MEANING-OF-LIFE

The Meaning of Life

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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.

On Spiritual Gifts

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on-spiritual-gifts

Photo Credit: Ian McGlasham

In God’s perfect timing, it so happened that in the Bible-reading plan we are using, the topic of ‘Spiritual Gifts’ happened to be the subject of the teaching–immediately after one of our DTS trainees had quit over issues to do with this particular subject. The fact that I was able to preach was also a God-thing, because ordinarily Connie Taylor would be first in line to teach on this subject. But she had lost her voice, and so I was able to help her out, and take the opportunity to clarify my own convictions and understanding of the matter.

I want to emphasise this before I begin, that I do not claim to have the final word on this subject, and I want to honour all those with whom I disagree. I offer this to help you understand where I’m coming from, and perhaps to be assisted in your own understanding–and where you do disagree, please do me the honour of explaining with what you disagree and why! It’s also worth pointing out that the text that follows is a considered expansion of the ideas contained in the audio message, rather than an exact transcript — which might explain why this written piece comes more than a month after the preached sermon.

#1 The Importance of This Topic
“Concerning spiritual gifts, I do not want you to be uninformed.” (1 Cor. 12:1)

Paul begins his discussion of the issue by highlighting the importance of the topic. This is vital because the question of spiritual gifts is often (perhaps always?) a controversial one, and so it’s tempting to think that we’d be best avoiding the matter and just focussing on things on which we can all straightforwardly agree. But if it’s controversial in our days, it was equally controversial in Paul’s day–in fact, the reason that he raises the subject is that the Corinthians were suffering the effects of disunity caused at least in part by disagreements over spiritual gifts. This passage becomes especially meaningful when we put it into the historical context provided by the Book of Acts.

To recap: Paul arrived in Corinth during his second missionary journey, after having been driven out of Thessalonica and the Berea by persecution. In Corinth he met Priscilla and Aquilla, and was reconnected with Silas and Timothy (who had remained a little longer in Berea). Encouraged by a vision of Jesus, he remained in Corinth for a year and half in spite of persecution, before returning to his home church in Antioch. On the way back to Antioch Paul passed through Ephesus, where he was asked to remain longer but could only promise that he would return when he got the chance. Priscilla and Aquilla however, who had travelled with him, remained in Ephesus. Apollos then arrives in Ephesus, and begins preaching ‘the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John’ (–we shall discuss this strange phase later). Priscilla and Aquilla meet Apollos, ‘explain to him the way of God more accurately’, and when he feels stirred to move on to Achaia (the region where Corinth was) write a letter recommending him to the Corinthian church.

While Apollos is in Corinth, Paul at last arrives back in Ephesus. He meets twelve disciples (not the twelve disciples!) who had been baptised ‘into John’s baptism’, but who ‘had not so much as heard of the Holy Spirit’. Paul explains that John the Baptist’s own very message was that he came with a baptism of repentance to prepare people for the coming Christ, who would baptise them in the Holy Spirit. And he lays hands on them, and they experience that baptism, and begin speaking in tongues and prophesying.

Paul then continues ministering in Ephesus for another two years, experiencing what I can only describe as revival & reformation — even by Paul’s standards, his ministry in Ephesus was uniquely successful. Revival breaks out as all in the region hear and begin to fear the name of Jesus, and unusual miracles (in contrast to ‘the usual miracles’!?) take place; reformation begins as the strongholds of witchcraft are exposed and destroyed, and the industry of idol-manufacturing is challenged; and even Paul’s missionary vision is expanded as he begins to make plans to take the gospel to Rome.

Understanding this context helps give us some ideas about what the issues were that were dividing those Corinthians who said they were ‘of Apollos’ and those who said they were ‘of Paul’ — it must have been something to do with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It also helps us understand why Paul thought it so important to have a proper understanding of the issues to do with the Spirit — because he was at that moment enjoying the supernatural breakthrough that occurs when even a small group of believers begin to fully experience the power of the Holy Spirit.

#2 The Foundational Truth: If Jesus is Lord, you have the Holy Spirit
“No-one can say Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3)

One of the big disagreements between Christians is over what it means to ‘receive the Holy Spirit’. Does it all happen (as Paul’s statement here in 1 Cor. 12:3 seems to clearly say) when you first believe in Jesus and confess him as Lord? Or is there a subsequent ‘receiving of the Holy Spirit’ that happens after your spirit is regenerated by repentant faith (as is suggested by Paul’s question in Acts to the Ephesian disciples)? I think it’s fair to call the first position ‘the Evangelical position’ (cf. UCCF Doctrinal Basis, and the second ‘the Pentecostal position’ (cf. Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Beliefs).

But maybe it’s better to think of these two not as contradictory ‘positions’ but as complementary ‘differences in emphasis’. Let me repeat: I don’t think it is contradictory to affirm both that whoever has believed in Jesus as the risen Lord has received the Holy Spirit, and that there is a need for a distinct overflowing experience of the power of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because when the disciples first encountered the resurrected Jesus, he said that they received the Holy Spirit; yet, subsequently he commanded them to wait and pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

There’s an illustration we sometimes use with a glass and (a jug of) water. The water represents the Holy Spirit, and the glass the believer. And the point is made that there’s a difference between the glass containing water and the glass being filled completely. ‘And how do you know when the glass is full? When it overflows!’ It occurs to me that a helpful development of the illustration might be to use a selection of differently sized glasses to make the point that someone who has never experienced any ‘overflow’ might have a greater depth in the Spirit than someone who has.

On the subject of overflow, it’s worth noting here that as well as the question of whether the ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ is the original indwelling or a distinct overwhelming, there is also the (distinct) question of whether such an overflowing must be demonstrated by speaking in tongues (this is classically also part of ‘the Pentecostal position’). Personally, I believe in the need of a distinct first-filling of the Spirit (cf. Acts 8:16), but not in the idea that this must be evidenced by speaking in tongues–for, as Paul says later in this passage, ‘Do all speak in tongues?’

My personal experience is also a factor in my understanding: I grew up in a missionary family and so grew up with an understanding of the gospel and at multiple times in my childhood prayed a sinner’s prayer confessing my sin and placing my trust in Jesus as Lord. But it was at age eighteen, a year after I’d been baptised, that I encountered the overwhelming joy of the Holy Spirit (without any speaking in tongues) after having been challenged by the call to surrender absolutely everything to Christ. Then in my second year of university, I again had a dramatic experience of the power of the Holy Spirit, which again didn’t involve any speaking in tongues, but this time included an incredible sense of the LOVE of God, and an explosively energetic impulse to missional activity — evangelistic bible studies, feeding the homeless, obedient putting-into-action of whatever idea seemed Spirit-inspired. Subsequently I sometimes tried speaking in tongues but it felt forced and false. Then the following year, I went on a mini-pilgrimage to Mt Sinai with my friend Jonny, and we were trying to fast and pray, but finding it a bit of a battle–until at dawn at the peak of Sinai, suddenly some Africans behind us broke into worship, and it was as if a dam broke in my spirit, and suddenly me and Jonny were singing Amazing Grace at the top of our lungs. And I’ve found myself speaking in tongues frequently and joyfully and profitably since then.

Whichever your emphasis, it’s easy to be misunderstood. If you emphasise that all who have been born again have the Holy Spirit already living within them, then you risk cultivating a culture of complacency. If you emphasise that people need to seek after the baptism of the Holy Spirit’s power, then you risk being accused of spiritual arrogance, and of condemning those that have not had such an experience. In declaring any biblical truth there is a risk of being misunderstood, and it takes time to teach the full counsel of God.

#3 The Gifts are Trinitarian
“…one Spirit…many charismatic gifts; …one Lord… many ministries; …one God… many activities”

It’s important to notice the way that before Paul hones in on the issue of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, he starts by emphasising the Trinitarian unity (“one Spirit…one Lord…one God”–and note that for Paul, ‘Lord’ almost always means Christ Jesus the Son, and ‘God’ always means the Father) of the God from whom the gifts come.

The reason it’s important to start here, is that we’re so easily tempted to limit God and the work that He wants to do through us. Whatever gifts we think we have, we think we’re limited to, and whatever gifts we’ve never experienced, we think we’ll never be able to minister in. But here Paul emphasises that there’s not a different ‘spirit of prophecy’, and another ‘spirit of wisdom’ (though elsewhere he’s not afraid to use that sort of language) — there’s one Holy Spirit. And there’s not one ‘lord of evangelism’ and another ‘lord of teaching’ — there’s one Jesus. And there’s not one ‘god of leadership’ and another ‘god of giving’ — there’s one God, the Father.

Now within the Trinity there is not only unity but also distinction, and it’s also important to see that Paul introduces an interesting Trinitarian differentiation between the charismatic gifts released by the Holy Spirit, the ministries released by the Lord Jesus, and the activities released by God the Father. That this Trinitarian parallelism is not merely an on-the-fly rhetorical flourish but an actual systematic framework in Paul’s theology is demonstrated by its consistent appearance in the other places where Paul refers to God-given gifts.

When Paul continues in this passage to focus on the charismatic gifts it is indeed the “Spirit” who he says is “distributing” the gifts “as He wills”. And if we flick forward in our Bibles to Ephesians 4, where Paul speaks of the ministry gifts, it is Christ “who descended… who also ascended far above the heavens” who gives “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers” as gifts to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry”. And in Romans 12, where Paul gives a diverse list of activities ranging from the specifically supernatural (“prophecy”) to the more wide-ranging (“acts of mercy”), it is “God” who has assigned a measure of faith to each person that they can bless the body of Christ in some particular way.

Because my understanding of what Paul is saying is slightly different to what you may have heard elsewhere, I’ll repeat. There are the charismatic gifts–the Holy Spirit gives these different supernatural tools to help us bring the Kingdom of God into specific situations. There are various ministries — Jesus gives specific people as gifts to the church to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (note that the people are the ministry gifts, not the anointings!). And there are all manner of godly activities — and like a good father, God gives each of us faith (confidence!) that we can do particular things, and encourages and releases us to do whatever good we are motivated to do.

The charismatic gifts are supernatural, sovereignly given by the Spirit according to his will. And that means that no matter how much we may have used those gifts in the past, we don’t have those gifts to produce on demand — but what we do have is the Holy Spirit, who is good and kind and generous and longs “to give to each one individually, as [indeed!] he wills”.

Now, if we repeatedly ask the Spirit for these supernatural gifts, and by stepping out in faith give Him opportunity to let us use them, then we will begin to grow in God-given confidence that we are able to be used in supernatural ways in the course of various activities to the benefit of others in the church. This, I think, is what Paul is implying when he lists something like ‘prophecy’ both among the 1 Corinthians 12 charismatic gifts, and the Romans 12 activities. And finally, as we become more experienced in, say, the activity of prophecy, we will begin to be able to equip others in that ministry, thus acting in the role of ‘a prophet’ to them.

I probably need to repeat this too, because again I am going against the grain of conventional thinking on the topic. The ministry gifts are not supernatural anointings given to some elite few so that they can do those things while the rest of us sit quietly watching from the pews. The ministries are things that all of us are commissioned and commanded to do, and as we gain experience in doing them we will find that we are able to equip others to do likewise–and thus we ourselves will become ‘gifts’ to those around us.

#4 A Closer Look at the Holy Spirit Gifts

So finally we reach the ‘spiritual gifts’, which Pentecostal preachers like to divide neatly up into three categories: gifts of revelation, gifts of power, and gifts of utterance. And before we dive in it’s always fun to note the symmetry between the nine named charismatic gifts, and the nine named fruits of the Spirit. And we can’t forget the fact that the dove (by which the Holy Spirit is represented) has nine primary wing-feathers–cue easy preaching point that to soar in the Spirit we need both gifts and fruit.

The Revelation Gifts
Word of Knowledge: a supernatural impartation of knowledge that could not otherwise be had.
Eg. Jesus’ knowledge of the Samaritan woman’s unhappy relationship history in John 4:16-19; Elisha’s knowledge of Gehazi’s greedily deceptive attempt to squeeze some profit out of Naaman in 2 Kings 5.

Word of Wisdom: a supernatural impartation of wisdom to respond to a complex situation.
eg. Solomon’s command in 1 Kings 3 to cut the baby in half, which reveals the truth of who the baby’s mother really is; Jesus’s own question in Matthew 21:23-27 in response to the question of where his authority came from.

Discerning of Spirits: a supernatural impartation of discernment as to what spirit is at work in a given situation, thus allowing the believer to know what course of action to take.
eg. Paul discerns the spiritual nastiness of Elymas in Acts 13; Micaiah in 1 Kings 22 vividly recounts a vision exposing a ‘lying spirit’ at work; and Jesus demonstrates this gift in various ways — in healing a demonised child, in rebuking Peter’s Satanic denial of the necessity of the cross, in discerning the spirit of self-promoting pride puffing up his disciples.

The Power Gifts
Gift of Faith: an impartation of faith which, when activated, releases supernatural power.
This is what Jesus was talking about in Mark 11:23-24, when he explains the power of the prayer of faith. Examples include the Roman centurion’s faith which so impressed Jesus, and the faith of the haemorraging woman in Mark 5.

Working of Miracles: a demonstration of supernatural power.
Eg. Jesus turning the water into wine, Jesus (and, briefly, Peter!) walking on water, and Jesus directing Peter to a coin found in a fish’s mouth.

Gifts of Healing: includes all sorts of healing — social, spiritual, emotional, as well as physical.
That healing includes the spiritual and not just the physical is evidenced by the way Jesus brings up the issue of forgiveness with regard to the paralysed man in Mark 2; conversely, in John 5 it seems that this paralyzed man experienced physical but not spiritual healing. And in his command to the healed leper to offer the appropriate sacrifices “as a public testimony that you have been cleansed” (NLT), Jesus demonstrates the importance of the social implications of healing.

The Utterance Gifts
Tongues: Spirit-empowered unintelligible speech.
There are three aspects to note here: first, speaking in tongues seems to be a common result of receiving the infilling baptism of the Holy Spirit (even if I have argued that it is neither a definite nor a necessary proof). We see this repeatedly in the book of Acts (eg. ch.2:4; 10:46; 19:6). I would suggest that it makes sense to include other visible manifestations of the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit in the same category: eg. laughter (cf. Psalm 126:2), falling to the ground (cf. Acts 9:4), et cetera.

Second, speaking in tongues is sometimes understood by others present as being an actual human language known to them although it is unknown to the speaker — this is what happens in Acts 2, and if you spend enough time with Pentecostal Christians you will eventually hear testimonies of it occasionally happening still.

Third, speaking in tongues offers a way of praying when you don’t know what to say. This seems to be what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 14:2 — “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” — and in Romans 8:26 — “we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words”. Even Jesus sometimes needed to do this. The gifted ability to pray beyond one’s intellectual capacity means that “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (1 Cor. 14:4), and explains why Paul said “I want you all to speak in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5).

Prophecy: Spirit-empowered intelligible speech.
This could be in the context of congregational worship (eg. 2 Chronicles 20), although this is not necessary (eg. Elijah’s word to Ahab 1 Kings 17:1, Zechariah’s prophecy about his son John the Baptist Luke 1:67ff., Jesus’ prophecy to his disciples on the Mount of Olives Mk. 13).

Now, people sometimes ‘despise [modern-day] prophecy’ because i. they think that believing in prophecy is equivalent to adding to Scripture, and ii. they are afraid that it will lead to manipulation, or at least confusion.

In response to the first, I would clarify that I am a ‘Supernatural Continuationist’ but a ‘Scriptural Cessationist’. Certainly, the writing of the Scriptures has ceased (Rev. 22:18-19). But Scripture encourages us to “eagerly desire to prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1) — and if you hold to a theology that says that this Scriptural word no longer applies then do you not “nullify the word of God by your tradition”?

In response to the second concern, it must be emphasised that nowhere among the spiritual gifts is there listed a ‘word of command’. Even if something is an authentic word of wisdom, it’s not necessarily meant to be obeyed — remember Solomon’s word about cutting the prostitute’s baby in half! Having received the Holy Spirit means we are no longer under law but now have a dynamic personal freedom to work out how best to live in step with the Spirit in a complex world — if that applies to the biblical law then it must also apply to any other prophecies. On the other hand, a real word of prophecy should ring true in a way that helps us know how to apply God’s timeless principles in our rapidly changing world.

It’s interesting to consider Acts 21, and Paul’s response to prophetic advice. Here Paul has set himself to return to Jerusalem. But he keeps having Spirit-filled believers discourage him on this journey. First some disciples tell him “through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem”. Then Agabus, one of the few New Testament characters who is actually described as a prophet, comes and enacts a prophecy about how Paul will be arrested when he gets to Jerusalem — and those with Paul respond by telling him not to go to Jerusalem. But Paul chooses to ignore the prophetic word (although it does come to pass, vindicating its authenticity), having already “resolved through the Spirit to go to Jerusalem”.

Interpretation of Tongues: supernatural interpretation of an otherwise unintelligible message from God.
This gift is typically classified as a gift of utterance, as Paul is focused on the context of congregational worship where the gift allows an utterance in tongues to be converted into a prophecy. But throughout the Bible we see that it’s not just congregational words in unknown languages that need interpretation. So, in my opinion, it is helpful to think of the gift of interpretation more broadly, for there are numerous things that would be unintelligible to us without the help of the Holy Spirit: eg. dreams (Genesis 40:8, Daniel 2:36), the signs of the times (Matt. 16:3), and even Scripture! (2 Cor. 3, cf. Ps. 119:18).

‘…As the Holy Spirit wills…’
Paul concludes his list of these charismatic gifts by saying that the Holy Spirit gives these gifts “to each one individually as he wills” (12:11). I used to read this fatalistically — taking it to mean that since it is up to the Holy Spirit’s will who receives which charismatic gifts, there’s nothing much we can do to actively use any of the gifts which we’ve not been given. But I have come to understand it in a much more dynamic way — to see it a statement that the Holy Spirit does indeed will for each one of us individually to use these various gifts, and since that is his will we need to respond with desire, expectation and faith, and be willing to risk stepping out into situations where we need his miraculous gifts to help us! I would argue that this latter reading is supported by Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor. 14:1 to “eagerly desire spiritual gifts”.

#5 Some Personal Testimonies of these Gifts
Now let’s have a few stories to try and demonstrate what some of these things look like in action.

The Prophetic Word that brought us full-time into YWAM
I have told the story before of how the key event that caused us to commit long-term to work with YWAM was a prophetic word from Bella, a Rwandese lady that we were working with while on our DTS outreach. Previously that afternoon myself and Taryn had been talking about what we should do after the DTS finished. Three different people had suggested that we could stay on with YWAM in Harpenden, but there were four reasons that we discussed that stood as obstacles to this. Anyway, that evening Bella told us that ‘God is calling you to be missionaries’ and combined that with a completely accurate word of knowledge about the things we were struggling with–she named every single one of our four reasons against joining YWAM. (And she can’t have been listening outside our door while Taryn and I had our conversation, for she didn’t speak English, and so her word to us had to be translated from Kinyarwanda).

The Girl Next Door With Chronic Back Pain
When we first moved to Arbury to start the Revival & Reformation DTS, we knocked on our neighbour’s doors and introduced ourselves–and invited them to join us for a bible study that evening. This became a weekly thing: we started off going through the Simple Christianity course before beginning going through Mark’s Gospel. The topic for our third session was Prayer, and Haley (one of our DTS trainees) taught about how Prayer is more than just talking to God; rather, it’s a two-way conversation with God. We ended with a time of application, and split into threes to try and practise hearing God’s voice, specifically asking for words of knowledge, words of wisdom and simple prophetic words of encouragement for each other.

I was in a group with Abigail, who had suffered from chronic back pain for several years in spite of only being a teenager. Anyway, two things came into my mind as I was praying for her: one was a bible verse that came with the sense that it was an encouragement that she was a gifted writer; the second was just a name, ‘Patricia’. I shared these, and they both turned out to be relevant — she was actually planning on studying writing at university, and Patricia was the name of a friend of hers who had been particularly in her thoughts. She then prayed for me, and had the words ‘new life’ and ‘family’ — and she was astonished when I told her that those words were very prophetic, because we’d just discovered Taryn was pregnant!

Hannah (another girl on our DTS) had been talking to Abigail the week before, and so knew of her struggle with back pain, and seeing Abigail’s faith rise as a result of these supernaturally accurate words, decided to ask if we could pray for healing for her. First we asked how bad the pain was on a scale of one to ten, and then our group gathered around her and prayed a few simple prayers for physical healing. We asked again how the pain was — it had improved slightly but still remained. So we prayed again. We ended up praying three or four times — each time the situation improved, and by the end the pain had completely gone and her younger brother’s jaw was dropping at the range of mobility in her back that Abigail suddenly had.

So in this situation you see simple prophecy and words of knowledge inspired a gift of faith which released a physical healing.

Faith for Finance for a YWAM Cambridge House
I have shared this story in full previously, so I won’t recount it all again (but click the link if you’ve not heard it), but in short it goes like this:

We’d been thinking about how great it would be to live in a revival-focused community house in Cambridge, and I was praying the subsequent morning and felt God give me a nudge to ask him for £100 that very day as a sign that God was in this vision. I did and that very day discovered that we’d been given not one hundred but one thousand pounds. So the activated gift of faith released a miracle.

Later, I felt God gift me another gift of faith for a thousand gifts of £1000 to allow us to buy a £1 million property. This was inspired by Revelation 5:11‘s thousand 1000s. I began to share this, which led to slightly more than a dozen spontaneous £1000 gifts (ie. some more miracles)– an impressive release of finance, but not nearly enough to buy the property. Which leaves me wondering about the nature of the word about the thousand £1000s: does it remain a still-to-be-fulfilled prophecy? or was it partially accurate but not entirely?

Discerning the Spirit of Unforgiveness & Deliverance
A friend of ours was around for dinner at our DTS house in Cambridge, and complaining about his house-mates. I challenged him about his apparent unforgiveness, explaining that we aim to have a culture of ‘Unoffendable Hearts’, based on the fact that even when Jesus was on the cross he still chose to forgive — meaning that we can never have a valid excuse for not forgiving. This would be the discerning of spirits, helped by the fact that as a team we had a practice of being especially sensitive to this issue.

My gentle challenge was met with an expression of rage and the declaration that ‘I can’t forgive!’ and our friend got up and stormed round the house. A few minutes later he returned and said he was willing to pray through the issue, but asked that we do so privately. So the two of us found a room where we could pray just the two of us, and I encouraged him to explicitly declare his forgiveness of his housemates and anyone else he was aware of holding grudges against. He began to do so, but upon coming to a particular person with whom he’d had a difficult relationship said ‘I can’t forgive this person’. I encouraged him that he needed to, and God would give him the necessary strength.

Suddenly he fell down shaking, and began shouting in a strange voice, ‘I won’t come out of him’. This I took to be a demonic manifestation, and so began saying in a loud voice that the blood of Jesus had delivered him from the power of the enemy, and so whatever unclean spirit was demonising him had to leave. After a few minutes he stopped shaking and screaming, and began to gently laugh, asking ‘What just happened?’

I think I would classify deliverance as a particularly dramatic sort of (inner) healing.

#6 Unity in the Body needs a Culture of Honour

Paul goes on from his list of charismatic gifts to highlight the importance of honouring all of those within the body of Christ:

20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honourable, on these we bestow greater honour; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honour to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

If we are to sustain an atmosphere where the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit is at work, then we must learn to honour those with whom we disagree (for this of all theological subjects will stir up heated debate), we must learn to honour those who offend us (because sometimes the Holy Spirit will even deliberately offend our minds to reach our hearts), and to even honour those who dishonour us.

On that note, let me explicitly and specifically say again how much I appreciate the ministry of my former minister Ian Hamilton, whose understanding of the question of spiritual gifts is slightly different from mine, him being a cessationist (and apparently Britain’s foremeost cessationist spokesman) when it comes to things like tongues and prophecy. But even though we may disagree about the external manifestations one might expect today with the work of the Holy Spirit, I have been very blessed by his well-read and sincere passion for the Holy Spirit to work internally. (And I realise that in this essay I haven’t seriously engaged at all with anything he has said on this subject — but I wanted to positively set forth my own convictions before worrying about a detailed apologetic wrangling over the interpretation of all the relevant verses.)

#7 What Does ‘Orderly Worship’ Look Like?

In the preached message, I concluded on the previous point, but seeing as I have no time limit here, I’m going to expand this little essay here to include this final question of what then our worship should look like — because this is where the rubber hits the road! There are three things that I want to mention to give us a framework for appreciating different varieties of gathered Christian worship.

Participation & Edification
“Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” (1 Corinthians 14:26)

Paul seems to envisage here a culture of maximum participation within the church, in which everyone comes ready to contribute in the power of the Spirit. Psalms, teachings, tongues, revelations, interpretations — anything seems to go. If that was all he said, then one would be forced to strongly criticise the majority of modern church meetings, which include nothing like the described degree of participation.

However, Paul immediately follows this description of everybody being involved with the command that “all things be done for edification”. And this gives us our first tension, because while in some situations (a prayer meeting, for example) higher participation does result in greater edification, in other situations it does not. If I wanted to learn how better to understand the teaching of the Bible, I would rather come and listen to an extended exposition from someone who had thoughtfully and prayerfully considered the passage, than from whichever several people present felt most enthusiastic about spontaneously sharing something.

Which is not to say that I don’t think participation is important for learning–small group discussion can be as or more helpful than sermons. Nor am I against spontaneous speeches! But what I am saying is that how we proceed towards edification differs depending on the desired goal.

Appropriate Order & Liberty
Paul’s whole discussion in 1 Corinthians 14 of tongues and prophecy is building towards his concluding comment that “everything must be done decently and in order”. But while it is easy in the abstract to acknowledge the merits of ‘order’, the fact is that our ideas of what constitutes proper order are always highly influenced by our different cultures. A Rwandan Pentecostal and a Scottish Presbyterian, for example, can have somewhat different expectactions of what an orderly prayer meeting should involve.

Added to the problem of cultural differences is the unavoidable fact that life is messy. As it says in Proverbs, “without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for the harvest”. In many ways a cemetery is a much more orderly place than a crèche — but we don’t want to be so obsessed with ‘order’ that we lose the liberty necessary for life to survive and, better, thrive. For all of the problems that glossalalia was causing in the Corinthian congregation, Paul insists that we must not “forbid to speak in tongues”.

Authority & Responsibility
While the Bible does give us a glimpse, in Revelation 4-5, of what culture-transcending heavenly worship looks like, I am not interested in working out the perfect formula to reproduce exactly that sort of meeting every time that we gather together as Christians. Every situation and context is different, and that variety of differences is something to be treasured. The liturgical Anglican church I go to on Sunday mornings has quite a different blend of order, liberty, and participation from the little house church gathering that follows Sunday lunch in my house. And this in turn is different from the non-stop free-flowing four-hour session of simple prophetic worship that Taryn and I have been asked to be involved with at the monthly Heavenly Exchange.

My understanding is that in every Christian gathering it is the appointed leaders who have the authority to make decisions about how to balance these different tensions so as to most fruitfully cultivate an atmosphere of spiritual life. That is not to say that they can’t be challenged if they are doing something wrong or advised on how they might do something better. But it does mean that I don’t need to try and align everything that goes on with my own particular personal preferences, because ultimately it is their responsibility to answer to God for what happens (or isn’t allowed to happen!). As James warns, “We who teach will be judged more strictly”.

And on that note, I will finish by again repeating what I said at the beginning: that I do not claim to have the final word on this subject, and I want to honour all those with whom I disagree. I offer this to help you understand where I’m coming from, and perhaps to be assisted in your own understanding–and where you do disagree, please do me the honour of explaining with what you disagree and why!

Rap Gospel

Having enjoyed the chance to go out with two mics and an amp on the streets of Bristol and do some evangelistic rapping with my friend Andrew Couch, I thought I might finally make public the lyrics to this. I usually do it with Sing Hallelujah as a chorus.

I wrote it in a single day whilst on my DTS, the fruit of the adrenaline flowing after a few of us had tried some tongue-in-cheek rap battling after ThizzNick had performed one evening.

It’s a hip hop paraphrase of the message of Elihu, who I have argued (it turns out that John Piper is in agreement with me!) is the misunderstood hero of the book of Job. The dream eventually would be to do a complete album with the entire narrative of the book of Job transposed into hip hop rhyme.

Lord before I start, I dedicate these words to you.
You destined me for this even before my mother’s womb.
Many words can lead to sin so I’ve kept my words few–
I’ve quietened my soul, been still and silent, even mute.
But now my heart is burning and my tongue’s on fire too–
How can I be silent when men who are violent keep talking like they do?
I’ve waited for the aged to speak, for I am just a youth
But the Spirit of God lives in me too and it’s him who teaches truth

So Maker, here’s my prayer: Help me not show partiality
To man or woman, black or white, for you made all humanity
Please help my words at all times correspond to reality
Help me not exaggerate or treat the truth elastically
Or abuse half-truths to rudely use my speech sarcastically
See Maker what I’m saying, though I put it periphrastically
is make my words the overflow of Christlike spirituality–
And let my tongue speak not of me but magnify your majesty!

First things first: the reason I’m repeating rhymes is not because of me.
This gift of speaking lyrically with some verbal agility
Is not something I’ve practised — it’s a God-given ability,
So please don’t just encourage me, give glory to the Trinity!
It’s the Spirit indwelling me who taught my tongue these words. You see,
The Maker in eternity spoke the Word which caused the world to be
And now his Spirit lives in me! That’s why I speak in poetry.
But let’s pause briefly because we’ve reached the time for chorus three.

Well, I’ve been sitting quiet here among you for some time.
Like Shakespeare says, the world’s a stage — if so, I’ve been the mime.
But now’s the point of crisis and to my surprise I find
I’m centre-stage, I’ve come of age, the spotlight is now mine.
And suddenly I’m bursting, I’m a wineskin filled with wine
And I’m rhyming without trying — this’s my original design
I’m an urban John the Baptist, standing here and prophesying
That the Maker is returning so you’d better get in line!

Don’t be intimidated, for you know I’m only just
A mere human just like you — and it’s the same for all of us:
Sooner or later, we meet our Maker, and crumble into dust.
The one quality that distinguishes me, is the God in whom I trust:
He’s the Maker and Judge of all the earth: and the law explains to us,
A judge can’t punish whom he choose, he judges whom he must
So the logical conclusion is that though my God’s gracious
If you’ve ever committed wrong, frankly he’s dangerous!

So let me ask you something — Do you think that this is right?
To say that God is in the wrong and you are in the right?
This is the Maker of the stars, who clothes himself with light
Compared with his holiness, the bright noonday resembles night
Even the angels hide their eyes before the blinding light
That proceeds from his throne above the heaven’s highest height
And yet you’d rather claim that God’s to blame now for you plight?
Don’t you know that there in no-one righteous in his sight?

So listen mate you need to stop your self-righteous grumbling
I don’t pretend to understand the mystery of suffering
But acknowledge your sin, God will draw near you if you come to him,
For that’s the kind of God he is: good, patient, kind, longsuffering!
Wow, even just to speak of Him makes my heart begin trembling
And honestly I do not think there’s anything resembling
The glory of the Lord we’ll see one day with saints assembling
In countless multitude and there before him join as one and sing!

Jesus: The Focus of Revival

Both this and last year, I’ve had the privilege of doing an extended series of teaching on JESUS. These slides don’t include my own stories and testimonies, but give a good idea of what I was trying to cover. If these are helpful to you, please feel free to use them. And if you would like me to come and teach (on these or any other topics) then please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

We Want To See Jesus

Plus:
Poem: The Vision
Audio: We Want To See Jesus (from the previous year)
Message: The First Commandment

The Meaning of the Cross

The Truth of the Resurrection

Handouts:
Biblical Testimony to the Resurrection
Non-biblical Evidence of Jesus
Plus:
Video: Life of Brian’s Sermon on the Mount
(I didn’t actually use this, but I think it’s a hilarious and thought-provoking launchpad into the whole topic of the Historical Jesus.)
Message: The Undeniable Evidence of the Resurrection

God, the Trinity, & the Divinity of Jesus

Plus:
Video: That’s My King
Video: St. Patrick’s Bad Trinitarian Analogies

The Implications of the Humanity of Jesus

Plus:
Blog Post: More Incarnational Implications–‘The Dignifying of the Ordinary’

________________________________

I love preaching. I love the privilege of declaring the glorious truths of the word of God. I love the joy of the Spirit that courses through me as I do so.

But the moment after you’ve just finished preaching can be tough. You’ve just waged war in the heavenlies with all the might you can muster, you’ve just poured out your heart and soul, you’ve just bared your darkest secrets so that the light of God’s truth might shine as clear and bright as possible–and you can’t possibly immediately see the long-term fruit of God’s word taking root in people’s hearts and minds.

This is the case even with just a sermon–how much more with seven and a half hours of preaching to the little team of people that have signed up to spend nine months running together with you for the kingdom of God to come in power?

So it was an incredible blessing on Wednesday afternoon, just after I had finished my final teaching session, to then be able to hear our trainees begin to share their testimonies. If anything they were more raw and vulnerable than I had been in my sharing from the front. But the best part was the moment at the end, after we’d concluded with a few songs of worship, and I’d said that the scheduled time had finished and people could leave if they wanted–but no-one did. Such was the hunger for Jesus, the desire to have eyes opened for a greater vision of him, that everyone stayed for another hour and a half of passionate worship. There were tears, there was dancing, there were new songs–and in the end it only finished because me and Taryn were going out to have dinner together, and so people needed to leave our house.

So to everyone on the Revival & Reformation DTS — and those from last year, who got to hear my first attempt at teaching this subject — THANKYOU!

The First Commandment: Love God Wholeheartedly

wholeheartedloveSome time ago now, I had the chance to preach at New Covenant Fellowship in Luton, on the first of the church’s six foundational values: to (1) love God and (2) love people, a place of (3) the Word of God and (4) the power of God, and a place of (5) holiness and (6) freedom. More than a year later, I’ve finally written this up as a full post, because it’s a message close to my heart, and I believe an important one.

1. Loving God Is The First Commandment
Then one of the scribes… asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’ Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. There is no other commandment greater than these.
Mark 12:28-34

So here in Mark 12, after Jesus has dealt with a succession of trick questions from the religious leaders, finally a scribe stands up and asks Jesus a genuine question. And the question is an important one for all of us with busy schedules trying to squeeze in as many as possible of the things that we have been told ‘thou shalt do’ into our limited time. What is the first priority?

Jesus answers simply and straightforwardly with the words of Moses: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, will all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength”. Which, as the scribe rightly points out, is far more important than going through the religious rituals of offering “burnt offerings and sacrifices”.

And lest we think that as ‘New Covenant’ Fellowship, our situation is somehow different from those under the ‘Old Covenant’, let us point out this — that we Christians need to be reminded just as much as any Jew ever did, that loving God is not a matter of just going to church and fulfilling whatever religious obligations are expected of us.

It’s a matter of all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength.

But here’s a question that is worth asking: is the command to love God a distinct requirement from the command to love our neighbour? When Jesus follows this by saying that “the second commandment is like it”, is Jesus saying that our first priority is to love God, and loving our neighbour is our second priority–or is he saying that they are both together the same most important commandment?

2. This Is More Important Than The Second Commandment
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that”
Luke 10:25-42

In Luke 10:25 we find a situation very similar to the one we’ve just examined in Mark 12, except that instead of Jesus being asked what the most important requirement of the law is, this time Jesus is doing the asking. And although it sounds like the man has been listening to Jesus (he sums up the law in exactly the same way Jesus does), he doesn’t really seem to have grasped what Jesus means, as is made evident by the man’s attempts to “justify himself” after Jesus agrees that the man has “answered rightly”.

But we should note that although the man’s answer is fairly good, he — like many people today — fails to distinguish the First Commandment from the Second. Instead of clearly noting that before we can love our neighbour as ourselves we must first love God completely, he jumbles them together. And perhaps — just perhaps — this failure to the see that absolute priority that loving God should have goes hand in hand with his failure to understand the implications of the summary of the law he recited.

Now Jesus responds to the man not by quibbling about this detail but by telling him the unforgettable Parable of the Good Samaritan. But Luke, author of this particular historical account of Jesus’ life and ministry, does seem to think that this detail needs some more dealing with — for he deliberately follows this incident with a story that deals with the precise issue here in question, the story of Mary and Martha.

Here, Martha is working hard to love her neighbour. But since multitasking is a myth that means that she is “distracted with much serving” from the main task of loving God — even when He is present in her very house! Her sister Mary however is focussing on the First Commandment, “sat at the feet of Jesus” and giving Him her undivided attention — but to the detriment of the Second Commandment, which would most obviously be expressed in fulfilling her household responsibilities to help Martha serving the guests.

So Martha, understandably enough, tells Jesus that he should tell Mary to help her. There’s a time and place for loving God first, but when there are things that need to be done to honour the neighbours that are visiting your house, surely the second part of Jesus’ summary of the law takes priority over the first?

But Jesus’ response is unambiguous: No! “Martha, you are worried about many things. But one thing is necessary, and Mary has chosen that”. And thus our question is answered. Loving God always takes priority over loving neighbour.

3. This Is Offensive To Some People
Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?
John 12:1-8

Now this is offensive to some people. Including some followers of Jesus. And if we flip forward to John 12, we’ll see that this was the case even in Jesus’ day.

We’re still staying with Mary and Martha, now some considerable time after the incident described in Luke 10. Martha is still the one dutifully serving (Jn. 12:2), Mary still shows no sign of doing so. Instead she is taking her devotion up a level — not just sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him speak, but actually anointing His feet with expensive perfume and wiping them with her hair.

And this isn’t just any old perfume–according to one disciple’s unimpressed assessment of the situation, this stuff is worth three hundred denarii. Which probably doesn’t mean anything to you. So let’s break it down: one denarius was a day’s wages. So three hundred denarii was a whole year’s wages! Translated into modern British terms, at a minimum wage of £6.31/hour for an adult, and supposing that a day’s work is eight paid hours long, that’s over fifteen thousand pounds! Which is a lot of money to pour over someone’s feet.

Like the watching disciples, we cannot help but ask ourselves the question: Is such a use of resources good stewardship? The scandalous thing is that Jesus seems to think so. Not only does he say that Mary has “done a good thing” (Mark 14:6 ), but even more remarkably adds that “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her”.

It seems difficult to avoid the implication that the gospel is incomplete if we fail to include the exhortation to extravagant worship–indeed, offensively extravagant worship.

4. So We Need The Right Theological Paradigm: Jesus Is Our Bridegroom, We Are His Bride
Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
John 12:2-3

While the king is at his table, my spikenard sends forth its fragrance.
Song of Songs 1:12

So we need a theological paradigm that will help us make sense of this call to extravagant worship. And I believe that in the very words he uses to describe the scene, John is suggesting such a paradigm to us. Look at John 12:2-3 and compare it with Song of Songs 1:12, and the repetition of vocabulary is clear. The theological paradigm we need to have if we are to make sense of the extravagance of love that the most important commandment instructs us to have, is that of Jesus as the Bridegroom King and we, his church, as the Bride.

Now some will concede this but then very quickly nullify the power of this by making the excuse that ‘corporately’ it may be true that we are ‘the Bride’, but that it is a theological error to think that individually we should think in these sorts of terms.

However this is a flawed argument. For one thing, it fails to allow for the fractal relationship of the individual believer to the corporate church. But perhaps the most obvious way of looking at it is this: if no individual believer is supposed to show passionate extravagant love for Jesus, then how can the church as a whole ever come to a point of being characterised by such Bridal passion? And specifically in this passage, we see Mary acting quite independently in lavishing an extravagantly expensive love-offering at the feet of Jesus–and John the inspired author describes her action in terms that quite clearly allude to the bride in the Song of Songs.

On the other hand though, it is nevertheless important to underscore the fact that this ‘bridal paradigm’ describes a passionate spirituality, not sexual sensuality.

5. Being An Extravagant Lover Of Jesus Is Not Just For The Ladies
Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.
John 19:39

‘Well,’ you might be thinking, ‘perhaps this idea of relating to Jesus as our Bridegroom might be all very well for the ladies, but I’m a man!’

But you just need to read the rest of the Gospel of John to see that this sort of passionate relationship towards Jesus isn’t just experienced by Mary, or just by women, but very definitely by men too. The very writer of the gospel describes himself throughout as ‘the one whom Jesus loved’. John the Baptist speaks of Jesus as ‘the Bridegroom’ and himself as ‘the friend who rejoices greatly at his voice.’

Perhaps the scene bearing the closest resemblance to the extravagance of Mary pouring a year’s wages of perfume at the feet of Jesus, is that of Nicodemus bringing a hundred pounds (that’s about forty-five kilograms — though some translations have seventy-five pounds, or about thirty-five kilos) of spices to anoint the body of Jesus for burial after his crucifixion.

6. The Gospel Is What Tranforms Cynical Men Into Besotted Lovers Of God
Jesus: “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus: “How can a man be ‘born again’ when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb?”

John 3:1-16

So how did Nicodemus come to this point of extravagant devotion to Jesus? Had he always been this way inclined?

Nicodemus appears three times in the Gospel of John, and to begin with he is the very antithesis of the shamelessly passionate lover of Jesus that Mary exemplifies with her anointing of Jesus feet, and that Nicodemus eventually also resembles with his weighty gift of incense.

When we first see him, in John chapter three, he is coming to Jesus by dead of night in order to avoid the awkwardness of being associated with him while nevertheless wanting to quiz him as to the source of his undeniable supernatural power. After a brief but profound conversation, we then see no more of Nicodemus until chapter seven. Here he is still not quite at the point of unashamedly confessing his love for Jesus, but does draw the ire of his fellow Pharisees by questioning their dismissive attitude towards Jesus. It’s only in chapter nineteen — and only after Jesus’ death! — that finally Nicodemus risks his religious reputation by bringing this astonishingly large gift of spices to anoint Jesus’ body.

What was it that worked this change in Nicodemus? How was it that a respectable man aware of the importance of maintaining his reputation could be transformed into an unselfconscious extravagant Jesus-lover?

The answer is simple: it’s the simple gospel message.

This is what Jesus explains to Nicodemus when he comes to him by night, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

Now, hearing this simple message didn’t immediately transform Nicodemus. And that might be because although “faith comes by hearing”, it’s often not (though it is sometimes!) an immediate result–rather, the gospel can sometimes sit silent for some considerable time in our hearts, lying like a dormant seed until eventually, unexpectedly, the living water of the Spirit at last causes that seed to grow and blossom and bring forth fruit.

But I think it might be because Nicodemus initially just didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about.

When Nicodemus responded to Jesus’ comment about the need to be ‘born again’ with a jibe about ‘entering his mother’s womb a second time’, I think he was being deliberately mocking. But when Jesus used the analogy of Moses holding up the snake in the wilderness, I think it’s more than likely that Nicodemus simply had no idea what Jesus was getting at. Not, I suggest, until the moment Jesus died upon the cross–when everything must have suddenly clicked into place in Nicodemus’ mind.

This is how God demonstrates his love for the world, by giving his Son specifically to die that we might live, ‘becoming sin for us’ and thus being like the snake Moses held up on the pole so that whoever looked at it might be healed.

And when Nicodemus understood the gospel, immediately he was released to become a whole-hearted lover of God.

And when we understand the gospel, we will too.

The Undeniable Evidence of the Resurrection

On Sunday, a week after Easter, I had the privilege of preaching at our church in Luton. And so I took as my text the story of Doubting Thomas and his refusal to believe in the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection–until a week after Easter, when the risen Jesus appeared to him in person.

So, turn with me to John 20:19-29:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fears of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you”. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld”.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Importance of the Resurrection

So I want to talk about Thomas, not just because I think he resonates with the skepticism of our free-thinking generation, but because I like him! He’s most definitely not the sort of easily-duped peasant that David Hume‘s chronological snobbery would have us believe the witnesses of the Biblical miracles must have been. No! This is a man who wants evidence. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that he’s not content with just evidence, he wants proof.

So I want to talk about Thomas. But more importantly, I want to talk about the resurrection — because this is the keystone upon which the edifice of Christian truth stands or falls. It is the resurrection of Jesus which makes possible the very thing that every human was made for and which all creation is longing for — to enjoy the presence of God.

In the beginning God created humankind with the intention that they should walk with their infinite Creator as friends–but humanity rebelled against God, sin entered the world, and we were separated from God. The apparent absence of God which the ‘doubting Thomas’s of our day are so quick to remind us of is not, Isaiah 59 tells us, a result of God’s impotence or unwillingness — no! Rather, it is that “your iniquities have separated you from God, and your sins have hidden his face from you” (v2)

And it is because of the gravity of our sin that Jesus had to come and die: “For God has done what the law, weakened by sinful flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). The resurrection then is the proof that Jesus’s death was successful — that through death Jesus destroyed the power of death, as Hebrews 2:14 puts it.

But the resurrection is more than the proof that our sins are forgiven and we need not fear the death of eternal destruction from God. The resurrection is the beginning of a completely new and re-newed creation. The resurrection is the first-fruits of the coming kingdom of God, the breaking-in to history of the coming age, where human flesh will no longer be enslaved to death and destruction.

Because of the resurrection we can — at last! — fulfil our destiny, be restored to our original design, experience the nearness of the presence of God. And so, as his first deed upon being raised from the dead, what does Jesus do? As his first proclamation, what does he declare? He breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.

Being convinced of the truth of the resurrection is of vital importance because it is in believing that Jesus Christ is risen that we receive the Holy Spirit. As Paul says in Romans 10, “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”. And conversely, “If Christ is not risen, our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15).

The Evidence Which (A) Doubting Thomas Should Believe
So let’s look at three pieces of persuasive evidence for the resurrection of Jesus which any Doubting Thomas who takes their skepticism seriously must try and wrestle with.

First, there’s the Transformation of the Disciples.
What can possibly have happened to turn the disciples from the state of dejection and denial that Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion had left them in, to this sudden conviction that Jesus’ mission had not failed — in spite of all apparent evidence to the contrary — but rather that he was alive and they had seen them with their own eyes?

In Thomas’ case, the full implication of what had happened was still sinking in for the disciples, and at this point they are still fearfully hiding behind locked doors, so he has some excuse. But for us today, we are able to look back at the complete story of phoenix-like rise of the early church, from Peter’s cowardly denial as Jesus is put on trial, through the disciples’ desertion of Jesus while he is crucified — and then suddenly out of nowhere comes the conviction that Jesus is not dead but alive. A conviction that caused those early disciples to spend and eventually give up their lives testifying to the truth of the resurrection.

Some would say they were making it up. But they had nothing to gain but persecution — and they chose to die rather than deny it.

Some would say they were deluded. But could so many of them be deluded? And yet able to write as coherently and compellingly as the writers of the New Testament do?

Secondly, there’s the fact that Jesus had prophesied his death and resurrection.
He had said that he would ‘destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days’ (Jn.2; Matt.26:61). He had said that the sign to vindicate all his signs would be ‘the sign of Jonah’, who was cast in the sea and ‘buried’ in the belly of a fish before being spat back up onto land on the third day. He had said he would be like ‘the stone the builders rejected which has become the capstone’ (Ps. 118; Matt. 21:42).

The evidence of the historicity of these prophecies is strong, them being found across the spectrum of the Biblical witness.

And having satisfied ourselves with their authenticity, we can play CS Lewis’ argument that the only three serious explanations that account for the things that Jesus said, are that he was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Son of God.

Third, the emptiness of the tomb.
Thomas could, like Peter and John, have gone and seen for himself that the tomb in which Jesus has been buried was empty. For us in this day, we may not be able to go and see for ourselves that the tomb is empty (though you could go to Jerusalem and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Garden Tomb — whichever you think is the relevant site!), but we do have multiple pieces of evidence, faithfully recorded within the different gospels.

And there are only four options for how this happened.
i) Foes stole it — but why then did they not produce the body to discount the disciples’ claims?
ii) Friends stole it — but as we have already said, the transformation of the disciples needs somehow to be accounted for.
ii) Jesus never died and escaped — although he had been certified dead by professional executioners, Jesus somehow managed to remove the stone sealing him inside the tomb, overpower the guards, and convince the disciples that he had defeated death. Really?
iv) God raised Jesus from the dead — unless you dogmatically deny the possibility of this, then it is the only reasonable option.

The Options of Unbelief
Still not convinced of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection? Then you have a few choices:
i) Judas’ Committed Hopelessness
If there is no life after death, if Jesus’ resurrection was in fact impossible, if life has no objective value and death is the ultimate end of all things, if everything is ‘meaningless, meaningless’ — then perhaps Camus is right. Perhaps the supreme philosophical question is, ‘why not commit suicide?’

This was Judas’ choice, having betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin and seen them sentence him to death.

It is a choice I both think is a logical outworking of convinced atheism and also one I would urge you not to even consider. Ever. Not even if you have Alzheimer’s.

Because if only Judas had held onto hope until that third day when Jesus rose from the dead, then might not Jesus have restored and forgiven him, just as he did Peter (Jn. 21)?

ii) The Chief Priests’ Manipulative Apathy
The option most people take is of course to ignore the gospel news of Jesus’ resurrection.

This was the chief priests’ response when the soldiers appointed to guard the tomb came and told them “all that had happened” (Matt. 28:11). Instead of responding in faith or at least investigating more for themselves, they continued stubbornly in their rejection of Jesus and actually tried to manipulate the situation so as to avoid the personal challenge of Jesus’ resurrection by bribing the guards to explain it away by accusing the disciples of stealing the body.

iii) Thomas’ Faithful Doubt
The third option is to doubt like faith-filled Thomas, who in spite of his vocal skepticism, did not give up meeting with the rest of the disciples, deluded though he thought they were. Was this just out of commitment to his friends, or did he in spite of himself hold on to some faint hope that their claims of Jesus having been seen alive might in fact be true.

We don’t know. But we do know that the following week, he was there again in the upper room, gathering together with the other followers of Jesus. And this time he found the evidence that he needed to convince him that Jesus was indeed “Lord and God”.

So I end with this encouragement to you: although you may not be convinced by my hastily typed-out clumsy regurgitations of the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, at least do what Thomas did and keep gathering together with others committed to obeying the infinitely challenging but unfailingly life-changing teaching of Jesus. Don’t lose hope. Don’t ignore the testimonies of others. But don’t think that you have to rest forever on someone else’s word.

Because if you are seeking assurance for yourself that Jesus is who he says he is, then keep seeking and you will find it. It’s a promise.

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For a scholarly and intellectual approach to the question of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, NT Wright is probably the best there is. And he is very readable. Try starting with The Challenge of Jesus.

For something more popular, The Case For Christ is meant to be very good. Lee Strobel was an investigative journalist whose wife became a Christian, and so began to examine the evidence for the truth of Christianity. The book is the record of the evidence that convinced him.

What Staff At Hebron School Should Know

Yesterday I Tumbl-ed some news about staff vacancies at the secondary school in India where I spent six years. This seemed to draw a little interest, so I thought I should share my thoughts on what a staff member at Hebron (potential or current) should know.


This is easily done, because when I returned to Hebron four years after graduating I was actually asked to speak at the Staff Meeting! And this is what I said when given the opportunity to stand before the staff of my much-appreciated, sometimes-hated, yet truly-loved Hebron School…

_____________________

Wow. As a student I would have loved to stand in front of you staff and tell you a thing or two. And now’s my chance! But actually it turns out that the things I feel you Hebron staff need to know aren’t all the things you have done wrong.

No.

Instead I want to encourage you. This is my prayer:
May my words drop as the rain, my speech distil as the dew,
Like gentle rain upon the tender grass, like showers upon the herb.

So, here are three things I think you need to know:

#1 You need to know the Importance of what you are doing here

Because of what you are doing here,
the gospel is being preached to people who have never heard the name of Jesus;
because of what you are doing here,
the Bible is being translated into languages which have never heard God’s Word;
because of what you are doing here,
doctors are providing medical treatment to the poor and needy;
and orphans are being cared for and widows are provided for;
because of what you are doing here,
missionaries are able to do the work that God has called them to do,
and the kingdom of God is advancing,
and people are being saved.

What you are doing at Hebron is very important.

Before I came to Hebron I was at school in Malaysia, at another school for missionary children. Many of the friends that I had there returned with their families to their home countries, because they felt that was the only viable educational alternative. But because of what you are doing here at Hebron, I was able to come to school here, and my parents were able to continue working as missionaries. And because of the high quality of what you are doing here – I should in particular thank Miss Smith for helping me through the STEP exams with which I just about scraped my way into Cambridge University – because of the high quality of what you are doing here I have suffered no lack in my education.

And because of the high quality of what you are doing here, not only do you allow Christian parents to do the work that God has called them to do, in some of the most difficult and least reached parts of the world, and send their children here – but you also cause Hindu parents, and Muslim parents, and Sikh parents, and Parsi parents to send their children here.

You need to know that what you are doing at Hebron is very important, because here is a demonstration of the kingdom of God, here is a community of people who have heard the call of Jesus and are trying to follow him.

And when Hebron successfully points people towards the grace of God, then these Hindu and Muslim and Sikh and Parsi students, who have been sent here for a good education, find that in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge and become followers of Jesus. And the Christian students, those children of pastors and preachers and medical workers and missionaries, see the reality of the God of their parents and – more often than not – themselves become missionaries and medical workers, and are able to continue and surpass the work that their parents have done.

But when Hebron fails to point people towards the grace of God, then Hebron fails.

Because when Hebron fails to point people towards the grace of God, then those who do not come from Christian families become inoculated against the gospel, convinced that they have seen what Christianity is like. And those who do come from Christian families become convinced that their parents’ faith is a hollow lie and lash violently back against Christianity, against religion, against authority, against God.

That could have been me.

You need to know the importance of what you are doing here.

#2. You need to know the Influence of what you are doing here

Sometimes you will see the influence of what you are doing.

Sometimes you will see students’ work improving as a result of your teaching. Sometimes you will see people settling into life here and becoming more confident, as a result of you coming alongside them when they were homesick. Sometimes you will see people beginning to understand the gospel better, as a result of the Bible Study that you’re leading. Sometimes you will see people becoming Christians.

But sometimes you may not see the influence of what you are doing for a long time. In fact sometimes you may never see any influence. But you need to know that what you are doing does have an influence.

If you’re new here and you have no idea what sort of influence this school has on people, then I would encourage you to go and ask someone who has been at Hebron a little longer, maybe Mrs George (and while you’re at it, make sure she treats you to a snack from her kitchen), and I’m sure she’ll be able to give you a few examples.

And if you’ve been here a while, then I would urge you to make sure you remember those people who have been influenced for the better through being at Hebron. Let them be an encouragement to you.

“Look what God has done for us, over all the years we’ve shared…”

Because there will be times when you might feel like your work here is in vain. But it’s not.

And I stand before you this evening to testify that I am someone who by the grace of God had his life transformed while he was at Hebron.

And I want to say Thank-you.

#3. You need to know the Impossibility of what you are doing here

Some of you may have just arrived at Hebron. Maybe you were told that the school needed a Geography teacher, and you’ve done some teaching before and you know a lot about Geography – and so you think you’re well prepared to teach Geography here.

Maybe you’ve been told how much better behaved Hebron students are, compared to kids in other schools where you may have taught, and you thought this was going to be easy.

And now you’ve arrived here, and someone’s just told you that as well as the Year 7 Geography class you were expecting to teach, you’re also going to need to fill in as the A Level History teacher, as there’s currently no-one to do that job – and surely you know that you’re also dorm-parenting the Standard 10 Boys? And directing the Standard 7 Drama Week play? And coaching the girls’ football team? And maybe you’re thinking, ‘Hang on a minute, this is crazy. What I’m being asked to do here at Hebron is impossible.’

If that’s what you’re thinking, then you’re right. What happens at Hebron is impossible.

And you need to know the impossibility of what you are doing here at Hebron.

Because when it comes to academic results, the international schools we are competing against have a much higher budget with which to entice all the teachers they might want – while at Hebron there is usually at least one key teaching position that is not quite filled. (And I won’t mention the budget).

And when it comes to sporting competition, the schools we are competing against have a far greater number of athletes to draw upon, and plenty of time to practice – while at Hebron, we are usually scrambling to get a team to to participate within a week or two of arriving back at school.

And when it comes to more important things –- you know there is something more important than academic results, right?– When it comes to people’s hearts being changed, when it comes to the power of the Spirit of God breaking into the life of a Hebron student and transforming them into the likeness of Jesus, only God can do this!

But – here’s the good news – God does do this! And in the 100+ years since Hebron began, God has done this in more ways than you or I will ever know.

For although what you are trying to do at Hebron may be impossible, the Bible says that with God nothing is impossible. And the Bible says that every prayer prayed in the name of Jesus will be answered. And I’ve prayed a lot of prayers in the name of Jesus for which I haven’t yet seen any answers. But I will keep on praying, because I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is faithful.

So let’s pray:

Father God,
I thank you for the work that Hebron has done for so many years.
I thank you for the privilege that it is to be a Hebronite.
And I pray in the name of Jesus that you would encourage the staff here,
and that you would continue to bless the work that they do,
and I pray that your kingdom would come in this place,
and in the lives of everyone working and studying here.
And I pray, O Lord, that your love and your power and your wisdom
Would flow forth from this place like a mighty rushing river
And would transform Ooty,
And India,
And the world.
In Jesus’ mighty name I pray,
AMEN.

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What would you say if you had the chance to speak your mind to the teachers at your old school? Blame them for their mistakes?
Thank them for their hard work? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

And what about those of you who were actually at Hebron? What would you say to our staff if you had the chance?