Month: August 2010

Guidance Part 4. God-Given Burden

I love the South Wales Valleys.

I can’t really explain why – I just do!

Some might argue that it’s because I grew up here and so therefore have a nostalgic connection to the place. However, if it were that simple – why is it that so many people can’t wait to get out of the Valleys and once they do – they never come back?!

While I can’t really explain my passion for this beautiful, broken corner of God’s world, I am under no illusions when it all started. It started when the Holy Spirit invaded my life as a teenager, showing me the horror of my sin, the miracle of the cross and stirring me to put my faith in Jesus to rescue me and take me on the adventure of a lifetime! As soon as I got my head around the fact that God could love someone like me and give me eternal life as a gift, I knew that I had to get the message out there. And once I’d understood that God’s heart really does beat for the beaten-down, the messed-up, the poor, the needy, the widow and the fatherless – I began to see the Valleys as so much more than a social catastrophe – I saw them as a colossal (and exciting) mission-field! That burden never really went away, even during my 12 years in Cardiff.

It’s no surprise to me that I’ve ended up back ‘home’ planting a church in the land that I love.

I believe that God gave me the burden.

God is in the business of releasing people from the burden of sin and blessing them with gospel burdens.

What’s your burden?

What has God placed on your heart? Maybe as you’re reading this something has already jumped straight to your mind and you KNOW it’s a God thing. Alternatively, perhaps loads of things have hit you all at once and you’re challenge is to discern between what’s a God-thing and what’s a you-thing. Or perhaps nothing’s come to you at all but you are eager for God impress His purpose for you onto your heart.

For what it’s worth, here’s a few things I’ve learned about the burdens that God gives His people:

1. When God gives you a burden it doesn’t go away.

We can be so fickle and quick to change out minds about things. I remember as a kid I wanted to be everything you could imagine when I grew up – a soldier, a sportsman, a spy…It changed pretty much every week. They weren’t burdens, they were fleeting obsessions – and the difference is huge. When God puts something on your heart it’s because He wants you to act on it and, unlike us, God doesn’t change His mind! It might not always be as foremost in your mind as at other times, but like a stone in your shoe – it’s always there (in a good way!!)

# If you think that God has given you a burden ask yourself this: How long have I carried this burden? God is quite capable of giving us burdens that demand immediate action, but He’s also gracious and will often lay the burden on your heart a long time before decisive action is necessary to give you a chance to get used to the idea and get yourself motivated and equipped for action when the time is right. If you’ve been carrying something for a while don’t be afraid to ask God “is it time to do something with this?” It might just be the most epic prayer you’ll ever pray!

2. When God gives you a burden inaction is not an option
I had to come back to the valleys. It was always a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if”. The thought of settling for anything else just wasn’t an option. I think Nehemiah is a great example of this – he was heart-broken by the plight of his beloved Jerusalem and such was his burden he could neither rest or rejoice until he was doing something about it!

# If you think that God has given you a burden ask yourself this: Could I leave this alone? Could I put this down, give my life to something completely different and be able to live with myself? If you’re a Christian who is walking closely with your God – Plan B is something that you could never settle for – it’d be like wearing someone else’s shoes – poorly fitting, uncomfortable and…wrong!

3. When God gives you a burden it is often costly

One of the best ways to discern the difference between a God-given burden and a you-driven burden is that by nature you will naturally gravitate towards comfort, security, acceptance and recognition. The biblical precedent for following God’s way is that it usually involves the absolute opposite of all that – sacrifice, vulnerability, rejection and obscurity. The life and death of Jesus teach us this in a powerful and compelling way! What got Him though the agony of Calvary was the love-burden He carried for His church: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him…Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53v10-11)

# If you think that God has given you a burden ask yourself this: Am I willing to pay whatever it costs to see this done. If this gets painful, scary, difficult or even seemingly impossible – am I still going to persevere? What’s in this for me? What’s in this for God? Am I a cost-paying cross-carrier or a comfort-seeking cushion-cuddler?

4. When God gives you a burden it will resonate with godly people.

One of my favourite Old Testament stories (and one that sealed the deal on us knowing that God was sending us to plant Hill City Church) is the story of Jonathan and his armour bearer. While Jonathan’s dad (King Saul) was chilling under a pomegranate tree, God laid it on Jonathan’s heart to go and do what his dad couldn’t be bothered to – climb the hill and wipe out the Philistine garrison at the top! He shared the plan with his faithful armour bearer, who gave this stunning reply:

“Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” (1Samuel 14v7)

God gave Jonathan the burden. He shared the burden and his godly armour bearer caught the vision. To cut a long story short – they did what God said and they won a great victory! When it comes to sharing your heart with others not everyone’s going to get it, but you can be sure that people who get God will get it! I’m going to look in greater detail at the role of wise counsellors in my next post, but in the meantime…

# If you think that God has given you a burden ask yourself this: Have I shared this burden with any pastors, brothers or sisters whose opinion and discernment I trust? If not – why not? If so what did they say and how did I/should I respond?

5. When God gives you a burden it will never contradict Scripture.

Whatever it is that you feel burdened about – make sure that the first place you take it for inspection is the Word of God. As we’ve already seen, the Bible is the plumb-line against which we should measure everything – and this naturally includes our dreams and burdens. If your heart is turning towards something that is ungodly or unwise – you can count on the Bible to always tell you straight!

# If you think that God has given you a burden ask yourself this: What has the Bible got to say about this? Have I even consulted Scripture and if so have I allowed Scripture to be the boss or have I tried to make Scripture fit around my burden?

Wherever you’re at with all this, praise God that He is willing to engage our emotions and our dreams as part of His commitment to guiding and engaging us in His sovereign plans. May He lay incredible things on your heart, then bless you with the grace, faith and vision you need to see it done!

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Guidance Part 3. Prophetic Intervention

This post is especially for my friends who are more from the ‘reformed’ wing of the church, and will hopefully serve as a gentle reminder that we don’t worship Father, Son and Holy Bible, but rather Father, Son and Holy Spirit! While I completely stand by my initial statement that the Scriptures must always be our ultimate point of reference, especially in the area of guidance, it’d be insanely unbiblical to deny that the same Spirit who wrote the Bible still speaks and guides us in other ways too.

i) He speaks through dreams
e.g. Joseph (Genesis 37, 40 & 41), Joseph (Matthew 2)

Word of warning – some foods such as cheese can give you some MAD dreams! Be careful!!

ii) He speaks through visions
e.g. Paul (Acts 16v9)

A word of caution here would have to go to those who have a history of drug abuse (especially hallucinogenics) or psychiatric issues.

iii) He speaks directly
e.g. Moses (Exodus 3), Samuel (1Samuel 3), Saul (Acts 9)…and shed-loads of others!

In my experience, this happens very rarely. Again, beware the effects of drugs or mental instability (especially schizophrenia). Some of the people who I’ve met who “hear God’s voice” are more nutty than a squirrel’s pantry!

iv) He speaks prophetically through His people
as described in 1Corinthians 12v8-9

I count it a privilege to be friends with many Pentecostal Christians. In fact I look back on my six years serving an Elim church in St.Mellons as one of the most important periods of my Christian life! One of the areas that I was most challenged in during that time was the area of prophecy. I had never really been exposed to prophecy before (in fact I’d been taught to treat ‘prophets’ with suspicion and scepticism) but while I was in St.Mellons, God opened my eyes to some stuff.

Naturally, we met a few Charismaniac fruit-loops (the ones who always see trees and rivers and love the microphone too much!) but we also met the genuine article – men and women who hear from God and have the faith and confidence to speak boldly into people’s lives. Over the years, both me and Michelle have had words spoken over us that were so precise, so insightful and so specific to where we were at that they had to have come straight from God. Even more convincingly, they were words about our lives, ministries, dreams and future calling that ultimately proved true!

I can testify from my own experience that when the prophetic word comes hand-in-hand with God speaking to you through Scripture it can bring real clarity and confirmation, especially when it comes to matters of guidance. It can also deeply encourage your heart when you realise that God is so concerned about speaking to you that He’d bother to send someone across your path with a specific message for you. That’s humbling!

On a cautionary note, the word of the prophet should never supersede or replace Scripture (that’s dangerous ground!) and should always be tested and approved against Scripture by both yourself and godly leaders. But we should never overlook the gift of prophecy or deny its place in our life. To do so is to throw one of God’s most powerful and life-changing gifts back in His face. Rather we should embrace prophecy and allow the Spirit to speak to our hearts through gifted men and women in biblical, timely and compelling ways!

So in conclusion, if there’s no prophetic voices speaking into your life – you need to get off this blog and go make some Pentecostal friends!

Simple!!

Get Your House In Order

My wife is huge!

I wouldn’t normally get away with saying that, but the evidence is there for all to see! She’s now 32 weeks pregnant with twins and her bump is…incredible!! (Incredible in a good and exciting way obviously!!) Anyway, after our scan last week we were told that the twins were both head-down and likely to make an appearance well before the 40 week mark!

CRAZY!!!

As a family we are now working around the clock to get everything ready for the babies to arrive. Cleaning the house, stocking the cupboards, getting all the dusty ‘baby stuff’ down from the attic and sterilising it, reading books and checking websites…not to mention all the new stuff we’ve had to buy (like a 17kg travel system!)

These twins are going to change everything.

So why are we going to all this trouble? Well, it’s simply because while we are excited about the birth (me probably more than Michelle!) we want our babies to grow and to prosper and to thrive. A filthy, ill-equipped house would be a dangerous and potentially disastrous home in which to nurture such fragile, precious young lives. By getting our house in order I believe that we are loving our unborn kids before we’ve even met them properly.

So as I was walking the dog this morning and thinking about how much time, sweat and money was needed to get our house in order for the new arrivals, the thought struck me that church should be no different. Any church worth its (literal) salt is praying for God to bring about new birth in their midst:

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3v3)

We want to see God’s salvation because nothing is more exciting for the life of a church than seeing people born again and spiritual new life begin. But how many churches are waiting for God to ‘deliver’ people into their family, whilst giving absolutely no thought or attention to getting their house in order? Are they willing to love their new arrivals before they’ve even met them properly?

Here’s a few thoughts on the matter:

  • Some churches need to expose and eradicate the filth of sin in their midst. The most unpleasant house to be in is a stinking dirty, house full of clutter and disease! A church that is not vigilant in preaching and pursuing holiness and righteousness is not a fit house in which to raise new believers!
    # The cost of this may be people kicking off and leaving, but give me a small clean house over a big, dirty house any day!
  • Some churches need to “stock their cupboards” with the resources that are needed. For new believers to grow in our churches we need to provide them with faith-filled, gosepl-literate quality people who are equipped and effective with everything needed for making disciples in the modern world.
    # The cost of this will involve investing valuable time in people, getting strategic, Spirit-filled men and women in to teach and to encourage them, and also dipping your had in your pocket for relevant courses, conferences and materials for ministry.
  • Some churches need to modernise. Simple as! They are still holding onto ancient traditions and religious practices thinking it’s somehow being holy. It’s not – it’s being irrelevant and idolatrous. Would you want your children to be born and raised in a 19th Century house or a 21st Century house? Why apply different rules to your church?
    # This will no doubt involve slaughtering some sacred cows and treading on the toes of Pharisees, but so long as love is our motive and the gospel remains the foundation, there is always room for changing the decor and the facilities of the house to make it more welcoming, homely, safe and secure!

I pray that God would bless us with abundant salvation in these dark days.

But let’s play our part and get the House in order.

Guidance Part 2. Personal Circumstances

God is sovereign.

When we grasp that simple yet immense truth it can and it should impact the way that we process what happens to us in our lives and it should also affect the way we see the personal circumstances we face – be they good or bad! God isn’t bound by our circumstances, but rather He ordains and uses those circumstances to lead us, to speak to us, to reassure us of His presence with us and even to test us. When we look at our circumstances from that perspective we become ever more aware of God’s grace to us – even when things are hard. For what it’s worth, here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way:

1. When God’s moving – He moves in your circumstances too

Oftentimes when God is at work in our lives, there is often an acceleration of circumstantial grace that coincides with His purposes. A job offer. A ministry opportunity. Financial blessing. I still remember that when we were seeking God and becoming more and more convinced that He was calling us to move to Trevethin, we encountered an abundance of circumstantial grace that served to confirm what we were already feeling – it was time to move! Perhaps the most significant thing that happened came in the form of our home.

After finding a derelict playground in the heart of Trevethin and sensing that this place should be the epicentre of our gospel outreach I prayed “Lord, please establish a place of worship right here in Trevethin!” I then glanced over my shoulder to see a house, literally less than 10yards away that was for sale. We phoned up – it was sold STC. We were gutted…but didn’t despair. So you can imagine how we felt 4 months later when we received a call from the estate agents to inform us that the sale had fallen through and to ask if we were still interested! God had sovereignly over-ruled in the situation and was giving us grace – and boy did we know it! Not only was it a much better time for us to move on pretty much every level, but it coincided with us selling our house in St.Mellons to the first people who viewed it.

Obviously we went for it and that house is where we launched Hill City Church back in 2008. We would not have let a house sale alone confirm whether or not we were called to go somewhere, but God didn’t half use it to reassure us that we were in step with Him and that He was working with us and for us.

That was huge for us at the time!

2. When things are going bad – that’s not always bad!

We’re so quick to jump the gun on this one. Our natural tendency is to assume that suffering is bad and that God wouldn’t want this for us. Therefore when things are difficult we instantly assume that God wants us out of this situation – and we (wrongly) see this as His divine will for us. Examples of this would be as follows:

  • I hate my job – God must be telling me to leave.
  • My church doesn’t meet my needs – God wants me to find a new one.
  • I’m suffering ill health – I should stop everything I’m doing.
  • I’m struggling with singleness – God must want me to pursue a relationship at all costs.

These kinds of responses come from a place that sees difficult circumstances as inherently bad rather than an opportunity to prove out God’s grace. The Bible is chock-a-block full of stories of triumph through adversity, wherein the heroes stood strong in the midst of adverse circumstances because God’s will was for them to prevail, rather than to flee in the name of pleasure, ease and comfort. We were called to carry a cross, not a cushion, and God’s way is often the path of most resistance, not least resistance! The ultimate example of this is of course the cross of Jesus Himself. I for one am very glad that as the onslaught of the unfathomable sufferings of Gethsemane and Calvary began, Jesus didn’t see it as His Father saying “Son, suffering is bad – you need to get out of this situation asap!” When we look at our own adverse circumstances through the lens of biblical faith, they really do look different. Oftentimes we find that our extremities create the perfect opportunity for God to magnify His immense grace and wisdom through our lives.

  • I hate my job – but I can glorify God by enduring patiently and working hard anyway!
  • My church doesn’t meet my needs – I need to pray harder, serve more faithfully and trust God for change.
  • I’m suffering ill health – I can teach a broken, desperate world how to suffer with the hope and dignity of Christ.
  • I’m struggling with singleness – Praise God I am able to give complete, undivided attention to the cause of the gospel!

Your difficulties aren’t necessarily God telling you “get out at all costs!” He might just be saying “stand strong and trust me!”

3. Just because it seems right that doesn’t mean that it is

On the flip-side, when things seem to be going well this doesn’t always mean that we’re in the centre of God’s will. One of the best examples of this in the Bible is Jonah! After clearly hearing the Word of God to go Nineveh, he decides he knows best and heads off in the opposite direction to Tarshish. It’s always struck me that as he arrives at the Port he finds a boat waiting for him, with a bed chamber available for him and he even has enough cash in his wallet to pay the fare! 3 big ‘coincidences’ that might just have suggested to him that God was blessing Plan B! However, there’s a big fish that will readily testify to the fact that just because circumstances seem favourable – that doesn’t mean that you’re headed in God’s direction for you!!

Comfort and convenience aren’t always proof that God’s blessing you!

In conclusion then, looking to our circumstances alone and seeking to make sense of them ourselves is a dangerous way of discerning what God’s will is for your life because both your circumstances and how you feel about them will change on an almost daily basis. However, God can and does use our circumstances to lead and guide us and reassure us of His grace and active involvement. This is why using Scripture as our ultimate source of authority is so crucial when it comes to analysing the situations that we face. God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours, so we need to do life and interpret our personal circumstances with Him at the heart of it all!

What Happens To Children & Babies When They Die?

Hill City Church has just launched a new section of our website called: If You Could Ask God One Question…

The aim of this page is simply to provide an opportunity for anyone who may have questions about God, life and the universe, to be able to ask those questions. We as church leaders will then seek to answer those questions in the format of short videos that can then be viewed online.

We have already received this very poignant question:

“What happens to the souls of children/babies who die before they are old enough to understand or accept salvation through Christ?”

Below is my video response. I hope it’s helpful to you:

If you would like to submit a question for the series, please do so here.

Guidance Part 1. The Bible

The reason why I’ve placed the Bible at the very top of the guidance hit-list is simply because it isn’t just one option among many when it comes to seeking God’s will for our lives. No, this is the BIG one. If in the process of seeking God’s guidance you receive nothing from His Word then I would argue that you are on VERY dangerous ground because the Scriptures still are (as they always have been and always will be) God’s primary means of speaking to His saints. Whether through your own personal devotions, as part of a group Bible study or as you sit under the public teaching of the Word, you can be sure that God is speaking.

The question is are you listening?

So often we don’t hear what God is saying because we are listening for something specific or looking for God to rubber-stamp what we already think, rather than allowing Him the space to say what He wants. A classic example of this would be in the area of relationships. Some girl catches a young man’s eye and he immediately turns to the Word desperately hunting down a Scripture that confirms that she’s to be his wife. That scripture never comes because all the while God was saying either “I’ve got someone better for you down the line” or even “I’m going to bless you with a life of singleness because that’s going to be best for you.” The problem wasn’t that God was silent, it was that you were approaching the Scriptures with an agenda!

A few things to bear in mind when it comes to hearing God’s voice through His Word would be as follows:

1. The Bible is living, active, sharp and precise. (Hebrews 4v12)

Anyone who thinks the Bible is antiquated or irrelevant has never truly come to terms with it. Even now in our 21st Century world – the Bible continues to speak, bless, inspire, encourage and guide men and women all over the world (including me) in extraordinarily profound ways. If we believe that God is alive and that His Word is also alive then surely we can trust that He can and will speak into our own lives and situations.

2. If you hear His voice – be ready to respond obediently

God’s Word carries a weight and an authority that demands a response. If we approach our Bible’s as mere “life coaching” or “good practice handbooks” then we are clearly not hearing the authoritative voice of the God of the Universe, because when you hear Him speak – you know that action must follow. Moses helpfully lays out for us what responding to God’s Word should look like:

“You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 13v4)

When seeking God’s guiding voice into your own life, be prepared for the fact that He might (in my experience He often does!) tell you to do something or go somewhere that is completely undesirable to you!! Are you ready to obey at all costs? Maybe you’re not hearing God’s voice because you know what He’s going to say and it demands more from you than you’re willing to give! If that’s the case, don’t bother waiting for His Plan B – there isn’t one. It’s obedience or bust!

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1v22)

3. The Bible speaks into the here and now AND the there and then

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119v105)

God’s Word has something to say to you where you’re standing right now! God isn’t only concerned about mapping out your future and giving you the BIG picture, He’s also intimately concerned with all that you’re involved in today and wants to lead and guide you in your friendships, vocations, financial dealings and personal struggles. However, Scripture also has plenty to say about where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Praise God that there IS a big picture for all of us! God has got a perfect plan (Jeremiah 29v11) and He is more committed than we are to see those plans fulfilled! Therefore the important thing is to make sure that you’re in the right place spiritually to both listen AND obey what God is saying to you today, and also to trust that He will say all that needs to be said to you in the right way and at the perfect time. That requires great faith and patience.

4. The God who wrote the Bible (2Timothy 3v16) is the same God who explains it to us today (John 16v13)

Only those who repent and trust Christ for salvation can receive the Holy Spirit and enjoy the power and grace of His work in their lives – this includes helping us to discern his voice and understand His Word. Therefore, those who haven’t trusted Jesus and who haven’t received His Spirit will never know the joy of knowing God’s guidance through His Word. The problem’s not that the Bible is dead, it’s that they are dead (spiritually – Ephesians 2v1) and they need a heart transplant for God’s Word to ‘work’ for them:

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36v26-27)

Similarly, if a Christian is in deliberate sin and refusing to repent, this too will affect the work of the Spirit in their life because the Spirit is Holy and constantly waging war against sin. So if you’re a Christian and you haven’t known God’s presence, voice, comfort or guidance through Scripture recently – it may be time for a spiritual MOT!!

My advice to any Christian who is seeking God’s help for guidance and direction is this: Wait. Be patient. Be holy. And if He hasn’t spoken to you through His Word yet then don’t take ONE STEP until He has!

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.”
(Proverbs 3v5-6)