Markers for Missionaries

Turn right at the traffic lights and follow the road until you reach the petrol station on your right hand side. Once you see the signs for the primary school take the next left and we’re beside the house with the red door. As we pass each landmark on the journey to a new place we are encouraged that we’re on the right track. There’s something very reassuring about seeing the petrol station, the primary school or the red door that we’ve been told about before hand. While we haven’t arrived, these markers help us to keep going. To not give up or assume that we’re lost. Jesus prepares His disciples for their journey to His Father’s house and highlights some things to look out for on the way.

I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves … men will deliver you over to courts and flog you in the synagogues .. Brother will deliver brother over to death .. When they persecute you in one town flee to another.  [Matthew 10:16ff]

puppetsWhen people are critical of us or when trouble strikes our lives, we quickly assume that we’ve gone off track. That it should not be this way. We default to ‘entitlement mode’ and get angry at God, He’s let us down. We deserve better. Alternatively, we tie ourselves in knots of guilt assuming that God is punishing us for something. ‘If I was more holy than I am right now then maybe I wouldn’t have to put up with this horrible situation in my life?’

The liberating truth is that every trouble, hard time and persecution we face as Christians is a marker that we are on the right path and a reminder that God is faithful. The Bible repeatedly reveals God’s people enduring opposition. Doing the right thing and getting the wrong result is a feature of life for the people God. Moses went to Pharaoh and ended up being pursued by the Egyptians, Daniel prayed and ended up in a lions den, Joseph ran from sexual temptation and ended up in jail. These characters hint at the only truly Innocent One who suffered on the cross even though He was without sin. Jesus says to His disciples “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” [Matthew 10:24] In our eagerness to ‘be the hands and feet of Jesus’ we’ve got to remember what happened to those hands and feet!

When God seems to be killing us, He’s actually saving us. [Tim Keller – Counterfeit Gods]

It’s incredibly freeing to understand that Jesus never promised His disciples their ‘best life now.’ The only way that life on earth will be your best life is, if you never experience the perfection of heaven. He said we are sheep among wolves! In the book of Acts, we get the name of a place that we need to journey through before we reach this best life..

continue in the faith, … through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. [Acts 14:22]

You haven’t arrived – keep going!


It’s Time To Go

moving_vanA few years ago when we went to Boston we repeatedly checked out the Trip Advisor reviews of the place we were going to. I was able to pour over photos of the room and see where the hotel was situated in the city. I like to know where I’m going and have at least a rough idea of what is waiting for me there. The Genesis 12 account of Abram leaving his home town is the opposite of our trip to Boston. Abram had no idea where he was going. The Lord said to Abram..

Go from your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. [Genesis 12:1]

It’s really impressive that Abram goes. He obeys. He walks away from everything in order to walk with God. That’s often how our Christian life begins. With enthusiasm, adventure and trusting Him completely. The problem comes as we walk a bit and things start to get unpleasant. Abram encounters a famine and the prospect of entering Egypt with an attractive wife fills him with fear. He decides it’s time to take control of the situation back from God and tell a lie to save himself from harm.

say you are my sister that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake. [Genesis 12:13]

Abram’s trust wobbles and he thinks that he’d do a better job than God at saving himself. This is always our problem. We think we know best and are in a better position than God to look after ourselves. The good news of this story (andControl Button the entire Bible) is that even though Abram is unfaithful to God, God remains faithful to him. God’s promise to bless Abram is not tied up in how Abram performs. Abram becomes Abraham. His elderly wife becomes Sarah and they are ‘blessed’ with a son.  As his family tree unfolds there is another unlikely birth many years later as Mary (a virgin) becomes pregnant! Her Son also left His Father’s house and stepped out in obedience to God. Unlike Abram though, Jesus remained faithful. He proceeded where Abram wavered. Rather than grabbing hold of the steering wheel himself, Jesus surrendered completely to God’s way.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:8]

I need to trust in Jesus ability to spare my life. His obedience at The Cross has guaranteed my future home and so I no longer need to manipulate the people around me in order to get the life I need. I’m free to bless them rather than bully them. I constantly feel the temptation to ‘save’ myself. To cover up my real identity in order to spare myself discomfort or embarrassment. We’re masters at self protection. Control freak kings. It’s why we filter our photos before posting them online, it’s why we love Sky+ and it’s what Build A Bear Workshop is promoting among kids. You can be in control. Save yourself from anything you don’t like.

departure-signChristian identity is about leaving home. Departure from every attempt to protect myself, save myself and create an identity for myself. Only by finding our home in Jesus will we be free from the need to control or manipulate the people (or situations) around us. We can bless people rather than bully them because in Jesus – we have everything we need.

Colossal Confusion: Part 4

We’re used to hearing this phrase “I’m a celebrity – get me out of here.”  The implication is that because the person yelling the phrase is famous, they should not have to tolerate the circumstances they are in.  We have been taught the idea that if you are a celebrity then life should be painless.  It’s interesting to see how radically different the message of the bible is, in contrast to that viewpoint.  Read Colossians Ch 4

Paul The Apostle is in prison with other church leaders as he writes this letter to the church and he makes a request of the Colossian Christians

“pray also for us that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

Not quite “I’m an Apostle – get me out of here” but rather pray that while I’m in here God would open a door for me to speak of Christ.  In verse 5 of chapter 4 Paul instructs the Christians in Colossae to ‘make the best use of time.’  Paul applies this instruction to his own life – rather than grumbling about how things have turned out, Paul wants to make the best use of a prison sentence!  This verse is really spoke to me today.  I felt a sense of shame as I thought of the time I have wasted and the opportunities that have slipped by as I mumbled about my circumstances rather than making the most of them.  This is the call of God upon the life of EVERY Christian.  ‘Make the most of every opportunity’ Ephesians 5:16

The ultimate expression of how even bad times can produce good results is –  the cross.  Of course the first disciples would look on at the horror of what was happening and ask “how can this be good?’ ‘how can anything good come from this?”  An eternal perspective is necessary if we are to sense that life’s problems have a purpose.  It takes genuine faith to believe that there’s a point to our pain.  The limitations we face are often for our good.

As we thought about Living in The Real World on Sunday at Carnmoney we considered the hope that the cross gives us.  Avoidance of problems or escape from our circumstances is not necessarily the best course of action.  We were glad that the bible is not silent on suffering and drew comfort from the fact that Jesus experienced abandonment and betrayal of close friends. One of the main things that guided Jesus through this horrendous period of His earthly life was a grasp of Scripture.  Jesus knew the incredible truth that – God’s promises remain when our problems are real.  His Word is not in jeopardy when the internet goes down, when illness hits, when printers jam or trains are cancelled.  God is working out His purposes in and through the mess of our lives.  Paul recognises this and asks the Colossian Church to pray for God to open a door for the message about Jesus to be spoken in the context of a prison.

If you feel trapped or imprisoned today by: ill health, financial constraints, family problems, work issues or anything else, know that not all freedom is good.  Ask God to enable you to ‘make the best use of time’ even in the unpleasant situation you face.  Contemplate the good news that has come from the cross and ask God to help you trust Him – even in the pain or hard time you are enduring right now.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it – with thanksgiving.”  Colossians 4:2

Colossal Confusion: Part 3

I have a vivid memory of Mr Bean trying to put on his swimming trunks at the beach, the episode was hilarious as he wrestled his trunks on over the top of his trousers and then tried to take the trousers off with his trunks still on!  Not the best way to go about things but he was concerned that the guy in the deck chair might observe him in a state of undress.  The guy in the deck chair turned out to be blind and just as the swimming trunks were in place, deck chair man walked off using a white stick – much to the frustration of Mr Bean.

Colossians 3:1-25 speaks about taking off some clothes that we all possess and being kitted out in a new wardrobe.  It’s best to be completely rid of the old clothes if we want to enjoy the new ones.  We are urged to cast off things like:  sexual immorality, obscene talk from our mouths, covetousness, lies, evil desires etc.  The incredible thing about being a Christian is that when God instructs us to surrender or endure something, He always promises to replace it with something better.  (see 2 Corinthians 4:17  Galatians 5:22)  When God takes from us our obscene words He does not leave us with nothing to say.  He replaces these words with thankfulness, wisdom , psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (vs 16).

The Bible affirms the truth that Jesus alone is perfect, the rest of us are not and therefore we need Him to shape us and mould us into His likeness.  We all are a work in progress and this needs to impact how we view: ourselves (humility & meekness vs 8)  and others (patience vs 12, bearing with one another, forgiving each other vs 13).   The perfect image of God which our first parents (Adam & Eve) had has been distorted by sin.  However when we become Christians, God the Holy Spirit enters our life and goes to work in us to recreate that perfect image.  I saw these words on a wall in North Belfast recently as I met with Dario Leal (a church planter in the Cliftonville area.)  For me these words are a great description of  discipleship.  God is loading a new mural, a new picture, a new image in the hearts and lives of the people who belong to Him.  Where there used to be images of division and hatred – God is at work to load a new picture within us so that we more accurately represent Him.  He wants to restore His image within us.

At Carnmoney on Sunday we were considering how our words reveal our character and God’s Word reveals His character (listen here) which is why Paul says ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’. (vs 16)

Take some time to let the words of Colossians 3 dwell in you today and transform your character.

“put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”  Colossians 3:10

Colossal Confusion: Part 2

Hospital waiting rooms are never a fun place to be but recently as I waited in one I picked up a magazine that was about three years out of date.  Inside there was a full page chart outlining “10 risks worth taking”.  It was a guys magazine so some of the risks were quite predictable: disagree with your boss, attempt a 40 yard pass, visit a war zone on holiday etc.  However it was risk 7 that stood out.

Committing to a religion.  Not what you’d expect from a lad’s magazine because they usually just push the notion that ‘you can be your own god.’  Satisfy yourself with technology, women, bigger biceps and a monthly subscription to their publication.  Religion is usually mocked as the kill joy that frowns upon you having multiple sexual partners (which the article a few pages earlier has advised).  Risk 7 is actually explained as not being any risk at all.  It’s an insurance policy risk – pick a religion – doesn’t matter which one because any deity will look at you more favourably because at least you played the game.  “Take the religion risk to cover your own back” is the advice of the magazine.

On Sunday at Carnmoney as we explored Jesus relationship with Scripture we discovered that our faith is built on revelation not speculation.  We don’t need to have a stab in the dark and hope we get the right religion.  God has made it plain to us through the Scriptures and through His Son Jesus exactly what is required. (you can listen/watch Sunday’s message in full by clicking here)  The kind of pick n mix religion promoted by this lads’ magazine is exactly the type of confusion the Colossian Church was facing.

Get your Bible and read Colossians ch 2
Paul talks about things like ‘full assurance, God’s mystery is Christ, no one may delude you with plausible arguments or empty deceit.’  Our culture has so much in common with this first century church.  Human beings have a spiritual appetite, a hunger that human relationships cannot satisfy.  God alone can fill the emptiness which He placed in the human heart.  Religious practices and harsh treatment of our bodies cannot. We are made in God’s image and have been given a desire for a relationship with Him.  Jesus alone satisfies this desire, Jesus alone cancels our sin, Jesus alone cancelled the record of debt we had with God, Jesus alone disarmed the rulers and authorities – it is Him we need to commit to! Self made religion has no value in stopping the indulgence of flesh (vs23)

“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”  Colossians 2:9-10

Colossal Confusion: Part 1

On Sunday at Carnmoney we were continuing to explore our ‘Living in The Real World‘ theme by considering how Jesus relationship with Scripture influenced His ability to cope with real life situations and circumstances.  As a practical way of  encouraging engagement with the Bible I thought it may be helpful to post a few thoughts on the book of Colossians this week.  Our response to a church service can be like standing at the foot of Mount Everest on a weekly basis – we walk away saying ‘that was so challenging this morning’ but don’t ever take a step to climb!  Being challenged is not enough.

Get your bible out.  It took me 4 mins 45 secs to read Colossians 1:1-23.  I stopped a few times to re-read a verse.  Take 5 minutes and read this section of your Bible.  I was encouraged by the scope of what Jesus has accomplished for me.  You’ll notice words and phrases like: “all the saints, whole world, filled with knowledge, all spiritual wisdom, bearing fruit in every good work, strengthened with all power.”  God in Christ has done something for us that is adequate, sufficient, enough.

There seemed to be some confusion in the Colossian Church about the effectiveness of the cross.  Some people had been mislead and thought that they needed something more than a relationship with Jesus to be “fully spiritual” or “fully knowledgeable”.  Paul is driving home the truth that Jesus has accomplished for us everything we need to satisfy God the Father  The letter of Colossians is similar to a product recall when something gets contaminated.  Paul is saying don’t consume a polluted gospel message!  We’ve been qualified (vs 12) delivered (vs 13) forgiven (vs 14) by Christ.  The way to be blameless (vs 22) is to trust in what Jesus has done with his body at the cross.  Not what we do with ours!

The only way to walk in a manner that is ‘fully pleasing to God’ (vs 10) is to understand and accept with gratitude what he has provided freely for us.

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile to himself all things..”   Colossians 1:19-20

I Predict A Riot

The Kaiser Chiefs saw it coming a while back but the rest of us were taken by surprise as we witnessed the scenes in London and the rest of the UK this August.  Here in Northern Ireland there was a smug reaction and a lot of wallowing in self pity as we watched the politicians, the police and the press grapple with violence that has typified our summer period for far too long. 

There are many contributing factors which motivated the looters and rioters but I was struck by the quote above in last Saturday’s Guardian by Jack Levin (Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Northeastern University in Boston.)  The strong desire for acceptance among young people is a force that is being abused by many in our world – the riots were just another expression of the lengths young people will go to in order to feel a connection with someone other than themselves.  Levin likens rejection as a teenager with receiving the death penalty.  This may seem too strong for some people but I think he’s onto something here..

We need to tell the next generation that in Jesus they’re accepted by the Only One whose assessment of them really counts.

I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God…  Jeremiah 24:7