Saturday, 1 October 2011

Quote for the day

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."

Bill Cosby

Friday, 30 September 2011

Keys to Moving Forward in your Faith

Progress in the Christian life is not a given. The Bible frequently uses the term "walking with God," which suggests that we should be moving forward in our faith and growing closer to God with every step, but for some that walk can meander off in another direction or even seem to grind to a complete halt. The problem for us is that God keeps on moving and therefore our standing still can leave us feeling like we're going backwards.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Modern Christianity - Have it your way!

Mark Townsend at his other job.
I picked up on the story of the Rev.(sic) Mark Townsend in the Sunday papers this week. For those of you who missed this little gem, Mr Townsend, who is also a part time magician,  has turned in his Anglican dog collar after falling out with church leaders and has now set up his own virtual church on Facebook.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Understanding the Bible Part 3 - Content

Although the Bible is one volume, it contains sixty six individual books written over a period of around fifteen centuries, and containing a number of different types of literature. Broadly speaking, it has historical accounts, it has poetic books, it has instructional letters and also great swathes of prophetic writings. Therefore we have to  understand what kind of literature we are reading at the outset, in order to able to appreciate, understand and correctly apply it.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Don't settle for less

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”
John 1:50 (New International Version)

A few years ago I sat speaking with a very godly old lady, who, despite going through many hardships and health problems still maintained a wonderful attitude to life and devotion to God. She had known God’s healing touch in various ways, yet she was still beset by sickness and pain. She had learned to tolerate her condition, and when further prayer was offered she politely declined because she felt that God had already done so much for her, she didn’t like to appear greedy or ungrateful. In my own spirit I groaned, knowing that God is not stingy with his power towards his children, neither does He begrudge us anything if we ask according to His will (1 John 5:15).

Monday, 9 May 2011

Understanding the Bible part 2 - Which Bible?

Did you ever hear the story of the lady who refused to be parted with her beloved King James Bible when she was offered a more modern version as a gift? Clinging tightly to her well worn volume she declared "if it was good enough for the Apostle Paul then it's good enough for me?" Of course I'm sure you realise that Paul did not use a King James version, but the tale of the woman and her Bible does demonstrate the absurdity of the argument against modern translations of the Bible.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

All Things Work Together

Outside the Fossway with Matt Staples
Apologies to my regular readers for the lack of activity on the blog for the last few weeks. Many of you will already know that Living Word Church in York has, for over a year, been trying to gain planning permission from York City Council to turn a disused pub in the city into a building to house our church activities, including new offices and seminar rooms. Much of my time and energy has been spent on trying to see this great project come to fruition, and especially in the last ten days or so, when we finally had our breakthrough.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Understanding the Bible part 1 - Application

The need to understand and apply it.

At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives clear instructions to his followers to "go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them AND teaching them to obey all I have commanded" (Matthew 28:19-20 - New International Version). This tells us that a disciple of Jesus is not merely someone who believes that He exists, but one who has committed to follow Him and obey His teaching. However to fully obey God's word we need to properly understand it so that we can correctly apply it to our lives. We are not just to be hearers of God's word, but doers also (James 1:22).

To come to maturity

The Bible teaches us how to live our life successfully, by which I mean that we come to a place of maturity as a believer. The Bible used terms such as full stature or fully grown, but maturity simply means that we have come to the place in our Christian lives where we not only know the right thing to do, but we actually do it. 
Ephesians 414 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. (New Living Translation)

 Mature Christians are those who have built their lives on the sound foundation of God's word. They have learned to feed themselves spiritually and stand firmly in their faith. Spiritual infants on the other hand are easily led away from the truth and can get into serious error. They need someone else to read the Bible for them, and tell them constantly what to do, like a mother with a toddler who has to mash their food up and coax them into eating what is good for them. However the mature believer has moved on from baby food and is able to take hold of the strong meat of God's word, (Hebrews 5:14) and make wise choices as a result.

To avoid heresy or error

Many of Paul’s letters to the churches tackled various heresies and controversies of the time such as Gnosticism, whether there was still the need to follow Jewish laws and customs or the debate over the return of Christ. There were men going around the various churches who would seek to distort the truth for their own ends., however Paul and the other Apostles wanted the churches to come to maturity and be able to discern the truth for themselves. Much of the New Testament writings by those early apostles were to keep the church in line with the truth of the gospel and not to be sidetracked. That is also why we have the creeds of the early church fathers, so that our fundamental beliefs as Christians could be clearly established.

It should be the aim of every Christian to have a sound understanding of the scriptures and to come to a place of maturity in their own life, so that they might be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2) For if we are to make disciples we first need to become disciples.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Should we agree to disagree?

Do you ever wonder why there are so many denominations and factions in the church? I couldn’t give you an exact figure, but I should imagine the number of separate Christian groupings around the world  must run into many hundreds, if not thousands. The reasons for these divisions are manifold, and not merely down to geography. I wouldn’t even attempt to list them, but probably the most common one is a difference in interpretation of the Bible and how it should be applied in our lives. Issues such as the use of spiritual gifts, the mission of the church, spiritual authority and the role of women in ministry, have caused disagreement and division for many years, and have led to people leaving their church, quite often to start one of their own.

Most Christians are resigned to these differences, and console themselves with such statements as “time will tell who is right and who is wrong,” and “we’ll leave the Lord to sort it out.” There are even some people that believe God is going to have separate territories in heaven for different denominational groups, where they can carry on with their disagreements throughout eternity.

A number of years ago I heard a man of God make this statement concerning issues over doctrine in the church. He said “If you don’t believe what I believe, then you must believe something else. Let us open up the word of God together and you can show me what you believe, and I can show you what I believe.”   

If people followed this wise advice, and combined it with a humility of heart that was at least prepared to entertain the remote possibility that they could (heaven forbid) be wrong, then I believe that in every town, city and congregation across the world we would begin to see a unified body of believers taking ground for the kingdom of God, rather than entrenched in their own denominational bunkers.God does not want His church in confusion or discord, for he is a God, not of disorder, but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:33)

Paul instructed Timothy, his young disciple, to “study” the word of God, and to learn to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). There is a correct and an incorrect way to approach God’s word, and for the next few posts I want to lay out some practical principles for interpreting the Bible. I believe if we learn how to understand and correctly apply the word of God to our lives then many of the issues that have divided the church could be seen for what they are and overcome.

I hope you will stay with me as we go through this study.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

In Whom do you trust?

One day Jesus was met by a rich young ruler who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life. Jesus spoke to him and reminded him of some of the commandments, to which the young man replied that he had always been careful to keep these commands of God. Then Jesus put His finger on the real issue in his life, by telling Him to give all he had away to the poor and follow Him.  It then goes to say that “When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.”(Luke 18: 23) 

I have heard this verse quoted many times to justify a wrong doctrine that Christians should possess nothing, but that misses the point of the story. The issue was not that the young man had wealth, but that the wealth had him. His trust was in his riches and his position and Jesus’ instruction would have meant a transfer of his faith onto God as his source and provider. The question Jesus was really asking him was; "will you put your trust in me?" We would undoubtedly describe the young man as materialistic.

The thing is, you don’t have to be rich to be materialistic, in fact some of the poorest people I have met have been the most materialistic of all. I have seen people who clearly have very little in terms of wealth queue up to buy a lottery ticket on a Friday afternoon, in the vain hope that a huge windfall would make them happy. I have seen people seemingly give up all common sense in order to participate in some get rich quick scheme to get hold of the possessions they so crave after. Even more sadly, I have seen ministers of the gospel compromise their integrity and fail to confront unrighteousness in their own church, out of fear of losing their job and security. The Bible tells us that it is faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:1), and faith means that we trust Him as our source no matter what the prevailing circumstances might be.

Jesus told us that it is the pagans that worry about and chase after wealth. He instructs us to seek after His government in our lives and His righteousness, which is by faith, and all the things that the world worries about and seeks after, God would supply to us anyway. (Matthew 6:25-33)

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Not Enough, Just Enough or More than Enough?

Most people have a problem with what they term as “the prosperity gospel,” because they see it as just a pretext for Christians to chase after money and feather their own nests, so to speak. There are some for whom that accusation is probably true, but the problem is that the proverbial baby is often thrown out with the bathwater as Christians shun wealth and embrace the gospel (?) of poverty instead.

However, choosing to live your life in lack, because you don't understand that God wants you to prosper is more selfish and destructive than you may think. Let me explain.

If you hear someone pray like this…”Don’t give me too much Lord, just enough for me and my family.” Who is that person primarily concerned about? It may sound pious and holy, but it is in fact completely self centred and misses the heart of the gospel. If you have just enough for you and your family how can you meet the needs of others? How can you give to the poor what you do not have yourself? What hope can you give to others when the only hope you have is of just surviving? How does the “just enough for me” mentality fit in with a message of abundance that Paul preached? (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Why does God want you to prosper financially? Why does He want you to have more than enough for your needs? Quite simply so that you can be a blessing and meet the needs of others. It is important for you to know this as it will help you to have faith that God will not only meet your needs, but will go above and beyond, so that you are blessed and can also bless others. It will help you to give to God cheerfully and willingly, knowing that He who gives seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply the seed you have sown and bring increase and abundance into your life. (2 Corinthians 9:7-11)

Good News for the Poor?

A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted a ten minute video clip of a well known Christian author attacking, what he called, “the prosperity gospel.” This particular author has , I believe, sold hundreds of thousands of books, and I could be wrong, but I doubt that he is struggling to keep a roof over his head. That aside, I cannot understand how someone who is apparently well versed in the scriptures could attack one of the fundamental elements of Jesus’ ministry, by claiming that financial or material prosperity is not God’s will for people’s lives. In fact I believe that one would have to twist, misinterpret or miss out completely large portions of scripture to try and justify the claim that God is not interested in the financial and material well being of His children.

It is important to completely debunk these wrong teachings which have been perpetuated over the years, resulting in many Christians being kept in poverty all their lives, wrongly believing that it was the will of God. The Bible clearly teaches that God wants to bring people out of poverty and into abundance, so that not only will their needs be met, but they will be able to meet the needs of others also.

So lets begin with the first major statement that Jesus makes about His ministry in Luke chapter 4 and verse 18.

“ The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;

Jesus came with GOOD NEWS, for that is the meaning of the word “gospel,” and the first people he mentioned were THE POOR. Let me save you some time at this point by letting you know that the Greek word translated into English as “poor,” means financially and materially poor. It is used 34 times in the New Testament and overwhelmingly refers to people who are living in material lack, such as beggars and widows. In other words those in dire financial straights.

If that is the case then what would be good news for these people? Well I have heard some utter nonsense preached on this verse over the years. Things such as “poor people are actually being blessed by God by their poverty,” in other words, they are in some kind of spiritually enviable position by being poor. “Wow brother so and so, you are so blessed that you can’t afford to pay your rent and you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. God must really love you” I am sure brother so and so would really thank you for those words of wisdom and comfort(sic).

On the contrary God wants to meet the needs of those in lack, to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked, even to pay the tax bill of the one who cannot afford it (Matthew 17:27)

The GOOD NEWS for the poor is this…God wants to release you from your poverty, plain and simple. Is God interested in your financial needs? Yes He is. Let us stop trying to over spiritualise this simple truth and miss the point. In the days ahead I plan to continue on this theme. As I do so, I hope that a new light will dawn in your life, especially if you have believed a lie concerning God’s ability and desire to provide for your physical needs. I believe in a gospel of prosperity because prosperity is at the heart of the gospel.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Unity in the Church

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

Ephesians 4:2-4 (New Living Translation)

Over the years since I have been involved in church leadership, I have been invited to numerous Christian events, which generally involve walking around the streets of my city with leaders and members of other local churches. The purpose of these events is usually to demonstrate to the watching world (if they are remotely interested) that the churches in our city are united. I have even heard the phrase “show a united front” used by some when describing these events, but in reality that is all they are – a front or a facade. A united front generally hides a divided rear. “Well it’s surely better than all the division and backbiting of the past?” I hear you cry. Absolutely, but it also falls far short of the unity of the Spirit that God is after, and that will hasten the day of Christ’s return.

What is the answer? Am I suggesting that we all sell our buildings and move into the biggest auditorium in town for our gatherings? On the contrary, I would be happy to see a Christian church meeting in every street. Should we then throw off our denominational labels and affiliations? It might be nice, but it still does not deal with the root issue in our thinking, which is that God already sees only ONE CHURCH, therefore it is our thinking that needs to be changed to come into line with what IS already a Spiritual reality.

At this point it is important to clarify, that not every group that calls itself a church, is a church, and not everyone who calls themself Christian, is a Christian, only the biblical definition will do. The true church is a people who have turned away from their old life and put their faith in Jesus Christ. They have been born again, by the Spirit of God and been baptised INTO His family – the church (John3:7, 1 Peter 1:23, Mark 16:16, Galatians 3:27)

What will a change in our thinking look like? Firstly, when we come to the realisation that we are ALREADY one body then we understand that far from being in competition with each other we are there to bless and support one another as local churches. Jesus said that “He will build His church,” therefore we are there to assist Him in His mission, not the other way round as some might think. We must understand that as local churches our mission is the same – making disciples of the nations - and that when one part of the body is blessed we are all blessed, when one part suffers, we all suffer. In other words when we hear that the church down the road has seen twenty people saved and added last week, our attitude should be “Praise God,” and not “why them?” When we hear that there is strife and problem in another church, our heart should be to pray for them and lift them up, rather than hoping that it might mean a few more in our own congregation.

If we are all one body and one church, am I then giving individuals the freedom to hop from one congregation to another as they see fit? Absolutely not. We are all members individually also, and therefore we should be rightly related to the people that God has joined us to within a locality. God puts us together in a local church setting for our growth and maturity, where we can receive encouragement and correction, where we can actively serve God and play our part (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Where do we start? As our opening verse stated, we must first“be humble,” and admit that God is right, therefore our thinking and attitude must line up with His. We must also decide to be gentle and patient with one another and make allowance for one another's faults and differences, rather than see them as a source for annoyance and division. We should “make every effort” towards peace and unity in the Spirit, realising that for the Lord, nothing less will do.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Disappointed? Rejected? Don't Grow Weary

"And let us not lose heart and grow weary and faint in acting nobly and doing right, for in due time and at the appointed season we shall reap, if we do not loosen and relax our courage and faint."

Galatians 6:9 (Amplified Bible)

One of the hardest things we go through as a Christian is the feeling that sometimes our hard work has been in vain, especially when that hard work has involved pouring our life into someone else. From time to time you will have people who come into your life with real needs and issues. You spend time with them, pray for them, encourage them, counsel them, and maybe even give financial aid when it is needed. And then one day, in spite of everything you have done they simply walk away from you on some flimsy pretext without as much as a thank you.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time then I'm sure you have had this experience, and if you have been in church leadership for more than a year or two, you will undoubtedly have gone through it at least once, probably many times. After a couple of these experiences, our emotional response can often be "what is the point?” or “why bother?" We can become embittered against the people who have acted so ungratefully towards us, and take the apparent rejection very personally. If this has been your experience then let me tell you a few things to help you keep going, keep loving and keep giving.

First, we must always look to Jesus as our example. He came and poured His life out into people, healing them, forgiving them and feeding them both physically and spiritually. Yet at the end of his earthly life most of those people had walked away and left him, and many of his own disciples had badly let him down. He knew what was going to happen long before it actually did, and He knew the weakness and lack in those that He loved. (Matthew 26:34)

The second thing we need to know is that same love that Jesus has is now in us and enables us to love and forgive those who have mistreated us and rejected us, and yet still be available for the next person who comes along. It is His Spirit that softens our own heart towards those who come to us needing help. Christ now lives in and through you and me.

Finally, we need to understand that we will reap a harvest, but it is a spiritual harvest from spiritual seed. God's promises never fail and it is HE ALONE who we serve and who sees our hearts and our actions. God's word to us is that we shouldn't grow weary and give up doing the right things, and with His help and this knowledge we won't.

God bless you.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Let Jesus Take Over

Many years ago we used to sing a song in church that had the title “Give up and let Jesus take over.” It was all about letting the Lord help us in the battles and trials of life, when we had run out of ideas or resources. And that is how most of us live our Christian lives, if we are honest. We do our best every day to try and please God, and only really bother him when we can’t manage any longer. Our prayers may go something like this...”Dear Lord, I don’t come to you very often and I never ask for much, could you please help me with this situation.” Then we have a mental picture of God on his throne thinking to himself “I suppose so, you don’t cause me too much trouble, and I might help you out this time.” You get the picture; generally God is not too involved with our daily life, but He is there is we really need Him.

The apostle Paul said this, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” In other words, we are not supposed to let God take over just when we get into trouble, we are supposed to let Him take over full stop. He is not just the power we need when our resources run out; He is the power for everything. And not only our power, but also our wisdom, our love, our patience, our kindness, our self, control, our health and so on and so on. Jesus Christ in us is our whole life and therefore the true Christian life is letting Jesus take over.

How do we apply this truth practically? Well, you can start by realising that with Jesus in you, by His Holy Spirit, you are calling on resources that are already there, rather than trying to get your Father to send something extra. Instead of praying "Lord give me patience (or wisdom) to deal with this situation," we should instead say "Thanks Lord for giving me patience, and I am now releasing it into this situation." Paul said to Timothy "Stir up the gift that is in you, " and that is what we are doing when we acknowledge what we already have in Christ.

Scripture reading

Acts 1:8, Galatians 5:22, 1 Corinthians 4:5-11, 1 Corinthians 1:30-31, Philemon 6

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Key to a Victorious Christian Life

This month in Living Word Church the focus of our teaching is on the wonderful fact that we are "in Christ" and He is "in us." You might say "well I know that already, " but there is a difference between knowing something in theory and actually having a revelation of what has taken place in your life when you were saved.

God wants us to really know, really understand the hope He has called us to and the rich inheritance He has given us. (Ephesians 1:18) It is only then we can stop striving to be better Christians and realise that He has already given us everything we need for life and godliness by bringing us into a brand new life.(2 Peter 1:3)

The Christian writer, Watchman Nee, described this new life as like putting a train ticket in between the pages of a book. Where the book goes, so does the ticket. Whatever the book experiences, so does the ticket. If I were to throw the book into the lake the ticket would also get wet. This picture helps us understand that our life truly is hidden with God in Christ. We are "in Him." (Colossians 3:3)

Not only that, but He is also "in us," by His Spirit. He is not in us just to help us through life, He is in us so that through us the world will see Him, and because He is in us we have victory over sin and it's consequences. We are not trying to get peace, we have peace because the prince of peace is in us. We are not trying to be more loving, because love Himself is living in us. All we have to do is stop striving and actually allow Jesus to rule in our hearts and in our minds. (Galatians 2:20)

Why not join us this Sunday for the latest part of this great teaching. It's time to stop trying to live a Christian life and realise the key is "Christ in you the hope of Glory." (Colossians 1:27)