Home Sweet Home

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The travelling we do as a family is extensive, and, although a great privilege and blessing, the trips are long, somewhat arduous, and quite exhausting. They always end with long haul flights which, as anyone who does them a lot knows, are about as much fun as having your toenails pulled out. But what keeps us going at that point is one simple, and utterly delightful, fact: We’re going home! Man, we’re going home!

And just like our trips, life in this world, though comprising of great joy, and the most wonderful sense of purpose in the Lord, can be exhausting, arduous, debilitating and often heartbreaking. A fallen world is never going to be a truly fun thing, and serving the Lord, having our sinfulness dealt with, plus being opposed left, right and centre by the evil one, makes it decidedly all the harder. But what keeps us on track as the Lord’s people, and what makes it all worthwhile, is the sure and certain knowledge that, the whole time, we are actually on our way home, and that we will eventually, for a surety, most definitely get there.

Home, where rest follows labour and peace follows turmoil. Where security reigns and the vagaries and, at times, even dangers, of travel give way to the calm safety of the delight of just being at home with one’s family. Where difficulty and trial give way to freedom, fun and delight.

For Belinda, Bethany and I there is nothing quite like coming home. That we are together on our travels is everything to us and is the reason why I can accept invitations to serve the Lord’s people in such far flung places the way I do; but it doesn’t, and cannot, compare to us actually getting home once our task is accomplished. And so it is with our home in Heaven with the Lord. We will get there, and it will be everything we could possibly ever imagine – and far more! More rest, more peace, more love, more security, more freedom, more fun and joy than we could ever begin to even conceive! The whole family of God together at last, but together at last with Him!

I have, as some of you will know from my battle with cancer, faced death and looked it squarely in the eye, and although it is obviously a bit of a bummer that it usually means leaving loved ones behind (though I always knew that Belinda and Bethany would join me later), I can nevertheless confirm that there is truly is no sting to it, given what – or, rather, Who – awaits us beyond it!

So be brave, Christian friend!  Be brave and keep going! Be diligent and unstoppable in serving the Lord, battling against sin and living godly in Christ Jesus! Keep resisting the devil and his wiles and keep being the light of the Lord in this dark, dreadful, beautiful, evil and wicked world! You are headed home! You are going to get there! You are going to be so very happy and have not yet the slightest clue just how incredible, wonderful and amazing it is going to be! You will be with Jesus! You will be without sin! You will, indeed, be home at last!

 

 

 

Road Trip: The GPS Version!

GPSWe have recently returned home from one of our extended teaching trips across the US having driven our usual 4000+ miles, and I gotta tell you, I just love my GPS. (That’s Sat-Nav to my English readers!) The vehicle we keep over there is pretty cool too, but if our Ford Explorer (we call her Dora…get it? Dora the Explorer!) keeps us comfortable then it’s the GPS keeps us sane. It makes the odd mistake, of course, but nothing like the ones I used to make when it was just me (Belinda doesn’t do maps) going at 70mph with the steering wheel in one hand, my proprietary Walmart US map in the other, Belinda screaming in my right ear in abject terror and Bethany laughing her head off in the back enjoying the show! But all that aside, I don’t think Christians are as aware as they should be of the sheer symbolic and biblical significance of these little GPS mini-TV screens that can talk you through just about anywhere from anywhere at anytime.

It Must Be Alright, the Holy Spirit Led Me!

As I am often at pains to point out, there are two equal and opposite errors concerning the relationship between the authority of scripture and the personal subjective, supernatural leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The first (as mentioned in my last post) is the completely  false idea that the Holy Spirit sometimes leads people contrary to scripture. He doesn’t! Full stop! Finito! End of story! The fat lady has definitely sung as far as that one is concerned! When that happens you may know assuredly, and for a complete fact, that it is either you deceiving yourself, or the work of an actual deceiving demonic spirit. If the Holy Spirit were to ever lead but one believer to go against scripture in but one way, then that could only mean that He might lead any believer against scripture in any way at any time. And if that were the case then you would simply have no basis on which to judge anything at all, or any way whatsoever to establish whether any given action or behaviour was ultimately right or wrong. Someone leaving their wife to find a different one who fulfils them better might be the result of the Holy Spirit leading them so to do, as might also be the case for unmarried folk who are in a sexual relationship with each other.

ExplorerIf the Holy Spirit sometimes leads believers in ways contrary to what scripture clearly teaches, then why not regarding sexual morality too? After all, if the Holy Spirit has told a believer something, then who is anyone else to argue? It’s all very well trying to say that some ways of going against scripture are permissible whereas others aren’t, but again, on what possible basis could such be decided?  It the Holy Spirit can lead a believer to marry an unbeliever, or a woman to teach and conduct church leadership, then why could He not lead some believers to live together outside of marriage, or even to conduct a homosexual or lesbian relationship? I marvel that Christians are so slow to understand what a nonsensical, and deeply sinful, thing it is when they try to pit the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit against the clear teaching of scripture.

Bye Bye Lord! See you in Heaven!

But of course you can fall off a log both ends, so there are other believers who, though clear on the authority of scripture, have little or no understanding that the Holy Spirit does want to actually communicate directly with us outside of us just reading scripture. It’s as if they think that when they got saved Jesus said to them, “Great! Glad you made it! Anyway, gotta get back to Heaven now and I’ll see you there later. I’ve given you the Bible and a brain, so you can go ahead and start figuring out what following me should look like for you. I’ve given you lots of experts to read as well, and to listen to, (they’re called Ministers, or Priests, or Pastors…or whatever!) and they’ll help you figure it out too. I know they all have completely different opinions about just about everything the Bible says, but hey, you’ll get the idea. So look after yourself, keep reading, and I’ll see you when you die, or when I come back. Happy Bible-studying! Oh yes, and don’t forget to be good!”

They’re a bit like Marxists (or Leninists or the like)  who have the appropriate authoritative writings that contain the relevant teachings they need, and who then have to spend a lifetime working out how to best apply those teachings to their own situations. “Man, wouldn’t it be great,” they must think sometimes, “if Marx (or Lenin) were still around to help us out a bit and to explain things to us?” So likewise, many believers seem to live their Christian lives as if it’s just a matter of getting to know the Bible better so they can implement it’s teachings as best they can. In other words, they too have gotten it wrong, just as have those who play off the Holy Spirit against scripture!

The Answer to the Dilemma

So what’s the balance then? What’s the correct way to think about the relationship between the authority of scripture and the reality of the subjective leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit? Well, it’s actually my trusty little GPS. Let me explain!

The Scripture Only Brigade

The trouble with the ‘Scripture, and that’s all!’ folk (I call them doctrinalists) is that they have a map and a compass and that’s just about it. It is entirely down to them to figure out where they are, where they need to get to, and the best way to do it. It’s certainly better than not having a map, or having a map that is in some way incomplete or inaccurate, but it’s nevertheless not the best way of doing things. But when you have a GPS (oh, how I love my GPS) you have something much better. You still have the map – the map never changes because it is simply what is – but now you have a means of interaction with the map via a device that is actually tied in, real time, with some satellites. And these satellites enable the device to know not only exactly where you are relative to the map (which never changes), but the very best way for you to get to where you have programmed in that you need to go, all as a result of the software installed in the GPS. Moreover, not only does the GPS display the map as you travel on it’s screen, thus visually providing all the information you need, it actually talks you through the necessary directions as you proceed. In other words, it’s a modern miracle!

Such is the best illustration I have ever come up with concerning the age old miracle of the relationship between the authority of scripture and the subjective leading of the Holy Spirit. The Lord hasn’t just left us to our own intellectual devices when it comes to knowing and applying His written Word. No, He actually lives within us and is with us in person the whole time, and the Holy Spirit, amongst other things, is the means by which He shows us how to apply and obey the truth and teachings in that Word. That our intellects have an important part to play in this is not in dispute, but oh, what damage has been done by the sheer dryness and irrelevance of a Christianity that has come across to the world as mere morality to be pursued rather than an actual personal relationship with the Almighty God.

The Mapless Mystics

But of course those believers who fall off the other end of the log need to be addressed too. And their problem is not the absence of a GPS – they have had one all along! No, their problem is that they have been so reliant on the GPS they never properly consult the actual map in order to check whether or not the GPS programming they trust so much is actually accurate. Indeed, they have completely missed the fact that Satan specialises in uploading virus’ into spiritual GPS systems, thereby corrupting the software in unbelievably subtle and significant ways. Only the continuous syncing of the GPS with the ‘master programme’ can protect against this. Or, to put it another way, scripture – the actual map that never changes – remains the final authority, and never the directions of the GPS unit itself.

In other words, it is only safe to look to the Lord for subjective guidance, leading and revelation to the extent that we understand, and actually practise, that conformity to scripture is the final authority and arbiter in all matters. If something conforms to scripture, then it can be said to be of the Lord; but if something does not conform to scripture then it can never be said to be of the Lord, by very definition! Further, it is a foolish man indeed who thinks that he can access whatever biblical truth he needs to know merely on his own as an individual. That we know the Lord both personally and individually goes without saying, but in the abundance of counsellors is still safety, and anyone who just pursues growth in truth and the Lord on their own, without the accountability of significant personal and open accountable fellowship with others is just kidding themselves. They are virtually guaranteed to end up being deceived.

I have met so many Christians over the years who, if one were to compare their supposed guidance and revelation with our GPS analogy, are, so to speak, trying to get to New York from South Carolina by going via Oregon; or thinking that the way to Norwich from London is by first heading south to Hastings. In other words, their map is corrupted and their reliance on their GPS, without the safety of all the time referring to the actual objective map, has them literally all over the place. They are deceived, unstable and heading totally in the wrong direction! Why? Because they have failed to realise that, irrespective of the genuine reality of the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, scripture remains the only final authority!

Fortunately, our choice need never be between Spirit-less and dry doctrinalism on the one hand, or spiritual deception on the other. If we seek to walk in the safety of what our GPS analogy teaches us, then we are free to hear the Lord’s voice directly whilst minimising the risk of falling into either error. Can we guarantee we will never get it wrong? Of course not! We are deception-prone sinners still! But by sticking as closely as we can to the Lord, scripture and other godly believers, we are given the best chance of increasing in holiness and maturity in the Lord, as we live by His every Word to us as individuals, as we’ll ever have.

 

 

 

The Parable of the Soldier

One of the most powerful pictures of the importance of fellowship to be found in the Old Testament is in Exodus 17 when Israel is attacked by the Amalekites in the valley of Rephidim. Moses is sent by the Lord to the top of a cliff overlooking the battlefield, and basically what happens is that as long as he holds his rod up – a picture of faith in the Lord – Israel prevailed, but whenever he lets the rod down – a picture of unbelief – Amalek prevailed. So what happens next is that Aaron and Hur firstly find a rock for him to sit on – a picture of our rest in Christ – and then hold his arms up for him so his tiredness doesn’t prevent him doing what is necessary for a full victory over the enemy.

And of course what we have here is a clear picture of the fact that none of us can truly prevail in the Christian life unless others are helping and aiding us, just as others can’t prevail unless we are helping and aiding them. Without each other, without true, genuine, significant and actual fellowship with other believers, none of us can live in the victory over sin and the principalities and powers that the Lord has won for us. I cannot properly follow the Lord unless those with whom I am in close fellowship help me, just as they can never properly live the Christian life without my help.

The tragedy is, though, that there are many believers who, even though in ongoing fellowship, fail to truly step up to the plate in such regard, and leave others to engage in spiritual warfare whilst they stay nice and safe and sound in their comfort zones and spiritual laziness. “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion…” thunders the Old Testament (Amos 6:1), and we do well to pay attention to the ramifications of such a warning.

I am further struck by the incident in the Gospels when the disciples were in the boat and the Lord called Peter to get out of it and walk on the water to Him. And one can just imagine the other disciples, who stayed nice and safe and sound in the security of the boat, castigating him when he got back into it for having sunk when he took his eyes off the Lord. Yet Peter’s failure, of both nerve and faith, only came about as a direct result of his willingness to follow the Lord in a way the other disciples were not, and into dangers and difficulties they were not prepared to risk. We must, of course, be ever open to the correction, and even rebuke, of others, yet there is nevertheless a time when the legitimate response to such might well be, “I think the way I have stepped out of the boat and am following the Lord is better than the way you haven’t!”

There will always, sadly, be those believers who just sit back, doing pretty much nothing of spiritual worth, yet who are ever willing to point out the failures of those who at least try to go the whole hog in following the Lord; and I for one would rather be failing as a result of actually getting out of the boat and walking on the water with the Lord, as opposed to merely having the ‘success’ of those who just remain, nice and safe and sound and secure, in it, and who hit the target merely because they are aiming at pretty much nothing at all.

The sad fact is that, not only has Satan,spiritually speaking, immobilised those believers who won’t dive into the fray of truly serving the Lord, he is actually able to at times immobilise and damage even those who are in the battle precisely because they are not getting the support and help the lazy ones should be giving them. Had Aaron and Hur not found the rock for  Moses to sit on and then held his arms up, Amalek would have prevailed against Israel even though Moses was being as obedient and faithful as he possibly could.

Question: Do we truly have each others backs? Are we actually in the fray, or just sitting around like deadweight possibly even hindering those who are?

I have only once, I believe, been given a parable from the Lord to share, so here it is:

The Parable of the Soldier

During the war a Commanding Officer issued orders to a small group of soldiers to take a hill on which the enemy had placed heavy artillery. Upon receiving their instructions the small rag-tag band of soldiers looked at each other in disbelief. There was little doubt that what they being ordered to do was dangerous in the extreme; in fact, it was obvious to them that there was no way they could accomplish their mission without a significant chance of loss of life.

The situation weighed heavily on them as they discussed the dangers involved, and doubts and uncertainty crept in.

“This is suicide,” one of them finally said, “we haven’t got a chance!”

Silence took hold as, to a man, they realised how right he was.

“I didn’t come here to take stupid risks!” said another. “I’ve got a family and I want to see them again. No way am I going up that hill!”

And one by one they shared their reasons for not carrying out the order they had been given by their Commanding Officer.

But another of their number, one who had not yet spoken, protested that it wasn’t for them to be debating about whether or not they should obey their orders. He argued that they should just simply, and unquestioningly, do whatever it was they had been instructed to do. They were, after all, soldiers, and merely having received their orders ought to settle the matter, irrespective of the risks involved. He also drew their attention to the fact that their chances of successfully carrying out the mission, and surviving, increased precisely to the extent that they stuck together, fighting bravely at each other’s side, each doing their particular bit.

However, the others were not persuaded, and it became clear that this was one band of soldiers who were not going to obey the order they had received from their Commanding Officer.

“Then I have no choice but to take the hill alone,” he said. “I have a wife and children too, and a good life to return to, and I no more want to put myself at risk than the rest of you do; but I have my orders and must do what my Commanding Officer has told me.”

The others remonstrated with him, pointing out that it would be suicide for him to do what he was proposing, and that he would be crazy to try and take the hill on his own. But he was a good soldier who took seriously the fact that he was a man under authority, and that he should therefore obey every order; and thus he remained adamant. And because he remained adamant and obeyed the order they had been given by their Commanding Officer, albeit alone, he was also, within a few minutes, lying dead and bleeding, having made it just fifty yards towards the top of the hill before a hail of bullets found their lone and easy prey.

The others bowed their heads in a confusion of great sadness, but also relief. “We did warn him,” they lamented to each other. “It’s his own fault. We told him he didn’t have a chance, but he didn’t listen! If we’d have gone with him we’d be dead too! We surely made the right decision!”

“Unless…” one of them pondered, somewhat quietly, “…going with him might have made a difference? Perhaps if we had gone with hi  and obeyed orders too then he might not have died, and we would have taken the hill?”

“Best not to think about it!” replied the others. “We’re alive! That’s what counts!”

“I wonder how many men will die because we didn’t take out that artillery?” another thought to himself. But he didn’t dare voice it out loud!

They vanished into the night, grateful at having survived to fight another day!

(Hey, how about that? A short Blog post at last!)