Doctrine, Signs and Wonders

I have seen it claimed that there are in excess of 40,000 Christian denominations. Almost all of the people in those denominations would claim to have some experience of, or fellowship with, God, despite the fact that they all believe many different things – although of course they have many beliefs in common. And He chooses to work through those people. Now, if those people claim fellowship with God, what gives me the right to doubt them, just because I have ‘other ideas’ about correct beliefs; about what is a ‘good doctrine’ and what is a ‘bad doctrine’? If God chooses to work through these people, who am I to argue with that, just because they don’t necessarily fit with ‘what I believe the Bible says’, or, more presumptuously, ‘what the Bible clearly says’? Each of those people has arrived at their current faith position through a multitude of different factors: geography, upbringing, literacy, education, family background, church background, whatever. And yet, they claim, God touches these people all the same, irrespective of belief or doctrine.

Some would argue that they definitely have God’s ‘seal of approval’, because of the ‘signs and wonders following’ that confirm the Word. In Mark 16:20, the Scripture says that, “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it”. What we see in terms of miracles, helping the poor, and other visible Christian fruits, is therefore seen as God’s ‘approval’ of what we believe in.

But we must remember that the ‘word’ being preached is Jesus – the Word become flesh. The signs and wonders confirm Him, not Us! They testify that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mt 3:2, Mt 4:17, Mk 1:15) They testify as to God’s immense goodness and love.

They do not mean that you’ve got it all right and they certainly should not be interpreted as God ratifying, approving, subscribing to, endorsing or otherwise confirming your doctrines. In short, He does His miracles not because we are right, but because He is right! He does it because, despite our imperfections, He wants us to experience the fulness of His Kingdom. It’s all because of Him.

I therefore consider that actually God does not mind all that much about what we actually believe – or say we believe, which is often different – but actually, ‘as the Bible clearly says’, God looks on the heart (1Sam 16:7). And He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Heb 11:6). Nowhere does it say that He rewards those who hold ‘correct doctrine’.

In fact, all that the Bible says about what is necessary in order for us to experience the fulness of His Kingdom is that we believe in Jesus. Christianity is an ancient, broad faith, whose 40,000-plus denominations, encompass a vast spectrum of different beliefs on all kinds of peripheral topics such as Hell, homosexuality, the authority of Scripture and many, many other things. But still, central to each denomination’s faith, is the Person of Jesus Christ. It is completely unreasonable to expect that any one of these denominations has everything just right; all their ducks lined up. It is also therefore folly to believe that God somehow expects us – all of us – to be right all the time. Jesus is what it all hinges on, not a) our beliefs nor b) correct doctrine.

And so, my dear readers, please take encouragement. Carry on questioning, probing and thinking – because God made you to do that. Not necessarily to ‘find the right answers’, but simply to find out more about God’s goodness.

Only those with the control issues; those who will only tolerate their own doctrines, will have a problem with this.

“When the Spirit comes, He will lead you into all Truth”. He has so much more He wants to tell you…(Jn 16:12)


This piece is a companion essay to two of my previous posts on the same sort of issues, this one from two years ago and this one from eighteen months ago. Read in conjunction with this piece, they might be quite enlightening…

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The Good News

So often we hear the Gospel (which means ‘good news’) being presented, and it’s anything but good news. Tales of a god who burns people forever in hell just because they don’t ‘repent’ and turn to him. Even if they’ve never heard of him.

I don’t buy that at all.

Instead, the Good News is so much bigger, better and more vast and expansive than all that; so much better than just ‘Turn or Burn’, as so many espouse it.

The Gospel is supposed to be Good News.

And so, here is a piece by Jacob Wright, a young man who is very wise in the things of God, and, well, you’ll see what I mean. This piece is a breath of fresh air. Without more ado, here it is:

The good news isn’t “Turn or burn”. The good news is “Rise and shine.”

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” – Ephesians 5:14

The good news is “Come! Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” – Revelation 22:17

The good news is “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

The good news is “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sin against them.” – 2 Corinthians 5:19

The good news is “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” – Luke 4:18

The good news is “I have come that they might have life, and life to the fullest.” – John 10:10

The good news is “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” – John 14:9

The good news is “Change your way of thinking and turn towards God, for his kingdom is approaching!” – Matthew 3:2

Let all wondering of who God is be put to rest. We have seen what God is like in Jesus. God is Christlike and in Him is no unChristlikeness at all.

We already know the bad news. The bad news is despair, depression, disease, disaster, and death. The bad news is that creation has been subjected to frustration. The bad news is we’re all lost in life and wondering who we are and who God is and what the point is. The good news is that God is like Jesus, that God has revealed a new way of humanity in Jesus, and that God has highlighted the hope of redemption in Jesus. God is a participator in the human experience, and empathizes fully with us. God takes up our grief and carries our sorrows within himself and through it births a new creation.

God is both in it with us, and has triumphed over all of it for us. God is not angry at humanity, but has woven himself into humanity. God is a father that is waiting to see us on the road back home so he can run to us and embrace us! God is a shepherd that is intent on searching out and finding us who have wandered astray so he can bring us back to safety! God is a doctor who has come to heal us of our sin-sickness. Most of all, God is human, of the same blood as us, which means we are divine, and to be revealed as sons and daughters of God. God is in complete solidarity to the ultimate limits of our sin, suffering, and death, experiencing it all in the incarnation and the cross, and triumphing over all of it in the resurrection.

Jesus is the good news.

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With Eyes For Only You

The other day I heard, for the first time, a song that has utterly blown me away: My God and King written by Shauna Chanda and sung beautifully by her on Terry MacAlmon’s worship album, The Sound of Heaven.

At the moment, I can’t listen to this song without my heart bursting with worship, and often even weeping with the sheer weight of glory that falls upon me. Only three or four times in my life so far has a song had this effect on me, (the main one I can remember being When I Look into Your Holiness in 1983) and this song, My God and King, is one of those songs. It’s been a long time since a song has had such a profound impact in me; I can feel the Spirit reaching in to the deep places of my heart as I sing or listen to it, and I feel Him minister His deep healing of the wounds I have received over the last three and a half years of Fiona’s illness and her passing. This song stirs up the deep spirit of worship within me like no other I have ever heard, and in that worship is my healing in God’s Presence.

Fiona at our son’s wedding, September 2009

I love how the song describes that, for the worshipper, to see God face to face and to be with Him would be their dream come true. And this is partly why I have included this in Fiona’s series – because indeed her dream has come true and she now sees God face to face, and worships Him there. Her heart longed to be with Him. She never heard this song on this earth, but I bet she’s singing it right now! I can imagine her lovely soprano voice singing it; she would have loved this song, it’s exactly the kind of song she loved best. A beautiful love song of worship where I declare, and live out, that I have eyes for only my Jesus, my God and King – even, and especially, through the storms of life.

So, with this in mind, here’s the brilliant Shauna Chanda singing her song, with the inimitable Terry MacAlmon on piano. It is my prayer as I write this that this song will bring healing to you too, in whatever area you need it:

 

My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

My God and King
Through the storm I sing
Covered by Your wing
This song of love I bring

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You are my dream come true
Just to be with You
Now I see brand new
With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

I have eyes for only You

– Shauna Chanda

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Lucy’s Song

Here’s another spontaneous post about Fiona, my lovely wife who tragically passed away from cancer last October.

What makes this post really special is that I am featuring a song in which Fiona is actually singing. Fiona recorded very few songs, I don’t really know why we didn’t really record much music together; I guess we were both always completely spontaneous 🙂

So, this is a lovely little number called ‘Lucy’s Song‘, by Heather Pope, and we discovered the song on an obscure little tape called ‘Celebration – Things of Beauty’, (recorded in the 70’s) while Fiona was at University in 1982. The track I am presenting here is Fiona’s cover of that song recorded in July 1985. What’s especially wonderfully prophetic with this cover of Lucy’s Song is that it’s as if Fiona recorded it, half a lifetime ago, for our grand-daughter Lucy, who’s now 7. Lucy loved her Nanny Fe and was heartbroken when she died. This song is Fiona’s legacy to Lucy, telling her that despite life’s storms, and despite her Nanny Fe not being there for her, still her loving Heavenly Father holds her closely in His hands.

I think this is a song that Lucy will treasure.

I apologise that the backing track is a little out of tune; this is because this was one of my dad’s early forays into four-track portable studio recordings, as I said, in 1985, which back then was all done by adjusting the tape speed to retune the tracks, and it appears he got it a little wrong. But the vocals are the focal point here; Fiona’s voice is the higher, purer soprano while the lower, more smoky and husky voice is her best friend, Cath. Their voices always went so well together and it always amazed me that I should be so privileged to be able to make music with these two superb vocalists. Here we go then: Lucy’s Song, vocals by Fiona and Cath, backing instrumentals by Johnny Douglas (my dad’s stage name):

Lucy, when the sky is cloudy, smile
Lucy, when your mind is racing, rest awhile
For there is time for all you long for, time for so much more
And every day’s a new beginning for you

As the springtime turns to summer, so you’re changing day by day
And the rain has come to water all the land
And the drops of life fall heavy, sometimes they’re hard to understand
But your Loving Heavenly Father holds you closely in His Hand

Lucy, when you don’t know what you’re thinking
Lucy, when you feel that life’s too hard
Remember to give your cares and worries to the One Who loves you so
For every day He’s walking close to you

As the springtime turns to summer, so you’re changing day by day
And the rain has come to water all the land
And the drops of life fall heavy, sometimes they’re hard to understand
But your Loving Heavenly Father holds you closely in His Hand

Yes, your Loving Heavenly Father loves you and understands!

Lovely!

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This is Our God

God loves to surprise His children with wonderful things.

Quite out of the blue, He will pop up something that, for us, is totally unexpected and brings us great blessings. An example from my own life, from two and a half years ago, is here. This sort of thing has happened to me so many times recently that I just can’t remember most of the events. But each time the surprise and delight is real. Some would put it down to coincidence and ‘confirmation bias’, which of course it could be. But these things are so personal, so targeted, that I really doubt that it’s coincidence.

But it’s not just me that it happens to, either. A few weeks ago, I was writing on Facebook about one of my favourite worship songs, and one of my friends came up with this lovely anecdote. I have ‘sanitised’ it of the song and personal details to avoid embarrassment, but have left it unchanged apart from that. Here is the story, just how it was told:

“I know the guy who wrote that song. I was a DJ in a small southern gospel radio station in the south, and I’d sneak in a worship song here and there. One day, I found that song on an album and put it on. A few minutes after I started it, a man came back to my booth, he was a new hire that had just started that day working in the office. He had tears STREAMING down his face, and asked me why I played that particular song. I told him because I’d just found it and previewed it and it brought me deep joy… he was sobbing. 🙂 Come to find out, he’d been struggling with so many things and had been really discouraged. He told me about how he and his wife WROTE that song and how it was just a sign to him that God had not forgotten him… so then of course I was in tears, too! lol, I had to put on a really long cut from the Kingsmen (10 minute song! lol) just to recover. 🙂 “

Wow. What a lovely story, and all because of a song that is one of my all-time favourite worship songs. I have several 😉 … But anyway, here’s the response I wrote to my friend:

Now that is a lovely story. Wow. It’s one of my favourite worship songs and always has been since first I heard it. I have used that song to bless countless people in congregations large and small, singing it with great anointing and reality. Because for me it’s true. Maybe you could encourage him some more with that. I am going to bed now with my heart rejoicing because of your story”.

I wish I could tell you which song it is, but I want to protect that man’s privacy. Sorry. But really, you could pick any one of the many worship songs I have posted on my blog over the time I’ve been running it, and you can bet there will be similar stories surrounding many of them.

And it’s simply because God is like that. He’s brilliant; He loves His children with a fiery, jealous passion that pales even the strongest natural mother instinct. If He made us to have that sort of love for our own children, how much more is He like that, given that we are made in His image?

This is what He’s like. This is our God.

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Speechless

It’s not like me to be lost for words.

But I have just been to see the movie, ‘The Shack’, which was released to movie theatres here in the UK only last Friday.

And I am a complete and total wreck.

Let’s just say I didn’t take enough tissues in my pockets.

I can’t really say much more just now, except just that the film definitely did the book justice.

And it is completely unsurprising that The Shack in either/both of its iterations is offensive to the Religious. In this film is freedom, joy, release, forgiveness, healing; the exact antithesis, in fact, of the suffocating strictures of human Rules about God and how to approach Him.

But, less of that. If you haven’t already done so, let me encourage you in the strongest possible terms to go see this movie.

It will change the way you see life – forever!

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Today is the Day of Salvation

The other day I was listening to a talk by a man of God whom I greatly respect, and one of the things he said really made me think. He said that ‘there are great times ahead!’.

So what?, you might say. Of course there are great times ahead; God is involved in our future, isn’t He?

Well, yes. Absolutely. And I am sure that the words are correct because of that. But the drift of that man’s message was that tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow, or at some indeterminate time in the future, things will be better. There will be better circumstances, better displays of God’s power at work, better whatever. But it’s tomorrow, not today.

Well, I have learned a real little gem through my grieving process, and it’s this:

Today is the Day of Salvation (2Cor 6:2)

No matter what you are going through – and I am going through some horrible circumstances as I write these words – Now is the day for wholeness, for salvation (remember the word ‘sōzō’?); now is the day in which it is possible to find God’s peace and to find rest, in your relationship with Him, despite, and in the midst of, your circumstances. St. Paul’s encouragement to ‘give thanks in every circumstance’ (1Thess 5:18) was written with precisely this sort of thing in mind. Bringing Jesus in to a situation changes everything.

This doesn’t mean that everything will just suddenly, magically change and all your circumstances will improve, at least on the physical level. But it changes the way you cope with it. This is because as you turn your eyes to Him – maybe in worship, prayer and/or thanksgiving –  it puts all your circumstances into a heavenly perspective. It sets up what you see before you, in the context of eternity. Not that you are thinking, ‘Well, it’ll all be ok because when I die I go to Heaven’ – Jesus’s teaching was all about His blessings on this Earth for us – but in the midst of our circumstances.

So for my friend the man of God, while I agree that indeed great days are ahead, I need to remember that Now is the Day of Salvation. God wants to bring His miraculous power, His sweet, sweet Presence, His incredible wisdom, into the here and now for us – right here and right now. Today! Now! When we are actually on one of those ‘great days’ in the future, for us it will then be simply ‘today’. So, on this ‘today’, as you are reading this, this is one of the ‘great days ahead’ that my friend the man of God talked about yesterday, last week, last month. It’s now!

So, yes, ‘Great Days are Ahead’, but God is not procrastinating His blessings – putting them off until some indeterminate ‘great days ahead’ in the future. It begins right now. And so, I need to remember this idea:

Great Days are Here Already!

Yes!

As a great preacher friend of mine once said, “This is not ‘pie in the sky when we die’. This is meat on a plate while you wait! “. And this is the encouragement I am trying to get across to you today.

I hope it helps 🙂 God Bless you.

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How To Put People Off God

In Matthew 23:13, Jesus says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to”

Who are these gate-keepers of the Kingdom? Quite simply, they are those people who say that their way is the only right way. You want to get into the Kingdom of Heaven? Then you have to do it OUR way, and no-one else’s, otherwise you’re not getting in.

And because of that attitude, they demonstrate that they are not really ‘in’ either, according to Jesus’s words that I have quoted above. It follows from this that actually the Kingdom is really broadly encompassing, welcoming to all who would come, and not just those whom the Religious people deem ‘worthy’. Those who have such an exclusive attitude are virtually showing that they do not understand the nature of the Kingdom of God, hence Jesus’s words.

Notice also that the Teachers of the Law are mentioned – the legalists. Those who would espouse certain do’s and don’t’s in order to be ‘good enough’ for God. Also the Pharisees – those who would be slightly more ‘helpful’ than the Teachers of the Law, in that they are eager to point out others’ ‘sins’ in order to try to ‘help’ them attain the standards that they thought qualified humans for the Kingdom. But of course it just comes across as its plain source: judgementalism! And anyway no-one can be made righteous (in right standing before God) through following rules (Rom 3:20).

I mean, it’s not rocket science. I think the take-home message of this is that dogma, doctrine and ‘sin-policing’ help no-one; in fact, quite the opposite effect occurs: You behave like those guys, and you will just put people off God altogther!

The thing is that God is not at all like the angry, narrow-minded monster that some Christians make Him out to be. He’s more like Jesus than he is like the Terminator, but many Christians would have us believe that the latter is actually a better likeness.

I can’t think of many things more likely to put people off my Father God….


If you liked this article, here’s another one you might like – ‘The Christians Making Atheists‘, by John Pavlovitz.

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Bullying in the Church

Bullying in the Church. You’d have thought, wouldn’t you, that a place meant to be known for healing, love and acceptance is also known for intolerance, bigotry and bullying. Sadly, extreme churches showing this kind of behaviour are generally the only ones who make the news – for example, the infamous ‘Westboro Baptist Church’; those who just quietly do the work of Jesus are never mentioned. Well, we can’t have Good News on the news media, now can we? 😉

Therefore, I must say first up that bullying does not go on in every church. My church, for example, is known for its acceptance of people from every walk of life from lawyers right up to the homeless 😉 And especially the homeless. We see every homeless person coming through those doors as Jesus wanting a hand. When I was naked, you clothed Me, and all that (Mt 25:36). And there are many, many churches out there which are similar; they simply show the love of Christ without partiality to all who would come.

But unfortunately some churches are still known for their insularity, exclusivism, dogmatism, and their intolerance for anyone who even slightly ‘strays’ from the ‘path’. Awkward questions are discouraged. Invariably, the leadership’s authority is unquestioned. Everything is tight as a drum with no wiggle-room, and the Bible is to be believed absolutely as inerrant, inspired and infallible, and ineligible for discussion. The belief systems are laid down in stone and woe betide anyone who tries to change that. The idea of believers being ‘…transformed from one degree of glory to another…’ (2Cor3:18) is fine as long as that transformation occurs in accordance with the approval of the group. Instead of a real, fluid, living Relationship with Jesus Christ, members are confined entirely to the straitjacket of rigid belief held by the leadership. I could go on, but that’s enough negative for now.

What does all this have to do with bullying? Well, these types of churches predictably use bullying tactics to keep their members – whom, don’t forget, Jesus died to set free – in line. And I recently read an article on Paul Ellis’s ‘Escape to Reality’ blog which, along with its discussions, has become for me the ‘go-to’ article about church bullying. It describes what church bullying looks like, and how it is used to control those in the group. So, if there’s any potentially dodgy behaviour going on in your church, simply look at this list – it is not fully comprehensive, but helpful commentors have added other items – and see what you think. Some of this stuff I didn’t even realise was bullying, but when you look at it, it really is. One day, I might compile this list myself with all the additions. But, for now, take a look at Paul’s article. It’s quite the eye-opener!

Click the graphic below to go to the article:

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My Burden Is Light…

Here’s a great post from one of my Facebook friends, a chap who comes out with a whole lot of wisdom:

Friend,

If you’re thinking a relationship with God through Jesus adds the burden of meeting his requirements onto your already difficult life, rather than lifting that burden from you, giving you unspeakable joy and making your heavy load feel light, then perhaps it’s time you reconsider why God sent his son to die and rise.

Lifting pressure and making your heavy load feel light, not adding pressure by placing requirements on you, is precisely what Christ died and rose to accomplish and what Gods good news does each time it’s believed.

That’s why it’s called “good news!”

And still, so many hold tenaciously to a message that says until they meet certain requirements, they cannot enjoy God’s pleasure and “lightness” this side of heaven…so they never do.

So not true!

Christ died and rose so you wouldn’t need to wait another minute.

If this describes you, God can go from the taskmaster he isn’t to the savior and friend he is, all with a flick of a switch God calls faith.

Why not reconsider the good news.

Take a second look at the gospel.

Take another look at Jesus.

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