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

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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…

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‘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

Portraits and poetry – PT.1

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‘He is the divine portrait, the true likeness of the invisible God and the firstborn heir over all creation.’ (Colossians 1:15 – The Passion Translation)

We have been painting portraits for generations. A portrait is a depiction of a person, specifically their head, face and shoulders. It’s a way of recording for future generations an image of the likeness of people of note – lovers, artists (self-portraits), royal people, barons… Or even in some cases, the face of poverty.

With our smartphones, we now have instant portraits and selfies, capturing the moment in time as it happens. Recording it onto Facebook or Instagram as a lasting etch in time for all to see.

But these original artists, painting portraits of noteable people, spent hours defining detail, highlighting significant features, trying to capture the moment of a person’s life and to record their beauty and grandeur for the world to see.

‘He (Jesus) is the divine portrait…’ The Passion Translation of the Bible draws out of familiar words an artistic impression of God’s portrait (or self portrait). For generations God’s people prayed, ‘show us your face’ or ‘show us your glory’. All of the epiphanies of the Old Testament, – including Moses encounter in the cleft of the rock, where he could only see God after he had passed by; Abraham’s encounter with the three visitors; the glory of God that burst into the Temple following Solomon’s dedication; Jacob’s wrestling match with God; Gideon’s angelic visitation whilst in a winepress:- cannot compare to the portrait that God painted of His life in Jesus.

And it was in Jesus, that the Father, chose to fully show His face – his portrait was complete. It was a portrait of two kinds: divinity and humanity.

The portrait of Jesus shows us the complete picture of God and what He is like but also the portrait of every aspect of human experience… Love, joy, sorrow, hope, anger, compassion, mercy, death, resurrection… without the blemishes or corruption of fallen humanity: rather a glimpse of true humanity, lived out in the glory of relationship with God.

It took a human lifetime of 33 years to craft a painting so beautiful and complete that, whoever looks at that portrait with intent finds a God so irresistible that their lives are transformed from glory to glory.

This is the portrait that changed my life… And can change yours too.

God bless you

Oliver

Jesus, the Father’s glory

I love this phrase in Hebrews: ‘the Son (Jesus) is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…’

The above sketch was a beginning for the painting I posted three weeks ago called ‘the colours of glory.’ The phrase ‘radiance of God’s glory and true representation…’ are phrases that have stuck with me for some years.

The phrases conjure up feelings of: a stream of sunlight breaking through a dark cloud, a hillside covered in bluebells, a kingfisher swooping across a river, a diamond reflecting the light in multiple directions, a burning bush, visions of angels ascending and descending, fire falling in the temple, a cloud in the tent of meeting, priests laid on the pavement because the presence of God was so thick, a cleft of a rock and the hand over the face… And then a babies cry….

God’s true radiance and glory revealed in Jesus, born in a manger, surrounded with the sights and smells of animals, the ruggedness of Shepherds, a cool night, a young couple, the hustle and bustle of collecting a census… And the horror of a kings orders motivated by fear.

John says this… ‘the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ At that moment in Bethlehem, when the Messiah was born, the full weight of God’s Shekinah glory was revealed to a humanity bound in fear and sin.

The FULL weight of God’s glory… Even greater than the thunderings and clouds surrounding the Mountain of God in Exodus.

And like a diamond, no matter how many times we look at Jesus, God’s weight, radiance and magnificence reflect back to us in new ways, always refreshing our weary hearts and opening us once again to the wonder of God’s glory and the craziness of God’s wisdom to step into the world, holding nothing back, and living in love.

That to me is good news…

God bless you

Oliver

Jesus and humanity

The most commonly used term that Jesus used when he was referring to himself was ‘Son of Man.’ Within that title is a rich tapestry of the prophetic journey of God’s people. (Son of man was used by God when in conversation with the prophets in the Old Testament.) But why did Jesus use this reference when he was in conversation with the crowds and the disciples? The answer is… humanity.

OK. Before we proceed, I am not about to start making a claim for humanism!

In the beginning, the fall came through the disobedience of humanity. And so, when God had redemption in mind, he also needed to enter into the confusion, depravity and fallen-ness of humanity, in order to recreate the created order.

Do you remember the story where Jesus comes to John the Baptist for baptism? Jesus didn’t need a baptism because He was without sin.* However, in order for ‘all righteousness to be fulfilled,’ Jesus had to identify with the sins of humanity. He had to fully enter into our condition, taking on our fallen condition. Jesus went down into the water, and as he came out, the Father’s pleasure was revealed.

He then ministered out of his humanity. He emptied himself of everything he knew, becoming like a servant, and learned to live by the Spirit (as humanity) and live in the power of the Spirit. He healed out of his humanity, he delivered demons out of his humanity, he performed miracles out of his humanity. He wept out of his humanity. He went through the agony of scourging, mocking, derision, beatings and crucifixion, through his humanity, to redeem humanity…

And as humanity Jesus died death to destroy the power of death, defeat the dominion of darkness, and to finally, put a nail in the coffin of sin and the evil one.

Now, what happened in the temple at this point is extremely important: The curtain ripped from top to bottom… The Father’s presence was no longer in the Holy of Holies. But was about to be with humanity again. The curtain represented the law. The law, or the knowledge of good and evil, where man first decided to go it alone, had lost its power. Jesus, as humanity, decided to live out his life in obedience to God. He fulfilled the demands of the law, the curse that humanity was subject to and opened again an intimate union between God and us.

The 1st Adam lived in disobedience, destined to live under a curse and a slave to sin. The 2nd Adam, Jesus, lived in obedience, relying fully on the wisdom of His Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit… a life of blessing and rest.

The created order, cursed by the fall from humanities disobedience, was recreated so we can choose a life of rest and joy in the Father’s presence…

How does the humanity of Jesus transform your understanding of life in the Spirit today?

God bless you

Oliver

*Remember baptism is about repentance. And repentance is about sin.