Friday, September 25, 2009
I think I've mentioned it before, but I was at one time on a Gospel Outreach Team (GO Team) back in 1989-90. When the team finished and normal life returned I thought I would walk into a job and life would be pretty much a walk in the park with things falling into place one after another as I needed them. After all, I had just given up a year of my life to serve God, I was due some blessing.
It's not what happened at all though. I spent the first 6 months unemployed, living in a room of a house where I was hated by one of the owners. I eventually gave up my room when I was offered a sofa to sleep on at another house. For weeks I lived there eating potatoes and sleeping on that sofa. My life, instead of getting bigger and better was pruned back again and again. I eventually got a job working in a hotel but soon after had appendicitis and after an operation and recovery period I had to give up work.
All this went on whilst I had no family or friends around me. My days were spent on my own, no one to talk to,traveling to the Jobcenter , usually twice a day to look at the same jobs that I had no qualifications for. I was 22 and life was closing in on me on a daily basis. I'd get back to the sofa, sit down, wonder what on earth I was doing and slowly start to die inside.
I just couldn't understand what God was doing with me. Why was this happening to me. Rather than having life more abundantly I was having life more despairingly. If you've ever experienced the same as me you will also know how soul destroying it is to see those around you achieving everything you want to and at the same time try and encourage you with platitudes like 'everything will be OK', 'God bless you'.
After a while I did manage to finally get a part time Christmas job as a security guard in Toys R Us. Even this was touch and go, as just before I was due to start I had chicken pox and was laid up in bed. I did start on time though 11 days later. I knew that the job would only last for a short while and so was under a huge amount of pressure to get a full time job. My boss there kept promising me if I did well he would see what I could do, but after a while I realised this guy had no real authority in the company and to hope on him would be a big mistake. I was also now married, in the October just gone, and although this was one of the happiest days of my life it's difficult to explain, but being in the position I was there was a deep sadness in me that only God could fix.
A month or so into my security job I got a break with a full time job, again as security, for a clothing store. You might think I start to sound like a spoiled brat now, but 2 days into this job I realised I hated it. It seemed God was just destroying me a bit at a time. I'd gone from desperate, lonely unemployment to desperate married employment. The job was 6 days a week with Sunday off. My boss didn't like me taking Saturdays off as holiday so I couldn't really have any holiday. This meant I went for 14 months working 6 days a week with no break. The wages were poor, so poor that after payday and our bills there were pennies left. I lived on potatoes still, eating a jacket potato with butter every day I worked there. The job itself entailed me walking round the small store for hour after hour after hour. My mind was near snapping with boredom. Conversation was frowned upon, the job was to basically be a menacing threat to shoplifters. I found the only way I could survive mentally was to split the day into blocks of 15mins at a time. Any more than that and I just couldn't cope.
Where is all this leading?
Remember the title, chipping away the rubbish? That's what was happening to me. Everything was being chipped of me. My character, personality, ideas, hopes, dreams, all ere being ruthlessly put through the oven of affliction. I really had no idea if I would survive.
During those 14 months I applied for so many other jobs, sending letters to firms and stores etc. You name it I applied for it. What could be worse that having no replies to these letters? Having your hope destroyed.
Proverbs 13:12 says Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. And that was me. My heart was sick.
I had 2 interviews in those months, one at a jewelers that went very well. I was told I would hear soon favorably, but the next time I walked past the shop it had closed! I put a lot of hope in getting that job. You start to dream that a door is finally opening for your escape, you think what direction your career might take, only to see it shot down at the first move.
The second interview, months later, was with the Co-Op store. That also went well. The manager said to me he would do what he could to get me a position in the company. I waited with hope for my letter, but it never came. I eventually went back to the store to speak to the manager and was told he had left and no one knew anything about my interview. It was another crushing blow. I don't know how I kept going. To have failed yet again, having to go back to work with still no light at the end of the tunnel.
And then came Gethsemane where I died.
It happened after seeing a job advertised in the paper for a trainee in a printers. They wanted a school leaver. I knew I was to old, but I had stopped caring about that, sending applications off for any job that might give me hope, even when I knew I wouldn't get it. This was the same. I applied for the trainee job and actually got a phone call asking me to come in for an interview. Not for the trainee job but for another position, a much better one, that was going to become available. The Printers apparently had my CV already. It was one of the companies I'd blitzed.
I went for the interview and was very pleased. It went very well, seemed a great place to work with a workforce in similar age to me that actually looked pretty happy with their work life. Something which was very foreign to me. The interview ended with the HR Manager promising to ring me later with a result.
That day I let my hopes rise again. I couldn't stop them. I dared to hope what might happen. When I got home I waited for the phone call. And waited. And waited. I was looking at the clock thinking perhaps they work to 5.30, then perhaps he's staying to 7. Then it was a case of wondering if he'd forgotten my number etc at around 7.30.
I couldn't leave it and rang the printers. I was told the HR manager had gone home for the evening.
It's very difficult to describe how I felt. It was the culmination of years of being pressured and disappointed. My wife came and took my hand, and I knelt to the floor crying. The prayer I prayed was one of my heart breaking, knowing yet again I had to go back to that job failed again. I prayed 'Jesus, today I loved you, and tomorrow I will love you'. It was all I had.
It was all that mattered. Everything else in me had gone. The very core of me was all that was left and all I could say was no matter what happened I would love Jesus.
Whilst still on my knees the phone rang. I picked it up. It was the HR Manager, from his car, offering me the job. I said 'Yes please' still with tears in my eyes.
The letter of confirmation came a couple of days later, and I immediately handed in my notice.
When I left I was very surprised to find a huge pay packet containing weeks of extra holiday pay that they'd never let me take.
It's a beautiful story from my life, but a story I almost didn't make it through. It took years to see that happy ending, which was really only another stepping stone in my life to become more like Jesus.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The reason for this small list of questions, is that I wanted to have clear in my mind the important points that would not only help me, but others, get to grips with simple foundation stones of the faith. After all, it tells us in Philippians 2:12: work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. When I became a Christian, there was so much I didn’t understand, and it took many years to hear all these things, and many more to be able to write them down like this in a simple to understand way (which I hope this will be).
This list is definitely not exhaustive or contains everything about each point, but I hope it’s enough for you to see the truth and if needed go on and find out more.
1: Why do we believe the Bible?
This is the most important of all the basic truths, because all subsequent revelations and truths hinge on this one. If you don't believe the Bible is the written word of God how will you believe anything written in it?
II Timothy 3:16 says:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
Peter, one of Jesus disciples says in II Peter 1:20, talking about scripture (The Bible) and also the Prophetic words spoken of by those recorded in the Bible:
knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
And just to labour the point, Jesus Himself used scripture and believed in it:
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.
The only way you can believe this is through Faith, and that is a gift from God. So if you do believe, thank God for his goodness to you.
2: Why are we sinners?
OK, now we have our platform for the rest of these points, i.e. I’m saying that you either do believe the Bible as the true word of God, or you don’t.
So, what does the Bible/God have to say about us?
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
How did this happen? Well, in Genesis (the first book of 66 that make up the Bible), we see the story of Adam & Eve. God made them so he could have friendship with them, he put them in a garden , gave them work and gave them complete freedom except for one rule, not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil:
From Genesis 2:
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,
but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
Well, it wasn’t long before Adam & Eve had both eaten from the tree after being tricked by Satan, the Devil. And that is how Sin came about. Sin is basically doing anything that displeases God.
So, how does that affect you? Because you are offspring of Adam. Go back far enough in the family tree and it all comes down to one man. Adam. I know it’s not your fault that Adam sinned, but because of him, we pay. If you find this hard to stomach, I’ll have to take you back to point 1. Let’s face it, you just have to see children to know it’s true. Do you have to teach kids to be good or naughty? One of them seems to come automatically. It’s no good, your born that way. A sinner. And because your a sinner, you commit sins. So there are 2 things to sort out, the sins you've made and the actual fact of you being a sinner that makes them.
3: Who is Jesus?
This is a toughy, I still don't understand it, but just accept it. Jesus is the Son of God, but he is also God along with the Holy Spirit, who is also God, and God the Father. Confused? Together they are the Trinity, the Godhead 3 in 1.
Genesis 1 gives a small example of this as God says:
Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
So God is talking to Himself as a plural. We also see in Matthew 28:19 that in Baptism the Godhead is mentioned:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
So, Jesus is God. The Son of God. He has many other names which is something to study, but for now lets just look at 2:
John 1 says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
and a bit further on:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
There was a time when Jesus was not a man. He was God, all seeing, all knowing, all powerful. But when sin entered the World through Adam, as we’ve seen in point 2, God already had a plan to deal with it. It involved Jesus, and for the plan to work Jesus would have to give up his Spiritual being and become a human being. Phillipians 2 says:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The LORD said to me, You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Here we see prophetically Jesus telling us He has become God’s Son. He was the first. That is His place, to be first, first among all the children that the Father would adopt through His work.
I chose to emphasise these 2 names, because The Word will help us know the Bible is His Word, and The Son will help us know He is God, but also a human being.
4: How did Jesus pay for our sins?
This could get complicated, but i’ll try and keep it easy. Easy is best.
Because of Sin, God couldn't accept us. A price needed to be paid to make things better. Just as we see in the Old Testament that animals had to be sacrificed and their blood sprinkled to pay for the sins of the people. Only, they had to keep doing it, because the blood of animals couldn't permanently take away sins, and the root issue of people being sinners wasn't dealt with at all.
Hebrews 10 tells us:
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
But there was a sacrifice that could take away our sins, for ever. The blood of a perfect human, knowing no sin:
I John 1:7:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
So, sins dealt with! But what about us, the person, the one that makes sins? The bullets have been taken away, but what about the gun that fires them. How is that deactivated?
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
God handled it with a master stroke. To stop you being a sinner, He had you die. There’s not much of anything you can do when your dead, and being a sinner is one of them.
But He didn't leave things there.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
That’s right, just as you believe you died with Him, that is exactly how you believe you now live in Him.
I John 4:15
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
When you are born again you take your place living in Jesus, and He in you through the Holy Spirit.
I John 4:13:
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
5: Why do we get baptised?
Hopefully this is an easy one if you have grasped the previous point.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Baptism is a physical testimony of what we believe Jesus has done for us. It’s also part of the process of salvation.
Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Baptism means that as you are fully submersed in water, that is your identifying with Jesus death and burial, and as you come once again out of the water you are identifying with Jesus resurrection, and also, your resurrection in Him.
having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Grasping this truth is so important to life as a Christian. Your old self is dead. The old you is not fighting for life, it lost. DEAD. And now you are a completely new creation, alive by the power of the Holy Spirit.
II Corinthians 5:17:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
6: What about the Holy Spirit?
This question has stumped me for a long time. I’m not a great theologian (a professor of Bible stuff), I’m just a regular guy. I believe that all the foundation stones of our walk with Jesus should be easy to follow. You shouldn’t need a degree to understand these truths, so I will tell you my simple understanding of the Holy Spirit. it’s a twofold happening.
I Corinthians 3:16:
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?
That’s right, when you believed in Jesus, the Holy Spirit came and lived inside you. The Holy Spirit is inside you, guiding you and making you become more and more like Jesus Himself as He reveals Jesus to you.
‘Twas not for deeds that we had done,
But by his steadfast love alone,
He saved us through a second birth,
Renewed us by the Spirit's work,
And remember this point:
I John 4:13:
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you
while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
To see just what miracles and gifts of the Spirit can do, read from Acts onwards in the New Testament.
This second happening of the Spirit is the Baptism of the Spirit.
And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.
The baptism of the Spirit, given by the laying on of hands, though, not the only way;...
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money,
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.
...is for our empowering. To give us the power to do just as Jesus had done, and greater things.
From John 16:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
And John 14:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,
even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
The Bible shows us, that after baptism in the Holy Spirit, a dynamic Jesus life should be the norm.
7: Why do we still sin?
I mean, if our sins are paid for, our old man dead, what can go wrong? Nothing? And yet we have all known sin since being born again.
The truth of point 4 hasn’t changed. Our sins are paid for, our old lives dead, the Holy Spirit in residence. but He hasn’t come to put his feet up and watch TV, he’s come for war.
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
This is not a slight inner turmoil, it’s all out war, the result of which will either show your usefulness to God or your uselessness.
I John 2:16:
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.
We are still in our human fleshly bodies, and as such we are still subjected to fleshly temptations. These temptations and desires are warring against the desires of the Spirit. The way to deal with them is to put those desires on a daily basis in their proper place. That is, nailed to the cross of Christ.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
It’s very important to remember we have died with Christ, all those temptations, wrong feelings that surface, bad thoughts, need to be cold bloodedly reminded that they are dead. Don't allow them any life, but rather remind yourself that the job has been done, they are taken care of. In our own strength and ability we will fail to do this, but by letting go of our own strength and letting God take care of it we not only see those fleshly areas die but we allow God to do what He wants. It’s win-win.
I will labour this point just with one more example, imagine you come across a person who is very rude to you. You know that you should love such people but instead your anger flares at being abused like this and you want to retaliate. In the flesh you cannot triumph. The flesh will want it’s own way and to retaliate. But, remember, the flesh has been crucified with Christ. Stop. Allow those feelings to die as they should. You can’t handle this situation as it needs to be handled, but you are in Jesus, so let Him handle it. it’s a corny saying but one that sums this up perfectly: let go and let God.
8: How do we live as Christians?
The Christian life is the easiest thing in the world, and can be summed up in one phrase: Just do everything God tells you to.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
This verse in Galatians tells us that we have been made alive by the Holy Spirit, but we Don't stop there. We need to live also by the Spirit. Again, simplicity itself, just do everything the Spirit tells you to do. In practice this can be an interesting experience and a steep learning curve for us as we naturally want to do so much for Jesus. But He isn’t interested in what we can do for Him, He’s only interested in what he wants to do through us. No more. No less. Learning to hear and see what Jesus wants to do through the Spirit is the Christian life. Desires, no matter how spiritual they seem, have to take second place and even die to the utmost goal of us knowing Jesus. Jesus Himself lived that way.
Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
How did Jesus please God so much? By ONLY doing what God wanted. Consider the paralysed man outside the Temple that Peter & John walked by and said silver & gold I Don't have... Think, how many times had Jesus walked by that very man? And many other needy people? Why didn’t he heal him? It would have been a good thing to do, but no matter what we think of as our good ideas, without the prompting of the Spirit it is of the flesh. And that must die.
So, the Christian life is all about relationship, the doing part just comes naturally from that relationship as we hear and then do. We have a relationship with the Godhead, we approach the Father through the Son, we know the Son through the Spirit. We pray in Jesus name to the Father. We talk to Jesus, sharing our thoughts and concerns. We walk with the Spirit letting him be our guide in life and helper.
9: What happens when we die?
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
I haven’t quoted the whole story Jesus told in Matthew 25, please look it up yourself, but the end verse is the clincher. There is a Heaven and a Hell. Heaven is a place where God dwells and where we those who have been born again and received eternal life will join Him, hell is for those who have not accepted Jesus as Lord. Hell is written of as a terrible place of suffering.matthew 13:
So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous
and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Heaven is a place of rejoicing, peace and joy because God is there. And God is love.
From Revelation 21:
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
Going back to point 8 though I will end this series of question with what I think of as one of the scariest verses in the Bible.
From Matthew 7:
“Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?
And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.
Remember if you remember nothing else, it’s your relationship with Jesus that matters above all else. Not healing the sick, prophesying, casting out demons, doing miracles. They Don't count. What counts is, do you know Jesus?
Friday, September 18, 2009
This is a story from my teenage years and probably one of the most significant events from my past.
It was just after New Year and I was in a Church Youth Group meeting in Newport at the house of the church leader. There was a guest speaker, he was the leader of the church musicians and he started telling us about how he and his friend who played piano, had over the New Year, rededicated their lives to Jesus.
I must have been about 15, and I sat there thinking 'what a great idea, why didn't I think of that'.
So, it wasn't long after I decided to do the same thing.
I went to my downstairs bedroom (everyone else in the house slept upstairs), sat on the edge of my bed and said something along the lines of: 'Jesus, I just give my life to you afresh, use me how you want'. I then sat back and waited to feel God's big smile and a nice pat on the back for doing so well.
Thing was, nothing happened.
So I said it again and waited.
And then started to get the first itch of doubt and worry.
One of the scariest verses in the Bible has to be the this one from Matthew 7:
21 “Not everyone who keeps saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who keeps doing the will of my Father in heaven.
22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name, drove out demons in your name, and performed many miracles in your name, didn't we?’
23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you evildoers!’”
The message here is frighteningly clear, it's not what you do for God that has any bearing at all on entering Heaven, it rests on one matter alone, do you know Jesus?
Your prophesying, great, doesn't count.
Your healing the sick, great, doesn't count.
Your raising the dead, great, doesn't count.
Sober stuff. And as I sat on my bed I knew that if I didn't know Jesus I was in the worst position imaginable.
However, I was determined to put things right, scared as I was, I laid on the floor and cried to God that he would be merciful to me, that he would forgive me.
It's a terrible feeling to be alone in a room all by yourself when you hope God will speak to you, but as I said, I was determined to stay on the floor until God spoke to me.
And I don't know how long I was there for, but eventually I did hear God.
What he said was: 'Chris, you've been taking me for granted'.
It was true. How could it not be?
I put myself right with God, and from that day I have never, ever wanted to be in that position again.
The message here is this: Do you see people moving in leaps and bounds ahead of you? Who seem to get chosen for all the 'good jobs' in the Church or who seem to just be blessed and blessed where you don't get anything? Do you feel left out, unnoticed, passed by?
It doesn't matter one bit. ALL that matters, and I say it again, ALL! that matters is that you can say I know Jesus. I speak to Him and He speaks to me. We have a 'relationship'.
If you can't say that my friend, be worried.
And put it right.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Regrets...I have just one
Not a few, as the song goes, but just one.
Sure I've made lots of mistakes in my life, but if you learn from them and move on they are not regrets but stepping stones. Regrets are when you wish you could have done something differently.
Secondary school was not a good time for me. I was separated from all my friends from junior school and put in a class where I didn't know anyone. I don't know why they did this, but it was a desperate time for me.
I remember break times, looking around and not knowing anyone. Just standing there like a lemon wondering which click I should approach. I wasn't the most confident person in the world, far from it, I was pretty shy and introverted.
In the end I approached the 'swatty' guys and sat with them. I was the outsider in their conversations, and remember sitting there listening to them and not having a clue what they were talking about.
The weekends I would cycle down the road to see my best friend. We'd known each other since play group and were as thick as thieves. I don't really know what had happened to me, I was probably under great psychological stress, but at school one day as I was waiting for the bus he came up to chat to me and I pushed him away. Forcibly. I suppose I was falling to bits inside, but it's no excuse. I pushed away the one friend I had who was trying to reach me.
That's my one regret.
If I could go back and change just one thing, that would be it.
Recently I've got to know that friend again through Facebook, and we attended each other's 40th birthday parties.
This last weekend I invited him, his brother and families up for lunch.
We've been renewing our friendship, but this time I had the opportunity to talk privately to him face to face. Which I took, and asked him to forgive me.
Sorry doesn't cut it. Sorry is such a meaningless word. It's only the act of forgiveness that involves the other party, allowing them to have their say, and as the Americans say 'closure'.
It went well. It's a very humbling experience to admit your faults and sins and seek reconciliation, but I'm through fighting the promptings of The Holy Spirit.