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Consider Job

I have been thinking about Job recently. He was prosperous, successful, conscientious, a good father, a man of integrity, and one who feared God. Then suddenly, everything that made life worth living was pulled away from him and he was left naked, sick, sad and perplexed. In fact, utterly shocked and depressed to the point of almost suicidal.

The scene changes. Satan is standing before God, who asks him what the has been up to. “Oh,” says Satan, “Just roaming around the world.”

Satan: a prowling lion
Peter in the New Testament tells us that he continues to do that. He prowls about like a lion, looking for vulnerable people he can devour. If you have watched some of the superb wild life programmes on TV you will have seen lions stalking their prey, crouching in the long grass, watching, waiting, then suddenly springing out upon an unsuspecting antelope, quietly feeding. The antelope was quite innocent of any wrongdoing: it just happened to be there.

Our Enemy is lying in wait, watching for an opportunity to pounce on us. In times past, he has wreaked havoc on the church in many and various ways.

The Suffering Church
Christians have suffered terrible physical persecution. Families have been scattered, possessions plundered, homes destroyed.
Reputations have been ruined through lies and slander, people denied jobs because of their faith. The Romans threw them to the lions in their arenas; the Tudors burnt them at the stake; Huguenots in France were hounded out of their homes and massacred. More recently, Christians were treated with appalling cruelty in communist Russia, and in China. Behind all this was the marauding lion, the Devil, seeking to discredit and stamp out God’s precious people.

The Devil’s purpose, I believe, has not changed in that he is still opposing the church and trying to obliterate it. At this present time, his tactics have not been so blatant and obvious, not outright violence, at least not in the UK. Yes, our beliefs, behaviour, principles are always being pilloried and ridiculed: that is nothing new. But it is a fact that if you talk to many Christians, and especially leaders, you will find that they are finding life very tough.

Deadly and Insidious
Now, of course, this is the case with hordes of people. But I think that the Enemy has specifically pulled the rug out from under the feet of the church. He is using this situation to mount a very big onslaught. It is not outright, violent oppression, but it is a method of attempting to shut us down. He is using this covid crisis to rob us of the very things which have been basic and vital to church life. We have been robbed of being able to meet together except in limited and bizarre circumstances; we cannot sing together; we can’t touch and hug each other. All sorts of ways of blessing one another and doing the “one another” things that are impressed on us in the Bible have been seriously hit.

The instinct of pastors is to gather their flocks, feed them, tend them, nurture and care for them. It is hard to do that indefinitely on zoom! They want to envision, plan and set up programmes, but it is hard to do that when the rules keep changing. As fast as you make a plan, the goalposts are moved! So pastors are tempted to feel useless, fruitless, overwhelmed and plagued by uncertainty. Some feel like throwing in the towel altogether!

The Devil is very happy about this. Chaos is what he loves, especially amongst Christians.

Satan did it, God allowed it
Job was ruthlessly attacked. Satan did it, God allowed it. But Job could only see things from his miserable perspective. He ached with loss, his wife was bitter, he was physically sick, he was humiliated. Above all, he longed for answers from a God he had trusted and now seemed against him. He didn’t know that God was in fact so proud of him, that he wanted Satan to watch how he, Job, would handle it all.

How are we handling this season? As it becomes prolonged, the temptation is to become weary, discouraged, and cynical. “How long O Lord?” Why God?” “Where are you God?” “What’s it all about, Lord?”

How, why, where, what: Job asked all those questions. His friends, so-called, also asked, “Job, what have you done? How have you sinned? You must have sinned for all this to happen to you!” But poor Job was adamant, even in his wretchedness, that as far as he knew, he hadn’t sinned. This had crept up on him out of the blue: like covid 19!

Questions
So what else? They all examined it from different angles, but no one came up with a satisfactory reason, or answer for this shambles. Eventually, they ran out of breath, and then God spoke. What he said wasn’t anything to do with the crisis. He simply asked Job some questions. They were also of the who, where, what variety: “Who are you to question me?’ “Where were you when I created the world?” “What do you know about the sea, the clouds, light and darkness?”

God goes into a long, glorious account of the wonders of the world that he created, the details of birds, animals, trees and plants, the skies, clouds, stars. He has created everything down to tiny details. He has arranged the laws of physics, and designed the constellations and planets. His wisdom is unfathomable. The whole universe is under his orders. You are small, Job, very small!

Job never got answers to his questions; he never knew why he was put through such agony. But after this revelation of the might and glory of God, his response was, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” He wasn’t repenting for deliberate rebellion, but for being so shallow and unaware in his perception of God. He had been talking, asking why? Now he realises, “You said, ‘Listen and I will speak. I will question you, and you shall answer me.’” It is not for us to question God. Sometimes we hear people say, “If only I understood why, it would help!” There are things we shall never get an answer for; but we know that God is good, and we have to keep believing that.

But at least God gave us this book of Job which shows us that something bigger is going on, something beyond our normal human perspective. An enemy is prowling around in our day, and his method is scattering Christians, preventing corporate worship, limiting our contact, causing sickness and anxiety. Our instinct at such times is to rush together, hug, help, pray, sing, encourage and show love in practical ways. Now, these are very muted, if not entirely absent. So we must keep low before our Maker and Redeemer, stay close to him and not let the lies of the Devil overwhelm us.

The Gates of Hell shall not prevail!

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The Heavens Declare

I read Psalm 19 this morning: “The Heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

Heavy cloud hangs over us today. Yesterday was beautiful, warm and sunny, the sky blue with a few fluffy clouds. The evening before, as we drove westward from Ashford to our home, the sky flamed with violet, crimson and gold. Now that’s when we say to our selves, “Ah! Glorious! God’s beautiful handiwork. Yes, the skies are declaring his majesty!”

But the Psalm goes on, “Day after day they pour forth speech.” That must indicate that every day the skies have something to say about God. What were they saying this morning when it rained? How is God speaking when the mist hangs over the meadows in early autumn; or when for days on end it is grey, grey, grey?

(My son in law wold probably interpret that as , “Move to Cape Town!”)

It is not only during daytime that the skies ‘pour forth speech’: “night after night, they display knowledge”. So a moonlit night, a starry sky, even a dark , cloud-covered night are all saying something about God. Nowhere on Earth is that voice silent, for the Psalm continues,  “There is nowhere their voice is not heard; their voice goes out into all the Earth”.

What are they saying?

First of all, “I made it.” God created the Heavens and the Earth. Rain or shine, sun, wind , stars, snow, he spoke it into being , set it up and keeps it going.

Secondly, he is a God of infinite variety.  “Listen!” Says Job.

“Listen to the roar of his voice: he unleashes lightning beneath the heavens, and after that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice…..he says to the snow,”Fall on the earth” and to the rain shower, “Be a mighty downpour!” The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters are frozen, he loads the clouds with moisture and scatters his lightning through them. At his direction they swirl around over the face of the earth…..You who swelter in your clothes when the land lies hushed under the south wind, can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?” (Job ch37)

 

Thirdly, he is a God of order. In Psalm 89 we read that God not only made the Heavens and Earth; he created “north and South”. In other words, he created the systems that determine the seasons, the orientation of the hemispheres, the way the planet turns, the wind currents that move the weather.

 

Fourthly, the skies remind us of how small we are and how great he is; how dependent we are on him for the basic elements of life. We suffered “unprecedented” (overworked word) heatwaves in Britain this year. Parts of the country also suffered massive floods. There was nothing we could do about either of these conditions! Afterwards people moan and complain that the government should have seen them coming and done something, but the truth is, no one is responsible for the weather! It is one of the few areas left where we have to admit our helplessness.  We may plan our picnics, weddings, holidays, planting seasons, harvest: we look at the sky and pray for sun or rain, but ultimately there is nothing we can do to ensure the weather we want!

 

Job ch38 opens with these words, “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.” The beauty of our God is that his creation speaks of him, his might, power, majesty, order, infinite variety; but that then he   discloses himself to us personally. He speaks in many ways.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” His Son. The Word, “through whom he made the universe.” (Hebrews ch1:1-2)

 

The heavens are the work of his hands, but “they will perish, they will wear out like a garment, you will roll them up like a robe. But you remain the same and your years will never end.”

 

Look at the sky today. What is it saying to you? Whatever the weather, one thing is sure: the earth and skies will pass away. We may be able to slow down global warming; we may be able to adapt to changing climates, but it will be temporary. How will it end?

I don’t know.

“But this I know: the skies will fill with rapture,

And myriad, myriad human voices sing,

And earth to Heaven, and heaven to earth will answer,

At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world is king.”

 

 

 

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The Disciple Jesus Loved

At the last supper, the disciples were sharing the Passover meal with Jesus. As was the custom, they reclined on couches around a central low table. One of them, “the disciple Jesus loved”, was reclining next to him. Who was this who claimed so confidently that he was the One Jesus loved?

 

Later, at the foot of the cross, stands a little group of devastated people witnessing the horrific spectacle of Jesus’ crucifixion, including Jesus’ mother. Standing near her is, again, “the one whom Jesus loved”. Jesus, even in his agony notices her distress, and makes provision for her future. “Look after her as your mother, “ he tells this disciple.

Then on the morning of the resurrection, Mary of Magdalene comes running to find Peter, and “the disciple Jesus loved” to say that Jesus’ body had disappeared! They rush to the tomb, but the “other disciple”, ie the one Jesus loved, gets there first.

Twice more he is referred to in this way. After the resurrection, the disciples have returned to Galilee and are back in their boats, fishing. They are out all night and catch nothing. Dispirited and cold in the early dawn , they see a man on the shore who calls to them.
“Did you catch anything?”

“No”, they groan. “Have another go, try throwing the net on the right side of the boat”, he calls. They decide they have nothing to
lose, and fling it out again, only to find it fills with a vast shoal of fish! Light dawns! One, “The disciple Jesus loved,” says, “It’s the Lord!” Peter jumps into the water, leaving the others to get the boat and its massive catch up onto the beach, and they all have a wonderful breakfast with Jesus. Afterwards, Jesus has a private conversation with Peter, at the end of which Peter sees “the disciple Jesus loved” tagging along behind.

So no less than five times, this description is used. Right at the end of the Gospel he identifies himself, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” Aha! So, as we have suspected, it is the author, John, who calls himself “the disciple Jesus loved.”

Why? Was he saying he was someone special? Some commentators don’t like it: it looks like Jesus was guilty of favouritism. Was he saying that Jesus loved him more than the others? That he didn’t really love them like he loved him? Why didn’t they stop him? Why didn’t Jesus stop him saying it? Why didn’t John quickly and self- consciously qualify his claim, “ Yes I know he loved others too”. Or, “Of course I wasn’t the only one!”

John lived to be a very old man. He lived in Ephesus where it is thought he took Jesus’ mother, Mary, to care for her as Jesus had instructed. He wrote three epistles, and they are all over-flowing with the love of God for us. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” He is delighting in this amazing love, and wants the church to be a context where it is supremely manifested, where brothers and sisters lay down their lives for each other. “We love because he first loved us.”

He knows that God loves all his children, not just him. But he wants us all to know that love as if we were the only ones. He remembers those far off days when “we heard, we saw with our eyes, we looked at, that which our hands have touched”—— the very Word of Life! Now we proclaim it to you….”

John knew he was loved, and he wanted everyone to know and experience this love too. But first, he knew it as though no-one else was there, as though he were the only one. Like Paul, who wrote, “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me”. There are times when we experience Jesus’ love as if we are the only ones, as if he singles us out of the crowd, and everything fades as he says so tenderly, “You are the One I love”.

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Dawn to Daylight

Reading through John’s Gospel, I see people coming to faith in Jesus by several stages.
Andrew, in chapter one, is curious after John the Baptist points to Jesus and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God!” So Andrew goes and seeks Jesus out. After spending a day with him, he is convinced that Jesus is the Messiah and goes and finds Peter. It takes longer for Peter but eventually he makes the declaration, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God!” It is a process of awakening faith.

One day Jesus and his band of disciples are travelling through Samaria, and Jesus stops to rest by a well, and strikes up a conversation with a woman who is drawing water. Intrigued, she wonders who he is. At first she simply says, “You are a Jew, I am a Samaritan.” That is the extent of her knowledge.
Then Jesus reveals that he is the Giver of Living Water. This sounds promising! Further conversation demonstrates that he also knows details about her life. Hmmm. “I can see you are a prophet”, is her deduction. They continue to talk , and she says thoughtfully, “I know that the Messiah is coming, and he will explain everything to us.”
Jesus must have known that she was now ready for a big step forward in her understanding of him. He uttered the amazing words, “I who speak to you am he.”

The disciples come back and interrupt, but she has heard enough, and runs back to the village to tell everyone that a man who could be the Messiah is waiting by the well. They stream out, and after two days of teaching, the verdict is, “This man is the Saviour of the World.” She has gone in one day from simply seeing him as a “Jew”, through Giver of Living water, a prophet, Messiah and finally Saviour of the world.

Similarly, the man born blind, in chapter 9, goes through a journey of discovery. Jesus spreads some mud on the man’s eyes, and tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam. He does, and comes back seeing! When questioned, all he knows is that “the man they call Jesus” did it. Badgered by the authorities to explain, “what have you got to say about him?”, he replies, “ He must be a prophet”. They continue interrogate him, until at last he says, “One thing I know: once I was blind, but now I see!” They are infuriated, and hurl insults at him, but
he refuses to be cowed into denial. In fact the more they persist, the clearer he gets! The more they shout that “this man cannot be from God”, the more he is convinced. “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God,
he could do nothing!”

Then he meets Jesus a second time, this time with his eyes open. Jesus reveals himself as the “Son of man”, and the once blind beggar prostrates himself in worship. “Lord, I believe.”

Many people have vaguely heard of Jesus: “a Jew”, or “a man called Jesus.” Some begin to realise he is more than that: he was a special man, “a prophet”. But then something happens, and another piece of the jigsaw falls into place. He is “a man who told me about
everything I have ever done”; or “He opened my eyes!” Something supernatural occurs which brings dawning wonder. Could it be? Is he really…? Then: he is from God! He is the Messiah! He is the Saviour of the world! “Lord, I believe!”

These people in John’s Gospel went through a process of discovery until they came to a place of faith. For 2 of them this process took place all on one day. For most people it takes a bit longer. They don’t realise that Jesus is gently drawing them. He excites their curiosity: he is more than just “a man”. Some will stop right there. Some seed was sown, but it fell into stony ground, or got choked by weeds. Others will concede, “He was a prophet”.

Are they ready for that momentous moment when the truth dawns, “He is from God! He is the Saviour of the world!” The only response after that is worship. “Lord, I believe”.

Who have you been praying for? God hears and has been patiently pursuing. We don’t know where they are on their journey, but he does. Keep praying until full light dawns.

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Caught in the Act

People who blame

It had been a demanding few days. Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem for the feast of tabernacles and had been teaching in the temple courts. His teaching had been forthright and uncompromising, exposing the hardness of the hearts of the self-righteous Jews. 

The main issue was that of Sabbath breaking. Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees were enraged. Jesus told them, “ The One who sent me is true. You do not know Him, but I know Him because I am from him and He sent me”. This made the Pharisees so angry they tried to arrest him, but he evaded them.

Now they came, striding into the court, prayer shawls and tassels billowing around them, a bunch of men intent on catching him out. They stood in front of him and parted to reveal a figure they had dragged along. She was cowering with shame, hiding her face, looking at the ground, sobbing quietly.
Triumphantly the leader declared, “This woman has been caught in bed with someone else’s husband! According to Moses, she should be stoned! What do you say, Jesus?”

The others with him nodded sagely. Aha! Now we’ve got him! He cant get out of this one! The Law is unequivocal: he must comply with it!

There was utter silence. Jesus bent down and doodled in the dust with his finger. He wasn’t in a hurry. He wasn’t panicked or flummoxed. He wasn’t embarrassed. He just waited. 

What was he doing? What was he writing? I think he was listening, not to the confusion around him, but to the voice of his Father.  “By myself I do nothing. I judge only as I hear, and my judgement is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (John5v30)

That was the way Jesus lived. He and the Father were in complete agreement.

The woman had sinned. She deserved the penalty. There were no extenuating circumstances. The Law had spoken, it was an open and shut case. She must die. Moses’ finger pointed at her uncompromisingly, while Jesus’ finger wrote in the dust

The accusers began badgering him to give them an answer. Slowly he straightened up. Their belligerent voices died away and again there was silence. He looked at the woman, hunched over, abject in her shame. He looked at her agitated accusers. 

“Alright”, he said, “ If any of you is without sin, he can throw the first stone.” He crouched down again and resumed scribbling in the dust.  They all looked at each other, shocked, and then dropped their eyes, embarrassed, confused.  Who was blameless enough to be the executioner?
The oldest turned his grey head  and walked away. One by one, they all trickled out from the court. A couple of the younger more hot-headed ones, stayed longer, frowning, thinking. Then shrugging their shoulders, they too left.

Jesus stood up again and looked at the  courtyard, empty except for the woman , huddled in her veil, ashamed, scared. “Does no-one condemn you?” He asked.
“No-one Sir,” she replied in wonderment.
“Neither do I”, Jesus said. “Now go and leave your life of sin.”

Was Jesus condoning her adultery? Was he turning a blind eye? Did he consider that for some people he would make an exception?
“Its OK, I understand, your husband is old, he was away, your friend turned up, you just couldn’t help falling in love….these things happen.”

No. He called sin what it is. He didn’t dilute it. He saved her from its penalty and power. A few weeks later he himself would lay his life down to atone for her sin. The Law would be satisfied.
“For the Father did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” (Ch3v17)

I love this story: I love the drama. I love the tension as the Pharisees set their trap. I love Jesus’ refusal to be ruffled or drawn into an argument. I love it when he gives his unanswerable reply. I love his wisdom and I love seeing those proud men walk away baffled and  frustrated.

 In these days of tension, anger, and injustice, leading to riots and violence, how much we need Jesus’ calm authority and wisdom. He didn’t respond to anger with anger; he didn’t enter into debate; he didn’t accuse  and condemn. He confronted his hearers with the truth about themselves;  and in the light of that to not be judgmental and critical about the failings of others. But at the same time, not to pretend the sin didn’t happen.
 Only Jesus can do that. But we can learn from him.

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A Highway!

They are widening the road leading into our small town from the motorway. The town is growing: new neighbourhoods are springing up out of surrounding fields like a rash. Consequently, more traffic pours through causing congestion and easier access is demanded. So, trees are uprooted, hedgerows torn out, grass verges steamrollered, bumps and hillocks smoothed and tarmac laid. And lo! A highway!

It’s an altogether different thing from a country lane. Personally, I like an obscure footpath. A signpost with a yellow arrow on it by a style woos me irresistibly, as it disappears through trees and brambles. “Where am I going?” It whispers to me. “Come and explore!” So I clamber over the style, usually into a muddy puddle, and wander happily down the winding, crooked track into the green dappled
shade. Eventually, it may emerge at the edge of a meadow, obliging one to climb another style, to swish through tall buttercups or
swaying drifts of white marguerites. On the horizon, the Downs stretch blue in the distance, shadows cast by the folds and
hollows. Yes, country rambles are to be enjoyed and savoured, but they are not really going anywhere. They definitely have their place,
but if you are intent on going from A to B, you would find a direct route.

This is what Isaiah was talking about, and John the Baptist. “Prepare the way of the Lord!” John shouted. The people were aroused out of centuries of slumber. “ We are alright! We have the Law, we are circumcised, we are the chosen!” But suddenly, John is in their face.
“Wake up! There is One coming. In fact, he stands among you, although you do not recognise him. Make way!”

After centuries of silence, a new day is dawning. It is time for the Lamb of God to be revealed. He has come to take away the sin of the
world. The Good news must be proclaimed, voices must be lifted up. Don’t get too comfortable! A Highway must be built.

What does that entail? There are mountains that must be brought low: Ideologies, injustices, godless legislation which sanctions the
slaughter of unborn children, heedless greed which countenances the traffic of little girls across the sea, and the smuggling of death by
drugs, and the brutality of sweatshops turning out cheap garments by poverty-stricken labourers, and lofty pronouncements by arrogant men uncaring of the havoc caused by their actions.

Holes must be filled in: people are dying from lack of knowledge, lack of medicine, lack of water, lack of food, lack of hope.

But actually these radical changes won’t happen until there is a realisation that hearts must be changed; and hearts won’t be
changed until they know they need a Saviour. A voice says, “Cry out!” Whose voice? Those whose job it is, like John the Baptist, to represent Jesus. The ones who have recognised that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away our sin, redeems us and puts a new heart within us. The Church.

In Paul’s day, they were known as people of The Way, a community who lived a different lifestyle. When they had been baptised, they
asked John the Baptist, “What shall we do?” He answered, “If you have two coats, give one to someone who
needs one”. To the tax collectors: “ Don’t collect more than the required amount”. To the soldiers: “Don’t extort money, or accuse people falsely, and be content with your pay”.
In other words, be willing to change your way of life! Later, as the groups of believers became established into churches, that is how
they were known: followers of the Way, who walked as Jesus walked. People who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and
become light in the Lord. Isaiah’s prophecy pointing forward to John the Baptist continued:

“All flesh is as grass”. It withers. People come and go, they are frail, mortal. But “The word of the Lord stands forever.” So the Word of
the Lord must be proclaimed, by word and deed, with clarity, direction, boldness. Get up on to a high mountain and announce,
“Here is your God!”

There is nothing wrong with footpaths and country rambles. They are good for health, for rest, for breathing! But they are not to be an end in themselves: our purpose here is to make Jesus known. Let’snot forget that. Enjoy the rambles, but at the same time, build a highway! The King is coming!

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My Pentecost

I remember Pentecost Sunday in 1953. We called it Whit Sunday in
those days, the commemoration of the Holy Spirit coming upon the
early church.
It was a hot day at the end of May, and I was taken along with my
sisters to Crusaders, a sort of Bible club for children. I remember
sitting on a bench in a small hall crammed with a bunch of kids.
Probably the leader, Mrs Tilsley-Green , a lovely Irish lady, talked
about the Day of Pentecost. I don’t remember. But I do remember
that she ended her talk by reading a poem. It was about a boy who
was confronted with a decision: to follow Jesus or not? He chose not.

A few years later, another opportunity presented itself, and again he
declined. Then as a young man, and at intervals all through his life ,
he had further opportunities to become a Christian, but kept
hardening his heart, until eventually, the last time came. Now he was
on his deathbed. Even there, he knew he had the possibility of
surrendering to Jesus. The poem finished: “Again the Spirit called:
but turning on his pillow, he died.” Having hardened his heart for the
last time.
Wow! Drama! Tragedy! A collective gasp from the listening children!
Today it might be called manipulation of tender children’s
sensitivities; or at least rather bizarre evangelistic methods. But as
Mrs Green explained that we didn’t have to wait all our lives to
become Christians, we could be saved NOW, something was
happening in my seven year old heart. It was pounding as she led us
in a simple prayer. I knew he was calling my name, and without
hesitation, I gladly responded. “Yes! I want to follow Jesus! Please
forgive my sin. Thank you for dying for me! Please come into my
heart!”
He came. He stayed. He has never left. He has loved me, led me,
provided for me, forgiven me countless times, equipped me,
challenged me, always there, always faithful. I remember suddenly
being engulfed in happiness, and after the prayer running forward
and flinging my arms around Mrs Green’s waist and shouting, “Jesus
has come into my heart!”
My father came to collect us, and I told him too, and my mother
when we got home. The next day at school, I told my friends, and
insisted on singing a hymn to the class when it was time to go home!
I was probably a pain in the neck!

My walk with God fluctuated through my teens, but I never doubted
that I belonged to Jesus. I was born again: I could not be un-born
again! My joy and excitement that day was equalled some thirteen
years later when I experienced not only new birth but Pentecost. It
took that long for me to hear, understand and receive the baptism in
the Holy Spirit. This was a controversial subject in the sixties, with
rumours flying around about heresy and tongues being from the
Devil. Yet I could not get away from the feeling that my Christian
experience was lacking and there must be something else.

By now, I was at Bible College in London, and the baptism in the
Spirit was the subject of some lively discussions. A student called
Terry Virgo arrived at the start of my second year who seemed to be
happy, at rest, a fervent Bible lover and an effective Gospel preacher.
Eventually I noted that he would pray with people and they would
testify that he had laid hands on them to be filled with the Holy
Spirit.

That summer he led an evangelistic team to three towns on the
Sussex coast. I was on that team, and one wet Sunday, I had an
opportunity at last to clear up my questions.It was important to me
to get a coherent answer from Scripture that was satisfying
theologically, as well as leading into an experience.
Terry took me through the Acts of the Apostles, patiently showing
me how the early church received the Spirit. Then to John ch 7, and
ending with Luke ch11. “If you then, being evil know how to give
good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly
Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?”
The penny dropped. The Father wanted me to receive the Holy Spirit,
an authentic gift from Him! “Faith comes by hearing the word of
God”.That day, I asked and received.

This brought an explosion of joy, greater intimacy with the Father,
and gifts of the Spirit. We went on to discover others who were
entering this (to us) new dynamic, and the ever-increasing
excitement of being part of a community of spirit filled believers,
who loved to worship with joyful abandon, walk in love with one
another, and reach out with loving hands to a broken world: all
triggered by being born again, and filled with the Spirit.

I am more grateful than I can say that I heard him call my name that
Whit Sunday sixty-seven years ago. “Except you become as a little
child you cannot see the kingdom of Heaven.” Salvation can be
received by little children, or at any age. So can the baptism in the
Spirit. Jesus is the doorway into a new life, eternal life, that grows
more and more until perfect day.

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Hearing His Voice

In spring, we love visiting a farm to watch lambs being born. There is
something irresistibly fascinating about seeing a bedraggled tangle of
legs and head emerging wetly from the mother and landing in a heap
on the straw, and then within seconds staggering upright and nosing
its way to the ewe’s teats to feed. Soon it has been licked clean all
over and has changed from a strange yellow creature to a fluffy
white bleating cuddly lamb!

Somehow, the mother recognises the unique voice of her lamb.
There may be literally hundreds of sheep and lambs in a field, all
baaing and bleating, but each mother knows her lamb’s voice, and
vice versa.

Our friend is a shepherd, and they know his voice too. They even
know the sound of his car engine, and run over to him as soon as
they hear it. But when Terry and I drove over to see them, they
weren’t the slightest bit interested and stayed obstinately on the far
side of the field.
Jesus said that his sheep know his voice. How often have we read
that, and maybe felt a tiny bit wistful? How often do I hear a voice
and identify it as the Shepherd calling? I have often prayed, “Please
Lord, help me to hear you!” And yet, he does make himself heard in
many and various ways. Often it is as Elijah experienced, “a voice of
gentle stillness”, or as NIV puts it , “A gentle whisper.” Another friend
of ours, who often gets words of knowledge, says it is like a butterfly
fluttering by, soft, unobtrusive…, there it goes! You have to grab on
to it. Was that you Lord? And as you wait, and listen, he confirms it
and maybe adds to it.

Samuel, a young boy serving in the tabernacle, heard a voice in the
dead of night. Who was calling? Who did it sound like? He only knew
the voice of one who regularly spoke to him, mentoring him. It must
be his! He ran to Eli. “Did you call me?”
“No my son, lie down”. It happened again. And again. Now Eli
discerned that the Lord himself was calling the boy. “Next time, say
‘speak Lord, your servant is listening.’”
I find it interesting that to Samuel, God sounded like his mentor,
(although he was very far from being a good model). Its comforting
to know that we can be as the voice of God to someone however
imperfect our example.

For many of us, these days of lockdown present an opportunity to
stop and listen. That still small voice is so easily drowned out by
everyday sounds, and especially is lost in the melee of rush that most
of us live in. I am discovering that for me, rush had become a habit.
My mother ran everywhere, was always trying to catch up with too
many things to do, and unconsciously I imbibed that mind-set, and

have lived with always trying to do things quickly. Now I am finding
that a lot of things are better done slowly! For example, threading a
sewing machine, cutting out a pattern, inserting a zip, are not things
a novice like me can do fast. I planted my runner beans and lettuces
and tomatoes, and everyday I go eagerly to see how they are doing. I
soon found, you cant hurry them, they come in their own good time.

I am finding that listening for the Shepherd’s voice requires patient
waiting. Just position yourself, be there. Get into the habit. Why
should God be required to comply with our time-table? Ecclesiastes
5v1: “Guard your steps when you go near to the house of God. Go
near to listen….do not be quick with your mouth…God is in Heaven,
you are on Earth, so let your words be few.”

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Tedium or Te Deum?

I am wearing a dress and smart shoes, and even a dash of lipstick. It must be Sunday! Every Sunday during lockdown, I have dressed up a bit and cooked a roast dinner after we have “ been to church” , that is, interacted with our church online in our lounge. It gives contour to the week, makes a change and varies the rather monotonous routine.

I am reminded of a little book called “Hinds Feet on High Places”. It is an allegory of a girl called Much Afraid. She meets the Shepherd who begins to change her life as she journeys with Him to the High Places. She encounters many difficulties and dangers, highs and lows, but at one point she comes to a dreary shore alongside a leaden, dull sea. Day after day she trudges along; nothing seems to change, the landscape is grey and featureless, the sky uniformly cloudy. There appears to be nothing to look forward to on the horizon, and every day is dull. She begins to get frustrated and restless. This is worse than facing deadly peril when at least there is excitement, an adrenalin rush, action! But this endless boredom is making her wonder if she has made a mistake! She can’t see the Shepherd: surely he wouldn’t want her to be living in such mindless tedium? Should she go back and look for something more fulfilling?

But she can’t go back, she must keep doggedly walking.

Sometimes our path lies through boring territory. We didn’t choose it, it’s just where life has taken us. Of course, in this strange
lockdown time, some people would give anything for a chance to be bored, to just stop and lie down! They are dealing with the opposite
problem. But others feel like they have been trudging through the wilderness and getting nowhere. Every day is the same! Attempts to
liven things up work for a while, but the novelty wears off. You live for the one day in the week when you make a quick dash to Tesco.
Imagine: that is now an event, not a chore! You torture yourself with memories of visits to the grandkids, days at the beach, picnics…even going out for coffee would be nice.

Where is God in all this? You feel useless, non-productive, sluggish. Surely this can’t be right? We followed the map: but we ended up
here!

Yes. The map takes us through Boredomville. Why? Because everywhere the Shepherd leads us is with purpose. There are things
he wants us to learn while in this season. It would be tragic if later on we realised that we failed to lay hold of the lessons we were
meant to learn.

One is patience. Patience isn’t learnt when you are preoccupied and rushing around. It is learnt when life comes to a standstill, and you don’t know when it will move again. For most of us, we experience this sort of frustration on the M25 when the traffic has ground to a

halt in the rush hour. But we haven’t had to live through days, weeks, months of nothing much happening. We won’t learn just by gritting our teeth: we learn by believing God has a purpose and is working it out, so stay in faith!

Another thing to learn is persistence in prayer. God is giving us time to remind him of his promises for revival and to pray into them. It is encouraging to hear of the sale of Bibles rising exponentially; of increased numbers watching church videos, of small groups multiplying online. These are not revival, but they are indications of a stirring taking place: pray on!

Linked to this is the exhortation in Psalm 46 to “Be still and know that I am God”. We have lost the art of being still in his presence and cultivating hearing his voice. Now is the time to rediscover it! Wouldn’t it be great if we emerged from this humbler, closer and more full of love for him, and faith in his promises?

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The Watchman

What are you waiting for? Perhaps you are in a queue outside the supermarket, with a trolley, two metres apart from the persons in front and behind, waiting for the slowly shuffling line to bring you to the door. Perhaps you are waiting for a book from Amazon to bedelivered; or seeds you planted to germinate; or like us, for another grandchild to be born. (Two in fact!)

We are all waiting for lockdown to be eased, for the coronavirus to cease its violent assault on our society, for vaccine to be developed. Some are eagerly awaiting re-entry into normal life; others are waiting with trepidation.

David the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 130v5 : “ I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

How do watchmen wait for the morning? Habakkuk the prophet imagined it: “I will stand at my watch and station myself upon the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me.” (2v4)

The watch from 3 am. until dawn is the hardest. The soldier wakes and gropes in the dark for his boots and cloak. Everyone else is asleep and snoring around him. He goes quietly up the stone stairs to the ramparts and briefly acknowledges the man he is relieving, and takes up his station. He can’t see much because it is so dark, the darkest hour. The thought flits across his mind, “Isn’t it a bit pointless trying to “watch” in the dark? It’s black! Why not just stay in bed?”
But he is under orders; he must stand guard!

There are some things he can see: vague shapes and silhouettes of trees. On a clear night he can see the skies full of stars, and if the moon is full, he can see a lot more, not as clear as day, but clear enough to discern movement, such as animals scurrying about, owls flying, or even the stealthy movement of marauders lying in wait. But if it’s a cloudy night, what then? Or foggy? If he cant see a hand in front of his face, is it a waste of time? But he has learned, you don’t only watch with your eyes, you have to train your senses. He stands very still and listens intently, slows down his breathing, every sinew alert, tense. He waits.
Every rustle of leaves, a twig snapping could be suspicious. Every flutter of a bird could indicate it was disturbed… by what?
Its dark; its cold; it may be wet. Its lonely. He is tired. He yawns thinking wistfully of his warm bed. He begins to drift, to loose concentration, his eyelids lower…No! He must not sleep! Disaster could come while his eyes are closed and his hearing dulled. He shakes himself, re-aligns his position, changes his stance slightly. Looks toward the east: will morning never come? Is there a glimmer of light on the horizon?
He waits. He watches. It will be morning soon.

Daylight brings relief that night is ended. Are we simply waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to come to an end? For these “unprecedented” days to finish and allow us to get back to normal, whatever “normal” will look like? Many Christians are expectant for more, waiting with eager longing for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, for the Good News of the Gospel to be proclaimed with power and vigour, for myriads to lift up their eyes, once blind, now opened, and shout, “Now I see!” Salvation to be poured out accompanied by signs and wonders, the manifest works of God when he comes in power as he did at the first Pentecost. We are waiting for such a sweeping move of God that can only be described as ‘unprecedented”!

Sometimes we get fed up with waiting and walk away. But waiting for the empowering presence of God is waiting for a certainty.
Morning always comes, he has decreed it. “His going forth is as sure as the dawn”.

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