Declared with Power (and scruples)

The idea of Jesus in a manger is a cute one; a ‘helpless babe’ actually holding the universe in his hands. In the word of Michael Card: more than you can see; give up on your ponderings and fall down on your knees.

Okay, but more powerful still, much more meaningful in its fullness and completeness: not Christ on the cross (again, awesome and worthy of our deepest and best reflection, and NOT absolved by recent flagship statements and theologising, I don’t believe), but rather Jesus Christ our Lord ‘declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.’ (Romans 1:4)

It’s the resurrection from the dead that fills me with whoops and joy, with YES! And with a direction for the rest of my life. Unless a seed dies and falls into the ground it remains alone. I do not want to remain alone; I want to bear much fruit in this life. I would never have dared to do it, if I were not following, however, feebly (and pehaps unrecognisably) in the steps of Jesus, who has gone before in everything.

Do you ever worry about something you’ve done, and think – I must have really sinned there, and confess it to God, even though it seems foolish? Ignatius has a note on scruples: a true scruple is being disturbed about something you have done, doubting and not doubting, that it is a sin. It has something of the enemy in it. A scruple CAN be good, separating yourself from even the appearance of sin. But do you have a coarse or a sensitive conscience? If coarse, you do not recognise even serious sins – then the devil will try to coarsen your conscience still further. If sensitive, the devil will make you see sin where there is none. 

Always go in the opposite way to the devil: instead of thinking about yourself, raise your understanding to the Lord and see if what is being proposed is for His glory or not. If Jesus put the devil to flight, then in His strength and under His covering we can do the same.

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Learning from Martin Luther (The Kingdom Of God: Romans and Galatians)

There is some material here on Luther that I haven’t read before and it excites me as I am about to embark on a new look at Romans!

Learning From God's Word

This message was preached as part of a series in which we looked at what the books of the New Testament say about “the Kingdom of God.” Since the focus is really on Martin Luther, I’ve made “Learning from Martin Luther the main title, with “The Kingdom of God: Romans and Galatians” being given as a sub-title.

Justification by faith – This is a useful summary of the central message of Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians. This gospel teaching is the exact opposite of the way many people think about Christianity. So often, Christianity is confused with morality. What is a Christian? Many people will say to us, ‘It’s someone who tries hard to be good. It’s someone who lives a decent, respectable, law-abiding life. It’s someone who helps his neighbour and gives to good causes.’ This is not, however, the way in which the gospel answers…

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This caught my imagination… Love it

Cristian Mihai


“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds.”Charles Bukowski

Sacrifice is a a rare thing these days. In a society of instant gratification, we want to pay the price, and get something in return.

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Our deepest and best joy

i wanted to write something down again: do you notice that temptation at the start of a blog post to write something that grabs the reader? Well, I thought I wouldn’t succumb tonight.

Perhaps if we genuinely write for ourselves, then someone else may find it useful. Where am I at spiritually then? I know that I have not experienced genuine revival. Yet. But I am actually more privileged than I realise in knowing a very powerful level of God’s reality in my life. Not everyone has the gift of tongues. I have it, and yet I am even blasé about it. I just realised this earlier tonight: I said to my son, shall I pray for you in tongues tonight? He was keen for me to do so, and so I did. He tried to copy and speak a little in tongues himself (he is eight years old). 
Children like to copy what is good. There is a purity about children that shows where the Father is. He is a perfect father unlike me. I explained to my son that I didn’t actually know what I was praying when I prayed in tongues, but that I was thinking of him as I prayed. I then said: I’ll pray in English too so that you know what I’ve said, and did so. After praying in tongues, it helped refresh my prayer for him.

Coming back to revival, I have been aware of the challenge of living in personal revival for a number of years, and have made some progress in it. Enough to be more repentant and broken. Enough to be less guilty! Enough to desire more of the revealed word of God in my life with an ache and a longing.

There is nothing more important than communing with Jesus. After a difficult day today, I have found my refuge in the Bible, in the Lord, in enjoying Him. Run to Him when you don’t know where else to turn. He will refresh you and fill you with joy.

The deepest and best joy is in our daily service, whether for our family, in our job, or just in the daily routine. It is a delight to have things to do (to paraphrase Screwtape from C.S.Lewis) that do not upset the Father in the least. In fact, just as I delight in seeing my toddler rush around, whatever he is doing, so the Father takes pleasure in seeing us up and about, heart attuned to the dove of the Spirit, about our daily business, and looking up for His smile and nudge.

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Joyful ‘Toons – Stray Sheep

I think we’ve all said this at one time or another…


This cartoon is an encouragement to Christians to remain faithful in church attendance. We need the benefits that come from being a part of a group of fellow believers. August 17, 2008 This cartoon is an encouragement to Christians to remain faithful in church attendance. We need the benefits that come from being a part of a group of fellow believers.
August 17, 2008

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Signal Fires

I was struck by something a friend said to me yesterday, that his normal London commute was delayed due to two signal fires. I’m not a regular train traveller so I don’t know if this happens regularly. 

But I was praying with a couple of our leadership team before the Sunday service this morning, and two things made me sense the wind of the Spirit. One, voiced by someone else, was that the cobwebs would be swept away. It didn’t strike me at the time, but later in the meeting a sister prayed for ME that the cobwebs get swept away. She hadn’t been there for the pre-meeting prayer! And then, I just got the thought about track-switching, about a train unavoidably re-routed by a switch on the track, and at the same time was reminded of signal fires.

Train signals are desperately important for safety. I’m guessing that a signal fire is the same as a signal failure, and that trains just have to stop and wait, rather than blunder on to possible collisions. But I think perhaps there needs to be more burning at the moment.

What sort of burning? I’m not saying that we reject everything we have experienced and learnt so far. It is true that from time to time I feel like I want to start again, put everything down, reassess. Looking through my possessions before moving house, you can be tricked into thinking: I’ve not used that item, or turned to that book, in five years, so I won’t need it. Chances are, just after you’ve got rid of it, you will be clamouring for it. Life has a habit of moving in waves, in phases, where whole swathes of your personality or networks of relationships aren’t touched for a while, and then suddenly you’re reconnected to them. So no, I’m not saying decrease the richness and the breadth of your life.

But I AM saying, burn up the dross. Let the bitterness go. Let the comparisons go. Lose the teenage crushes and the consumerist envy. Joy, as a veteran of the faith reminded me the other night on the way to Lighthouse Prayer, is spelled Jesus, Others, You. Happiness is the opposite, it starts with You, and never gets any further, circling around self self self like a vulture waiting for the final pickings; the lust for happiness is not satisfied until every shred of joy is completely gone.  Jesus said, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.

He modelled it in his own path. His was not the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire. I think we have to be careful if we find there are too many primroses on our paths. Jesus walked a narrow way, but it led to an unspeakable joy. The Lord chooses to speak to us through a fire, or through a strange event, and he is telling us the next step. My food is to do the will of him who sent me. Am I going to listen, and respond, to the word that the Holy Spirit is bringing, or do I retreat to a formula, to a good idea?

To let go. To let the Spirit burn up in me each day. To say No to self.

What release. 

What freedom.

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With Full Conviction Review


The programme Neil kindly let me have – take £1 to get your own copy!

Feeling very privileged, I set off last night to be in a select audience for the first performance of a remarkable piece of drama, ‘With Full Conviction’ written by my good friend Neil MacDonald.

I had seen the playscript in an earlier form and was quite excited by the possibilities.  When I entered St. Wilfrid’s Church, Bognor Regis, however, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw!  There was an atmospheric feel with muted lighting, green squares representing grass and two benches, opposite from each other (which would move to side by side later on in the performance), and a larger-than-life, leafy, cosmic tree in the background.  Also there was a character looking as if she had sprung from the tree, Wanda by name, wandering around as the ‘spirit of the park’, witnessing and at times symbolically leading the action.  The play was accompanied by a spacey, dreamy musical accompaniment that helped to prolong and deepen the impact of the piece.

What takes place in this play? Mike, a gay Christian on a lunchbreak on a park bench, gets into conversation with Kev, a young unemployed man with a bad foot.  He offers to put some holy water on it, and Kev’s friend Magda and Kev himself are not a little surprised by the result.

The ripe language at times drew gasps from some in the audience (drawn I am guessing mainly from a church background), but it seemed to fit in perfectly with an educated, avuncular, camp older man making cold contact with a younger man who clearly needed help.  I don’t want to give away how the play movingly develops, but I do want to single out a couple of powerful moments.

The first was when Kev just cannot cope with Mike’s probing questions and demands for a response: Mike gets a bit in Kev’s face, and Kev leaps up, swinging Mike around and landing a punch in his stomach.  Completely believable and shocking.  I almost wanted to dive up and help ‘Mike’ myself.  At this point, I felt that the character Magda, who is a friend to Kev but at the same time is more open-minded than him towards things spiritual, valuably conveys the audience’s shock and sense of decorum.

The second powerful moment comes later on – the play is partly inspired by the Ravensbruck Prayer, and it’s after Magda retells the story of Etty and her experience in the Second World War, that the quick repartee between Mike and Magda becomes very powerful and a dialogue of faith and its possibilities: the line ‘Everything can change’ really rang out at me and is inspiring me still.  From this point onwards, the drama had a powerful sense of onward momentum: it wasn’t just a sense that ‘Mike’ as your representative Christian was out on a mission in the world, but the three individuals are drawn together and discover they all need each other – the power came as Mike freezes and appears to become catatonic.  It is Kev, surprisingly, who responds warmly to Mike and helps him.  It becomes Mike’s turn to show his need, and it is just as broken, urgent and desperate as the others.

I think for myself as a Christian, I do not take seriously enough the help that I can receive from others, particularly those who would not identify themselves as ‘Jesus freaks’.  God uses everyone, and we need each other.  Sometimes, the only person who can help you is a Christian – what’s the problem with that?  But at other times, as Christians, we need to allow those around us to support us – I think Jesus would have done the same, and probably often did.  We might be surprised by the way what they say keys in to our need and where we are – as Hopkins wrote, ‘Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in eyes and lovely in limbs not His.’  That probably sounds patronising for those who are not God-botherers, but to put it a different way, kindness and love is not limited to Christians – quite the opposite!

The power in the last moments of the play as the characters leave the stage, with the lines: “we are ordinary people…people who must love…whatever the cost.” meant that those of us in the audience just sat there, slightly awestruck, by the vision, the tawdriness, the magic (of the music, of the set), and the sheer guts of this play.  Here we were, in a church building and church community, watching a play written by a member of that community (but may I say performed by at least two people very much strangers to institionalised church): yet the play was saying – the institution is not enough to help, not everyone.  It was also saying: gay people can show others the way to Jesus.  It was also saying: we should keep trying and keep believing.

I guess the value of community is that love is found in actions, rather than simply intentions.  This play came out of a desire to communicate the value of an Ignatian Retreat and the Spiritual Exercises: one great tool that these provide are about helping to make better choices.  Everything can change because we can change our choices.

I don’t feel that I’ve done the play justice at all – it’s being performed tonight and tomorrow night:

Sunday 21st February at 7.30 pm – All Saints Church, Hove, BN3 3QE
Monday 22nd February at 7.30 pm – All Saint Church, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 3QE

at All Saints Church, Hove – you can find more information about the project here.

I may come back and write more about this at a later stage, but thank you Neil, Jack, Mari, Joanna (actors and last one, director), as well as Gus, Zoe, Marian and those others involved as well, for a remarkable and memorable evening.

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Losing your Mojo

This may be a spur of the moment, but the pleasure of WordPress, and the desire to engage and explore, has brought me to the keyboard and the screen.

For a short period I was blogging regularly, and I revamped my blog a little while ago to regain a focus on living in revival.  Oddly, the opposite perhaps has happened since I have been on here.

I have been going through one of those seasons in your life where you are just, yep, living.   Just about.  Not quite sure if you’re coming or going, trying to do a dozen things, doing none of them very well – everywhere you turn, someone is firing at you either broadsides, or taking a pot-shot.

There are days, aren’t there, where for some reason you manage to escape anyone firing at you, and you think: Hah, got away with that one!  Then the next day, you realise that they were saving them all up, and they get fired at you all at once.

Please don’t think I’m getting at anyone here.  If anything, I’m getting at myself.  I remember, when I started out in teaching, that I put a topical slogan ‘I choose to lose today’ by my desk, and my then head of department said: That’s a bit negative!  It was a reference to Galatians 2:20 and dying in Christ.  It’s fine declaiming ‘I was lost without the Saviour’ but the truth is: I am still lost without the Saviour.

Let’s get this straight.  Meeting Jesus so early in my life ruined me for anything other than knowing Him. Whatever my lofty ambitions were in my teens and my twenties, everything has shrunk now and, while grateful for what I have, the opportunities close down like that Larkin poem (see ‘To My Wife’ page above). I now look at the years I have lived so far, and I think: what have I done with them?  Where is the fruit?  And I am not in despair, because I trust in the awesome salvation that Jesus has worked, all with me in mind.  But there is a large gap between where I wanted to be for Him, and where I have been shown to be in prophetic words, and where I am.

A key was mentioned in passing in our church a month or so back.  Someone said; It’s the regular washing of the Word that you need.  The days I wash in the Word are the days I get my priorities straight.  They’re the days I remember to do the tasks that will matter left undone.  The days where I’m about to get attacked, but I flourish the piece of completed work and say: All done.  It’s not so important to be up early and working to get that piece of marking or planning finished.  It’s much more important to see the face of the Saviour before I see the face of men (or women – to quote Robert Murray McCheyne).

So I’ve come back to the blog, and I do not think that blogging is a cure-all.  It’s not even like a New Year’s Resolution – just the echo of a desire to change, quickly abandoned.  But rather like journalling (which I have managed to do, thankfully, this week at least), it helps me to set my mind straight and to seek God’s kingdom before I seek my own.  Then I won’t THINK about seeking my own kingdom!

What do we all have to look forward to as believers?  The opportunity in the present moment to touch Him, to align, and to change the world.  He will take care of the ungraspable future, the impossible future, that He has promised.  But the little present is where we all need to start.  Help me God!


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Better Than a Thousand Elsewhere

The start of this post seems very time-/works focused, at a glance, but then the desire at the end is totally sweet; only You Lord! And how could Psalm 84 ever get old?

Fragrance Arise


This was my first week at The Prayer Room in Arlington, Texas, and I hit the ground running. I have already led four two-hour solo worship sets on piano, section led twice (a section leader is the main point person in charge of the prayer room for a six-hour block of time), and ushered once. Yesterday I was at the prayer room for fourteen hours because I was filling in as a section leader on top of my regular prayer room hours and worship leading. In total, I count 26 hours I’ve spent in the prayer room in the last five days- and Wednesday was a day off.

Worship leading is still rather new to me, as is playing piano in general, so of course I’ve encountered glitches like hitting the wrong buttons on the keyboard (that was NOT the sound I wanted!) and fumbling the chords plenty of times. I love it, though, because every…

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Thoughts on Revision

Really liked this on redrafting – I’m toying with the idea of writing a novel NaNoWriMo

Aarongilbreath's Blog

There is power in a first draft, but Hemingway was mostly right: first drafts are shit. Maybe it’s not that way for everyone, but for me and what seems like many people, first drafts are a start; you find your story in revision.

Revision is both the most gratifying and the most draining part of my writing life. It exhausts while it challenges, engaging my aesthetic and intellectual sensibilities simultaneously, my conscious and subconscious minds, and it leaves me so worn out that I no longer distinguish between the excitement of constantly thinking about and laboring over an essay, and the frustration of it. Revision is so essential that if I had to choose one line to describe the writing process, it would be: “writing is revision.” Maybe that’s why I love poet Robert Hass’s quote so much: “It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable…

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