Sifting Wheat

wheat-1024x400[1]

Christmas has just past and we are now looking forward to New Year.  In the advent run up to Christmas, I did the gospel of Luke advent calendar where a chapter of Luke is read every day from 1st December until the end of the gospel on Christmas Eve.  I found it a great way to stay spiritual during a busy time of year with many things demanding my attention and time, it is easy to get distracted (more on this later).  I have always enjoyed the gospel of Luke.  I appreciate the details he puts in.  Luke is also one of only two gospels which covers the nativity.

I have read the gospel of Luke numerous times but in Luke 22 was I struck by something I had never seen before.

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Luke 22:31-32

Jesus is talking to Simon Peter.  He mentioned his name twice.  It is important.  Jesus wants Simon to remember what he is about to tell him.  He tells Simon that Satan has asked to sift them like wheat.  Previously, I had in my mind rendered the sentence as “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” and not as it actually written as “Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat” (emphasis added).  Although Jesus is just talking to Simon, he is relaying an interaction with Satan where all disciples are going to sifted as wheat, not just Simon.  Strictly speaking I suspect that the reference to “all of you” is referring to the disciples around Jesus at time of the last supper, trial, death and resurrection.  However, the broader context of Satan’s request I truly believe also still applies today.  Anyone who has been a Christian longer than a few months will almost certainly testify to being sifted.

“We get higher on Satan’s hit list after we make the decision to follow Jesus”, I remember being told a few months after I had become a Christian.  Certainly, if you are looking for an easy life without challenge, then Christianity probably isn’t what you are looking for.  Challenges come.  Sometimes one after another.

The farming and harvest analogies occur throughout the gospels.  The parable of the sower in Luke 8 is one of the most well know stories in the New Testament.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Luke 8:4-8, 11-15

Jesus talks about four soils representing four groups of people.  Everyone is represented in this parable.  In fact everyone who has ever lived, living now and who live in the future is in this parable.  Many people are in the first soil.  The moment you mention Jesus, they run a mile.  It is as it you have changed from being a respectable and normal person to being a flesh eating monster from outer space after the words Jesus, God or Church leave your mouth.  Satan has tells them that God doesn’t exist or twists their view of Christ and the Father in such a distorted way to make it feel like they are unloved by God.

The second soil is such a tragic soil.  In the 22 years I have been a Christian, I have seen so many people and friends make a commitment to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and then abandon their decision in the following days, weeks or months because their faith wasn’t deep enough.  Good people who had the faith at the time to count the cost of following Jesus at the time they made their decision, but when reality hits they take their eyes of Jesus and revert to living by sight.  Every Christian during their life will have times where they ask themselves, “I’ve had enough, why don’t I give up on Christianity, it is too much of challenge”.  Sometimes it is sinful patterns which return; or peer pressure and persecution from friends and family; being upset or hurt by another Christian; the challenge of orientating life to follow Jesus or just the attractiveness of the world.  Even the apostles got sifted like this.  When Jesus was arrested, they all fled.  Peter followed, but denied Jesus three times.  After Jesus’ resurrection Peter gave up being a fisher of men and went back to catching fish, until Jesus appeared to him personally and called him back to his greater purpose.  My prayer is that those in the second soil are only there temporarily and like Peter will one day turn back and rediscover the fulfilment of the with God life.

g3[1]

The third soil is described as where the word of God falls among the thorns.  Where is become choked out by the world.  Those in this soil are Christians, but are struggling to see God through the fog of life.  Their faith is a challenge and at times an inconvenience to the other things going on in life.  Life becomes overwhelming or too distracting and God is out of focus in the background.  Every Christian spends time in this soil.  Faith has been replaced by a few religious habits.  Acting faithfully, following Jesus and trusting in him when the outcome is not obvious is a long way off.  Jesus addresses this in the sermon on the mount:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6

Jesus tells us that the answer is to put the things of God first and everything else will fall into their place.  CS Lewis writes in his book, The Screwtape Letters which is a series of fictional letters from a senior demon to a more junior demon about Satan’s schemes.

“It is funny how mortals always picture us [the demons] as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

The Screwtape Letters

Being planted in last soil is the purpose of every Christian.  Our presence in this soil is determined by how we hear and to response to God’s word.  We can read to the Bible and glaze over the words or we can read it, absorb it, let it sink deep into our hearts and apply it daily.  Troubles are still there, life still happens, but the focus is on God not what surrounds us.  People in this soil are so inspiring.  I remember when I was taking steps to become a Christian, I met a guy who was going a PhD at my university.  He was applying for jobs.  He go rejected time and time again, week after week.  But was never down.  He was always joyful when rejected.  Eventually he found the perfect job for him.  He lived in the good soil.  On Sunday I heard a story about a member in an African church who after only a few weeks of marriage lost his wife suddenly.  He responded by attending church.  Not just being there, but joyfully giving to all he interacted with.  He lives in the good soil.  Good soil people see the bigger picture.  They view life through the perspective of eternity.  They understand that the spiritual reality is greater than the material world around us.  The apostle Paul sums up life in the good soil in the following way.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Finally, back to the Simon Peter in Luke 22, his heart was sifted by Satan.  He falls asleep in Jesus’ hour of need, he rejected Christ, he refused to believe the women at the empty tomb, he returned to his former profession.  But then Jesus reminds him of his calling and responds.  The rash, arrogant, insecure Simon becomes a humble, willing and obedient servant of God.  Eventually being executed by crucifixion for bearing witness to the risen Christ.  He changed the world and his faith continues to change the world today.  How are you going to respond when sifted?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Who’s in your boat?

I have just come back from a wonderful time with my boys and some of the men from our church and other churches within our fellowship of church from around the Northern UK.  My eldest son had a wonderful time doing what he likes to be best, rowing around in a boat on the beautiful Loch Ken.

20190504_151251795_iOS

I like boats myself and scenes like this somewhat remind me of Jesus’ times within boats.  One such time is in Mark 4:35-41

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Where is the storm come from in this story?  Did Jesus orchestrate the storm?  Was it the work of Satan?  Was it just coincidental? I have spend years sometimes in the past trying to figure out where bad situations have come from.  Are they from Satan or not? I’ve bent myself out of shape emotionally.  Strangely, I don’t do that when good things happen. The bible doesn’t tell us where this storm came from. That detail is not important. What we see is that Jesus let the storm develop. He could have stopped it from starting to begin with, but didn’t. Jesus wanted the disciples to have trusted him, to have trusted in their God, to understand whose in control, who is sovereign in the situation. Where storm come from is never important.  It’s not about focusing on our environment, it is about focusing on our faith.

christ-on-the-sea-of-galilee-eugene-delacroix-[1]

The Storm gets worse and swamps the boat. Water is coming into the boat and it is sinking. Many of the disciples were fishermen, they should have been used to storms on the lake, so it must have been a bad storm. It was impossible to row back to shore or swim to shore and as a result they feared for their lives.  I understand their fear.  I quiet possibly would have been fearful too in that boat. Eventually they go and wake up Jesus, who apparently was sleeping through the whole storm. They don’t have much faith, as demonstrated in their question, but they are now out of options.  Jesus gets up and calms the storm, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” he asks. Jesus had the expectation that they should not be afraid. He was disappointed that they were afraid. His expectation was for them to put their faith is things greater than water they see, hear, feel, smell and taste. They had seen Jesus perform the impossible and Jesus expect them grow in faith as a result.  Fact is, they were with Jesus. They were in the safest place. They were safe both before and after Jesus calmed the storm.  They were always safe, because they were with Jesus. Because Jesus was in the boat.  The safest place in the world during that storm, was in the boat with Jesus. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was safe. Jesus never promised it would be comfortable to follow him and be near him, but he does promise to be with you (Matthew 28:20).

The with Jesus life is one of adventure.  Life might have more challenges with Jesus than without.  Jesus expects change.  Salvation is a process, not all about getting over a line.  There is a point when we are saved from our sins, but that is not arrival point of our journey. The journey continues while we walk on the Earth. Jesus expects us to grow by orientating ourselves increasing towards time and focusing less and less and what is seen in our environmental factors, just like those in the boat. I am not the same person who became a Christian 22 years ago, but I still have much room for growth. Jesus expected greater from his disciples, he had expected them to have grown in their faith.  Too often we view God and our problems the wrong way round. What are your storms and do you see Jesus? Are you orientating your life more and more towards Jesus or are your eyes fixed firmly on your environmental here and now?

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:2

When the disciples saw Jesus’ power, they were in awe. They became terrified, not because of their environment, but because of their understanding of Jesus.  They really met Jesus, who he really is. When you really understand who God, you can’t help but fall at his feet.

What do you put your trust in when life gets stormy?

Peace doesn’t come from finding a lake without storms, it comes from having Jesus in the boat

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I am a sinner

seven-deadly-sins-jokes-4[1]

Like most people, I generally consider myself as a good guy.  I help people when I can and try to offer words of encouragement to others.  I desire for the world to have been a better place because I walked on it.  However, I also make mistakes.  Sometimes big ones.  A rash comment which damages relationships.  I can be proud and arrogant, and then see my own self importance come crashing down.  And sometimes I am just plain idiotically silly.  On reflection, these things can fill me with guilt and shame.

One of the things I really love about the Bible is the rawness of relationships demonstrated in such a relatable way.  I would love to have the patience and managerial skills of Joseph, the son of Jacob as he goes from being a long suffering falsely accused prisoner to second in command of Egypt; or have the administration qualities and integrity of Daniel. However, I can find it much easier to relate to the gaffes, mistakes and failings of the apostle Peter (also called Simon).  I actually find it really emotional reading about one of the first interactions Peter has with Jesus.

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

– Luke 5:1-5

Simon Peter was a fisherman.  He ran a fishing business.  He employed others in his fishing business.  This was his livelihood, not a hobby.  Peter knew how to fish.  He was the local expert.  If you wanted to know how to fish, where to fish, what time to fish, you would ask Peter.  He probably felt a good sense of pride in his knowledge, knowledge that helped the local community through his fishing skills and abilities.

One day, this carpenter who has recently taken up preaching turns ups and uses Peter’s boat as a makeshift pulpit.  At the end of his teaching, this up start preacher has the audacity to tell Peter, the fishing guru, that it is now time to go fishing.  What might Peter have thought when Jesus made this request?  He and his men hadn’t caught any fish all night.  He would have been tired and maybe a little depressed at not having anything to show for his efforts.  Maybe to just prove Jesus wrong or because he is tired and can’t be bothered to fight, he decides to entertain Jesus’ idea and start fishing.  As we see later in this story he wasn’t expecting anything great to happen from this event…

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

– Luke 5:6-7

Something amazing happened.  A miracle. The carpenter, Jesus, had caught more fish than Peter and his company had ever caught before in one go and in conditions which the expert fisherman would never try to catch them.  Jesus just destroyed Peter’s knowledge of fishing.  Both boats were totally filled to capacity.  Such a contrast to the previous evening’s shift where nothing was caught.  When we read Peter’s reaction to this event, the gravity of the miracle isn’t lost on him…

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,  and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

– Luke 5:8-10

miracle_catch_[1]

Simon Peter knew that something extraordinary had happened.   The novice fisherman was not just a carpenter.  The man in Peter’s boat is rather special.  In fact he is God incarnate, in the flesh, next to Peter and Peter knows it.  Peter is overwhelmed.  Through the miracle of the fish, it has been revealed to Peter how great and awesome Jesus is.  Peter’s reaction is to reflect on his own being, his own character and instantly feels inadequate and filled with shame.  The perfect catch of fish in front of him orchestrated by Jesus contrasted with the Peter’s totally imperfect previous night’s fishing is a metaphor of the perfection found in Christ compared with his own failings and imperfections.  He sees a chasm between himself and Jesus.  It prompts Peter to say “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”.  He doesn’t feel worthy to be in Jesus’ presence.

I can really relate to Peter here.  When I say the wrong thing.  Act in a way which is not in line with a follower of Jesus. I can feel I am not worthy to be associated with anything to do with Christianity.  I feel like a fake Christian. Even when I try to do good, I can often remind myself of my failings and mistakes and I lose confidence.  When I reflect on the goodness of Christ I see the gulf between myself and him.  This leads to shame which in turns leads to fear.

03-04-Shame-673x427[1]

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

– Luke 5:10b-11

Jesus acknowledges Simon Peter’s fears, but promises him that he doesn’t need to be afraid.  He doesn’t need to feel shame.  Sin surrounds, encases and entangles us with shame.  Whereas fear of shame can motivate in the short term, love motivates without ending.  Sometimes, the most comforting words which can be said are “It’s Okay”.  Just a reassurance that in spite of the current situation, everything is okay.  You don’t have to feel shame.  Jesus gives Peter that reassurance.  Jesus removes his shame.

Peter leaves his business and follows Jesus.  He has felt the love of having his shame erased and now has been called to a new life.  Plus, he has realised that God is in control, so following Jesus might just be the best idea anyway.

Peter became one of Jesus’ closest followers.  He lived a life of faith.  Yet he still had his failings.  When Jesus walked on water, Peter was the only disciple to step of out the boat.  However, when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the wind and the waves around him, he began to sink.  After Jesus was arrested, Peter was the disciple who followed him when all the others ran far away.  But his loyalty didn’t have the courage to remain faithful and he denied three times that he knew Jesus.

After the crucifixion, Peter goes back to fishing.  See John 21.  His leader had been killed and he returned to his former profession.  Once again he has an unsuccessful fishing trip.  An unknown man from the shoreline calls after them to left down their nets again.  Once again a miracle catch is performed.  Instantly they recognise the man as Jesus, haul their boat and their catch ashore and eat with him.  Peter is again reminded that God is in control.  In spite of his sin and his failings, God values him and believes in him.  Within weeks he is preaching to thousands about how sin has been conquered by the cross.  How forgiveness is available for all.

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off

– Acts 2:38-39

I am so inspired by Peter.  He isn’t defined by his sin.  God didn’t let this happen.  Satan is the one who tries to define us by our sin.  God’s love for him cast out his fear of shame.  The guilt of sin has been nailed to the cross of Christ.  Without ever letting down his nets, Peter would never have understood the power of God and let go of his sin, guilt and shame.  Do you have nets to let down to experience the power of God in your life?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Faith

Stepping out in faith, remembering the day I got married

Sometimes it is good to remember times you have stepped out faith and seen God work so powerfully.  Getting married was one such occasion.  Kirstie and myself were working together at the time in the full time ministry leading a church in Wolverhampton.  It was a satellite of a larger church in Birmingham.  I had known Kirstie for a couple of years and shortly after we started working together, I had fallen in love with her.  I found her to be spiritual, kind, thoughtful and caring.  Plus she laughed at my jokes.  I knew I wanted to marry her (mainly because she laughed at my jokes).

I proposed on 4th August 2001 at Blenheim Palace.  The family home of Winston Churchill.  Kirstie was brought there under the guise of helping someone else with their romantic relationship.  She was then directed by someone down a path, and as she past the Temple of Diana (the place where Winston Church proposed), I appeared and got down on one knee.  After what seemed like eternity of contemplation, but was in reality only a few seconds, Kirstie said yes.  In that moment I think she was counting the cost of question I was asking her.

blenheim-palace[1]

The security guards around the palace were incredible and really went the extra mile to make this a magical day.  They were on the radios to each other to help orchestrate the moment and helped me find the perfect tree under which I placed my blanket, roses and champagne to overlooking the lake.  A view which had been described as the “finest in England”   They even allowed us to explore the water gardens for 45 minutes to ourselves before they were open to the general public.

_97788197_blenheimfinestview[1]

We then had a wedding to plan.  Initially, we thought of having a three month engagement.  However, to help lead the church in Wolverhampton more effectively, we asked by the church leading in Birmingham if we could get married even quicker.  To most normal people, this would seem like complete lunacy, but I liked Kirstie and Kirstie like me, so we jumped at the chance to get married earlier and we set a date seven weeks later.  22nd September 2001 was the date.  Our biggest problem was that we had no plan and next to no money.  Thankfully we worship a God who loves us.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

– Ephesians 4:20-21 (English Standard Version)

God started to come through in some fairly major ways.  In the first week Kirstie went shopping for a wedding dress.  The first shop she went into had a sale on, the first dress she tried on looked great on her, it was reduced from £400 to £200 and didn’t need any alterations.  We found an incredible function room above a working men’s club in a poorer area of Birmingham.  From the outside, it looked like a dive, but the room was large, was in great condition and didn’t get used very often.  It was perfect.  At the time when we booked it, it was being run by a larger than life Irish woman who assured us on several occasions that we would make beautiful children together.  She let us have it room for next to nothing and let us have two cases of sparkling wine for the wedding toasts for a mere £40 per box of 12 bottles.  The Irish woman was no longer in charge of the club as the wedding date got closer.  The new managers were surprised at the extremely low quote we had been given, especially for the cases of sparkling wine, but decided to honour the quote anyway.

So many friends and relatives helped us in big and small ways.  In the Birmingham church there was a friend, Glenn, who worked as a jeweller within the Jewellery Quarter of the city.  He made our wedding rings and did an amazing job and only charged us £50, for the both of them.  Kirstie had a wholesale cash-and-carry card which she used to buy all the food for the wedding and a friend, Gregg, within the church who was also a chef helped prepare the food and put on an impressive buffet for over 100 people.  Kirstie’s housemate Chrissie helped in so many ways, no least in making the reception venue look like a wedding venue on a very limited budget.  The reception was paid for by my parents.  We were very grateful to everyone helped and still very am when I think back to my wedding.

A month before the wedding I had £200 accessible in my bank account.  This much of this was earmarked for our wedding cake.  However, at this time our church was also taking up collection Christian missions work in the third world.  I had given some money forwards the collection, but not what I originally intended.  I was challenged by the senior minister of the church to give more.  I spoke to my wife to be about it and we agreed to give the £200 to the missions collection.  We reasoned that we could have a great wedding even without a cake.  I was now totally broke and was getting married in just a few weeks.  Later that day we attended a staff meeting of ministers from various churches around the UK.  We found out at this meeting that ministers who got married received a one off payment of £200 each.  Later that evening we attended the midweek meeting of our church in Wolverhampton.  A married couple who were members of the church handed us a envelop at church.  It contained £100.  They said that they had been helped in their wedding, and they wanted to pay it forward to someone else without expecting anything in return.  It was incredibly generous of them and we were extremely grateful.  It reminds me of an Old Testament scripture in the book of Malachi, where God was calling the Israelites to test him in their giving:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

– Malachi 3:10 (New International Version)

We started the day with £200, by lunchtime we had nothing.  By the end of the day we had £500 in gifts and generosity of others.  We felt so protected by the hand of God.  We gave in faith and the faith was rewarded.  We could now afford a wedding cake – nothing expensive, three iced fruit cakes from Marks and Spencer with ribbon around the edge, but it was very special.

cake.jpg

God didn’t stop working.  The day went so smoothly.  There were over 300 people at the ceremony and over 110 at the reception.  To be honest, I don’t recall exactly who was there.  I was very fixated on my wife.  All I really remember was we both entered the church building a single people and left the building as a very happy married couple.

church.jpg

A friend of mine who I had helped to become a Christian a couple of year before very kindly bought us flights to Paris as a wedding gift and my step father generously paid for the rest of our time in Paris.  All I had to do was pay for the first night hotel.  I had booked a nice Best Western hotel in Sutton Coldfield.  However, by the time of the wedding, the money had once again ran out.  At the wedding reception, I quietly spoke to my best man and asked him to search through the wedding cards to look for money to pay for the first night.  A few minutes later he came back to tell me that there was no money in the cards, just vouchers for Marks and Spencer.  As we left the reception, a woman who Kirstie knew from her time working as a women’s minister in London handed her a card in an envelope.  Also in the envelope was some money, it was the exact amount to pay for the first night.  Once more God came through for us again.  I really didn’t have another plan to pay for the first night, all I had was my faith in God.  Unknown to me, my best man had arranged for the our driver (another Christian who had donated his time and his car as an act of kindness on our wedding day) to pay for hotel on arrival, but it meant that we could pay him back in full immediately.

img105

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

– Romans 8:28 (New International Version)

We have now been happily married for almost 17 years and we have four beautiful children, the Irish lady in the bar was right after all.  It has been a wonderful adventure and it continues to be.

However, in the last few months, my wife has been diagnosed with secondary cancer.  We are now once again digging deep into our faith, unsure of future and how things will work out.  Challenges come which we cannot deal with alone, we need God to get through. Remembering how God has worked in the past gives us hope for the future.

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

– Hebrews 11:1 (New Living Translation)

This pattern of remembering how God has worked in the past in challenging times to give hope for the future is common in the Bible.  In the book of Exodus God rescues his people from Egyptians, parts the Red Sea and leads them to safety.  The Israelites celebrate every year the passover as they remember how God saved them from slavery and brought them into freedom.  The story is recalled time and time again throughout the Bible.  Every time was to remind them of God comes to rescue.

However, all this time God wasn’t pointing them backwards into the past, He was actually pointing them forwards into the future.  A new rescue was coming, not from Pharaoh and the Egyptians, but from sin.  A rescue from all the mistakes and failures which entangle and weigh us down.  Jesus became the new passover lamb, perfect and without blemish.  He recuses us from sin and plants us firmly into the freedom of God’s family.

When I look back at my wedding it reminds me of how God worked when I stepped out in faith.  It also points me to look forward to put my hope and faith in Him both now and in the future.

Remember how God has worked so powerfully in your life and look forward to what it will do in the times to come.

For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

– Jeremiah 29:11-13 (New International Version)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Well done good and faithful servant”

Tonight I am saddened to hear of the passing of Scott Green.  For many years I had only heard the name as an American who had learnt Chinese in order to plant a church in Hong Kong.   I remember at the time being a young in the faith and being truly inspired by his story. The church he planted grew to several thousand in size and had an impact in mainland China by planting several underground churches there.

The first time I saw him speak was at Alexander Palace in London, which I think was in 1999, in front of thousands of people at a Christian conference.  The next time I heard him talk was to a group of church ministers in the UK at a retreat in Winchester.  What struck me was his out of the box thinking.  Someone who strived to God’s will, willing to challenge current thinking and propose new paradigms to achieve greater things for God.

In 2012 we were extremely privileged to have Scott Green visit and preach at the church in Glasgow.  The sermon is available on the Glasgow church website.  Click to listen “Perfect Love Casts Out Fear By Scott Green on 15 April 2012” After the service Scott and others joined my family for dinner at our house.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In 2016 I was saddened to hear that Scott had developed brain cancer.  It shocked me especially because my wife had been diagnosed with cancer a few months earlier in the same year.  Since hearing this news, I have been regularly praying for Scott and his family.  As the husband of someone with cancer, Scott’s passing seem particularly poignant and moving.  My thoughts and prayers are very much with his wife, Lynne and their children.

He leaves behind an incredible legacy of faithful followers of Jesus around the world who have come to faith through Scott’s teaching, leadership and determination.

In the gospels, Jesus talks tells the parable of the talents. Three servants who were given something by their master and were expected to make use of what they had been given.  The first two multiplied their talents, to which their master replied “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25).  I am confident, that today, Scott has been welcomed home with similar words.

Times like this bring the priorities of life into sharp focus.  What will be important on that Day.  How did I spend my talents I have been given?  Where do I spend my time, money and energy?  How much did I waste on trivial stuff?  Am I investing in treasures in heaven or in trophies on Earth?

Just before I heard of Scott’s death, I was listening to a recording of the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross”.  The chorus seems ever more powerful this evening:

So I’ll cherish the old rugged Cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged Cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

Scott has his crown now.  It was a privilege to have heard you speak and to have been taught by you, albeit on only a few occasions.  I rejoice knowing that you are now at home with our Lord, with no more suffering and pain.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

‘Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?’
1 Corinthians 15:54-55

scott

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Are You Winning?

Soccer Team Raising Trophy

I have four wonderful children.  Each has their own distinct personality and each incredibly special.  The older three each play a musical  instrument. My eldest plays the chanter, a Scottish instrument which is the precursor to the bagpipes.  It is no flute or harp when it comes to the sweetness of the sound made while being practiced.  It has been said that a Scottish gentleman is someone who knows how to the play the bagpipes, but chooses not to.  All this said, I actually really enjoy the fact that he is learning to play, both because of the character that playing an instrument produces and the fact that the chanter and pipes have their own charm.  Anyway, my son wanted to improve his playing so my wife and I sent him to a summer school for chanter and bagpipers.

sam-gross-you-ll-be-in-charge-of-the-music-down-here-new-yorker-cartoon_a-l-9163679-8419447[1]

When I was picking my son up from the piping school at the end of one of the days, I bumped into my son’s teacher.  A man in his 70s who had been playing the chanter and pipes since a young age.  A man who conducted himself with an air of grace, but also someone who will tell you the truth when required.  We chatted for a minute or so and then he asked me a question, “Are you winning?”

The question somewhat stopped me in my tracks a little.  A couple of days before hand we had told our children that their mother, my beautiful wife, had been diagnosed with cancer.  Life was in a state of being turned upside down and ‘normal’ was being redefined and the future was uncertain.  The answer to the question could so easily have been ‘No.  I am not winning.  My wife has cancer and nothing will be the same again for my family.” Or I could have just been polite and given a simple “yes” to project a facade.

Life is tough, with or without someone close to you having cancer.  We all get misunderstood and treated unfairly on a regularly basis.  We make frequent bad choices and beaten up emotionally because of them, both by others and ourselves.  In speech we can feel that it is all to easy to say the wrong things and put our foot in our mouth, only to open it again to change feet.  With all this it is easy to have a “Why me?” attitude.  It is easy to blame others and resign myself to being a victim of others and my environment.

In that split second, I chose not to be a victim of my circumstances.  I chose to be defined by who I am and not by what surrounded me.  To take responsibility for the direction of my life.  I chose to be a winner.  In the bible, the apostle Paul wrote the following to the church in Corinth (part of modern day Greece):

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  – 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

I naturally want to consider myself as something special.  Someone who is better than others.  This attitude puffs up my pride.  It put distance between myself and others.  It ultimately makes me feel alone on a little pedestal of self glory.  The reality is that I am not that much different from other people.  I share similar desires, goals, have similar abilities and have achieved similar things.  In the verses above, Paul describes Christians as an ordinary jars of clay of little value by themselves, but containing inside something of incredible value.

Jars-Of-Clay[1]

On the one hand this keeps me humble.  It stops be from becoming arrogant and boastful of my talents, abilities and achievements.  On the other hand it gives me an incredible sense of value, worth and confidence.  Jesus came from all glory to earth where he was given none.  He paid the price on the cross, taking the weight and burden of my sin, my weaknesses, my failings in his body and in return deposited in me the treasure of salvation.  With this treasure inside of me I will not be crushed, not be in despair, nor abandoned or destroyed.

I answered my son’s chanter teacher truthfully and confidently with a statement of “Yes, yes I am winning”.  “It’s good to meet someone winning,” he replied, “not many people are winning” he added.

I had every reason not to be a winner.  But I chose to be winner.  There are times when I wake up and I don’t feel like a winner.  I’ve sat in hospital consultations and received bad news and not felt like a winner.  I have said something inappropriate or not been as diligent as I could have been and not felt like a winner. On each occasion I have to remind myself of the treasure in my jar of clay, and choose once again to be a winner.

Are you winning?

question[1]

4 Comments

Filed under Bible, Christianity, Faith

Meeting God in challenging situations

I am writing this blog sitting in our lovely new house we bought a few weeks ago.  It is a wonderful property which suits my family’s needs perfectly.  However, on the day of the move I wasn’t sure if it was going happen at all.  Here is my story what happened and how our family had to trust in character of God when the situation around us didn’t look very encouraging towards our situation.

We loved our old house.  We had been there nine years.  We had fantastic neighbours, it was very handy for the local shops and for getting to work and the childrens’ school.  The rooms were all well proportioned and gardens were enjoyable.  But then life happened.  A health challenge came into our family.  Our house, which for many years was perfect for us, started to become a problem.  The stairs became a serious problem for someone whose mobility had deteriorated.  We had to move into a home which was all on the same level.  The house hunting had begun…

Within a couple of weeks, we found a great house.  A fairly modern bungalow, attached to a larger Victorian house within a fairly smart area of Paisley.  Most importantly, all the rooms were on the one level.  There weren’t many bungalows in the Greater Glasgow area which could house our family on a budget we could afford.  To find another similar property could prove very challenging.  It was perfect to help meet the challenges which life was throwing at us.  The property had been on the market a while, so we put an offer in and it was accepted.  We now just needed to sell our property.

houseforsale_3021692b[1]

We got our place ready to go on the market within a week.  The home report, which is done by a surveyor to give prospective buyers key facts about the house and an estimated market valuation, came back with perfect scores for the condition of the house and good valuation price.  Within 24 hours of the property going on the market, we had an offer at the valuation price.  We turned it down to test the market a little more.  Within a week we had three notes of interest in the property and we decided to set a closing date for offers.  This is a Scottish legal event, when a blind auction is held on the property being sold and on the day set, all the bids are opened for the seller to chose which one, if any, they will sell to.  We got three bids, with two bids offering several thousand more than the valuation price.  The family we chose to sell to we knew from school and felt sure that they would be a great fit for the house and the neighbourhood too.  Over the next couple of weeks, we got mortgage approved and the paperwork sorted out.  All was going so well.  If God was going to block this move, he would have done so by now.  All was going so well, what could go wrong?

A week before the agreed move date, we got told that the mortgage paperwork of buyers further down the chain was not yet in order and we would have to delay our entry date.  All parties agreed a new move date, a week and a half later.  This should give enough time for everyone to get the required paperwork sorted.  Due to the terms of our existing mortgage, we had to buy and sell on the same day, otherwise we would have been hit with large financial penalties which would have prevented us from moving.

As the new move in date approached everything appeared to be going well, although binding contracts still had yet to be signed by any party.  Due to family health challenges, we had hired a moving company and professional packers to help us move.  The packers came into our home the day before the move date to pack our belongings up and to partial load the moving van ready for the move the following day.  Then I got a message at 3pm which made my heart sink.  A problem with the paperwork had been identified further down the chain.  Analysis by lawyers would take days we were told.

I felt like Nehemiah in the Old Testament, when he was rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem and Sanballat and Tobiah were discouraging the work from progressing in the hope that they would thwart Nehemiah’s plans (Nehemiah 4).  The news we got could potential stop us from moving the following day and even collapse the whole chain stop anyone from moving, and leaving myself with large lawyer and moving bills, with nothing to show for it.  Would God allow such a cruel turn of events to happen?

The packers carried on packing and we finished the day not knowing what was going to happen the following day.  We went to bed with the vast majority of our personal belongs loaded onto a van, not knowing where they would end up the following the day.

The next day the packers arrived to complete the loading of the van.   We had heard nothing.  The packers were aware of our situation and asked several times, what I wanted them to do.  My response was “Let’s just crack on”.  It was hopeful and faithful.  God knew that we have had a number of serious family challenges recently, was he going to allow the move to collapse and let us suffer further?  Our prayer that morning was “God please show yourself in this situation.  We don’t see you working at the moment, but we know you are there.  You are faithful and true.  Your character is both merciful and compassionate”.

By 11am all we knew that further downstream lawyers were having a meeting to discuss the paperwork in question.  The packers had moved everything into the van with the exception of the sofas.  The professional cleaners were in to clean the house sparkle clean ready for the new owners.  The head of the packing company came to us and told us that he had never seen anyone in our position and actually move.  He started to offer us options for storage or unloading our possessions back into our own house.  However, he told us that we had to decide by 12 noon in order to give his men time to complete the job.  By this time we had less than 45 minutes to make the move possible.  Our lawyers still could not get in touch with the lawyers further down the chain and did not understand what the problem could actually be, as previously they had been told that the all the paperwork was in order.  Paolo and Cara Ugolini, the ministers of our church were with us.  I sat with Paolo while he prayed for our situation.  It was totally in God’s hands at this point, there was nothing we could do to except trust in God.

In the book of Daniel in the Bible (Daniel 3), there is a story about three men who are told to worship a statue of King Nebuchadnezzar, but they refuse and get into deep trouble.  The are brought before the king before they are about to be thrown into a fiery furnace.  This is their response before the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to explain these things to you.  If you throw us into the hot furnace, the God we serve can save us. And if he wants to, he can save us from your power.  But even if God does not save us, we want you to know, King, that we refuse to serve your gods. We will not worship the gold idol you have set up.” They put all their confidence in God, but they also knew that God was sovereign.  God was still God even if he did not save them from current situation.  Their example is such an inspiration to me.  An attitude of total surrender.  There is a God, and it is not me.  

At 11:45, 15 minutes before our moving deadline, we got a phone call from our lawyer.  The other lawyers had decided that no further analysis was required and therefore all the paperwork was in order.  Contracts could be exchanged and the move could go ahead.

We saw God work in many ways that day.  The prayers were answered and before the deadline.  We were moving!  The removal men finished the final packing and started their journey to the new house.  More faith was still required before we finally got our keys at 4pm that day, but by the end of day we had moved.  God came through.

Back in the story of Daniel, the three friends were thrown into the furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar, but the story didn’t end there…

hqdefault[1]

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”  He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

In the furnace they met God.  It was certainly not their choice to be there and given the option before hand, they would not have liked to have been thrown into the fire.  Yet it turned out to be the safest place to be. In fact there was no safer place to be whole of Babylon at that time.

The apostle Peter reminds us not be surprised when we go through ordeals.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

People of faith want to be close to God.  We want to met God when everything is going well, when we get the exam results we wanted, the work promotion we longed for, when life is success followed by more success.  This can happen, but more often we met God in the furnace of life.  We meet God in the places where we don’t want to be.  We meet God when we surrender our will to His in the most challenging of circumstances.  We can meet God when a house move isn’t going as planned.  We can meet God in doctors consulting room when the test results bring life changing bad news.  We can meet God in times of grief.  We even come to cherish the ordeals for the closeness to God we can experience.  When we refuse to be a victim but instead surrendered to God in all situations, we became victorious.

In conclusion, when we surrender our will to instead be the will of God we understand what the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth…

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”
 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:53-58)

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized