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.

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Whose peace is it anyway?

Recently, Pope Francis made a comment to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that created a global furore.  Apparently, the Pope had said that Mahmoud Abbas was or could become an ‘Angel of Peace’ to Israel.  The comment was followed by prolonged debates over Italian translation and a general outrage that culminated eventually in a personal correction by the Pope himself.

So what was all the fuss about?

To an Israeli, the idea that anyone would call Mahmoud Abbas an ‘Angel of Peace’, whose history of praising known terrorists responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israeli civilians as well as numerous cases of incitement such as the notorious call for ‘Days of Rage’ in 2014, is understandably offensive.  Not least in respect of failed attempts in the past year by the Palestinian Authority to form a lasting unity agreement with the terrorist group, Hamas, and whose very insignia depicts a map with Israel transformed entirely into an all green Palestine.

To me, though, the Pope’s comments highlighted a much deeper misunderstanding in the so-called ‘Peace Process’.  I have no doubt that Pope Francis is sincere when he states that his words had only been intended to encourage Abbas to pursue peace, but what I really wondered is to what kind of peace was the pontiff alluding when he said it.

Recently, I have been gripped by a passage in Isaiah 32,

Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
The WORK of RIGHTEOUSNESS will be peace,
And the EFFECT of RIGHTEOUSNESS, quietness and assurance forever. (Isaiah 32:16-17 NKJV, emphasis added)

Global leaders have been hammering away at the ‘Peace Process’ for decades now, and it has proved much more static than its name suggests.  The approach of these leaders has not progressed far beyond that of a frustrated parent who tells their two toddlers to kiss, make up and share their toys; it’s been patronising and has betrayed woeful ignorance of the region.  The problem is that the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority are not toddlers and neither are the people they govern, and the history of violence and hatred between Jews and Arabs in this little portion of middle eastern land runs back deep into history.  Leaders in the UN, in the USA and in the EU and now the Pope act like peace is something both sides can just wake up one day and decide to do, and they completely miss the key issue; righteousness.  Peace is the effect of righteousness.

Recent negotiations and agreements have often demanded concessions, but they have never demanded righteousness.  In 2014, hundreds of known and convicted Palestinian terrorists were released from Israeli prisons just to keep Mahmoud Abbas at the negotiating table.  In 2005, thousands of Jews were removed from their homes in the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza; an act which was the first time in history that any nation had voluntarily relinquished land to a group that had not yet accepted peace.  In the midst of all of these negotiations, there has also always been the ‘elephant in the room’ of the ultimate lack of commitment by the PA to the ‘Two State Solution’.  Their global branding is, as mentioned above, a green map of Israel.  They still refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.  Their ultimate end is what it has always been; the elimination of Israel.  Negotiations, with a seemingly endless supply of international pressure for Israel to make concessions, are a mere means to that end.

The Middle East needs peace, but it needs righteousness first,

But seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His RIGHTEOUSNESS…  (Matthew 6:33 NKJV, emphasis added)

There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”  (Isaiah 48:22 NKJV)

World leaders are seeking a peace that comes from human decision, but God says genuine peace is an effect of spiritual transformation.  They are all too keen on developing ‘peace plans’ and ‘peace proposals’, but they have no plans or proposals to institute righteousness.  The reality is that they could never develop such plans as long as they don’t seek God.  Peace and righteousness actually both belong to one Man, and can’t be instituted by anyone else.

Peace I leave with you, MY PEACE I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  (John 14:27 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus describes two kinds of peace; peace that He gives and peace that the world gives, and He says the two are in total opposition to one another.  The world is offering and even trying to enforce a peace in the middle east, and Jesus is also offering His peace plan.   The two plans for peace in the middle east are in a deep and fundamental conflict with one another.

Some Christians would probably say that I’m being very negative – and that what I’m saying means we should just give up on peace in the middle east altogether.  That’s NOT what I’m saying.  I’m saying that peace comes only in the revelation of a Man, Jesus, Who IS our righteousness and peace.

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

For He Himself IS OUR PEACE, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity… (Ephesians 2:14-15 NKJV, emphasis added)

The problem to me with the Pope’s statement to Abbas is not really so much to do with Abbas’ track record with Israel, but more that it suggested that any man other than Jesus could institute peace between Israel and those who, quite frankly, would rather that Israel didn’t exist.  I’m realizing more and more that when we are praying for peace in Israel and the middle east, we are praying for the revelation of Jesus above and beyond anything else.

Isaiah 32 begins by describing His peace plan,

Behold, a KING will reign in RIGHTEOUSNESS,
And princes will rule with justice.
A MAN will be as a hiding place from the wind,
And a cover from the tempest,
As rivers of water in a dry place,
As the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. (Isaiah 32:1-2 NKJV, emphasis added)

Peace will come with the increase of Jesus’ government in the middle east.  It will only come with prayer, and with the expectation of the Kingdom of God coming in power.  Peace of the heart, peace between brothers and peace to nations only comes with His righteous government.

 

Thoughts on the storm or, ‘How to not pray like a pauper’.

I love the feeling in the air just before a storm.  I love the tense, sweaty heat and the thickness in the atmosphere that makes it that little bit more difficult to breathe.  It feels like, in that heavy moisture, there is actual pent up energy that is about to be released in a display of power.  Of course, it’s just water, but it feels like power, and I love the sense of expectation it creates.  If you’ve got an umbrella, you’re carrying it; you’re wearing a jacket that’s waterproof on at least some level.  You know that something is about to happen, so you get ready.

In the Bible, thunderstorms are associated many times with God’s power.  In Job 36, Elihu, the only one of Job’s friends whom God does not rebuke, says,

He covers His hands with lightning,
And commands it to strike.
His thunder declares it,
The cattle also, concerning the rising storm. (Job 36:32-33 NKJV)

And a few verses later in chapter 37,

HEAR attentively the thunder of His voice,
And the rumbling that comes from His MOUTH.
He sends it forth under the whole heaven,
His lightning to the ends of the earth. (Job 37:2-3 NKJV, emphasis added)

There is revelation of God in storms.  In fact, in the Book of the Revelation it says that lightnings, thunderings and voices proceed from God’s throne.  The feeling just before a storm of energy in the atmosphere that’s just about to be released gets me excited about God’s presence.  That heaviness and closeness and thickness reminds me of the Holy Spirit hovering or brooding over the ‘surface of the deep’ in Genesis 1, right before God spoke into chaos and confusion and commanded it to be eradicated by His light.  God IS light.  He doesn’t have light; He IS light.  He is pure energy and power.  That’s why John described lightnings and thunderings coming from the throne; it was the closest thing he knew to the sheer power he was witnessing.  The difference between God and atmospheric pressure is that God is ALWAYS full of pent up energy and power that is just waiting to be released.

And He wants to release it; ALL the time.

Sometimes, I think we get the idea that God is withholding His power and presence from us, as if He wants to see us beg and plead and fast for 40 days so that He knows we’re really serious.  What kind of Father is that!?

If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how MUCH MORE will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ASK Him!” (Luke 11:11-13 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus says that if the Father withheld the Holy Spirit from us, He would be an evil Father.  We have a GOOD Father Who longs to be with us and give us His presence in the person and power of the Holy Spirit.

I think too often we come back to the Prince Who has taken our pauper’s rags, and we try to give Him back the Royal Garments He has clothed us with.  I have noticed this particularly when praying for Israel.  Our faith in God’s desire to release His power over the Jewish people is often so low, that we resort to begging like paupers instead of ruling like princes.

But you are a chosen generation, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may PROCLAIM the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9 NKJV, emphasis added)

For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the ROBE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, (Isaiah 61:10 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus has clothed us in His Royal Robe of Righteousness.  We are supposed to make Royal proclamations based on God’s Word.  How much more in regard to Israel, for whom God has guaranteed so much in His Word.

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”(Romans 11:26, NKJV)

I think we need to move past the place in prayer where we are begging God to release salvation in the earth and recognize that the ‘storm’s brewing,’ the Spirit is brooding, and God is just waiting eagerly as a loving Father to release His presence and power when we ask as His children and proclaim as His princes (and princesses…).

The other thing I like about the feeling before a storm, is that it tells us we need to get ready.  I am certain that, in every moment, God is ready to release His power in an unprecedented way.  The question really is whether we are ready to receive it.

Who cares about Jerusalem?

Jerusalem is mentioned over 800 times in the Bible; more than any other city.  Babylon, the second most mentioned city, has only 286 scriptural occurrences.  If references to the ‘city of David’ and ‘Zion’ are included, Jerusalem is mentioned over 1000 times.  The word occurs more times in the KJV than the words ‘sin’, ‘grace’ or ‘faith’.  Evidently, if we are interested in the Bible, we must be interested in Jerusalem.  Likewise, if God wrote the Bible then He must be interested in Jerusalem too.  In fact, if we search the scriptures we find that God is more passionate about Jerusalem than any other city.  In Isaiah 62:1, He says,

For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. (NKJV)

In Zechariah 8:2, He says,

‘I am zealous for Zion with great zeal;
With great fervor I am zealous for her.’ (NKJV)

In Luke 19:41 we see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.  It is the place where He died, where He was raised from death, where He ascended, where He poured out the Holy Spirit, and to which He said that He would return and live with mankind forever.  If God is so passionate about Jerusalem, and we want to draw near to His heart, we ought to be asking Him why He cares so much about this city, and if He would help us to care about it too.

It is clear from the Bible that God has a plan for the city of Jerusalem and that He wants us to play a part in seeing His plan fulfilled.  The modern state of Israel has had its share of conflicts in its short and troubled history, and Jerusalem has seen more conflict than maybe any other city.  Our first focus is to pray for peace.  But peace means more than just an end of conflict.  The ultimate peace that Jerusalem and Israel needs is the peace that was declared to the shepherds by the host of angels in Luke 2:14 that was from God towards men.  As in Isaiah 62, we pray for righteousness and salvation in Israel and Jerusalem.

Here are some brief points for prayer:

  1. Pray for peace and protection. (Psalm 122:6; Psalm 83:1-5,18; Psalm 121:4; Zecheriah 2:5)
  2. Pray for restoration and healing. (Jeremiah 30:17-18; Isaiah 61:4; Amos 9:11; Isaiah 51:3)
  3. Pray for reconciliation and forgiveness.  (Romans 11:18; Ephesians 2:15; 1 Peter 4:8)
  4. Pray for wise leaders and just government.  (Proverbs 21:1; James 3:17; Proverbs 14:34; Mark 3:24; Isaiah 9:6-7)
  5. Pray for believers and salvation. (Isaiah 44:3-5; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 2:28; Ephesians 3:16-19; Romans 11:25-27)

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)

Isaiah 43:19

Dear friend,

The scripture above has for a long time been significant for me, not so much as a divine direction or instruction, but really just in that it has always felt familiar.  I can’t remember the first time I heard the words,

I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

But, when the ‘way’ first opened for me to work with a university in southern Israel which is located well within the desert of which this scripture speaks, I began to take notice.

For someone who may have stumbled across this page in the endless availability that is the internet, I am a Christian.  I was brought up in a home that valued the truth that everything I have as a Christian, and the very constitutional foundation of my nation as a UK citizen, has passed to me through one unique and remarkable people; Israel.  My whole ethical code and system of values began to be birthed when the Creator spoke to one man living in southern Iraq and told him to go to the desert.  When Abraham became God’s friend, did he know that God would use him and his family to show who He was to the whole world?  I believe God still wants to do that.

In the verses that follow Isaiah 43:19, God repeats His statement but adds something special:

…for I give water in the wilderness,
    rivers in the desert,
to GIVE DRINK to MY CHOSEN PEOPLE,
21     the people whom I FORMED FOR MYSELF
that they might declare my praise. (Isaiah 43:20-21, emphasis added)

When God asked Abraham to be His friend, and to come with Him to the desert, He created a nation.  He separated Abraham and his family to Himself by showing them Who He was.  This family that became the nation of Israel experienced an intimacy with God that no other family had access to.  In the prophet Jeremiah, it actually says that God ‘married’ Israel around the time that He gave Moses the ten commandments.  He became united with this nation in a way He never has with any other; and it all started with friendship.  Ultimately, God sealed His commitment to this nation by becoming personally part of it in Jesus.  Do you know that Jesus has a nationality?  Some Christians think that when Jesus came, it meant that God had finished with Israel as a nation; their purpose was accomplished and now He could move on to everybody else.  I think exactly the opposite.  When God became part of Abraham’s family personally, He committed to them in an astounding and unprecedented way.  It is a miracle and a mystery that through the cross and through personal identification with Jesus I can become part of that family too as an adopted child, but I am certain that God’s plan is still to ‘give drink’ to His natural family in Jesus.

So in this space you will probably hear some news updates, maybe even some archaeology for the geek followers.  I will probably talk about God a lot and share some of the things He has shown me about Israel.  For now, thanks for getting this far – hope to see you again some time soon.