Tag Archives: You shall be perfect

Being perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect is not an unattainable piece of pie in the sky, but a practical and attainable goal that sets the course of our path as spirit-filled Christians.

What made Jesus angry?

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:13-14)

We don’t often read about Jesus getting angry. We know what He thinks about the Pharisees and how He addresses them, and what He thought about the money-changers in the Temple, but where else do we see His anger provoked?

We see His anger in Mark 10:14. Children come to Jesus, and the disciples turn them away. How did the son of God react? Anger. “Do NOT turn them away!” (My emphasis, but we can imagine him expressing himself like that), He said, and went on to famously teach: “assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom Of God as a little child will by no means into it.“ (v. 15). After declaring this kingdom principle, He received the children in His arms, blessed them, and laid hands on them.

Why did Jesus get angry? I don’t think it’s just because He loved the children and His disciples were hindering them: I think it’s more than that. His declaration was that we need to be like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven, and it was the very attitudes that keep us out of the kingdom that were turning the children away.

As a bit of an aside, the context of this passage is interesting: it is sandwiched between Jesus’s teaching on divorce and the story of the rich, young ruler. Sex and money. Probably the two biggest preoccupations of adult life. Most of the cares and pleasures of the world, the thorns that choke the seed of the kingdom, have their roots in one or the other of them. In between the two, Jesus demonstrates the good ground of entry into the the kingdom of heaven: we come as children, with neither of them on our minds; He receives us in His arms, we receive His blessing, and finally, He lays hands on us and we receive the Holy Spirit so that we can truly come of age…

But what made Him angry? I think it’s not so much because our own “thorns” are keeping us out, but because we mistake our thorns for fruit. His arms are open wide to receive us. He has come to save the world by giving us free entry to the Kingdom Of God. He knows all the things that stand in the way of the door to the kingdom. And He sees those who cannot enter in preventing those who could, because they have totally misunderstood the conditions for entry. It’s the same anger that He displays towards the teachers of the law, who don’t enter themselves and who stop others from coming in. (Matt 23: 13-14) I think He is angry at the self righteousness of sin that keeps us away from the righteousness of God, the justification of self that stands in the way of justification by grace. It’s when we think know better than others that we actually know the least of all: I think the Bible shows us that if anything makes Jesus cross, it’s this.

To be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph 4:23) is to renew the childlike attitudes we had before the thorns began to grow. God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. It’s actually when we think we’re being the most grown-up that we are probably being the least mature. Like Benjamin button in the 2008 film, we need to be ageing backwards to grow up in the kingdom of God: we need to take to the cross what made Him so cross, and become like the baby in the manger.

Happy child-like Christmas, everyone!

Spiritual weapons of warfare

I have been hearing a lot about being a warrior lately: spiritual warfare is a term all believers are familiar with. Two of the principals of spiritual warfare that we know from Scripture are that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12)  and “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds…”(2 Cor 10: 3-4) The text from Ephesians introduces the passage on the armour of God and the need to “stand against the wiles of the devil,” and the passage in the letter to the Corinthians is written in a context of matters pertaining to Church discipline. But I think it’s appropriate that we look beyond these contexts to consider some principles behind the matter of spiritual warfare. In particular, what are “carnal” weapons, and what are the weapons that are “mighty in God?” Or to put it differently, when are we fighting our enemy in the flesh, and when are we fighting in the Spirit?

The place of peace

The most important aspect of any battle is not the clamour of the fight, but the peace that is won. When Christ came as an infant, the angels announced peace on Earth. Jesus promised us “peace, not as the world gives.“ (John 14:27) The psalmist exhorted us “to seek peace and pursue it,“ (Ps 34:14) and Paul urged the Romans “pursue those things that make for peace.” (Romans 14:19) As has often been said, we may well do battle with principalities and powers in the heavenly realms, but Jesus has already won the war at Calvary. So one thing at least is obvious from these scriptures: peace is already ours, and so we carry it into our battles with us. This peace is neither worldly nor carnal,  but is brought to us from Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Our peace is actually one of our main weapons of spiritual warfare, and all the protective items of the Ephesians six armour of God help us to keep it in our hearts. Indeed, if we are not operating out of the place of peace, we are not moving in the victory Jesus has won for us, and we are not going to see our enemies vanquished and our giants fall.

Gentleness

Proverbs 15:1 says “a gentle answer turns away wrath,“ and James writes: “The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God “ (James 1:20) I have referred to this scripture elsewhere, and pointed out that the Greek word “orge,” translated as “wrath,“ is not limited to anger but to any uncontrolled outburst of passion. Jesus cast out demons “with a word,“ not by shouting at them. This is how He is described prophetically by Isaiah:

Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.

He will not cry out, nor raise His voice,
Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.

A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench;
He will bring forth justice for truth.

He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”
(Isaiah 42: 1-4)

He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. Yet I’ve been to a couple of conferences recently where the voices of some of the speakers could definitely “be heard in the street.” I’ve certainly done my share of shouting at demons and generally raising my voice, as if my carnal loudness, or even any display of human emotion, could somehow demolish a spiritual stronghold. We do need to use spiritual gifts to identify the enemies that we are fighting against, but to go on and win the battles we need to fight in the same spirit as the Christ of Isaiah 42, not with raised fists and human “orge”. We cannot fight Goliath with the armour of Saul. It’s not by might, nor by power.

Building the church

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
” (Isaiah 9:7)

Jesus said that he would build His church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. The increase of His government and peace will come as He builds His church. Paul writes “let us pursue the things which make for peace, and by which one may build up another.” (Romans 14:19). So if Jesus is going to build His church through us, the spiritual weapons of our warfare must be the ones Jesus used. He said: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” The last lesson of the Jesus Christ 3-year Discipleship Training Programme was not “How to attain Third Heaven Revelation,” but “How to wash each others’ feet;” not “How to build your ministry,” but “How to build up one another.” These are the weapons of warfare that are mighty in God: the peace and the humility of Jesus, a servant heart, and love for one another. With them we work with the Holy Spirit to build the church in the face of the gates of hell.

The Battle Plan

I could go on. We fight the enemy of lack by giving: “Give, and it shall be given to you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.” Luke 6:38) We fight the enemy of destructive emotions with kindness and tender hearts: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph 4: 31-32) In fact Jesus laid out the battle plan for His warriors when He gave us the Sermon on the Mount, contrasting the light of Heaven against the darkness of the world. And end-time revival will be led by those whose feet stand securely on this Mount and no other, because it is when the Light of Life is seen burning in our hearts that the darkness is pushed back and ground is taken for the Kingdom of God.

The prayer of a fruitful apostle

I’ll end with a prayer. Not mine, but from someone who was one of the greatest apostles of the church age, although he never identified himself by his fivefold ministry title.  Christianity had become a ruin of corruption, and Jesus called a young man from a wealthy family to turn away from the life of luxury he had known and rebuild His church. The young man committed himself to the call and gave his life to preaching the gospel and establishing communities of believers. The weapons of his warfare were not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.  His name was Francis of Assisi.

This was his prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

“Oh lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise” (Psalm 51, verse 15)

A couple of weeks ago I watched tens of thousands of starlings flocking together,  and saw how they can represent the unity of the Body of Christ. The other evening I walked down the road and watched one starling singing from a chimney pot. It was captivating. I was actually in Spain, and I noticed how different this bird’s song was from the ones at home. Although they do have a lot of sounds in common, each starling has its unique song:  they vary according to the area they live in and what local sounds they pick up and mimic. And this one was definitely singing in Spanish!

So why starlings again? Because God is calling forth the voice of his people. Each one of us in the Body of Christ has a unique voice. A voice might be for a region or for a nation or for the church, for a workplace or the family, but it will be different from any other voice in the body; and when we open our lips and express anything that God has given us with the voice that is our own, it is to the praise of His glory.

However many of Gods starlings are not opening their lips. They may have been saved for years, yet they still don’t know what their voice is – they literally don’t know the sound of it. And yet the Lord wants an expressive people, a church who will declare His word, minister His truth, share His love, and praise His name. Jesus sent us all to preach the gospel. Most of the gifts of the Spirit needs to be put into words. God is a verbal God, and he wants a verbal people. A verbal people is a powerful people.

This is where the five-fold ministries come in. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are people who have found their voice. God has given these gifts to the church to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12)  1 Corinthians 14:26 says “each one has a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church is built up.”  Paul writes to the Romans: “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” One of the main goals of the church that we find in the New Testament is the edification (building up) of disciples so that they can come to maturity.

But over the centuries, the enemy has silenced the voices of God’s people and the church has not been built up the way that God intends. Whether we operate in a five-fold ministry or not, we need to help His starlings to find their voices, however we can, whenever and wherever we can. We need to equip the saints for works of ministry so that the whole flock is opening its lips and declaring the praises of God, and we need to share this vision with everyone we can. There are many church leaders that need to hear this message: it won’t always be received, particularly if religious or other controlling spirits are over the church, but it must be spoken.

Finally,  we must never stop listening to the starlings, because we are only starlings ourselves. And when everyone has found their voice, the whole church is built up. What is the result? Ephesians 4:13 tells us clearly: “We all come to the unity of faith and to the knowledge of the son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Once that has been achieved, the bride is ready for the groom.

Of His fullness we have received…

“Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1: 16-17)

Any Christian who believes that the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit are available and operational in the Church today will know of, and quite possibly tell others of, the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, as Scripture exhorts us in Ephesians 5:18. But as I’ve become more aware lately of what it is to be standing under the waterfall of God’s Grace, (see the last article, Mountains and Waterfalls) I’ve been considering what it actually means to be filled with the Spirit.

If all the fullness of God dwells in Jesus (Colossians 1:19), and Christ, the Hope of glory, is in us (Col 1:27), then how much of Christ dwells in us? Do we believe that it is a fragment? A cell? Maybe just a fragment of a cell? Or do we dare to believe that our loving Heavenly Father will answer Paul’s prayer for every Christian of every age, that we would be “filled with all the fulness of God?”

We are called to love one another; to have grace in our dealings. Jesus made in clear in the Sermon on the Mount that Kingdom relationships are characterised by the fact that what we give does not depend on what we receive: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matt 5:46) On the contrary, if we “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” we have the astounding promise that “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Verse 47) We won’t just be good, because we have obeyed the rules, but we’ll be like God – because actually, as far as the rules of the world are concerned, we have broken them.

So a basic principle in the Manifesto of the Kingdom is that what we give to men does not depend on what we receive from them. We don’t love according to the tit-for-tat rules of the world, any more than we are to depend for what we need on the get-what-you-pay-for provision of the world. When Jesus preached repentance unto God, it was more than an exhortation to stop behaving badly: it was a call to throw out man’s rulebook and embrace God’s – whose book consists basically of two sentences: love God, and love one another. If we seek this Kingdom, everything else will be given to us.

“Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.” Just as we have received out of the fullness of God in Christ, so it is only out of our fullness that others can receive grace from us – the grace that rises above the tit for tat of the world, that enables us to overcome negative reactions to damaging words and quench fiery arrows with living water. The Grace that enables us to be perfect, just like our Father in Heaven.” The purpose of being full of the Holy Spirit is not so much to have access to supernatural gifts, but to have access to supernatural love, supernatural gentleness and supernatural generosity. If our Saviour had not been filled with all the fullness of God, Satan would have shown Him a good carnal reason to disobey His Father; but He could say that Satan “has nothing in me” because He was completely full of God.

So two questions. The first is this: how full of the Holy Spirit are we?  Because if we are really full, like Stephen was, we don’t run away when the stones start to fall, but we “see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55)  It’s often said that we leak, which is why Paul’s exhortation is the present continuous tense – “Be being filled.” But I don’t think it’s true that we leak, and every now and then have to go back to the fountain (often at Church) for a top-up. We can’t fill the flesh with the Spirit. I think we are more like completely broken bottles, and  the only way for Scripture’s present continuous tense to operate in our lives is to stay under that waterfall, standing permanently in the Grace of God, morning, noon and night; work, rest and play. And at church as well. What a blessing we could be at church by just staying soaked all week. And if we can do this, out of our fullness others will receive, grace for grace. At church, in the home, and in the workplace.

And here is the second question: what is our expectation of the “fullness of God” in our lives? I was in a zoom gathering last night, and the word that Father spoke to us by His Spirit was that He wants to bring a new level of creativity to His people: that the atmosphere of Heaven is the Beauty of Holiness, and that He wants us to release that beauty into the world in all that we do – our work, or pastimes, our creative projects, our relationships of course – and that He would bring us new gifts, new resources, new skills, new levels of faith, in fact all that we need out of the infinite unseen storehouses of Heaven to start bringing this about. It was a beautiful, encouraging Word, and I do not do it justice with my single-sentence paraphrase. And it would be so easy for it to remain on the shelf, along with the library of other beautiful encouraging words that I have heard over nearly 40 years in the faith. Except for one thing. If you know me or follow my site, you will know that I am a “birder”: I love watching and photographing birds. I was sitting in the sunshine in my garden this afternoon, enjoying a cup of tea, when I heard a birdsong in the tree that I did not immediately recognise. I managed to get a picture, and I identified it as a female linnet. The linnet is a little finch with a sweet song, which the Victorians used to keep in cages as songbirds.  Linnets are not particularly rare, but I do not recall ever seeing one in my garden before – and we have lived here since 1998. It was something unexpected, beautiful, and new.

This was the linnet: not just a little brown bird, but something beautiful, unexpected and new.

I believe that little bird was a sign from the Lord of all Creation to remind me, and you, that He has so much more for us than we could ever ask or imagine, and that even now, as the world seems to be rushing to pull down its tents, He wants us to stretch forth the cords of ours and enlarge our vision of who He is and what it means to be filled with all of His fullness. If we do this He will fill whatever we give Him with more of who He is so that when the needy come to us they can be filled in turn from our fullness, grace for grace. Whatever your garden is, and whatever those linnets might be for you, watch out for them, because the Holy Spirit is releasing them from their cage.

The Path of the Just

The path of just is like the shining sun,
That shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.“ (
Prov 4:18)

I started my prayer time this morning, half thinking and a half praying the usual daily thoughts, along the lines of “Lord, what are my priorities today? What should I be doing?” And then it was “And is there anything I should be writing about?” The last question was quite unusual, because I tend to write when I feel I’ve got something to say: I don’t usually ask the Lord first if he’s got something for me. (Maybe I should…) When I sat back in my chair the morning sun came out from behind a cloud and streamed through the window, so dazzling that it was difficult to open my bible and read it. But when I did it opened at Proverbs 4 verse 18:
“The path of just is like the shining sun,
That shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.“ (Prov 4:18)

It seemed fairly clear that His answer to my question about writing was “Yes, and this is it!” So this is what I’ve got…

Until the day that the lord chooses to intervene with the mechanisms of the universe, the Sun is never going to stop rising. It will always bring life, and it will always bring light . God does not want our path to be intermittent and jerky. Smith Wigglesworth said that once we are called to the Spirit we can’t return to the flesh. “God has given to us in the spirit, and behold, we are spiritual children today, and we must know that we have to be spiritual all the time. God forbid that we should ever be like the Galatian church, after we been in the spirit, we could come in the flesh. You are allowed to go into the spirit but you are never allowed to come in the flesh after you have been in the spirit.“ (Message given at Glad Tidings Tabernacle and Bible training school, San Francisco, August 22, 1922*)

So it is with the path of just: like the Sun, it is set on a course that is governed by immutable spiritual laws that are laid down in heaven and condensed for us in the command to love. The Hebrew word translated as “just” (tsaddiyq) means both just or righteous in government and in deed, and also righteous as justified and vindicated by God. It is because we have been justified by the blood of Jesus we are the righteousness of God in Christ, and this applies to every saint. It is only the Just who can walk after spirit. The purpose of our walk, the path of the just, is to shine like the sun, and we do that when we consecrate ourselves to sharing God’s life and His love. When we walk after the spirit every step we take is like the footsteps of good King Wenceslas in the Christmas Song: they are warm with the love and the life of Jesus.

Many of us pray see that sun shining in revival, but how much do we really want to pay the price of being part of the fire? In “Compelled by Love,” Heidi Baker tells of how – to the consternation of the authorities – she went into a camp set aside for people with highly contagious cholera, hugged the sick and dying, and brought the healing and Life of Jesus to the whole camp. Jesus isn’t going to give us black marks when we slip into carnality, but I do believe he is sad when we do, because he knows that not only we are missing His best, but also that He is missing our best. He must long for us to partner with the Holy Spirit like the apostles of old, the Wigglesworths of yesterday, and the Bakers of today.

Anne (my wife) had a visitation from God a few years ago that lasted three days. She says she knows exactly when He started to withdraw: it was when she reached out for a kit-kat (a chocolate biscuit that breaks into “fingers”) after He had said “don’t eat that now,” said to God “Why not? It’s harmless,” and ate it anyway. God has nothing against chocolate biscuits and He isn’t about micro-managing our appetites, but on that occasion He had a reason for wanting Anne to say no to her desire, harmless though it seemed. Because the presence of the Holy Spirit wasn’t so strong on her from that moment, the next time she was tempted to move out of the Spirit it was more difficult to resist, and so it continued until the sense of His manifest presence had gone.

We can scratch our heads over what it means to grieve the Holy Spirit, but I think it begins with this: the Lord wants us to be so in tune with His Spirit that we can dismiss those promptings of carnality that make our vessels so leaky, and He is grieved when we aren’t. When we spiral down the path to sin and death (James 1:15), His grief must increase, and David expresses acute awareness of this in Psalm 51, but I think this is the lesson of Anne’s story. Instead of being full of the Holy Spirit like Stephen and Barnabas in the Book of Acts, we judder along with our tanks on reserve, leaking because they are pierced through by chocolate biscuit fingers.  If more of us came to church full, instead of needing to be filled, we would be more likely to see the power of God moving among those who stagger in empty.

So we press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus – although actually how much pressing do we really do?  A small group of us were praying to know the manifest presence of God in our midst, for the Daystar to consume our lives with His presence. A sister prayed with wonderful honesty: “Lord, we long for revival, or we think we do anyway…” I think she nailed it: do we really want revival, or do we just want to warm our hands on the fire?  Jesus tells us clearly that we should count the cost of following Him, whether he was talking specifically about carrying the cross, or teaching through the illustrations of assessing the cost of building a tower or the strength of an opposing army. If we want the Presence, I think we do need to press. When that shining sun is on its trajectory in the spirit, pouring God’s life and love into others, it cannot come down to Earth for a night out or a bit of r and r. It stays on course as it heads for the perfect day. The Son of Man had no place to rest His head.

The Mighty One, God the LORD,
Has spoken and called the earth
From the rising of the sun to its going down.

Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God will shine forth.”
(Ps 50: 1-2)

God will do what He says. He will shine forth out of Zion. Zion will be found wherever that sun is shining. Are we just going to dream of the perfect day, or are we going to commit ourselves to staying on the path towards it? If we feel that we need a prayer of renewed consecration, we can do no better than the one or merciful Holy Spirit gave to David all those years ago:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.
“(Psalm 51: 10-13)

“In royal robes I don’t deserve.
I live to serve
Your Majesty”
(Jarrod Cooper, from the Album “Days of Wonder.”)

*The Smith Wigglesworth quotation is published in “Smith Wigglesworth, the complete collection of his life teachings,” compiled by Roberts Liardon.

“It was before the Lord…”

Now as the ark of the LORD came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart….  Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” So David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the LORD. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.” Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death. (2 Sam 6: 16, 20-23)



I stayed recently at a hotel where I was speaking and exhibiting at a dyslexia conference. The hotel was built, I think, around the end of the 19th century: in its heyday it must have been a jewel in the crown of Victorian opulence in that city. It had a splendid ballroom, tall ornate mirrors, spacious bedrooms with recessed seats in the walls, crystal chandeliers, and wide steps where you could imagine the daughters of the local shipping magnates sweeping through in their flowing robes as men in top hats held an outstretched hand and gave a slight bow as they descended. Today it is a different story: the opulence hasn’t just faded, it has disappeared. The carpets are dirty, paint is peeling off the walls, The pictures in my room weren’t even hanging on the wall but they were on the floor, leaning against it; the lift door got stuck and the goods lift didn’t work at all.

I was thinking of all the shortcomings of this place when I opened my Bible at the place I had reached in my current reading: it was the verse I’ve quoted in the title of this piece, from psalm 138 vs 8: “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me…“ When I read this I looked at myself and realised how Man was like this hotel that I was staying in: created in beauty and perfection, but now worn down and broken by sin. Yet, because of the blood of Jesus, our Father can see us in our original beauty, Immanuel still chooses to come and dwell in us, and the Holy Spirit promises to perfect us…

When David was bringing the Ark into Jerusalem and famously dancing and whirling in celebration, Michal looked out of the window and “despised him in her heart.“ She disapproved of his actions which she considered to be unseemly, and she spoke in a critical and negative way. She just saw what she considered to be peeling paint and dirty carpets.  David‘s response, detailed above, was that “it was before the Lord…” The consequence of Michal’s criticism was that she had no children.

Our words can be either fruitful or barren. The unfruitfulness of Michal‘s life is a dramatic illustration of the consequence of barren words. How easy it is to judge a brother or sister with our negative comments because we consider that what they are doing is inappropriate by our standards. Yet because of the blood of Jesus that brother or sister is standing “before the Lord.” God does not peer down disapprovingly from behind a twitching curtain: He opens His arms wide in welcome. If the blood of Jesus is sufficient for the Father to look upon us in love and approval, how can we ever do otherwise when looking upon each other? The only consequence of our negativity will be unfruitfulness in our own lives.

Michal’s contempt of David was more than a passing thought in her head; it came from a deeper place. It came from her heart. If we criticise a brother or sister we are no better than Michal: we have lifted up our own hearts in contempt, and we are forgetting that we too are like that run-down hotel I stayed in. We need to pray, as David did: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps 139 23-24) Our negativity will never lead anybody else “in the way everlasting;” it will only, ultimately, have a negative impact on ourselves.

However, God says “I will perfect the things which concern you.” David’s prayer suggests that anxious thoughts lead to offensive ways. What anxieties lie deep in our hearts that can cause us to be offensive to others as Michal was? If we invite Him in to that run-down, broken area of our heart that feels the need to despise another person, He will come in, mend the lift, lay a new carpet, repaint the walls and hang the pictures in their place. The lift will take us up into heavenly places, the carpet will be a red carpet of welcome for His presence, the walls will be as white as snow, and the pictures will show the face of Jesus. And instead of criticizing David we will be joining him in the dance.

Thus my heart was grieved,
And I was vexed in my mind.

I was so foolish and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.

You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.
(Ps 73: 21-24)

By Your Patience Possess Your Soul

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1: 2-4)

Can we honestly say that we welcome the trails that come our way? Do we say: “What an amazing trial I am going through! I am so looking forward to what the Lord is going to do in me through it! Thank you, Lord! Bring it on!” Because that is the attitude that James is exhorting us to take on, right at the outset of his letter. And just in case we want to file those verses for later reference, the Holy Spirit gives us another reminder in 1 Peter:

 “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,  (1 Pe 1: 6-7)”

Trials are not a popular subject – we prefer healing, grace, faith; in fact anything that focuses on the blessings of our inheritance rather than the hardship of the cross.  Resurrection trumps death every time. But the New Testament is peppered with expressions of the joy felt by the early church as they lived under the hammer of persecution, and the inescapable logic of James’s statement is that, through the development of the fruit of patience in  our lives, we become people who “lack nothing” as a direct result of the trials that we undergo. So do you want to be perfect and complete? Do you want to lack nothing? The good news is that the perfect work of patience that will bring that about. The bad news is that you need to “fall into various trials” for it to happen.

“Isn’t there an easier way?” I hear. “Can’t I just receive this perfection by faith? Can’t I just be imbued with the perfection of Jesus as I spend time in His presence?”

Unfortunately that is not what my Bible says. Yes, we must spend time in His presence, and yes, we receive our inheritance by faith, but it appears from Scripture that the development of a Christ-like character can only come about one way, and that is when patience is forged in the crucible of our trials. Jesus set the pattern himself when, speaking prophetically about the persecution coming on the church He said: “”By your patience possess your souls.” (Luke 21:19) He gave us the extreme example of patience when, “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Heb 12:2) The word  (Greek “hypomonē ,”also translated as endurance and perseverence) used as a verb here by the writer to the Hebrews is the same as that is used by James, when talking about the “perfect work” of patience; and by Jesus when he tells us how to  “Possess or souls.” Patience certainly had its perfect work in Him, and because He endured the cross and sat down at the right hand of the Father we too can possess our souls and be seated there with Him.

What have You done?
How can we relate this to our own trials? If you are reading this article you are almost certainly not facing life-threatening persecution, unlike James and Peter. You are not about to be crucified for the sins of the world. But I think that we can find a useful lesson if we look at the actual trial of Jesus before Pilate. The person who sat in the Judgement seat was in the position of the “prince of this world” in terms of worldly authority over the man Jesus. As we know, Jesus referred to Satan as the prince of this world in John 14:30. Here is the exchange between Jesus and Pilate as recorded in John 18:35-36, when Jesus Christ stood before His worldly judge and was challenged to give an account of Himself:

“What have You done?” (asked Pilate)
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here. Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”
(John 18: 35-36)

When we face judgement and we feel that we have done nothing wrong, what are the thoughts that we are likely to give voice to? “It wasn’t me/my fault!” “I didn’t touch it!” “Well, you said…” And so on. We all know the script, and we know the sense of indignation and hurt that goes with the injustice of false accusation and blame. But not so Jesus. For the joy set before Him and through His absolute confidence in His identity and His mission, he endured not only the temptation to justify Himself, but also all the mocking, the slaps and the scourging that he suffered even before walking the final path to Calvary; and He spoke only of His Kingdom and its eternal truth. Patience had its perfect work in Him, and He possessed not only His own soul but yours and mine for eternity.

Peter expressed it like this:

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps “Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”
(1 Pe 2: 21-24)

It is likely that Peter wrote this letter, and the second one, when he was living in Rome under Nero, not long before his death. Just a few verses earlier, he said: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men…” (1 Pe 2: 13-15) Peter was submitting himself to the ordinances of Nero. This is New Testament patience: the mindset of a man totally sold out to the Kingdom of God.

We do of course face many and varied trials in this life. We are promised persecutions. Illness, poverty, injustice, pain – these are all realities, and in all of them it can be said that when Christians succeed in keeping their hypomonē through them Jesus is glorified, as Peter writes in the second of the opening scriptures. But the trials I am thinking about are not physical hardships, but the emotional trials we can face on a daily basis where our minds are buffeted by negative, defensive reactions to the comments of other people – often loved ones. These may seem insignificant when compared to the trials of cancer or the prospect of martyrdom, but they are part of the very fabric of our relationships; and if part of the preparation of the spotless bride of Christ is for us to be in unity before He comes back for us, we need to deal with it.

Trial by argument

Jesus’s mission was to bring the victory of Love into the world through the cross. When He was on trial His choice was to defend Himself or hold onto His mission. When we are on trial, and the voices that come from the prince of this world are goading us to defend ourselves, we too can make the choice that Jesus made: we can remember that we belong to a kingdom that is not of this world and choose our mission of unity and love over our protestations of innocence. The Lord is our strong tower: if we can hold onto the author and finisher of our faith instead of fighting our corner, we will eventually see His love prevail – because it always does – and patience will have its perfect work.

Love always builds. Love does not focus on self, but on the other. There can be many times in a trial by argument when we know that what we are saying is true; but unless we speak that truth in love the words will be destructive, because the enemy will twist them into a weapon of attack for his own purposes. What is truth? Truth spoken in defensiveness only serves to puff up self, and self will always fall sooner or later; whereas truth spoken in love is what causes us to “grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” More than anything, this is what we all want. We know it in our spirits, but it is hidden from our flesh. So if we want to possess our soul we need to listen to the quiet voice speaking into our spirit and ignore the loud ”defend yourself!” clamour of the flesh. We have got used to weddings being postponed because of Covid; we don’t want ours to be put off because of our discord.

Buckle up the Belt of Truth (Teaching)

When God spoke through his prophets to his old covenant people he repeated the same message many times and in many different ways: “Return to me or face the consequences!”

The same God speaks through his prophets today. He continues to say the same thing to different people in different ways. His heart of love for His people has not changed: He continues to say “Return to me!“  And the call hasn’t changed: He said to the first Adam “where are you?“ and today, although the context may be different, He still says to us, the brothers and sisters of the second Adam: “Where are you?“

Because He still is longing to walk with us in the garden of His promises, and many in His church are still nowhere to be seen. He has a plan and a purpose, and He wants to see that plan and  purpose fulfilled in our lives; but this will not happen unless we walk with him, close to him, yoked to him.

The message that He is giving to many of his prophets today is clear: the vision is “written on tablets so that he may run who reads it!” (Hab 2:2) There is a great shaking coming on the world; and there will be much upheaval; but in and through this we will find safety under the shadow of his wings; we will be a light in the darkness as we walk in his light, and as His light arises on us so many will come out of the darkness to seek Him. There have been pictures of earthquakes, of storms, of avalanches; there have been words of the lion roaring, of light shining, of a strong tower standing, but the message is fundamentally Isaiah 60: 2-3, and ultimately the deepest symbolism of the Book of Revelation:

For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the LORD will arise over you,
The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
And His glory will be seen upon you.

Nevertheless there is a new emphasis now, a new note that hasn’t been heard before. In summary, what I feel the Spirit is saying to the Church is this:

“Buckle up for a bumpy ride, because this really is about to happen soon. Buckle up the belt of Truth, because this is what will keep you safe. But pay attention, because it will be the new thing I am doing, and not the old thing that you have been doing. Listen to me and learn from me and you will tread the high places of the Earth in my presence. But if you refuse to listen you will seek me but you will not find me; you will see my light shining over the mountains but you will continue to stumble through the undergrowth of the valley that I want to lead you out of; and your heart will be in danger of growing bitter and critical towards those who are experiencing my glory.”

Our response.

Prophesy requires a response. When Agabus prophesied a famine, “ the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea” (See Acts 11: 28-30) So how do we do to prepare for what is coming? Here are a few suggestions.

Intimacy with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus tells us that His sheep hear His voice – but it’s only through the Holy Spirit that He speaks, whether this is directly into our hearts or via the Bible, so unless we are familiar with that voice we will not recognise it when it comes, and we will miss His directions. This doesn’t just mean spending a fixed period of time every day praying and reading the Bible; it means staying close to Him all day so that we can hear his whisper as we walk, that “voice behind us, saying this is the way, walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

Openness to change.
God is doing “a new thing.” This doesn’t mean that it’s not in the Bible, because it is. It will either be prophesy that is now coming to fulfilment, or aspects of new testament church life and ministry that God is only now restoring to the church. We need to make sure that our openness to what God is doing today is is only shaped by what He did when He first established the church 2,000 years ago. and just not by what we, our fathers, or our Bible teachers saw God doing yesterday.

Practical love
Are we free and generous in our giving? As the financial systems of the world become more shaky, the best place to invest our money is in the Bank of Heaven, where “moth and rust do not corrupt, and thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matt 6:19) As we shovel out, God shovels in – and His shovel is bigger than ours.

Holiness
Friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Jesus is coming for a bride without spot or blemish. God judged idolatry and compromise among His Old Covenant people and He has not changed today. We all need to ask the Holy Spirit if we have any idols ourselves, and what we need to do for our “houses” to be an acceptable dwelling place for Him. We must recognise that when Peter meant what he said when he wrote “Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”.

None of these – or other principals of discipleship – are new ideas. I think that the “new thing” that God is doing today is to allow unprecedented erosion of the sandy foundations that the world’s civilisation is built upon, so that what is build on the Rock of Jesus Christ is the safe haven that can be seen by all, more clearly than ever before. His call to us today is to make sure we are in it and are not wandering around outside.

Seated in Heavenly Places

“In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the LORD before them.” (Zechariah 12:8)

“His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which we have been given exceedingly great and precious promises, that we may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Pe 1:3-4)

Who do you see in the mirror?


When speaking of the Word of God, the apostle James wrote: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. (James 1: 23-23) The question is, what kind of people are we, who have been born from above to “conform to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29) Who do we see when we look in the mirror of the Word? We are the spiritual house of David that Jesus is building by the Holy Spirit (1 Pe 2:5). The prophet Zechariah doesn’t mince his words: he says that we will be “like God.” Peter says that through God’s “great and precious promises” we are “partakers of the divine nature.” Yet you don’t have to spend more than a few seconds with me to know that I am clearly not like God at all. What’s gone wrong?

Nothing, because you are seeing my flesh and not my spirit. I have already looked at our spiritual identities in “We shall be like Him,” and it seems to me that the evidence of Scripture is this: in the heavenly places where we are seated, we are like Him already, because we are already seated in the atmosphere of His glory, where nothing can dwell that is less than perfect.

Here are a few details of who we are in Christ that Scripture has sketched in for us:

“Those whom he justified he also glorified.”  (Romans 8 28-29)
“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them” (John 17:22)

We have come to “To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” (Heb 12:23)

We are “crowned with glory and honour.” (Psalm 8:5)

We have places to walk in the courts of Heaven (Zech 3:7)

We can be “joyful in glory” and have the honour of “executing God’s written judgement” on the Nations (Psalm 149: 5-9).

We “Worship God in the Beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9)

All of these descriptions of the Saints – and there are plenty more – can only relate to our walk in the Spirit: since the flesh wars against the spirit nothing of our carnal nature can have any part in them. From the moment we are born again to the time when we join the Lord in Heaven we mature as Christians, “grow(ing) up  in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—” (Eph 5:15) as the Holy Spirit bears the fruit of Christ in our lives. But the question I am aiming at is this: is a baby Christian on Earth also a baby Christian in Heaven?

I think the answer has to be “No.” There is no passage of time in Heaven, where a year is as a thousand days, where the God who created time has reigned since before time began and where we are seated as His children together with His Son. If there is no duration in Heaven, there can also be no maturation: what we are in the Spirit is what we were created to be, as are the angels, the seraphim, the 24 elders and all the other members of the Heavenly host. I think we “grow up in all things into Him who is the head” (Eph 4:15) as, step by step, faith to faith, and obedient moment by obedient moment, we put to death our carnal natures and allow our spirits and not our flesh to do the walking.

Paul exhorts the Philippians to “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.” (Phil 2: 14-16)

The “crooked and perverse generation” is the generation of the First Adam (See “away in a manger” for more on this). As we let the dead shell of that same carnal nature fall away, the light of Christ’s Spirit that is one with ours shines more and more strongly and brings His light into the darkness, while His Word executes His will on Earth. The process of maturing as Christians is becoming on Earth who we already are in Heaven, and in doing so becoming the answers to the Lord’s prayer: “Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” The correct translation of the Greek tenses in Matthew 18:18 is this: “Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on the earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Everything was finished at Calvary: as we grow in the Spirit we are always reaching into Heavenly places for a completed work.

Pauls prayer for the Ephesians was

“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places…” (Eph 1:17-20)

It is often said that Jesus is the “bridge” from earth to Heaven. The bridge from Heaven to Earth is the Holy Spirit: the baptism in the Holy Spirit gives us all we need of Heaven’s equipping for our earthly works – “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.” The more that we can see in the mirror of God’s word who we really are, the more the eyes of our understanding will be enlightened, and the greater will be the works (John 14:12) that we will do.

Away in a Manger

“O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you?” (Luke 9: 41)

If you have been fortunate enough to have done some international travel, you will probably have experienced a bit of culture shock when moving between different cultural norms. Attitudes to considerations such as punctuality, work ethic, loyalty, hospitality, debt and much more can vary between nations, and can be quite difficult to adjust to while we are away from home. But while the tinsel of “civilized behaviour” can be draped across – or pulled off – any number of different practices depending on where they are performed, the common strands of acceptability are still enough to enable, say, an American Indian, an English nobleman, and an Maori tribesman to recognise and accept each other as members of the Human family. Moving between them might be a bit awkward at times, but the obstacles aren’t insurmountable. However there are two societies where the gulf between the cultures  is so enormous that the consequence is all-out war, and that is the culture of Heaven and the culture of the world.

Jesus said: “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (John 8:23). He refers a few times to “this generation,” notably in Matthew 24:34, when He is talking about the events of the last days: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” The word used in Greek is just ‘what it says on the tin’ – a line of descent from common ancestry. There are differing interpretations of the text, but  I think that the “generation” that Jesus refers to is, quite simply, the generation of Adam that is born of the flesh. It is the generation that will finally pass away when He ”makes all things new.” Until then, there are two generations in the world: the generation of the first Adam, born from below; and the generation of the second Adam, born (again) from above, born of the Spirit, alive in Christ. Faith is from Above. It can only be received and exercised in the Spirit, which is why the generation of the first Adam is faithless. The Greek word diastrepho, translated as “perverse,” means diverted from the right path and specifically opposing the saving plan and purposes of God. The flesh has been perverse since the first Adam perverted it in the garden of Eden.

God said “Let there be…” and there was. The universe was created by the Word of God (Hebrews 11:3), and that word became flesh in the Incarnation. The Son of Man Himself is the perfect and complete expression of faith. The faith by which Love of God brings creation and its redemption into existence is the very atmosphere of Heaven. Jesus left that atmosphere behind to dwell among us, in a culture that was totally and fundamentally in opposition to everything that He was. When we consider the lowly conditions of the Lord’s birth we traditionally see a great disparity between the surroundings that one would expect for the baby King of Kings and the environment of the stable. But the distance between these two extremes is just a pinprick when compared with the great gulf that exists between the world “below” and the world “above.” It wouldn’t be surprising if there were times when all He wanted was to go back home.

What about us? We are born from Above; we are no longer “of the world” any more than He is (John 17:16). In Christ, we have “places to walk” among those who stand in the courts of Heaven, (Zech 3:7) where we are also seated. (Eph 2:6) As descendants of the second Adam, we are also “conformed to His image” (Romans 8:29) and therefore restored to the image of God as we were originally created. Spiritual things can only be spiritually discerned, yet we so often fall into the snare of trying to understand our spiritual heritage through the clouded eyes of the flesh, and grapple with the impossibility of trying to reconcile our self-image as creatures of this earth (below) with the idea of our inheritance in Heavenly places (above). But as I wrote in my last article (we shall be like Him), not only will we be like Him when He returns, but we already are like Him in the Spirit.

As I have quoted in that article, John writes: we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2). The apostle goes on to say this, in verse three: “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:3). I strongly believe that Jesus is calling His bride today to purify herself. Do we settle for the norms of the “faithless and perverse generation” that we live among? Or are we straining our spiritual lungs to breathe in the pure atmosphere of faith, in which the Word of God can bring about the purposes of Heaven? Do we seek the Kingdom of God above all else? Are our lives an incarnation of Love? Do we hunger for the bread of Heaven? Do we thirst for the living water of the Holy Spirit and cry out with the sons of Korah:

“As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God
?  (Psalm 42:1-2)

I wonder how many times Jesus prayed these verses Himself when He was alone on the mountain with His Father.

We are no longer of “this generation” because we have been born from Above, but we dwell among those who are, with the King’s work to do, for as long as the King wants to keep us on Earth. So as long as we remain here, let’s remember who we are and where we come from; because until we leave this tent for our permanent residence we too are away in a manger.