Feeling Foolish!

“The fool says in his heart that there is no God”

Psalm 14:1, NIV

Right now, I’m feeling very foolish. I’m writing this Seed of the Kingdom in Manchester Airport. We were half-way to the airport, when Fiona and I suddenly realised that we had left our passports at home! It was too late to go back and out of nowhere we were suddenly in a major crisis. The others in the taxi would need to check-in for the flight and we would have to wait at the check-in desk, praying that our son Paul would be able to go to our house immediately, find the passports and make it to the airport in time for the flight!

We both felt incredibly foolish. This had never happened in our thirty years of travelling for Ellel Ministries! Neither of us could understand how we missed that vital ‘passport check’ in our, usually smooth, packing procedure.

But, as we sat castigating ourselves for our stupidity, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of how people must feel who have left home (died) and then realised that they were about to face the God, whom they’d ignored all their lives, without a ‘spiritual passport’. At that moment, they would be feeling more than foolish – utterly bereft, stupid and totally heart-broken for having put off, or ignored, the call of God to respond to His love and accept His salvation, all the years of their life. There could be no possibility of sending a message back home for somebody to bring your ‘passport’ – just the awful, indeed dreadful, realisation of how foolish you had been.

When the psalmist wrote the words of our text for today, he was no doubt aware of the gulf that lies between time and eternity – a gulf which Jesus referred to when He told the parable of the man who had died, discovered the awful truth, and wanted to go back and warn his friends. But it was too late. And when Jesus told of the successful man who wanted to build bigger barns to store his wealth, he warned that at any moment his soul could be summoned from time to eternity to meet his Maker.

These are awesome, yes dreadful, passages of Scripture – but they are there for a reason. I pray that as you read these words today you will be challenged to consider your own position before God and, warn those you know and love before they stand at the departure gate from life, spiritually naked, and without a passport!!

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, that You loved us so much that You sent Your Son to pay the price for our sin and show us the way of salvation – and provide a ‘passport’ for each one of us from time to eternity. Forgive me, Lord, if I have turned my back on You and Your call on my life. Help me, Lord, to do business with You now and always be alert to the fact that there will come a day when we strand at the departure gate from time to eternity. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Harvest of Work!

“He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment”

Proverbs 12:11, NIV

This proverb comes from the days when each and every family worked their own land in order to grow crops, food that would sustain them throughout the year. Land does not produce an abundant harvest unless time and effort has been spent on first preparing the ground by ploughing and then adding nourishment – manure or fertiliser. It then has to be carefully prepared for sowing the seed and followed by regular watering.

All of this represents hard work – but the rewards at harvest-time are great. A farmer who just sowed the seed on unploughed ground, hoping for a good crop, would have very little to harvest at the end of the growing season. His laziness would result in his family going hungry.

Most of us are not able to work land in order to feed our families, but there is still a profound lesson for each and every one of us in today’s Scripture. God has given us all gifts and abilities – gifts and abilities which we can use to meet the needs of other people and thereby earn a living. It’s no use praying for God to meet our needs if, at the same time, we are failing to “work the land of our lives”.

But there is a different kind of harvest about which Jesus was very concerned. We can certainly pray for those in our community who don‘t know the Lord, but if we do nothing to ‘plough and nourish the land’ by building relationship with them, our prayers will be limited in their effectiveness. It was when Jesus met and talked with the woman at the well and shared with her about the water of life that her life was changed for ever.

We need to ‘work the land of our lives’ and be always alert to the potential of every personal encounter, so that we can build bridges into the lives of those who are in need of salvation. Or, as Haggai expressed it “work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts” (Haggai 2:4).

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to always use the gifts You have given me to earn the bread that we need for nourishment. But help us, too, Lord, to farm the land of our community and seek to produce a harvest for Your Kingdom of lives that have been changed by Your presence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Are You Not Worth Much More?

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye
shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?”

Matthew 6:25, KJV

As I lay outside in the spring sun, I saw hundreds of little flies flying freely and enjoying the space and warmth. Spring brings everything to life; the birds, the butterflies, nicely trimmed grass, the flowers and trees, all of different colours and designs. As if in obedience to one voice, everything springs into beauty and colour.
This might make you and I wonder about the wisdom and creativity of our Creator, Father God.

Yet as I look into all this beauty, the scripture comes to life in me when Jesus told His followers, “Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:26). You and I are more important than the birds, the flowers or anything else. We are made in His image and He knows your every single need before you ask Him.

Our Father owns everything. He does not live far away from us but is omnipresent and only a prayer away. He withholds no good thing from those who love Him. The world worries about physical and material needs. We don’t need to join in the world’s worry and strife, but trust in Him. He will fulfil what we need because He is our Father.

Prayer: Father, thank You for creating me and rejoicing over me. Forgive me for worrying about my needs and help me to trust in Your provision. Now I give You all my needs and desires. Thank You Lord. Amen.

Pure or Polluted?

“Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked”

Proverbs 25:26, NIV

Springs and wells are sources of pure water – water which quenches the thirst, satisfies the taste and is life-giving to all who drink. But if that life-giving water has become polluted or muddied, then it becomes undrinkable. It is no longer life-giving, but could even be life-threatening. When a river becomes polluted with, for example, industrial effluent, the fish in the river die. All the water is still there, but it’s what’s been added to the water that causes the problem.

In just the same way someone may have lived a righteous life and be known as a true believer, but if the stream of truth that comes from their mouth, or is evident in their life, has become polluted with deceptive beliefs, practices or ungodly living, then their life has become poison to those who ‘drink’ from that stream. They will be influenced by the pollutants and led astray into the same or similar sins. It only takes a small amount of poison in the water to do massive amounts of damage. In just the same way it only takes a small amount of deception to have the potential for leading many people astray.

No wonder Paul was so urgent in teaching his young disciple Timothy. He told him: “Watch your life and your doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). The implication is that if we allow pollutants to affect our beliefs and our way of life, then the damage could be fatal – to us individually, and to all those who listen to the music of our lives and are tempted to follow our example!

The fact that we may even have years of godly living behind us, does not mean that we are incapable of being led astray. The enemy will work extra hard to pollute the life stream of those who are in a position to influence others. How important it is that we guard our hearts and are very careful about where we put down our feet on the road of life – only going where the Lord is leading and only doing those things that please Him.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for the warnings that You have placed in Your Word. Thank You that you have put them there to help us stay on the right path throughout our days. I pray that You will cleanse me from my sins, Lord, and help me to keep the water of my life free from pollutants, so that it will always be fresh and life-giving to all with whom I relate or influence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Living Longer!

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.”

Proverbs 9:10-11, NIV

Living longer is the dream of most men and women, but few there be who discover one of the most precious keys to a long life, which is found in our Scripture for today! And the reason they don’t find it is because they are ignorant of what God says in His Word. Holy fear of a holy God is the first pillar of truth from these verses, which is critical for life. If we live in awe and reverence for the God, who loves us so much, then we are living in holy fear and we will not want to do those things that grieve Him or step off His pathway for our life.

But the second pillar – knowledge of the Holy One – is equally important. Knowing everything we can discover from His Word about His nature and character will give us an understanding of God and His ways which will help us fulfil His purposes for our life.

Because the leaders of our Ellel centres know me well, they understand how I think and what I would do in many different circumstances. As a result I have complete confidence and trust in them and the way they run their Centres. If they didn’t know me they wouldn’t know what to do and would either constantly have to get in touch with me to ask for an opinion or they would make many mistakes, because they would be acting without an understanding of my heart. In just the same way we need to get to know the heart of God – and once we have His heart and He has ours, we can move forward in faith and trust confident that He will lead us.

And when we are doing those things that please Him, we can be confident also that we won’t be doing those things that could have the effect of shortening our lives. This is easy to understand when you see the medical statistics about the shortened life expectancy, for example, of those who drink too much, or are addicted to drugs, or catch sexually transmitted diseases through promiscuous sexual relationships.
Living a holy life in the fear of God is not living a dull life – and God promises to add years to our life when we understand and walk in His ways!

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for the promises in Your Word. Help me to get to know You better and I ask that the Holy Spirit will fill me day by day with His power to strengthen me against temptation and be a blessing to You and to others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

All the Days of My Life!

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Psalm 23:5 & 6

All of us have a measure of time stretching ahead of us, but none of us knows exactly how much time we have. It could be days, weeks, months or many years. But however many or few those days are, the encouragement to live every day as if it is our last is sound spiritual advice.

For if we knew that today was the day on which we would be meeting the Lord face to face, we would not, under any circumstances, be wanting to be involved in any ungodly things! So why would we ever want to be involved in any ungodly things?

But the spiritual reality of daily life is that we are at all times living in a world that has sold its soul to the god of this world and that we are, therefore, always in the midst of spiritual enemies – they are ultimately God’s enemies, but because we are in Him and He is in us, they are our enemies also. And this is one of the most encouraging Scriptures of all – even in the midst of our enemies God is there for us – or, in the words of the psalmist, he prepares a table for us right there!

We have faced many different attacks over the years in the ministry, but at all times God has encouraged us not to run away from the enemy, but to keep on pressing on with the calling and purposes of God. And in the practical reality of daily Christian ministry we have seen how God has laid out a spread of provision for our needs; He has anointed us for the work of bringing healing to those in need and our cup of thanksgiving has overflowed.

And all that God has done is simply encouraging evidence that the God who was able in the past, is also able in the present, and will always be there for us throughout our days. And even better, at the end of our days we are assured that we will dwell with him in the house of the Lord for ever.

So, even if the days ahead may look difficult, there is constant reason to give thanks and to follow Paul’s advice to “rejoice in the Lord always . . . do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for the assurance of your presence with me all my days and the promise of your provision and encouragement every step of the way, until I can share in the joy, with You, of my eternal home with the saints of God. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

I will fear NO evil

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 23: 3 & 4, NIV

The words of Psalm 23 embrace every stage and experience of life – seasons of peace and tranquillity, times when we are facing enemies and that time of life which we all have to go through one day – the valley of the shadow of death.

On numerous occasions now, my wife and I have had to accompany someone through their own valley of the shadow of death – most of them members of our teams or families who had reached the end of their days. But on one occasion a much younger man suffered a major heart attack and a few hours later he went to be with the Lord.

In almost his last words he expressed to Fiona the urgency there was in his spirit about the need for holiness and unity in the ministry. He knew that the Lord was asking him to speak to the leaders about these critical issues. And having delivered his message it was only an hour or so later that the heart attack struck him and he was helpless on the ground.

Even though he knew that what he was going through was very serious, there was no panic and no fear, he was totally at peace that the Lord was with him in his personal journey through the valley of the shadow of death. With his final words, he told Fiona that he felt like a baby being held safe in his Father’s arms. He was comforted in his spirit by the presence of the Lord who carried him to the safety of eternity. The powers of darkness had no say in the matter. Demonic fear was powerless to intervene. His death, when it came, was a supreme God-moment.

This is the testimony of the saints of God. The Lord is their comforter at their greatest moment of personal need. No wonder Paul referred to Him as “the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles” in 2 Corinthians 1:3 & 4. And in 1 Corinthians 15:54 Paul declared that “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

While no-one looks forward to the moment of dying it is so very encouraging to know that when our time comes we have nothing to fear from the forces of evil and we have a place to go to, which the Good Shepherd has prepared for each one of His sheep. The Gospel is such incredibly good and encouraging news!

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for your incredible love and provision for each one of Your children. Thank You that I can look forward to all the rest of my days, knowing that when it is my turn to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You will be there to comfort me and welcome me to my eternal home with You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Lord is MY Shepherd!

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Psalm 23:1-2, NIV

There can be no more encouraging verses of Scripture than these. Psalm 23 is the most well-known of all the Psalms for this very reason – it speaks of comfort and encouragement to men and women at every stage and in every condition of life.

God is unchangeable and cannot ever change His character. His heart is that of a Shepherd for His people and he longs to gather His sheep into His arms and speak to them words of comfort and blessing. Isaiah tell us in 40:11 that “He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” This is the heart and character of our loving Creator God.

Then Jesus told the story of the shepherd who had a hundred sheep, but one of them had strayed and was lost – so he left the ninety-nine who were safe and went seeking the lost sheep till he found it. And what joy there was when the sheep that was lost was restored to the flock (Luke 15:1-7).

In all these Scriptures God is not really talking about sheep, He is talking about the people he loves and using sheep as a picture that anyone and everyone can understand, whatever their age and whatever their culture. It is a universal image that speaks to the very core of who we are as human beings. We all have a deep inner need of being loved, nurtured and cared for by our heavenly Father. And He is ready, willing and able!

There are seasons in life when we have different needs, according to the stage of the journey we have been walking through. Sometimes we are in need of rest in the human equivalent of green pastures, lying by still waters. At those times we can take in deeply of his loving provision, while he restores our soul. He wants to re-equip us for the road ahead.

Then He promises to lead us along paths of righteousness – and at that point we will need to exercise our free will and choose to follow in the direction that He is showing us. He is a good Shepherd and will not lead us in a direction that is contrary to His will and purpose for our lives. The heart of the message of these verses is that God can be trusted, so may I encourage you to trust Him now and always.

Prayer:Thank You, Lord, that You are not only a good Shepherd, but You are also My Shepherd. Thank You for your promise to lead me in paths of righteousness. I choose now to follow where You lead as I trust You afresh for every day of the rest of my life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Spirit of Antichrist

I normally have several books by my bedside – all of which I am reading bits of, according to what takes my fancy on any particular evening. But, this past week two very different books have grabbed my attention, essentially for the same basic reason.

The books are Back to Jerusalem by Paul Hattaway – being the story of those extraordinarily brave Chinese leaders who have laid down their lives to take the Gospel from China back to Jerusalem, through the strongholds of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, where the peoples are largely unreached by the good news of Jesus. This is a movement which originated in the middle of the last century – a movement which has cost the lives of hundreds of Christian martyrs, whose blood is on the land.

The other book is a much older tome, Fox’s Book of Martyrs, a great Christian classic which in Victorian England stood alongside Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as the two books, after the Bible, which every Christian should read. I have only ever dipped into the book in the past, it has been awaiting the time when the Holy Spirit prompted me to absorb the incredible stories of those who, down the centuries, have given their lives for their faith. That time came this past week.

So, a week later I have almost finished Back to Jerusalem and, so far, have managed about 30% of Fox. It’s not easy reading. But my spiritual life and calling has been challenged to the very core as I have read the stories of extraordinary courage and fortitude, as both young and old, men and women suffered the cruellest of unspeakable tortures and means of execution, rather than renounce their faith in Jesus and deny their Lord, even when knowing what terrible sufferings lay ahead of them on earth.

But it was what lay ahead of them in Heaven which shone so powerfully in their hearts, that kept them utterly faithful to their calling and destiny to the very end. Countless thousands down the centuries have lived the reality of Matthew 10:38-39 and have found their lives through martyrdom: ”Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find their lives.”

As I have meditated on why God had me read these two books at this time, I found myself analysing the reasons why men could act with such terrible and unjustified cruelty. Ultimately, I realised, that their demonically inspired murderous actions were, invariably, because their victims refused to acknowledge and accede to the beliefs of their accusers.

During the ten waves of Roman persecution, it was the Christians’ refusal to sacrifice to the idols of the state, in which the Emperors and their governors believed, which brought down the powers that be upon their heads. To oppose the authorities in this way was considered to be an act of rebellion, even treason, and this always carried with it the threat of death. Then, when things went wrong for Rome, it was sometimes said that it was the fault of the Christians and, as a result, general persecutions broke out with instructions to kill all Christians. When, what the authorities believed in was being rejected, all Christians became an enemy of the state.

I, personally, am a descendant of Huguenots who managed to escape from France during some of the most terrible and bloody persecutions ever recorded, as the Church of Rome tried to eliminate all protestant believers from France. And in the UK, in the days of Queen ‘bloody’ Mary, refusal to believe in the Roman doctrines and acknowledge the Pope as the head of the Church, lit the fires of martyrdom beneath thousands, including Bishops Ridley, Latimer and Archbishop Cranmer in Oxford. And I could hardly read the unbelievably awful and terrible things that Rome did to Protestants in the Spanish Inquisition.

In China refusal to stop believing in Jesus hit directly at the atheistic beliefs of the communist government. Members of the house churches became enemies of the state and, over the last seventy years, millions have paid the ultimate price for faithfulness to their Saviour and Lord.

It is believed that there were more martyrs for the faith in the twentieth century than in all the previous centuries put together!

And today, in the middle East, we have seen how the beliefs of radical Islamists have caused them to execute a similar brutal judgement on anyone (Christian, Jew or, even, Muslim) who dares to think and believe differently from the leaders of ISIS.

There is a spirit behind all such murderous persecutions of believers. It is cruel, it is antichrist and it rides on the back of a spirit of religion. Anyone who dares to think or believe differently from the adherents of their religion, whatever its name may be, becomes a victim of their hatred and poison. In the world, today, we have many different recognised religions, but we also have a religion which adherents would not want it to be called as such, but which is as much a religion as any other – for it is motivated by a belief.

In essence, that belief is humanism, which declares, in one way or another, that there is no such thing as a Holy God to whom we are answerable and that, in the moral realm, man is god of his own choices and is free to do whatever he likes especially, it seems, in terms of marriage, sexual relationships and abortion. Anyone who dares to think differently becomes an object of vitriolic persecution, powered by the same antichrist spirit that has caused the deaths of millions of martyr-saints in the past two thousand years.

Anyone in the UK, who saw Tim Farron resign as leader of the Liberal Democrats, after the recent election, was watching that antichrist spirit at work, driving him from office for holding orthodox Christian views. Tragically what, essentially, Tim Farron was saying is that in the UK, it is no longer possible for a practising Christian, with orthodox views, to remain leader of a political party. And that is a conclusion that believers would have to reach in many other of our western nations also.

But even more sadly, the church has fallen victim to the same pressures of humanism. Instead of being salt and light in a fallen world, boldly proclaiming the truth of Scripture to what is now a post-Christian society, it is increasingly drawing upon the beliefs and ways of the world for its moral direction, as opposed to being faithful to its founder and the teaching of Scripture, the Word of God.

In my student days, on my way from Christ Church to the science laboratories, I would cross Broad Street at the place where a large brass cross in the road had been put to mark the very spot where Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer were burned at the stake. We may not burn people at the stake today for holding the same orthodox, scriptural views as those noble Bishops but, make no mistake, it was the same antichrist spirit which called for the head of Tim Farron!

I pray that the Churches of our nation, as they deliberate on the critical issues of the day, such as abortion and marriage, will not choose to appease the spirit of antichrist and the false god of humanism in their councils and synods, by changing their orthodox beliefs to accommodate the world. I pray, too, that they will remember our blood-splattered land and not betray those who laid down their lives so that the Word of God could be freely available. These are severely testing days for those who want to remain faithful to the word of truth.

The Mercy of God

“I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O Lord, you brought me up from the grave, you spared me from going down into the pit.”

Psalm 30:1-3, NIV

David was an experienced warrior – but he was also experienced in the ways of God. From a young age, he had learned to worship and serve God. It was he, and not his older brothers, whom Samuel chose and anointed to be King. He had known God’s protection and supernatural direction in times of battle. God had shown him how to defeat Goliath and overcome the Philistines. He was a seasoned man of God.

But Satan is always on the lookout for our weaknesses and he knew that David had an Achilles heel. He had the potential for being led astray by the sight of a beautiful woman – especially one who was bathing in the open air in a place that was visible from the palace roof. And we all know how David fell into the trap and not only committed adultery but finished up having Bathsheba’s husband killed to try and cover up his sin.

But God in his mercy sent the prophet Nathan to confront David – at which point David had two choices. Either humble himself, repent and call out to God for forgiveness and help or use his authority as King to dispose of Nathan. He made the right choice. At that point in his life he was either heading for the pit of destruction or the path of restoration.

And God, in his mercy, heard David’s cry, healed his broken heart and spared him from the consequences of his sin. What he had done could not be undone – but his relationship with God was restored. In walking the road of repentance, he was also climbing the hill of hope and putting his feet firmly down on the rock of his salvation.

None of us are perfect and the enemy will always be on the lookout for our weaknesses. But if we slip up on our journey of faith, when we come face to face with the reality of our own sin, if we react in the same way as David did, then we will be assured of God’s healing and restoration. Repentance and forgiveness are the double doors which open to the gateway of hope!

Prayer:Thank You, Lord that David knew the reality of your healing and restoration. Help me, Lord, to follow you all my days, but if I do fall at any time, please show me in your mercy so that I may follow David’s example and know the joy of your restoring love. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.