Thursday, 31 March 2011

Thinking Thursday: Jesus as Leader

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-- the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned." From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Jesus crossed into Galilee, which fulfilled another Old Testament prophecy, and he began his ministry by preaching that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And he showed this straight away by healing all manner of diseases and afflictions. Only the power of God can do these things, so God's kingdom is near.
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Once his ministry had begun, he called disciples to follow him and learn from him.
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John. This was not 'out of the blue' as John tells us that they had met Jesus before (John 1:35-42). Maybe they had been discussing him, and that is why they were so ready to follow him. The coming of the kingdom was too important to refuse. Instead of catching fish, they were going to help Jesus to bring in people to the kingdom.
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.
This is Matthew's own account of Jesus calling him. Matthew was a tax collector, hated because they worked for the Romans, but also because they took extra money for themselves. It shows the effect that Jesus had on some people, that even someone so 'sinful' as Matthew could not only be called but moved to follow. This reassures us that the kingdom is for everyone.
Discipleship for the first disciples meant leaving what they were doing and following Jesus physically. We all have to sacrifice things in our lives in order to follow him today. In my own life, I believed I was part of the truth already, but had to let go of that and accept that I was deceived, in order to embrace Jesus. It meant not only giving up my activities and involvement in another church but also giving up all my friends.

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Jesus called twelve men to be his disciples, or pupils. From what we read in the Bible few or none of these people were candidates to be part of the new kingdom of heaven according to worldly judgement. They were all weak and made mistakes. But this should be an encouragement to us, because however weak or sinful we are, Jesus will accept us if we follow him.

And following Jesus is what discipleship is about. Once a person has made a commitment and is saved, often they are welcomed to the church and expected to get on with it. But we need to disciple new converts, to teach them how to be a Christian from day to day, how to 'work out our salvation' (Philip.2:12). In our churches we must follow Jesus' example to lead new Christians in discipleship.

[Based on sermon and Bible study from Pastor Pete Orphan]

Other posts in this series:

Jesus as Leader
Jesus as Divine
Jesus the Man
Jesus as Teacher
Jesus and Us
Jesus as Messiah
Jesus as Saviour
Jesus as Lord

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Joseph Martin, Captain of the Kestrel

If you met Joseph Martin, you would not think him remarkable. You would probably pass him by in the street. British, with brown hair and eyes, average height and build, if you didn't see his kerchief colour, you would think that his First Officer, who is the tall, handsome one, was the captain. Which he has sometimes used to great advantage.

Martin is in his forties, and married to the job. And he does the job well. His First Officer, Mike Holland, has served with him for 5 years, and when he is promoted, Martin's old friend Nathaniel Parks steps in temporarily. They are both delighted when he is able to stay on.

He has very strong ethics – fair play, honesty, duty & loyalty - to PACT and to his crew. He is level-headed and responsible, he knows right and wrong, and there is no question what he will do. But in the second novel, some of his standards are challenged. Some of the situations the Kestrel crew have got into could have been pretty nasty if he hadn't been so quick-witted and inventive. So far all his risks have paid off.

He has had few dealings with first contact, until ‘Intruders’, the first story. He has a keen interest in current affairs, especially on other worlds. He is the one who puts together the separate incidents which point to the Intruders, after investigating the quartz disappearance & mining accident.

Despite his appearance, he is strong in command. Understanding, but doesn't stand for any nonsense. When the Kestrel plays host to representatives from six different alien races, in adition to the crew, in a space designed for 11 crew, it is Martin who keeps it all together, aided by his old friend Parks.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Thinking Thursday: Jesus - Prophet, Priest & King

God promised Moses that he would raise up a prophet like him.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.
When John the Baptist began his ministry people wondered.
John 1:21
And they asked him, "What then?
Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not.""Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No."
But when Jesus came, they knew.
John 7:40
When they heard these words,
some of the people said, "This really is the Prophet."

The priests were all from the tribe of Levi. On the Day of Atonement the High Priest had to offer sacrifice for his own sins before he could offer sacrifices for the people, and before going behind the veil to meet with God. Jesus was not descended from the Levites, didn't offer sacrifices, and didn't go behind the veil. But John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb and he offered himself as the sacrifice.
John 1:29
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold,
the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"
And when he offered himself as a sacrifice, the veil was rent, so that man had direct access to God.
And Jesus
cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Therefore Christ was the ultimate Priest. His sacrifice was such that he sat down, because after him there was no longer a need for any sacrifices.
And every priest stands
daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

God promised David that he would establish his kingdom, and there would be a king from his house forever.
2 Sam 7:16
And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.
Because of his sacrifice, Jesus was given all honour and glory as a king forever.
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death.

So Jesus is our Prophet, Priest and King, and he still works for us.
Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--
who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Since he is Prophet, Priest and King, you may wonder how he can sympathise with our weaknesses. As the scripture above says, he was tempted as we are. There were many occasions when he was tempted, such as when the people tried to make him king (John 6:15), but I want to mention three in particular.

At the beginning of his ministry, after 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted directly by the devil (Matt.4:1-11). Matthew Henry tells us that his temptations were: 1. To despair of his Father’s goodness. 2. To presume upon his Father’s power. 3. To alienate his Father’s honour, by giving it to Satan. In every case, Jesus refuted Satan by using the word of God, which is a good example for us. We can always find something relevant in scripture to help us when we are tempted.

At the other end of his ministry, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed to his Father to find another way so that he did not have to suffer, but bowed to the Father's will.
And going a little farther he fell on his face
and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."
If we are obedient, we may go through suffering, but it will always be for good.

Something I had not thought of until it was pointed out to me was the temptation Jesus went through at the Transfiguration. In order to come to earth, Jesus 'laid aside his majesty.' He was equal with God before.
Philippians 2:5b-7
Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
At the Transfiguration, Jesus regained his glory, and his body was changed.
And he was transfigured before them, and
his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
And then the heavens opened and Moses and Elijah talked with him, and God spoke from the cloud (v.3 & 5). At that moment, Jesus could have stepped straight into glory without needing to die. He knew what was coming. He knew what he had to do, quite soon. He could have avoided it, but he resisted.
And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

These temptations were greater than any we may face. So whatever we go through, Jesus can indeed sympathise with us and help us to overcome it, as he did.

(With thanks to Pat Francis, Pantygwydr Baptist Ladies Fellowship, 16/3/11)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Scribbling Saturday: The Kestrel and PACT

I have mentioned often my science fiction novels Flight of the Kestrel, so I thought it would be good to spend some Saturdays talking about the background, to build the world.

Human life is not radically different to now. More technology, better medical treatment, but sociologically the same. Space travel has enabled colonies to be settled on the Moon and some other planets, some of which are in other solar systems. Enns comes from Alpha, the first colony outside our solar system, which has become very insular. Ryan comes from another colony world (Orion 3) that sought to return to simple pre-technology living, or at least minimal technology and mostly physical labour. This backfired when they lost their doctor and couldn't find someone with the older healing skills, or who was willing to 'rough it' on their terms.

Space travel also brought contact with aliens, and the Planetary Alliance for Co-operation and Trade (PACT) was formed as a sort of United Nations in space. The Kestrel works for the 'peace-keeping' arm and acts as a fast response diplomatic and trouble-shooting force. There are other sections of PACT which we do not meet, which deal with exchange of technology and ideas, shared scientific and other developments, cultural exchange, and trade.

All the fast response ships are named after birds of prey. They encourage diversity in their crews to promote inter-species understanding. Out of 11 crew, two (Enns & Ryan) are humans not from earth, and two (Reuel & Balitoth) are aliens. Dr Grace is from Earth but has worked away from Earth for many years. This may apply to some of the other human crew also.

They also try to keep the ships constantly in service, so crewmen are swapped in and out to have leave, giving others a chance to get experience on a number of different ships. This was found to have a detrimental effect on morale, so crews are kept together as much as possible, with not too many being swapped at a time.

This makes the Kestrel stories different to most 'spaceship' stories, where the crew remains the same all the time. In the beginning of book 1, one crewman has left, one is missing due to illness and a temporary replacement is found, the First Officer has been promoted and about to leave. During the book the First Officer leaves and the doctor gets injured and there have to be replacements for both, and the sick crewman returns. It makes for interesting dynamics between the characters, as well as the challenges faced in the missions.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Thinking Thursday: The Humanity of Jesus

Because of the miraculous things Jesus did, it is easy to concentrate on his divinity, but it is vital that we see that he was fully human.

Matthew, writing to Jews, takes the trouble to list Jesus' genealogy through his father (see Matt.1:1-17). Jesus was descended from David, who was promised an eternal kingship. The line was considered through the man, but there are four women listed: v.3 Tamar (1 Chron.2:4) dressed as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law, v.5 Rahab (Josh.2:2) was a prostitute, v.5 Ruth (Ruth 1:22, Deut.7:1-4) was a foreigner, v.6 Uriah's wife Bathsheba (2 Sam.11) was an adulteress, and David had her husband murdered. At the same time as establishing Jesus' lineage, Matthew pointed out that it included weak, sinful, and non-Jewish people. Not what you would expect for a Messiah. Jesus' heritage was messily human.

The people of his home town, Nazareth, know his background and did not believe. They had seen him grow up and because of that familiarity could not think of him as anything other than human. They asked, "Where did this man get this power?"

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there,
and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honour except in his hometown and in his own household." And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

As you read the gospels, you will find Jesus had
* Limitations of body and mind – he got tired, he needed to eat and to sleep
* Fullness of emotion & experiences – he got angry, he wept
* Experience of a spiritual life – he went alone to pray often

Why is it necessary for Jesus to be fully human?

* Representative obedience
Humanity must provide the way to repair the covenant broken by humanity. Jesus' temptation in the desert was like a reversal of the Garden of Eden experience, but this time with obedience.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Jesus was tempted to use his divine powers for selfish gain, but he was obedient to his father.

* Representative sacrifice
It could only be possible for Jesus to represent humanity if Jesus was fully human.
Hebrews 2:14-17
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise
partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. … Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

* Representative to God
Jesus had to be human but holy. He could not have sins of his own to deal with. Although Matthew began with Jesus' human genealogy yet he made it clear that Mary was pregnant "by the Holy Spirit" (1:18) so that he did not inherit the father's sin nature.
John the Baptist recognised Jesus was without sin.
John 1:29
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold,
the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
John hesitated to baptise Jesus because he recognised his sinlessness and therefore he didn't need it, but Jesus insisted because he was obedient.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness." Then he consented. …

* Representative to us
1. Jesus shows us how we should live and empathises with our human experience. Jesus was not always human, he is part of the godhead, but he broke into time and history and was born a man.
2. He restores the dominion over creation given to man at the beginning
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
3. He also shows us that death is not the end. His resurrected body means we will be resurrected and will have a body like his.

Why does it matter?

1. It is very serious because to deny the humanity of Christ is to be antichrist.
1 John 4:2-3
By this you know the Spirit of God:
every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
2. Whatever we go through, Jesus has experienced it, and will go through it with us.
3. The truth of Jesus' humanity gives us the opportunity of breaking with the past. Who we really are is related to Jesus and he has set us free from the sin in our past. How we have been related to and how we have been treated no longer has to define us.
4. Suffering: we do not believe in a God who has created and walked away. In Jesus God got involved in our world and understands our suffering. He has provided the ultimate solution and one day he will deal justly with everyone, but until then we only have part of the answer.
At present,
we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Would You Believe it?

From the March edition of Writing Magazine:
According to a poll conducted for the UK's popular book review and recommendations website,, one in five British men believe that Charles Darwin wrote Oliver Twist and George Orwell's classic novel Animal Farm is a blue movie.

The study of Britain's reading habits also revealed that 25 percent thought that Sherlock Holmes was a real character, and 67 percent thought that the Scottish poet Robert Burns invented the haggis.

The survey of 2,000 men aged thirty and under revealed that on average they take between eight and twelve months to read one paperback.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Thinking Thursday: Preparing The Ground

Jesus told the parable of the sower, and explained that it illustrated people's different responses to the word of the gospel, and it is often used in evangelism training to prepare people for the kind of responses they might get. But what about preparing the people we talk to, or preparing us to deal with them better?

he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear."

When a gardener plans a garden they take into consideration the type of soil, the situation in sun or shade, the nutrients, and many other things. You would not throw seeds on the ground, the rocks, and the path and just expect them to grow. You would examine the ground and prepare it first. Each different type of ground needs different preparation, and there are things we can do to prepare people to improve the chances of a good response to the gospel.

Let us look at each type of response and see how we could prepare the ground to make it more fertile:

v.19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.
We are all called to share the good news, but how well do we prepare? When someone asks a question, have we thought out how we would present the gospel and deal with common questions? Or do we muddle through, and risk leaving the person not understanding?

v.20-21 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
When new people come to church, seeking or having just accepted the gospel, what support mechanisms do we have in place to help them? Being saved does not immediately change your personality, your circumstances, or your friends and relations. How can we help them when they are ridiculed for their new faith, their new standards? How can we help them make new friends when the old ones desert them or are left behind? Becoming a Christian is more than a change of mind, it is a change of attitude, behaviour, lifestyle – it can be quite a shock. How can we help them to stick with it?

v.22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
How can we help anyone in the church who has financial or other problems, especially those who are new? Christians are not immune, yet the 'cares of the world' may be the reason they came seeking a better life in the first place. They need to be shown that Jesus gives you a new heart, a new attitude, a new inner strength to deal with these things, but he doesn't take them away. It is so important to build our church members into mature Christians, not just to get people saved and assume they are all right from there on.

v.23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.
We must prepare ourselves to understand the word and be fruitful, but also to think through how we will help others to come to maturity too. Then much more of the gospel seed will have the chance to grow in those around us.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Social and Spiritual Revival

On Sunday evening I was at the Swansea Hope celebration in Pantygwydr Baptist Church, and the speaker (whose name I unfortunately didn't get) gave a spirited message on something that has been on his heart for some time. He has been sharing ir with the leaders, who invited him to share with the gathered church. Here are the brief notes I took. I hope they are enough for you to catch the vision too.

We had been hearing about all the programmes of social action which Swansea Hope is involved in. The speaker referred to these.

Matt.25:34-40 Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

How blessed the people are who are involved in all the Hope programmes. Jesus is preparing something special for you in his kingdom. The great caring heart of the church is evident. The Christian Church is reaching out into the community. We want to know the blessing of God, to rest on the activities, to see a social as well as a spiritual revival.

John 12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
We can do all we can to help people but each of them also has a spiritual need. We don't want to help them physically and have them end up in hell. "I offered Christ to the people" – John Wesley. Jesus should be the centre of our lives. We should be pointing people to him.

Matt.18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
One of the most powerful statements in the Bible. Not just to encourage us in poorly attended services. Jesus will be there to touch lives. The spiritual challenge we are facing is to lift up Jesus so visitors will meet him.
How important is it that we meet with Jesus in our meetings?
What do we know about the manifest presence of Jesus? Manifest = proof.
When people enter our churches they should say "God is in this place."
There needs to be a fusing together of the social and the spiritual.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Scribbling Saturday: Angry Robot Books

Angry Robot Books are having an open door month in March, when they will accept unsolicited submissions. They publish sci-fi, fantasy and such like, so I am working to finish the latest edit on Flight of the Kestrel 1: Intruders, to send it off before the end of the month.

The Kestrel is a first response ship, a kind of police force and diplomatic service, for the Planetary Alliance for Co-operation and Trade (PACT). I have already written three books, in varying stages of editing. I don't know if it is hard-edged enough for Angry Robot, but even if they are not interested, it is motivation to get the book to a submittable state.

If you are interested in submitting your own stuff, you can find the details here. Good luck to all of us.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Thinking Thursday: Adventures of a New Creature

I remember vividly when it happened. It was electric. The feeling was amazing, and maybe, looking back, that wasn't such a good thing after all. The newness is a written promise you can lay hold on. It doesn't depend on feelings. It happens, no matter how you feel. But it's hard to believe in if you don't feel anything, if there's no experience.

The trouble is, I had spent 18 years depending on feelings to tell me the truth. And my newness, in that respect, fitted the old pattern, even though so much of the rest had been broken and discarded. Bit by bit, it all got dealt with, but the feelings were always there. I knew God was listening to my prayers, because I felt it. I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and I felt moved to worship. So what about the promises when there are no feelings?

But now I am getting ahead of myself. Adventures have to have a beginning.

My adventures really began a long time before the newness, with a major wrong turning. All of us first become seekers when the need for God awakens. And I don't think we ever really stop. With God, there is always more to know. Unfortunately, when we begin we are usually ill-equipped. We know little or nothing about God and His ways, and often what we do know is inaccurate, distorted, or just wrong.

So how do we judge what we find in our seeking? It is easy to lay down criteria with hindsight, and some new creatures get quite arrogant when speaking to people, especially those who have gone astray, as if the answer is obvious.

So what do you do with the basic understanding that Christians pray to God, read the Bible, go to church, and live good lives? As an outsider how are you to know that these things are the fruit of something deeper, life changing? So when you find an answer to your seeking that fills all these and more, that teaches you faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and obedience, how are you to judge? You have found the answer, haven't you? I thought I had, but what I had found was allegiance to an organisation and a life of outward show of obedience. I was not a new creature, and didn't even know that I needed to be. A major wrong turning.

The eventual good that came out of this was a good knowledge of the Bible and enough understanding of what I was taught to recognise the flaws in it when I finally found the truth. The bad that came out of it was the reliance on feelings.

I was taught that God answers prayers by giving you a warm feeling inside. This personal revelation is stronger than any other evidence you may be presented with. We all know how unreliable feelings are, and how they can be manufactured by circumstances. But when you pray, and that feeling comes, just as you were promised, it is like your own personal miracle, and you're hooked. From there on, whatever people may say against your beliefs, whatever evidence they may present to you, you have your own personal witness - your testimony - which transcends it all. To you, your faith is unshakeable. To those in the light, the shutters are down.

My shutters finally crumbled after admitting that my faith wasn't working and that God would not condemn me for asking honest questions if my heart was towards Him. My renewed seeking led me to realise there was something missing in my life, and to recognise someone who had it. That someone was a new creature who showed me the way.

And so I became a new creature, and the real adventure began. But like the false adventure, it began with a feeling. God is wonderful, God is good, and He blesses us with His Spirit and touches our lives in ways we can sense, especially when we are very new creatures. But the Enemy is always there, seeking to twist and corrupt everything. And sometimes it only takes a very small lever to move a very big rock.

As time went by and I learned more of the truth, all the old teachings and ideas were recognised for what they were. I learned the truth of the promises in the Bible, and that they didn't depend on circumstances or feelings. But that theory was blunted in the practical application because the feelings were always there. And feelings are so deep, so hidden, that nobody realised the problem. Radical measures were needed.

My life encountered a crisis. Instinctively, I turned to God. 'Tell me what to do.' Nothing. 'Show me the way.' Nothing. 'At least give me some comfort.' No word, no sign, no feeling. Nothing. Instant despair. What about the promises in the Bible? No help - no feelings. I prayed every way I knew, tried to find ways to please God so that He would respond. I went through the whole spectrum of emotions: despair, guilt, frustration, anger, bitterness, desperation. Lots of feelings, but all the wrong ones.

Through it all, my life continued. The crisis had to be dealt with. Some things were resolved, some got worse, new problems arose. On several occasions, circumstances worked to my good, the right people appeared at the right time with the right answers. But this could not be God, because I felt nothing. One always had a good feeling when God touched your life. It all had to be coincidence.

The pain went deep. How could He desert me when I needed Him the most? He had promised never to leave me, but He had, because the feelings had gone. This was the darkest part of the adventure, and it seemed to last for ever.

Thankfully, it did come to an end. The crisis was resolved, much was learned, much growing done. Even the feelings came back. But it took a long time to understand why they had gone. And they only returned after I had laid hold of the written promises and believed them anyway, with no proof. With hindsight, I could see where God's hand had been at work during the dark times, but His methods had been new to me, and I had not recognised them.

The adventure continues, but on a much firmer footing. Feelings are undependable. But when a promise is in writing, it is unshakeable. It never occurred to me before that God's plan is always moving on, but He is under no obligation to explain it to us, or our part in it. He has said He will never leave us, and He never does, even when we can't feel it. It is a great strength to me now to look forward to the rest of the adventure on that basis.