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I believe he would. Listen to this from the book of ‘Revelation’ (found at the end of the Bible). Jesus is recorded as saying, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (chapter 3 and verse 20, ESV). The interesting thing about some fundamentalist, ‘Bible believing’ Christians, is that they don’t believe that God heals, gives us dreams or speaks to us today. As a side note, be really careful what church you join. You want one where you will grown in your relationship with God. If you are an atheist who doesn’t believe in miracles, you might have just found something in common with them! You can read James 5, verse 14 – 15, Acts 2, 17 and Hebrew 3, verse 7 if you see what God actually says about these issues. The issue is not whether God is speaking, but whether we are listening.

We can be thankful that God has provided us with the Bible. It is reliable as His account to us. Christians call it His ‘Word’ because it is His words. In His own words, He speaks to us through what is written down. But how does God actually speak to us? If we read the Bible, or listen to it being read (if we don’t have access to one), you will be hearing in general what God has said to humanity. It is all good, and you will learn the overall plan for us, and this world. A good place to start is in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, as they are accounts of the time of Jesus on earth. You will find all kinds of interesting facts. It is not the case that people then saw Jesus and believed in Him, while now we have to trust it is true. Far from it, they didn’t believe in Him even when he stood in front of them. Eventually they killed Him. But it was all part of God’s plan. He allowed it to happen because He knows that every one of us eventually ends up feeling guilty for something, or many things in our lives. And perhaps worst of all, we don’t have any place for God in our lives. Now if you imagine for a moment that God made us, I’m not speaking of the science here, but the overall concept that He works through physical processes to make us, and also that He loves us, well it is shockingly wrong to turn our backs on Him. If you feel guilty, the good news is that Jesus paid the punishment we deserve for us. And this is where He starts talking to us.

He stands (so to speak) at the door of our lives and knocks. It’s a metaphor of course. Years ago I had an amazing day out with a wonderful friend. We stood looking out at this beautiful view and something very amazing happened. I knew that she liked me. That was wonderful because I liked her, so much and had done so for a long time. She didn’t say anything, I just knew. Sometimes the most powerful communication is without words. Now at that point the sensible thing to do would have been for me to respond with words. To tell her how much she meant to me and to begin a relationship. But I wasn’t sensible. I doubted that I heard right, and left it. There were other moments too, but I let them pass also. And one day the opportunity was gone. I regret that, and I hope you understand that when two people have something special it is only a fool who throws it away through fear or doubt. I was a fool, I just hope I learned a lesson from that. I hope too that you see a parallel. Yes, God has written down an amazing account in the Bible, but as you read a New Testament you will hear God speaking in the way He always does. Not with an audible voice, but with a conviction as you read what He said. He, like that wonderful woman I knew, is in that way standing at the door, calling to you. Then it is over to you. It’s your turn. What will you do about it? Dismiss it as your imagination or respond. Say that you want Him too, let him into your life and be transformed.

“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me”. It is a promise. It is not a religion. I don’t like religion; it only keeps people away from God. Even in good churches, people go along and like going along. They often miss out on why they are supposed to be there, the relationship with Jesus. I’m not saying don’t be part of a good church, but be careful, be there for the right reason. The only right reason is that it enhances your relationship with Him. Today, I challenge you to read the New Testament and let God speak to you. If you say sorry for ignoring Him, and your wrong, and invite Him to be all that He wants to be to you, and to transform your life, you will not regret it. Nor will this be that last thing you hear from God. Once you begin with Him, he will speak to you daily and transform your life. I don’t say make it all easy and wonderful, but He will transform you, regardless of your circumstances. He is asking to be in relationship with you.

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“But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” Genesis 33: 4 (ESV)

Jacob and Esau were brothers, but their relationship was not an easy one. Jacob repeatedly cheated and mistreated Esau. Things came to a head when Jacob cheated Esau out of his blessing which was intended for him (Geneses 27), and Jacob realising how badly he had offended Esau, left worried that he would kill him. Indeed killing Jacob was exactly what was on Esau’s mind (v 41), perhaps partly out of revenge, and perhaps to regain his blessing.

There are people who are meant to be in our lives, and there are those who are not. Some people are either unhealthy for us, or us for them. One way or another it is best that they are not close. But there are others that are meant to be a big part of our lives. It seems to be suggested that Esau and Jacob should have been together. There will be spiritual or natural family that we are meant to be with too. But as with Esau and Jacob things don’t always go smoothly. If that is the case, this story has important lessons for us when it comes to reaching out to others:

1) God has a role in this, and it’s the most important role. He goes ahead of us and prepares the way, in particular he prepares hearts (Malachi 3:1). While nothing is stated of the process, God prepared both Esau and Jacob’s heart to desire a reconciliation. He moved Esau from hate to genuine love, and he clearly missed his brother. Along the way both would have been sure it was a bad idea, that it wouldn’t ever happen, that it wouldn’t work. But deep down they listened to the other voice, the voice of God who told them to risk it.

2)  God also arranges circumstances. He caused the two brother’s paths to literally cross. They met in the desert, but God will prepare circumstances for us also. He may use a phone call, an opportunity to be in the same place, or some other circumstance for us to find out more about the other person. Sometimes when we know more about someone our opinion of them changes. Or put another way, our assumptions were incorrect!

3)  We also have a role. Our role is to make an effort to reach out to someone else. Esau came out into the wilderness with four hundred men to meet Jacob (32: 6). That was no small effort. Imagine heading out into the wilderness with little idea where to find the person you are looking for, with supplies to keep a staff of 400 going for what was likely to have been at least many weeks, if not months. He put a lot of effort into reaching out. It is likely if someone reaches out to us that they have also put great effort in. It may have taken courage, or a lot of prayer, or a great emotional effort or risk for them to reach out. When someone reaches out to us, don’t underestimate what it means to them, and what it may have cost them.

4)  We can, and should, show honesty and emotion. Read that initial quote again. Back in those days running was not something that respectable people did. Esau, although the wronged party, ran to meet Jacob (note the parallel with the parable Jesus told of the Prodigal running to meet his son). When he met him he cried and told him how much it meant to be together again. He then genuinely asks about his life and his family. We too need to have real honesty when trying to connect with someone else, especially when reaching out to those who should be close to us.

So all was well after this? Not really. God can take us so far. He can do many miracles, and can reunite us with others. But we have to accept what he has done. For some reason Jacob then listed to the voice of fear. He still didn’t fully trust Esau and they went their separate ways. To be fair they were genuinely reconciled, so that was good. But they no doubt missed out on so much. It is true that most people are not trustworthy, and it is right to be cautious, but there is another time. There is a time where God is doing something and inviting us to be reconciled or joined for the first time with someone else. When someone has reached out to us we can either take everything that the opportunity presents, or at least partly walk away. Let us reach out to those God has placed into our lives, and when someone reaches out to us, take them into our lives. It blesses us, and the person who is reaching out. Relationship with God, and after that with others, is the most important thing in our lives.  It is not to be wasted, but it can be enjoyed and really add something to our lives, not to mention the pleasure it must give to God when we respond to the opportunities He gives us.

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King Solomon is popularly known for his wisdom, and is the likely writer of three books of the Bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.  When looking for wisdom it is to Proverbs we turn.  Ecclesiastes is difficult because so much of it seems to contradict the Bible, while Song of Solomon leaves many of us wondering why it is in the Bible at all, which is probably the reason for so many strange interpretations of what it ‘really’ means over the years.  However there is much we can learn from all three books.

 “I saw all the oppression that are done under the sun.  And behold the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them!”  (Taken from Ecclesiastes, chapter 4 and verse 1, ESV).  It is not a happy story, but history and experience shows us that it is true.  The key to this verse, and in fact the entire book is ‘under the sun’.  It is a phrase that is meant to indicate the physical reality of life without God, or at the very lest with minimal intervention from God.  This is before the New Testament.  A world without Jesus is summed up perfectly throughout the book of Ecclesiastes.  So before we get too critical, read again the book of Ecclesiastes, but from the perspective of Jesus not having walked the earth.  It assumes the existence of God, but we have no personal relationship, forgiveness or hope.  The book from that perspective is a masterpiece as it explains life as we find it.  There is no justice, there is hardship, and what can we do?  Enjoy what we can, when we can, and don’t ponder it too much.  And it is hopeful for us to read it for two reasons.  If we really get into that world view, it prepares us perfectly for the arrival of Jesus in the New Testament.  In fact it would be an excellent thing to do prior to Christmas in order to really get to grips with why the birth of Jesus and why His arrival was described as “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2, verse 10).

Solomon, as he describes throughout the book didn’t have a hard life.  In fact he probably had one of the ‘best’ lives of anyone who has ever lived.  He had more wealth, more comforts, probably good health, and all the people and company anyone could wish for.  The book speaks of all the different things he had and experienced.  Yet, it didn’t satisfy.  Having it all left him bored with life.  And he saw how much worse it was for others.  For them it was misery, and for all was without hope.  This is the other reason to read Ecclesiastes.  We read it with Jesus having been and risen, and knowing all we do from the rest of the Bible.  But if you don’t know Jesus, it pretty much sums up life today.  Without a personal relationship with Jesus, life is just like he describes in the book.  But if that is your position today, follow it up by reading the book of John and find hope this Christmas.

“People living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned”. Matthew 4:16 (NIV)

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Not enough money?

Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” Matthew 6, v 33.   It is often, correctly, said that if we seek God first, we will receive many spiritual blessings in our lives.  But it does also refer to everyday practical needs and specifically mentions clothing and food.  This verse has something to say to people who are facing a lack of money.

 I’ll firstly make a few general points in this paragraph, and then in the next one get to the point I would like to draw from the text.  Why might we be short of money?  First, it might be part of God’s plan for our lives in order to grow us, or for some other reason.  For example, Paul says in Philippians 4, v 11 – 12 “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need”, and in 1 Timothy 6, v8 “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content”.  There are also practical reasons.  Perhaps our income is too low, or our expenditure too high.  These are things to pray about and ask about.  Are we giving enough to God?  Are we wasting money?

But I want to suggest that this verse speaks to those who have prayed and thought through these things, and found that they are not solutions.  It is part of a passage that addresses worry concerning having something to wear, or enough to eat.  Now if those people could simply work a bit harder, or stop wasting money, they would have done so would they not?  The fact that they are still worrying suggests the answer is not that simple.  At this point Jesus was not addressing lessons that may well come through adversity, He was speaking to those who should have enough, but don’t.

I will suggest that there are some people (but not all obviously) reading this today who are sure that their financial difficulties are not related to the above points, and I want to finish by talking to you.  God is not teaching you a lesson, your income is just fine, and your expenditure doesn’t include waste.  You have followed God, and your lifestyle is as it should be.  God does not want you to change your job for more money, and He doesn’t need you to reduce your expenses.  Some may accuse you of spending on luxuries, but no one can judge the lifestyle of anyone else.  Yes, I would encourage people to live simply and to share, but what that means for each person is different.  The fact is that some are living right, and even following God you are just seeing your debt increase.  You are not having these needs met.

This is a conditional promise.  It is conditional on seeking God, his kingdom, and his righteousness first.  Or put another way if you aim for God, and His will, you get the rest thrown in anyway.  Aim for the things and you miss them and God. Or put another way, if you are short of money, this is an indicator that something is wrong, and I want to suggest that God is saying today that it is not a financial problem.  Speak to God and ask Him if there is any aspect of your life that you need to surrender fully to Him.  Ask if you are seeking Him, His ways and His kingdom first.  If you listen to what He says, and make the changes He suggests, then He says that “all these things shall be added to you”.  God really impressed on me this past weekend that while this sounds unrelated and illogical, it is actually much more logical than we imagine.  You see, every decision we make in some way changes our circumstances.  You might not be making a financial decision, but in some way it will bring you fully inside God’s will, and will change your circumstances.  God might have a blessing for you, but you sometimes have to stand in the right place to receive it!  You never know what will come your way by taking a different path.

If you are looking for confidential, practical advice on debt, see https://capuk.org/ which may be helpful. 

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Being a disciple

Discipleship is the term used to describe becoming a follower, or a disciple of Jesus. We tend to think disciples in terms of the twelve, but actually the term is used of any follower of Jesus. In Matthew 28 Jesus says to the initial eleven (Judas had by this stage betrayed Jesus and committed suicide) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”. It might come as a surprise, but Jesus does not call anyone to become a Christian. I don’t think that He is particularly interested if we want to get involved in church, regard ourselves as ‘Christian’ or want to be good people. What he is actually offering is the chance to be one of His disciples here and now in our generation. To see this in action, see Luke chapter nine (verses 23-24 ESV) where He says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it”. The reason for this statement is that being a disciple isn’t the same as being a fan. The offer isn’t to respect, admire or even follow some of His advice; it is to be a disciple. That requires complete dedication, as with the initial twelve. Just to be sure, Jesus makes that statement to us about taking up our cross. It is not referring to having hardships in our lives. It is not related to whether we are enjoying life with things generally going well, or whether we are having a really hard time with things going wrong. The cross was a method of execution, of death. Jesus is saying that to be His disciple means we give up our own will. It is dying to self, to selfishness and taking up self-less living instead. I’ll explain this in more detail with an example from my own life.

A few weeks ago I heard a few thoughts on the radio that really challenged me. God asked me if I had really given control of my entire life to Him. As I thought it through over the coming days I could only conclude that I had. There was nothing I could specifically think of, no area in which I was holding anything back. As far as I was aware my life was His to do as He wished with. So I asked Him what it was I was holding back. Years before I had read a book on discipleship and the implications of giving control over every aspect of life to God. I was pretty sure that I had been doing that. The thing is that often with God, we are following Him, but only to the best of our ability. As we grow, we go back to an old lesson to learn it again, but this time to a much deeper level.

After a couple of weeks I was reading in Romans and this familiar verse stood out to me (Chapter 12): “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. Obeying God is more than just avoiding sin. It is actively wanting what He wants. If we love God, we will obey Him. The reason for that is that we actually want what others want when we love them, even if it’s not exactly what we would want! We see that in our human relationships also. God showed me that in actual fact I had been holding back on many areas of life. It wasn’t even necessarily that I was doing something that He didn’t want, rather it was a wrong attitude. Instead of regarding, for example, my time as His, I was thinking ‘what will I do with my weekend’. It is not mine when I become a disciple. Nether is my choice of work location, house, friends, use of money or what I listen to on the radio.

Now I realise many will object to this. God doesn’t care what shirt we wear today I hear you say! Yes, that is correct. There are so many decisions for which God gives us free will. In fact many would argue that God isn’t even bothered over the big decisions, such as choice of house or partner. I can’t give you an answer to that because I don’t know, you may well be right. But I heard something very wise from a pastor I enjoy: “God gives us freewill, but a wise disciple hands it back”. Yes, I do believe that I can do anything I like with this evening. But the thing is that I love God enough that I’d rather do what He wants. It’s all about love. If you have ever really loved another person, you’ll know your greatest satisfaction is seeing them happy. I think that is how I’d like to end this, by saying that doing what God wants brings so much contentment and satisfaction! The more I hand over the less worry I have and the more I enjoy each day. The worry thing is understandable. If God is running my life completely I know He has everything under control. And the aspect of joy is down to love, the more we love God the greater the joy we find in following Him. So today, I set you a challenge, take some area of your life that you have ‘settled’ or decided upon, hand it over to God and see what direction He takes you in!

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Faith under attack

One interesting observation regarding spiritual battles is that we very often don’t realise that we are in them.  Ephesians 6 (verse 12) states that it is not flesh and blood we battle, but spiritual forces.  In other words the battle is not actually with other people, but spiritual enemies who are simply using people to attack us.  Of course, any attack by the enemy can only go as far as God will allow it, and we believe it is for our ultimate benefit.  This is theory, but practice confirms what we know, and it will be worth examining this truth in greater detail.

First, the problem as described by God.  Ephesians 6, verse 16 says “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one”.  It is one of those verses that we perhaps don’t fully understand until we have lived through it, and even then only if we actually know what it is we are living through.  The devil will aim arrows, or darts at us.  One of the interesting things about an arrow (and this Biblical illustration) is that an arrow is far more deadly than a bullet.  If you attempt to remove it, the arrow will tear and cause even more damage.  This passage speaks of our defence being a shield, and it has in mind a Roman soldier’s shield which was a very large device, made of wood and covered in leather, probably soaked with water.  It was so large the solider could simply stand behind it and advance safely towards the enemy.  Our shield against the devils arrows is our faith.  Faith protects even more securely against these arrows of the evil one.

 We have to go further to understand this concept properly.  Our shield is faith, but what are the arrows we are facing?  They come in many forms, perhaps discouragement, trials, lies, and problems, and are not always through other people.  You will be anticipating a great day, and then out of nowhere the problems start coming.  They may be small – you loose your keys when you are already in a hurry for work (but just watch how you react to that ‘small’ inconvenience), or they may be large, perhaps a hurtful exchange with someone close to you.  Regardless, these are the arrows that have genuine potential to rock our world and leave us in an emotional condition that no child of God should be in, whether that is anger, hurt, pain, discouragement, fear or something else.  You can see, hopefully, that even worse than the resulting emotional state and any sin we may then go on to commit, is the state it leaves our relationship with God.  Suddenly we are no longer trusting Him, we are at a distance, we are not talking to Him, and if we sin as a result of these negative emotions it gets even worse.  Satan has won the battle, his objective achieved.  Now he just needs to keep on with further attacks, and soon we will be a spiritual mess.

 But this cycle can be avoided; remember the passage tells us how – with faith.  Now, at this point I want to talk about one specific arrow that has hit me recently.  And not once, but multiple times every day.  Its left me ready to give up on so much and finding it hard to pray.  It’s probably the most destructive of the lot.  It is lies.  Jesus tells us (John 8, verse 44) that “the devil…He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies”.  He goes about telling us lies.  And his lies are more destructive than any you will hear from a person.  They may be provided through another person, but much more common is that he will put them directly into our minds in response to circumstances.  He will tell you that you can’t trust your friend, that God has rejected you, you won’t get the job, you didn’t hear from God, that you are not good enough, that you won’t recover, to be afraid, to hold back, to play it safe, to respond in anger, that it wouldn’t work, to never let yourself get hurt again, and a thousand others.  We all know the difference between lies and truth.  Truth does not make sense and goes against logic, whilst lies sound reasonable, and usually have at least most of the evidence on their side.  Satan doesn’t change his tactics often.  We can respond to lies by going back to God, with faith.  Head to the Bible and find out what God has to say on the matter.  And if God has spoken to you specifically, trust Him, you did hear from Him.  You might think it is easier to believe a promise that is written, but actually Satan will attack both.  The most effective method is just to quote God’s word to yourself, and him.  It is what Jesus did, whenever Satan lied to him, he responded by quoting Scripture “it is written” (Matthew 4, verse 4).  It really is that effective.  Of course, Satan will challenge us, he has been doing it from the beginning with the well worn phrase ‘Did God actually say”…(Genesis 3, verse 1).  You would have thought we would have caught on to that old line by now.  Yes, he will cast doubt on what God has told us.  So that is why our faith is so critical, it is our sole defence.

 Faith is so important that in the words of Jarrod Cooper (Pastor, New Life Church, Hull, UK) ‘there is one thing the devil will attack day after day, and that is your faith in God’.  The Bible says “Your faith – more precious then gold that perishes” (1 Peter 1, 7).  Our faith is what protects us from all of this and that is why it is so valuable, and why the enemy is insane about attacking it.  Faith is what protects us, keeping us close to God, and avoiding unnecessary emotional pain.  When all around is falling apart, we can be calm, knowing that our God loves us, and that nothing will overcome Him.  When God says something, we can count on it, no matter what the circumstances are telling us.

 Okay, I want to leave on a high note.  I was praying about all of this on my way home recently, with circumstances still not looking too good.  In fact they had got worse, and since then there has been little change.  And I found myself praising God, because I realised in a deeper way that Jesus is very much alive today.   I want to ask you, is He real, is He there, are you going to step out and trust Him?  That is our faith, we have a relationship with Jesus and He came to give us life to the full, not the half life we try to get by with.  This blog post won’t help you, it just encourages you to get back to your Friend, spend time with Him, and get His perspective on things.  Trust and keep praising until things get better.  He showed me something really special today regarding my own challenges; all these things are leading to a stronger faith, and a closer walk with Him.  This is going to bless us.

Thank you Lord Jesus, may this all be to your glory.

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Psalm 23, v 3:  He restores my soul.” (ESV)

God is the expert at restoring souls.  In place of the word soul, we often speak of emotions.  They are not the same, but they are very similar.  When emotions are hurt, souls get hurt.  If we have a heart, it is inevitable that we will get hurt.  There are many responses to hurt.  Perhaps the two most common are to either harden our hearts or to fall into depression.  The first is unhealthy in that it removes love and replaces it with not caring, which is a horrible condition to be in.  The other focuses on the hurt and results in great sadness.  Neither is the correct response.  Rather we should focus our minds on Jesus, not the problem.  That is really very difficult.  The only thing in our mind is the hurt, but God is saying to look at Him instead.  To think of Him, His goodness and who He is.  The result is remarkable, He will restore our soul and the hurt will be replaced by love and peace.  Incidentally, this isn’t instant.  It takes discipline and time, but I can guarantee from every time of hurt in my life that focusing on Jesus always restores my soul, whatever or whoever was the cause of the hurt. 

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