Category Archives: Christian Life

Seeking God’s presence and walking in His ways as a Spirit-filled believer.

Is everything just chance – or is there a plan?

This is the story of how I met the Living God.

My (second) marriage was already falling apart. I’d gone to a church because it had beautiful grounds and I thought I’d find some sort of peace there. Christianity didn’t interest me; Jesus was a pretty two-dimensional Sunday school figure who lived in children’s illustrations. The priest was talking about “The God of Love and the Love of God”. I was looking out of the window into the gardens, and thinking more about the love of women, something along the lines of “If we split up there are plenty more fish in the sea, and I could see our daughter at weekends – it won’t be the end of the world…”

Suddenly I saw something I’d never seen before: all my string of relationships (including the present one) lined up like dominoes, and all falling over. Each of them had something in common: me. I realised that the next relationship would go the same way as all the rest, and I would be without love. There may be plenty more fish in the sea, but for me the sea would always be empty. Being without love was the one thing in life that I could not face. Meanwhile this guy in a black dress was standing in front of me, talking about Jesus loving me so much he went to the cross and died for my sins.

I didn’t really understand about Jesus “dying for my sins”, but I understood about being loved. I shut my eyes and said something like this: “Jesus, if you really are there and you love my like this bloke says you do, I’ll have to have your love, because I can’t live without any at all!”

The next moment it was as if Jesus himself was standing next to me with His arm round my shoulder.  It was so real that I felt like I would have seen Him if I had opened my eyes. It was as if I was being filled from head to toe with golden, liquid light. A voice came into my head, saying, “I have always loved you, and I will never leave you nor forsake you”.

I came out of that church feeling that I had hope and a future. I didn’t say anything to my wife though, in case she said “That’s fine, then – you’ve got Jesus now, so you don’t need me…” Two weeks later, though, she had a deep personal experience herself of the reality of Jesus, and, after considerable prevarication, we joined a church and started on a new life as Christians.

That was nearly forty years ago. Life has not been easy, but it has been fruitful: we have three lovely children and six  grandchildren, and run a successful business that has won several awards. One of our children works in the business with us. Over the years, in our lives and in the lives of many other people that we know, we have seen this living God at work supernaturally to bring peace, healing, resources, and victory over impossible circumstances. Not always, to be sure, and sometimes not when you feel like you need the intervention the most; and we will all have a lot of questions for Him when we get to heaven. But knowing God is like listening to an Orchestra where you only might only get to hear a few of the notes, but those chords are so real and so amazing that you know they all belong to one piece of music, led by one master conductor. You want to hear more, and most of all you want to get to know the conductor.

The Kingdom of God
If you’ve already met the Conductor this next bit will be familiar territory for you: you can stop here, and I hope you enjoyed my story! But if you haven’t – please read on, because it could change your life.

I didn’t understand it at the time, other than that I knew I had met God for myself, but that first experience was the Holy Spirit flooding me with the love of Jesus.  One of the fundamentals of biblical Christianity is that, while Jesus died on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven until such time as He returns (and the way the world is going it looks like that could be soon!), He sent the Holy Spirit to the Church – His body on the earth today – to carry on what He started with His original disciples. When we meet to worship on a Sunday, we expect the Holy Spirit to speak and work through different people, just like in the early church, touching people’s lives and bringing change – bringing more of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Eternal Life
This is God’s plan: sin (that “domino effect”) came into the world, bringing death to everyone; Jesus defeated it by accepting the cosmic punishment for the sin of all humanity, bringing forgiveness and eternal life to all who accept Him. What is eternal life? When Jesus prayed to God,  His Father, just before He was crucified, He said this: “This is everlasting life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Him whom You sent, Jesus Christ. “ (John 17:3) Eternal life is knowing God, and we find it, and Him, in Jesus. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No-one comes to the Father but by Me.” (John 14:6). At this point what you are reading becomes more than just information to store away, because you can become part of that plan right now. You can meet the Master Conductor yourself, whoever you are and whatever you’ve done. You can start a new life in relationship with God. You decide to live differently (that’s what repentance is), and He guides you and helps you. Here is a simple prayer you can pray before you do anything else. It’s called “The sinner’s prayer:”

Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Saviour and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life.

The Real Giant Leap
Wow. If you prayed that from your heart, lights went on in Heaven for you. It was the first step of your new life, and the most important step you’ll ever make, because you’ve just stepped from darkness to light; from death to life. You have stepped into a relationship with God. Jesus came to mend the relationship between us and our Father who created all things, including you and me. You may well have prayed The Lord’s Prayer in the past, but now you’ve met the person you were talking to; because when we meet Jesus we meet the Father too. Never mind the moon landing; that was the real Giant Leap. And you’ve just joined millions of other people who have prayed those words, because that was the prayer that Billy Graham used at his crusades. Now of course you’ve got to keep walking! Where you stand is a great start, because you are now in the light of eternal life instead of the darkness of death and sin, but you don’t want to stand still for the rest of your life, do you?

Now What?
There’s loads to understand of course – that won’t ever stop. But start by reading the Bible –  begin with the New Testament for now, which is the story and teachings of Jesus and His first disciples (you’ve just become one). Start talking to your new-found, long lost Father about the important things in your life (that is prayer), and ask Jesus to lead you to other Christians and to show you a church to join. You can’t really be a Christian on your own: we need each other. God is a God of relationships. If you see an “Alpha Course” (an international non-denominational introduction to the Christian faith) advertised anywhere, join it. They are really good, lots of churches run them, and they are the real deal.

The Connection
One last thing. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is and has always been in Heaven. The Son, Jesus, came to Earth and went back to Heaven, and the Holy Spirit came from Heaven and is now on Earth. They are all part of each other, and it’s the Holy Spirit who connects Heaven to Earth in His people, the church. Ask Jesus to fill you with the Holy Spirit. There is no textbook description of what you will experience when you do, because we are all different, and it may be nothing straight away; but one thing is sure: He will start to change your life. It’s through the Holy Spirit that you will start to make sense of the Bible; your desires and appetites may well change; you will find the ability to do things you couldn’t do before, (including maybe using a heavenly language called speaking in tongues, and possibly other spiritual gifts – you can read about them in the Bible, in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14); and above all you will start to find that you can love others where you couldn’t before. Because now that you have the love of God inside your own heart, the most important thing for you to do is to share it. Sharing the love of God is what it is all about.

That’s it. I do hope you’ve prayed that prayer. If you have, I’ll see you in Heaven, if not before. Meanwhile, there’s nothing more exciting in Life than when the conductor points His baton at you and says: “It’s your turn!”

Footnote: If you want to use this material to help others to find God’s plan for their lives, it’s available as a pdf file in the “Free Downloads” section.

Second footnote: I go into more detail about my conversion, as well as other significant moments in my life as a disciple of Jesus, in my book “Wheat in the Winepress.”

The Man who Saw the Light

He was born blind so that the works of God might be revealed in him.

Whenever I have read the story of the man born blind (John 9: 1-39) I have focussed on the unusual details of the miracle itself, its aftermath, its significance as a sign, the blindness of the Pharisees, and the declaration of Jesus that He is the light of the world:  the stuff of countless sermons. But I have never really thought much about the man’s blindness. When the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned to cause it, the Lord’s answer was, as we probably know:  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.“

How long, O LORD ?
The thought that struck me when I read the story this time round was simply this: how long has he been waiting in the darkness for the works of God to be revealed in him?  As we know from the account of water being turned into wine, John sees the miracles of Jesus as signs, and his gospel is structured through a progression of signs that bring an unfolding revelation of the deity of Jesus. The work of God that is revealed in this man is centred on Jesus as being the light of the world. The man born blind stands for all mankind, living in darkness until we see the light. Was he aware of God’s plan and God’s timing as he sat begging for scraps by the roadside? I think not. If he prayed, it probably would have been “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)

Transformed to follow
Once God’s purpose was fulfilled his life was totally transformed, and not only was he now able to physically see, but from being a type of Man born in darkness, he becomes a type of Man born again into the Light: he values his testimony above his acceptance by the religious authorities, he is excluded from their system, and he worships Jesus. And from being a nobody by the roadside he becomes probably the best-known man in all of history who ever saw the Light.

Sitting in darkness
God’s ways are so much higher than ours. In His plan, the nations are a drop in the bucket, Isaiah 40:15) and “the glory of a man as the flowers of the grass.“ (1 Pe 1: 24-25) However in the dimension of the Spirit God has plans for us that are of eternal consequence; even though, like the man born blind, we may have absolutely no idea what they could be, and are living off scraps in darkness and uncertainty, unable to see God’s purpose and feeling void of purpose ourselves.

The moment of revelation
Yet the blindness and the scraps were also part of this man’s  calling, as they are of ours: the purpose we were born to was that the works of God should be revealed in us. That roadside is where He has put us, the scraps we receive are from His hand, and that transforming moment of revelation is heading in our direction, walking down the road in Christ.

Caked in mud
With an understanding that God hasn’t just left us in the dark to beg for the rest of our lives but that He has put us where we are for a purpose, it becomes possible to find peace by the roadside. But then the question for all of us is this: when our moment arrives, what will be our response? For the man born blind, an encounter with Jesus began the process of transformation, but it didn’t complete it. After the initial meeting, Jesus put mud on his eyes. Not only were his eyes useless, but now they were caked in dirt as well, and they probably stung. Everything in his flesh would have urged him to wipe it off immediately. Things got worse before they got better. But with the mud came an instruction: “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” Jesus said of His words, “Blessed are you if you do them,” (John 13:17). So the man didn’t try and wipe the stinging mud off his eyes, but he did as he was told.

Sent from the pool
First the encounter, then the mud, then the walk to the pool. The transformation only happened after he had walked and washed. What do we do when God finally turns up after have been praying “How long, Lord?” but then we just get mud on our eyes? 1 Thess 5 16-18 says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.“  Do we get up and walk in  joy and thanksgiving and recognition of God’s will, or do we stay by the roadside and wait for another encounter?

Walk and Wash
 The man’s life changed when he walked to the pool and washed, not when Jesus first met with him. Siloam means “sent.” The pool of the One who was sent is the pool of forgiveness (His blood) and the pool of the Spirit (the Water). For God’s works to be revealed in us we need to get up and walk, and to be washed in them both.

The roadside, the encounter, and the mud are steps in the preparation of God’s purpose for us; but it’s by walking that we get to Siloam, and it’s from there that we are sent to bring the light.

The Rope Ladder in the Sky

Walk on the words that I give you and you will be safe.

“I have called you to walk the narrow way. Some see this as a tightrope, and say: ‘This is too  narrow, too difficult and too high, and I will fall off. I can’t do it. I can’t climb up to it and if I do I can’t stay on it.’

But I say, you don’t have to climb anywhere, because I have lifted you. And it is not a tightrope: it is a rope ladder. The rungs are the words I speak to you. Step on the words that I speak and you cannot fall. A tightrope walker has a balancing pole. To keep your balance you need to have your arms spread out. This signifies two things: one is constant praise to me, and the other is the cross that you carry. If you remember to praise me at all times and remember to carry the cross of death to self you will not stumble or fall. And even if you do, remember my words: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. If he falls he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds him with His hand.” ((Psalm 37: 23-24)

So be encouraged. I have lifted you into heavenly places to walk on my word. Don’t look down through the spaces between the rungs at what is going on in the world, but concentrate on putting your feet on the words I give you as I speak into your life, step by step.”

I shared this word at Wildwood Church on Sunday. The idea of the outstretched arms representing the cross as well as praise was brought to me by a sister after the meeting, She was absolutely right: we cannot walk one step in the Spirit without carrying our cross. That is our ultimate balancing pole. And as the elder who led the meeting said: “If you walk this ladder it is safer than any concrete path.”

Stepping out of the boat

“The boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.“ (Matthew 14: 24)

We know what happens next. It was the middle of the night; the disciples were struggling in the boat; Jesus came walking across the sea towards them, and Peter said: “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.“  (Matt 14:28) And then follows the paradigm of the disciple who steps out on the boat and walks on the water.

This is the story of “stepping out in faith.“ We tend to think of it in terms such as:  moving out on mission, giving on God’s command when we seem to have nothing to give, trusting God for miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, believing for supernatural provision, sharing the gospel, etcetera. The “spiritual” works that we walk in (Eph 2:10) that are the exceptions rather than the rule. Most of the time we probably see ourselves in the boat, rowing across the water. But since Romans 14:23 tells us that “whatever it’s not from faith is sin,” it follows that actually every step of the walk of discipleship has to involve stepping out of the boat. Our life in Christ begins when we die to self, and we only “walk after the spirit and not after the flesh,“ (Gal 5:16)  when it is the Holy Spirit and not the carnal self that is leading us. Seen from this angle, the boat, quite simply, is self.

In Matthew’s account, the wind is “contrary,” and they were “in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves.“ They weren’t about to sink; it wasn’t a storm that was blowing. They just weren’t getting anywhere, they weren’t comfortable, and they couldn’t see where they were going. In John’s account they had rowed “three or four miles” and “a great wind was blowing.” (John 6: 18-19) They had lost their peace and their direction. It wasn’t necessarily a time of life-threatening danger, but it was definitely a time of discomfort and frustration. Instead of Peace, there was turmoil.

What do we do when the wind is contrary? When we can’t make ourselves understood? Or can’t grasp what someone else is asking us? When we just aren’t making headway with the task in hand, or when circumstances just seem to be conspiring to cause the waves to rise and the wind to blow against us? Do we grip the oars even tighter, put our heads down and battle on – or do we recognise that we have lost our peace, rest the oars and look out for Jesus?

John writes: “So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.” (John 6:19) 

John doesn’t say that they were afraid of the weather conditions; he says they were afraid when they saw Jesus. How often do we find ourselves like those disciples? The wind and the waves may be alarming, but it’s much less alarming to grip the oars that we know and feel that we control, than it is to let go of them and reach out to Jesus. We may not feel we are in danger, but in truth we will be directionless and there is no peace in a wave tossed boat. And when God is not in control of the boat, who knows what waves might be building up.

The flesh is always contrary to the spirit. (See Galatians 5:17.) And if we are not walking after the spirit and following Jesus, the wind is always contrary, whether we feel the boat is being tossed by the waves or whether we are being deceived into believing that all is well. The kingdom of heaven is where Jesus rules, the one whom the wind and the waves obey (Matt 8:27). Stepping out of the boat isn’t just a matter of the miraculous, but it is a model of everyday discipleship. We cannot walk after the spirit if we are hunkered down in the boat of the flesh.

When Jesus got back into the boat with Peter the wind was stilled and they arrived at the shore. Jesus promises peace and it is an evidence of His kingdom rule, but we have to step out of the boat to receive it from Him. When we do, we find our direction. He is always there, waiting on the water.

“This gospel shall be preached in all the world…”

“And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then the end shall come.” (Matt 24:14)

A sign in the heavens.

According to statistics published today, the Queen‘s funeral is predicted to have drawn in some 4 billion people from around the world. Every nation, apart from Russia, had sent either the head of site or an emissary to the event. As we watched the Queen’s coffin and funeral possession make its reverent way out of Westminster abbey towards her final resting place at Windsor Castle, we were not just watching the slow turning of a page of history and the end of an era, although both were true. I believe we may have been witnessing the most important shift in the spiritual realm and the most significant date on Heaven’s calendar since the crucifixion.

The Queen was a Christian: almost certainly the best known and best loved Christian in the world. She has alluded on a number of occasions to her faith in public speeches over the many years of her reign, but she never had a complete freedom politically to preach the full message of the gospel. For that she waited until her death. Although the funeral was itself a state orchestrated occasion, the prayerful Queen wrote the script; she chose the Bible passages, the Psalms and the hymns. The Scriptures that were proclaimed to nearly half of the world’s population today declared uncompromisingly that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but by Him. Every nation apart from Russia stood under the Gospel today: even North Korea and Iran were represented.

Matthew 24:14 says: “And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then the end shall come.“ I don’t know about you, but I have always imagined that this would be a gradual process, accelerating in the last days. But I believe that this morning we may have seen that scripture fulfilled before our eyes. God has prepared the nations for the reign of Queen Elizabeth over the centuries, and throughout her reign she has been a faithful witness to Him in her example of loving servant leadership. But like Samson, she achieved far more in her death than throughout the 70 years of her reign: she preached the gospel of the kingdom to the representatives of every nation and to the inhabitants of half the world in a single hour.

If this isn’t the actual fulfilment in history of Matthew 24:14, it is a profound prophetic sign of what is to come. Many millions who loved her and who heard the message will now be considering the claims of Christ on their lives. The enemy will have hated it, and we can expect a backlash to traverse the world like a tidal wave. The shaking that the world is already beginning to experience will accelerate, and the separation of light from darkness will become more and more apparent, defining the new creation just as it began the old.

A trumpet sounded in Westminster Abbey today. God put His rainbow in the sky above Buckingham Palace as a sign for all to see.  It is time for the church to lay to rest the dead body of lifeless religion, tune our ears to the voice of the King of Kings and rise up to reap the end time harvest He has prepared. We may not have a lot of time.

The Two Agendas

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

In our business, we have suppliers in China. Anne was talking to one of them on the phone just now. As I listened I was thinking how, in many ways, China and the West are practically on a war footing these days, yet Anne and Catherine (Many Chinese people use western names as well as their own Chinese ones) were communicating as individuals. They were in relationship. I saw two agendas: Satan’s agenda of war and destruction, and above that God’s agenda of communication and relationship. Anne felt exactly the same thing, and commented that the enemy’s agenda is always about the destruction of life, from abortion to Ukraine; whereas God’s agenda is always to bring life and build relationships.

Last night I was making a hotel booking. It’s the sort of thing that I now normally do online, (often through a third-party agency) but I had a query so I phoned the hotel directly. They sorted out my query, so I asked if I could book the room while I was on the phone. She said that I could either book on the phone there and then, or book online. I chose to book over the phone, and had a pleasant conversation with the lady at the hotel.

What’s the connection between the hotel in England and the factory in China? Yes, it’s the phone call; but far more than that, it’s what the phone call represents. I chose to book my room over the phone because I wanted to affirm the importance of human contact over the impersonal Labyrinth of the Internet. Anne’s phone call was affirming a personal relationship between customer and supplier above the shadowy machinations of international politics.

Like a diminishing circle of light, the opportunities to make contact with another person in the commercial world – in fact anywhere in the world – are becoming rapidly smaller. Shopping is increasingly online. Customer services in so many cases are no longer a phone call away but hide behind Internet FAQs. ”What would you like to ask me?” says the bland AI voice pretending to be a human when you phone the bank. In fact it’s often impossible to even find a phone number on a website these days: corporations and public services no longer want to invest in people whose job is to talk to other people. Don’t talk to us, talk to our chatbot. In the domain of personal relationships, conversations between two people dangle on strings while one of them answers a text message or reads their social media feed, and at the darkest end of that thread vulnerable teenagers take their lives because their self-image doesn’t match the glittering portrait galleries of their Facebook ”friends.” The prince of the power of the air is smothering life with the fine mesh of his World Wide Web.

And so it comes as no surprise that cyber war and cyber crime are becoming lead players on the stage of the enemy’s plans for death and destruction as the great theatre of the nations moves towards the final act and the closing scene of the return of the King. The same agenda that seeks to destroy a child in the womb, erode the fertile multiplication of life through the nucleus of the traditional family, or smash the heritage of centuries with a single bomb that kills twenty people at the same time, is the one that is stifling personal communications in the family and society and closing down interpersonal transactions in the  world of commerce.

God has an agenda: it is love and life. Satan has an agenda: it is death and destruction. Jesus sums the two agendas up in John 10 :10: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Although we are not of the world, we are still in it, and sometimes we have to use the systems that the world offers us. But where and when we can, let us do what Moses commanded the people of Israel: let us choose life.

The prayer of the unprofitable servant. 

“So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded [a]him? I think not. 10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ “ (Luke 17: 6-10)

The parable of the unprofitable servant was the Lord’s answer to His disciples’ request to increase their faith. We can read it as saying that increased faith comes from increased obedience, but the context that we are given is far less straightforward than such a simple equation: real faith, even as tiny as a grain of mustard seed, will accomplish impossible acts. Even a tree that has no ears will obey a command that is given out of faith, when that faith is itself an obedient response to a command from Above.

Every believer wants to increase their faith, and we all long to command those mulberry trees to be planted in the sea. Whether we spiritualise the image or take it literally, we want to see God’s hand transforming our landscape. And all the while that this desire motivates us, we can be wrestling with another question: what is it that God has asked me to do, so that I can obey Him?

If we know our Bibles at all, we can quote any number of Bible verses that give us the answer, and many of them will be found in the writings of John: if we want to obey Jesus, we love one another. Simple. The trouble is that obedience to the New Commandment isn’t of itself a guarantee of progress along the pathway of faith: the imperative to love can be a guiding principle in the Christian life without being a requirement for mustard-seed faith, and while this guiding principle is fundamental – there is no Christian life without it –  it is not enough alone to equip us to “be strong and do exploits” as promised in Daniel 11:32. Love is the only good ground where the seeds of faith will be fruitful, but the seeds have to come from the Sower as well. The question is, how do we get those seeds?

Again, many answers come readily to mind, because the Holy Spirit has been given to us, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and His sheep hear His voice in many ways. But about a week ago I said something to the Lord that I have never said before. It was this: “Lord, are there any jobs you want me to do today?” I suppose you could say it was the prayer of the unprofitable servant. And there was. It wasn’t a miracle on the streets, and no-one fell to their knees and said ‘What must I do to be saved?’ It was just (just?) a simple manifestation of our Heavenly Father’s lovingkindness. This is what happened.

I was on a birding mini-break, driving out of a pub where I had had lunch, and was flagged down by an elderly lady walking up the road who asked me if I knew how far we were from a certain village. I checked on Google maps and told her, “Two miles.” She was devastated: she actually lived there and had gone for a walk, but had taken a wrong turning and got lost. When I offered to drive her home her gratitude was palpable. I was able to tell her that I had asked the Lord that very morning if He had any jobs for me, and this was clearly one – so He was the one to thank for sending me to rescue her! She said “I will!” She was a Christian herself, and told me that she had been at church the previous day to celebrate Ascencion Day. We chatted a little more on the short journey, and she arrived home thoroughly blessed, and with a story to tell about how much the Good Shepherd cared for her by sending a “good Samaritan” (this is what she called me) to rescue her when she was lost.

I was so encouraged by this unexpected answer to my  prayer that I asked the Lord the same question the following morning. “Is there anything you want me to do today, Lord?” I said. I was spending the day at RSPB Minsmere, which is a lovely nature reserve in Suffolk (Google it if you’re interested). I arrived early and saw no-one else around (birder’s bonus!) until I was walking along a path and saw a chap behind me looking with binoculars into a field that a rare protected species is known to frequent. I waited for him to catch up. “Did you see the stone-curlews?” I asked. “Nah,” he replied, and we fell into step and started chatting birders’ talk. We were heading for the same hide, and went in together. As we both watched the birds through our optics – me with my camera and zoom lens, he with his binoculars – we soon started chatting about ourselves. He was about 15 years younger than me, but looked fairly grizzled by life’s mill. We warmed to each other, beyond the pages of our field guides, and defences came down. His name was Bert.

Bert told me he used to be a new age traveller, living off-grid for years in the 1980’s. He was steeped in new age spirituality, actually calling himself a “born-again pagan.” Before I met Jesus in 1983 I too was a “new ager,” so we had many touching points in our pasts; and before long I was not only sharing the gospel in the context of my testimony in a depth of detail that he could identify with, but was suggesting that he should read the gospel of John and revisit the account of Jesus with fresh eyes. And all of this was happening as we looked out from the bird hide and shared what we were seeing. The conversation went something like this: “Look! Little ringed plover there on the mudflat! Actually my background is Catholic”– “Yes, got it! Look at him running along the water’s edge. I love those little birds. But if you read John you get the spiritual truth behind the packaging of religion. You need to know Jesus for yourself. There’s a black-tailed godwit by the reeds – have you got it?” “Yes, I can see it. Beautiful male. It’s Matthew Mark, Luke and John, isn’t it?”

And so it went on. It was one of the warmest and most authentic evangelistic conversations I have ever had, and by Bert’s question about the location of John’s gospel I know he was listening – please pray for him with me. You can read the story that I shared with him here, (scroll down the the section entitled “Which Yoke?”) and you’ll see how significant it was in the context of that meeting; but the main point is that I had asked the Lord if He had any jobs for me that day, and that’s what He gave me to do.  

I pray that prayer every morning now, and each day so far has been marked in some way by a fresh and unexpected unveiling of God’s purposes for my life in the path that I am walking. And what is more is that I am more aware of the reality of His Love and of that guiding principle of the New Commandment as I walk it, because I am looking out for the next job He has got lined up.

Try it for yourself. We are unprofitable servants. All you are doing is showing up for work, doing what it is your duty to do. The Sower will send the seeds.

The principals of flight.

Jesus tells us clearly in chapter 14 of John’s gospel that loving Him is keeping His commandments. In practically the same breath He says “and I will send you another comforter… I will not leave you orphans… If my word dwells in you my Father and I will come and manifest ourselves…“ ((John 14 :16, 18, 21)  As He approaches the end of His days on Earth with the first citizens of His kingdom, Jesus goes to great lengths to make clear what life and service in His kingdom entails: we are to do what He says, the Holy Spirit will come to help us, and if we do, with the Spirit’s help, He and the Father will make their presence known among us and His Church will be built.

When Jesus tells the disciples about the coming Holy Spirit, He calls Him Spirit of Truth, and promises that this Helper will come and bring to remembrance everything that He has said. The word He requires us to keep, that He had spent three years teaching and preaching, was the truth about His kingdom. If we want to find the summary of this truth – the manifesto of the Kingdom – in one Bible passage, we usually look to the sermon on the mount at the beginning of the gospel of Matthew. To put it simply and succinctly, Jesus teaches here that God’s ways are not our ways, and that if we want to live a life that pleases God it must be according to his Ways and not ours.

He spent the next three years preaching this message, and demonstrating by His miracles that He had the authority to preach it. At the end of His ministry, when He was giving His disciples the concluding message recorded by the apostle John, He sums up His teaching with the one commandment: “love one another.“

The kingdom values outlined in the sermon on the mount are the values of the King who is love: they are the roadmap to the Narrow Way; the same map that He says is impossible to follow. (Luke 18:27) The sermon on the mount is like a set of instructions on the principles of flight to people who don’t have wings. For three years Jesus taught an earthbound world how to fly, then through the cross He says ‘I know you have no wings. It’s alright: you can have mine,’ and “He gave us the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

And so we have the bookends of the gospels. At the beginning we have the principles of flight, a life that pleases God. At the end we have the instruction to love one another – because this is what pleases God – by using the wings that God has given us, with the promise that the Holy Spirit will remind us of the manufacturer’s instructions for use. Without them we cannot fly, and what pleases God is flight. This is the gospel of the Kingdom. Between the bookends is the demonstration of flight.

We have been sent to preach the same gospel. The question for us is this: is it the gospel that we are preaching? Because if we preach the sermon without the wings we give people religion, and if we preach the wings without the sermon we ignore the truths of repentance and the requirements of Love. Without both bookends the message does not stand and the books fall over. There is only one gospel of the Kingdom, and Jesus demonstrated His authority to preach it by the works that he performed (John 10:38). If we want to see the Holy Spirit confirming the word that we preach with “signs and wonders following,” (Mark 16:20) we need to preach the Word that we have been given.

Fulfilling all righteousness

Jesus said that He had to be baptized “to fulfil all righteousness.“ (Matthew 3: 5) He was the Son of Man and the Son of God; He was flesh and He was Spirit. For all righteousness to be fulfilled, the flesh has to be in total submission to the spirit. As Paul wrote, John’s baptism “was a baptism of repentance.” (Acts 19:4) Sin brings corruption to all flesh, even the flesh of Jesus, and brings it under the law of sin and death, so Jesus submitted His flesh to righteousness in order to demonstrate that all flesh has to repent of the sin that dwells within it. The end of Christ’s journey as a man walking one hundred percent in the Spirit was Calvary; the beginning of this journey was not His birth, but His baptism.

Righteousness dwells with God. It was when Jesus was baptized that the Voice from Heaven came and audibly declared His divine Sonship with the words: “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” At the same time the Holy Spirit visibly came and settled on Him. The coming kingdom that John had prophesied was born in this moment, when repentant flesh, Holy Spirit empowerment, and divine Sonship were sealed together in one act of righteousness.

Repentance is more than an idea or a decision, it’s an act. This is what Jesus demonstrated by being baptized. For Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees he had to actually pack his bags, step outside the city and go and dwell in tents. For us to demonstrate our repentance to our Heavenly Father we have to live differently, not just think about it. As has often been said, in order to walk on water we need to step out of the boat; we have to leave our comfortable habits behind and put our feet were they haven’t been before, where only the power of God can sustain them. Because righteousness only comes by faith: the Scriptures declare it (Romans 3: 21-26), and Abraham demonstrated it. Peter’s walk on water is a picture of righteousness as well as a picture of trust and obedience, because righteousness and faith cannot be separated from each other.

Jesus taught that the one who is called great in the kingdom of heaven is the one who “does and teaches these things.” (Matthew 5:19) There is always a temptation amongst those of us who teach others to want to appear great in the kingdom because of the inspiring content of what we teach. However God will call us “great” because of what we do and teach, not because of what we teach. Just as faith has to work through love, so too does all ministry, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13. When Jesus allowed himself to be baptized so that “all righteousness would be fulfilled,” he was introducing the foundational truth that the sermon on the mount went on to expound: the life and ministry of the Kingdom only operates when the flesh is immersed in submission to the ways of God’s love.

Divine empowerment and sonship are ours in Christ, but they begin with active repentance, demonstrated by the daily habit of loving and preferring others. It is when the three work together that the Kingdom of Heaven comes to Earth: as it began in the life of the King, so it continues with us.

I Will Build My Church

Jesus said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell so not prevail against it.“ We are in the world, but we are not of it.  Jesus was from above; we too are born from above. All good and perfect gifts come down from the Father of lights.  All that Jesus builds of his Church is from above. When the kingdom of God comes on Earth as it is in Heaven, it comes from above, and what is built is from above. What is built is not of the world, even though it is in it. What is of the world is passing away; what Christ brings into the world is eternal. As the apostle John wrote:  “The world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17) Even in the rubble and devastation of war, the eternal Kingdom of God is being built in the hearts of men and women who love him. (Other references from this paragraph: Matt: 16:18, John 17:16, John 8:23, James 1:17.)

That is all solid scriptural truth, and it’s easy for me to sit in my armchair and dictate it into my iPhone, in the comfort and convenience of the Western world and its technology. But if a bomb landed on my house now as they are landing in Ukraine, and took away in seconds all that I have built over 40 years, where would my heart be?

David wrote “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” (Psa 101:2) If my house collapsed around me, I wonder if  my heart still be perfect? I think not. I don’t have to look back very far over the last 24 hours without seeing glaring imperfections in my heart. In fact there is only Jesus, whom David prophesied in that psalm, who can say in truth that He walks within His house with a perfect heart. And we are all His house; (Heb 3:6) By His Spirit He does walk among us, building His Kingdom as we give Him the building materials of our lives. As Christina Rosetti wrote in the words of the Christmas Carol, all that we can give Him is our hearts, and when we give Him our hearts, He builds with them. His house is the place where righteousness dwells, and where love, truth, peace, and joy are found.

Paul wrote: “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.“ (2 Cor 5:15) If I’m living for myself I’m not building His house, but I’m building my own. If my heart is attached to the house that I build, to my own satisfaction, my own peace and joy, and it falls down around me, I will be devastated. But If my heart is truly devoted to building His house, and I live  for Him through loving others, I will not care if mine collapses,  but I will pick my way through the rubble looking for people who have been hurt by falling stones. And as I do that His kingdom will be built in that place on Earth, even though not a stone of my house remains standing.

I am a long way from this, as I expect most of us are. But we can choose on a daily basis to build His house rather than stay huddled in our own, simply by preferring one another…