Free Versus Paid

Our church is going through a season of refocusing on discipleship.  Having experienced (and continuing to experience) growth in numbers as a body, it is important that the church has fresh teaching on what discipleship means – both for those who are new in the faith and for those maybe who have been knocking around on the edges for a while without fully grasping it.  Of course it also serves as a reminder and an encouragement to those who are already pressing on with their journey.
I often feel that the modern church way of separating a decision for Christ (such as after an altar call at the end of a service) with the discipleship process not only moves away from the clear New Testament model (decision, declaration, repentance, baptism in water, and an immediate conscious change or following of “The Way”) but also makes it harder for us.
For many, that point of decision involves on some level a recognition that there is more to life than this, that there is another way, that Someone can make a better job of guiding your life than you!  At that point we make some sort of surrender.  That is the point at which we need to clearly install Christ as not just our Saviour but our Lord.
Lordship suggests authority, ownership, submission, obedience… not words that are sexy in today’s society.  Heck they aren’t even considered “politically correct” in hardly any circumstance anymore!  Imagine your boss or company using those words.  Or your partner. The government…
We don’t like submitting.  We don’t like surrendering.  If we did it would make the whole discipleship process so much easier!
We like free things, but we don’t like having to pay for things.
Imagine some new game, some new app, coming out on the iPhone or Facebook.  A “free” game.
Suddenly everyone is playing it!  You spend all your free time (and probably a lot of time when you should be doing something else) playing it.  You realise you are a little obsessed.
Three months down the line out of say a hundred people who started playing that free game, what has happened?
Probably half of them or more are no longer playing it.  The reasons will vary.  Some got bored quickly.  They always bore quickly.  Once the novelty wears off, once it isn’t new and they aren’t the first or the only ones playing it, they aren’t interested anymore.
Some of them will have quickly realised that, despite being a free game, in order to really make progress you actually need to make “in app purchases”.  The experience, the free experience, is great but… there is so much more you can see the game can do.  But it will cost.  Some won’t pay.
Some of them will have realised that actually they didn’t really like the game as much as they thought they would.
What of those still playing?
Most of them are probably still playing the free version.  Many will have realised by then there is more to the game than the free experience, but they don’t want to pay or don’t think they can afford to pay.   But they are perfectly happy to just keep playing the free version.
Some will be paying.  Some will be progressing on through the levels and finding each level more involved than the previous one.  It keeps drawing them in and on further.  Just as they think they must be about to finish the game, a new level is unlocked!
 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8 MEV)
Everything we have is the gift of God.  It came to us freely.  It cost God dearly but it hasn’t cost us anything.  We receive it for free.
Hebrews 10: 38 says “Now the just shall live by faith”.  We all have faith to sustain us and the measure of faith given to us all is the same (Romans 12:3, 2 Peter 1:1).
It is the same, and it is enough! Matthew 17:20 tells us that even the tiniest measure of that faith can pluck up a mountain and cast it in to the sea.
At salvation we receive freely and we all receive the same.
Days, weeks, months, years down the line however… where are we?  Out of 100 salvation commitments what do those lives look like now?
Like in the game analogy (imperfect of course, but it does help make some points I feel) some people will have given up.  Their faith is like all those unused apps on our phones, those no longer played games.
The reasons for giving up will be varied.
Many will have decided that the “cost” of continuing was too great.  Discipleship, developing the mind of Christ, moving forward further and deeper with God, costs us.  It costs us pride.  It requires submission.  It takes time.  It calls for sacrifice.  It humbles us.
Not things any of us like doing if we are honest (or is it just me?).
If that doesn’t make someone quit entirely then at the very least it may stop them from pressing in.  They sit at the back of church (spiritually if not physically speaking), taking all the “free” stuff but never paying out.  Receiving not giving.
They look at the ones up the front who are leading, or the people coming up to share testimonies of blessing, healing, answers to prayers, and they think “its all right for them” without connecting the dots between the cost and the benefit, the sowing and the reaping…
Christ promises us so much more than some game!  Life and life abundant are the rewards for the cost of discipleship.  So don’t be satisfied with the free version – press on for the next level.
Remember we all start with the same – and it is ENOUGH so we have no excuse – but there is so very very much more to be had.  I don’t know about you, but I’m determined – and I’m determining – to reach for the next level and to be willing to pay whatever it costs.
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Artificial Intelligence (or: “Having the Mind of Christ”)

According to reports, programmers are getting closer all the time to creating “artificial intelligence”, that is, programming a computer than can pass the Turing test.
Alan Turing’s thought experiment considered a conversation between two parties – one human, one computer – whereby an observer could not distinguish which was which.  Carried out via text messages,  and given the difficulty of defining “thinking”, the aim was to see if computers could at least imitate human conversation.  Turing argued that if the interrogator could not distinguish them by questioning, then it would be unreasonable not to call the computer intelligent, because we judge other people’s intelligence from external observation in just this way.
Both theorists and science fiction writers have had a field day over this concept, which raises serious questions for the future should computers achieve this defined level of “intelligence”.  Because once you ascribe intelligence to something you start to consider giving it rights…
Imagine a world where a computer (or computers) were ascribed basic “human” rights. Imagine the law protecting them.  Would you agree with that? Would you abide by those laws?  Perhaps you would obey those laws because the penalties of not doing so were great, but in your heart you wouldn’t really consider the computer to be equal to a human, even if the law forced you to treat them as such.
What relevance does this have to us as Christians?  Where are I going with this?
These are some of the things that Scripture says about our minds:
“For what man knows the things of a man, except the spirit of man which is in him? Likewise, no one knows the things of God, except the Spirit of God.   Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, so that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God.   These things also we proclaim, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.   But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.   But he who is spiritual judges all things. Yet he himself is not judged by anyone.   For
“who has known the mind of the Lord
    that he may instruct Him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:11-15 MEV)
“Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think.”  (Romans 12:2 The Passion)
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 KJV )
“For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mindset controlled by the Spirit finds life and peace” (Romans 8:6 The Passion)
Scripture is very clear.  As born again Christians, sanctified by the death of Jesus, in right relationship once again with our Heavenly Father and Creator, Holy Spirit lives in us and works in us.  This heavenly source provides us with all the wisdom of the Godhead.  We have the mind of Christ.  His “intelligence” if you like.
So whilst we are not Christ, we have His Mind and His Spirit lives in us.  Our daily challenge, our life walk, our discipleship journey, is to become indistinguishable from His in our thinking and our doing.
Remember what Turing surmised?  If an observer or interrogator can not distinguish computer from human by questioning, then it would be unreasonable not to call the computer intelligent, because we judge other people’s intelligence from external observation in just this way.
 
Likewise those around us judge God, Christ, religion, the Gospel etc from observing those who claim to believe/to follow/to be Christians.  So be truly salt and light, to be the Body of Christ on this earth as we are called to be, we must focus on developing the Mind of Christ within us.
There is another parallel. One to bear in mind in terms of the spiritual battle that we are in.
Remember the idea of the law ascribing rights to computers once they “achieved” intelligence?  Think again about how people might conceivably have to obey laws giving machines rights, even if we didn’t really feel it was the same.
We have rights.  As children of God, having the Mind of Christ, we have rights under God’s law.
Guess what.  The enemy has to obey those rules!
He doesn’t agree with it, he HATES it, it strikes at the very center of his whole purpose because, remember, he didn’t like not being equal to God so think how much more he HATES the fact that we are higher than him!  He doesn’t believe we could be equal to him let alone above him or more important to God.  He hates our free will, and our adopted son-ship.
But he has to obey the law.
We have authority over him which, when we use it, he has to obey.  He cannot stand against us.  Thanks to Christ’s sacrifice we are sons of God once more.  We have the same rights and authority as Jesus.  When we speak, the enemy has to listen.  When we command, he has to obey.  When we resist, he has to flee.  He doesn’t like it, but he can’t do anything about that.
Or rather, he can’t fail to obey but he does try to do something about that: he tries to  stop us from exercising those rights in the first place.  He would seek to keep us from being informed about our sonship and, once informed, stop us from having the faith to exercise our rights and live in them and live them out.
Seeking the Mind of Christ, becoming more Christ-like (aka being a disciple) is the key to overcoming and the key to really living.
Purpose today to study what Scripture says about the character of Christ.  Like Solomon, ask Holy Spirit to develop wisdom within you, and allow Him to transform you by the renewing of your mind day by day.

The Pain of Stretching

As I snatched ten minutes quiet this morning in my favourite spot, I was thinking about a conflict between what I’ve been seeking from God, and what I’m willing to accept from God.

On the one hand, for over a year now I’ve been asking God daily to take me deeper, to reveal to me who He created me to be, to guide me into my destiny, His Plan and Purpose for my life, to fulfill my hopes and dreams.

On the other hand I’m well aware that I don’t even have the courage to pray a prayer each morning that says “OK who do you want me to talk to today?” or to ask “what opportunities do you want me to take?” because I know if I pray those sorts of prayers, God will actually answer them and provide such an opportunity.

It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to realise those two attitudes are directly in opposition to each other..

As I thought this through I felt God ask “what are you afraid of?”

The answer of course is failure.

God’s response was “Don’t you think that I know you?”

I didn’t have a response to that.

Instead (slightly petulantly) I thought “but the thing is, stretching is painful!”

Immediately I thought of childbirth.  You know, if you genuinely really understood in advance, as a woman, exactly how much it was going to hurt (especially a natural childbirth), really could understand, you would be much less likely to chose to go through it!  Because stretching hurts!

Even as I thought that, I heard God’s response “So why, having gone through that once, did you chose to go through it again then? Knowing the second time how much it ‘really’ hurt?”

Good question! Why does any woman have a second child?!  I guess because although you know it is going to hurt you now know you survived it once, the pain ends (eventually!) and you now know the reward is worth it.

At which point there was a sense of God saying “Uhuh. I’ll wait for you to catch up and realise what you’ve just said…”

The stretching may hurt, but you survive, and not only survive but find the rewards are great.  You  realize that actually the stretching and that hurt wasn’t as bad – or rather it wasn’t as significant as you thought it would be in the grand scheme of things.

The pain of childbirth, viewed now as a mother of four (the oldest of whom is 22), isn’t any less.  The pain of those births hasn’t diminished – they’re still the worst thing I’ve ever been through – however it doesn’t seem as important afterwards.  It wasn’t a barrier to doing it again.  From the perspective of having seen the rewards, the fruit, the pain doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue as it may be felt at the time.

I felt God reflecting that back to me, over my fears of being stretched in order to be who He calls me to be, who He made me to be, over stepping out in faith, leaning in to Him.  A fear that stopped me praying dangerous prayers because I know the answers may “hurt”.

So this is where I am.  Realising the truth that even if stepping out and praying those prayers may mean I get “hurt” that “pain” will not, in the grand scheme of things, matter. He promises me only good.  He promises that the rewards will be greater and the fruit sweeter than any discomfort I experience as I allow Him to stretch me.

Just for the sake of keeping it real, I still haven’t prayed a truly dangerous prayer yet. But it won’t be long…

A Childlike Faith

Children, especially young children, don’t get a say in what happens to them or around them.

A baby may express its desires (food, comfort, changing etc) but the when and the how of what happens in response to that is out of their hands.

A toddler is dressed by its parent. The parent chooses the food they want the child to eat. The parent decides to go out/stay in. Visiting friends, shopping, holidays – all decided by the parent.

A young child may get up by themselves in the morning, and get dressed. But the clothes were laid out by the parent the night before, and the child is told what is an acceptable time to get up (ignore the points where a child challenges these things – just bear with me here for the sake of a serious point).

By the time they are, say, 11, the child is choosing what to wear – but the clothes have still been bought by the parent. Even if the child gets taken to “chose” the clothes that are bought, it is still within parameters set by the parent.

What school to go to? Where to go on holiday? Moving house? Visiting relatives? All the sort of things that are still outside of the child’s control.

As we grow up, our involvement in the decisions that affect us grows. We learn consequences. We learn decision making.

When we are old enough to get our first paper round/Saturday job, we have money that we have a right to spend pretty much how we want.

By the time we reach 18, and certainly when we finally leave home, we are fully in charge of the choices we make. Even if circumstances remain outside our control (the flat tyre, the difficult boss, unrequited love) we are aware of the ability to chose how to react to them, and what steps to take in response to them.

This is how it should be. This is independence. This is maturity.

Christian maturity however is (like most things in the Kingdom of Heaven) completely back to front.

From the moment we are “born again” we start a new life. A new journey. However, unlike our physical journey and life progression, this is all about losing our independence.

Bear with me here.

Jesus said “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3)

Remember the child who is dependent on the parent?

Each morning, from a very young age, my boys would ask “what are we doing today?” Even as teenagers and young adults, they still come to us (only now it is last thing at night!) and ask “what’s the plan for tomorrow?”

When they ask this, they aren’t asking about the big things. They don’t want a 6 month or 5 year plan. This isn’t a philosophical question. No, they are asking about the plans we have made for the day so they know how they will affect them.

My 10 year old knows he will have clothes to wear each day and he knows they will be cleaned when they get dirty. He knows there will be food in the kitchen and a hot meal prepared for his dinner. He knows the bills are being paid which means there are lights, heat, water and (because he is a modern 10 year old) internet connection!

He doesn’t fret about those things.

When he asks me in the morning what the plans are, he wants to know if anything different is happening. Anything exciting. Anything that will give a structure to the day, give him focus.  He has an expectation that I will take care of the big stuff, he just needs to know about the day to day stuff.  That day.  Today.

When you give your life to Jesus, and you are born again, the single hardest fundamental thing you are likely to spend the rest of your journey grappling with is losing your independence. Becoming child like.

Surrender.

Not my will but Your’s Lord. Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done. Not my way but Yours. Not my plans but Yours. Not my righteousness but Yours.

Slowly but surely you need to learn how to give up the need to know, to be in control, in charge.

Doesn’t that sound tough? Weak? Are you feeling threatened and argumentative in response to reading this idea or challenged? I know I felt genuinely stunned by the picture God gave me earlier this week in response to some serious (and right motivated) prayer time over issues to do with our future.

There is a lot of stuff going on in our lives and the lives of those around us in the church that is making things seem “out of control”. There is a lot I currently don’t understand! A lot of seemingly unanswered prayers. In some cases, we seem to have had the completely opposite answer to the one we were seeking!

It’s tough. I don’t like it.

It seems right and correct to “seek His Will” for our lives, but sometimes we misuse this “seek ye first” attitude and, if we are truthful, it becomes an excuse to justify our constant drive to KNOW, to understand, to control.

That was what hit me – like a spiritual truck – when once more I cried out to God “Why?! What is going on?!”

I have to tell you, I did not like the picture I received.

But it made sense. Total sense. I have to abandon myself to Him. Surrender all. How often do we sing those words in church on a Sunday or listening to worship in the car? “You can have it all Lord!”

Really?

I challenge you to become more childlike this week. Go to your heavenly Dad in the morning and thank Him for the new mercies of the day. Be thankful for the clothes set out for you. For the food provided. For the material comforts around you.

Acknowledge that He pays the bills. I don’t just mean the obvious big one, THE price He paid for us, but also I recognise that the financial provision in my life – job or benefits – ultimately come from Him.

Chose to live this week as if you truly believe He has charge of the big things. He has a Plan. He has a 6 month, 5 year, 50 year Plan for you and all of His creation. He knows the beginning from the end and He can work ALL things together for our good – if we let Him, if we leave the big stuff to Him.

Ask each morning “what’s the plan for today?” Who does He want you to talk to? Where does He want to take you? Is there anything exciting on the cards?! Be expectant of the good Father has for you.

Don’t sweat the big stuff. Focus on the small things. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.

This isn’t an unhealthy dependence. This is truly living.

Can I ask one more thing? Can you pray for me? You see, I’m trying to respond to what God has shown me, and I am purposing this week (surely I can manage one week?!) to be more childlike. However I am aware of my flesh rebelling against the very idea. I am a list maker. A planner. Organised. I like to be in control (oh BOY do I like to be in control). I like to be prepared.

At the moment I am none of those things and apparently that is how it is meant to be!

Even as I write those words though, Holy Spirit is whispering in my ear, reminding me that I CAN be prepared. That it is still ok to be organised. But, His ways are not mine. I can be prepared by reading His Word. By listening to Him. By trusting. I can be in control by subjecting my will to my spirit – which is partnered with His.

Guess you’ve been praying already? 🙂

How Much Spirit Do You Have?

Language often gets in the way of understanding.

We talk about being filled with Holy Spirit. We sing “Spirit break out”. We pray “fall afresh”. We “come in to His Presence”. We ask for more of His Presence. We seek it.

The language suggests something that we can have more or less of, something outside of us, something out of reach.

The truth is, from the moment we surrendered to Christ, His Spirit came to live within us, our newly created (born again) righteous spirit united with His. That is the same – that is EQUAL – in all of us.

We are body, soul (mind, will and emotions) and spirit.

We all have a body. They may look different, they may work differently, but we all have one.

We all have a body (we are equal in that fact) but someone may become an athlete, or work out at the gym, and become stronger and fitter. They start with more or less the same muscular, vascular, skeletal system as me but theirs sure ends up looking different to mine – because of what they learn to do with it. They grow new muscle. Blood vessels can enlarge or even grow. Bone density can increase. The body can be remodelled.

We all have a mind. Generally speaking, they are the same. Some may seem to function better than others, and weigh slightly differently on the mortician’s scales, but we each have one.

We all have a mind but someone can train theirs. Grow it. Make new synaptic connections. Study. Increase their knowledge. They seem “brainier” than me. Cleverer. We talk about someone having a sharp mind.

We all have a spirit. When we are born again, this spirit is made new. A new one is given to us, we are spiritually a new creation, and Holy Spirit can unite with this righteous spirit we now have.

We all have a spirit. As born again Christians we have a righteous spirit. Equal to each other. So how come some people seem more spiritual? Like the gym going person, or the clever person, some people learn to make more of it, do more with it, Whilst that doesn’t change the fact that we still only have one, the same as each other, that effort they apply means they have become more spiritual, more in tune, more aware – mature in their faith.

It isn’t my spirit that enlarges in me but the old nature that recedes. I can learn to subject my body and soul to my spirit. I can make more room. Like a goldfish in a tank, my spirit will “grow” (develop) to match the size of the restrictions I place on it. A fish with better quality water and a larger tank, will grow bigger than one in poor water and a small fish bowl.

We need to focus on the quality of the “water” and size of the “bowl” in order to allow our spirit to grow. Immersing ourselves in the things of God – Scripture, prayer, worship – provide a better quality environment for our spirit. Enlarging the space means making actual time for God, withdrawing like Jesus did, giving opportunity for Him to speak, to teach, to fellowship with us. When we do these things, we feel stronger, more spiritual, maturer in Christ, because our spirit has grown in strength and is exerting more authority over the weaker body and soul.

We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, through His Spirit He gave us for that purpose. Nothing is impossible. We have everything we need.

When it doesn’t feel like it, when those Scriptural truths look like a lie in the light of our day to day life and experience, it is the same as when I watch the Olympics and think “I couldn’t do that!”.  Actually, I “could”.  I have all that I need to get started – a body! The drive, the determination, the dedication, the practice, the progression, the strengthening… that is what needs to be added to make an Olympian.

I have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). I have the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2: 12). The same power that conquered the grave lives in me (Romans 8:11).

What I do with it is up to me.

 

Know Thy Enemy

“Satan can’t read your mind so when you take a stand against him, it is important to declare it out loud”

I’ve heard that taught many times over the years and understood the truth behind it, and seen that truth in action in spiritual warfare, and in seeing people set free from bondage and lies. There have been times however when it has been something that has troubled me.

If the enemy can’t hear my thoughts, why does it seem that he can? I know I’m not alone in experiencing time and time again when the lies that he whispers seem to match what I’m thinking.

When I’m feeling unlovable, he whispers to me that no one cares, that I’m all alone. When I’m battling temptation he tells me I’m a sinner and God isn’t going to forgive me.  Whatever the battle in my mind, he is there whispering a lie designed to hurt, confuse, rob and steal.

If he can’t hear that battle in my mind, how does he know what to say?!

I had a bit of a revelation today. Like all revelations it is immediately so obvious that you wonder why it has come as such a big deal when it was surely plain to see all along!

Have you ever heard of mentalism? Mentalism is not magic, but a clever use of science that revolves around understanding human behaviour and predicting different outcomes to mimic the act of reading somebodies mind.  Mentalists use social engineering, reading body language – 55% of all communication is non verbal – (called cold reading), hot reading (having some prior knowledge of the subject), the Forer effect (taking vague and general statements and using them in a way to make the reader feel they are specific – think horoscopes) and various other aspects of human psychology.

We understand that a person can learn to “read” another person and appear to know what they are thinking and we understand that this isn’t magic but science (well at least I hope you do dear reader!).  So it seems pretty darn obvious that satan and the other fallen angels can do this.

They were there when we were created. They have had thousands of years to study us.  Thousands of years of experiments to work out what motivates us.

The first such experiment was the Fall.  If you think about it, satan – as an angelic being created for worship – was most jealous of the fact that God gave man free will – something the angels didn’t have.  Knowing how it made him feel, he could surmise that man would also see not having control was unfair.  He suggested to Adam that surely God didn’t mean for him to not be in control, surely He didn’t mean to restrict his choice, surely it would be ok for him to make his own decision about what to eat and what knowledge to have…

The enemy does not know the specific plan, purpose and promise God has given you until it is declared out loud over you, but he certainly knows The Plan and The Purpose. The enemy knows Scripture (probably better than many of us) and he knows God’s promises to us and over us.  He knows that God uses the weak, the poor, the despised and the downtrodden to confound the wise and bring His truth to the world.  This shows him who to target, shows him who is likely to be the most useful, key people in God’s plans.  He knows that the love of money is the root of all evil so he concerns himself with keeping riches where he predicts it will do the most harm.

The enemy can read our body language. He can hear our words.  He can “sense” our emotions by the vast experience he has gathered on what makes us tick and how we react. Using that knowledge, at any one point, he can appear to know what we are thinking and strike with just the right lie, the right weapon, designed to find our most vulnerable parts.

That is one of the reasons the Psalmist learned the importance of telling his soul (body, mind, emotions) to rejoice and to be subject to his spirit.  We can take authority over those things and so rob the enemy of his source material.

It is also vital to appreciate that, because he isn’t omnipotent, the enemy cannot tell you the future.  Certainly, like the writers of the horoscopes, he will find the right vague statement, a fitting outcome, to suggest to you as your future.  But he does not know.

Satan only knows your past.

Jesus knows your past and still chose the cross, thereby assuring your future.

Don’t ascribe the enemy a power he doesn’t have.

Those thoughts you have?  That mental struggle?  The battle in your mind?  It isn’t the enemy IN your mind, but it is definitely his work.  When we take his lies (whether through direct attack or via the words or actions of people around us) and we internalise them, they do damage.

A bullet can’t hurt you until it penetrates – and the deadliest bullets are those that are designed to ricochet or disintegrate inside the body thereby doing so much more damage than just making a hole in us.

The lies of the enemy are bullets.  They can hurt us but the real harm lies in when they get in and rattle around.

Focus on renewing your mind, learning the promises, declaring them out loud at every opportunity and taking a stand on the Scriptures.  Find ways to spend time in His presence, and feed your spirit by spending time in worship, by speaking in tongues, allowing your spirit to communicate with Holy Spirit, and draw from that the strength to take authority over your mind and your emotions.  Remember, they are yours to control not the enemy’s.

What is the Truth?

I live in a beautiful seaside town. The guide books describe its vibrancy, the quirky shops, the golden sands, the amazing vistas, and its incredible sunsets.

If you got off the train today however, guidebook in hand, expecting to see all those things, you’d find the “reality” very different.

Thick fog obscures everything. Despite the weather app showing full sunshine and 16c for the day, it is currently only 6c and it feels colder as the damp fog envelops you. It is early so everywhere is shut. What the book describes and what you are seeing are very different.

Which version is true? What is the truth? Is this a beautiful picturesque town or a grey uninviting one? Is the beach amazing? Are the sunsets beautiful?

According to what I am seeing, my experience, the book is lying.

I know many Christians who struggle with what the Scriptures say about life. They hear a preach on the promises of God or on His blessings. Maybe they become a Christian after attending a particular service and they start out with this great hope. Their friend who brought them, and the person who preached, described this fantastic life, full of prosperity and peace, free from sickness and worry.

The guide book to that life, that Kingdom, the Bible, is quite clear. You meet people who confirm that yes the Kingdom of Heaven is just like that. God’s promises are true.

But you are unwell. Your job is tough. Your husband is having an affair. Your friends never call. Life is hard. Financial worries, depression, loneliness… even at church you don’t feel connected. You feel as you listen on a Sunday and hear people saying “amen!” and agreeing with the preacher that you must be doing something wrong… your life doesn’t feel like they describe. Your relationship with God doesn’t match theirs. He doesn’t answer YOUR prayers. Your life isn’t life abundant.

You didn’t get the job you prayed for. Your relationship didn’t mend. The cancer didn’t go and your friend died despite your prayers.

Which is true? The Book or what you can see with your eyes?

You can’t pretend all isn’t grey. There’s no point lying and saying you can see a good future or even just a way out of this place. But just like this morning, despite the true and real evidence of my eyes that say otherwise, the truth is this IS a beautiful town and the skies ARE amazing.

I just can’t see that for myself today.

Will that visitor go home and say the guidebooks lied and there wasn’t a great beach and beautiful skies? Will they deny the truth? Or will they just accept that on that day, today, they didn’t get to see it for themselves?

It is all too easy to drag the Truth of Scripture down to the reality of our lives. When my Dad was dying and I prayed for his healing but he died anyway, I could have denied the truth that God heals. I could have blamed God. The evidence I saw was that God doesn’t answer prayers and doesn’t heal.

When we had no money, facing losing our house, as my husband couldn’t find work, and we were surviving on food parcels from my Mum, I could have doubted God’s promises to supply all my needs, to prosper me.

Those things seemed true. But they weren’t The Truth.

The sun is still shining just as hot in the sky now as it does every day. Yet the fog means I can’t see it and I can’t feel it’s benefits. I don’t blame the sun and say it isn’t shining but instead I recognise that the fog is obscuring it.

Today, identify the fog in your life. Recognise the reality of the things that are preventing you from seeing the Son, from seeing His promises. Determine in your heart that you will believe what the Book says, what the Bible says, about the life you have and all your heavenly Father has for you.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Use the Bible as your reference point and purpose to live according to what The Word says, declaring it as the truth over your life and in your life.

The enemy wants you to be grey, cold and miserable. Once you are saved all he can do is bring fog in your life. He means for you to miss the beauty around, to bump into obstacles, to trip up, to feel alone.

But rejoice for in Christ, by the power and wisdom of Holy Spirit, we can overcome those obstacles and learn to see through the fog. As you spend more time in His presence, as you seek His face, your vision will improve. You will be able to “see” the truth despite the fog.

Learning to walk with that spiritual vision is like having night vision goggles!

When we trust Him and not our own senses and understanding we get the opportunity to see His promises and experience His goodness regardless of whether or not there is fog around.

That’s the secret to being content in every situation (Philippians 4:11).

The fog will clear. I promise you.

Making Sense of What You See

When I parked up this morning the visibility was good. I could see the wind farm clearly on the horizon and I counted seven ships.

There was one thing I could see that I couldn’t make sense of though. Right on the horizon was an odd shape. It looked like a dark plume of smoke. I watched it for a few moments and realised that it wasn’t moving so knew it wasn’t actually smoke.

I then rationalised that it must be a ship. The problem was that my brain couldn’t, on the basis of the information provided by my eyes (even with my glasses on!), make that shape match a ship.

It didn’t matter how long I looked at it, I couldn’t picture what must actually be there and make it fit what I could see. It didn’t make sense.

Then the sun came out.

Suddenly the object became clear. Of course it was a ship. The outline was now very clear, as the angle it was at meant the white container ship was dazzlingly highlighted by the sun. The “dark plume” was revealed to be simply the other angles of the ship that were in shadow.

It made sense. It was obvious.

When the sun came out it changed nothing about the truth of what was there, but it completely altered what I could see.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5

Everything makes sense in the light of the Son.

“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not remain in darkness” John 12:46

When you read Scriptures, they change nothing about the truth of what is around you, your day, your job, your relationships, your hopes, your mental health…. yet they can completely alter what you can “see”.

“For the Word of God is alive, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart” Hebrews 4:12

Whatever it is that you are struggling with right now, that thing that doesn’t make sense, that you can’t get your head around, the thing you are wrestling with, shine the Light on it. Find appropriate Scriptures to read. Ask Holy Spirit to remove the clouds and let the Truth of the Word shine on to the situation.

Nothing will change – other than what you can “see”.

Replace the truth of what you see with The Truth of who He is, what His Promises are.

Everything will look a lot better!

Be on your guard though. When the sun went behind another cloud, despite the fact that I now KNEW what was there, the shape I could see went back to being incomprehensible. Not immediately. My brain retained the shape of the ship at first, but after I looked away and then back again, I realised my brain was trying to match shapes again, seeing smoke or leaping whales, instead of what it “knew” was there.

The same happens with us.

A good meeting at church, prayer time with a friend, reading this blog… the cloud clears and God illuminates your situation with His truths. Then your focus shifts again. You go home. The friend leaves. You surf on to another site.

The clouds come back.

The Truth you saw so clearly before now is murky again.

The enemy will always, always seek to fog your vision. It is easy pickings for him.

“…because your adversary the devil walks around as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” 1 Peter 5:8

“Therefore take up the whole armour of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13

The answer? Being transformed by the renewing of your mind.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” Romans 12:2

Read the Word daily. Sit with God daily. However short or long the opportunity.

Keep in touch all day – talk to Him in your head throughout the day.

Keep blowing those clouds away by declaring The Truth, His Promises, every time the clouds start to thicken. Write them out and put them on the walls, on your screen saver, on the wallpaper picture on your phone.

Renewing is an ongoing process.

Who is Waiting for Whom?

I had a clear picture/vision this morning during worship at church.  To my shame, I did not share it at the time.  Sadly, sometimes, the voice of self doubt shouts louder than Holy Spirit and by the time I’d quietened it, the opportunity to share the picture had passed.

I’m hoping sharing it here will still have value.

The picture formed from the juxtaposition of two songs that we sang.  Firstly, “Boldly I Approach (The Art Of Celebration)” by Rend Collective, followed by “Waiting Here For You” by Christy Nockels.

The first song conjured up a vision of the Throne Room – actually a personal vision of mine that I’ve had since the age of 4.  The second song came and suddenly the picture changed as my perspective shifted, and I came out of the Throne Room and in to a waiting room outside.

The waiting room was full.

Many were waiting there for an invitation to go in to the Throne Room.  Despite the fact that they HAD such an invitation in their hands, “good manners” stopped them from just walking in.

Imagine the Queen of England had sent you a Royal Invitation to the Palace.  It gave you a date and time and said that, when you arrived, you were to go straight in to the Throne Room.

You wouldn’t, would you?  You would turn up, in the waiting room, and, well, wait.  You knew in theory it said “go straight in” but no one does that!  Not in to the Queen’s presence! Surely there is an etiquette? A butler?  If you wait around, someone is bound to come past and you can let them know you are there. Ask if it is ok to knock and go in.

Why is it that we are like that with God?

We have in our hands The Invitation. The Gospel. It says we can “boldly approach the Throne”.  It says we are Sons and Daughters.  We have a right to go straight in.

Yet we sing “waiting here for you” whilst God listens from inside His Throne Room, waiting THERE for YOU.  Arms wide. Lap empty.

Others are waiting out here. For them, for a variety of reasons, they wait in the waiting room because that’s what you do when you get summoned but for them, there isn’t an exciting encounter waiting on the other side but judgement.

They sat in waiting rooms outside headmaster’s offices.  Outside the boss’s office.  Outside the divorce lawyer’s office.  Outside the bank manager’s office.  Outside the doctor’s office.

For them, sadly, the experiences they have had means they really truly don’t believe an invitation leads to something good. Whatever awaits them, it doesn’t really fill them with hope but rather fear.

Whilst we wait, the outside door is flung open and some children pile through.  With the noise, bustle, fun and energy of youth they run across the waiting room and straight in to the Throne Room, without even a moments pause.

Go back to the analogy of the Queen.  Do you think, when her children were little, that every time they came in to the room she was in, they stopped and thought “that’s the Queen of England”?  Or do you think they thought “Mummy!”.

When her grandchildren visit, do they wait or do they catch and glimpse and run up shouting “Nanny!” and put their arms out for a cuddle?

They of course get taught as they get older how to behave “in public”, they get taught who Mummy/Nanny is and how important.  But I’m pretty certain the FIRST thing they see when they see her is Mum/Nan NOT Queen.

Holy Spirit is nudging us today, those of us loitering nervously in the waiting room.  He is whispering: “Look up.  Look at the doorway”.

If you do, if you look up at the doorway between the waiting room and the Throne Room you will see it is open.

“Here I am! I stand at the door!” Jesus is calling.  He is the Way to the Father.  He has MADE the Way to the Father.  The written invitation in your hands, the Gospel, is the Living Word who stands at that open door.  There is no barrier between the waiting room and the Throne Room.  This is an “open plan” Kingdom.

God is in Heaven, and Jesus is at His right Hand.  We have to, as it were “go to Him” now, in spirit because He first came to us.  As a man. Immanuel. God with us. Because He came to us we can now go to Him, as spirit, hand in hand with Holy Spirit, in to His Presence. In to the Presence of Father.

Please, please don’t sit in the waiting room.  Don’t picture a door or a barrier between you and Daddy.  Instead become like a child again and run with abandonment to Him, to Daddy, because as His Child you have that right and He is waiting for you.

You Had Just One Rule..

This morning I was mulling over some more the whole “why did God create us knowing what was going to happen” question, and it brought me to the area of the law and grace.

At the beginning, God gave man just one “rule”. He knew it was enough to keep us safe. He knew the best for us.

“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17 MEV

Man ignored him, giving in to the temptation to follow his own plan, to make his own rules, to be in charge.

Now, man knew the difference between good and evil. Between God’s way and the enemy’s way (i.e. not God’s way). Between the way where it was all provided for us and we had very good thing, and the way of toil, pain, hardship and effort. Going the opposite way to God, the Creator of all, takes energy.

Things went on like that for a while but it was clear that man didn’t have a clue. Just knowing good from evil wasn’t turning out pretty.

God stepped in and, out of mercy, gave mankind a basic blueprint. A way of better understanding what right and wrong looked like. A guide. The Ten Commandments.

It still wasn’t enough. This led to a more detailed framework, the law of Moses, which set out the old covenant relationship between God and man. It covered ceremonial, sacrificial, civil, moral/spiritual matters. A huge list. It showed just how hard it was for man – though his own efforts – to keep to God’s way. It showed just how perfect, how righteous, God is.

Of course the teachers of the law realised this and over time built a “hedge around the law”: a further series of rules designed to keep man out of the grey areas so that they were less likely to stray far enough to break any of the Mosaic Law.

It is a little bit like having a 20mph speed limit in a built up area. If you are driving quite slowly you are more likely to have the time to react to a child running out in front of you, and therefore less likely to hit them. At that speed, even if you did, the chance of death or serious injury is reduced. That restrictive speed limit is a law that helps prevent you from breaking one of the “big” ones – not taking someone else’s life.

Imagine the first time a parent leaves a child alone to play, maybe just in another room or when the child is old enough, because they’ve trusted them enough to stay home unsupervised whilst the parent pops out. “Be good” is perhaps deemed to be enough of an instruction to keep them safe.

When you get back and see they have broken something, done something they know they aren’t allowed to do or hurt themselves, you realise that “be good” isn’t enough.

Next time you might be more detailed! This time there is a list of things, things you’ve realised they are more than likely to end up doing without you there to stop them.

More than likely you get back to find they did something that you hadn’t put on the list, but still wasn’t something you wanted them to do!

The list gets bigger..

In a tiny, imperfect-analogy way, that is a reflection of the journey mankind had with God regarding the rules that were designed to keep us safe once we had stepped out from under His protection.

So what was the answer? A bigger list? More rules? Bigger punishments? Harsher consequences?

We’ve all seen that parent in the supermarket… “Don’t do that!”, “Come back here!”, “If you don’t come back here this minute you will be in trouble!”, “Come here or I will smack you”, ,Come here [usually with expletives by now] or I will [insert ludicrous unlikely response e.g. ‘I will kill you’!]”.

It doesn’t work. It isn’t the answer. It wasn’t the answer.

God’s answer: Jesus.

We simply cannot keep ourselves righteous outside of the original relationship with our Creator, but we cannot have that relationship because we have sinned, gone our own way.

God’s answer was to sacrifice His Son to make payment for those sins in order that we can step back into relationship with Him. DESPITE THE FACT THAT WE KEEP SINNING!!!

Jesus, omnipotent God incarnate, Alpha and Omega, paid the price for every sin. For every one. For ever. Past, present, future.

So despite the fact that I can still chose to go my way not God’s way, despite the fact that I can still give in to temptation, I am now, having confessed Christ as my Saviour, believing that He died for my sins and rose from the dead, has defeated death and is sat at the right hand of the Father, back in that original Garden of Eden relationship.

I’m not worthy. I’m not righteous. On my own, I can never be. But once I accept Christ’s redemption, in Him, I am all those things.

The biggest oxymoron of them all: grace.