Strategies for spiritual boredom.

Recently, I felt bored and stressed.  Nothing extraordinary you might say, but I was bored and stressed in conversation with God.  Talking with God; the almighty, the creator of the universe, the all-glorious and all-beautiful one; I was bored and stressed.

To me, one of the most convincing arguments for the reality of an accessible God is His intervention in human consciousness through prayer.  Famously, agricultural scientist George Washington Carver (1864-1943) asked God for ‘the mystery of a peanut’, and subsequently derived over 300 different patents from this unassuming beer accompaniment.  Prayer is very real.  At the centre of my faith is a God who is limitlessly powerful and consistently unpredictable, whose words and ideas are thrilling to the human spirit. To me, spiritual boredom is unacceptable; it is obtuse, unbelieving and even stupid.  And yet, there I was.

In the midst of this place of boredom and stress, God spoke to me like He sometimes does, by showing me an image in my mind’s eye.  I saw myself like a little child kneeling over something I was holding in my hands and I was clearly frustrated by it, like it was a toy I was trying to fix, and I saw my Father standing over me wanting to help me but He couldn’t seem to get my attention while I was so engrossed in my own task.  I realised that the object I was holding in my hands was prayer itself.  God was showing me that I was trying to do prayer with my own agenda and my own understanding of what the results should be.  My eyes were fixed down when they should have been looking up to my Father. I had missed the vision of heaven. God wanted to talk to me about cities and nations while I was fixated with a comparatively petty prayer list of practical concerns for the following weeks and months.

Much of the Christian Church is in this position.  ‘Strategy’, ‘model’ and ‘agenda’ have become Christian buzzwords that make us feel professional, but increasingly seem to betray a heart that is departing from the Lord.  We have become very good at ideas, but I’m not sure how much we are truly growing in the heart of God.  Jesus said it would be those who ‘abide’ in Him who would bear much fruit.  But are our goals His goals, and is our vision His vision?  Are they even becoming more united?  Too often it seems that the goals of Christian organizations and churches are about increasing ‘web hits’ and ‘likes’ on a facebook page, rather than the transformation of culture by the Word of God; the salvation of souls and renewing of minds.  The calling of a Christian was never to be ‘liked’.  We are called into fellowship with Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9)

While we are counting how many likes, shares and comments were achieved on our social media feeds in the last week, and how many heads there were in our Sunday services, 37.5 million babies were aborted globally so far in the past year alone.  There are 36 million trafficked in an exploding global slave trade. The number of displaced persons has reached around 60 million.  The USA, still the world’s most prominent ‘Christian nation’, ranks among the the top ten ‘most divorced’ nations with a rate of 53% of marriages (the UK is not far behind with 47%, and 6 of the other top ten nations are from western Europe).  Over 200 million Christians around the world are denied fundamental human rights because of their faith according to the World Evangelical Alliance, and 322 Christians are killed for their faith every month (Open Doors).  Israel, God’s chosen nation through whom He communicated all of the scripture and whom He has restored to their land as promised repeatedly in the Prophets, is reviled and mocked globally and is condemned by the UNHRC more times than all other nations combined including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Libya, Syria etc… etc…  According to Psalm 149, God’s people are called to ‘execute judgement’ in the place of prayer and praise.  Matthew 18:18 says that we are given authority in prayer to bind everything that disagrees with heaven.  In Luke 18:6-8, Jesus promises that God will ‘speedily’ answer those who cry out to Him for justice.

So seriously, there are bigger fish to fry.

When Jesus, the commander of heaven’s armies, met Joshua on the plain of Jericho, He did not come to hear Joshua’s plan to conquer the city.  He came to give Joshua His strategy for victory.

And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” (Joshua 5:13-14, NKJV)

Jesus’ strategy was bizarre.  He says to Joshua (paraphrase…), ‘I want you to walk round Jericho once every day for six days, then the next day I want you to walk around it 7 times and afterwards get the priests to blow trumpets.’  Jesus’ plan sounds crazy, but obedience in fellowship with Him releases supernatural power to break down the strongholds of the enemy.  The walls of Jericho fell down flat.

It is much easier for us to create comfortable human strategies than to walk in fellowship with Jesus, but it is so much more boring and exhausting.  If Joshua had been offended by Jesus’ strategy for victory, the alternative would probably have been a very protracted and potentially costly process of siege warfare.  God had a miraculous solution available, if Joshua was willing to walk in fellowship with Him.  God doesn’t want us to go through the pain of our own plans and strategies!  He wants to release miraculous solutions to us in our jobs, relationships and in building His kingdom but these strategies will never come from human intelligence and are often offensive.

In a very similar instruction, but a very different need, in 2 Kings 5 God asked Naaman the Syrian through the prophet Elisha to wash in the Jordan river 7 times for his healing.  Naaman became offended at God’s plan.  He didn’t want to wash in an Israeli river.  He thought that the Syrian rivers should be good enough for him.  But that wasn’t what God said, and he wouldn’t have been healed if he had washed in a Syrian river.

God already has a strategy for global revival at which a large proportion of the body of Christ are offended because it involves the nation of Israel, and politics has clouded a lot of vision on the subject.  Like Naaman, they do not accept Israel’s strategic place in God’s purposes, even though His Word is absolutely clear.  Romans 11:11 states that a core purpose of the gospel coming to the gentiles was in order to provoke Israel to jealousy for their own Messiah.  A remarkable statement and an element of God’s global purpose that is completely ignored by large sections of the Body of Christ, and sidelined by others.

There are now endless ‘mission strategies’ available in Christian media.  There are new methods of outreach produced on seemingly a daily basis and yet God says He wants to bring ‘life from the dead’ for the whole world (or global revival) through the Israel’s acceptance of their own Messiah (Romans 11:15).  God’s response to the cry of His Church for global revival is Isaiah 62:

I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
They shall never hold their peace day or night.
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent,
And give Him no rest till He establishes
And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth. (Isaiah 62:6-7, NKJV)

God is calling out for watchmen who will embrace His purposes for the world, and agree with His agenda and His strategy.  He is looking for men and women who will lay down their lives in the place of prayer and allow Him to move through their lives in remarkable and supernatural ways.  He longs to find men and women who will embrace His heart for the nations, no matter how offensive it is to them personally.  He longs for those who will let His priorities become theirs, so much so that they become the burning cry of their hearts, day and night.

It is a mystery, and it looks like foolishness, but God has chosen to release healing to the world through an Israeli river!  God is going to set up His throne in Jerusalem and a river is going to flow out from His throne that will turn bitter waters into sweet.  Trees will grow on the banks of that river that will be for the ‘healing of the nations’ (Revelation 22:2).  Israel is not the only element in God’s plan for global revival, but it is a central element in His ultimate divine solution and the Church will witness a supernatural revival in its prayer life and a dramatic increase in fruitfulness when it embraces its role in intercession over Jerusalem and Israel.

As you read this, I pray that a fire might be kindled in your heart to let God draw you into an encounter with the Commander of the heaven’s armies, and that you might find divine strategies for your life and for nations as you walk in fellowship with Him.

 

 

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Life at the very centre of pain.

On 26 January of this year, director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List) gave a speech in Krakow, Poland, one day before the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  He spoke to a group of around 100 survivors of the holocaust, warning them of the continued dangers of what he referred to as the ‘perennial demons of intolerance’ (for a full transcript of the speech, click here).  Something he said at the time has stayed with me since.

If you’re a Holocaust survivor your identity as a Jew was threatened by the Third Reich… Antisemites, radical extremists and religious fanatics that provoke hate crime – these people…want to, all over again, strip you of your past, of your story and of your identity…

I had heard much about and studied the events of the holocaust.  I had seen films such as Schindler’s ListLa Vita e Bella, and The Pianist.  On my first visit to Israel, I had spent hours at Yad Vashem (the national Holocaust museum) overwhelmed by the magnitude of the suffering and pain which had been endured by the victims of the Nazis, and emotionally exhausted by the seemingly endless stream of personal testimonies that became ever-increasingly and tragically predictable in the destructive horror of their content.  But I had never considered the actions of Hitler’s demonic regime as an attack on Jewish identity.

But of course it was.  When the imports of this officially designated ‘sub-human’ race arrived at Auschwitz I (before systematic mass-murder was initiated at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, where four gas chambers and crematoria were constructed) they were stripped of everything which would have made them unique.  When the camp was liberated in January 1945, a room was discovered which housed pairs of shoes, floor to ceiling, which were taken from the prisoners.  Another housed sacks, piled floor to ceiling, of human hair shorn from the heads of man, woman and child alike.  Another housed suitcases.  When they arrived, all their possessions, clothes and even hair was taken and replaced by a number tattooed on the arm and a pair of striped cotton pyjamas which would be no match for the frequently sub-freezing working conditions at the camp.  Even dolls and other children’s toys were demanded from every child.  The hair was taken and used to make textiles, and many of their possessions were sold.  What was found was only a modicum of what was stolen; a token of a people reduced to saleable commodities.

Recently, I had the undesirable opportunity to visit the ‘death-factory’, Auschwitz, itself.  The prospect was hardly coveted.  I find the concept of ‘holocaust tourism’ disturbing on many levels, although I recognise the need to accurately record and remember the events of the holocaust that the lessons of history might at least be available to (and stand as a witness against) posterity.  But academic relationships took me to Krakow early this month and, having a day of free time, I felt that I needed to visit this place which bore witness to surely the most wicked acts of living memory.

As an archaeologist, I attempt to understand the nature of societies from the material remains that are left behind by their populations.  I spend a great deal of time, attempting to understand and identify people from their possessions.  So as I walked around the buildings at Auschwitz, and saw many of the accumulated possessions of those who were murdered there, it became startlingly vivid to me that this was an identity theft on an unprecedented scale – not for the purpose of possession but destruction.  The Nazi enterprise at Auschwitz was an attempt to permanently brand the Jewish people with death as their identity.  The Nazi ideology defined the very existence of the Jews as a ‘problem’ that had to be ‘solved’ by eradication.

Conversely, the identity and destiny of the Jewish people as defined by Biblical history and the words of God is full of beauty and vitality.

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself; a special treasure…  (Deuteronomy 7:6 NKJV)

You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God, (Isaiah 62:3 NKJV)

Israel in the Bible is eternally and irrevocably identified with God Himself.  They are given divine and royal associations.  It was through this people that the God of the Bible chose to reveal Himself to the world; an uncomfortable truth for many Christians that also carries through into the New Testament.  All of the New Testament writers (with the possible exception of Luke) were Jewish and Jesus Himself is Jewish.  This centrality of Israel will continue into eternity.  All of the names on the gates of the New Jerusalem (the 12 tribes), and all of the names on its 12 foundations stones (the 12 apostles) will be Jewish names (Revelation 21:12-14).  God’s future home in the book of Revelation is apparently a very Jewish city!  All of this is wrapped up in the mystery and permanency of God’s election.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29 NKJV)

It is one of the great mysteries of scripture that God has permanently given the Jewish people a divine and royal identity, regardless of their faithfulness to Him.

As I took the bus from the site of Auschwitz I to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau complex, I felt only a sense of deep desolation.  The tragedy, injustice and filthiness of the actions that had taken place seemed to be like a heavy cloud over my soul.  But when I arrived at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, I found something that shook my heart into one of the most profound experiences of hope that I have ever known.

Birkenau is the more famous of the the three compounds at Auschwitz dedicated to the fulfilment of the ‘final solution to the Jewish question’.  This second camp was constructed with optimum efficiency of extermination in mind.  The iconic train tracks stretched into the camp up to just a few yards from the gas chambers and crematoria.  The vast majority of those who came to Auschwitz II were dead within minutes of arrival.  As I arrived and saw the entry of these train tracks into the camp, I was deeply moved by just how sudden it would have been, and how unprepared the thousands of arrivals would have been for the closure of their lives.

I walked along the tracks until I reached where the gas chambers had been.  They are mostly ruined now, but what remained has been preserved.  The Nazis attempted to hide their activities with a hurried demolition of the structures after the war was lost.  As I approached the first of these structures, I heard a sound that I have come to know very well; it was the sound of Israeli Hebrew.  It was fluently and natively spoken by a young woman of about 17 or 18.  I noticed it as her voice began to falter and break into a quiver.  She was obviously trying to contain a great deal of emotion.  She was relating a story (I think!) of a family member who had died at Birkenau to a group of around 20 or 30 young Israelis, all wearing white and blue hoodies.  As she began to sob, many of the other girls from the group gathered around her in an embrace.

As I looked back across the site, and continued walking, I noticed that there were several of these groups.  There must have been around 200 Israeli young people visiting the site at the same time as me, learning together and comforting one another.  What was amazing to me was that in the midst of this place of such deep horror and grief, these young people were there and were filled with exuberant joy.  Some of them were running and laughing along the train tracks as they were heading towards the exit!  I couldn’t help imagining what rage Hitler would have felt if he could have seen this – how much he failed to destroy the identity of the Jewish people.  Instead, the presence of this new generation of native-born Israelis seemed to prove their resilience.

Those young people were a potent illustration to me of the unquenchable spirit and life that is the identity of Israel.  I was reminded of these verses from Isaiah, promises God gave relating to the time when Israel would become a nation in its own land again (that’s right now!).

So the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness;
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 51:11 NKJV)

For you will forget the shame of your youth,
And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore. (Isaiah 54:4b NKJV)

The words spoken by the prophets of the Old Testament about Israel’s future in the land of Israel seem to be coming to pass.  The bold, vibrant and vital identity of the Jewish people is being reawakened.  As I write, I am filled with a fresh desire to pray, that Israel might come into the full inheritance that she has in God; that she might receive her own Messiah, Jesus, and that her glorious identity might be realized.  As the apostle Paul wrote,

For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15 NKJV)

I am amazed at the faithfulness of God, that in the places of the greatest pain He is still able to come and show His life.  Like, Ezekiel prophesied, He has caused His people to come up out of their graves (Ez. 37).  He has given them breath and sinew and flesh.  He has revived them as He repeatedly promised, and brought them back to their own land.  As I walked around Birkenau, I kept hearing the famous Hebrew phrase, ‘Am Yisrael Chai!‘  ‘The people of Israel live!’  The identity of Israel is too powerful to be destroyed or permanently tainted.  It has its roots planted in the identity of God Himself, who makes everything beautiful in its time.

My thanks go to L-J B, who unknowingly helped condense some of these thoughts into something I could express on paper.

The Believer’s Inheritance.

I am writing from my parents’ home as sun sets at the beginning of Yom Kippur.  Jews around the world are beginning to fast for the holiest day of the year, remembering the days of the temple and the tabernacle, when God could be accessed; for repentance and for cleansing.  Many pray prayers of confession and repentance, asking that their names might be written in the book of life.

Yom Kippur, translated in most English Bibles as ‘Day of Atonement’, was the one day in the Jewish Calendar when Israel’s Levitical High Priest would be allowed to enter the most sacred area of the Jewish national shrine; the Ḳodesh ha-Ḳodashim or ‘Holy of Holies in its literal translation.  This was the place where it was believed the presence of God permanently resided.  The priest would offer a goat (a scapegoat) as a blood sacrifice for the sins of the people for the whole preceding year, and the blood would be presented by the light of seven lamps inside the Kodesh ha-Kodashim  before the golden winged-creatures on the Ark of the Covenant itself.   No other opportunity for cleansing for sin would be available until the following year and the repetition of the same bloody ceremony.

The mystery of this strange event echoed down the centuries long past the time of the destruction of the first and second temples, and today even some secular Jews treat the day with an awed sense of foreboding.  For the Christian, whose religion has been inherited from the traditions of their Jewish forefathers, the day seems stranger still.  A deeply weakened concept of the costliness of sin pervading Western Christian culture makes blood sacrifice offensive; even disgusting.  Yet the book of Hebrews makes it clear that sin is so costly that even such a blood offering cannot deal with it effectively.

But in those sacrifices there is a REMINDER of sins EVERY YEAR.  For it is NOT POSSIBLE that the blood of bulls and goats could TAKE AWAY sins. (Hebrews 10:3-4 NKJV, emphasis added)

What is most fascinating about Yom Kippur is that despite all the ceremony, it never actually dealt with the problem.  It was an illustration; a reminder of the costliness of sin and ‘a shadow of the good things to come’ (Hebrews 10:1).  Something greater was needed.

Without an understanding of Yom Kippur, the scripture in Matthew following the crucifixion of Jesus that describes the veil of the temple being torn in two ‘from top to bottom’ (Matthew 27:51) remains cryptic.  The death of the goat and the sprinkling of its blood on Yom Kippur foreshadowed the real event of significance which was the death of Messiah and the shedding of His blood.  Even the Levitical High Priest, in a bizarre prophetic utterance just months before Jesus’ crucifixion, had acknowledged the necessity that a man should die for the sins of the people (John 11:50-51).

The tearing of the veil of the second temple, made of four-inch-thick linen sixty-feet high, represented the fulfilment of Yom Kippur and the closure of the annual system by which the High Priest would enter the Kodesh ha-Kodashim.  The torn veil was a perfect physical representation of a cataclysmic spiritual event.  The sacrifice of Jesus finally and absolutely tore up the rule book of Yom Kippur because sin was permanently broken.

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering REPEATEDLY the same sacrifices, which can NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS. But this Man, after He had offered ONE sacrifice for sins FOREVER, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For BY ONE OFFERING He has PERFECTED FOREVER those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14 NKJV, emphasis added)

For He made Him who knew no sin to BE SIN for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV, emphasis added)

The annual system of entry to God’s presence was permanently brought to an end.  The writer of Hebrews calls it ‘obsolete’ (8:14).  The believer is given liberal permission to boldly enter God’s presence to receive grace and mercy any time through the veil of Jesus’ flesh.

Therefore, brethren, having BOLDNESS TO ENTER the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through THE VEIL, THAT IS, HIS FLESH, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

Yom Kippur remains a powerful reminder of the cost of calvary, and the requirement of every believer to live a life of consecration and repentance as a priest of the Most High God.  Since forgiveness and cleansing has been made so freely available, we are without excuse.  To run from God in shame and condemnation blasphemes the cross and underestimates the saving power of the blood of Jesus.

  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… (Romans 8:1 NKJV)

One of my favourite sections of any of the gospels is John 15.  To me the truth of remaining in Jesus is the central truth of my daily faith.  It is the truth that I never have to leave His presence, even in my weakness.  The inheritance of the believer which was won at the cross is the privilege of unbroken fellowship with God.  The Words of the Father and the secrets of His heart belong to me because Jesus calls me His friend.  That is a life-changing reality.  The believer’s inheritance is not just the ability to enter the presence of God, but it is the invitation to live in the very heart of God continually.  I would invite you this Yom Kippur to read through John 15 slowly and ask the Holy Spirit to personally reveal this reality which Jesus died to bring into being.  Consider fasting to pursue the precious prize of intimacy with Him, and as a reminder of its great cost.

The Church’s schism of the heart.

My present view which only grows stronger is that the Church today is in possession of a schism of the heart.  Were it only a brokenness of heart, as we cry out to our Father in Sunday services and offer to Him in devotional times, then there might evidently be a grace which would flow though our brokenness with the Divine presence.  But as it stands it is a schism which has been labelled as a ‘holy’ and ‘contrite’ brokenness.

What am I talking about?  It presents itself in lives which are confounded: broken homes, broken marriages, broken bank accounts, broken bodies and (most tragic of all) broken churches.  Were it a brokenness of heart of which the Psalmist spoke, which is a yieldedness of being to Divine will, then what Paul spoke of himself would also be true of us today.

For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV)

The truth is that most of the weakness and brokenness that the Church is enduring today is weak and only weak; broken and only broken.  The Divine presence is not active in divorce, bankruptcy or cancer any more than it is in hell itself.  We cry, ‘All things work together for good!’ and tuck ourselves into our cosy religious beds without any requirement for an earnest searching of our hearts for necessary change.

I would like to suggest to you that the cause of all the brokenness in the Church today goes to a schism at our roots.  This issue has been touched upon by much of the teaching about our identity as sons and daughters of God in Christ.  The miracle of salvation is supposed to uproot us and replant us.

[The Father] has DELIVERED and drawn us to Himself out of the control and the dominion of darkness and has TRANSFERRED us into the KINGDOM of the Son of His love,  (Colossians 1:13 AMP, emphasis added)

The essence of our redemption is found in an understanding of the kingdom into which we have been translated.  In this kingdom, we have rights and privileges that include freedom from all of those dynamics of brokenness that were described above.  It includes sonship.  We are no longer orphans in this new kingdom.  But we have neglected a full understanding of this kingdom, which was defined throughout the Old Testament in God’s first covenant people, Israel.

Paul again describes the process of salvation in Romans.

…you were CUT OUT of the olive tree which is WILD by nature, and were GRAFTED contrary to nature into a CULTIVATED olive tree…  (Romans 11:24 NKJV, emphasis added)

God spent over 1,500 years cultivating Israel, the olive tree referred to here, in His ways and His character.  He gave them the privilege of His presence, the privilege of sonship, the privileges of health and provision; all included under the blessing of a covenant of union with Himself.  A summary of the blessing God gave to Israel is found in Deuteronomy 28.  These privileges, in spite of Israel’s frequent rebellion, were guaranteed in the blood of Jesus to all who will accept Him (Galatians 3:13-14).

Yet most Christians, if they do not reject outright their covenant association with Israel in Jesus, are at least made very uncomfortable by it and try to minimise the significance of this association.  Truth be told, this is philosophical insanity.  You have been implanted into a new identity in which are held all your life and benefits, you even accept and affirm that your life is found in this new identity, and yet you reject this core identity!?

Every Christian, whether they like it or not has, in Jesus, become part of the ‘commonwealth of Israel’ (Ephesians 2).  This can be defined as the wealth held common as a gift from God to the nation of Israel.  I don’t for one minute suggest that gentile believers should pretend to be Jewish, but we need to embrace a unity of spiritual destiny and inheritance which we now possess with the nation of Israel.  Paul adjures all believers specifically in the book of Ephesians to remember this truth.

Therefore REMEMBER that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being ALIENS from the COMMONWEALTH OF ISRAEL and strangers from the COVENANTS OF PROMISE, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been BROUGHT NEAR by the blood of Christ.  (Ephesians 2:11-13 NKJV, emphasis added)

In Jesus we have a new home, a new nation, a new family and a new inheritance.  This truth has often been expressed in preaching and teaching, but rarely has the further step been made to specify that this new home, nation, family and inheritance is Israel.

Whatever be the cause of our reluctance to embrace our association with ancient Israel, God’s plan is moving ahead and they are once more in the land to which God promised through His prophets that they would return.  We are nearing the time when, as Paul said, the natural branches will be ‘grafted into their own olive tree’ (Romans 11).  They will look on Him Whom they pierced and mourn for Him, as it says in the prophet, Hosea.  It will be ‘life from  the dead’ and ‘riches for the world’ as it says in Romans 11.

I can’t help but think that much of the Church’s reluctance to accept her identity is simply to do with latent generational antisemitism.  Surely the popularity of ‘Israel-bashing’ in the modern media also has much to do with it.  But we have to overcome this problem in prayer if we mean to enter into our identity as God’s bride in the fullest expression, as it says in Ephesians 5, ‘not having spot or wrinkle’.  I am convinced that our ‘schism of the heart’; our corporate ‘identity crisis’; will be used as a channel for hell’s legions until the breach is healed.

But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were [so] far away, through (by, in) the blood of Christ have been brought near. For He is [Himself] our peace (our bond of unity and harmony). He has MADE US BOTH [Jew and Gentile] ONE [body], and has BROKEN DOWN (destroyed, abolished) the hostile dividing wall between us, by ABOLISHING in His [own crucified] flesh the ENMITY [caused by] the Law with its decrees and ordinances [which He annulled]; that He FROM THE TWO MIGHT CREATE ONE NEW MAN [one new quality of humanity out of the two], so making peace.  (Ephesians 2:13-15 AMP, emphasis added)

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. (Mark 3:24-25 NKJV)

It’s time to get our house in order and get our kingdom in order, or we will not be able to stand.  I would invite you to read the following extract from the Victorian novel Daniel Deronda, in which Deronda (a Jew who is unaware of his identity as a Jew) interacts with Mordechai who is inviting him to share in the plight and destiny of the Jewish people.  The Church must find herself in these words and others like them.  It is not enough that we feel compassion for the Jews, or even help the Jews; we must find our identity in union with the Jewish people and the Jewish Man, Jesus, Who has purchased our souls.

“I feel with you—I feel strongly with you,” said Deronda…”That is not enough,” said Mordecai, quickly, looking up again with the flash of recovered memory and confidence. “That is not all my trust in you. You must be not only a hand to me, but a soul—believing my belief—being moved by my reasons—hoping my hope-seeing the vision I point to—beholding a glory where I behold it!”—Mordecai had taken a step nearer as he spoke, and now laid his hand on Deronda’s arm with a tight grasp; his face little more than a foot off had something like a pale flame in it—an intensity of reliance that acted as a peremptory claim, while he went on—”You will be my life: it will be planted afresh; it will grow. You shall take the inheritance; it has been gathering for ages. The generations are crowding on my narrow life as a bridge: what has been and what is to be are meeting there; and the bridge is breaking. But I have found you. You have come in time, You will take the inheritance which the base son refuses because of the tombs which the plow and harrow may not pass over or the gold-seeker disturb: you will take the sacred inheritance of the Jew.”  (George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, Chapter 40)

Practicing His presence. Preparing the heart.

Major shifts come in life.  Moving from one place to another can often seem like a whole re-engagement with the world, and ultimately messes with all our self-certainty.  Such shifts are a welcome release for our spirits which are most of the time too clogged down by the power of habit.  Our habits actually need to be crushed once in a while to prove to ourselves that our minds are incapable of coping with the challenges of life.

I’m going home and a homecoming is always a celebration.  The prodigal runs into the Father’s arms and a radical shift takes place in his identity.  Radical because he is ‘re-rooted’.  Without homecomings, we lose track of where we are and are eventually without purpose and without roots.  Just going along the way we’ve started because we’ve started and so we have to finish.  Sometimes you don’t have to finish.  Sometimes you just have to drop it.

As I’m waiting for confirmation of some things before I begin to move forward in the next steps of my career, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which my heart is invested in circumstances.  Too often our identity is affirmed by what we do and our routines.  A crisis is triggered when the routine is interrupted.  The severity of the crisis will be determined by the measure of this investment.  Stability is not routine.  Routine leaves a person gutless, with no power of decision.  I pray that I would be continually saved from routine by a living present.

Serenity is the possession of the spirit that is not invested in or identified by circumstance.

King David and his son, Solomon, had an understanding that man’s purpose and identity are not defined by any circumstance of life, but are much more profound.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted ETERNITY in men’s hearts and minds [a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy]…  (Ecclesiastes 3:11 AMP, emphasis added)

Whether he knows it or not, every man is caught in the tension between the eternity of his creation and the immediacy of his daily life.  A sense of limbo in times of waiting or uncertainty can actually be healthy when it reminds us that we have a home and a stability outside of present circumstances, whenever we choose to embrace it.

David described it this way,

For we are ALIENS and PILGRIMS before You,
As were all our fathers;
Our days on earth are as a shadow,
And without hope.  (1 Chronicles 29:15 NKJV, emphasis added)

The sense of loss and instability in a time of waiting, or what many Christians would refer to as a ‘wilderness period’, is actually man stepping into his true identity which is far more enduring than a circumstance of life.  Man should feel like a stranger in the earth; his home is not on earth but in the heart of God where he was formed.  A soul estranged from the heart of God is inevitably in a perpetual identity crisis until it returns.  The despised times of waiting, or better continuing, are the real substance of life where character is formed.

The Westminster Catechism states that,

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

When we find our identity in God, we suffer tension, but find the glory of our creation.  A spirit that has this root is stable and has no hope in the circumstance of life, but in a living hope which far exceeds and extends beyond the earth.  According to the book of Hebrews, Abraham found this hope along with Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and many of the other figures of Jewish history.  They didn’t see their hope on earth, but were unshaken, because their identity was in God and their perspective was eternal.

 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were STRANGERS and PILGRIMS on the earth.  For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a HOMELAND.  And truly if they had called to mind that country FROM WHICH THEY HAD COME OUT, they would have had opportunity to RETURN.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.  (Hebrews 11:13-16 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus has prepared a place for you.  Live in God.  Practice His presence.  Be identified by heaven.  Be always at home.

 

This blog entry is dedicated to Tim Shey, the High Plains Drifter whose pilgrimage on the roads of America reminded me that I am a stranger on the earth.

Longing to be reconciled

Recently, I have been struck by the inadequacy of many friendships. It’s not that I have encountered great bitterness, or hatred, just a superficiality masking a deep and crippling reality of isolation and rejection.

I have lived in London for the past seven years; one of the largest and most densely populated centres on the planet. But I have encountered far more who struggle with loneliness here than in the small provincial town where I grew up.

What’s the root here?

I think its mostly that we keep trying to get past the person in front of us. We’re so ‘connected’ that we’re actually disconnected from the moment. We can’t see what is here right now because we’re constantly trying to get what is a little bit further ahead.  We’re all together in the same place, but we’re not really together.

At the close of the film, Boyhood, the central character, having just arrived at college and taken an impromptu visit to a nearby desert area, sits on a small hill with another college student. She turns to him and says,

You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the opposite. You know, like, the moment seizes us.

I was struck by this as being surprisingly profound. In the modern world we act like we own time and we are the ones holding our universe together.

The past few days, I have had Ephesians 1:10 bouncing round my brain.

…that in the dispensation of the FULLNESS of the times He might GATHER TOGETHER IN ONE ALL THINGS in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. (NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus actually owns time, and he is using it to work out His purpose.  The psalmist said, my times are in Your hands; the prophet Daniel said God changes the times and the seasons.  In Greek, the word ‘fullness’, above, speaks of a maturity. Jesus is maturing time like a fine wine until all His purposes come to completion. Yet we treat time like something we can seal up in bottles and keep in the cupboard.

One of Jesus’ main purposes revealed in Ephesians 1:10 is to gather everything together to Himself. His heart longs for everything in this world that has become separated from Him to return to Him. No wonder so many feel separated and lonely. We refuse to yield to His order, which would actually include gathering us together, and we try to institute our own order in our lives.  To help myself grasp this, I put a note on my wall with the words,

I don’t seize time.  Time is God’s.  I let God seize me in time.

Why don’t you take 90 seconds right now, and consider what it would mean for you to let God seize you in every moment.

Colossians 1:17 says:

And He Himself existed before all things, and IN HIM all things consist (cohere, are HELD TOGETHER). (AMPLIFIED, emphasis added)

I’ve heard many Christians talk and pray about healing division in the Church, and the need for healing between the Church and the Jewish people.  I’m convinced it starts with surrender.  Many times, we don’t have rewarding relationships with those around us because we have neglected right relationship with our Creator.  If we genuinely surrender to God’s long-term purposes in our daily moments by loving the one in front of us and ‘practicing God’s presence’ in constant prayer, I’m convinced that we will begin to see the healing we are looking for; healing in our relationships with those around us, healing in the Church, and healing for the Jewish people.  It’s only in abiding in Christ, by the power of the Cross, that His purposes will be fulfilled in and through us.

For He is [Himself] our peace (our bond of unity and harmony). He has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one [body], and has broken down (destroyed, abolished) the hostile dividing wall between us, by abolishing in His [own crucified] flesh the enmity… (Ephesians 2:14-15, AMPLIFIED)