Well…. Its been a few days since the UK’s most unpleasant weather for some while, made headline news. Many people lost roof tiles, cherished plants and greenhouses. Some people lost cars, homes and sadly, lives.
There’s no doubt that misbehaving weather is always a great leveller. It always reminds us of our fragile existence; how powerless we truly are and how easily our personal world can be shaken and turned on its head.
It was a bad storm, but not as bad as some.
In 2006 Sebastian Junger penned a non fiction work entitled The Perfect Storm. It was an account of a once in a hundred years weather event that hit the eastern seaboard of the US in 1991. A storm that was a confluence of separate meteorological conditions that became drastically aggravated to produce one of the most fearsome storms ever recorded. A storm that destroyed communities, sank boats, killed fishermen and tested the emergency and sea rescue services to the limit. The storm was a confluence of conditions that in isolation would have proved difficult but when combined was devastating.
As the Jewish captives returned from 70 years of exile at the hands of the Babylonians God speaks through Haggai the prophet…
6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.
Although these verses would have had a physical and immediate fulfilment in the years after Haggai wrote them; I love the hint of the ‘greater’ fulfilment to be realised through the work of Christ. A great shaking will cause the treasures that Christ died for to come into His temple (the church ). A temple greater because of the measure of glory it will house; glory which leads these treasures to find peace .
I humbly submit to you that I think God has been allowing a confluence of spiritual weather systems to stack up. The perfect storm is on the way. Our news stories have declared the first tremors of what seems to me a great shaking in our nation…
- The MP’s expenses scandal
- The international Banking crash
- The Housing/equity crash
- The Media phone tapping scandal
- The NHS Trusts cover up
- The BBC peadophilia scandals
When you examine these stories each one features an area of our society where great trust was placed… only to be betrayed. I believe God is narrowing the options in readiness… readiness to accept the one who is outrageously faithful in the demonstration of His goodness.
I’ll end with this clip of Russell Brand taking on Jeremy Paxman (contains strong language). I don’t hold to his politic or his indifference, but I do believe below the surface is a heart cry about the state of our nation and a hunger for what only He (Jesus) the desire of nations can bring – Peace. In the days of Wesley and Whitfield the nation was in a similar state. It was only the revival that followed that saved our nation from a bloody revolution. The answer is not Russell’s revolution, but it is the Holy Spirit birthing revival in the heart of His temple.. the church. The only answer is the people of Jesus Christ full of heaven’s presence, power and principles. Kings reigning with a servant heart.
5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (ESV)
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (ESV)
Not only did these words inaugurate Jesus’ public ministry , but they also signalled a radical shift in the ages. The long-awaited moment when God’s increasing government and peace could be accessed and experienced, was now within reach… if you made the radical 180 degree turn known as repentance.
That was Jesus’ good news… the ‘gospel’ of the Kingdom. I want you to just think about that for a moment…
The ‘good news’ that Jesus proclaimed and practiced indicated the incursion of the Kingdom of God into a fallen and dark world… Sure Jesus came to seek and save the lost, but His purpose in this act was so that the lost could enter the Kingdom. And that is the problem! The church has somehow managed to lose the end (the Kingdom) in the means (salvation). Jesus clearly differentiated the means from the end yet we so often confuse them.
Let’s consider the Israelites. Paul clearly paints them as an example for us in matters of faith . Their story in the natural is an example for us in the spiritual. We can see clearly from their story that they were saved from the misery of slavery in Egypt to the joyous liberty of life in the promised land. Note that! They were saved from something and they were saved to something. The sad truth is that much ‘gospel’ preaching revolves around purely being saved from something. Hell, fire, darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth!
This kind of fire insurance ‘gospel of salvation’ preaching, more often than not produces miserable, disengaged, ‘eternal ticket’ holders who sit on their ‘blessed assurance’ waiting for the first flight out of here. That, my friends, is far less than Jesus paid for.
The simple reason for this series (Kingdom 101) is to cause a a kingdom collision in our thinking and consequently a radical turnaround in our living.
My starting point is simple… We should have one priority: The Kingdom of God.
Now the principle of ‘the Kingdom’ as the key interpretive thread of the Bible is not intended to somehow denigrate the centrality of Jesus in Christian thought or doctrine. The King cannot be separated from His Kingdom; for the word ‘kingdom’ simply means a domain where a king exercises his rule and reign. The Kingdom of God is the domain marked by His presence, power and principles at work in synergy with His perfect will. To make it simple, the Kingdom is the King in action. For us as His people then the Kingdom should be ultimate desire of our hearts; the key to our experience, the heart of our message, the DNA of our prayers and the defining marker of our walk. If you are still not sure check these passages out!
- The Kingdom was Jesus’ message in His preaching and His parables
- The Holy Spirit ministry of Jesus was proof of a ‘Kingdom now’ incursion
- The Kingdom was the very purpose and sphere for which people must be born again
- The Kingdom is to be the first priority of life
- The Kingdom is the mother of all legitimate prayers
- Preaching the ‘gospel of the Kingdom’ will usher the return of Christ
- The inheritance for those who will be rewarded by Christ will be the Kingdom in all its fullness
Beloved your salvation is a precious thing. Firstly, because it is to His glory that you are saved. Secondly, because of who took the initiative to save you when you were His enemy. Thirdly, because of what it cost Him. . However, He is most glorified when we walk in reality of all he unlocked for us at the cross… a realm where His presence, power and principles work in perfect synergy with His will.
It is time to make Kingdom the priority!
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV)
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (ESV)
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (ESV)
11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (ESV)
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV)
25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (ESV)
2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (ESV)
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (ESV)
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (ESV)
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (ESV)
I am rarely shocked but often saddened by the numbers of those both outside and inside the faith, who have no expectation that the Christian life should or could be in any sense ‘experiential’. I have often reflected upon this and have come to the conclusion that there are some key reasons for this…
Firstly: We are children of our culture – the Enlightenment. Our cultural norm being reasoning and the need to be able to explain everything using purely material measures and terms. One eminent scientist put it this way “Let us see how far and to what extent we can explain the behaviour of the physical and material universe in terms of purely physical and material causes-without invoking the supernatural.”
Thirdly: Fear. It seems to me that many are fearful of the ‘experiential’. What if my experience is at best just human & emotional and at worse deceptive and demonic? One globally prolific leader recently hinted that some 500 million charismatics will likely miss heaven because of their blasphemy! His charge: ‘They rely on experience… subjective, mystical, false, deceptive and ultimately demonic.’
Wow! Heady words indeed. Its probably a good moment to stop and recalibrate…
Although this 6 minute snippet on from Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones was preached in 1959 (to mark the centenary of the Welsh Revival), I believe it is a powerfully prophetic reminder of our first priority… pursuing God’s manifest presence.
Did you catch those words?
Do you know God?
Is He in the camp?
Is He in the midst?
Is He with you?
Is He really amongst us?
Are we aware of His Glorious Presence?
Here is the challenge. Whilst still acknowledging God’s omni-presence we must foster a recognition that He also manifestly presents himself in a manner that is real, tangible and experiential. This is the key to understanding how He could be everywhere but not with the Israelites in the Land of Promise.
Why do I take the time to write this? To call us back to authentic practice. Our God is a God of experience. His Word is a record of encounter after encounter. Why should He stop encountering His people now the book is finished? After all it is the menu but He is the meal ().
He is the God of intimate garden strolls; of pillar of fire and cloud; of trembling mountain and whispering voice; of water in the desert; of ‘sacrifice consuming’ inferno; of angelic visitation; of tongues like fire; of dreams, visions, trances and even out of body experiences; of shaken prayer meetings. Not forgetting His LOVE poured out in our hearts; His PEACE which goes beyond human reasoning, His JOY the marker of the Kingdom and His SPIRIT welling up like torrents of living water from within.
Friends… I want to come clean. ‘Experience” is my dirty little secret. I live by His Word and have done for some 20 years but it is a Word that points me ‘…to know the love that surpasses knowledge’ not to just know about it. Its words are the rails my relationship runs on, the fence that keeps me in safe pasture and the signpost to how I can meet with Him. As David wrote ‘..My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.’
This issue is vital for one reason… The Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. That was the apostolic mandate… to communicate and establish a collision of kingdoms; and when those kingdoms collided, God was revealed. The Apostle Paul admitted that he ‘…did not come with wise and persuasive words but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.’ The New Testament Church was literally birthed in ‘what does this mean’ events ()!
I finish with this quote from American author Annie Dillard. She claims no religious allegiance yet certainly seems to have a more profound grasp of the issue than many preachers…
‘On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return…’
That is my prayer; that the waking God may draw us out, to an awareness of the reality of His presence which does not diminish and from which there is no return… Selah
3:1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (ESV)
33:1 The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
4 When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’” 6 Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.
7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9 When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. 11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
17 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (ESV)
…those were the last words that I heard on 26th March 2008 as I stepped off of the Bloukrans Bridge (Tsitsikamma, South Africa) into a 216 metre leap of faith.
Pushing out and off, swallow-diving as instructed, I was immediately surprised by how quickly gravity kicked in and dragged me into a inelegant, silent, grasping, clawing, free-fall that would certainly end in death if my faith in the large rubber band attached to my ankles was in anyway misplaced. For a few seconds I glimpsed what a ‘jumper’ goes through in the moments before death. To be honest it was terrifying… and rightly so, because we had walked the same distance to the jump point as the drop itself; 216 metres of creaking, caged gantry, bolted to the underside of the bridge. As I fell, it felt like every single one of those 216 metres took an age… Plummeting, I waited for the bungee to kick in and do what it was meant to do… hold me up, preserve my life and stimulate that well documented ‘adrenalin grin’.
Something broke in me that day… Fear. That is why I’m sure God asked me to do it and that is why I’m glad I did.
In the intervening 5 Years I have been in many situations where fear has played its ugly card. Sometimes in the guise of powerless people who induce fear to feel in control. Sometimes in the guise of situations so overwhelming that all you want to do is hide under a duvet until the second coming. Sometimes in the guise of long redundant ‘religious’ doctrine designed to control and suppress. Sometimes in the guise of demonic voices whispering in the paralysing darkness of the night. Every time, I have returned to that bridge in my mind and said ‘…I’m not afraid of you, I jumped the Bloukrans!’
It had been an interesting Spring. After a flurry of prophetic ‘words’ from friends and strangers, Anne and I were at a gathering for our network of churches. It was a good equipping and envisioning weekend, served by a great apostolic team. Many people were greatly blessed. Having come through a turbulent few years we had merged with another church to join this network. Out of the blue at the conclusion of the weekend I heard God, clear as a bell, say ‘…well done for placing the church in safe hands… but I have not called you to safety.’
In a moment everything changed. All the ‘words’ we had received about change were no longer about finding our place in this new landscape. Suddenly, they were about stepping over the fence Abraham style. Being willing to sacrifice everything, risk all and waiting for God to show the way.
So here we are at the bridge once again… We have left full time church ministry and a nice regular salary. We have left the church that we were baptised in, ordained in, married in and saw our kids dedicated in. We have left many good friends and other relational threads behind. We are soon to leave our home of 14 years, the house that came with the job… and we wait for the first stepping stone to appear.
Many a well meaning person has told us how brave we are ‘stepping out’. To be honest, bravery would be staying when God has said ‘Go!’ In one sense we feel like ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’. If God is who He says He is… why would we not entrust everything to Him? He is the most ridiculously good, kind, faithful and loving father EVER! And even if we’ve got Him wrong, As Bernie Ooley says ‘…surely it is better to die in the will of God than live outside of it?’
So here we are at the bridge. We have stepped off the edge and are now in free-fall, aware that many are watching… Watching to see what this gracious God of love is really like and does He really do what He says in THE book? We wait for the bungee to kick in and do what He promised to do… hold us up, preserve our lives and fast-track us to the ‘adrenalin grin’. 🙂
Smith Wigglesworth said ‘It is when we are at the end of our own resources that we can enter into the riches of God’s resources’. To be honest we would have it no other way. We are happy, we have peace but most of all we have Him…. Selah