Thirty-three years ago I had an encounter with God.
I wish I could say that it was instantly transformative. In one sense it was because it was the beginning of a genuine relationship. However, faithfulness to Jesus has not been my strong point.
There have been times when I’ve been so disillusioned by my inability to lead a godly life that I have asked Him to give up on me and leave.
The wonderful thing is that He never goes away.
On this memorial day for me I want to testify to the love and faithfulness of the Good Shepherd who never gives up on His lambs and always brings them home.
The world over people treat 1st January as a special day. There is no especially good reason why this particular stage in the astronomical cycle should be regarded as significant. Nor is there any justification for imagining that things will be any different one second after midnight on New Year’s Day than second before midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Of course, it is useful to take some time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we might be going. This time of year is convenient for such self-examination as the rush of Christmas is out of the way and many of us have taken an extended holiday from our usual routine.
I have personally found New Year’s resolutions unhelpful. It is more than a quip for me to say that there has only ever been one New Year’s resolution I’ve ever kept, and that was to make no more New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions worth keeping can be made on any of the other 364 days in the year and if they need a special day to add the required motivation it’s unlikely they will last.
The problem seems to be that resolutions tend to focus on changing a behaviour rather than on achieving a goal. Changing habits is notoriously difficult and the human tendency is to focus on the hard work of getting out of the rut into the open field. In fact, most resolutions seem to be negative from the start with the emphasis being on giving up something. Human nature rebels against sacrifice especially when there is no clearly defined outcome to look forward to. It’s a heads down and grind on approach.
What is needed is a longer vision than simply day-to-day suffering. The athletes don’t run everyday, sometimes in awful weather, for some vague desire to improve themselves but because they have set their sights on a goal – a world championship or an Olympic medal.
Goal setting is far more productive than striving to keep New Year’s resolutions. In 2011 I set myself the goal of finishing Prayer: Reaching the Mountain Top – I achieved that; in 2012 I set myself the goal of readjusting my mindset – I achieved that; In 2013 I set myself the goal of getting a paid job – I achieved that.
I am still reflecting on what my goal for this year should be, asking for wisdom and guidance from God’s Spirit. But it will be a SMART goal: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. In other words, I will be absolutely clear what I am intending to achieve, I will be able to tell when I’ve achieved it, it will be something I am capable of achieving, it will have meaning for me and I will have a time frame in which to achieve it. When all of that is in place I will have the motivation to press on when the challenges are the greatest.
There was a loud bang, like the crack of a gun discharging, and everything went black.
It could have been a distressing experience but I was determined to make it a productive one, knowing that:
in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Rom 8:28
So, instead of bemoaning the loss of a TV in our home, I decided to make use of the additional free time to enlighten myself a little more in the field of Christian Apologetics.
I am already a fan of men such as John Lennox and Peter J Williams, reputable scholars who articulate well the philosophical and historical reasons for believing in God. So I decided to expand my horizons and try Gary Habermas.
Habermas wrote his doctoral thesis on evidence for the resurrection utilising the ‘minimal facts’ method. In summary, that involves starting with a set of evidence that are universally agreed between both Christian and skeptical scholars and building an argument on these.
Habermas does not have the best presentation style but the content of what he has to say is excellent. In his lecture, The Resurrection Argument That Changed a Generation of Scholars, delivered at UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara), he shows how the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus was part of the church’s belief system from the earliest year, refuting the arguments of skeptics such as Bart Ehrman that this was a teaching which evolved over centuries.
Habermas’ lecture is below. You can find more from Habermas, Williams and Lennox on YouTube.
The problem with knowledge is that we only know what we know and have no idea what we don’t know.
The result of this is that it is possible to open our mouths and spout total rubbish without having any idea how foolish we sound.
There was an age when it was possible to be a genuine polymath. That time is long gone. Human knowledge is becoming so vast that areas of expertise are becoming smaller and smaller.
Once we had astronomers; now we have optical astronomers, astrophysicists, planetary scientists and many more. In the eighteenth century doctors were doctors; now they are anaesthetists, cardiovascular surgeons, and oncologists.
Most intelligent people recognise their limitations and don’t claim expertise in other fields. But there is a growing and worrying tendency for people with doctorates to pontificate on subjects beyond their skill set. For example, Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, makes statements about history which are demonstrably factually incorrect and Stephen Hawking’s book, The Grand Design, contains basic logical contradictions.
The sad thing is that because these men are recognised as brilliant in their specialism, people believe they know what they are talking about when they make statements outside of their field. But to those who actually have studied these subjects, the arguments seem lame, weak and uninformed.
The layman is being cheated and deceived with myths being perpetuated. The result is that a lot of rubbish has to be cleared away before meaningful discussion about truth can begin.
Tolerance: A trait regarded as one of the chief virtues by contemporary Western societies. Tolerance is often confused with a relativistic refusal to criticize another view or make any substantive value judgments. However, logically, tolerance is consistent with an attitude of strong disagreement and even disapproval. There are many views I may tolerate (in the sense that I think people should be allowed to hold them) that I think are mistaken or harmful. Tolerance is also sometimes confused with respect, but the two attitudes are distinct. I may respect a committed political rebel even though I do not tolerate his behavior. I may tolerate people whom I do not respect at all.1
It was a privilege recently to minister at the joint UMN and INF UK Nepal Conference.
Both the International Nepal Fellowship and the United Mission to Nepal have been working for decades to serve the Nepali people, to demonstrate the love of God and to bring them the Gospel.
Most people know Nepal for its mountains. Not only is it the home of Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, but also seven more of the ten highest peaks on earth. It is, without doubt, the nation with the most majestic backdrop.
But in the hill country and the plains, outside the cities of Kathmandu and Pokhara, there is great poverty – Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world.
I was invited to lead three prayer sessions at the conference and it was wonderful to hear missionaries past and present, and Nepalis resident in the UK, praying for the nation of Nepal and its people.
God is doing amazing things with Nepali people. They respond so readily to the love of God expressed through His people. The Hindu religion with its belief in Karma has little compassion for those who are suffering and so, when Christians live the Gospel it makes an incredible impact on them. The Christian church in Nepal is growing faster than it is in any other country.
But it is not only in Nepal that the Nepali church is growing. A Nepali pastor working here in the UK shared with us how the prayers of a previous conference were being answered with massive growth in the Nepali church here. One group had grown five-fold in two years.
The mountains of Nepal may be majestic but more majestic by far is God’s work amongst the Nepali people.
Probably the strongest identifying marker of an authentic follower of Christ is a willingness to be identified with the sinner and invest in healing and restoration. This identification is contrary to the false Christian leaders of our day who distance themselves from sinners and use the Scriptures to impose shame, actually using the appearance of their own moral superiority to gain power and influence. In doing so, they are denying the Gospel and instead promoting an appearance of godliness that woefully lacks the power of God. Ted Haggard
Worship Christ as Lord of your life. 1 Peter 3:15
Live a life filled with love. Ephesians 5:2
Refuse to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27
These are the three keys to a ‘successful’ and happy Christian life. They don’t need clever exegesis. They simply need to be put into practice.
What are friends for?
Have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 1 Peter 1:22
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8
For reasons I shall not detail, I have needed my friends this week.
All my friends are different and each has had something unique to offer in their friendship. It reminded me of Paul’s companions who get mentioned at the end of some of his letters, for example his letter to the church at Colossae.
- Tychicus was Paul’s envoy. When Paul needed someone to carry news or to represent his views it was Tychicus who was given the task. Do you have a friend who will represent your views faithfully to others?
- Onesimus was Paul’s convert. The little letter to Philemon tells his story. Paul introduced him to Christ and discipled him. Who are you discipling?
- Aristarchus was Paul’s fellow prisoner. He sat with him through the darkest times. Do you have a friend like that?
- Mark was Paul’s apprentice. The relationship went through a rocky patch when Mark wanted to go off on his own way but Paul took him back. He could see potential in Mark and wanted to teach him how to be a minister of the gospel. Do you have a younger person to pass on your skills and experience to?
- Barnabas was Paul’s encourager. In fact, Barnabas was a nickname he got because he was always encouraging people. I wonder how well Paul would have got through all the difficulties he faced if he hadn’t had Barnabas to encourage him. Is there someone who goes out of their way to encourage you?
- Jesus Justus was Paul’s friend. We know no more about him. But that doesn’t make him insignificant in Paul’s life. Do you have a friend who is a friend simply because they are your friend?
- Epaphras was Paul’s prayer warrior. He knew that prayer required effort and hard work and he knew it was essential for the growth of the believers. Do you have a prayer warrior in your life who you can rely on to PUSH (pray until something happens)?
- Luke was Paul’s traveling companion. Through the course of many of the events recorded in Acts Luke was at Paul’s side. He understood Paul because he suffered through the same experiences and stuck with him. Do you have a friend who understands you and stands by you because they’ve walked many miles in your shoes?
- Demas was Paul’s project. He was no great saint and struggled with temptation to go back to his old way of life. But Paul loved him. Do you have a friend who struggles with their past and needs your support?
- Nympha was Paul’s compatriot. As a church leader she shared Paul’s concern for pastoring the believers. Do you have a friend somewhere else but in the same line of ministry with whom you can share the trials and joys?
- Archipus was Paul’s fellow soldier. He worked with Paul and shared his passion for the ministry. If Paul needed a companion in what he was doing for the Lord, so do we. We are not meant to go it alone in our ministries. Do you have someone to work alongside you?
I am immensely grateful to God for my friends. How about you? Or are you lacking in certain kinds of friendship? Why not ask God to bring some people like Paul’s friends into your life.
I used to be one of those people who was worried if I couldn’t think of anything I should be worrying about. I’ve lost plenty of sleep over the years simply because I was trying to solve problems I knew, if I was honest, I didn’t have the answers to. Peace was not a natural state for me; anxiety was my dominant emotion. That is a very stressful way to live.
Source of Peace
This verse in Ephesians states clearly that Christ is our peace. Just as John’s statement that God is love (1 Jn 4:8) means so much more than God being loving and demonstrating love, so Paul’s comment is full of depth of meaning. If we have God in our lives, we know love. If we have Jesus, we know peace. Jesus is our Prince of Peace (Is 9:6). One aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is peace (Gal 5:22). The Lord promised to leave us with peace (Jn 13:27).
If we think about what these verses mean we will see that peace is something that has been gifted to us when we put our trust in the Lord Jesus. Firstly, our salvation means that we have peace with God. A consequence of that is that we can live in peace and harmony with our brothers and sisters, though that sometimes does not appear to be the case. But it also means that we can have peace with ourselves and our circumstances. So why is it that we do not experience the reality of peace in our daily troubles?
Pray for Peace?
It seems to me that we make a mistake when we try to obtain peace by praying for it. What’s the point of asking for something we’ve already been given. What we need to do is unpack the gift and make use of it. The Lord Jesus told His disciples that when they faced the inevitable troubles of the world they should cheer up! (Jn 16:33) Facing difficulties with a positive attitude requires an act of the will, to make a decision that they are not going to distress us or cause us to lose our peace.
In 1 Pet 3:10-12, Peter quotes David who says, “whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days … seek peace and pursue it (Ps 34:12-14). We have access to peace, but we need to take the time to practice living in it. We must take captive the anxious thoughts (2 Cor 10:5) and refocus them in the opposite direction to think about positive things (Phil 4:8).
I said earlier that praying for peace is mistaken. If Jesus is our peace and we want to access that peace for ourselves, we need to spend time in His presence and dwelling on his character. The “whatever”s of Phil 4:8 could be replaced with “whoever” for they are all descriptive of the nature of the Lord. The more time we spend cultivating our relationship with Him and learning to walk with Him as we go through our daily tasks, the more peace we will find.
It’s no good waiting until we feel anxious before we start seeking peace through the Lord Jesus. Peace must be pursued and developed over time so that, when circumstances would tend to cause us stress, we already know how to step out of the negative feelings and into the experience of the peace of God. We need daily to give time to fellowshiping with Jesus so that when trouble comes we are practiced at fixing our eyes (Heb 12:2) on the One who is our peace.