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STAND FIRM!

I have found it fascinating that 3 times in just this last week, I have had conversations with people about very different situations, but the advice I gave was the same to them all.

Life happens, troubles comes but we must be aware of where it is coming from. The enemy has a simple strategy which is 2 fold:

1. Break relationships between Christians and God

2. Break relationships between Christians in church

Once we are aware of this, we can see the origin of trouble for what it is, and respond accordingly. Paul instructs us clearly in Ephesians 6 that we are in a battle and we need to be kitted up and ready.

Ephesians 6:10-18

Finally, build up your strength in union with the Lord and by means of his mighty power. Put on all the armour that God gives you, so that you will be able to stand up against the Devil’s evil tricks. For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. So put on God’s armour now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground.

So stand ready, with truth as a belt tight around your waist, with righteousness as your breastplate, and as your shoes the readiness to announce the Good News of peace. At all times carry faith as a shield; for with it you will be able to put out all the burning arrows shot by the Evil One. And accept salvation as a helmet, and the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you. Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people. TEV

The pieces of armour mentioned above as all defensive apart from the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. It is essential that we know the Word so we will be able to stand strong and not let the devil win. Also, when practised, we know how to raise the shield of faith when we see trouble coming. Without this knowledge, we get hit every time.

James 4 v7 says to submit to God (know Him and trust Him), resist the devil (you have the authority in Jesus name to do this) and he HAS to flee.

So I encourage you to get your armour on. If you are a leader, make sure your people know how to put the armour on. We live in troubled days in a fallen world.

We MUST take ground for Christ through God’s power to set captives free. Hallelujah!

The latest album from the band ‘Casting Crowns’ is called ‘Thrive’.

The title track is based on Jeremiah 17 v7-8 and Psalm 1. Here are some words from the song.

“We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives

Its time for us to more than just survive,

We were made to thrive.

Into Your word, we’re digging deep to know our Father’s heart

Into the world, we’re reaching out to show them who You are.

Joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable, love unstoppable, anything is possible”

Why do we settle so easily for ordinary? We have an extraordinary God who works through us with the power of the Holy Spirit, so life should be anything but mundane, ordinary or boring!

The picture from Psalm 1 is of a tree which is planted by the stream. Its roots are deep and draw water from the stream, producing leaves and fruit. This is how we should be. Our roots deep in to God and His word and knowing who we are in Christ. We draw life from the Bible, daily strength from the Holy Spirit and security from the Father. We then produce leaves (character) which attracts others as we reach out, and fruit (fruit of the Spirit and new Christians).

Jeremiah 17:7-8

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.

He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” NIV

Are you surviving or thriving?

We Christians were made to thrive!

www.castingcrowns.com

I was recently invited to preach about Hezekiah, a great King in the Old Testament. The story of his life appears across 10 chapters in 3 OT books! (2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 29-32 and Isaiah 36-39).

Hezekiah became King of Judah when was 25 years old and reigned for 29 years.

SO…What can we learn from his life?

1. Pray for your family

Hezekiah’s father was King Ahaz, a bad example to Judah. However, Hezekiah’s Great grandfather was King Uzziah and his Grandfather was King Jotham – both great Godly kings.

Also his mother was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah (spiritual advisor to King Uzziah. Abijah means ‘my father is Yaweh’. Ahaz was such a bad king, but yet, Hezekiah during his reign did what was right in the sight of the Lord. God had his hand on Hezekiah and was greatly influenced for good by his family.

WHO INFLUENCED YOU ? WHO DO YOU INFLUENCE?

2. Stand up for what is right

Hezekiah destroyed the pagan idols, Opened the temple for worship again

Instigated both civil and religious reforms, Reinstated tithing

Reinstated the Passover celebration

Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful.

DO YOU STAND UP FOR WHAT IS RIGHT, EVEN THOUGH YOU MAY BE UNPOPULAR?

3. Use your God given gifts and talents

Hezekiah was an architect, organiser and strategist. He designed and oversaw the construction of the Siloam Tunnel in Jerusalem which diverted the flow of water through the city. This kept the water flowing despite being under siege from enemies.

WHAT GIFTS HAS GOD GIVEN YOU? ARE YOU USING THEM?

4. Pray Powerful Prayers and see them answered

Hezekiah had a powerful prayer life and a personal relationship with God

a) Letter threatening invasion by Assyria

Hezekiah took the letter to the Temple, spread it out before the Lord and prayed:

“O LORD, the God of Israel, seated on your throne above the winged creatures, you alone are God, ruling all the kingdoms of the world. You created the earth and the sky. Now, LORD, look at what is happening to us. Listen to all the things that Sennacherib is saying to insult you, the living God. Now, LORD our God, rescue us from the Assyrians, so that all the nations of the world will know that only you, O LORD, are God.” TEV

God answered his prayer and Jerusalem was saved.

b) Prayer at death’s door

King Hezekiah became sick and almost died. The prophet Isaiah confirmed death was at hand. THEN Hezekiah prayed: “Remember, LORD, that I have served you faithfully and loyally and that I have always tried to do what you wanted me to.” And he began to cry bitterly.

Isaiah heard the Lord speak and told the king He would grant Hezekiah 15 more years of life, during which time he married and had a son Manesseh, an heir to the throne.

DO YOU EVERY SITUATION TO GOD IN PRAYER, AND EXPECT HIM TO ANSWER?

5. Beware of temptation and compromise.

Things were going well in Judah and Hezekiah didn’t rely on God so much. He began to be proud and make mistakes. When visitors came from Babylon, Hezekiah showed off the armouries and treasuries of the city, which just put them on the Babylonians list of ‘countries to invade’! He trusted in might, not so much in God. The invasion came during Manessah’s reign, who was captured and taken to Babylon in chains.

BEWARE OF TEMPTATION & COMPROMISE

KEEP YOUR EYES ON JESUS

Becoming a Christian is just the beginning of a new life, a new way of being with a relationship with God and a new family called the church. Like a new baby, we are expecting to grow, learn new things about God, about ourselves and mature in our faith.

However, growth is a choice and some people just become old Christians not mature ones. To feed a lamb, the farmer holds it in his arms and bottle feeds it. As it grows bigger, the farmer leads it to feed on grass with the other sheep.

New Christians need to be looked after, encouraged to meet with the whole church on a Sunday for worship, teaching and fellowship, to join a homegroup for Bible study, pastoral care and prayer and lastly, to be shown and given resources for personal study and supported to be a whole life disciple.

One to one conversations are always essential with new Christians as many drag baggage from the past into the present, which affects the future. To deal with this, I recommend the ‘Freedom in Christ’ course (see www.ficm.org.uk)

It is also important to discover their gifts and give them opportunity to serve. It is also important to understand their lifestyle and pressures of work, family, health etc, and discover the best way in which the church can support them.

Read Acts 2 v41-47 to see how the early church grew disciples from converts.

How does your church grow disciples?

I have been on holiday recently and as always, love being by the sea. I could watch it all day.

It struck me that there were so many parallels between the sea and God’s love.

A song I used to sing in Sunday school came to mind:

‘Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heavens above,

Deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Saviour’s love.’ (Charles A Miles 1914)

God’s love is:

Deep

Unfailing

Powerful

Gentle

Life giving

Life sustaining

Unpredictable

Shaping – changing our rough edges to smooth

Beautiful

Glorious

Faithful

Man can’t stop it

Man doesn’t understand it

Sadly, we are told that there will be no sea in heaven (Rev 21v1).

The Hebrews were a land-loving people who distrusted a large body of water such as the Mediterranean Sea. To them the sea was a perilous and forbidding place. The sea therefore became a symbol of the seething nations of the world and of the troubled lives of the unrighteous (Dan 7:2-3; Matt 13:47; Rev 13:1). Perhaps this is why the apostle John spoke of the glorious new heaven and new earth as a place in which “there was no more sea” (Rev 21:1).

(from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

There are many songs which speak of God’s love never failing which have echoes of the constant motion of the sea (Your love never fails, How deep the Fathers love for us, Higher than the mountains that I face etc).

Take some time today appreciating and enjoying God’s love for you.

As a church, we are studying Philippians during Lent. The study I led recently was concentrating on Paul’s prayer to this church that he planted and enjoyed a deep ongoing relationship with.

Phil 1 v1-11 Paul prays for them often and with joy. They have grasped what it is to be church, to think Kingdom and be partners in the gospel. They have benefited from Paul’s teaching and character and he has benefited from their gifts and especially Epaphroditis’ visit (ch 4) during his time of hardship.

His prayer for them (v9-11) is revealing. When we pray for our church members, what do we pray for? Paul doesn’t pray for health, protection and blessing as we mainly do, but he is more concerned with the state of their souls. He prays that they may love more, get to know God better and that they may be able to ‘discern what is best’, living a life that is pure, blameless and fruitful.

The NIV says ‘discern what is best’, the AMP says ‘discern what is vital’ and the CEB says ‘know what really matters.’ ‘Vital’ implies those things which bring life, not death, but I like the translation ‘know what really matters.’ In the grand scheme, in the BIG picture, what REALLY matters? To you, to me, to God?

Here are my thoughts:

1. People coming to faith

2. Living a Christ centered life, knowing who I am in Christ and following my calling

3. Allowing God to hone our character

4. Expressing heaven values to people generally through the church.

Maybe you have a different list or have things in a different order – do let me know!

BUT beware of things in church life distracting you from what REALLY matters.

Sabbath Rest

At a conference recently, a group of about 20 pastors had a discussion about the Sabbath. We looked at Exodus 20 v8-11 then Deuteronomy 5 v12-15.

Many of the pastors found it hard to take a day off for various reasons but overwork is a killer, both physically and spiritually. For those of us who work in church on a Sunday, this is not our Sabbath, but it is our job to facilitate the congregation to have one. To praise, worship and rest is the Lord should be our top priorities.

The Sunday service in our church is often described as an oasis in a busy week. It is (or should be) the place of refreshment to both body and soul, the place to be equipped and empowered to face the week ahead with its many joys and challenges.

God held a mirror to my face saying ‘so when is your day off Hilary?’      I have such a varied diary that the line between work and pleasure is blurred. My new definition of Sabbath is ‘me and God on our own’ time. I have put DAY OFF on all Fridays in my diary from now on.

If you give out a lot, you have to take in a lot and keep life in balance.

The conference at Hothorpe Hall, Leics (http://www.hothorpe.co.uk) I attended was specifically for tired leaders of all denominations and was a place of refreshing, both physically and spiritually. Check out the website (www.livingleadership.org) to book for the next one. The main speaker next year is Rev David Coffey.

When is your day off?

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