FIGHT: tigers & puppies

Scripture

Read Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Observation


Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to not think about something, especially something you’re worried about? I well remember a few years ago when I was speaking at church on the subject of anxiety. The Bible passage said ‘do not be anxious about anything…’ and my message, it followed, was on ‘freedom from anxiety’. Well, I was a mess. I was so nervous about it that I couldn’t prepare for the sermon. Anxious thoughts about ‘how not to be anxious’ flew round and round my head. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t pray, couldn’t escape thinking about it. The irony wasn’t lost on me ‘physician heal thy self’ was all I could hear spinning back and forth around my brain, it was horrible.

Where worry is concerned our thought life can behave badly can’t it? We don’t try to obsess about missing that flight or not completing that essay in time, it just happens. And of course worry is a very reasonable virus, it uses all the right logic and explanations. Anxiety convinces us that it’s not only permitted to consume our thought life, but that it’s entirely appropriate and commendable that it does so!

Paul’s answer to anxiety, as he explains it in the above Bible reading, isn’t to use reason and persuasive argument. He doesn’t try to out argue anxiety, he knows that’s a lost battle. Reasoning against anxiety isn’t a fair fight since we’re emotionally compromised from the start. Anxiety, you see, has a head start on us and anxiety has access to the arsenal of our emotional life making it a very powerful foe indeed. If it was only a question of explaining politely to worry why it is that we’re not going to go where it wants us to go then I’m sure many a worry would be stopped dead in its tracks. But it doesn’t work like that does it?

‘Goodness did you hear yourself just then?’ Anxiety says ‘you made a complete fool of yourself. Is it any wonder why NO ONE wants to be your friend?! I’m amazed you have any friends at all, or do you? I can’t see those supposed friends of yours hanging around too long after they find out exactly what you’re like. Can you see that happening?’ 


After that comes the hot flushes and clammy palms, followed by the loss of all colour from our face, an ice cold forehead and then that all too familiar knot in the stomach – the permanent resident in the body of serial worrier. Sound familiar?

So what’s the answer to anxiety? Sadly for us there isn’t a pill to fix it. It isn’t a case of praying a particular prayer (perhaps five times a day), or singing a particular song. Anxiety is tiger that needs taming rather than a puppy that needs training. Puppies aren’t too ferocious, they can be quite cute and (after much effort) they can be house trained. We’re bigger and stronger and more powerful than puppies and so in the end, they will obey us. Not so with a tiger. Tiger’s are ferocious and strong and move at a lightning quick pace. They will run rings around us and destroy us if we’re not careful. Taming a tiger isn’t just a matter of persistence, it requires courage, strength and nerves of steel (I speak from experience of course).

Getting our thought life in order involves more energy and effort than puppy training (and even that can be pretty full on). Getting our thought life in order requires determination and courage, and supernatural power.

Just prior to the above Bible passage Paul explains that he’s ‘learned the secret of being content whatever his circumstances’ something I’m sure many of us would like to know.

In our Bible reading three big clues are offered, three things that will aid us in our fight against anxiety: Rejoicing, asking and thanking.

Celebrating what God has done in the past and asking (petitioning) God to help us in the present. Mixed with a helpful amount of thankfulness, creates quite a powerful concoction. It enables us to stand our ground against anxiety and positions us to receive peace from God in the midst of worry.

Celebrate, ask, thank.

It isn’t easy (tigers don’t give up without a fight), but it is possible. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can be free from life crippling worry.


Weekly Challenge

Read Philippians 4:8-9:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

The first step toward enjoying your status as a forgiven, loved, adopted and empowered child of God is to start taking seriously what you think about. Do your thoughts past the Philippians 4 test? 

  • True
  • Honourable 
  • Just
  • Pure
  • Lovely
  • Commendable
  • Excellent
  • Worshipful 
Take some time this week to write down as many things as you can that meet the above criteria. List areas of your life, perhaps things you’re consistently worried about, and write things that might pass the Philippians 4 test. Do it over a few days and see what the Holy Spirit brings to mind each time:
For example:

Myself: What’s true is that I’m a Christian, I’m loved by God, I’ve been adopted into his family…


Difficult circumstances: What’s true is that my Father promises to be with me throughout every difficulty I face. What’s worshipful is that he’s always got me through things in the past, he’s worthy of my worship


Others: What’s commendable is that I’m grateful for my wife, for how she loves me and cares for me. I’m thankful I’ve got friends who, despite knowing the worst bits about me, have stuck by me and pray for me…

I might also list: my future, my job, my kids, my self image, my past, my money… Adding to this list daily will force your mind to think about and dwell on true and good things as opposed to the destructive and anxiety laden things we often think about.

Have fun!

FIGHT: a sword for the fight

Scripture : Today’s full reading can be found here

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might… 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. 

Observation:


Paul concludes his letter to the Ephesians with an instruction to put on spiritual armour. After all he’s communicated to the church about the Christian life, about their position in Christ, about their need to be filled with the Spirit and about how they are to prize unity he concludes by saying, essentially ‘…and don’t forget, it’s a fight!’ 


In this fight we’re given metaphorical armour to help us: Faith is like a shield, righteousness becomes like a breastplate, salvation a helmet. It has often be pointed out that all of the equipment we’re given to help us in this struggle is defensive and protective; all of it that is apart from one item, the sword of the Spirit. The sword of the Spirit, we’re told, is the word of God. The one thing that can help us gain ground and not simply stand it, is scripture; the Bible, the good Book, God’s word.  


I was reminded of this recently when praying through something I was struggling with. I have become quite good at trying to reason with my anxiety. I’ll analyse facts in cold blood, I’ll discuss what I’m worrying about with others, and I’ll attempt to pick apart negative thought patterns and reduce them in size. All the while failing at actually picking them apart and reducing them in size. While praying (or worrying aloud as it often becomes) it struck me how little I was using the truth of scripture to help me in my struggle. I was essentially trying to break apart a mountain using only plastic hammer and chisel. It wasn’t working and neither could I expect it to. Reason doesn’t have anything like the power that scripture does. 


Jesus when tested and tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (here) didn’t try to win the argument or reason the Enemy into a corner. Instead he leaned on and trusted in the power of scripture to help him. Read it for yourself and you’ll notice the repeating statement of Jesus ‘it is written.’ The devil tempted him with self sufficiency and independence from God and he replied with ‘it is written…’. The enemy offered him success over his enemies, fame and glory and he replied ‘it is written…’.


If Jesus leant on scripture this way, then I need to as well – and so do you. You cannot flourish as a believer without it, you cannot withstand the onslaught of the enemy or even the onslaught of your own sinful desires without it. We need to lean on and trust in the same truth that Jesus trusted in. And the promise comes that as we draw near to God ‘he will draw near to us’ and as we resist the devil ‘he will flee from us.’


Weekly Challenge


Since scripture is so essential it makes sense that we give ourselves to learning it and being shaped by it. Becoming familiar with truth doesn’t happen accidentally. Spend this week reciting daily the following statements that relate to our identity in Christ:

In Christ I am God’s child (John 1:12)
In Christ I belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:20)
In Christ I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self control (2 Timothy 1:7)
In Christ I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18)
In Christ I am holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4)
In Christ I am forgiven (Ephesians 1:8)
In Christ I am a saint (Col. 1:1)

FIGHT: the first battlefield

Every week for the next 7 weeks as part of the Essence teaching series we’ll be posting videos & blogs to help us get to grips with our new identity in Christ. Be sure to visit our Facebook pages regularly for resources designed to help you grow.
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Let’s start by considering an important principle.

Take a few minutes to read over the Bible verses listed below. Consider as you read them what they might have in common:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2


Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 


For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

2 Corinthians 10:4-5


Did you find a common thread woven through? I’m sure there are plenty of things they have in common but the reason I picked them is because of their mention of the mind and our thought life:

  • Be transformed by renewing your mind (Romans 12:2)
  • Whatever is honourable, whatever is… think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
  • Take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
The principle is this:

What we think about matters. What we allow ourselves to dwell on, matters. What we play on repeat in our heads over and over, matters. It all matters.

In my experience, what goes on in the grey matter between my ears has a huge impact on my joy, faith, peace, and contentment. My thought life greatly affects the quality of life I’m enjoying. 
As a new Christian I kept a journal in which I documented my thoughts about faith. I remember on one occasion after seeing something quite miraculous take place, writing in my journal: ‘never forget! God is real, God is Good. Never forget! I’m going to live for God, wholeheartedly, 100%!!’

That ought to have settled it then; wholehearted, determined Christianity from then on. Except that it wasn’t, and it didn’t. 
A few weeks later I’d done exactly what I’d told myself not to do, I’d forgotten. I’d concluded that God wasn’t real, that if he was real then he didn’t love me and wasn’t helping me. As such I wanted to quit as a follower of Christ. 
That process has been (and still is to some extent) a common one for me. It’s a process of remembering and forgetting, remembering and forgetting, remembering and… you get the idea. What I find reassuring however is that I’m not the only one who battles like this. For the past 10 years I’ve had a front row seat on many people’s different experiences and Christian lives. I’ve watched again and again as others have gone through the same cycle I’ve just described. 
The apostle Paul (who wrote the Bible verses above) seemed to be aware of this problem as well. He understood that being a Christian requires a diligent and careful approach to our thought life. That’s why he wrote so often about it.

Here’s some questions to consider:

How much are you aware of the positive or negative impact of your thoughts? 

Do you ever find yourself walking to the shops but daydreaming about disaster?

Are you aware of where your mind wanders to most often?

At the end of the day, if I were to present you with a highlights tape of your thoughts what would the repeating themes be? 

We must start to take seriously the responsibility to discern the truth from the lies in our minds. There is a call to arms in the whole area of our thinking and we can’t afford to go AWOL – too much is at stake.
Weekly Challenge

To help, here’s a little challenge to complete…

By Friday have memorised the statement of truth below taken from the Freed For Purpose course. Find a friend who’s doing the same and at the end of the week, test each other:

I recognise that there is only one true and living God, who exists as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is worthy of all honour, praise and glory as the one who made all things and holds all things together. (see Exodus 20:2,3; Colossians 1:16,17)

FIGHT: for joy

Scripture

In your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures evermore. — Psalm 16:11

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. — Psalm 37:4

Though you do not see him you love him and you believe in him and you are filled with inexpressible joy. — 1 Peter 1:8 

Observation

The Christian life involves a fight. We’ve been looking at that concept together now for several weeks. We are told to stand against the devil and his demons and to not be unaware of the Enemy’s schemes against us. We can’t pretend like we’re living during peacetime, we’re not.

As a Christian I believe God wants me to be happy and, since he wants for me to be happy, I have a responsibility to fight for my joy and contentment. Consider the scriptures we’ve just read. God is happy, overflowing with and possessing joy evermore, pleasures in abundance. We as Christians share in his joy. Peter describes the experience of Christians everywhere when he says ‘although you haven’t seen him face to face, in the flesh, you love him and… are filled with inexpressible joy.’

Let’s consider a few facts about God and joy:

  1. FACT: God is happy. ‘Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,’ Psalm 135:6
  2. FACT: Jesus is happy, ‘God has anointed you with the all of gladness above your companions.’ Hebrews 1:9
  3. FACT: We are made to know God. ‘All can know you from the least, to the greatest.’ Hebrews 8:11
  4. FACT: Knowing God makes us happy ‘…filled with inexpressible joy.’ (see above)
  5. FACT: Sin offers the pleasure and happiness we were made to find in God. Deuteronomy 28 for example.
With that in place the question becomes ‘how do I seek my happiness in God, who is the eternal and ongoing source of joy, rather than in the fleeting and shallow pleasures of sin?’ Now, that’s a good question.
We’ve shared before as elders about ways that we seek joy in God. Andrew calls it ‘joy fuel’ (or #joyfuel if you prefer).
Some of the things Andrew’s got on his list of ‘how to fight for joy in God’ are:
  1. Put Jesus before church/ministry. Make bread & wine a regular activity in your life.
  2. Use electronic media wisely. Avoid the sites and places that rob you of joy and instead find blogs and video clips that lift your spirits rather than drain them.
  3. Get the relationship between body and soul the right way round. As the body behaves, the soul often feels. We dance our way into delight rather than waiting to delight in God before we dance. God deserves our noise, our kneeling, our clapping and our cheering. We give it to him, and our soul is reminded and responds with joy.
  4. Read the scriptures. Don’t be intimidated by the size of the Bible as a book. ‘Bite off’ small chunks if it helps and spend time reflecting on them until the light of revelation floods you with joy. 
  5. Fast sometimes. To fast means ‘to fasten ourself to God’ and clinging fast to him gives us more of him; and he is happy.  
  6. Speak positively. Words have the power to create or to destroy. As the mouth speaks, the heart believes.
  7. Get baptised in the Spirit again and again. Wait on God’s Spirit, until he fills you. Being baptised means to be ‘plunged into’. When you were baptised in water, you knew about it. When you’re baptised in the Spirit, you know about it. 
Which one’s can you identify with, pick up and apply to your life as they are? Go for it. Fight for joy. Don’t settle for drinking from puddles when God has promised rivers of living water to flow out from your inmost being. 
Weekly Challenge

This week, your challenge is to come up with you own list of what you could do and where you could go to get happy in God. Is it a regular meeting with a close friend? If so, schedule it in. Is it a private Bible study? If so, schedule it in. 
We do not get to know God accidentally, we do not get happy in God without meaning to. 
Find out what makes you happy in God and make a habit out of it. 
Try starting with a list of 5 things, five pieces of #joyfuel if you will. Then, if you’re really serious about joy, think of some activities that correspond to particular ‘rhythms’ or ‘seasons’ in your life. Try thinking of 2 weekly, 2 monthly and 2 annual activities you could do. For me, that would look like:
Weekly:
1. At least 3 mornings of Bible journalling and prayer
2. Praying with Amy at least 3 times a week
Monthly:
1. Spend time with a good friend who makes me laugh and encourages me
2. Go on a prayer walk in the countryside
Annual:
1. Fast from food for a day or two (usually during the Hunger rhythms at Kings)
2. Have a holiday where a switch off all phones and computers
What would it look like for you? 
Have fun. Seriously, have fun!

The Transformation of Seperation

Christian inscriptions from underground Rome

Reading recently about early Christianity and the development of the Jesus’ movement I was challenged.

The early Christians understood in a way that we don’t what it means to be a people ‘called out’ of the world. A people, as 1 Peter 2 puts it, ‘for the Lord’s own possession’. It was clear to all in the church that their primary calling was to Christ and if that meant being cut off from the culture, so be it. Devotion to their Lord against all the odds (and against all the laws) was what they were called to. They met in secret, worshipped an invisible god (hence were hated as ‘atheists’), held ‘love feasts’ attended by their ‘brothers and sisters’ (some of whom were also husband & wife), and they ate the body and drank the blood of their founder (in the communion meal). They abstained from popular sport, refused to attend the gladiatorial games, wouldn’t sacrifice to the emperor and they avoided national festivals/celebrations that involved worship/sacrifice to pagan gods.

In the centuries after Jesus’ resurrection Christians experienced persecution at the hands of the state and their fellow countryman. The stories from 64AD of Nero’s persecution of Christians are infamous; Christians thrown to lions, burnt as torches to light up the streets and stitched into the skins of dead animals before being thrown to a pack of dogs. One writer from the time revealed the attitude toward Christians when he wrote:

‘if the Tiber floods the city or if the Nile refuses to rise, or if the sky withholds its rain, if there is an earthquake, a famine, a pestilence, at once the cry is raised: ‘Christians to the lions.”

But the Christians didn’t retreat. After the pattern of the apostle Paul, they set about ‘infiltrating’ culture with the gospel. In pluralist pagan Roman society submitting to Christ as Lord rather than Caesar, or worshipping Christ as God rather than Aesculapius or Artemis meant that you had to look and live very differently. Christians refused to offer even a pinch of incense once a year to the emperor and they suffered the reproach of all peoples for it.

They were faithful to Christ as God above all gods and Lord above all Lords. Out of commitment to Jesus as Lord they worked differently, married differently, behaved as singles differently, raised children differently. They employed differently, used their money differently, cared for others differently and they approached death differently. They embraced chastity or fidelity as the only options in sexuality in a day that was even more promiscuous than our own and they spoke out against the killing of babies.

By and large, in an age where very few people had free access to education and the chance to exert influence this was the lot of the average Christian. It was a life of faithfulness to Christ in the face of hostility from the world around them. It was a life of influencing society at the ‘grass roots’ level and since society couldn’t stop them or mould them into its image, over time the separation of the Christians had a transforming effect on the world of its day.

Christians – let’s look like followers of Christ.

Does Christ command our highest devotion? Are we willing to trust him and follow him when it stands in direct contrast to the beliefs and practises of our society? Will we uphold a biblical view of marriage, of sex, of the unborn? Will we pursue Jesus’ attitude toward our finances? Will we embrace integrity and love and are we willing to subject ourselves to every human institution, even corrupt ones?

Let’s learn from the faithfulness to Christ of our forefathers/brothers/sisters. Let’s learn from them and emulate them in our day. Jesus not the media/politicians/supermarkets gets to set our priorities.

Every Disciple: Fruit Bearers

fruit bearing

There is an attitude in the mind of the Christian that needs to be dealt with. It’s an ‘us’ and ‘them’ that divides the church. It’s not often a conscious attitude but it’s still a real one. Whether we label it clergy & laity, full timers & part timers, professionals & amateurs, or producers & consumers it’s a problem for us all.

The church was never established with this divide in mind. In Jesus’ model every disciple of his was called to be just as full time as anyone else.

Not dealing with this attitude disables us from living an effective Christian life and it robs the church of its power.

Jesus said ‘my sheep hear my voice and they follow me’. All of us, then, are in the same camp/category, all of us are ‘sheep’.

In John 15, speaking to his disciples, he said:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6

Every Christian is a disciple and every disciple is called to ‘abide’ in Jesus. Abiding (some translations use the word remain) is an ongoing and conscious relating to Jesus, fellowshipping with him and drawing from him as your life source everyday.

The promise we’re given is that as we do this, we will bear much fruit and not only a high quantity of fruit but quality fruit – fruit that will last. Here, from the mouth of Jesus, is a statement affirming that we have all been called (‘taken hold of’ by Christ) in order that we would all produce good fruit – fruit being Christian character and behaviour that results in the kingdom of God being more fully present on earth.

Every disciple of Jesus is a fruit-bearing disciple. There is no favouritism in God’s family, all of us occupy the position of branch in the vine, all of us need to remain attached to the vine if we’re to do what we want to do and have been commissioned by Jesus to do.

 

Beautiful Things

gardens need gardening

I’m free!

I’m healed!

I’m whole!

I’ve forgiven and the weight has lifted!

How does God work beautiful life-changing things in our lives? That’s a question I’ve wrestled with often. How do the above statements become our own personal story? What needs to happen? Here’s part of the answer I came to a while back that has really helped me:

I like gardening. I never thought I would, but when we bought our first house (an end of terrace with a patio and several 3x9ft flower beds) I caught the bug. There’s little else in life that you can spend so little time working on but get such huge satisfaction from. It’s amazing. I can spend 15mins with my fingers in the dirt pulling up weeds and trimming bushes, stand back and feel a rush of satisfaction – yes I just used the word rush to describe gardening.

After a good days gardening, beauty and order has been brought to the garden – job done. For days afterwards I’ll come down to breakfast, put the kettle on and just stand and stare out into the garden. The frustrating thing about gardening though is that it only stays beautiful for so long. After a while plants have grown, weeds have returned, storms have wreaked havoc and the garden needs well, gardening – again.

It’s the same with our lives and we miss it at our peril. Beautiful things in a cursed, corrupt and fallen planet don’t stay beautiful for long without regular maintenance.

This is an obvious and fairly simple point but we miss it at great detriment to our happiness and damage to our faith.

‘Why,’ my cynical brain asks, ‘when I was healed of that has it returned?’

‘Why, when I was free from that am I enslaved again?’

If you’re anything like me, those thoughts often try to point me towards doubt and away from trust. Things ‘wear off’ I tell myself, ‘reality’ kicks back in I remind myself. Perhaps God didn’t really do anything in my life. Perhaps there isn’t a God after all…

Maybe those accusations are valid. Maybe my own inability to stay free or stay whole is a sign that we’ve all been lied to, that Jesus is still in the grave. Or maybe, just maybe the Christian life operates according to the same patterns, and is subject to the same principles as everything else in this world; that as Christians we’re not exempt from life. Stagnant stationary things corrode and corrupt as much as moving, growing organisms. Beauty fades and chaos returns unless we continue to lean into and look to the creative creator who brings life out of death and beauty out of pain. It’s what God did at Creation when he gathered the formless and void universe and began to shape it and it’s what God is constantly doing by upholding and sustaining all things to ensure that they keep their order and beauty.

This week, let’s not overlook this valuable principle. Let’s ensure that we tend the gardens of our lives.