Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Shameless Boldness - Psalm 119.46

I will speak of Your decrees before kings and not be ashamed. 119.46

Shame is a powerful emotion.  For many of us it can at times be utterly controlling.  Whilst Christians in Britain today do not face real persecution like those in many parts of the world, it is none the less true that we can be dominated by a shame over our faith and beliefs.  It is a shame which makes us constantly question if we should or even could share our faith with others or discuss how our faith impacts the many social and political controversies of the day.  Even though I am a minister I could not claim to be free from these shame-chains.  There have been countless times when I have second guessed myself “should I tell them what I really think?” “What would happen if I just came out and told this person that sin is sin and that it really is black and white before the Throne of God?”.  Even doing prayer on the streets can turn into a real battle of shame against courage.  

The Psalmist cuts through this and proclaims that even before kings he will speak of the decrees and ways of the Lord.  He will not be ashamed.  How challenging!  If we find it hard enough to testify about truth before our friends and family or to the harmless old lady down the street how much more would we struggle to have such boldness before our governments and parliaments?  Perhaps this should challenge us not just before worldly kings and governors but church leaders too.  At a time when liberalism and revisionism are rampantly perverting the decrees of God and the church hierarchy for the most part either fails to act or, even worse, promotes this, should we not boldly proclaim the decrees of Christ to them?

I am reminded of the balokole of the East African Revival.  These were ‘the saved ones’ whose lives had been turned upside down and inside out by the radical and transforming message of the Gospel.  These men and women stood up before their seminary presidents and denounced their teaching whilst imploring them to love the decrees of God.  These men and women stood up before their bishops and church elders and called on them to repent and embrace the truths of the Scriptures anew.  These men and women fearlessly stood up before the local governors and even the violent president Idi Amin and called the whole nation to repentance and a mighty humbling.  These balokole were fearless.  I don’t think the word ‘ashamed’ even entered their vocabulary!  Sadly many of them were killed by Idi Amin and others.  Many of them were thrown out of their colleges and Diocese by the hard hearted and stiff necked leaders they stood up to.

Not a one of them would hold regrets over their actions though.  Given the chance again they would have done the same thing over and over and over.  What gave them such courage?  What broke the chains of shame we are so often shackled with?


When you see Jesus as all you need, when His fame is all that matters, when His truth is sweeter than honey and richer than human wealth could conceivewhen this is your faith you find no room for fear and shame.  Let us pray to be like the balokole and speak of God’s decrees before the kings of this world without feeling ashamed!

Saturday, 25 February 2017

(SERMON) Luke 7.18-23 Grace and Sight

As John begins to doubt that Jesus is the Saviour we discover that Jesus is greater than our wildest dreams and in Him there is true joy, peace, and hope.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Finding life in His righteousness - Psalm 119.40

How I long for precepts! Give me life through Your righteousness. 119.40

Righteous—something we all seek to be but cannot make ourselves become.  Sin is always there, infecting everything.  Many people think that if they just don’t do this or that then they are holy—or at least holier than the person sat next to them.  If they give to charity and offer time to the church then surely that makes them OK with God.  Spending time in a soup kitchen and driving a friend to the hospital must equate to being righteous!  

That is the way it works right?



God has nothing but contempt for such ideas.  In Isaiah 64.6 the prophet explains the issue at the heart of our so-called ‘righteousness’:

All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.”

That phrase ‘polluted garment’ refers to a used menstrual ragjust about the most disgusting thing imaginable.  Because of our sin we have become unclean; even our seemingly righteous acts are filthy and polluted by sinful motives and desires.  

There is nothing but death and misery in seeking to make your own righteousness.  There is nothing but hopelessness and darkness in trying to find life to the full through your own effort and rule keeping.  I know this all too well.  I tried for so many, many, years to make myself righteous: all it led to was pain, self-harm, and spiritual desolation.

Going to Uganda in 2011 and coming across the teaching—glorious biblical teaching—of the East African Revival changed everything for me.  Now I know what life to the full tastes like. Now I am free from self-harm and that dark polluted road of pride which leads only to decay and rot.  

Life comes from being given Jesus’ righteousness.  He lived  the perfect and spotless life so we don’t have to.  As Paul would say in 2 Corinthians “He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God.”  WOW!   We can have perfect and pure righteousness here and now because Jesus freely offers it to us.

When we know this righteousness for ourselves, when we put on the white robe of righteousness He offers us then we not only know life but we are filled with a love and holy desire to reflect what we have been given to the world.  We long to know and follow God’s precepts and commands—but out of a place of love and security not one of fear and failing.  

When you are given life through Christ’s righteousness nothing in your life will ever, ever, be the same again.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Gordon Ramsay and the disgusting Kitchen

One of the best parts of watching Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares is when he finally inspects the kitchen and storage of the restaurants.  Often doing it during a dinner service what he finds is shocking and disgusting beyond words.  On numerous occasions he has to shut down the restaurants there and then before someone gets seriously sick.

Rotting food in room temperature walk in freezers.  Piles upon piles of frozen fake mush instead of fresh produce—often prepared a week before and then frozen.  Grime and dirt and mould growing and festering on the shelves and in the kitchen units.  Cockroaches and rat droppings.  Dirty floors, sticky walls, encrusted slime.  Then there are the basic errors beyond general cleanliness like keeping cooked  chicken and raw chicken not just on the same shelf—which would be bad enough—but even in the same container.  Watching the programme almost makes you develop a fear of eating out anywhere that you cannot see the kitchen before you eat!

All of this filth impacts the business.  It is no wonder the food tastes bland or sour when the materials in the kitchen are rotten and  the basic cleanliness is so poor.  Of course the bad food springing from these kitchen problems puts off the customers and kills the business.

Believe it or not this is a very good metaphor for the Christian life. Your life has two parts just like a restaurant. It has the front of house—that which everyone sees and knows and where they experience you.  It also the back of house—that is the kitchen from which all the things in the front are made and developed in.  As Christians it is not enough to appear holy, to appear to know the Lord because when people taste the fruit coming out of our lives they know when it is rotten and bad.  As Jesus said "a good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produces bad fruit."

The 'kitchen' of our lives as saints of God is our prayer life and devotional life.   The time we spend away from others with the Lord and His word.  Jesus calls on us to pray and to do so daily alone and out of sight.  Sin is the filthy mould that builds up inside us when we neglect the basic chores and hygiene of our spiritual lives—personal repentance, prayer, reading and reflecting on Scripture etc.  As Gordon Ramsay often says "COME ON GUYS JUST 30 MINUTES A DAY AND YOU CAN KEEP THIS PLACE CLEAN!!"

When we let filth and sin build up and corrupt our spiritual kitchen it slowly begins to appear normal, we just don't see it and eventually we become deluded into accepting it.  But it is not acceptable.  If we are to produce good fruit which gives glory to King Jesus and draws in the crowds that they might hear of Him then we cannot neglect the back of house. 

As Christians we must be dedicated to spiritual hygiene and good practice.  Importantly, we need friends, family, and experts (men like Gordon Ramsay who know what a clean back of house is and how to get things in order) to step in and help us clean things uphelp us see the errors and faults, to understand how things got how they are.  That means a humble willingness to invite people in and also a preparedness to get our hands dirty in the spiritual warfare we all must wage.

Unless we are willing to sort out our spiritual kitchens and be passionate about keeping it clean we might as well just close up shop now and stop pretending to be Christians before someone else steps in and shuts us down.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

(SERMON) Luke 10.1-9 Making Jesus Known

Making Jesus known is not just the duty of ministers but of all of Jesus' followers. In Luke 10 Jesus sends out the 72 disciples in pairs and teaches them some important truths we must still listen to today.
[This is a re-recording of a sermon I prepared for an interview]

Strength in the the middle of Grief - Psalm 119.28

I am weary from grief; strengthen me through Your word. 119.28

Grief is one of the universal emotions that none of us can escape from.  Sooner or later someone we know will pass away.  They may die quietly in their sleep, or they may die in agony fighting for their last breath.  No matter how our loved ones leave us, whether we are there or absent, whether we feel ‘ready’ or not, we all experience grief.  Some people express grief in different ways to others.

My Grandmother wanted the house largely redecorating, made the spare room her bedroom, and removed most of my Grandfather’s belongings.  For her it is currently too painful to see the remnants of their long marriage; those physical shards of memory which cut like a broken mirror.  Many others try to keep everything of their loved onethe house never changes, the chair stays but is never sat in, the bed keeps the same mattress, and the pictures stay up as windows through which memories can hurtle back towards happier times.  I know personally just how long lasting the pain from the loss of a loved one can be. The death of my Great Aunt when I was about 14 so devastated me it left emotional and spiritual scars which not only made me who I am but still sometimes flare up painfully.

This grief we feel at the loss of a loved one is hard.  The shortest verse in the BIble is simply ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11.35) and it depicts the very real grief Jesus felt at knowing His friend Lazarus was dead.   Of course, Jesus then raised Lazarus back to life and thereby showed the world that He is Lord of Life and the ever-reigning King of the Resurrection.  It is because of this, because of Jesus, that Christians can find strength in the Bible when we experience grief.  

When our loved ones believed in Jesus as Lord, God, and Saviour, we can rest in the confidence that they are now with Him and know of no pain or suffering or brokenness.  We can rest in the confidence that they know what true joy is and true fulfilment.  This is why the funerals of departed saints are not times to be marked by sorrow but rather rejoicing that they have gone to be with their Lord. There is real strength to be found in the promises of God for those who grieve.

Yet this strength we find in the promises of new and eternal life in the age to come is also the very thing which must strengthen our resolve to tell everyone we know about Jesus.  The Bible could not be clearer that only those who believe in Jesus will be found with Him at the resurrection—everyone else will be told by Jesus “Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels! … and they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25.41, 46).  

Knowing the Good News of Salvation for those who believe should give us the strength and passion and resolve we need to tell the world about Jesus. Thinking on this dual theme, why not make a commitment to tell a friend or family member about what Jesus has done for you at a time when you were weary in your grief?

Monday, 6 February 2017

Gordon Ramsay and the power of Delusion

It is good to feel human again!  After nearly two weeks of brutal flu which laid the entire household semi-catatonic I finally feel like a living and breathing human.  Praise the Lord! 

During those days of fatigue and sheer 'ugh' I did what many ill people do—I binge watched TV.   To be honest I didn't feel up to doing much else.  For some reason my show of choice was Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.  It was awesome.  It was hilarious.  It was a revelation.

If you don't know the show I would highly recommend you watch it.  It is entertaining, it has that yuck factor near the start but then ends on a feel good note of hopefulness.  The language is pretty strong and Gordon is certainly an angry individual but don't let that shock you into not watching.  The premise is that Gordon Ramsey—one of the most critically acclaimed chefs and most successful restaurant owners in the world—travels around America and goes to restaurants in dire trouble.  These are places with no customers and in massive debt but which cannot seem to figure out why.  After tasting the food and seeing their service he inspects the kitchen then comes up with a rapid turnaround plan. This generally involves a new menu focussed on truly fresh and local food, a complete renovation of the restaurant and possibly the kitchen.  Often he has to help families and staff come together, forgive past hurts, love each other, and get on the same team.  It is at times quite emotional and heart-warming stuff. Seriously go watch it!

When I said this show was a revelation I meant it—God has used it to remind me of certain truths about human nature and faith which I believe are worth reflecting on.  In this post and a couple of others I want to consider Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (GRKN) in light of the glorious truth of Jesus Christ and the truth He has revealed to us in Scripture.

I want to start with the shocking ability humans have to delude ourselves.  GRKN has a brutal way of showing this fact.  Time and time again the owners and chefs of the restaurants are in such massive pits of denial that they have come to believe their lies and seem to live in an alternative world with little bearing on cold hard reality.  Not only do owners often think their food is 10/10 when it is actually disgusting and almost inedible but they simply don't hear the complaints, they filter out the countless plates of food sent back to the kitchen in disgust, they don't see that the food is why people never return. 

Some even delude themselves into thinking that what they serve is not only good top quality food but that it is fresh and flavourful.  It takes a special kind of stupid to think that frozen food is fresh yet constantly food advertised as 'fresh' is in fact store bought frozen and simply defrosted in microwaves.  Fish advertised as "catch of the day" is actually a week old and frozen.  Yet the owners don't even realise that they are deceiving their customers, that they are fakes and liars.  They are so deluded they think what they are doing is normal and right.  Even when a world class chef takes them to task and says their food is horrible they reject what he says. 

It is hard to put into words—you really have to watch it to see just how deluded many of the owners are at the start of the show.  Watching it you almost want to scream because to you it is so unbelievably obvious that they are wrong and Gordon Ramsay is right.  The astute person though would not use this programme as a telescope to look at the faults of others but a mirror to consider their own life.  We are all susceptible to such nonsense, the human brain seems wired to accept contradictory truths and believe things which are frankly beyond belief.

This is a problem the church is facing today.  The church is to be the bastion of truth in a world of lies and half-truths.  The Scriptures are to be, as Jesus Himself said, "unbreakable".  In two key areas the church and her people are failing and falling into delusion.  On the one hand we all have become so competent at excusing our own sins that we practically deserve medals for effort.  If we truly look at our lives I am sure we can all see areas where holiness is not the first word that comes to mind and yet we have found ways to accept this and make it OK when in fact it is such a terrible  tragedy that the Son of God had to die in agony because of it.  John tells us that anyone who thinks they are without sin is a liar and God is not in them.  That is a serious charge we all need to internalise—are you deluding yourself with your own sinfulness?

The other aspect facing the church is not so much our delusion over the seriousness of our sin but the whole theology underpinning the faith.  Huge groupings in the church believe that they are Christian and yet don't believe the basic tenants of the historic faith.  They say that Christ is Lord but they don't think salvation is in Him alone or even that He truly rose from the dead.  They look at what the Bible says about adultery, divorce, fornication—any sex outside of the marriage bed of one man and one woman—and call black white and white black in such a way that it beggars belief.  They ignore Scripture or twist Scripture or abuse Scripture to make it say what they want it to and then think that this is the real faith and what they are doing is good and loving.  They cry foul when the Church decrees in favour of orthodoxy and rail against her leaders and teaching, even going so far as to purposefully break the rules, yet remain within her taking her money and living without seeing the complete lack of integrity in what they are doing.  They seem to live in an alternative world  believing that they are merely changing attitudes when really they are fundamentally changing Christianity and truth. 

Delusion and wanting to believe something so much that you make it your reality is a powerful and dangerous thing.  People get hurt—just as people get food poisoning in the kind of restaurants seen on GRKN.  Maybe it is time for some Gordon Ramsay's to stand up in the church and make clear the delusion; albeit with less offensive language yet retaining all the passion.  The church needs these passionate people to speak up, to lay bare the truth, to call it how it is.  But these people need to do it not from hate but from a real longing to see success and growth and hope return. 

And whilst we stand up for the time honoured truths that God has revealed we must also take a long hard look in the mirror to seek out our own delusions: not just in sin but in our own theologies and practices for they are surely there too.

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