Previous blogs and miscellaneous articles

This page will have all previous blogs on it. It will also have longer pieces that are too long for a blog, and miscellaneous items such as prayers and poems and reviews of books and other blog sites.

Initially, they will appear in a random order, but when they begin to accumulate – probably around the beginning of 2020 – we will begin to categorise them and also include our book titles within the category as well.

Worship – Impression or Expression?

Have you ever caught the scent of roses carried by a light breeze on a warm summer’s day? Or maybe come downstairs to the evocative smell of bacon frying in the pan?

Have you ever tingled at the first few bars of your favourite piece of music – whether classical, rock or simply Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’?

Have you had your breath taken away by a stunning painting or a sunrise on a clear cold morning? Maybe the touch of pure silk or the taste of an exotic food quickens your pulse and pleasures your senses.

We can be grateful to God for the enjoyment of these experiences that bring pleasure to our minds and bodies. He has given them to us to enjoy as part of our humanity, and they are enjoyed by Christians and unbelievers alike. Though created directly by God, or else indirectly through the gifts that God has given us, they are not actually God Himself, nor are they spiritual. They are not designed to stimulate us spiritually, but to relate primarily to the physical and soulish aspects of our being. When appreciated and enjoyed correctly, they are positive, and enhance our lives as created beings on God’s earth.

All of these things come from the outside, impressing themselves upon us. They may stimulate our mind, especially our memories, and they may give cause for thanksgiving, which we then mediate back to God through our whole beings, body soul and spirit. But the things themselves never become spiritual. Things are not spiritual but material. It is living beings who are spiritual.

The ongoing temptation for the Israelites, was to copy the nations around them and attribute divinity, God’s spirituality, to things made of wood, gold, silver and precious stones. Many of these things would have been quite beautiful, however it was not their beauty that was the problem, but the fact that they were given a spiritual value when they were merely the product of human hands.

The temptation to idolatry, which faced the Israelites may have changed its form a little, but it has not gone away. Any time that we attribute spirituality to something that is merely material or soulish, we take the first step towards idolatry.

God is Spirit and He is looking for people who will worship Him in Spirit and truth. (The Greek word for truth can equally well be translated as ‘reality’.) Jesus made it quite clear that when we drink from Him, the Spirit will flow out from us. True worship of the Father, real worship of the Father, always originates in the hearts of those who have been drinking from Jesus. It flows forth from within, unaided by any stimulus from without. When we rely on a ‘thing’ to enable us to worship, whether that thing be a candle, incense, great architecture or the latest Bethel or Hillsong music, we may find ourselves indulging in idolatry.

Does this mean that candles, incense, architecture and music are wrong? Not at all. Very few things are wrong in themselves. A knife can be used by a surgeon to heal or by a murderer to kill, and it is the motive and action of the person using it that makes it good or bad.

Rightly used, candles, incense, architecture and music can be a great blessing – but they can also be idols. The test as to which of the two they are, is very simple. Can we worship in Spirit and reality without them? If we are denied any external aids, are we still able to express worship to our Father from the resources within us? If we are able to worship God without anyone setting ‘the atmosphere’ then we can be pretty sure that we are not toying with idolatry. However, if we need something to create a mood, rather than merely appreciating such a thing when it happens to occur, then we should to be careful we do not shift our reliance from God alone to a religious substitute.

If we are worshipping from the life within, then it may well be that we choose to express that worship through something, and that something may include music, candles, dance, flags, incense or many other things. As we have said, these things are not wrong in themselves. The crucial issue is: are we using them to try and create worship – that is something from the outside stimulating us – or are we using them to express worship – that is as a vehicle for what is coming unaided from within us?

God created us to express His life, which is Spirit, through our spirits, souls and bodies. He wants us to be whole people, offering our whole lives to Him. But the right order is always spirit, soul, body. When something originates in our soul life or our physical life and we try and approach God on that basis, we are likely to try and use soulish or physical means to do it and that will almost inevitably take us into idolatry.

Many charismatics in the ‘contemporary’ churches have looked disparagingly upon the ‘smells and bells’ of the high churches. What they often do not realise is that the use of music to create a mood for worship is essentially the same as the use of candles, incense and bells to do the same. They both try and create something spiritual from something soulish and physical, and it simply cannot be done.

What happens may well be enjoyable. It may well create an experience. It may involve sensations and be interwoven with a deep desire for God, but it rarely goes beyond that to become part of the ongoing fibre of our lives. It is on the same level as the smell of a rose or frying bacon, pleasurable, but purely temporal. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I have been in meetings where the music has been amazing, people have had physical manifestations of all sorts of things and some have even seen gold dust in the air, but the next day, the next week, the next year, virtually everyone’s lives at work, home or school are the same as they were beforehand.

Because real worship is rooted in sacrifice, it will involve real cost and never be trite or frivolous. The fruit of it will last and become foundational in us, so that there will be effective change in our lives. The change may perhaps be slow and gradual, but it will be real and ongoing.

One Pearl Is All It Takes

I think that if most of us opened a hundred, or even a thousand oysters, all it would take to convince us of the existence of pearls, would be to find just one. Those who are experts, would no doubt be able to find more than the rest of us. But just one, only one, real, sweetly glistening pearl, would be enough to persuade us, that all the stories of seabed treasure, are true.

I have not seen many real healings, or exorcisms, or dramatically transformed lives in the kingdom of God. But I have seen some. Amidst all the many disappointments, amidst all the hype, even amongst what sometimes appears to be blatant lies – or at the least, blatant mistakes – there have been those occasions when the evidence of reality has been as sure as holding a small precious pearl in my hand.

I am not certain why some of us feel the need to pretend, though I have done it enough times myself. Perhaps it is an attempt to prove that we have faith, though whether that is to persuade other people or to convince God is not clear. But just one pearl, is all it takes to be certain that there is a fortune awaiting discovery somewhere amongst the oyster beds of the world

I am persuaded that the treasures of the kingdom of God are there for those who go on seeking. The biggest discouragements will come from the false alarms, those times when the kingdom is proclaimed as power, but then uncovered as no more than a lot of noise and empty words. It will be particularly discouraging, if we have been persuaded to commit our time and money on someone else’s recommendation, only to find that they have used both to further their own ends.

The recovery of faith and hope comes when God enables us to forgive both ourselves and others for accepting the counterfeits and the dummies. But the counterfeits and dummies do not, cannot, negate the reality that God Himself will give if we turn to Him again in simple helplessness.

All that is necessary is just one real thing. Just one true aspect of the kingdom in the midst of a hundred false ones. It is important that we are not afraid of acknowledging falsehoods; most of us have been entangled with them somewhere along the line. However, it is essential that we also acknowledge reality. It may be weak, faint and even dimly perceived, just a little pearl, but if it is real, then may God give us the grace to continue searching, until we discover the increasing grace and fullness that He has for us.

We the Disillusioned

I am a Christian who has been disillusioned and I am very grateful to God for it.

Disillusionment is a bit like having a bad tooth out. Not an experience we might hope for, often very painful for a time, but a great relief once it has all healed up again.

And I am relieved and grateful, rather than uptight and bitter. My relationship with God is better than it has ever been.

The important thing to remember about disillusionment is that though unpleasant, it is a good thing. An illusion is false; it is when something is not as it seems to be. The meaning comes from the word illude: to play a trick, to deceive, the deliberate act of making someone believe something that is not true. Now I don’t know about you, but having believed stuff that was not true, I am really glad that I found out about it in time.

I remember reading a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon some years ago. Calvin had seen an advert on a cereal packet for a hat that had a propeller attached to it. He was convinced that it would enable him to fly and, having sent off for it, he spent the next week or so in almost delirious anticipation that he would conquer gravity and soar around his neighbourhood. It turned out be a useless bit of cheap plastic that broke on the first day. He was heartbroken. Who was at fault? There was certainly some blame on the part of the cereal company, but alas, Calvin had let himself be taken in by all the hype.

Jesus thoroughly prepared His followers to cope with false advertising. He told them that He, and He alone, was the truth, and that the devil was a liar and a deceiver. When Paul wrote to the churches, he often warned them about the possibility of there actually being folk in churches who would lead others astray.

Have you ever been in a situation in a church where you have felt uneasy about something but didn’t say anything because you thought that others knew better, and quite frankly, it would have been embarrassing to make a fuss? I can trace some of my own difficulties back to such times. Instead of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit in my own heart and checking it out in the bible, I gave way to fear of embarrassment and the stronger voice of others.

Over the coming months, though covering a wide range of things, I will come back to this theme of disillusionment a few times, because I have found many Christians struggling to find a way through it. The way out will always be through Jesus. There is no club to pay to join, no super church, no new movement, no secret society of the hidden way. However, it will involve coming back to the real Jesus, the one revealed in the bible, the Jesus who said ‘take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light’. This can be a helpful way of telling if things are not as they should be. If you are burdened, and weighed down with things too heavy to cope with, you have probably allowed yourself to be yoked to something or someone other than Jesus.

Nothing from the past has power over us if we take it to the cross of Jesus. We can abandon every illusion, even if precious because we invested much of our lives into it. Through the Holy Spirit, God will enable us to repent and change direction away from any wrong path we may have been walking on. Whatever the past and present, tomorrow is always God’s gift to us.

There is a path of freedom in Jesus, which many of us may never have believed possible. May God grant us the grace to receive and walk in it.

Full Surrender

In my first blog, I intimated that I would not be prepared to surrender. I would nail my colours to the mast and choose to go down with the ship. Perhaps I need to make clear that I have come to that decision because I have already surrendered, but to the one whose colours I am now flying.

I have been a Christian for over fifty years and I guess many of the folk who know me would have said I was a pretty serious one for a large part of that time. However, a few years ago I yielded to the conviction that, in spite of many years of full time ministry in various sorts of situations, I still held back from Jesus in a number of areas of my life. I came to a place where I decided that I really needed God to sort me out. At a conference I attended, I went forward for prayer, and a couple of folk prayed simply and quietly that I would let God deal with every area of my life. A week or so later I had a life-threatening heart attack and, as you can imagine, I really found that helped me to focus my mind and sort out my priorities. Suffice it to say, I fully surrendered to Jesus on every front.

Interestingly enough, it was the ‘good’ areas of my life that God began to deal with first. Some of the organisations and committees I had been involved with moved down my list of priorities, some falling off altogether. Then God focussed in on some of the ‘bad’ areas, including a hidden lifelong addiction to pornography that I had constantly been wrestling with. Lastly, He moved on to the everyday sort of things such as making sure the loo was clean after I had used it and unrolling the sleeves of my shirts before I put them into the washing basket. Most of the things He has done have been unspectacular on the outside, but very radical indeed on the inside.

Perhaps the most noticeable thing – in terms of tangible results – is that I have finally got down to actually writing stuff after years of talking about it and half-heartedly producing bits and pieces here and there. So in one very real sense, this website and the blogs, books and articles on it, are the results of some radical changes in my recent life as a Christian. I hope you will find them helpful.

Nailing My Colours to the Mast

If I had any colours, I guess that this would be the time to nail them to the mast.

In the age of sail, during times of conflict it was considered legitimate for a ship to display a flag of a country other than its own, but only up until the point of engaging in battle. Then they had to declare their allegiance and hoist their own colours. If at any point they wished to surrender, all they had to do was lower their colours, and the enemy was obliged to order cease-fire. When their colours were fixed to the mast with nails, it indicated that their loyalty was unshakeable and the only options were then death or glory.

Perhaps such a stance is a little melodramatic for a blog, but nonetheless, in this my first one, it is perhaps not unreasonable to let you know where my allegiances lie.

I am, without question or apology, a follower of Jesus. I am not however, a follower of any particular group, denomination, stream, cult or expression of church (whether fresh or not quite so fresh). I would choose the option of death or glory for Jesus, but not for some movement or other. If at any point during future blogs, I veer toward a position that appears to show an adherence to a particular club, then I apologise in advance, and ask you to allow for the fact that it will be accidental rather than intended.

Having said that, I do not mean that I am necessarily against churches, denominations, streams or what have you. Indeed, some of my family and friends belong to such, and I am not averse to accompanying or supporting them as the occasion arises. But when there is any insistence that my loyalty to Jesus needs to be measured by my loyalty to any particular group, that is where I back off.

It is, at least in part, because of my reluctance to sign up for any specific group that I have taken to blogging. Since I drew back somewhat from clearly defined alliances and loyalties, I have not been quite so at home in the wider church scene, so I am exploring this new outlet online. Another reason I am doing this, is that the style of writing I have developed over some years leans toward the informal or conversational and, according to the Oxford Dictionary, that is one of the things that defines a blog.

The sort of people who are likely to enjoy (possibly even benefit from) my blogs, will be followers of Jesus who may be puzzled, bemused, disconcerted or disillusioned, by some of the things that are happening (or not happening) in the church today. Of course, I hope that the appeal may be wider than that, and I will aim to include items that verge on the serious theological side of things on the one hand, and others that lean toward the humorous on the other. Hopefully, both will be in an easy to read style which befits the blog definition above.

I will endeavour to be fair, accurate, well researched and above all, both sensible and spiritual. However, I rarely manage infallibility, and so cannot offer any guarantee that I will succeed.

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