scrabble tiles

SCRABBLE to solve
the Problem of EVIL

SCRABBLE
1. (verb): scratch or grope around with one’s fingers to find, collect, or hold on to something.
Eg. “She scrabbled at the grassy slope, desperate for purchase”.
2. (trademark): a game in which players build up words on a board from small lettered tiles.

In Genesis 3:14-5, we read that following the deception of Eve and the transgression of Adam,
The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this, CURSED are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life;
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed;
He shall CRUSH your head, And you shall strike his heel.”

Now you might or might not believe that the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden has any historical truth to it. For my part, I have wrestled hard with the question of whether there is adequate historical evidence to believe in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (I’d be happy to talk through my conclusions!), but I haven’t had the chance to give any meaningful time and energy to engaging with the historical question of Adam and Eve — and all of the associated biological, anthropological and theological consequences that an answer to such a question will have.

So I suggest that we come to this discussion simply as mere humans agreed that EVIL is a real problem to which we do not have all the answers, and for which we need everybody’s help. Indeed, we could divide it into a variety of different problems, but here I want to zoom out as far as possible to consider the problem in its most general terms. So I come to this story in Genesis asking that we leave aside our scientific and/or religious opinions to one side for a few brief minutes, and consider instead, regardless of its factual truth or falsehood, whether there is any new perspective that Moses’ account of this ancient Israelite legend might give us upon the even more ancient Problem of Evil. On my part, I find the passage challenges me to consider afresh this question: ‘What is EVIL?’

Specifically, is evil a CURSE from God, or a demonic power we can CRUSH?

Being a playful and childlike soul who finds it hard to think seriously about a subject as sobering as evil without my mind distracting itself with a less weighty theme, I find myself shuffling around the letters, hoping that somehow the secret to unlock the solution might be hidden before our very eyes.

‘Perhaps…’, I hear the rationalizing half of my brain suggest, ‘perhaps, all we need to do is to replace E with H’. I wonder if I’m in danger of falling, like Alice-in-Wonderland, down a rabbit-hole. But my brain continues: ‘…and before you say “EH?”, let me try and explain…’

1. EVIL, according to Moses’ story, involves EXILE and HURT.
a. EXILE, in that Adam and Eve are forced to leave the paradise of perfect pleasure represented by The Garden of Eden.
b. HURT, being the specific consequence that God explicitly declared over both Eve (in child-bearing, Gen. 3:16) and Adam (in farming, Gen. 3:17).

But what if we didn’t withdraw from God in EXILE, but instead took our HURT to God?

2. HURT involves PAIN and SUFFERING.
a. PAIN is a low-level physical feedback system designed to help us avoid damaging ourselves. Repeat after me: ‘Pain is good, just ask someone with leprosy’. (Leprosy causes a decreased ability to feel pain, resulting in repeated injuries and infections due to unnoticed wounds).
b. SUFFERING, on the other hand, is our high-level intellectual narrative telling us that the story we are living will end in tragedy (I learnt this from Julian Baggini, The Virtues of the Table, pp.53-54). Pain only translates into suffering insofar as we interpret our pain to mean that we will subsequently experience negative consequences — if we think the pain will have positive consequences, then it becomes ‘but a momentary trial’ (eg. 2 Cor. 4:17).

The problem of suffering is thus a problem primarily of HOPE, and only secondarily of HURT. Of course, it is vital to ensure that our hope is well-grounded, and that we’re not deluding ourselves and effectively becoming victims of ‘intellectual leprosy’, preventing us from properly feeling and responding to potential damage. This quest for a well-grounded hope leads us to questions concerning reality: what is the nature and character (if we might allow ourselves to personalise the transcendent forces which will determine our ultimate end) of ‘the powers’ (ELOHIM, ‘God’) that threaten to overwhelm our vulnerable human minds, bodies, — and spirits?

If we are to talk in terms of ‘God’, can we coherently and convincingly talk about God being good?
Since Epicurus, thoughtful people have argued ‘No’, in three simple steps:
i. If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not more powerful than the other transcendent powers — that is, He is not the ‘Sovereign Elohim‘; which is to say that He is not God.
ii. If God is unwilling to prevent evil, then he is not good.
iii. If God is willing and able to prevent evil, then why does it exist?

This is a valid argument, and a profound question. Let’s begin by addressing the first assertion, and consider that word so beloved by conservative evangelical Christians — God’s ‘SOVEREIGNTY’.

3. SOVEREIGNTY involves RESPONSIBILITY and therefore (one might suggest) CULPABILITY.
a. RESPONSIBILITY: The duty to deal with the consequences of a wrong.
b. CULPABILITY: The guilt of actively allowing or passively permitting a wrong.

We rightly feel that an honourable God with sovereign power over everything must surely have a responsibility to deal with the consequences of evil. Now in our twenty-first century context we might better understand the responsibility of an honourable sovereign less in the terms of a feudal monarch’s honour (cf. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo), and more in terms of a multinational corporation’s social responsibilities.

If there is demonstrable injustice in the supply chain then the director at the top of that chain needs to take responsibility — and if he isn’t willing to make the necessary changes, then we consider him culpable for the wrongs that continue to be perpetuated. It doesn’t matter if the factories where the injustices are evident are under the control of corrupt and malicious middle-managers! If you are truly sovereign and good, then you need to do something about it! If this is true for NIKE, then how much more should it be true for God!

Now, we could cut straight to the chase, and point out that in the person of Jesus, who submitted — to John the Baptist’s confusion! (Matt. 3:13-15) — to ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 1:4), God has already essentially said ‘Sorry’ to humanity, acknowledging his personal responsibility for the problem of evil, and demonstrating his willingness to do whatever was necessary to solve that problem, however humiliating the solution might be. And we know that the journey of Jesus that began with his baptism ended unavoidably with him being crucified by the angry mob of humanity, for the claim that he was the designated ruler of the kingdom of heaven. We had the chance to tell God what we think he deserves for allowing injustice to continue in this world — and we took that chance and crucified Him. Whether or not God is fairly culpable, He is certainly not unwilling to take responsibility.

This is generally the approach which Calvinists take to the problem of evil — address the first prong of the trilemma by accepting that God is indeed sovereign, and thus actively responsible for every tiny detail of the world that we experience; address the second prong of the trilemma by swiftly and confidently proclaiming the gospel, hoping that the message of the cross adequately demonstrates the goodness of God’s character, even if the mystery of evil remains unresolved. Being by nature an impatient evangelist with a weighty sense of the urgency of the call of Christ, this is the approach to which I have tended to be most sympathetic.

But perhaps this time we could probe that contemporary image of the multinational corporate supply chain and see what insight it might give us into how a good sovereign might manage the RISK involved in releasing CHOICE to middle-managers. For while at one end of the theological spectrum Calvinists emphasize the ineffable sovereignty of God, at the opposite end the emphasis is instead put on free choice as a necessary precondition for real love.

And before we move on to talk about choice, we must first finish our discussion of God’s sovereignty by establishing that although God does take responsibility for all that happens, a biblical worldview will not allow us to assign Him direct culpability for it. James 1:13-15 makes quite clear that God is not the active cause of evil: Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Insofar as there are spiritual forces at work in this process, they are not to be identified with God but with “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev. 12:9; cf. James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:8, Eph. 6:11-12 ). The Christian claim is not that all spiritual power is good, but that among the various heavenly principalities and powers, the sovereign God “is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (Jn. 1:5, cf. James 1:17).

4. CHOICE: FREEDOM within BOUNDARIES.
We must now begin to tread carefully, for to speak of freedom and choice is to enter a theological minefield. Whatever you do, don’t start throwing around the phrase ‘free will’, without first carefully considering what you actually mean, or you might unwittingly unleash the pent-up fury of several centuries of unresolved Christian controversy, and find yourself crushed under the weight of Luther’s diatribe against Erasmus, and if you manage to emerge from that, then you’ll still have to deal with Augustine’s criticisms of Pelagius.

We could sidestep two thousand years of theology and try to wrestle directly with the teaching of Scripture, but we will still find that a straightforward reading of the New Testament makes clear that the human will is not so free as one might like to think. “No-one can come to me unless the Father has granted it to him,” Jesus says (Jn. 6:65) — for as He explains elsewhere, “flesh gives birth to flesh, but [only] the Spirit gives birth to spirit… [which is why] I said ‘You must be born again’ ” (Jn. 3:5-6). Paul reaches the same conclusion, “that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Rom. 7:18). This is why he tries so hard to make clear that “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). John says similarly that “to become children of God…[one must be] born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13). Even James agrees that the decisive choice in an individual’s salvation belongs not to that individual but to God: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18).

So in fact the human will is not ‘free’. Specifically, we need to understand that a person isn’t born again because they chose to follow Jesus — rather, a person can only choose to follow Jesus if they have been supernaturally born again. But just because we affirm the necessity of irresistible saving grace to regenerate spiritually-dead sinners, this does not logically require that we deny spiritual agency that is genuinely free (though not independent — this is the freedom of partnership as ‘coworkers with God’, eg. 1 Cor. 3:9) on the part of those who have been born again, and are now “seated with Christ in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6), “far above all principality and power and might and dominion” (Eph. 1:21). “For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).

For although on the subject of salvation I seem to remain a theologically conservative evangelical whose emphasis rests entirely on the sovereignty of God, those same theologically-conservative evangelical convictions also commit me to take straightforwardly the biblical exhortation to “…eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1). And when it comes to the prophetic word of God, we find that far from the comprehensive determinism sometimes associated with certain Christians’ use of the word ‘sovereignty of God’, there is instead a dynamic flexibility to God’s sovereign government of the world. We see this explicitly in Jeremiah 18:7-10, where God personally promises to be radically responsive to human choice:
“If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it”.

So there is then real freedom of choice — just not an unlimited freedom. Rather human choice is limited and constrained by boundaries on various levels. Some of those constraints are dynamically dependent on the decisions we choose to make, while others operate at a more profound depth than can be reached by mere willpower.

5. RISK: SAFETY and DANGER
Without a secure underlying sense of SAFETY, we cannot rest.
But without ever experiencing DANGER, we become bored. (Credit to CS Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet (1938), whose thoughts on the good of danger have catalyzed my thinking on this topic).

It is a legal requirement in the UK today for employers to assess the risks to the health and safety of their employees while they are at work. ‘Why then,’ asks the responsible citizen of the twenty-first century, ‘did God not foresee the dangers of this world that [you Christians claim] He created? Because if He did foresee them then He can’t be good…’

To which the theologically-conservative Christian replies, ‘Well, He didn’t just foresee it, He specifically and sovereignly selected it among all the possible options’. The skeptic’s brow furrows in visible bewilderment. Then the Christian continues, ‘But He’s going to work it all together for good, eventually — at least for those He predestined…’

More recently, Greg Boyd has enthusiastically advocated an alternative possibility, suggesting that the future does not have any actual existence — it exists only in terms of various open possibilities. Therefore not only (a) does God not ever in any sense (with possible unusual exceptions) determine people’s choices, but that (b) He actually doesn’t know what those choices are going to be until people have made them. Since part (a) of Boyd’s thesis is already outside of what a Calvinist would consider to be Christian orthodoxy, it is perhaps unsurprising that this suggestion has not been well received in Calvinist circles. In particular, it seems to undermine the possibility of affirming God’s Providence, as Joseph does when he says to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20) — and we’ve already mentioned the promise of Romans 8:28, that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.

Now I have already said that while I affirm that the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit works in such a way as to determine people’s consequent choice to follow Jesus, nevertheless there are some choices that are real and undetermined. In particular, I see sanctification as being about learning to voluntarily choose to consistently unite your thinking and feeling with Christ, through whom you have already been united in the spirit and therefore justified (through no choice of your own, but through God’s choice).

And I like the idea of thinking about the future in terms of possibilities. Certainly ‘possibility thinking’ is a good, useful and necessary human tool — and so I instinctively assume that we should be able to root it in the nature and character of God. If God is infinitely wise, then there’s no reason why He couldn’t, before the beginning of time, have mapped out all the possible consequences of every conceivable human (and angelic) choice throughout history. God could then have committed in general to do whatever necessary to ensure that eventually all things would be worked together for good, and specifically to become incarnate and die to bear the consequences of whatever foolish choices humanity might make.

So we can affirm that God will eventually bring about the best of all possible worlds, without committing ourselves to justifying every incident in history as the best possible route to that ultimate goal. This is not to say that anything that happens is ‘outside of God’s plan’ — just to encourage us to appreciate that a good plan doesn’t require a totalitarian leader micromanaging the decisions of all involved, but rather leaves space for all who are involved to make a genuine contribution that actually makes a difference, while simultaneously ensuring that there are adequate safeguards in place to avoid unnecessary danger.

In particular, we can note that God’s primary mode of engaging with history is through dynamic partnership with His people. So in general God doesn’t frequently intervene to prevent pain and suffering, but rather allows us to see and experience the negative consequences of foolish and sinful human choices, so that we might learn to actively partner with Him — both naturally, as we grow in scientific understanding of the natural mechanisms built in to creation; and supernaturally, as we release the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit through prayer.

This seems to me to integrate the strengths of Greg Boyd’s innovative idea into an orthodox evangelical theology that affirms God’s sovereignty in salvation. Indeed, having thought it through like this and disentangled God’s specific sovereign action(s) from His general commitment to allow humanity to experience the natural consequences of their actions, it then feels less significant whether you deny or affirm that God had actual foreknowledge of what would happen before it did.

(You may feel that I have failed to deal with one of the most difficult implications of affirming the sovereignty of God in an individual’s salvation — the corollary that God doesn’t choose to save all those whom He created. Was it not then malicious to create them in the first place? How can a good and loving God create people who are eventually left to suffer endlessly in hell? I have wrestled with this question here. First, we should note that a finite quantity [eg. of judicially-inflicted pain] can be stretched out over an infinite time-frame — suppose a point A was to move half the remaining distance towards an end-point B each day… Second, we can consequently see that hell is not an infinite punishment but a finite one in which each person experiences judgment precisely proportionate to their sin, small or great. Third, it is thus possible that a generally law-abiding non-Christian could experience more joy in their life-time than pain in the after-life.)

6. JUDGEMENT: DISCERNMENT and DISCIPLINE
In our quest to CRUSH the Problem of Evil, we have now addressed the dimensions of Hurt (CRUSH), Sovereignty (CRUSH), Choice (CRUSH), and Risk (CRUSH) — which just leaves U.

If you were here in front of me, I’d be unlikely to be able to resist pointing a finger at you and telling you in no uncertain terms that the real challenge of solving the Problem of Evil is recognizing that ‘the problem is U‘!

You would protest: ‘Who are you to judge me! How dare you! I’m not evil!’

Which highlights that the final and fundamental dimension of the problem of evil that we need to address is that of JUDGEMENT.

The interesting thing about the Problem of Evil is that, having untangled God’s holy sovereignty from sinful human choices, we can turn the Problem inside out. Which is to say that while some might find that the existence of Evil makes it understandably difficult to believe in God, the non-existence of a Transcendent Moral Authority (‘God’) would mean that ‘Evil’ would have no objective existence. For if the things you call ‘evil’ are not actual trangressions of transcendent moral reality, but are merely things that you (and perhaps your culture) find offensive and unjustifiable — then by what right can you impose your [community’s] standard upon the one you have judged to have committed ‘evil’?

This is why to properly ground the Rule of Law, we need to affirm some sort of Natural Law — which explains the lack of success of those prosecuting Nazi war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials. But that is an essay for another day.

Our point here is that in speaking of ‘Evil’, a person necessarily implicitly appeals to a transcendent moral authority — ie. a ‘God’. It is therefore likely that in rejecting ‘God’, you are not rejecting the logical necessity of a good and sovereign transcendent power — you are just refusing to submit to the sovereignty of ‘God’ as you have encountered Him. Which is understandable, because on the one hand it feels like He is self-righteously condemning you (‘what do you mean God thinks I’m a sinner?’), and on the other hand it seems that He fails to meet your own standards of goodness (‘why do bad things happen to good people?’).

Now the good news is that ‘JUDGMENT’ doesn’t start with ‘U’. It starts with ‘J’ — for JESUS! As Christians we believe that the full revelation of God’s sovereign goodness is found only in Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t self-righteously condemn sinners, but outraged the religious establishment by seeking out their company (Mk. 2:16) and declaring their sins forgiven (Mk. 2:5; Lk. 7:47). And on the cross Jesus proved (Lk. 23:34) as a person His total commitment to the standard of non-retaliatory forgiveness and love for enemies He had preached (Matt.5:38-48), and demonstrated as God His divine willingness to submit to the judgement pronounced upon sin (Gal. 3:13).

So we might say that God’s judgment isn’t about condemnation and punishment, but rather about discernment and discipline. But what is the difference between ‘condemnation’ and ‘discernment’, or between ‘punishment’ and ‘discipline’? If you are never willing to explicitly condemn anything as beyond the limits of what is acceptable, do you really have discernment? If you are never willing to punish the transgression of a clearly communicated boundary, then are you really exercising discipline?

My wife and I have been wrestling with how to deal with the temper-tantrums and ceaseless pushing-of-limits our two young children (currently aged 3 and 1). What does it look like to put consistent boundaries in place to help our kids manage their emotions, control their behaviour, and understand how to relate well to other people? How do we establish the truth that ‘actions have consequences’ without being harsh?

Various friends of ours have recommended the teaching of Danny Silk, pastor at Bethel Church in California, and the author of Loving Our Kids On Purpose (LOKOP), Keep Your Love On (KYLO), and Foundations of Honor (FOH). One of his major themes is about ‘Removing the Punisher’: “Punishment is driven by fear and creates fragile relationships in which the level of trust is low and the level of anxiety is high” (FoH p.79). Rather than ‘punishment’, Danny Silk talks in terms of ‘consequences’. But in reading LOKOP, it becomes clear that Danny Silk does actively impose disciplinary consequences on his children (eg. for not going to sleep at bedtime — ‘I’m not tired’ — his son is given extra chores to help tire him out) that are more than the mere consequences that would naturally follow their actions. As I use the word, this active imposition of artifical consequences is ‘punishment’. But although my definitions don’t quite align with Danny Silk’s rhetoric, I thoroughly agree with his point that discipline should be motivated by a love rather than any desire for retribution; and that the aim must be primarily to train a child in self-control, rather than simply to enforce submission to your control.

Just as the misery of suffering essentially depends on the narrative lens through which pain is experienced, in the same way the harshness of condemnation and punishment depends on whether or not we know we are loved by the one imposing that consequence. And when we know we are loved, it becomes possible to receive a word of correction without feeling condemned. And when we understand the reasons why we must submit to painful processes of discipline, then it stops feeling so much like punishment.

So judgement in itself is a good and necessary thing — so long as we know that we are unconditionally loved by the one who judges us. And “God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). So through Jesus the Problem of Evil is solved. Humanity no longer has to languish under its CURSE, instead we can CRUSH it underfoot.

Which is to say that our fundamental problem is that we’ve been looking at life all backward. But if instead of running away from God in exile, we would instead TURN to Him for healing for our various hurts, then we would find that the problem of E-V-I-L had also been turned around, becoming instead simply a problem of how then we should L-I-V-E.

7. FEAR: TIMIDITY and REVERENCE
The decisive blow against evil has been struck — but to comprehensively remove all trace of evil from our world there remains much still to do!

And the key is to understand FEAR — for this is the underlying reason that we run from God in exile, rather than toward Him for healing; and why we shrink back from the problems we see oppressing the world around us, rather than boldly stepping forward to work out solutions.

There are three Greek words used in the New Testament for ‘fear’. The standard word (47 occurences) is phobos, from which we get the word ‘phobia’. Sometimes this is a negative fear, as in Romans 8:15, where Paul says “For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear (phobos), but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry ‘Abba, Father!'” But sometimes this is used to describe a positive quality, as in Acts 9:31: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

Then we have the words deilia and deilos, meaning ‘timidity’ or ‘cowardice’. This is purely negative: “God has not given us a spirit of timidity (deilia), but of power, love and self-control” 2 Tim. 1:7.

The third word is eulabeia, ‘reverent caution’. This is used only twice, and both in the Letter to the Hebrews: once for the acceptable attitude believers should have in coming before God in worship, and once to describe how Jesus Christ Himself called upon God in prayer.

It doesn’t seem too great a leap to then suggest that in general all fear is made up of these two component parts: appropriate reverence and timidity. And only as we come to fully understand the nature of the thing we fear can we say for certain in what ways we are unnecessarily timid, and in what ways we are rightly careful. As Christians we should be fearless, but not rash.

This is why the ‘fear of the Lord’ is still the beginning of wisdom — even in this New Testament age, when we do not have a ‘spirit of fear’. We do well to stay reverently mindful that God still requires that we approach God on His terms, rather than ours — which is to say, through Christ, with gratitude for His supreme sacrifice upon the cross, and with the willingness to fully surrender our lives to God and say (like Jesus did) ‘Not my will, but yours be done’ (Lk.22:42).

When we’ve given God the reverence He deserves then there’s a certain sense in which we can ‘reverently’ say to absolutely everything else, however frightening it might first appear and however dangerous it might actually be, ‘You don’t scare me! Even if you kill me, you can’t separate me from the love of God!’ (cf. Rom. 8:38-39). And in that apostolic confidence (cf. Phil. 1:21) we can go forth into all the world! But there’s another sense in which it is wise to take the time to let the seed of godly vision develop into a complete plan, and then to see what that plan will cost to pursue (cf. Lk. 14:28).

In general, following Christ costs everything — but He’s worthy of it all, so the equation is simple. But God is interested not only in our whole-hearted devotion, but in our increasing discernment. And so there may be some tasks He to which He calls us where we will find that the resources He has given us are only sufficient to the task if we use them in the most effective way. ‘You can’t pour out your alabaster jar at the feet of every single person that you meet’ (cf. John 12:3-7). As CT Studd said: “Only one life, ’twill soon be past — only what’s done for Christ will last”. Which is to say, reverently, YOLO!

yolo

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Releasing the Tongue of Moses

I was at the monthly Big PUSH on Saturday, when in the midst of the sung worship an elderly gentlemen suddenly spoke out in tongues. And Sue then picked up her microphone and explained that that was tongues are a spiritual gift that the Holy Spirit sometimes gives, and that He also gives the gift of interpretation, and so when someones speaks in a tongue like that we should wait for the interpretation. And we did, and the gentleman then shared the interpretation.

But while we were waiting I felt the Spirit saying that its significance was this:
God is releasing the tongue of Moses.

What?

Well, the biblical Moses was an elderly gentleman, still wandering through the wilderness shepherding his sheep even at the respectable age of eighty, when he saw a tree ablaze with fire — and yet not consumed by that fire. He went to have a look–and God began speaking to him, and commissioning him to be his mouthpiece to bring deliverance to His people enslaved in Egypt.

‘B-b-b-b-but Lord, I’m slow of s-s-s-s-speech and tongue…’ began Moses (Ex. 4:10)

God was having none of it: ‘I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say’ (4:12).

Now, quite apart from not thinking himself a qualified public speaker, I imagine Moses also though he was a bit too old. Because we know from his one recorded psalm that he wasn’t expecting to live much longer than seventy years, or maybe eighty if he were lucky (Ps. 90:10).

And although he undeniably had an incredible testimony of how God had delivered him from death and unexpectedly placed him in a position of significant power and influence–, although he had clearly had a divine call to bring deliverance to his people and stand for justice on behalf of the oppressed–hadn’t he blown it? In trying to stand in solidarity with an oppressed Israelite he had murdered an Egyptian, and been forced to spend forty years in exile in the wilderness. Surely any opportunity for him to be used by God was now long since gone.

But God did not think so. And in spite of Moses’ excuses, God restored him and released him to bring liberation to his people from the satanic strongholds by which they were enslaved.

And I believe God is going to do the same thing in this season for some of you.

You think you are too old. But God says you still have decades of fruitful ministry ahead.

You think you don’t have the necessary gifts or skills. But God says He made you and He will empower you to do whatever He calls you to do.

You think you have been disqualified. But God says that His grace has qualified you, and any voice that says otherwise is a demonic lie from the pit of hell.

You think that the powers that hold this generation captive are too strong, and there’s nothing much you could do even if you were to try. But God says He knows that Pharaoh will not let God’s people go without a struggle, but nevertheless He has about to stretch out His mighty hand to tear down the strongholds of darkness that keep His children in captivity.

You think you don’t have anything to say. But God says that if you open your mouth then He will fill it. With groans too deep for words; with tongues that you may not understand, but that may communicate to a new generation the very word of God; with testimonies of His power and love and faithfulness; with new songs of deliverance.

And I believe that this time God is not just releasing a solitary Moses to train up a new generation of Joshuas to enter the Promised Land on their own. But that God is going to turn the hearts of the fathers to the sons, and the hearts of the sons to the fathers, and teach us how to walk in unity that transcends generational differences. God is going to teach us how to honour fathers and mothers, without exasperating sons and daughters. God is going to teach us how to walk in perfect freedom and holy submission. In the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

I shared all this, and after the meeting a couple came up to me and said, ‘That’s exactly it. We’re grandparents now, so we’re that Moses generation! And a few years ago Liverpool experienced something of an outpouring of the Spirit on those in their 20s. But it felt like our generation was in the wilderness. And what you said about being released again! — that’s it! And it’s not just the Joshua generation, it’s the Josiah generation…’

Is Jerusalem important?

So last week a certain politician announced that his country was going to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the (contemporary) nation-state of Israel (as the country itself already treats it). And it inspired some considerable controversy.

Now, as a Christian I am interested in the history of Israel, as the place where Jesus lived and the nation whose Messiah I believe He is; and I am also interested in the eschatology of Israel, ie. what will happen in ‘the last days’ of Israel.

And I am aware of the fervent disagreements between Christians on this matter.

On the one hand there are Preterists who think that the last days of national Israel were completed when the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, thus fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy (Mk. 14:2//Luke 21:6//Matthew 24:2).

On the other hand there are Premillenialists who think that Jesus is going to literally return to a Jerusalem which is the capital of an Israel to which the Jews have returned (Ez. 36:8-12) ‘a second time’ (Is. 11:11), be at last acknowledged as Messiah by the ultra-Orthodox ‘Pharisees and scribes’ (Matthew 23:9) and enter a rebuilt Temple (Ezekiel 44-46) from which He will reign for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4).

And I am aware that there are also many who believe that Jesus is going to literally and physically return, but do not think that the current state of Israel has any theological significance. You might have heard the joke about the amillenialist, the premillenialist, and the ‘panmillenialist’ who think it will all ‘pan out alright’ in the end!

Yesterday I was leading prayer at Manchester House of Prayer, and in the wake of this week’s events it seemed apt to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ (Ps. 122:6). And my first prayer was a confession that “we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom. 8:26), and a request for supernatural wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9).

Anyway, today’s question is simply this:
Do you think Jerusalem is IMPORTANT–and why?

On the reading of books

So last week I threw out this question: When I say ‘God of the Bible’, what are the first three words that pop into your mind? And it has had some healthy engagement, with almost a hundred comments (if you include the various threads of dialogue that emerged in the fertile soil of this question’s provocation). Indeed, thanks to Nik Tomanovic’s energetic commitment to polite and intelligent discussion, the conversation seems to be continuing, particularly along the avenues of morality, religion, and the possibility of accounting for such phenomena by evolutionary theories. In forthcoming weeks I may manage to finetune a good question that helps a broader audience connect with those themes.

But this morning I have been struck by the question of another Facebooking Ywamer, Taylor Stutts, about how many books people read and whether people use book-summary websites.

Now I love books. And I love the fact that in this day and age I can type the name of any book into Amazon and more often than not buy a copy for less than £10 (assuming you’re happy to have a second-hand copy or an ebook). What I don’t necessarily do is to read a book cover-to-cover. I used to admit this with a little guilt and shame, but then I read Pierre Bayard’s ‘How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read’. Bayard argues that there is no-one who has fully, thoroughly, completely, adequately read any book at all. He divides the possible relationships one can have with a book into four categories: 1. Books You Don’t Know; 2. Books You Have Skimmed; 3. Books You Have Heard Of; and 4. Books You Have Forgotten. And it empowered me to unworriedly admit that I skim books and forget them.

But I try to remember the lessons I learn from them. And I do this by coming to books with specific questions. And letting them modify my questions. And supply with new questions. And also launch me on to other books. The Contents and the Bibliography are sometimes the most interesting parts of a book! Amazon’s ‘Customer’s who bought this item also bought…’ is also very helpful in this respect.

So if you were to glance at my bookshelf, you would see that I am asking questions about Israel and Zionism (the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration having just passed) [My Promised Land – Ari Shavit; Israel: A History – Anita Shapira; The Case For Israel – Alan Dershowitz]; questions about constitutional law, legal enforcement, criminal justice and a Christian engagement with such things [Constitutional Law – Loveland sixth ed.; The Locust Effect – Gary Haugen; and everything else by Gary Haugen who founded IJM] and the prayer & worship movement [Enthroned – David Fritch; Fire & Fragrance – Sean Feucht & Andy Byrd; Punk Monk – Andy Freeman; The Return of the Musical Prophet – Steve Abley]. And I’ll stop there, but there are other questions that are on my mind.

So, over to you.

What’s one book you’ve recently read that has taught you something new–and what was it?

In Search of Good Questions

So apparently I haven’t been blogging much recently. Which is to say that if you glance to the right of this blog post you will see that my Archives widget counts my post a couple of weeks as one of two in this month (right now that’s the only one in existence, but by the time you read this post, this post will have increased the count to two), and then only one in the two years since October 2015 — a lonely lyric on ambition and perspective inspired by a pop chorus I came across one night on YouTube.

Now, partly that is explained by the usual intensity and busyness of being involved with a YWAM Discipleship Training School, which has defined my rhythm of life for five consecutive years (2011-2016), and which always starts in late September — so you can see in 2012, there are no posts between October and March; and in 2013, no posts between May 2013 and April 2014 (that was extra-busy: moving from Harpenden back to Cambridge to start the first DTS); in 2014 though it seemed I had cracked the code! and had nineteen months of consecutive posting (between one and nine posts a month) until October 2015.

But then I was overambitious, and thought I would try and blog my teaching notes from each week of DTS–and didn’t get beyond Week 3.

It wasn’t actually that I wasn’t able to write anything during that DTS, but that when the dam of writer’s block broke, the words all flowed out in rhyming couplets as a mediation on the problem of evil and the Book of Job, in the form of what I’m hoping will become an operatic hip hop concept album in four quartets. But that is a long term project which is nowhere near even really beginning (let alone completion!). Though if you really want you can ask, and I will be more than happy to share some lyrics with you :)

Anyway, I would like to revive this blog. And I’m going to do so by attempting to learn the art of asking good questions. James 1:19 says we should be slow to speak and quick to listen. And in this age of instant communication how much more do we need to be slow in our speech. But on the other hand, if we were to be silent the rocks would cry out. And God has called me to blog!

So asking QUESTIONS seems a good way of proactively speaking in a way that invites the opportunity to listen.

Anyway, today’s question is this:

When I say ‘God of the Bible’, what are the first three words that pop into your mind?

And the conversation is already exploding…

12 Passages to Pray for your City’s Church

So some of you might know that I’m spending these next six months on the Manchester House of Prayer team as an intern, and one of the things I’ve been asked to do is to help with their strategy to connect with and pray for the church in Manchester. So I spent this morning asking God for a strategy. And this is what I felt he said: “use the biblical model of the church in Ephesus”. Now, Ephesus was the one church for which the critically-minded controversialist Paul the Apostle had no criticisms when he sent them an apostolic letter. So, it’s probably a good, positive place to start praying for the church in any city! So running with that, I’ve gone through the relevant Scriptures about the church in Ephesus, and put together a rough sketch that could direct twelve months of prayer:

1. Acts 18:24-28. Apollos and Priscilla & Aquilla.
i. Word & Spirit coming together.
ii. Powerful preaching.
iii. Humility to receive correction, boldness to lovingly confront, unity amongst differences.
iv. Jews reached with the message of the Messiah.
v. Fervency in Spirit.
vi. Competency in the Scriptures.

2. Acts 19:1-10. Paul and his twelve disciples.
i. Conversion
ii. Fullness (Spiritual gifts, prophetic, signs)
iii. Discipleship
iv. Multiplication
v. Properties, facilities, material resources.

3. Acts 19:11-20. Sons of Sceva; confession of witchcraft.
i. Spiritual warfare.
ii. Conviction of sin.
iii. Revival: Deliverance, healing, sozo; extraordinary miracles.
iv. Reformation: transformation of education, businesses, religious institutions.
v. Name of Jesus extolled
vi. Fear of the Lord.

4. Acts 19:21-22. ‘I must also see Rome’. Cf. Letter to the Romans.
i. Expansion of vision: regional, national, international.
ii. Written word: books, etc.
iii. Missionary task–unreached (cf. Rom. 15:20).
iv. Missionaries sent out (T&E).
v. Timing, seasons, discernment.

5. Acts 19:23-41. Riot of the idol-makers.
i. Shake the city.
ii. Persecuted Christians.
iii. Wisdom and discernment (19:30).
iv. Vindication of Christians facing opposition.
v. Forgiveness of those who have wronged us (cf. Alexander 19:33; 2 Tim. 4:14)

6. Acts 20:17-38. Established Church Leaders.
i. Full counsel of God.
ii. False teachers.
iii. Corruption.
iv. Fulfilment of calling.
v. Grace.

7. 1 Timothy. Emerging Leaders.
i. Skill with Scripture.
ii. Testimonies of grace.
iii. Prayerfulness.
iv. Honour of older leaders.

8. Ephesians 1:1-2:10. Grace for the praise of His glory.
i. Grace
ii. Wisdom
iii. Revelation
iv. Holy Spirit power
v. Salvation

9. Ephesians 2:11-4:16. Unity
i. Church unity.
ii. Racial reconciliation.
iii. Unreached nations & Jewish salvation.
iv. Leaders to be unified and bring church to maturity.
v. LOVE.

10. Ephesians 4:17-5:21. Character.
i. Repentance.
ii. Sanctification.
iii. Purity.
iv. Community.
v. Awakening.
vi. Worship.

11. Ephesians 5:22-6:9. Relationships.
i. Families: marriages.
ii. Families: children.
iii. MARRIAGE—its meaning.
iv. Workplace: employers.
v. Workplace: employees.
vi. WORK.
vii. Modern slavery—justice, freedom, deliverance.

12. Revelation 2:1-7. First love.
i. Revival.
ii. Repentance.
iii. Faithful toil.
iv. Discernment of leaders.
v. Revelation of Jesus.

I might turn this into a longer and more well-thought through resource, but in the meantime, please feel free to use this to help catalyse your prayers for whatever city you’re in!

Mustard Seed (Feat. Skylar Grey)

‘With faith like a mustard seed, you can move mountains’
If I’ve heard that once, then I’ve heard it thousands
and thousands of times, if I had been countin’
each time for a penny, I’d need an accountant
to keep track of the stack of cash that had mounted,
but it’s never been my desire to be surrounded
by money. No, cash doesn’t get my heart pounding
but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to move mountains!
Pennies, pounds, paychecks, profits all leave me cold.
‘All that glitters is not gold’, and gold’s glitter grows old.
‘And what profit it a man to gain the world but lose his soul?’
but that doesn’t mean I’m completely free of the stranglehold
of foolish pride, vain ambition, losing myself in competition–
I’ve wanted to be known as a Cambridge mathematician
or an apostolic leader with Youth With A Mission –
but give me a moment, this is holy contrition

For once, once in your life
For once push your ambitions aside
And instead of moving mountains
Let the mountains move you
For once, once in your life
For once just stop to open your eyes
And instead of moving mountains
Let the mountains move you

So I lift my eyes up, and I look to the hills
and I’m reminded that there’s only one thing that fulfils
the longing of the human heart—it’s not dollar bills,
or sex, drugs, hip hop skills, all those cheap thrills.
No there’s only one thing that can satisfy,
it’s being known as His own by the Lord most High
who loves you so much that he came and died
on a hill, on a cross, he was crucified.
And the mountains of guilt and the mountains of shame,
all the times that we’d murdered, molested and maimed
and then pointed the finger, played the blame game,
and then tried to act like nothing had changed–
he took all those sins on his innocent frame,
and died for our sins, in fact he became
sin so that we could be called by his name,
and through faith be righteous, and be born again.

For once, once in your life
For once push your ambitions aside
And instead of moving mountains
Let the mountains move you
For once, once in your life
For once just stop to open your eyes
And instead of moving mountains
Let the mountains move you

So this is my confession, here’s my sinner’s prayer
for all the times that pride has snapped my ankle in its snare.
Ambition’s my Achilles’ heel, catching me unaware,
ssseducing me into a game of spiritual solitaire:
but if he’s without a legion, then what’s a legionnaire?
And the Christian life’s a team game, cuz this is warfare!
And we need to fight together, and humbly learn to bear
each other’s burdens till the time we meet Christ in the air.
This isn’t an altar call, I’m just preaching to myself,
If I don’t start with me, then why would someone else
have any reason to believe the things that I might tell
them that they should believe. Yeah, what’s a bible belt
when your pants are round your ankles, and you’re stumbling towards hell!
I speak in tongues, but have no love—I’m just a clanging bell.
A mustard seed is all you need to save your soul from hell
but you need to plant that seed, and then water it as well.

For once, once in your life
For once push your ambitions aside
And instead of moving mountains
Let the mountains move you
For once, once in your life
For once just stop to open your eyes
And instead of moving mountains
Let the mountains move you

DTS Week 3: CIRCUIT RIDERS Norway

For our third week of DTS we sent the team off to Norway to join the Circuit Riders for a week of revival training and evangelistic outreach. Taryn and I were involved with the Circuit Riders training camp in Harpenden (‘London’) in 2012, and it was a life-changing experience (you can read my accounts here, here, here, here, here and here).

They had an amazing time:

And that video doesn’t even begin to go into the testimonies of our team getting filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit, souls being saved on the streets of Norway, and the heavens opening to reveal the glorious beauty of the Northern Lights.

MEANING-OF-LIFE

The Meaning of Life

Download this as a PDF

What is the meaning of life?

‘Have fun!’ ‘Take risks!’ ‘No regrets!’ ‘Relax!’ ‘Take it easy!’ ‘Be successful!’ ’42!’

It’s one of those questions that’s so big that we don’t even know where to begin.

But here’s the thing–I believe that I have discovered the
real, authentic, fundamental, irresistible, glorious, true
meaning of life!

Do you mind if I share it with you?
It’s not that I’m any cleverer than anyone else and somehow managed to work it out,
but I have found that simply
Through the gospel, through the message of Jesus Christ,
the mystery which was kept secret since the world began
has now been revealed!

(Romans 16:25)

So what is this message? What is the simple gospel? What is the meaning of life?
We sum it up with six simple colours: GREEN, BLACK, RED, WHITE, YELLOW & BLUE.
We start with GREEN. Green represents CREATION.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” Genesis 1:1.

He created the hills and the seas,
He created the grass and the trees,
He created cactus and caterpillars, grasshoppers and geckos, parrots and pears.

And He didn’t just create the beautiful green planet on which we live,
but He stretched out the surrounding universe,
and filled it with stars and planets,
dusty asteroids, exploding supernovas, and showers of meteors.

He invented the rules that govern creation:
the laws of gravity, electromagnetism, radioactive decay, quantum mechanics.

He precisely tuned the scientific constants of the physical universe
so that life could grow and flourish.

And – most importantly! – He made you! He made me. He made humanity in His image.
He made us to know Him. To share His life. To know His love.

The very fact that we can talk about ‘MEANING’ proves
that we are more than just chemicals bouncing around a test-tube.
And the God with whom the meaning of life begins
is more than just a timeless truth or a creative cause.

We believe that God is Trinity – three persons, but one divinity.
Which means before creation God wasn’t bored and lonely,
but a glorious dance of communication and community.
We believe “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Now some people say—‘If God is love, then why is the world such an unlovely place?’

Death and disease and cancer and bullying and loneliness and rape and genocide…
Why? Why? Why?

Well the answer to that question is actually explained by the next colour: BLACK.
BLACK represents SIN.

In the beginning God was in perfect relationship with humankind.

But He gave us a choice – the chance to show that we loved Him like He loves us.
The chance to trust Him, and receive our meaning from Him, letting our lives be entwined into God’s eternal love story.

But the devil deceived us, and we gave in to temptation.
We did the one thing God had asked us not to do.
We lusted after what was forbidden–we broke that relationship of perfect love.

God had said that ‘In the day you disobey Me, you will die’ (Genesis 2:17) – but they didn’t physically die.
But spiritually they did die — and their connection to God was shattered.
And it wasn’t long before physical death had also come into the world,
as Cain murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12).

Because as soon as we start making up our own meanings for life,
and creating our own standards of good and evil from the world we find around us,
rather than agreeing with God’s one true holy and loving authority,
then who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong?

Why shouldn’t it be ‘survival of the fittest’?

If there’s no God, then why shouldn’t I lie and cheat to get what I want?
If no-one sees me do it, then why shouldn’t I take my brother to a lonely field and kill him? (Gen. 4:8)

‘If a tree falls in the jungle, and there’s no-one there to hear it—does it make a sound?’

Now, most of us don’t like the word ‘sin’.
Because our experience has been that other people have condemned us for breaking one of their rules, and have acted as if they themselves have never broken a rule.
So even to say the word ‘sin’ makes us feel like we too are judgmental hypocrites.

But according to Jesus the whole law of God can be summarised in one word: LOVE.
Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And love your neighbour as yourself.
(Mark 12:30-31).

So sin by definition is simply anything that’s not loving.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all at some point in our lives, been unloving.
(And if we’re not honest—well, that’s sin too!)
The Scriptures say that “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God”. (Romans 3:23).

Now remember, “God is love”.
And obviously ‘love’ and ‘not-love’ are completely opposite.
So by definition God and sin can’t mix. It’s like oil and water:
if you try and stir them together, what happens? They separate!
The water sinks to the bottom, the oil floats to the top.

Which is why even though a God of love made a good world, we now have to face the reality of EVIL.

But the story does not have to end with sin separating us from the presence of God!

RED represents LOVE – and the good news is that God’s love is stronger than death!
And even though sin damaged and destroyed our relationship with God,
and our capacity to feel the full force of God’s love,
nevertheless the fact of God’s love remains unchanged.

Now when we think of love, we sometimes think of a red rose—
that beautiful symbol of blossoming romance!

But a rose quickly withers: its petals fade, and fall.

And too often that’s our experience of love: a sudden rush to the head, but then the feelings fade.

But we could also say that RED represents BLOOD.
For “the greatest demonstration of love is for a person to lay down their life for a friend” (Jn 15:13).

And so in that great Shakespearean romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet both die for each other.

And this is how “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

But unlike the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, the death of Jesus wasn’t simply a dramatic gesture.

No—the death of Jesus was the necessary solution
to the otherwise insurmountable obstacle that our sin had established between us and God.

You see, God isn’t just a loving Father and our Creator –
he’s also a righteous Ruler and Judge, and as such He cannot merely turn a blind eye to sin:
God is a righteous Judge, and God is angry every day”.  (Psalm 7:11)

If someone was to break a law: say, the speed limit, then they would get a speeding ticket.
And they would either have to pay the penalty, or else they would be punished.

We are in God’s world, and we have all broken His law.
And so we are all faced with the duty to pay the penalty we owe—or otherwise face punishment.

The problem is that the Scriptures say that
No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them–
for the redemption of a soul is costly, no payment is ever enough,
that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
” (Psalm 49:7-10)

So it seems that we are faced with an unsolvable paradox:
God is gracious and merciful, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin–
but by no means can He clear the guilty!
” (Exodus 34:6-7)

How can this be? How can God forgive us – if He is unable to acquit the guilty?

What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:37.

The Psalmist didn’t quite know the answer,
but as he meditated on this question, he declared with prophetic faith:
God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me!” (Ps. 49:15).

And this is exactly what happened.
God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16.
For what the law could not do, God did,
by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin:
He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled.
Rom. 8:3
Because we are human beings, made of flesh and blood, the Son of God also became flesh & blood.
For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil,
who had the power of death.
” (Hebrews 2:14)

And that brings us to the other difference between the death of Jesus and that of Romeo and Juliet:
which is that while their deaths were a tragic and final end to their young lives,
the death of Jesus was not the end!

The gospel says not only that Jesus died for our sins—but that on the third day He rose again!
God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death,
because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
” Acts 2:24

Which brings us to WHITE, which represents NEW LIFE and FORGIVENESS.

Jesus didn’t just die for us, but His RESURRECTION means that He can now be with us always.

Through Jesus, we too can receive that resurrection life, and be given a new heart and a clean start.

This is the covenant that I will make, says the Lord:
I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts;
and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…
For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.
” Jeremiah 31:33-34

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you” Ezekiel 36:26.

This is what Jesus was talking about when He said: “You must be born again” (John 3:7).

All we need to do to experience complete forgiveness and be reconciled to God, is to confess that we are sinners and trust in Jesus.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness
” (1 Jn. 1:9)
and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7).

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
” Romans 10:9

Whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” John 3:16

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away—
behold all things have become new!
” 2 Corinthians 5:17

It’s so simple! And yet so profound! Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to receive this?

But some people respond by saying—‘Well, it’s all very well for you, but I’m just not sure it’s for me.’

Which brings us to YELLOW, which represents the golden gates and the glory of HEAVEN.

And the reality here that we have to face is that one day all of our lives are going to come to an end.

It’s the ultimate statistic: everybody dies.

And the question everyone needs to ask themselves is this—
Do you know what will happen to you when you die?

Because unfortunately we can’t speak about heaven without also being reminded of hell.

Jesus came preaching the gospel and declaring that the kingdom of heaven was at hand
– but he also spoke more than anybody else about the dangers of hell.

Some say, ‘I think that’s the end. I’ll be buried and that’s it.’

But the Bible says “it is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment” Heb. 9:27.

Some say, ‘It’s impossible for anyone to know what happens after death’.

And Jesus almost agrees:
No-one has gone up into heaven – except the one who came down out of heaven!’ John 3:13.

I don’t claim to know what happens after death because I’m any cleverer than anyone else—
but we have to come to terms with the historical fact of Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth.
His teaching—which two thousand years later still speaks with the power of divine truth.
His ministry—a catalogue of miracles and healings, so unprecedented that even secular scholars do not dispute it.
His discipleship—he trained twelve poor and ordinary men to start a movement that today has impacted every single nation of the world.
But in particular, His death, and His resurrection –
because whatever your opinions about the nature and possibility of life after death,
it cannot be denied that his followers were convinced that the man they had seen nailed to a cross and crucified was then resurrected three days later.

So—‘do you know what will happen to you after you die?’

Some say, ‘I hope I’ll go to heaven…’
But we have to ask what that hope is based on.

Often we think that although God might punish other people for certain particularly wicked sins– Hitler, Stalin; rapists, child abusers; –
we think that hopefully we have done enough to somehow earn a place in heaven.

‘I haven’t done anything that bad, have I?’

But the Bible says, “there is none righteous, no not one” Romans 3:10.
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” Isaiah 64:6.

Every other religion says that if you do this and this and this, then perhaps you can earn salvation,
but Jesus said “you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” Matthew 5:48.

But none of us is perfect!
If life is a multiple choice test and the pass-mark is 100%, we’ve already got the first question wrong!
We’ve already failed the test!

So if we’re trusting in our own record, then we have no chance of heaven!

But the good news is, that because of Jesus’ death on the cross,
if we trust in Him, we will be “born again to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away,
reserved in heaven for you.
” 1 Peter 1:3-4

And the amazing thing isn’t just that we can go to heaven when we die,
but that the moment we trust in Jesus, “behold! The kingdom of heaven is within you” Luke 17:21.

Which brings us to the final colour, BLUE, which represents the HOLY SPIRIT.

We use the colour blue, because Jesus described the Spirit as being like water,
living water” (John 7:38-39), that refreshes not just our physical bodies but our inner being.
Jesus promises that “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst”. John 4:14.

Our lives are like an empty glass: we’re looking for meaning, we’re looking for purpose,
we’re looking for something that will satisfy our souls.

God has set eternity in the human heart—yet no-one can fathom it!” Ecclesiastes 3:11.

We can try and fill up that void with all sorts of things:
with money and power; fame and fortune; sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll;
but you only have to read the celebrity gossip magazines to realize that this never really satisfies!

And even good things – friends, family, meaningful work —
if you try and find your identity in those things, then you will inevitably be disappointed.

But Jesus offers us “the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4)–
the indwelling, overflowing, soul-satisfying
presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

And when you receive the Holy Spirit you are given assurance of eternal life,
because “the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” Romans 8:16.
Through the Spirit “the love of God is poured out into our hearts” Romans 5:5.

And this, I believe, is the meaning of life.
I could tell you my own story of how I have discovered it to be true.
But it’s not just true for me—this is a gift for you, too.

Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to receive this gift?

If so, I’d love to talk through whatever questions you might have.

But if you are ready to receive this, then you can ask God to receive this gift right now.

If you’re not sure what to say, then this simple prayer might help:

Father God,
I want to live a life that is meaningful!
I want to receive this gift of eternal, abundant life!

Thank-you that your mercy overcomes judgement.
Thank-you that Jesus came and died for my sin.
Thank-you that your love is stronger than death.
Thank-you that Jesus rose from the dead.

I confess that I have sinned. I’ve done things I shouldn’t have done.
I repent! I turn away from sin. And I turn to Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.

I ask that you would fill me with your Holy Spirit.
Please fill me with your love, your joy, your peace.
Please send me out in the power of your Spirit,
to live and work to your praise and glory.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

DTS Week 2: ORIENTATION (Peter Prescott)

After diving in last week with Shephen’s teaching on MISSION, this week was a chance to explain the story and vision of YWAM Cambridge.

I started with a rendition of my own story, which flowed into my take on the YWAM Cambridge story thus far. And then I tried to set this in the wider context of YWAM’s story (and told them that they’ll need to read Is That Really You God? by the end of October), and we finished with the YWAM Values.

The next morning we talked about CULTURE: about being from different cultures, and the missionary principle of cultural adaptation (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23), and what it might look like for us to have a Kingdom Culture (Unoffendable Heart, Culture of Faith, Culture of Honour, Radical Servanthood, Joy-filled Repentance).

I then spent some time unpacking the heart and vision behind some of the things we’ll be doing: Evangelism, Pioneering Simple (Multiplying!) Discipleship, Worship & Prayer.

On Evangelism: How God took me from handing out mustard seeds to effectively sharing the simple gospel.
What we want to see on our scheduled evangelism times: the gospel shared, souls saved, people developing their evangelistic muscle, starting from where they’re at, but stepping out their comfort zone, and creatively dreaming with the Holy Spirit about how to do this even more effectively. (I touched on why we count).

On Simple Discipleship: The revelation that multiplication is ultimately more effective than anointed addition. If there were one super-evangelist, able to lead one thousand people to the Lord every day, then after one thousand years (supposing he lived that long), he would still not have reached a billion people. But if two people were to faithfully commit to simple (even ineffective) evangelism and discipleship, and every year were to each lead only one person to the Lord — but were to train them to do the same! — then their number would double each year. It would be twenty-four years before their numbers compared to the super-evangelist — but if they continued at that same rate for just ten more years after that, their number would exceed that of the entire world’s population! So the Great Commission can be finished in a generation — if only every Christian is involved in the work of simple evangelism and discipleship!
The story of how we’ve got to where we’ve got to with our attempts to start a house church movement.
And my ‘single-handed’ discipleship course running through the basics of simple Christianity.

On Worship & Prayer: I shared my seven reasons for night & day prayer, and a brief explanation of the tabernacle of David, before sharing some thoughts on The Heavenly Prayer Room as described in Revelation 4-5.

Mark Stanyer, YFC youth worker who is conencted to the local churches, came and invited us to be involved with some local ministries.

And Jane gave some suggestions for how to spend time relaxing in Cambridge: museums, evensong, theatrical performances…

I finished the week with an abridged tour of some of Cambridge’s Christian Heritage.