Sharing the yoke part 1.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Matthew 11:28‭-‬30 NLT

There is a story of some Moravian missionaries who went to the Caribbean, sold themselves into slavery, just so that they could preach the gospel.

What was their method? Signs and wonders? Hiring a stadium and preaching to thousands?

No. As slaves they were yoked to fellow slaves like cattle, and as they pulled the plough together, the Moravians would share their faith and disciple the one next to them.

Hardcore isn’t it?!

In the passage above Jesus teaches us 1) to come to Him 2) to take on His yoke and 3) learn from Him.

You may recall in a previous blog I talked about ‘invitation and challenge.’ Here Jesus is addressing the disciples with an invitation.

Come to me… And find rest.

Jesus’s rest is found in relationship. And his invitation to ‘come to me’ is an invitation to relationship. “Be a part of my life. Live with me, watch me, listen to me.”

The only thing required of us to access this rest is faith… “The work that God requires is this: believe in the One he has sent.” (John 6:29). When we take Jesus at His Word and have an assurance that what he said will happen … We find rest. Rest is a release from striving. It’s a release from anxiety, worry, and tension. And it’s only found in relationship with Jesus.

At the time Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, the Pharisees had people bound by the traditions of man. They were groaning under the religious burdens of the law and tradition.

I like what it says in the Message translation of the passage … “Are you tired? Worn out? Are you burnt out on religion? Come to me…”

Jesus’ invitation is not about religion or tradition or law demands but an invitation to relationship. And it’s in Him, the righteous demands of the law are satisfied, so that our focus can simply be Him… not sin issues or law issues but Him. The Author and Perfector of our faith.

When we learn to live where the sole (or soul) focus of our being is Jesus by coming to Him, we learn to live freely – at rest with God and ourselves – no longer sin or law obsessed – but relationally contented in Jesus.

Part 2 coming soon …

Blessings

Oliver

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Water is Life

‘Whoever has the water, has life’ – Simon Reeve

The above is a quote from Simon Reeve’s travel series ‘Australia.’ Travelling through the outback, stopping off at some vineyards, he recognised the necessity of water to live, to make wine, to tend to the harvest of grapes… Whilst the grapes thrive in warmth, they also need the all essential water to truly thrive. When the water is not readily available, farming the vineyard becomes a difficult task. Those who can harness the water well, and use it well, can bring life to their Vineyards.

We can kind of relate a bit more to the experience of the Australian Vineyard owners. Having gone through 2-3 months of hot weather, with very little rain, we have felt the pinch of drought in the UK. It’s relative of course, and is in no way similar to the experiences of hot/dry/arid countries.

(Having visited Israel and experienced the intense dry heat you realise why water and rain were talked about so much in the Bible.)

Jesus, addressing the crowds at the Festival of Tabernacles, stood up and announced that whoever believed in Him would have streams of living water coming from within them.

Living water. Water contains oxygen, zinc, calcium, magnesium… All essential minerals for the survival of life. But Jesus wasn’t referring to good old British tap water. He was referring to the essence of life itself: the Holy Spirit.

On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says…”
(John 7:37‭-‬39 MSG)

Those who believe in Jesus would contain wells of the life-giving Holy Spirit. This well is for the life of those who contain it but also for those whom they come into contact.

If you are in Jesus today, you contain life-giving springs that are for the blessing of the nations. You contain the very essence of life itself… The Holy Spirit.

Where are the vineyards you are tending to at this present time? Are you channelling the water well?

Life without the Spirit is dry, arid, barren and fruitless.

He/she who has the water (of the Spirit) has life…

God bless you

Oliver

God’s Delight

‘Our true intent is all for your delight.’ – Butlins mission statement

Here is an interesting thought…

At Butlins it is their chief aim to bring delight to those who stay with them. This means all you can eat breakfast and dinner, swimming pools, fairgrounds, activities for the kids, evening shows for the adults, disco’s, red coats at your beck and call, TVs in your apartment, a free tea bag and sachet of coffee, parks, slides, amenities galore… The list goes on. Much of this ‘delight’ revolves around our entertainment. It’s a show to keep me occupied for hours (and the kids) in order that I might relax.

The only trouble is the kids mess around at dinnertime (they are over stimulated), we (the parents) are run ragged by the end of the day, we eat too much, dash from one thing to another, hoping to find some enjoyment in the business of non-stop entertainment.

As I write this, our baby Benjamin, is fast asleep. Jo and the older two kids are swimming, and I have found time to breathe, do a sketch of a boat – I photographed yesterday by the harbour – and relax.

I have to find humour in all the frantic holiday fever (and I do love Butlins by the way!) But at the heart of Butlins’ desire is hospitality to their guests.

In the ancient middle eastern world taking delight in someone’s company looked like this… Abraham welcomes 3 guests. Makes pitta bread, cooks the best lamb, serves coffee and they sit together under a tree in the heat of the day to be attentive to the others needs, whilst conversing about the state of Gommorah.

Hospitality is truly based on relationship. Attentiveness to the needs of others. Living to bring delight to someone else is not about entertainment but about attentiveness and taking time to enjoy conversation and the presence of the one in front of you.

So much of our theology is based on a divine entertainment package. All inclusive. I run around trying to entertain God or I expect God to run around entertaining me.

But at the heart of Christian theology is God coming to earth in human form to have a relationship with His creation. This means an attentiveness on my behalf to bring delight to God but also it’s recognising God has already took delight in me.

‘Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.’ – Psalm 37:4.

‘He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me.’ – Psalm 18:19

God delights in you! Not only that, He delights in you and provides you with your hearts desire and safety.

My response?! Take delight in the Lord… Be attentive to His voice. Serve Him wholeheartedly. Make him welcome in ALL I do.

Let our prayer today be this ‘our true intent is all God’s delight and help us to see that you delighted in us first.’

God bless you

Oliver

The Kiss of Worship

I recently read a daily devotional about Mary’s act of radical worship, when she broke open the Alabaster jar and poured the nard upon Jesus. Within this devotional the writer described worship as ‘going for a kiss.’ It might seem a little feminine for male members of Church but this phrase struck me right between the eyes.

I studied at Bible College and pretty much thought I had wrapped up the topic of worship within my 5 years of theological study. However, when I read this phrase, I suddenly realised, that there is more going on when we worship than we think.

So, according to Strong’s Greek concordance, worship means ‘to kiss.’

If you can imagine entering the throne room of an ancient oriental King (or Henry VIII for that matter), the usual approach would mean crawling on your hands and knees, with your head in its lowest position, before kissing the feet of the one seated on the throne.

This was the ultimate sign of respect. It is reverence in its most humble of forms. The one approaching the ruler was quite literally grovelling on the ground at their feet.

God is Almighty, Power-full, Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Protector etc., etc.

But when you read Luke 15, we see that the one doing the ‘kissing’ is the Father in the story of the Prodigal son. Luke 15:20 records that when ‘… he (the prodigal son) was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.’ (NLT)

Here are at least four things a Jewish patriarch would never do:

  1. Run in public. That meant lifting up the front of his gown and was indecent behaviour.
  2. Run to a son who had deserted the family, received excommunication from the wider community and had practically wished the father dead.
  3. Embrace his son in public. Hugging and cuddling was not decent behaviour.
  4. Kiss his son in public! A definite ‘no, no.’

The father literally, ran, embraced his son and kissed his neck! Jesus told this story to shake up the Pharisees with the picture of the gentiles coming home to the Father and also to show the radical, unrelenting love of God that had been completely misunderstood for generations.

Often in our worship services we find ourselves praying ‘You are welcome in this place, come and have your way!’ We draw near to God in humility, preparing ourselves to kiss his feet and grovel for the mistakes we have made. BUT, and its an eternally massive BUT… The Father has already run down the road – and he is the one actually doing the welcoming – embraced us and hung on our necks with kisses of compassion and love.

We come like Mary – or the unnamed woman of questionable character in the synoptic gospels – prepared to pour out all we have on Jesus only to find that Jesus has already poured out all He has on us.

It’s a Kingdom paradox.

The King who deserves my reverence and awe, my respect, my grovelling, kneels in humility and washes my weary soul (feet) with His unquenchable, unrelenting love.

And so worship is an exchange of affection. It’s a kiss between lovers. I come to God with my kisses of reverence, only to find that He has kissed my neck with irreverent (at least as far as the Pharisees are concerned) behaviour – running, hugging, embracing and kissing.

So next time you are in worship allow yourself to be loved by Almighty God – The Father of creation.

‘Kiss me and kiss me again, for your love is sweeter than wine.’ (Song of Songs 1:2)

God bless you

Oliver

Centred on the Presence

In a recent prophetic word we received for the Church, I felt firmly pulled up by my bootstraps by the Lord. Words to this effect, ‘the Presence is the key. Not organisation or programmes’, resounded in my heart like a huge gong being struck.

I realised I had taken my eye off the ball. Got carried away with Sunday morning formats (4% of my waking life), releasing gifts of the Spirit, prayer meetings, Sunday lunches, coffee in Nero’s, YouTube videos etc.

But God’s word rang like a peal of thunder in my spirit…

His Presence is the ONLY thing that can satisfy our longings and see the Hand of God revealed on earth.

David wrote, ‘one thing I have asked of the Lord…’ Israel set their whole wilderness camp experience up around the Presence. Solomon’s priests couldn’t get in the temple because of the Presence. Moses stood before a burning bush consumed by the Presence. Those who touched the Ark without authority died instantly because of the (Holy) Presence. Tongues of fire and swirling winds filled up a room because of the Presence. Peters’ shadow touched people and they were healed because of the Presence. Paul sent handkerchiefs for healing dripping in the Presence.

It’s all about the Presence… God’s manifest Presence aka The Holy Spirit…

He dwelled with God’s people in the wilderness tent and the Temple. He dwelled in His fullest manifestation in Jesus and now dwells in us… And loves to reveal Himself in our midst when He is made welcome by lovers of Jesus.

In all our striving, trials, work, child care etc. Let’s be lovers of the Presence. If the Presence is the key to ALL things of God, let’s make it our chief aim to pursue it, live it, read about it, release it, love it every day.

God bless you

Oliver

The Mountain of the Lord

‘No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in joyful gathering. You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God Himself, who is judge over all things… you have come to Jesus, the One who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel.’ Hebrews 12:22-24 NLT

We live in the highest town in England. Its a town contained in a bowl surrounded by hills. The loftiness of our town means we often have strange weather conditions. Rain, snow, wind … and more recently, boiling hot weather! Nice! We are by no means up a mountain but sometimes it feels like it!

The scriptures often talk about the mountain of the Lord. ‘Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?’ ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.’

Moses received the law of the Lord on Mount Sinai. The law, or Torah, is the ‘word’ of God. The words handed down to the Jewish nation to show them the way in which a holy God expected them to live… As soon as Moses returned to the people, he found them worshipping a golden calf – created by the High Priest Aaron! – and, as the 10 Commandments movie highlighted in such dramatic action, they were also caught committing other atrocities.

Let’s jump forward a bit further into Mark’s gospel (ch. 9)… Jesus and His three closest disciples are up a mountain to pray. Elijah (the prophet) and Moses (the Law keeper) appear. There is talk of camping by Peter. Suddenly,  Jesus is transfigured (reveals His true heavenly beauty). The disciples fall with their faces to the ground and they hear a voice ‘This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to Him!’

It is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels ‘… and they saw only Jesus.’ The law and the prophets had gone. BUT Jesus, the true Word of God, was remaining with them.

Not a demanding law-keeper but a grace-filled Saviour.

As Jesus heads down the mountain he doesn’t find law breakers, he finds legalists… arguing. As usual. They are arguing about deliverance, or the lack of…

The crowds, unlike when Moses came down the mountain and they told him to cover his face, saw Jesus and ran towards him… astonished that He had come. The ordinary folk,  having spent hundreds of years under the tyrannical, hypocritical leadership of the legalists, ran towards the presence of God they saw in Jesus.

A hill of transfiguration had become a Mountain of the Lord and the true Torah of God, Jesus, spreading the perfume of God’s presence, drew the people towards grace and truth. As it says in the verses above, ‘we have come to Mount Zion… to Jesus, the One who mediates a New Covenant.’

Because of the New Covenant, our experience of the Father’s Presence, needn’t be like the mountain of doom or the arena of arguing legalists, but a place where our hearts are transformed by the true beauty and glory of the Presence of the Risen One. We now live with our hearts in Mount Zion. The place where God’s glory is revealed.

God bless you

Oliver

 

Hunger

‘Blessed are you who hunger and thirst after righteousness. For you will be filled.’ – Matthew 5:6

Hunger is a necessary thing. I soon get tired, grumpy and dramatic when I’m hungry.

Dinner (‘tea’ as we say in Yorkshire meaning evening meal) in our home is normally between 5pm and 5:30pm. After that I get more and more irritable. Occasionally, we have a meal for date night. In order to make it passed the kids bedtime without chewing a leg off, I normally need a snack or two to get through for a later meal.

Even when we eat a meal we begin to feel hungry again within a few hours…

God honours hunger for Him. Jesus addressing the disciples says that you are blessed if you are hungry for righteousness. If you are hungry to be right with God. How are we right with God? By faith in His Son.

Therefore, what exactly should we be hungry for? I believe in Jesus, therefore, I am right with God.

But the Christian life is a paradox….

I’m both full and hungry at the same time. I have everything I need in Jesus, and yet there is a longing for more of Him. I am righteous before God, because He who was without sin became sin that I might become the righteousness of God. And yet, for me to go places in God I have never gone before, I require a hunger for the deeper things of God.

After a meal I feel satisfied for a time. But I still need food to live.

After I have encountered God, and learned to put those revelations into practice, I soon become hungry again for more.

Why? Because God wants us to know Him. It’s the essence of the gospel. ‘I consider all things rubbish compared to knowing Christ.’ And when I know Him more. I am set for a life changing encounter.

Hunger keeps me close to Him. It saves me from apathy and keeps my heart humble, knowing that without Him I can do nothing.

My friends, continue to remain hungry for the Presence of God, for in Him you will be truly satisfied.

‘Hunger is the escort into the deeper things of you.. you satisfy.’ – Misty Edwards.

God bless you

Oliver

Shelter from the Storm

“Look, a righteous king is coming! And honest princes will rule under him. Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a parched land.” Isaiah 32:1‭-‬2 NLT

It was a windy January morning. I was sat in a Chaplains prayer meeting, gazing out of the window to the Slopes. The wind was blowing strong. The trees, although buffeted by the winds, stood firm. The branches swayed up and down. But the trees stood regardless of the storms striking them with icy fists.

As I sat looking at the trees. I began to see. God opened my eyes to see that the roots were deep and that, the reach of the branches, depended upon the depth of the roots. The deeper the roots, the deeper the reach. The wider the shelter.

You see, as followers of Jesus, we have roots. These roots go down deep into the soil of God’s Word and are fed by the nutrients of the Holy Spirit. The deeper our hearts go in faith into the depths of God’s Word, the further our reach and influence in the world.

Jesus reigns in Righteousness. He has right standing with the Father. He has been exalted to be the Name above all names. He is the Father’s appointed King.

He is in me and I am in Him.

We have,therefore, become princes who rule God’s justice. We too have right standing, and we have been given authority to rule in life. It’s not a rule to be selfish and arrogant but a calling to shelter others in their storms of life. As we go deep in Jesus and we extend our shelter to the world, God uses us as his Ambassadors and co-labourers to draw people into the love and shelter of the Father.

He is in me and I am in Him.

Many are walking around hungry for love, truth and mercy in a harsh world. They need the shadow of a mighty rock and the streams of water in a dry land.

I have a deep conviction that it us whom God uses to be this Shelter. He is in me and I am in Him.

How do we do it? Relationship. And our actions? As Paul says in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians ‘comfort, with the comfort you have received.’ This comes from our personal history with God, as we have learned to respond to the deep calling out to deep‘. Our trials, our discomforts, our disappointments, our pain, our heartache, our grief… If we learn to dig deep and allow God’s seed to take deep root in us, will become a spring of living water to others.

Freely you have received, freely give.

The Father is our Shelter and we, too, share that calling to be shelters to which, our loved ones, our neighbours, our friends can find the peace and comfort of knowing Jesus.

I am in Him and he is in me, therefore, I become the shelter, that He is to me.

God bless

Oliver

Ps.. the above painting is the picture I saw. I managed to get it down on canvas a few weeks after I saw it.

The Church Boiler

Dear friends,

This year we survived the deepest snow that I have ever experienced. It was deep! The Beast from the East took hold of Buxton, bringing deep snow drifts, -10oC conditions, and for a few days we were cut off from the rest of the world! All the major road routes were shut in and out of Buxton. It not only struck once BUT twice! The kids thought it was great. Sledging, snowballing, snowman building, days off school!

In the middle of all this chaos, at the point where many people needed some community and human contact, the boiler at church broke!

Yes, it broke. Twice, we had to cancel a Sunday gathering.

Without a boiler, the church building became very cold, very fast. In fact, I honestly thought I was going to get frost bite, waiting in the building in case anyone missed the message that we were closed.

Our church boiler is a beast of a boiler. Its probably as old as the building (at least 130 years old!). It sits in the cellar and when it fires up, you can feel the vibration on the floor above. It rumbles away heating the building (that’s when its working of course!).

The boiler represents our life with Jesus. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to ignite us with passion and stamina for the journey. When we are relying on an old power source, or an experience, that happened a long time ago, we can miss out on the new things God is doing. We can become cold, cynical, frustrated, and eventually lose our joy.

But, if we keep the boiler up to date, if we catch what the Holy Spirit is doing now, we remain joyful, expectant and connected to the Father’s purpose now. We can easily rely on what we once had but hunger for the things of God is essential to keep us close to Him. To keep us in step with Him. To ensure we are hearing what God is saying now.

No matter, how many beasts from the east come against us, if we have an up to date boiler, maintained and serviced, we can continue to burn, even when there are minus conditions. If we continue to allow ourselves to be filled by the Spirit, we will resist all the icy blasts of the enemy, and continue to walk in the purposes that God has for us.

Let’s seek God for a new boiler for a new generation and no longer rely on the past glory days but look to the future and the purposes God has for us.

God bless you

Oliver

 

Contractions of the Spirit

“To this day we are aware of the universal agony and groaning of creation, as if it were in the contractions of labor for childbirth.”
Romans 8:22 (Passion Translation)

Our 3rd child, a son, is finally here. My wife began with contractions on the early hours of the Wednesday morning. These contractions came and went, on and off, until the Sunday mid afternoon… And then they stopped! Nothing…

My wife was frustrated. Everyone we spoke to said how notorious 3rd babies were at yo-yoing in and out of the birth canal.

The midwife had words of wisdom … Lay down and don’t try. See what happens. Rest your body.

It seems counter productive to rest, when everything is saying, walk around and get this thing going.

As it happened the midwife was right (and so was our friend who prophesied the week before about rest). The contractions started up again and within 4 hours our little boy was born.

So. Through all this what was God saying to me as I watched on, helpless to do a thing about it… I thought about the contractions creation has been experiencing since Ascension Day. I felt a sense of frustration at what was happening in the natural and then felt God remind me of all the moves of the Spirit that have happened for the past 2000 years, when along with a zeal to see people transformed by Jesus, there has also been a renewed sense of urgency at the return of Jesus. Paul goes on to say creation is groaning for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God. They will be revealed in the end times…

It’s so close. And yet its so far… Its frustrating.

I don’t have the energy to keep calling down heaven and pleading Jesus to return. But I can rest in the hope and assurance that it will happen.

Just like my wife and I knew that eventually our son would be born. We didn’t know when, but we knew that is what was going to happen. We too can rest in the assurance that God is on the move, His Spirit brooding over creation, waiting patiently for the time set by the Father to send His Son to rule and reign on the last day.

Don’t lose heart at the ongoing contractions but rest in childlike faith for the Return of the King.

God bless you

Oliver

Deep places…

images

‘Deep calls out to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.’ – Psalm 42:1 NIV

In each of us there is a deep longing. Its the longing of our souls to find rest. To connect with the source of rest. To find a deep connection with the Spirit of God.

I want you to picture with me the deepest depths of the ocean. Its dark and still. There is pressure and its hard to breathe. The life down there has learned how to survive at such depths, without sunlight, in the stillness of the great deep.

Now I want you to call to mind ‘the Spirit brooding over the waters of creation.’ The newly formed earth, resonating to the pulse and majesty of God’s spoken word and the Spirit’s power bringing that word to life…

You see the depths of me are often brought out into the open through pressure, sorrow, stillness… But when the depths of me are met by the brooding Spirit of God, the resonating pulse of God’s Spirit brings me to life, it awakens those parts in me that have been buried. It calls out of me a depth of understanding and experience that is often hard to express…

And yet, the experience and understanding that has been ‘waves and breakers’ to my dry and weary heart, are also ‘waves and breakers’ to those whom God has brought me into relationship with.

Occasionally, we meet with those who have learned to live in the deep with God. There is an instant recognition, without words, that this person who is in front of me has a history with God. They too long for the deep places, where they respond to the ‘deep calling out…’

It’s hard to explain to you how to mine the depths of God, in the depths of our own hearts… But sometimes those ‘deep calling out to deep’ moments often resemble holding on by a thread, and calling out from the deepest place, for the lover of our soul to nourish us in the innermost depths of our beings with His gracious and compassionate love…

This is the deep place. It’s not easy to journey there but when we do we unlock the wells of Living Water stored up within us.

God bless you

Oliver

Portraits and Poetry PT.2

‘We have become his poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One. Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it !’ Ephesians 2:10 The Passion

So. Jesus is God’s portrait. A head and shoulders depiction of God’s true character and likeness. He has revealed God’s true likeness to humanity…

And for those who open their hearts to this wonderful Son, we become the poetry of God to the world. United with Him in Oneness.

Growing up my Dad would quote poetry often… Shropshire Lad, Kipling, GK Chesterton… Poetry has a rhythm and a rhyme that narrative can miss. It often reveals deep feelings and emotions of the one writing it. Sometimes poetry doesn’t really seem to have a purpose but to the one who writes it, some deep longing or desire is expressed.

As God’s people, His poetry, there is something of the divine longing and desire being lived out in our lives. God’s rhythm and rhyme so often to the world is foolish (take the cross for example). But in our lives, the rhythms of the Spirit and the rhyme of God’s deepest feelings and emotions are expressed. In the words of Mother Teresa ‘Christ has no body on earth but yours…’

Living in the Spirit, as a re-created life, representing the Kingdom of God as His Ambassadors, we are given the prophetic calling of being God’s deepest feelings and emotions to humanity. The Father’s heart that breaks over slavery, racism, child trafficking, prostitution, addiction, sickness, demonic strongholds and afflictions. His children bound and chained in sins dark night. We, as his wells of ‘deep calling out to deep’, are his poetry. His Body. His love. His character. His heart. His hands. His feet. We bear His Name. Jesus. Yeshua. Yesu. Isa. And with the power of that Name and the indwelling of the Spirit, we are fulfilling the destiny of God’s lifeswork, the redemption of humanity from the slavery of fear to the freedom of Sonship and Adoption in Abbas’ house…

Let your life fully express the poetry of God today in all you do…

God bless you

Oliver