A voice in the darkness

Ever felt like you are stuck in a dark place? Then this post is written just for you….

Gods first words in the human story were words spoke in the darkness – words from the darkness. Spoken by God. Spoken to breathe life into the darkness.

Out of the darkness these words were uttered:

“Let… there… be… light!”

And there was light. The first light in the universe came from the voice of God in the darkness. Gods first breathe in the universe created light.

This was the beginning. The first beginning. The first of many beginnings. This is the work of God in our lives. God enters into the darkness, unperturbed or disturbed, to bring light, growth, love, joy, peace that surpasses understanding, and all other manner of blessings as he wills.

Whenever God wants us to grow he leads us into the darkness where we are led by the spirit into the place of deepening faith and holy trust. And into our darkness He speaks ever so gently… let there be light, and Christ enters our darkness. He walks in it with us to lead us through the dark wilderness into his promised land for our lives.

Where there is darkness today God is already at work. New life will spring up at the sound of his gentle voice. Do not listen for a booming voice in the darkness. Look for the still small voice of the Spirit speaking and breathing the new life of God. God is speaking light into your darkness.

Can we have Certain faith in an uncertain world?

How can we ever know that the Gospel of Jesus and the words of the bible are really true? I mean, they were written thousands of years ago in a culture that is so different from ours – no phones, no bank accounts, no McDonalds! It was orally passed down before it was written down! How can we believe that today?!

I hear this a lot. It doesn’t surprise me any more. There’s no simple answer except to say that faith is both simple, yet difficult. It’s hard to believe facts that you can’t verify easily (unless you have a time machine, which so far we don’t Dr!).

It’s hard to believe when you have not yet experienced the power and presence of the Gospel in true encounter with God.

As a Church we need to be encountering God more than we do. We should be seeking to meet with God daily. Our experience and our bible understanding need to come together to infuse into faith that is solid and certain. The Bible claims we can have certainty of what we have been taught, and we place our faith/trust in those teachings. This does not mean there is no doubt – Thomas was not removed from Jesus for doubting – in fact he was blessed as a result of it. Perhaps doubt is part of the strengthening process of faith?

In the Gospel written by Luke he writes the book to show the stories surrounding the life and work of Jesus in order that…

…you might know the CERTAINTY of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:3-4).

Our faith can be certain and steadfast. We can know the certainty of what we believe. Remember, there can still be some doubt – faith is not the removal of doubt: it is trusting God in the midst of it. In the aftermath of Christmas we have opportunities to share our faith with friends and family – it’s a time of year when discussions about Jesus are in the social consciousness.

I pray that we will take these opportunities to share our faith with confidence in the Gospel, understanding of the truth, and sensitivity to those we are sharing with.

The Gospel is difficult for us to receive

Sometimes the simplest of truths are the most difficult for us to get to grips with. For some reason we as humans often struggle to realise that we are truly and unconditionally loved by God. The image below highlights lyrics from an old children’s chorus which articulates a child-like faith that we are loved by loved by Jesus. Children find mysteries much easier to believe than we adults do.

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There are two aspects of this chorus that we perhaps struggle with:

Jesus loves me

Everything in us feels unworthy of Jesus’ love for us. We wonder “why would he love me?” As humans we long for the security and acceptance that unconditional love offers us, yet we shy away from it when it is freely given. In the world almost everything comes with strings attached, so when we are give a free gift of God’s loving grace we are looking for the strings.

The truth of the Gospel is that there are no strings attached. Jesus really does love us – even if we struggle to believe it.

The Bible tells me so

We also struggle to believe that the Bible really does tell us the truth about the world, about ourselves, and about God who loves us. God knows that we will struggle with understanding and accepting his love so he chronicled the story of his love through the Bible.

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Live according to God’s word of life
He gave us his great book full of his great deeds and truths in order that we might read, reflect, and receive his love. As we read regularly God by his Holy Spirit renews our minds and cleanses our hearts as he reveals himself through the pages – this in itself is a great mystery that is hard for us to fathom.

It is by grace you have been saved through faith (Eph 2:5)

We receive everything God has for us simply by having childlike (not childish though!) faith in Jesus.

He does love us.

He does accept us as we are.

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He does give us his words in the bible to ensure we don’t stay just as we are – his word and Spirit transform us from the inside out. Although these are hard truths for us to receive, they are there for the receiving. Jesus loves you – the bible confirms this. All you have to do is simply trust him. set your heart on following him. Connect with others who follow him. Grow in your understanding and experience of his love for you.

May we grow closer to to the Holy Father, as we see Jesus and receive his love for us as revealed by his Holy Spirit.

THE GOSPEL BRINGS FREEDOM THROUGH FORGIVENESS

I find myself in a reflective state of mind tonight as I sit at the laptop in a room filled with comfort. My wife is just over the room watching television and my children are all sleeping peacefully as I write. I am soaking up the freedom that I enjoy through the sacrifices our ancestors have made, as well as through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for me. Yet as I write I am poignantly aware that tonight many are not free.
I recently visited our local Young Offender’s Institute. This centre houses about 300 teenage boys who are currently serving sentences for a variety of crimes. Tonight they are looking at sparse cell walls and their families are miles away. They are neither free physically as a direct result of being sentenced for crimes they committed, nor spiritually free without Jesus.On my visit I was able to walk the corridors with a prison Chaplain. I visited two cellblocks and spoke with a small number of the lads. I also had the privilege of sharing my story with a small group in a short chapel service. As I listened to their stories it became apparent that they were prisoners not only of the state, but also prisoners to unforgiveness: Two lads shared how difficult is was to forgive themselves for the crimes they had committed. They were double-punishing: punished by the state, and punishing themselves. Unforgiveness is a very real mental, spiritual prison which binds us and keeps in incarcerated ‘on the inside’. This is not how God wants us to live.Jesus taught his followers to pray forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. Forgiveness is for all of us. Jesus gives us the chance to be changed from the inside to the out because he loves us. This is the hope these lads were holding to. While in prison they have heard about Jesus and he is setting them free – it’s a step-by-step process and it takes time. We are just the same as them: we are longing to be able to forgive ourselves and others so that we can live life to the full as God always intended. Perhaps this begins by following What Jesus said: when we forgive others and experience the forgiveness God gives us we are more able to forgive ourselves and walk in the freedom of Jesus.

May we walk with Jesus and talk with God about all those parts of live where we are struggling with ourselves. May we trust Jesus to lead us into forgiveness. May we rely on the Holy spirit to transform us from the Inside to the Out.

What is a follower of Jesus?

As I read the early chapters of the Gospels, I see Jesus speaking the same command to almost everyone he meets: follow me!

For decades Christians have understood this to mean “say a prayer of repentance and commitment to Jesus, attend church regularly, and live a generally good life”.  There is a problem with this. Jesus never led someone through a ‘sinners prayer’ followed by a command to attend church services.  No, he said, “follow me.”

What he meant was “forsake all that you have put above and before me; devote yourself to living life my way, according to my teachings, and my example. Become my disciple. Let me show you a better way to live – free from the trappings of hypocritical living and dead religion. Follow me into a life of service and love of God and others.”

We see this through all four Gospels – Jesus sought to bring transformation into people’s lives. He wanted them to live a life that was all about him – a life that says “It’s not me that’s living my life now – it’s Jesus.”  To follow Jesus is to put him at the center and to make him the supreme ruler of all that you are and all that you do.  It is to allow him to lead you, by his Spirit, out into the world as an agent of transformation in the lives of others.

Jesus gave the keys to following him to his disciples.  They are found in Matthew 28:18-20:

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Being a follower of Jesus means:

We recognise his authority in and over our lives

We allow him to be Lord. We acknowledge his complete control and relinquish our dilution of control. We let him lead us. We follow him – he does not follow us!

We make disciples

Notice that disciples are commanded to go and make disciples. Following Jesus means calling others to follow Jesus. We are his witnesses given the mission of sharing the gospel and showing the world what he is like. Disciples mature and multiply.

We get baptized

We align ourselves to Jesus publicly through the act of baptism. He asked his followers to baptize new followers. This was the ritual for new believers in the early Church when they put their faith in Jesus and became his disciples. As we look at the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the epistle writings we cannot help but conclude that baptism was not an option – it was an expectation Jesus had upon those who would follow him. Followers of Jesus are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We obey Jesus’ Commands

The disciples were told to both teach and obey Jesus’ commands. Followers of Jesus will take joy and great delight in obeying Jesus teachings.  It is essential that to teach others to obey Jesus, we must first be doing obeying him. Every follower of Jesus is by nature a leader – we are to lead others into obeying Jesus and surrendering to his way of life – which is the best and most fabulous way to live life!  To lead others we must first be doing.

Jesus expects his followers to obey what he taught – it is not an add-on to our faith or for the over zealous. We need to apply the Bible to our lives in a way that honors Jesus and places him at the centre of our lives.  Simply put, followers of Jesus obey him!

We go to the world

We share Jesus with a lost, broken, and hurting world. Throughout his life, Jesus took the gospel into public spaces. Today, we seem dedicated to keeping the gospel inside church buildings, but Jesus did the opposite. He shared God’s good and practical love in markets, next to bathing pools, in town centers, on mountain tops, on beaches, at a watering hole, on a road; at meals, at parties, sitting in the temple courts, and more.

Jesus expects us to take the Gospel practically and verbally to all the nations of the world. Are you seeking Jesus in order to hear where he wants you to serve him: Is it in your own community longterm?  Is it abroad?  Is it to move to another town that has little or no Gospel influence and voice? We are to take the Gospel where it is needed.

We Follow

Jesus’ disciples sought his wisdom, insight, and direction.  They went where Jesus took them and went where he told them to go. They trusted him enough to submit to his discipline. They didn’t always understand him. They messed up. They learned. They grew. They walked and talked with him. They preached the gospel after his ascension. They took him out to the world.

Why not read the Gospels to see what Jesus taught and how he lived. Then, continue on in the New Testament by reading Acts to see how the first disciples followed Jesus and stayed devoted to him and his teachings.

Perhaps there is a need to get back to the basics and consider our own commitment to Christ. Jesus is looking for disciples who will follow him and make him the most important part of their lives so that he is in control of every part.  It’s not always easy – you could say it’s a discipline at times – but it’s also the adventure of your lifetime.

This blog was originally written by Stuart for www.gcdiscipleship.com – Gospel Centred Discipleship is a fabulous website filled with useful articles and books on Gospel, discipleship and Missional Living. Their vision is to publish resources that help Make, Mature and multiply disciples of Jesus.

Gospel-Centred Discipleship Communities and the death of the lone ranger

In our present culture there is huge emphasis upon the individual.  The post-modern mantra of “that’s good for you, but I’ll find my own truth” pervades every corner of our lives.  It also has impacted and informed current day discipleship processes.  Discipleship has become a process that is done to us – we attend a 6 week class at Church and are pronounced “discipled”!  Or, we are smart enough to know the right (intellectual) responses to doctrinal questions (that reinforce our denominational biases) and people think we are doing well as Christians.  Perhaps, like me you have been brought up in the Church and have ‘learned’ what prayers will get people saying “Amen!” or can lead worship in just the right way to make the congregation feel “tingley”.  It is possible to do all these things and not be a disciple of Jesus.  Let me say that again to reiterate that statement’s importance:

It is possible to say the right things, pray the right things, lead the right way, have just the right words to say…and not be a disciple of Jesus!

Now, I am not stating that prayer, praise and a rich biblical knowledge are bad – they most certainly are not… unless they are done with the wrong motivation.  Discipleship is not a Christian conveyor belt through which we travel to achieve a better Christian status.

Discipleship is a deepening relationship with Christ Jesus with whom we travel through life and faith.

Many Christians have started their journey of faith with 100% sincerity that the Christian life is for them.  They started off enthusiastic about living for Jesus and got stuck into Church life, maybe even being so touched by Jesus that they vibrantly shared their faith with anybody who would listen.  Then they’ve ‘been ‘discipled’ into believing certain things and behaving in certain ways.

For many the process of discipleship has removed their passion for Jesus and enthusiasm to share their faith and helped them to ‘settle down in faith’.

Sadly, for others a dry non-relational discipleship process has not been enough to stop some from ‘forsaking their faith’ when life has got hard or the church has been lacking in the grace that Jesus shoed and continues to show.  It always a saddenning thing to see people turning from their faith in Jesus.  It is saddenning that often our programmes have turned people off Jesus.  But, more so, it is deeply saddenning that often we have judged these lost souls as unable to persevere (we love the parable of the sower), or worse – we state that they never had a real faith if they have ‘so quickly turned away’.  I believe that the problem is not always with the person who has left the Church (although at times it is).  I believe that it is more to do with the fact that the church has not created faith communities that are conducive to growing disciples who reach maturity of faith.

The Church needs to create discipleship communities where every follower of Jesus can thrive and mature in faith!

Disciples were never meant to travel alone!  When we look at Jesus’ model of discipleship we never see him holding a class, handing out notes and asking people to bring them back completed.  Jesus intentionally chose 12 key people and he called them to be his disciples.  What are some of the keys we can find from how Jesus made disciples?

Jesus created a small community of disciples
Jesus called 12 men together to learn from him.  He formed a band of brothers who travelled with him; questioned him; listened to him; watched him preach, pray and perform miracles; they argued with each other (about who would be the greatest in the kingdom); they ate with him (often) they went through some terrifying experiences with him (stormy seas and a garden arrest!!).  Jesus invested his time, energy, experience and spiritual life with them.  Whenever Jesus went somewhere, they went with him.  They served Jesus and each other.  They prepared for festivals with him, and went to parties with him.
In 30 years of Church life I have rarely experienced this form of closeness with a group of Christians.  There have been inklings of it once in a while: I spent six month on a YWAM discipleship Training School (I was actively searching to grow as a disciple at a time when my Church was not engaging in making disciples) and lived in a huge house with over 50 other people.  During this time I spent every waking minute (almost!) with other members of the DTS.  It was a great period in my life and I still look back on it as a period of massive spiritual growth in my life.  I could put this down to the amazing teaching sessions I attended (although I think this was a minor facet in my discipleship at that point).

I believe that I grew spiritually because I became part of a community of believers who were looking out for me; loving me; listening to me; correcting me; encouraging me; praying for and with me; crying with me; barbecuing with me; joking with me; walking on the beach with me; eating with me; and more besides – all of this with Jesus at the centre of it all!!

During this time I shared my life intimately with about 8 of these people and (I believe) added spiritual value and discipleship to their lives.
Gospel and Missional Community
Discipleship needs community, but community is not enough!  A discipleship community needs to be on a mission with the Gospel together.  The Apostles have articulated the following three emphases throughout the New Testament:
1.We glorify God together (Gospel)
2.We gather and grow in Christ together (Discipleship)
3.We go out on mission in the Spirit’s power together (Mission)

 

Basic theology of Community
Christian community begins and ends with God!  In the trinity we have the original community.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together perfectly to fulfil their plan of redeeming the world and restoring humanity into a right relationship with the father again.  The Father SENT the Son on a mission.  The father and the son sent the Holy Spirit to carry on that mission through the Church.  And we are that Church!
The Church needs to relate to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  God-centred Community, like other styles of being Church needs to maintain a relational balance in relationship with our Trinitarian God.  Discipleship that does not relate to all three members of the trinity will be unbalanced and unhealthy.  Our God is a Trinitarian being so we need to be Trinitarian people in thought, word and in deeds as we journey together.
The other emphasis is on a very small word with big implications.  That word is “We”.  Disciples are not lone rangers.  We do not do church or mission alone.  In Luke 10 Jesus sends the disciples out in twos.  Nowhere in the Gospels do we see Jesus sending the disciples out alone.  Discipleship is a community thing because it is a relationship thing.  We disciple each other – I need you and you need me!   I am discipled by the strongest and the weakest members of my community.  This is an amazing truth to grasp.  We often think that we need to be discipled by someone who knows more than us – I have found that God uses the weak things to silence the strong.  God does not just give revelation and wisdom to ‘leaders’ – he shares himself and the riches of His grace with every member of the Church.  This can be a very humbling experience for us.  We need to expect that God will speak through every member of our communities.  We need to create communities where we expect that God will minister and speak through a child or through a new convert, as well as through the ‘spiritually aged’.  This not only encourages our faith, but it will encourage their faith as they see how God uses them.  This encourages new disciples to have an expectation that God will use them to play their part in the discipleship of other people.  What a joy to hear and see young disciples of Jesus discipling others!!
The emphasis on Gospel, Discipleship and Mission is also important in ensuring that our faith is balanced:  Where we lack in one area there will be imbalance in the discipleship process. If we do not emphasise Gospel we will create disciples who do not depend on God, and who are not looking to see HIS purposes fulfilled.

Discipleship very easily becomes about us when we do not look squarely to the Cross of Christ and its far-reaching implications.

If we do not seek to grow as disciples together we will not value the need to meet together and to grow in faith.  The result is that Gospel and Christian community become low priorities for us and we may not have any commitment to the community of believers.  This is counter-productive to the relational discipleship process.
If we do not look out in Mission we run the risk of being disciples without purpose – we become a closed club for the spiritually initiated .  Disciples without a mission are like mountaineers without a mountain to climb – we learn how to be disciples by following Jesus into mission just as the first disciples did.  Essentially, it is Jesus who disciples us (albeit often through his church).  Mission is the disciple’s mountain upon which they will grow in their understanding of how to follow Jesus’ teachings in the reality of their particular life contexts.
We need to disciple within the context of Gospel-centred communities centred on God and going in mission together.  Community offers us accountability to grow in faith in a loving and supportive environment as we share life together in the spiritual and practical experiences and conversations we have.
May we be a people who follow Jesus to the God the Father in the power of the Spirit to make, mature and multiply Gospel-Centred, discipling, missional communities and Churches.

This is an article I recently wrote and had featured on http://www.gcdiscipleship.com – I highly recommend the writings and ethos of Gospel-Centered Discipleship. On their site you will find a wealth of practitioner-written articles relating to numerous facets of discipleship focused primarily on the Gospel, as well as on living missionally as disciples and families in today’s world.

How I was reminded to repent of sin and believe Jesus’ advice

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In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. ”
– Matthew 3:1-2 NLT

Have you ever had a situation that’s difficult to face, and when it came down to it you handled it badly?

I have -loads of times! I am far from perfect and sometimes I mess up. I did this recently:

In a discussion someone said some stuff and I took offence to it. I allowed this offence to grow into a silent grudge. This silent grudge grew into anger and bitterness of heart. I was thinking and functioning in error – in sinfulness.

Six months later I had another discussion with a close friend. I shared the details of the above situation.  He gave me the following advice:

“Let go of it and get over it!”

Straightforward,  simple hard advice spoken in love. He was saying to me what John is preaching in these verses:

“Repent of your sins, and turn to God”.

God doesn’t want us to stay in negative cycles of living and being. He loves us enough to say hard things to us because he loves us without measure.

When I took my friend’s advice and let go of my ‘sinful’ attitude it changed my heart. Only the gospel of Jesus can do this for us. Only Jesus can transform us from the inside out.  This is  exactly why the whole bible centres upon him.

John was preaching Jesus’ message of repentance and belief.

My friend was reminding me how to live like Jesus,  and for Jesus.

As we repent and turn from our sinful ways God’s kingdom fills our lives. This love gives us faith, hope and generous hearts towards others. The call to repent and believe is not a salvation prayer theme – it is a discipleship principle to be lived out in the daily relationships and situations we face. Perhaps this is why John wasn’t in a synagogue preaching – this message is for all people at all times in rvery wilderness of live.

May we live daily in christ-centred repentance and belief.