Monthly Archives: November 2015

Return to Simplicity

My friend Darren put something really amazing on Facebook yesterday (he does it often actually…); a profound heartfelt cry which I will share unchanged and uncommented. I’ll let Darren’s heart speak; see if he strikes a chord with your heart too:

“Often I wonder what it would be like to go back in time to the New Testament church… no set ‘patterns’ or traditions like we have today… no ‘one-hundred different denominations’, driving man against man, driving the nails through His hands and making a mockery of the cross… no church buildings… no ‘6-point sermons… no ‘approved’ bible schools… no man-made ‘scriptural’ ways of doing things… no excuses or clichés… no ‘greater than thous’… just pure reality-driven walks with the Spirit. Starting from scratch. Completely open to His will. How I wish we could wipe the slate clean. How I wish we were as children. “Here I am Lord. Take me as I am!” No pre-conceived ideas of how it should be. Just willingly coming to Him and allowing Him to lead in whatever way He wills. “But we’ve always done it this way!”… Hmmmm. No compromises! ”

Quoted with permission. Thanks Darren!

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‘I have so much more to tell you…’

I have so much more to tell you, but you can not bear it now” – John 16:12

There are Christians who believe that the Bible is the final revelation from God; that not only is the Canon of Scripture closed, but also that God says nothing else outside of Scripture. All that God has said, and all He ever will say, is encased in the pages of the Bible, they claim. Many also say that the supernatural Gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased when the Apostles died (this is known as the ‘cessationist’ position).

But the Bible gives us tantalising glimpses that there is so much more to the Christian life than what is simply recorded in its pages.

For example, Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). “I have so much more to tell you, but you can not bear it now” (John 16:12) “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25)

Here’s the thing, though. If the Bible is in fact God’s final revelation, then the logical conclusion is that it means that once you have read it, God has nothing else to say to you. Period.

Sure, you can read the Bible again, and try to pick up things you missed the first/second/last time around, but in essence, once you have absorbed all that the Bible tells you, then that’s your lot, as we say in Yorkshire. Of course, they will probably say that you can glean more than one meaning from each passage – which is true, as it happens – but still the Bible is all there is.

Writing this down and reading it, makes it all so clear to me that these ideas are plainly bunk of the highest order! How can you confine the infinite, amazing, dynamic Creator God to the mere 1200 or so pages of a single book? And, if the Spirit of Him Who raised Christ from the dead lives in you, how can He possibly not only give the life of the Kingdom to your mortal bodies (Romans 8:11), but also make that life flow out from inside you too, in the form of supernatural gifting? In John 7:38, Jesus said, ” ‘Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive”. This is simple to understand. If God’s Spirit lives in you, how can anything but supernatural things happen?

But for me the most tantalising thing is that Jesus has not yet finished teaching us all the things He wants us to know. Let’s reiterate John 16:12 – “I have so much more to tell you, but you can not bear it now”. That was spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper; His disciples were aware that something big was going down – and indeed it was: the single most pivotal event of history since the Creation was about to unfold before their eyes – and they couldn’t take it in. Also in Jesus’s words there, there is a flavour of ‘you won’t be able to understand it right now’. Two of the translations I read in my research for this piece puts it that ‘it would be too much for you’, or ‘you would be unable to grasp it’. And Jesus is also setting the scene for future interactions with His people, after His death and resurrection. The Scriptural record shows that Jesus continued to teach His disciples even after His resurrection, indeed most of the records of His post-resurrection appearances involve some sort of learning opportunity for His disciples.

So the bottom line is that Jesus hasn’t yet finished teaching us all that He wants us to know. God hasn’t finished speaking to us. Expect God to speak, and to work, in your life. If you have come to Him in faith, you can expect this – because He responds.

Remember, the Word became Flesh (human) and lived among us (John 1:14). To put a seasonal slant on it, even, this is the central message of the Christmas story. That the pre-existing, eternal Word of God – Jesus – became a human and lived for a while among us, and now lives in us by His Spirit. The Word became Flesh, not the Word became a Book!! Jesus is the Word of God – and He has so much more that He wishes to tell us, if only we will let Him! The Bible is great, but there really is no substitute for hearing His Voice direct!

Interestingly, in the morning service a couple of Sundays ago, our Vicar asked the congregation for a show of hands asking us what God’s Voice sounded like to us. Who hears Him as a ‘feeling’ inside, or sees His Voice as a picture in their head? Who has heard His voice as an audible, external Voice, or as a visible ‘vision’ in clear sight outside their head, with their eyes? Interestingly, most people put their hands up (therefore they hear God in some way); some even have even heard His Voice audibly. In my case, I have indeed heard His Voice like that, but only twice in my entire life. But I will never forget what He sounded like! Like a loud, rushing roar, like trumpets, like a waterfall, like a football crowd, is the only way I can describe it. But that does not really describe it adequately. But the point is that He does indeed still speak to us – all believers who are willing to listen – regularly.

And Father God says, too, “This is My Beloved Son; listen to Him!” (Mark 9:7) So, how can we refuse?!

I have so much more to tell you, but you can not bear it now”

Wow! I can’t wait!


[Edit: Just realised I have already posted similar ideas on this subject in this blog post]

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Jesus Shall Take The Highest Honour

One of Britain’s finest worship leaders, Chris Bowater, leading (live) what is probably my favourite of his songs. Placing Jesus in the central place, which is exactly as things should be in worship.

You know the drill. Close your eyes, listen and enjoy!

Jesus shall take the highest honour
Jesus shall take the highest praise
Let all earth join heaven in exalting
The Name which is above all other names
Let’s bow the knee in humble adoration
For at His name every knee must bow
Let every tongue confess He is Christ, God’s only Son
Sovereign Lord, we give You glory now

For all honour and blessing and power
Belongs to You, belongs to You
All honour and blessing and power
Belongs to You, belongs to You
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God

© 1988 Sovereign Lifestyle Music

 

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Challenging Your Deeply-Held Beliefs…

This is a great article about how one’s faith develops when challenged, intellectually  and spiritually. This would be an excellent article to read in the light of all that I have written lately about how people have different belief systems, and how to deal with that gracefully. The article is located on the Patheos blog ‘Faith Forward’; click the image below to go to the post:

faith_forward

Enjoy!

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The Graceful Approach

col-4-16

In our dealings with people who do not necessarily believe the same as we do, some of us have a tendency to attack that person’s beliefs. This especially happens on Internet forums, where the flow usually goes like this: One guy says one thing, the other guy says something else. They argue points back and forth until eventually one or both of them goes further and questions the other’s salvation status, eternal destination, integrity, parentage or any mix of the above.

This is not the way it should be!

Especially when the argument is between two Christians and at least one of them is a proponent of a harsh doctrine, such as excluding minority or outcast groups – say homeless or gay people – from Church. Because then, those outside see the harsh attitude – and the way even we more gentle, Grace-believing people respond – and project that onto our loving Heavenly Father. “If that’s how those people represent their god”, they think, “I want nothing to do with him, because if he’s anything like his ‘people’ then he’s not worth bothering with”.

And, given the data they are working from, I would tend to agree. But God is not like that, and we need to find better ways of interacting with others in a non-judgemental fashion. Only in that way can dialogue be maintaned without its breaking down into vitriolic rhetoric.

I love the Col 4:6 passage quoted in the header image: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone“. If it’s not full of Grace, it’s not full of Jesus. And the ‘seasoned with salt’ bit means make it tasty, make it interesting. (NLT says ‘Gracious and attractive’) And Proverbs 16:24 – “Gracious words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones”. Talk nicely to people, whether face-to-face or online! In that way, at least, other readers – and never forget that there are far more people reading forums that comment on them! – will see that your speech is wholesome and good. And that reflects a ‘Good Witness’ to God’s character developing in you, rather than a ‘Bad Witness‘!

I’d say to so many of the harsh, critical people who lacerate others on forums and elsewhere: Where is your joy? Where is Jesus in your conversation? Where is the conversation full of Grace? The best witness is not dry, out-of-context Scripture passages used as ‘Scripture-bombs‘, but a life of fulness and joy. It’s far better to live the Spirit-filled life and have people ask why you are different. People notice that sort of thing! As Jesus said, a city on a hill cannot be hidden! So, let your speech always be full of Grace!

Here are a couple of interesting articles giving another slant on these ideas. Firstly, an older article about what the Graceful, salt-seasoned speech would look like (click the image to go to the article):

salt

…and then, in this next article, the writer brings to our attention the important point that not everyone is going to believe the same things as everyone else. The way to deal with this is simply to accept that as axiomatic, and stop trying to ‘defend God’ – He’s perfectly capable of defending Himself, thank you very much 🙂 (again, click the image):

provegod

…and finally, my own take on coping with people with different views: (you know the drill by now):

header+text

This is really important stuff. The manner of your speech (or writing) – your communications – when Graceful and seasoned with salt, makes a tremendous difference. Even if you don’t ‘win’ your discussion – and don’t forget that the types of people who write on forums will be just as strongly opinionated as you might be, so you probably won’t! – even if you don’t ‘win’, still at least others will see and be impressed by your Graceful speech. And this then reflects well on your Father in Heaven.

Go to it – with Grace!

“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man” – Colossians 4:6

 

Col-4.16-640x480

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Tupolev Tu-95 “Bear”

This entry is part 7 of 18 in the series Beautiful Destroyers

During the Cold War, for various strategic reasons, having three methods of weapon delivery was preferred: Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and manned bombers. These were also augmented by ground-launched and air-launched cruise missiles (GLCM/ALCM) in the latter part of the Cold War. All horrendous stuff, believe me.

But it was really the bombers that were the symbol of the times. These were the visible machines that would deliver the nuclear weapons should the unthinkable ever happen – machines that people could actually see for themselves. Ballistic missiles were hidden away, but everyone can see an aeroplane. Bombers such as the Vulcan, the B-52, the B-36 and other such aircraft.

However, in my opinion, no Cold War bomber epitomised the times as much as the Soviets’ long-range strategic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-95 “Bear” (‘Bear’ was the NATO reporting code-name for the aircraft type; it was not what the Soviets actually called it) These snarling monsters were, and still are, the world’s fastest propeller-driven aircraft, huge, angular, threatening, and yet strangely still beautiful, majestic and impressive.

tu-95_1

Although these aircraft were of course designed primarily for the delivery of nuclear weapons, in practice they were mainly used for electronic reconnaissance. The idea of this is that you fly near, but not quite in, a nation’s sovereign airspace where, naturally, you are ‘looked at’ by the nation’s air defence radars, and this gives you the opportunity to analyse the actual radar signals and communications protocols. This means that you can then develop methods for jamming or otherwise interfering with those systems at some point in the future, should you so desire. ‘Defending’ aircraft can’t shoot down these aeroplanes; technically they are doing nothing wrong! But you can intercept them – scramble a pair of armed fighters to make sure they don’t get up to any further mischief. Plus of course you can always take photos of each other, which are also useful for intelligence-gathering. The whole thing is quite fascinating, to be honest.

tu95low

Flying close to Britain’s air defences throughout the 60’s and 70’s, ‘Bears’ were regularly intercepted and ‘escorted’ by RAF Lightnings:

lightning Tu95

…and Phantoms:

phantom - tu-95

…and even later, by Tornado F3s:

Tu95 Tornado

They’re still in use today, and are being used for exactly the same purposes – electronic reconnaissance – and have recently been in the news for causing the scrambling of several pairs of Typhoons to intercept:

A Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) Typhoon F2 from Number XI Squadron at RAF Coningsby is pictured escorting a Russian Bear-H aircraft over the North Atlantic Ocean. QRA procedures entail aircraft being held at continuous ground readiness, so that they can take off within minutes - without pre-warning - to provide air defence.

Typhoon-escorting-Bear Tu-95

Usually, the ‘photo opportunity’ yields some interesting shots. In this closeup of the tail gunner’s position and observation ‘blisters’, you can see two crewmen having a really good look at the intercepting fighters:

Tu-95_tail

You’ve probably gathered by now that I think that this aeroplane is absolutely gorgeous.

But here is one of my favourite pictures of this beast, a real beauty showing how the strong twisting propeller-wash from those powerful engines disrupts the thin cloud layer that the aircraft has just flown through, before her pilot pulls her up out of the cloud:

Bear in the clouds Tu95

Here’s another shot of the Bear, this time an early Cold War shot of her in formation with two Soviet MiG-17 fighters:

Tu-95 MiG-17

(The MiG-17 will probably also appear as a Beautiful Destroyer here sometime in the future 🙂 )

Now a plan-view of the Bear:

Tu-95_e

And, after a flight halfway round the world to wave at ‘enemy’ aircrew, what could be better than a safe landing at home plate, looking forward to a nice cup of tea – or maybe something stronger, tovarisch….

Tu95 landed

The runway/taxiway surface could do with a bit of a weeding, though….

So there she is: The Bear. Menacing, huge, impressive – and totally gorgeous.

For more on this amazing aeroplane, try searching for Tu-95 Bear on YouTube.

Here’s a couple of clips to be going on with. The first one is only really watchable for the first minute and a half; then they do an inflight engine stop/restart which is probably not all that interesting to most people But it does catch the menacing snarl of this monster aeroplane nicely:

…and then the second clip, which is a bit more jerky between scenes but you get to see a lot of the aeroplane:

And finally, there’s a lot of detail in this one, but sadly very little snarling noise:

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The ‘White Christmas’ Game

Bah, humbug! It’s that time of year again!

The time of year where the shops are full of Christmas displays, some of them works of absolute genius, some of them not quite so good. The time of year where we get bombarded with so much commercialism, adverts and just general Christmas tripe; by the time it’s all over, many people are sick of it! 🙂 But still, the kids love it and despite all the trappings of the commercial Christmas, still somehow the magic of it has not quite disappeared, at least not for the young. And it’s always great to remember the greatest Gift of all, the Gift of Jesus. So, bring it on!

When I was about 14 years old, I had got so tired of hearing non-stop Christmas music in the stores that my cynical mind decided to make a game of it all. To me, at the time, the song that epitomised the whole Christmas selling-things-at-you environment was the song ‘White Christmas’, which was first performed by the legendary Bing Crosby on Christmas Day, 1941.

So I decided to make a game of it.

I decided to see how close I could get to Christmas Day without hearing the song ‘White Christmas’ in a commercial environment. For me, that would mean hearing it in pubs, shops, malls, Christmas fayres or on TV/radio adverts of any kind. Basically, anywhere where the song was being played in order to try and make people feel ‘Christmassy’ and therefore buy more stuff. Maybe it’s because I am a tight-assed Yorkshireman who keeps a solid fist wrapped around his dosh; I don’t know. And my family play it too.

But that’s the game: how close can you get to Christmas Day without hearing White Christmas?

Last year for me it was a paltry 2nd December; I was well gutted. I think the closest I have ever come to ‘winning’ was 23rd December, and that was in 1994. Bah, humbug, indeed!

You can make up your own rules as to what counts as a proper ‘hearing’ of the song. For example, what arrangement counts as having ‘heard’ the song? Does it have to be the Bing Crosby version, or would it still count if you heard the Michael Bolton version? What about if you just decide you want to listen to it on your iPod? What if someone learns that you are playing the game and just hums it at you ‘for a laugh’? And what about the starting time for the game; what if you hear in in mid-July?

For me, I count any hearing of any version, in a commercial environment (including TV/radio ads), after 5th November – what we in the UK call ‘Bonfire Night’. For me, that’s the point at which I personally consider it fair game for the shops to put up their Christmas stuff (rather than late August as some idiots do) – so that’s when my White Christmas game begins!

Of course, it will probably be impossible for someone working in a pub or shop to play this game. All Christmas CDs have this song on them in one iteration or other. Sorry about that!

Don’t get me wrong, the song – in the original Bing arrangement – is absolutely gorgeous, full of incredible chord sequences and lovely dynamics. I love it to bits. I also understand that this year they are re-publishing the original Bing version to try to get it to the Christmas Number One slot.

But still the game is just a bit of fun; in my family, we always confess to each other when/if we hear the song, and cheer on those who haven’t heard it yet. It’s interesting in that for me, I find it quite funny to see my reaction each time I hear the song for the first time each Christmas season. You know, when it’s ‘Game Over’. Sometimes I just grin wryly, sometimes I think, ‘Oh if only that queue had moved just a little quicker!’ But whatever, my first thought is usually like ‘Ah well, that’s it for another year! Never mind….’

So then, are you in? Get to it! Good luck!

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Statement of Belief

I’ve published my Statement of Belief on a new Page. These are the things I believe and reflect my current thinking on the things of God.

If you’re interested, please feel free to take a look at the new Page here, or click the link in the menu, ‘Statement of Belief’.

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Still Your Soul in Silence

This is a very personal testimony I want to share, about how God prepared me for my fifteen-year Wilderness experience.

Before the onset of that ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, this song – Still Your Soul in Silence, by Don Francisco, was the last song I sang as a performance piece in the public arena. The Lord had been speaking to me for some months through the lyrics, I can’t easily explain exactly how He was speaking because it’s very, very deep, but I will try to help you understand what He said to me, because you may be going through something similar and it might strike a chord with you.

First up, though, I’ll let you listen to the song (used here by Don’s permission), and here are the lyrics too:

 

In the lives of those who follow
There’s going to come a time
When rhythm starts to stumble
And sing-song follows rhyme
When imaginations crumble
False foundations turn to dust
Towers fall to piles of stones
And girders into rust

‘Til you let the Blood of Jesus wash the rubble from your mind
And your eyes again can see the One you almost left behind
When theology’s in tatters
And reason is absurd
Still your soul in silence
And listen for His Word

So many turn so many ways
So many voices cry
Standing at the crossroads
Watching time go flashing by
Indecision paralyses, it’s the fear of choosin’ wrong
But waiting is a step itself, and you’re wondering too long

So again you search the Scriptures
And again you ask your friends
But last of all the One Who’s known the beginning from the end
In the clamour and confusion
And the blindness of your choice
Still your soul in silence
And listen for His Voice

Rome is full of ruins
Babylon is gone
The temple’s just a memory
That some still dwell upon
But deep within a place that sword and veil had once denied
A tree of life is growing, living waters flow beside

Beyond all human reason
And words upon a page
His Glory lightens all who fret their hour upon this stage
To know Him is our freedom
To hear Him is release
To fix your heart and soul on Him is rest and perfect peace

Far beyond all human reason
And words upon a page
His Glory lightens all who fret their hour upon this stage
To know Him is our freedom
To hear Him is release
To fix your heart and soul on Him is rest
And perfect peace

I was somewhat puzzled over what the lyrics were about, but because I recognised the Voice of the Spirit speaking to me, I paid attention and tried to work it out. Especially difficult was the bit about “When imaginations crumble | False foundations turn to dust | Towers fall to piles of stones | And girders into rust”. I couldn’t see how my ‘foundations’, my carefully-constructed and (so I believed) doctrinally-correct standpoints on topics moral, ethical and spiritual could ever change – and I didn’t want them to change either! I knew where my security was: in my relationship with God, yes. But I also found security because I saw that relationship in the context of the belief structures both of the Church I was in, and the one I had constructed based on those of the Church I was in.

It turned out that the song, and the Voice of the Spirit in the song, were preparing me for – and warning me, if you like – about the upcoming time in the wilderness. I spent fifteen years being effectively ‘detoxed’ from the ‘religious spirit’ I appeared to have taken on board. In my wilderness time, then, God weaned me (gently) from my dependence on these towers and structures, the Blood of Jesus ‘washed the rubble from my mind’, and made my faith so much more simple.

“Still your soul in silence, and listen for His Word”

I hadn’t been ‘wrong’ as such; I knew and loved Jesus and wanted to do as He wanted me to do. But I was blind to the way that rigid adherence to the Scriptures made me appear to people in the outside world. I know that because although I was blind in that way; now, though, I can see it from the outside, so to speak. I have been ‘outside’ and have seen ‘Religion’ from the outsider’s perspective.

So often I found that I could not, with integrity, hold to my own conscience and still hold to the – established and largely unwritten – church belief structure. A structure based on the Bible, yes, but on their – and my – narrow interpretation of it.

I’m not saying I am a better man now, or more ‘advanced’ spiritually. But I do feel honoured that God has taken the time and made the effort to teach me these things, and I do have a new understanding of the things of the Kingdom of God that I simply didn’t have before.

And the difference now in the Church I am in – a Charismatic, evangelical Anglican Church – we are ‘allowed’ to hold different opinions and beliefs from our fellow believers. In my previous church, this would have been frowned upon. Now, because of what God has done in my life over that fifteen years, I am free to walk out over the deep waters and believe Him for greater things. He has led me into greater depths in Him; greater trust – only in Him, and not in fabricated belief structures; the need for greater trust (which isn’t quite the same thing); greater fruit; great changes in my life and attitudes. I’m still me, with the same passions and interests. But His presence is so strong in my life, greater than it has ever been before. Far greater than it was in the time before the wilderness years. I don’t want to change others; however if there are those in the same place as I was, I would like to help them understand what’s happening to them.

How to get ahold of this for yourself? As a new believer, or as one who has walked with Jesus all your life, the answer is the same. Keep walking close to Him. Don’t let other, trifling ‘religious’ things distract you. Enjoy life with Him. Enjoy your hobbies and interests. Hear his heartbeat.

“Still your soul in silence, and listen for His Word”

And do not hesitate to follow His Voice, even if it leads you to a point where what He says conflicts with your already-existing belief structures. In fact, this is what you should expect if Jesus is changing you on a daily basis. How can He do a ‘new thing’ in you without first doing something radical in dealing with the old? But do not worry. Jesus is faithful, and He will lead you, by His Spirit, into all truth. So many people, these days, look at others’ walks with Jesus and criticise. They are afraid that if someone listens to God for themselves, then somehow they will end up in error. This is especially common in cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, where even reading the Bible for oneself is discouraged in case of being deceived by ‘lying spirits’. But look, who is it that these people don’t trust? Do they really not trust God – who is smart enough to have made the entire Universe – to be able to speak to someone and actually get it right? No doubt they will trot out stuff like ‘The human heart is deceitful above all things’ in order to suggest, when you really get down to it, that actually God cant speak at all without the human heart somehow twisting things.

What twaddle! Since you now have a new heart, (Ezek 36:26, 2 Cor 5:17) as a believer, you are perfectly capable of hearing God correctly for yourself! Don’t let anyone ever take that away from you! Do you really think He would let you fall? No, because underneath are the Everlasting Arms (Deut 33:27). If anyone is in Christ, he has the mind of Christ (1Cor 2:16). He whom the Father gives [to Jesus], He will never cast out (Jn 6:37). Do not listen to those who would gainsay what Jesus has to say to you personally. But don’t push it faster than He wants you to go. He will lead you into new things in His own good time; when He knows the time is right. All you have to do is to follow Him and trust Him with your life. And you can trust Him with not only your life, but your salvation too. Don’t worry about what others think; this is between you and God, and He deals with us all differently and individually.

“Still your soul in silence, and listen for His Word”

So the Scripture that says, ‘Today, if you hear His Voice, do not harden your hearts….’ (Heb 3:15) took on a new meaning for me. I had hardened my heart to what the Spirit was saying, because I was so sure that I was completely correct, on the right track, and doctrinally proper, to the exclusion of all else. How could I have been so blind? So, I would say to my readers, and with the deepest of respect too: Do not harden your hearts. Let Jesus speak to you, and if there are ‘towers’ that need to ‘fall to piles of stones’, then let Him pull them down. But all in His good time, and all in His way.

As in all such things, the only thing you need to do is to walk closely with Jesus, listen to His Voice, and trust Him to get it right. He is the One who will mould you into the person you want to be.

“Still your soul in silence, and listen for His Word”


And, as an alternative listening experience, here’s a lovely acoustic version of the song: just Don and his guitar:

 

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