Then on Monday, I have another early start, but this time down to Portsmouth for a family funeral. One of my cousins, still a young boy, died this week after a long fight with a cruel illness. As you can imagine there is much sadness amongst my family over this news. Please pray that I can express the Lord's comfort with sensitivity at this time.


Pray Without Ceasing

Pray without ceasing (1Th 5:17)

Three simple words, but what an impact to the life of a believer if we live by them!

I was struck this morning by something very similar in the words of Samuel the prophet.

"Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you" (1Sa 12:23)

Even though the people had sinned against the Lord by rejecting him as king, Samuel still knew his responsibility to make intercession for those whom the Lord had given him care over.

The Apostle Paul, also, again and again in his letters states how he never stops praying for all the saints.

As we learn to pray without ceasing we become more like the one that we are being transformed to be like: Christ Jesus, who ever lives to make intercession for us! [Heb 7:25]


The Same Spirit

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. (1Co 12:4-6)

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Ro 8:11)

I am speaking to our youth tonight about the gifts of the Spirit. I'm looking forward to it greatly. I preparation I have been meditating again upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

One simple truth has struck me deeply again - we all have the same Spirit. It seems obvious, and it is, but it is also profound.

Sometimes we can discount ourselves, compare ourselves with others, and think we could never do the same - But we have the same Spirit inside us! No-one has any more and no-one has any less.

This is the point that God seems to labour in Numbers 11 (yes that chapter again!) when God says he will take the Spirit that is on Moses and put it on the seventy elders. It was not some other Spirit to the Holy Spirit, God himself, the third-person of the Godhead, but the point being made is clear. Once they were full of the Spirit, they had the same resources, anointing, and power residing within them that Moses himself had.

But here's the mind-blowing thing. We don't just have the same Spirit within us that is within the men of God we so greatly admire, we have the same Spirit within us as Christ himself! The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now dwells within us! Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are participaters in the divine nature.

With that fullness of the life and power of God bursting within us, is it any wonder that it must break forth in sign, and wonder and miracle. The Spirit does not take up residence within us to hide and take refuge, but to be made manifest!


On Prophecy and the Sufficiency of Scripture

"Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion." ~ C.H. Spurgeon

It's my own fault. There are some blogs out in the wider Christian blogosphere that I really should stop reading. They do more to make me cross, than to bless me. Some of my regular readers may want to skip this post while I get this off my chest...!

There is a widely used argument against modern-day prophecy that I have seen resurface over the last couple of days. It goes like this:
  1. The Scriptures are sufficient [ie. there is no more to come]
  2. The Scriptures are God's word
  3. If God were to speak today it would either:
    1. Constitute new scripture
    2. Carry less authority
Since it is heretical / absurd that either we should expect new Scripture to be written, or that the voice of God should be somehow diminished in authority, the only conclusion is that God no longer speaks.

By putting forward this argument I think they honestly believe that they are championing the sufficiency of scripture and the authority of God and his word, when in reality they undermine both!

Let's indulge in a little reductio ad adsurdem, and assume for the moment that their logic is correct.

The logic does not just apply to prophecy, but to any direct or indirect communication from God. It's not just that prophecy doesn't happen - it cannot happen! Nor does it stop there, in order to preserve the sufficiency of his word, God is bound not only to not communicate through prophecy, but he is bound to keep silent for as long as his word is sufficient. Since the scriptures are not just sufficient, but eternal, God, by inspiring the last line of Revelation, effectively struck himself dumb for all eternity!

So what will happen on the day of Judgement, when God comes in glory to judge the world? How will he say "Well done good an faithful servant"? How will he accuse the wicked of their sins? Through mime?! With a game of charades?! Will we have to spend eternity with our fingers in our ears going "la la la", lest we accidentally overhear the voice of God, the sufficiency of Scripture is proved false, and thus God is proved a liar, and the whole of existence disappears in a puff of logic!

Consider also how ironic, that the great almighty living God, the one who rebuked the idolator, and mocked the idols for being mute, is now mute himself.

Absurd! Absurd! Absurd!

So where is the argument flawed? Well, it is a well know logical fallacy known as "Affirming the consequent". It goes like this: If A is true, then B. B is true therefore A must also be true. For example: "Cats climb trees. My brother climbs trees. Therefore my brother must be a cat!" In this case the fallacy is in assuming that because all Scripture is the word of God, every word of God must also be Scripture.

If it can be shown that God speaks outside of his sufficient self-revelation contained in the Scriptures then the whole argument collapses. This is easily demonstrated by reading what the sufficient Scriptures themselves say, rather than postulating supposition upon supposition based on notions of their sufficiency.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Ps 19:1)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (Jn 10:27)

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. (Heb 3:15)

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1Co 14:1)

etc... etc... etc...

Just how eternally sufficient are the Scriptures if they were out of date the moment they were complete? If as soon as the Scriptures were completed all the passages referring to the charismata no longer apply, that puts the eternal word of God on a par with the church phone-book. Hardly an endorsement for sufficiency!

No, here is what the sufficiency of the Scriptures means. In all the vast stretches of eternity that we spend with the Lord, hearing his voice directly [and that is why prophecies will cease] we will never hear a single phrase, not a single word, that contradicts God's self-revelation contained in his word. There will never come a day when "all bets are off", and God redefines himself by another standard. What a mystery, what a miracle, that though we will spend all eternity hearing from the Lord and growing in our knowledge and appreciation of his infinite worth, we will never find anything that is not first laid out in the Scriptures themselves. This is why the Scriptures are always our ultimate test for any prophecy - God will never say anything, not now, not ever for all eternity, that contradicts his word.

If the sufficiency of Scripture can cope with an eternity of direct revelation from God, it can certainly cope with today's prophecy.

God no more needs our efforts to protect the sufficiency of his word, than the ark needed Uzzah's outstretched hand!


We're in the Wiki

I discovered today that Wikipedia, the world's biggest free-content internet encyclopedia, has an entry for Ministries Without Borders.

It's pretty sparce, but since Wikipedia allows anyone to edit, update, and expand their articles, it doesn't have to stay that way...


Joseph: A Pilgrim's Diligent Hands

Diligent hands will rule (Pr 12:24a NIV)

The last point I have to make about Joseph's time in prison and his belief in his dream is to do with his attitude towards his circumstances while he waited for his dream to be fulfilled. Far from putting his life on hold, Joseph threw himself into whatever task was before him with all his might. This for me is the difference between a traveler and a pilgrim. A traveler is in a temporary state of transit between one fixed position and another. The journey is just a means of getting from A to B. The pilgrim is continually in transit towards his ultimate destination; life is the journey and the journey is life.

Joseph was not just a traveler, bags packed, legs crossed, paperback in hand, biding his time until he arrived at his destination. He was a pilgrim, no less focused on his destination, but diligent in whatever his hands found to do along the way.

Our dreams are supposed to drive us forward in the purpose of God, not cause us to stand still. If we think we have to wait until our dreams are fulfilled before we can serve God as we aught, we have not caught the heart of a pilgrim.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;

the autumn rains also cover it with pools. (Ps 84:5-6)

Jesus put it another way in the parable of the talents. The implications are that man who only received one talent looked at the man with five, and thought that he too should have had five talents, and because he did not have five, he could not do anything effective for his master. Instead of looking at what he had right now, he was paralysed by his dream of what he should have in the future. When he should have seen +1 all he could see was -4! But, if he had taken this one talent and put it to use, he would have been one step closer to his dream of having five. We need to learn the secret of being content with what we have got right now. [Or as Dave so eloquently put it: "How much is enough?"]

Paul put it this way:

"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." (Php 4:11)

This is not the "contentment" of those who have forsaken their dream, and decided to settle where they are, but the contentment of pilgrims who know they are on the right road and are closer to their dream at the end of the day than when they first arose.

For even when we attain our dreams we do not cease to be pilgrims. God just moves us on to the next dream. Joseph remained a pilgrim to the end of his life (and beyond!) for God had given him a new vision of God's people returning to their homeland. When the pilgrims of the Exodus came out of Egypt, they carried Joseph's bones with them.

Like Joseph, we are pilgrims following our dreams from the Lord into eternity, working with all our might as diligent servants along the way.


Joseph: Confessing the dream

I mentioned that I had two more lessons to draw out from Joseph's time in prison, and his faith in the word of God over his life. This is the first of those.

His feet were hurt with fetters;
his neck was put in a collar of iron;
until what he had said came to pass,
the word of the Lord tested him. (Ps 105:18-19)

As I mentioned yesterday, some believe that it was Joseph's confession of his dream that got him into trouble in the first place, and that God had to take him through exile and prison to be taught humility and discretion.

I have a couple of problems with that interpretation. First, when did Joseph stop being the spoilt boy and become the great man of faith? From the offset, right at the beginning of his time in Potiphar's house we see him behaving in an exemplary way. I don't see any evidence of this process that was supposed to have happened. Sure, there was a process in the plan of God going on, but for my money Joseph was already a hero of faith (just an unproven one). But the other thing is this, and once again Psalm 105 gives us additional insight - he was still confessing his dream even in the dark confines of prison!

Confessing [giving outward vocal expression to] our dreams is important, in fact I would say it is vital if we ever want to see them become reality. Lack of confidence, false humility, disappointments of the past can cause us to keep our dreams bottled up inside [I know!]. But there must come a time when we let them out if we ever hope to see them materialise.

First, if our dreams have their origin in the kingdom of God, then they will find their place in the kingdom of God. What I mean is this: we must make ourselves accountable to those who have spiritual authority over our lives - our elders and fathers in the faith. In this respect Joseph did absolutely the right thing when he shared his dream with Jacob. We cannot claim to be following the kingdom call on our lives, if that call takes us out from the kingdom authority which God has placed over us.

Secondly, although our confession is not a magic formula which twists God's arm into action, God in his sovereign will has chosen to use our confession of his word to accomplish his purpose. This is the mystery of both prayer and prophesy. God chooses to withhold his hand, until the words of faith are spoken. (Even God had to speak to bring creation into reality.) Although he could achieve and complete his kingdom purpose in a moment, he has chosen right from the start of creation the long route of achieving it in cooperation with the men and women who have been made into his image. Although what Joseph confessed was God's word, Psalm 105 says that it was his words that had to be fulfilled.

Both before and during his exile, Joseph's confession of his dream played an integral role in seeing them become a reality.

There is another great example of this principle in Scripture. There was a righteous woman named Hannah who was barren. Every year she came to the presence of God with her dream of a child bursting inside her, and every year she left with her heart filled with sorrow of a hope deferred again. One year that changed. Eli the priest challenged her, and forced her to give expression to her silent petition. He agreed with her confession, and sent her away with his blessing, and this time her dream was fulfilled.

Now Eli wasn't even a great man of faith, but he was the one in the position of spiritual authority. It seems clear from the account, that confessing her dream and bringing herself under authority was instrumental in seeing the fulfillment.

I'll say again, confession is not a magic formula for getting what we want from the Lord. We don't know how long Joseph had to confess his dream in prison before he saw the reality. Nor was Joseph confessing words of denial or ignoring the facts. He was not rebuking the chains, refusing to receive them, or confessing that the prison was not really there! But he was confessing the word of God over his life, unswayed by those facts around him. It was this word of faith that God chose to fulfill.

Confession does not force God to act, but he rarely acts without it!


Joseph: Cleaving to the dream

Gavin has recently done an excellent series of posts on his blog on Joseph and some valuable kingdom principles that can be drawn from his life. Inspired by a recent post from Dave that was profound, honest, and inspiring - I'd like to add my own post on Joseph - this great man of faith.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end - it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay. (Hab 2:4 ESV)

One of the things that inspires me about Joseph is that he never stopped believing in his destiny in God. God gave him a dream as a young man, and told him that he was called for great things. His brothers thought he was arrogant, or deceived. They derided him and his vision. He went through exile and prison where he could not have been further (in his own understanding) from the fulfillment of that dream - yet he stood firm. He is thus a great example for all young men (and women) of God who recognise the call of God on their lives, but have not yet come into the fulfillment of that dream. His story is a lesson for all of us who still dare to dream big in God.

Psalm 105 gives some additional insight into the life of Joseph that we do not find in the Genesis account:

His feet were hurt with fetters;
his neck was put in a collar of iron;
until what he had said came to pass,
the word of the Lord tested him. (Ps 105:18-19)

Some believe that Joseph ended up in exile and prison because he was naive, that he shared his dream too early, or that he was young and proud. I don't believe this - God himself orchestrated the events of his life, not just to get him into the right place, but also to test him! (Oh yes - the Lord does test us [Heb 11:17]. He never tempts us - but that is different altogether.) The word of God itself, the very dream that sustained him, was a source of testing to Joseph. It was a test to see if he would stay true to the dream, or whether he would succumb to the opposition along the way and abandon it. It was a test which Joseph passed with flying colours.

Joseph must have been tempted to become bitter when he considered how he had been wronged. Sent into exile because his brothers did not understand the call on his life. Sent into obscurity because men made assumptions about him that only he knew were false. He could have easily given in to bitterness. But Joseph overcame bitterness with forgiveness and grace.

Joseph must have been tempted to become frustrated when he had to watch as other men around him had their dreams fulfilled (the cupbearer) while his still remained far off. But Joseph overcame frustration with patience and peace.

Joseph must have been tempted to become despondent when he had to wait, and wait, and wait. Would the fulfillment ever come? Was he deceived to still believe the dream? How must he have felt when his one glimmer of hope, the recommendation of the cupbearer, came to nothing? With no other avenue through which the fulfillment might come, Joseph must have been tempted to give up on the dream. But Joseph overcame despondency with perseverance and faith.

Another great man of faith, Caleb, had to slay three giants (the sons of Anak) before he could enter his inheritance [Jos 15:14]. Joseph slayed his three giants while he was locked in that prison cell. Bitterness, Frustration and Despondency lay slain at his feet while, still in chains, he pressed on to lay hold of what was his in God.

As a man of faith, Joseph passed through this valley of Baca, and has made it a place of springs, so that those who follow may find refreshment and hope along the way. Not only did he overcome his giants, but there are two other things that we can learn from him in this period of his life.

I'll share on these tomorrow...


A Glimpse of Heaven

Adrian Warnock has a post on his blog today in response to a cessastionist's concerns over emotional expression in worship. Normally I wouldn't post on something like this [to me, and most of my readers, there is no debate!] But on this occasion I have a story to recount. You see, although I am a passionate, all-out, dancing, clapping, hand-raising, kneeling, laughing, crying, charismatic worshiper; one of the most profound things I ever learned about worship, I learned from a cessastionist!

While I was at University, many moons ago, I had similar debates over worship with a friend of mine who was from a Brethren background. To him the only valid expression in worship was solemn reverent standing; to him even raising ones hands was too much. Although we had many debates (all of them pleasant) we always had to agree to disagree.

Then one day when we were both on a Christian Union weekend away, we all had a particularly powerful time of worship where the presence of God was tangible. I looked across the crowded room, and was astonished to see my Brethren friend with his hands raised, peace shining from his face, lost in worship of our Lord.

After the meeting, I rushed across to speak to him, to find out which of my many arguments had finally persuaded him. What he said to me in response has been burned into my soul ever since...

He said, "I caught a glimpse of what worship will be like in heaven, and I thought, 'Why can't I start now?'"

God did in one moment, what I in all my wisdom and persuasion had failed to do in months. The lesson he learned in that moment, is one that I believe holds for all of us. For if we think we have made it in worship just because we raise our hands, we are deceived!

The standard for worship is not set by those around us on a Sunday morning, but by those who are continually around the throne.

In worship, as in all other things we do for the Lord, our aim must be to see manifest on earth what already exists in heaven.


Apostolic and Prophetic: Sent and Speaking

For he whom God has sent utters the words of God (Jn 3:34a ESV)

These words are part of the testimony of John the Baptist about Jesus, nevertheless they apply to anyone sent of God. For as Jesus himself said: As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you (Jn 20:21). Indeed this verse represents the very essence of what it is to be the Church of Jesus. The two irreducible things we must always be is: sent and speaking. Or to put it another way: apostolic and prophetic. The foundational ministries for the church are Apostles and Prophets (Eph 2:20). There is no dichotomy between God's plan for an apostolic church, and his will for a prophetic people - they are one and the same. To be apostolic we must be prophetic; to be prophetic we must be apostolic. To speak the words of God we must be sent, and if we are sent then we are sent with the word of God.

This is also a great promise, a guarantee, that if we go where and when we are sent, then he will also give us his words to speak. The end of the verse tells us not only how, but when and where:

for he gives the Spirit without measure.

Without limitation! We are God's apostolic and prophetic people wherever we go, and whenever we are there. We are sent with something to say!