Terry is based at Kings Church, in Kingston, UK and is the founder of Newfrontiers , our worldwide family of churches together on a mission to establish the kingdom of God by restoring the church, making disciples, training leaders and planting churches. He and his team serve nearly 700 churches worldwide.
A well-known Bible teacher, Terry speaks at conferences internationally and hosts the annual
In this series of posts, we look at the story of Mary anointing Jesus' feet with perfume in John 12:1 - 8. Something of this act of extravagant worship thrilled Jesus but at the same time had a provocative impact. Judas Iscariot, after witnessing this, went to the chief priest to plot his betrayal. So what can we discover from this extraordinary event?
What was it that provoked her to take this step? The secret is hidden in the text. ‘Lazarus was sitting there.’
Lazarus was Mary’s brother. Mary had lived through watching her brother become more and more seriously ill. Jesus was their friend but He wasn’t always there. ‘If only Jesus was here’ she must have thought. So they send someone to find Jesus and tell him that Lazarus is sick. They wait. Lazarus gets sicker. They wait more. Finally Lazarus dies. It’s a strange mystery that Jesus knew but did not come. They would have experienced Jesus healing first hand and heard his breath taking preaching on the ushering of the new Kingdom. Tragically, they thought, in the end death wins. In the end, life is vulnerable to the biggest crisis you face - loved ones die. It may be nice having Jesus around but death wins in the end. You can have your life enriched but you’re going to die. Death had invaded their experience of knowing Jesus.
Then of course, Jesus turns up. It had been 4 days since Lazarus had died. 4 agonizing days of knowing the finality of death. Never again would they hear their brother laugh. Never again would they feel his touch. Mary goes up to Him and says, ‘if only you had been here’. And then you have the marvelous story of Jesus going to where the body of Lazarus was laid. "Roll away the stone," Jesus says and then shouts out, ‘Lazarus come out!’ It must have been phenomenal seeing this dead man walk out.
So here they’re having a meal together celebrating their brother is alive again. The realized death did not win, he’s alive, he’s back, he’s with us. Often when Jesus did a remarkable miracle, he associated it with a revelation of who He was. He heals a man blind from birth and then He preaches, ‘I am the light of the world.’ He feeds 5,000 people from a few fish and loaves and then preaches, ‘I am the bread of life’. Having raised Lazarus from death, He says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.‘ Jesus is the answer to death. He conquered death. He beat our biggest enemy. He destroyed death’s ultimate power.
People may ask, so what is Christianity all about? Is it about doing good? Is it about going to church? Not getting in to trouble? No it’s a great message - death has been beaten. Eternal life has been ushered in.
Mary had lived through it. That’s the background - her dear brother was dead and now he’s alive again.
Check back next week for the next post in this series.
Originally posted on Terry's Blog
Interpreting the parable of the sower as simply about coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus is missing its full significance. The familiarity of the story can cause you to switch off to an interpretation that is relevant to both the new and the experienced Christian. In part 3 of this series, we explore the rocky ground.
Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. (Mark 4:5-6)
...these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. (Mark 4:16-17)
The second type of soil is the shallow or rocky soil. Here the word is immediately received and springs up, then the sun rises and immediately it's scorched. It has a short life. It’s superficial. It’s that whole immediate response; ‘I’ve made my New Years Resolutions, I’m going to really serve God this year, I’m going to read my bible every day’. Sometimes we can be emotionally stirred, but have we worked out how we’re going to do these things? Suddenly it’s cold in the mornings when the alarm goes off. Our resolution to rise early and pray fades fast.
Jesus said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:48), the wise man hears the word, digs down deep and builds his house on a rock. The foolish man hears it, but he doesn't dig down, he builds superficially on the sand. Then the storm hits both. Note, it's not if you put God first, you won't hit storms, no you will hit storms. But it's the wise man whose house stands firm. So we need to go deeper and let our roots go under the surface rather than being impulsive only quickly to abandon out recent resolve.
Jesus warned us that if a king goes into battle, he first considers whether he is strong enough, he evaluates his capacity to see whether he can win. Or when a man builds a tower, he first studies his resources so he doesn't start building only to find he can't finish (Luke 14: 28-32). So the bible is saying don't be impulsive, don't do things without considering, don't take on something that you're not going to see through.
Maybe you’ve just got married and you really felt God speak to you about honouring Him with your finances. But then life gets difficult, you hit problems, the heat of interest rates, or the mortgage, or the increase in the season ticket cost comes and you think, ‘oh forget it’. The word that came to you about trusting God and putting your finances in order is quickly abandoned.
Nehemiah, one of the great heroes of the bible, got it in his heart to rebuild the city of God. The walls were down, the gates burned and his heart was broken that Zion, the joy of the whole earth, was a ruin. He started work and the heat came. People challenged who he was and what his motives were. But he did so well, he kept going. He let the word go deep into his heart and when the heat came, he didn’t abandon it.
Has God said things to you? Like Nehemiah, maybe you see the church, something that was supposed to be glorious, and you think, ‘I want to build something worthy of your great Name, something splendid and glorious, not just foolishness and mockery’ And your heart aches and you start and go for it and when the heat comes you wonder if you can keep going.
I remember when I came to Christ as a school boy, I bought a Scripture Union badge and put it on my lapel and went to school. The art teacher who I really honoured and thought was a wonderful guy said, 'what on earth is that? Have you become one of those religious people? And that was it! That badge lasted 2 days. It was gone, I couldn't stand the heat.
So sometimes heat comes and we back off. It doesn't say if the sun rises, the sun tends to rise. It says in scripture, if you're going to be a Christian, you will suffer persecution, there will be backlash, there will be pressure. So we need to understand that pressure will come and challenge the word that we received.
Sometimes it’s delay that challenges the word. There was long delay for Abraham, and sometimes when there's delay, we grow weak in faith. We can think that nothing has happened this year, maybe we'll just settle for less. Abraham in contrast grew strong in faith, giving praise and glory to God, fully persuaded that what God has promised, He is also able to perform (Romans 4:20-21). He grew in faith through the delay.
Are you experiencing delay on things you've been asking God for? The prayers you've prayed, the things you thought God had promised you, but they haven't happened yet? The temptation is to forget the whole thing. Yet Abraham dwelt on the word and let it work in him, he kept reminding himself that God had promised it and he didn't abandon the seed. He let the seed keep growing even through the delay. I'm God has given you promises; seed that's been sown into you. How are you going to handle it when the heat comes?
// Originally posted on Terry's Blog //
Interpreting the parable of the sower as simply about coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus is missing its full significance. The familiarity of the story can cause you to switch off to an interpretation that is relevant to both the new and the experienced Christian. In part 2 of this series, we explore the pathway.
Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. (Mark 4:3-4)
These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them (Mark 4: 15)
The first seeds fall beside the road, on that hard pathway area that surrounds the field. There the seed doesn't penetrate but just sits on the surface. Then the birds come and take it away and it has no impact at all.
Luke's account says that the seed ‘was trampled underfoot’ (Luke 8:5). Jesus said 'do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet' (Matthew 7:6), referring to their indifference. You can be like that about the gospel itself, just indifferent to it by thinking nobody still believes that kind of thing or takes it seriously anymore. You can hear this in the media, the workplace, your family or sometimes from parents when you become a Christian. I remember my parents telling me not to take it all so seriously, no one takes that seriously anymore. The same seed that produces a hundredfold a few feet away reproduces nothing at all on the path. Why? Because the seed doesn’t penetrate. It doesn’t have any life imparting impact. It stayed on the surface.
This is obviously true for those who don't even entertain the possibility that God speaks at all, but it's also a very real warning to believers not to miss it. It's possible for Christians not to bother to take the word seriously and not be changed. Sometimes we dismiss truth and the seed lies on the surface. The Bible says we have an enemy and that the seed sown on the pathway is snatched away by the evil one (Matthew 13:19). This can happen even before we get out of the door at Church. We had a chat, a cup of coffee and so on, but the word didn't do anything in us. Whereas elsewhere it's phenomenally changing people.
A friend of mine was visiting the church of a famous preacher. He said he was so impacted by the sermon that he just wanted to go home and seek God about what he'd heard. Walking behind two people, he heard one say to the other 'he was quite good this week wasn't he?' and the other said 'yes, but not as good as last week'. No penetration! Simply observing how the preacher performed. The seed simply lies on the surface.
So the pathway is dangerous turf. It says in Matthew 13:18 that the seed which falls on the pathway is referring to someone who 'hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it'. Some will say 'well you take me as you find me, I'm Joe Blunt, I speak my mind, I don't take the bible very seriously because well, who can understand it? By not receiving the word, he's not being changed by it. He's not thinking 'oh I see, I need to change my worldview on this, I need to change my attitude on this, the way I run my home, the way I look after my wife, the way I train my children'. He's not being shaped by truth because 'well who can understand it? The Bible's difficult'.
When we don't understand, it's not because we've got low IQ, or we're not very clever, it's because we won't become as a little child, and let it speak to us and give it full weight. Paul instructed that we consider what he said and the Lord will give us understanding (2 Timothy 2:7). That's a twofold process. You consider it and the Lord will give you understanding.
When you first go to Starbucks, you read the menu and find lattes, americanos and cappuccinos and you think 'all I want is a coffee!' You've got to learn the language. And if we're going to be serious about growing as a Christian, maybe producing a hundredfold, we've got to start understanding the language of scripture and letting truth penetrate. The word is able to change us. It's able to do us good. It's powerful. So beware the danger of just missing it and letting it stay on the surface ready for the bids to steal.
Interpreting the parable of the sower as simply about coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus is missing its full significance. The familiarity of the story can cause you to switch off to an interpretation that is relevant to both the new and the experienced Christian.
The parable of the sower is the first reference to a parable in Mark’s gospel. Perhaps it could be called the 'parable of the different soils', because it's main feature is fundamentally how different soils respond to the seed. There's also something unique about this parable because Jesus said, if you don't understand it, how will you understand all the parables?
Jesus said, “The seed is the word of God.” Every time God speaks, this parable happens. Every Sunday we have a dynamic experience of the parable of the sower. As we sit and hear the word, we represent all kinds of different soils, different ways of responding to what is being said. Week by week, as we gather in churches, seed is being thrown and different hearts are receiving the word of God in different ways.
It may be a word about prayer, faith or victory over sin. It may be a word about your family or financial resources. Words are coming to you. Words that have power, that can change you, save you or rescue you from anxiety, fear and small vision. A dynamic process takes place. These words can produce life. How you receive them is the big issue. How do you receive these words? So please don't think 'oh I know about the parable of the sower’. No, it’s about how we receive what God is saying to you about all sorts of things.
Jesus said, ‘My words are Spirit and life’. He is a life imparting Spirit. He can impart life to you. You can be full of anxiety; He can change that with a word. You may have problems with lust; He can change that with a word. You may have all sorts of things that we battle with; a word can set you free. The question is, how do we respond to these words?
In the next few posts, we will explore the different kinds of responses to God's word through this parable.
Holy Spirit-inspired preaching brings about an encounter with God that demands a verdict and produces a changed life based on revelation, faith and love, not cold obedience to external rules.
God’s flock will intuitively hear His voice and respond as truth is fed to them by called and anointed pastor/teachers. Gradually a culture of God-centredness will emerge characterised by worship, faith, grace, mercy, respect, service and the awareness of being an alien people whose fundamental citizenship lies elsewhere (Phi. 3:20).
The shepherd’s ability to feed and be a channel of God’s grace will result in the gathering of a flock. The sheep gather to the gifted anointing of shepherding and thus a flock forms.
The responsibility of the shepherds is not simply to expound truth but to develop relationships of love and trust, and in some cases to ‘parent’ a flock often made up of those who have never been parented before. Paul says that he was among the Thessalonians ‘like a nursing mother tenderly caring for her own children’ (1 Thess. 2:7), adding that he also was ‘exhorting, encouraging and imploring each of you as a father would his own children’ (1 Thess. 2:11). Many in our modern world don’t have true fathers. No one has helped to shape their lives. Many modern city-dwellers are lost and lonely, like sheep without a shepherd, distressed and harassed (Matt. 9:36).
There has never been a greater need for true shepherds to be raised up to care for God’s flock, unafraid to use rod and staff when the need arises, and thereby keeping the flock safe and secure, at rest and able to lie down unafraid in green pastures.
Paul, when speaking to the Ephesian elders, urged them not only to take heed to the flock and shepherd them, he also reminded them ‘to take heed to themselves’ (Acts 20:28). If Jesus prayed, ‘For their sakes I sanctify myself’ (John 17:19) how much more must under-shepherds be on guard.
In John Piper’s words, ‘Brothers we are not professionals.’ Ultimately, we also are sheep. We need to stay very close to the great shepherd, enjoying His smile, drinking in His lavish grace and being diligent to embrace His disciplines and training and follow His guidance.
Moses came from encounters with the Lord with shining face. David made it his pre-eminent desire to spend days in the Lord’s tent, feasting at His table and delighting in His presence. No under-shepherd is an end in himself, or has intrinsic superior wisdom. If Jesus said, ‘The words I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative…’ (John 14:10), how much more must we be constantly receiving fresh grace and instruction.
God has promised ‘shepherds after his own heart’. May we be the fulfilment of that promise.
// Originally posted on Terry's Blog //
The sign of a fish provided an early symbol of Christian commitment and identification with the Jewish Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, but the more enduring image is undoubtedly the cross.
Whether unending lines of identical white crosses at a military cemetery or two simple pieces of wood nailed together in a remote place; whether massive and resplendent on the dome of a great cathedral, or minute, jangling on a necklace, the cross remains the unmistakeable sign identified with the Christian faith.
In our contemporary world, of course, we are far removed from its original horror and shame. We see it paraded at the heart of a national flag or carried high at a procession full of pomp and splendor. When Paul boasted in the cross, his boast would have been incomprehensible to any of his contemporaries, apart from those who had fully embraced its breathtaking wisdom.
The cross was a form of public execution of unparalleled degradation and repulsiveness. Though Paul gloried in the cross, men’s normal response would have been horror and disgust at something so hideous and repellent. It was reserved for the lowest of the low and enabled Rome not only to crush its enemies but to leave them full of utter terror, fear and humiliation.
Even though the Romans imposed this infamous punishment on their enemies, Cicero condemned it as ‘a most cruel and disgusting punishment’, later adding, ‘The very word “cross” should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.’
Naked and disowned by men and God, someone hanging on a tree was regarded by the Jews as forsaken and damned. Man had inflicted punishment to the limits of his ability. Now let God curse him!
For Paul to boast in the cross and be determined to preach no other message than Jesus Christ and him crucified was extraordinary, a mystery of foolishness to the Greeks and a cause of deep offence to the Jews. How could his disciples proclaim Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah? He had not merely died; he had been completely humiliated at the hands of the Gentiles. The true Messiah should have followed David’s success against Goliath and vanquished the Romans, not be thoroughly dishonored, mocked and dismissed by them.
For Paul and the apostles to go to the world proclaiming a message centred in crucifixion was absolutely staggering. It seemed like a public acknowledgement of defeat and disaster, but of course the message of the cross did not stand alone! It was made dynamic by the insistence that, though Godless men put him to death, there were two other breathtaking factors to discover, namely that Christ had been ‘delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23) and that indeed it was impossible for death to hold him, for God had raised him up again (Acts 2:24).
Jesus had not been simply betrayed, tricked and overwhelmed by men’s cunning; God himself had predetermined it. The Bible consistently speaks of God’s advance plan and complete involvement. God had ordained a way to satisfy His justice, vindicate His name, uphold the law, fulfil the promises, realize Israel’s destiny, defeat Satan, justify sinners, release captives, demonstrate His unspeakable love and begin a new creation.
God had not abdicated. He was involved. God (we are told) ‘made him to be sin who knew no sin’ (2 Cor. 5:21). We often misquote this verse and paraphrase it ‘he became sin’, whereas we are plainly told that God ‘made him to be sin’. As Leon Morris points out, ‘The verb is active and the subject is God,’ and as Philip Hughes adds, ‘There is no sentence more profound in the whole of Scripture, for this verse embraces the whole ground of the sinner’s reconciliation to God.’
He suffered for our sins as though they were his own so that we might enjoy the reward of his righteousness as though that had been our own. His spotless life in all its perfection and innocence is credited to our account, as though we had lived it.
When Jesus shouted out ‘it is finished’, never did the word ‘it’ carry so much weight. Judgement was passed, the law was fulfilled, God was satisfied, the temple was redundant, principalities and powers were disarmed, the battle was won and new creation could begin.
For us who are in Christ, we were crucified, dead and buried with him. The Bible tells me that two men were crucified with Jesus but it also reveals that I was crucified with him. I might not always feel like it, but my old self was as certainly crucified as those two! (Rom. 6:6). Judgement is passed, bondage to sin is over, resurrection life has begun.
Paul gloried in the ‘old rugged’ cross not in nostalgic reflection but in triumph and glorious emancipation. ‘May it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Gal. 6:14).
As J I Packer said, ‘Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgement for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory.’
This, the power of the cross: Christ became sin for us; Took the blame, bore the wrath – We stand forgiven at the cross.
Originally published on Terry's Blog.(Chorus taken from The Power of the Cross by Stuart Townend & Keith GettyCopyright © 2005 Thankyou Music
I am delighted to note, that in a recent commentary on Romans published by Apollos in the Pillar series, Collin G Kruze has stated that his understanding of Romans 7 is that it represents Israel’s historic encounter with the law, and her ongoing experience of life under the law.
In other words, he does not regard it as Paul’s personal testimony as a Christian. Kruze is thorough in his presentation of various alternative understandings of the passage, but comes to rest with this particular interpretation, which I find very helpful. It has often saddened me to find Christian believers, who want to embrace the power of the gospel, finding themselves confused and somewhat undone, by reading the latter part of Romans 7 as Paul’s personal testimony.
I was myself helped many years ago by reading Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ comments on this passage, in which he argues that Paul does not simply say that he sometimes has an off day, but makes far stronger statements than that, which make it clear that he cannot be referring to his own personal testimony.
He says that nothing good dwells within him; he says that the willing is present but the doing is not. He says that he does evil; “I practice the very evil that I don’t want”. He goes on to say that “the principle of evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good”. The point that Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones made is that his statements are too strong to be personal Christian testimony, and they cut across so many explicit statements of freedom, that Paul makes elsewhere, such as in Romans 6 and indeed Romans 8.
Elsewhere Paul speaks of enjoying freedom and claims that he is not conscious of anything against himself (1 Corinthians 4:4).
Throughout the letter to the Galatians, Paul expresses the glorious liberty that freedom from the law provides, and exhorts the Galatians to stand firm in the freedom which God has provided.
Some have argued, that Paul testifies in 1 Timothy 1: 15, that he is the chief of sinners. I have heard some insist that because his statement uses the present tense “I am” and not “I was”, this proves that he regarded himself as a great sinner. Surely this cannot be how we should understand him. Why would we follow or imitate one who claims to be a great sinner? Why would the same man claim to have a clear conscience before God? Elsewhere Paul makes bold claims of not being mastered by anything. Surely his reference here is to his past background since in the very same context he says; “for this reason I found mercy”, having spoken of his former life in verse 13, as a “blasphemer and a persecutor and violent aggressor who was shown mercy”.
I am pleased to notice that in Michael J Gormans’ excellent book Cruciformity, he says, “Most interpreters today understand Romans 7 as Paul’s Christian reflection on the pre-Christian predicament, and especially the pre- Christian Jewish struggle to do the law while under the power of sin.”
I hope that Christians generally, will embrace this interpretation and step out of the shadows caused by the alternative interpretation, which leaves many tied up in knots and with low expectation of joyful freedom.
When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul - Psalm 94:19 (NASB)
The fact is that anxieties do multiply. They breed! One leads to another, so that your imagination, mingled with fear, can take you on a journey into despair and depression.
Some of the Bible’s greatest heroes, such as Elijah, Moses and David knew such times. They wanted to take wings and fly away, to die, to have their lives taken from them. Anxiety is powerful and energy sapping, robbing you of peace and security.
Anxiety wants to take you into an imagined future of failure and shame. It certainly doesn’t want to remind you of God’s previous faithfulness and loving-kindness. It wants to direct your imagination into a day that does not yet exist, a day where God’s grace has not yet arrived. That imagined day has not yet happened so God’s grace has not been manifested for it yet.
Fears project you and your anxious thoughts into a make believe world in the future, while Jesus says ‘take no thought for tomorrow’. The psalmist says ‘your consolations delight my heart’. I love that NASB rendering of the verse.
God knows how to console. His consolations are powerful, rooted in His character, power and constant faithfulness. But the power of the verse lies in the word ‘delight’. It is so important not merely to acknowledge them but to actually delight in them.
It’s not enough to know about them, you must drink deeply! Make sure that your heart is delighted!
Anxiety is a powerful emotion with ability to multiply. Drink in God’s consolations, his love, faithfulness, awesome promises, ability to behead Goliath, to destroy Jericho walls, forbid fire to burn, close the mouth of lions, open prison doors, make a way where there is no way, cause rivers to gush out of a rock in the desert, feed millions in a wilderness and make all things work together for your good!
Is your heart delighting yet? Maybe you need, like Paul in a prison in Philipi, to start singing and praising till delight fills the soul. Then let Him bring the earthquake that breaks your prison chains. Just as God vindicated His call to Paul to go to Macedonia in the first place…
Paul refused to allow anxieties to multiply in that dark prison cell. Anxiety must yield when delight fills the soul, but make sure you don’t stop short of delight, or anxiety may not give ground.
How do we recognise true delight? Well, if anxieties multiply, consider some of the offspring of delight. As mentioned in the Thesaurus, these are some of its companions or offspring; pleased as punch, over the moon, on top of the world, like a dog with two tails, jump or dance for joy, purr with pleasure, be like a cat with a dish of cream, luxuriate in, bask, in, wallow, have fun, relish, smack ones lips. Get the picture? You need to have your soul smacking its lips with joy. Let the power of delight banish the false claims of multiplied anxieties. Let the Lord restore your soul, the joy of the Lord is your strength, enough to overcome all anxieties, but make sure you get right into full delight in God and all His faithfulness to you.
Anxieties can’t live with delight.
‘Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification.’
This fascinating quote was recently sent to me by a friend from South Africa. It was initially expressed by John Flavel (1627 – 1691).
I first came across John Flavel decades ago when I read The Mystery of Providence. I found it such an edifying book, demonstrating God’s power over every circumstance. It stimulated my faith and helped settle me in my increasing confidence in a sovereign God full of tenderness, mercy and extraordinary attention to detail. Later, I bought the six-volume set of Banner of Truth, Works of John Flavel, which was full of Biblical truth and pastoral wisdom.
I was fascinated, therefore, to read of his emphasis on ‘ecstasy and delight’ and his argument that ‘they promote sanctification’.
Undoubtedly many would regard ‘ecstasy and delight’ as frivolous when considering the important matter of one’s sanctification. But John Flavel, like other insightful people such as Jonathan Edwards and the romantic poet John Donne, understood that if we do not find our deepest joys in God we look elsewhere and frustrate God’s great purpose to flood our inner being with His love.
When I was first converted out of a reckless kind of lifestyle I was surprised to discover that my contemporaries, the young people in the evangelical church that I had now joined, were manifestly bored. They endured church but ‘came alive’ when the meetings concluded, usually when beginning to talk about girls or perhaps their motorbikes, cars or the sports they pursued. No one seemed to be very excited about their experience of God. More enthusiasm was expressed when they ventured to discuss themes which bordered on the kind of lifestyle that I had just left behind. They seemed fascinated with borderline experiences of a world from which I had drunk fairly deeply. They clearly wondered if there was more fun ‘out there’ than in church life.
As a new Christian I began to learn the jargon that we had discovered ‘Life-with-a capital-“L”’. We proclaimed ‘Christ is the answer!’ but few among my contemporaries had found anything answering their need. As far as I could see, this was true of the whole youth group of maybe 70 young Christians. I tried to find my place amongst a group that used the language of fulfilment but who were manifestly unsatisfied.
How fascinating then to find the Puritan John Flavel insisting on ‘ecstasy and delight’ as ‘essential’ and arguing that they ‘promote sanctification’.
As Jonathan Edwards would have it, ‘God is glorified not only by His glory being seen but by it being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it.’ As a charismatic I can’t thank God enough for experiencing something of the love of God being poured out in my heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). As Douglas Moo says in his commentary on Romans, ‘The verb “pour out” connotes an abundant extravagant effusion’!
The Puritans have not found it easy to shake off their ‘bad Press’ as narrow, miserable deniers of pleasure, but enough from me! Let me give you the rest of the John Flavel quote:
‘Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification. We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heart-warming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God.
‘The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfilment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savouring the felt comforts of a Saviour’s presence.
‘When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers. By the enjoyment of the love of Christ in the heart of a believer, we mean an experience of the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us” (Rom. 5:5).’
Don’t you love ‘happy clappy’ Puritans? They knew a thing or two!
‘By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days’ Heb. 11:30
We must be strong and be strengthened, but there’s a trust element too. We must be strengthened by faith. Recently I was at a meeting where I was praying for people to be filled with the Spirit. Afterwards a girl came to me and said, ‘I’ve been filled with the Spirit but it doesn’t seem to have changed my life a lot.’ I thought that she was godly, zealous and very honest and I genuinely wanted to get some answers. I began to question why the gospel healings were so instructive.
Not only do they teach me God’s compassion and power, they also demonstrate how salvation gives us ability to do what can’t be done. What do I mean? Frequently Jesus operated in a crowd. People often watched to see if He’d heal on the Sabbath. In that context He told the man with the withered arm, ‘Stretch forth.’ He could have replied, ‘That’s a cruel thing to say to me because I can’t!’ It’s cruel, unless in the saying of the words there’s power. There’s power when Jesus says to you, ‘Be strong in the strength of God.’
Salvation power must come to meet us. Surely that’s what the healings and the miracles of the kingdom are all about. They demonstrate Jesus’ salvation. He gives you power to do what you couldn’t do. You may say, ‘I can’t walk away from pornography. I can’t do it. I’m locked in. ’Be loosed! ‘Yes I’m trying to be.’ No, no, ‘Be loosed. Be set free.’ Jesus saves doesn’t He?
He told the ten lepers, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priest.’ They could have said, ‘Why do that?’ But ‘as they went on their way they were made whole.’ ‘As they went on their way …’ You see, they walked into salvation, into a supernatural dimension. God didn’t find a lot of strong, extrovert people and say, ‘Be the light of the world.’ He came to weak people like you and me, some of us captivated by dark, evil habits, ruining other people’s lives. But He saved us. And He says, ‘You used to be darkness, now you’re light. Walk into the light.’ Come on, walk into it. It’s the miracle, the engagement place where the kingdom breaks in. When we believe Him we step into the freedom that he provides. We respond with active faith.
Confluence is a place where the reformed, the charismatic, and the mission-minded converge to equip and serve the church to transform communities. Our authors are mostly leaders in the Newfrontiers family of churches. Read more.
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