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

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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.

Midwives of the Spirit

As a father, awaiting the birth of our 3rd child, I was naturally surprised by the importance of the midwives in Exodus chapter 1.

Many of you will know the story of how the Jewish nation was exploding in population within the confines of slavery and suffering. Their growth was so epic that the Pharaoh was scared. He ordered the death of all of the Hebrew sons. But the midwives took a stand. They loved God more than they wished to obey the command of a tyrent.

It struck me in this story that it was the midwives Pharaoh spoke to. What about the elders? Where’s the chain of command here? It turns out that in ancient Egyptian culture birth was seen as a supernatural event. An interaction between the spirit world and the natural world. And so the role of the midwives was of the utmost importance. They were seen as spirit aids.

It occurred to me that, as followers of Jesus, our role is similar to those Hebrew midwives. We are called to make disciples, aiding people into a new birth experience, (born again as Jesus says). Our role is to hear what the Spirit is saying, convey that message, so that those receiving the good news will be born into their true identity as children of God. Remember it is the Holy Spirit who is the evangelist. We are the midwives. There to support the Holy Spirit bring about new birth. We simply encourage, pray and teach the message of Jesus and the Holy Spirit brings about the new birth.

Who has God laid on your heart that you are spiritually midwiving towards the Kingdom of God today?

God bless you

Oliver

The Colour of Glory

In January I felt God was laying on my heart a calling to be creative. We are all created by God. He is a Creator. We are made in His image and therefore, we too, are creators.

The call to be creative (not necessarily arty!) is a call designed to bring colour and beauty, not just to our lives, but to those around us also. A life lived out as a life of blessing.

The above painting originally began as an idea or a phrase from Hebrews Ch.1. ‘The Son reflects the Father’s glory.’ When you read the gospels you see Jesus living a life in FULL colour. It’s a life of creativity, healing, love and, ultimately, a true representation of what God is really like.

Often we get the impression from law keeping Christianity, or ‘don’t do that’ Christianity, that life is drab and, to live it out properly, you need to tow the line and live out the right rules…

But God’s glory, revealed in His Son, expressed in grace is vibrant and filled with beauty and colour. It’s like a wild party (without the hedonism!) filled with party streamers, carnival parades and exuberant praise!

The wonder of Gods glory, revealed in Jesus, is FULL of colour.

Ask God today how you are called to be creative: at work, with a paintbrush, in the kitchen, at school… Or wherever else His feet, in yours, takes you!

Blessings Oliver

Invitation into the deep

Into the Deep

Above is a painting I felt led to paint earlier this year. These are the words I felt Abba Father gave me to go with it…

I stand on the shoreline of God’s grace. Before me stretches the vastness of God’s reckless, raging, furious love. Mercy calling out to me, ‘Come deeper my child, come deeper.’ The gentle shoreline is lapped by inviting waves of mercy. I hesitate – too afraid to launch out. It’s so enticing. It’s intriguing. It’s energetic. His mercy calling out again and again, with each wave gently lapping at my feet. I breathe in deep, resolved to launch out into the deep. There I will find my Father. There I will increase my capacity to experience love and give love. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale… let go. I dive forward into the vast ocean of grace, mercy and love. Conquered by a tender love, a love I have never known. It soothes me, refreshes me, calms me, drives fear away until I realise, I have become one with the sea and the sea is one with me… like I had never been paralysed on the shoreline but as though I was made for the waters of grace. Mercy is my position. Love is my life vest. Grace is the deep… my Father’s delight, my Father’s pleasure.

Is the deep of God’s mercy, grace and reckless, raging, furious love calling out to you today? Why not dive in and see where the current takes you?

Blessings

Oliver

Discipleship as Invitation and Challenge

Discipleship is a key ingredient to life with Jesus. In fact, it was His last command to his followers – ‘Go and make disciples…’ (See Matthew 28:19). The trouble is that our discipleship looks more like a training programme for a business. We have strategies, bible studies, and highlight right doctrine but that’s not how Jesus did discipleship.

His strategy was this: Invitation and challenge.

Jesus lived by Invitation and challenge. He invited people into relationship with him and a challenge to live a Kingdom life. (As a Kingdom people thinking about discipleship and mission… we can recognise that they both hinge on these two things) Our discipleship and discipling of others is based on the invitation to be a part of the family followed by a challenge to live out those family values, characteristics and actions. Invitation and challenge… Be a part of the family but observe how we live and imitate that… Hopefully, we will be living authentic Jesus lives! It’s less about right doctrine and ticking the church programme box and more about being a community!

Here is a reminder of some invitations and challenges that Jesus offered..

Matthew 4:17 – Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

Matthew 4:19 – Follow me and fish for people

Matthew 5:13-16 – You are the salt of the earth and light of the world … don’t hide, don’t loose your flavour! People will see your good deeds.

Matthew 10:1 – Jesus gathered the disciples and gave them authority to continue the works He had been doing!

Matthew 11:28-30 – Come to me and learn from me.

Matthew 13:44-46 – Kingdom like a pearl/treasure … sell everything to enter it!

John 20:21-22 – Receive my peace – I am sending you!

Remember discipleship is about following Jesus. Its about learning what Jesus did and doing the same. As a family of God on mission we are called to continue Jesus’ ministry – heal, deliver, resurrect!

He is speaking to us all the time. Where is Jesus giving you an invitation today? Where is He challenging you?

Blessings

Oliver

ps… if you want to read more about this get yourself a copy of The Passionate Life or The Passionate Church by Mike Breen

 

Church or Kingdom? So what of church…?

Previously, we talked about Jesus’ Kingdom. Jesus came to bring a Kingdom and His Kingdom leads to the building of a church, which is of course, His Body.

So, if Jesus didn’t preach the Kingdom of the church, what does that mean for us as churchgoers? Jesus said that whenever 2 or 3 are gathered together, He would be there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). Coffee morning in Weatherspoons, Sunday gatherings, worship practices, lunch out together, are all gatherings of Church. Essentially, its when the Body of Christ get together in Jesus’ Name. It is not primarily a Sunday morning gathering but it includes that. It’s whenever brothers or sisters meet and fellowship together. For a believer in a hostile environment, this may mean a chance meeting in a wood or a coffee shop, where all you can do is silently express praise to God and encouragement to one another.

Sunday mornings are essentially a gathering when we get to together with the intention to worship God, celebrate (testimony) what God has been doing in the week as we have been advancing the Kingdom. It’s also a time to intentionally encourage one another and build each other up so that we are empowered to continue the Kingdom mission set before us.

In this sense, Sunday gatherings should refocus us to be Jesus centred and Kingdom minded – in our workplaces, coffee shops, toddler groups, hospital appointments, etc. etc. Essentially, Jesus spent one day a week teaching in the synagogue but 6 days a week in the market place, walking through the desert streets, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons and announcing the reign of God.

Unfortunately, we can blur the lines. We can place church at the centre rather than a life giving relationship with Jesus, that spills over into a life giving relationship with one another.

If we think Kingdom above Church, we become less worried about our patch and more aware of the bigger picture. We become more concerned with blessing those around us and more determined to see God’s reign in our communities, towns, workplaces and daily routines.

Jesus said ‘… I will build my Church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.’ (Matthew 16:18) If Jesus is responsible for building the Church, we have been given the responsibility of announcing God’s reign and making disciples of those who respond.

Let’s be Kingdom minded people, making the most of our relationships with one another.

Blessings

Oliver

Church or Kingdom?

Have you ever been in the situation where you have been chatting with someone and in that discussion ‘church’ is mentioned? You often get one of two responses:

  1. ‘Oh that’s nice.’
  2. a blank expression with an uncomfortable twinge in the shoulders followed by a grimace on the face!

It’s easy for us to talk about Church. It’s something we do, something we are a part of. We have close friends there, have some kind of gathering that we like to invite people to, a mid week program… But the good news is NOT church centred.

It may not have occurred to you but in Matthews gospel the word church is mentioned 3 times! That’s 3 Times by Jesus! Once, when Jesus declares ‘I will build my church…’ (Matthew 16:18 emphasis mine) and secondly, where the word is mentioned twice, in the instruction on how to deal with trouble makers (Matthew 18:17).

Now lets contrast that with what Jesus actually preached about… Namely, the Kingdom of God, His Father’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven… At a quick count in my NIV study bible concordance, I have counted at least 45 times in Matthew alone that Jesus speaks about the Kingdom/ Kingdom of God/ Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus came announcing the reign of God. That’s what the Kingdom is. God’s Kingdom, God’s reign, expressed through lives repenting – turning around and following Jesus. It’s both an inward reality – The Kingdom is within – Jesus reigns in my life and also an external reality – God’s reign breaking in through the announcing of the good news of Jesus and confirmed with signs and wonders.

The Kingdom is also both a present and a future reality. It’s present here and now amongst those whom Jesus has become King and over the Body of Christ. It’s a future reality because Jesus will return to complete His work and bring in a Kingdom that is eternal.

I wonder… Do we need to get back to a Kingdom centred gospel? After all, Jesus is the King whom we follow and pledge our allegiance to and it’s His reign we are ushering in. I sincerely believe that when we announce that the Kingdom of God is near we will see lives transformed and I have confidence that building church is Jesus’ work that follows our faithfulness in ushering in the Kingdom of God. Let’s not be concerned with bums on seats in church but in lives entering the Kingdom of God.

May His Kingdom come, and His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Blessings … Oliver