The cross marks the spot!

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Mt 13:44)

In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col2:3)

[Reflections from Life to the Nations '07]

One of the themes I noted from our Life to the Nations bible week, could come under the title: What to dig up, and what not to dig up!

Richard Anniss shared a powerful and stirring word on the Kingdom of God being like treasure. He challenged us if we had truly grasped how much it is worth; if we were truly living as if it was the most important thing to us. He shared how, even though it is a free gift of God's grace, it is still costly - very costly - it costs us our time, our energies, our very everything; but it is precisely this cost that speaks of its great worth. He shared how the great men of faith who have preceded us have left us revelation on the Kingdom of God that is like a map to the treasure. But what are we going to do with this map? Frame it, admire it, and proclaim what a great map it is? Or give our all to following the map and laying hold of the treasure.

Keri Jones shared on what not to dig up:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Co 5:17)

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Ro 6:4)

Too many Christians, he said, are emphasising their old life, which is dead, buried, gone and forgotten, rather than their new life which they now walk in. They speak of being "sinners saved by grace" and emphasise the "sinner" - but when the Holy Spirit comes into our life he emphasises the "grace!" We were sinners, but we are not that any more, we are a completely new creation in Christ. We are sons, we are heirs, we are royalty. It is time to stop thinking about how we were, and start living as how we are!

Both Keri Jones and Tony Ling shared from Genesis 26, where Isaac redug the wells of his father Abraham, and also dug new wells.

There were a number of points they drew from this: Any one who tries to unearth biblical doctrine and practice that has been neglected for years will face opposition. What belonged to my father belongs to me. There is very little future for the man who neglects or abandons his inheritance. The truths we hold never need to be abandoned or replaced, they just need to be filled out.

"Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." (Mt 13:52)

Finally, (in terms of this summary), Keri also shared on this verse:

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. (Pr 25:2)

God conceals things for his royal people, who will diligently seek him, to find them out. When something that was lost is found again, there is much rejoicing.


Leaders Hang Back

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged (1Co 14:29-31)

Hear me carefully on this one... Hanging back may not be something that immediately seems to fit with an eager desire to move in the spiritual gifts. And indeed there is to be nothing passive or fatalistic about our response to the Holy Spirit's stirrings in our lives or in our meetings. However sometimes we need to step back and see the bigger picture. Our gifts do not operate in isolation, but as part of the whole body. In 1Corinthians 12, in the context of Spiritual gifts, Paul expounds the concept of the body. Just as it is not good if one part of the body ceases to function, it is equally not good if the body becomes "a single member" - one gift, or more often one small portion of the total gifting, trying to do it all. It is in this context that our zeal to move in the gifts may need to be tempered with restraint. Not a restraint caused by a lack of passion to see the manifest presence of God in our midst, quite the opposite, a restraint born out of a desire to see them even more - as an expression of the whole body!

When I was a wee lad, I used to attend Scripture Union summer camps, in Scotland. It was at my first such camp that I gave my life to the Lord. Later on, I came back as a leader, and helped with the fun activities, sports, and spiritual input. As leaders, particularly during team games, we used to have a saying: "Leaders hang back!" or "LHB!" Whenever a leader got carried away with himself during a game of Frisbee-football or Ragger, and started to dominate the game, a cry of "LHB!" would go up from a fellow leader reminding him that the game was about the whole team getting involved, not a showcase for one talented individuals sporting prowess.

It is often the same in the church. Too often a majority of the work is done by a minority of the people. Too often, instead of being freed to move in their own spiritual gift, people look to the talented individual, the leaders, to perform that function. Too often the leaders are happy to maintain this status-quo, sometimes even accentuating it, seeking more of the spotlight rather than less.

It is into such situations that the cry of "LHB!" needs to be heeded.

Paul, when he addresses the issue of prophesy in the church, says that we call all prophesy, and in order for this to happen there needs to be an order and an awareness of one another. [This was the Corinthians main problem in many areas: they were zealous, but their zeal did not include consideration for each other.] Paul says "If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent." This is the restraint I am talking about, the restraint that makes way for another man's gifting, even though he is quite capable himself to carry on.

The words "let the first be silent" are in the Greek "o protos sigato." o protos, can mean the first, but it can also mean "the leader [the prominent one]." sigato also carries not the sense of a external prohibition, but an internal self-restraint. So without too much of a stretch this could be translated: let the leader hang back in what he had to say. LHB.

At our Life to the Nations Bible week, our Apostle, Keri Jones, shared on the fist night (and on other nights) a powerful vision and direction for the churches. He shared his desire for congregations of God's people where there is a "quantum shift" forwards in the Holy Spirit. Not just the same people moving in gift week after week, but whole congregations moving in Spiritual gift.

This is where the bar is set in the Scriptures themselves. For it is not where one man shines in his ministry that God is most glorified, but where the whole body reflects the head - each part moving as he directs.

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1Co 14:24-25)


Bless me!

[Reflections from Life to the Nations '07]

Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!" And God granted what he asked. (1Ch 4:10)

But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."... And there he blessed him. (Ge 32:26,29)

You do not have, because you do not ask. (Jas 4:2)

Why is it that we often have a problem asking God to bless us? Is it because it seems selfish and self-centred (...and of course we are much to spiritual to pray in a self-centred way!)

Yet, Jesus instructed us to ask God for what we need. He told us that those who ask will receive. The problem is that often we think of our needs in a self-centred way, and so limit what we ask to just our own meagre requirements.

Yes, ironically it can that very self-centred attitude that keeps us from asking for the abundance of God's blessing on our lives. For if we only ask God for just what we need to get by, in what way does that benefit anyone else? God wants us blessed so that we can be a blessing; he wants us to have an abundance so that as well as our own requirements we have enough to bless others.

And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed (Ge 26:4)

God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him. (Ps 67:7 NASB)

It is only a blessed people that can be a blessing. Once we have understood that, we too will cry out to God that he would bless us abundantly...

...and God will grant us our request.


Life to the Nations '07

Well, it's been a week with no posts (sorry) and there'll be another silent week here next week too. I'm off to sunny Staffordshire for our annual Bible Week. This year it is entitled "Life to the Nations". There will be over 1500 people gathering from the churches that relate to Keri Jones' apostolic ministry, from around the UK and other nations.

It's going to be a great week of fellowship, instruction from the word, prophetic insight, the presence of God, and continual sunshine.... well, I'm in faith for at least four out of those five!

I'll tell you all about it when I get back... that is if I don't see you there!


The Obedience of Faith

Through whom [Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations (Ro 1:5)

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen (Ro 16:25-27)

These verses come from the beginning and end of the book of Romans. Paul's great exposition of the gospel. At the start and at the end, like bookends, he lays out the purpose of his Apostolic ministry and of the gospel he preached: to bring about the obedience of faith.

I love that phrase. It encapsulates the inseparable nature of faith and obedience. One never leaves home without the other.

What is obedience without faith? Nothing, certainly not true obedience of the kind that pleases God. For without faith it is impossible to please him. It is just dry religious observance. A form of godliness but lacking its power.

And what is faith without obedience? Nothing, certainly not the faith of the kind that God responds to. It is just mental assent. A conviction of truth that does nothing to change our behaviour. James says even the demons have this kind of "faith" in God.

But faith married with obedience, what a team! The faith that does not just grip your thoughts, but moves your feet. A mustard seed's worth of this kind of faith can see the power of God released.

The faith that enabled Peter to walk on the water, was not a conviction that he would float (it is debatable how much of this kind of faith he had) but the determination that he would take that first step out of the boat. That step of obedience was the true manifestation of his faith, and the means of the miracle.


Head, Heart, Feet?

When I was new in the faith I was taught this concerning receiving the truth of God's word: When you hear it, it first affects your head, as you listen to it and understand it. Then, as you meditate on it, it works its way down to your heart and gets a grip on you. Finally it reaches your feet as you put it into practice and outwork it.

I don't know if this head->heart->feet teaching is still doing the rounds out there anywhere, but the more I have studied the scriptures and the more I have learned from them, the more I have become convinced that this description of teaching is totally at odds to the New Testament pattern.

In fact I would say that, at least in the west, we have distorted the concept of Biblical teaching to fit with our own post-enlightenment world view. We have reduced it to a cerebral activity, a mere exchange of thoughts and ideas from the mind of the teacher to the minds of those receiving instruction. I have even read a description of the ascension ministry of teacher as "a lover of books." Some it would seem have this idea of the teacher as a wise bookish person who gets wheeled out to teach doctrine now and again.

Where do we get this idea? Surely this is a concept of teaching that comes from our experience in the modern world, rather than from the pages of Scripture. What was Christ's own teaching ministry like? What was the teaching ministry of the Apostles like? Were they bookish academics?

Ephesians 4 says we have all been given grace "according to the measure of Christ's gift." So surely it is Christ's own teaching gift that we should use as an example in these matters:

And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mk 1:22)

If we read the gospel accounts we discover that the crowds were as astonished with Jesus' teaching as they were with this miracles. This was because he did not merely "teach" to convey information, but his words carried authority. Authority comes to bring obedience.

Obviously Jesus had not heard about the head->heart->feet process, as his words cut straight to the end result. He did not give people nice ideas to go away and think about; he brought the plumb-line of the word with authority that men had to line themselves up with. In fact we find that the reason Jesus often taught in parables, was not to make himself easier to understand, quite the opposite, it was so that his teaching could not just be received as nice intellectual ideas:

He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ (Lk 8:10)

In fact when Jesus was taken into heaven, when he revealed his ultimate authority over all things and gave the great commission, he spelt out what teaching should do:

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Mt 28:18-20)

The Jesus-kind-of-teaching is not teaching aimed at the head, but directly for the feet. We can receive it and obey it, put it into practice and see it produce fruit, even before we fully understand it.

What about the head->heart stage? Well, consider Paul's words to the Ephesians:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph 1:18)

Again the process is reversed! They received it in their hearts in order that they might know with their heads. Spiritual truth is received first by the spirit, not by the mind. We need to be those who have a mind controlled by the Spirit (Ro 8:6) not a spirit controlled by the mind.

Head, heart, feet? I'm sorry, I don't buy it any more! In my Bible the process is feet, heart, head!


Watch what you watch!

I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
anything that is worthless.
(Ps 101:2b-3a)

I have been mulling over several topics lately: fasting, guarding my eyes, and finding more time for prayer. Though they may seem to be unrelated the quote from Piper yesterday seemed to pull them together nicely:

It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night.

Piper isn't saying that it is fine to indulge in wickedness or watch explicit videos, but that this is not the only issue. There is behaviour that is sinful and behaviour that is unhelpful. It's not just an issue of what we watch, but how much we watch. We must certainly deal with the former, but if we only deal with the former we will still be lacking. To truly progress in the journey of faith we must not just be prepared to set aside what is evil, we must also be prepared to set aside what is good in order to pursue the best. This is at the very heart of what it is to fast.

I have touched on this before when I wrote on the significance of the first and second days of creation. First there came a separation of light from darkness - God indeed wants us to be holy and separate from all that is impure and immoral. But then there came a separation of water from water. This was not a separation based on merit (one bit of water was as good as any other) but a separation of purpose - a discerning and separating what is "of above" and what is "of below." If we are to be heavenly-focussed and heavenly-minded we must sometimes separate ourselves from earthly things - not because they are not good, but because we discern a higher purpose.

We often think of fasting solely as a period of time spend without food. This is indeed the usual reference to fasting in the word. It is a great spiritual discipline that does much to help us lay aside distractions of the flesh to engage with the higher purpose of heaven. I'll maybe write more on this another time. But this is not the only way to fast. At its root fasting is not a religious and ritualistic denial of food - almost every religion has practices like this. It is a concious decision of the will to lay aside the good (whatever that may be) for the sake of the best - God himself.

Piper's words and a conversation I had with a friend last night has convinced me of another very effective fast for the Christian in today's world: a fast from television!

If you are pondering how you can spend more time in prayer, or more time in the word, or any other activity of the Spirit, the answer may be right in front of your remote!


A fast post

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie.
It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for
heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not
the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we
drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God
describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is
a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The
greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts.
And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but
for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an
appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable,
and almost incurable.

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the
glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are
satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of
the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is
no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There
is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to
turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry,
and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I
want you.”

~ John Piper, A Hunger for God