Thursday, 26 July 2018

Jesus the Mercy Seat

When we explore Romans we will come across God presenting Jesus as the Hilasterion (3:25).  This word has been translated 'propitiation' or 'sacrifice of atonement.'  While these translations speak of the result of God presenting Jesus, it doesn't say what the word means.  Hilasterion means 'Mercy Seat.  The Mercy seat is what covered the Ark of the Covenant.  What can we observe about Jesus being presented as he Mercy Seat covering of the Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark of the Covenant was in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Only the High Priest could go in with some very specific instructions from God.  Leviticus Ch 16 speaks of the procedure.  In short the High Priest transfers the sin of the nation (there are a few sin categories) into the animal and the animal is killed.  The blood from the resultant wound is thrown onto the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant.   This act brings about God's approval to forgive the sins.  Iv'e simplified this ritual because at every turn it is rich and loaded with meaning.  What is of my interest is to think INSIDE the box.

Inside the Ark of the covenant were three things.  One was the tablets with the ten commandments on it.  This is a story of lawbreaking by the nation (Exo 32).  Another artefact was Aarons rod that budded.  This was a story of rebellion by some who rose up against Moses leadership, in effect, against God's express will (Num Ch 16and 17).  The other item was Manna.  Manna fell when the Israelites had no food.  At one point the people complained and roused God's anger.  They wanted meat so God showered the camp with quail, so much that they had trouble collecting it all.  It was a picture of ungratefulness (Numbers 11).  So in the Ark was Lawbreaking, Rebellion and Ungratefulness.   All of these things were covered by the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.

God presented Jesus as the Mercy Seat and as we will know from the Cross, Jesus had the sins of the world transferred to Him, just like the animals.  Then his wounds bled all over him as thorns tore his scalp, his scourged back bled down his legs and crucifixion wounds turned him into a dripping bloodbath.  So we have the sin transfer, the blood  and the covering all in Jesus on the cross.

This sacrifice covers our lawbreaking but also our ungratefulness and rebellion.  God presents Jesus as the Mercy Seat and in doing do not only covers the fact that we sin but also the wretchedness of our ungrateful rebellion.  All of this is known to God yet he took the initiative to fix the whole thing for us at infinite cost.  Simply:

God's got you covered!  Shalom!

Gary Ward

Saturday, 14 July 2018

How do I know when... *1

How do I know when... I'm being oppressed by the enemy?

Spiritual oppression is when the enemy is allowed to get close enough to affect a believer.  It has a purpose in God that we are not always clear about.  One thing is clear:  we can get into all sorts of problems if we don't detect a spiritual attack.  Here are 5 indications you are being oppressed spiritually.  Its not the only 5 and certainly not a defining comment. 

1.  The 'skies' are not clear.  Eph 6

Often a believer can readily think of the Lord, their church family and the blessings they have and rejoice.  Even in trials we can think of the way the Lord has blessed us, firstly with salvation.  The readiness of this sense of joy, I call 'clear skies.'   When we experience this sense disappear and it's hard to even muster up a prayer, it could be spiritual oppression / attack.  We all have flat days but when oppression is occurring we feel genuinely fogged up about how we relate to the Lord and peripheral matters.  The skies are not clear!  Many churches teach that we can somehow make a difference by binding this and that but the Biblical response to all this is to 'stand.'  Paul tells us in Ephesians that a day of evil will come and we must set ourselves up to wear God's armour.  This armour is steadfast understanding and assurance of 6 things:
  • Truth
  • Righteousness
  • Peace
  • Faith
  • Salvation
  • God's word
These things need to be understood as second nature by believers because these are the focus of the enemies attack.  When we stand in steadfast surety of these elements it is like armour.  The enemy wants these elements to become unclear and foggy and when we are being attacked it will be these elements that come into his cross hairs.  Paul says to 'stand' and pray.  Clear skies are coming!

2. The devil tries to form division Phil 4:8

For no reason we can think of, we experience a nagging negativity about others.  It's a niggling sense of discomfort often coupled with accusations forming in our heads.    Sometimes we have thoughts about others and come to wrong conclusions based upon how we feel during spiritual attack.  The aim of the devil, who is basically a frustrated politician, is to bring about disunity and fractures within the family, be that actual, or spiritual family.  

One of the best tricks the devil uses is half truths.  There's no point telling an absolute whopper that you can see straight through!  The enemy can craftily have us concocting stories and conclusions from strands of truth.  When we find ourselves coming to dark conclusion about others, we need to examine our thoughts in the light of 'loving our neighbour' or we are being lied to.  The Lord does not deal with others by bringing us into dark conclusions or accusations.  It is the enemy who weaves his plans to steal kill and destroy into our minds.   How do we combat this?  When we find ourselves in a cul-de-sac of negativity turn to scripture... Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

3. We are accused and lied to about self  Eph 1

Another strategy of the enemy is to lie and accuse us about us!  Often we don't need the enemy to give ourselves a hard time but it is his speciality to have believers defeated by accusing them of their sinfulness and things from the past.  This is one of the destructive things about sin... it gives the devil ammunition!  The devil has a field day ripping into us about our failures, our devotion to the Lord and our daily walk.  One way I defend myself against this is by reminding myself of the truth about my salvation:   

When I became a believer I was accepted and adopted by the Father and he did this with total awareness about what he was taking on.  The Father has been pleased to give me the kingdom and has done so with all wisdom and understanding. So when I find myself in need of forgiveness because of sin I take it very seriously and keep short accounts with the Lord.  But what I don't do is imagine the Lord is impatient and fed up with me.  God knows the total dimensions of my sinful potential, much better than I do!  So the Lord is not surprised that I have messed up.  The enemy will give the impression that I'm a total failure and have damaged the relationship with the Father incalculably.  What the Lord expects is for us to go to Him and repent.  Then pick up our cross and carry on.   

4. We are being utilised by the Lord 2 Tim 1:11-12

If you are being utilised by the Lord, we should expect the attack of the enemy.  One believer said the enemy has no authority to attack them!  Seems strange to me that the Apostle Paul was attacked from 'outside forces' right there and then as he wrote 2 Timothy!  The greater the calling or sending, the bigger attack!    The honour of the Lord involving us in His work is amazing and we can rise up with thanks and gratefulness that he can and will issue forth through us in some way.  Don't fall into a trap thinking its only the leaders who are being utilised.  Being a Christian is, before you've done anything, a pushing back of the forces of darkness.  As we walk in the Spirit we are resisting the Spirit of Antichrist that has gone forth into the earth.  Being on God's side is enough to get the dark forces riled.  Good!

5. People say or do things that are really odd!  

Where the devil tries to divide us as in (2) above, he can also cause people to do and say things.  On more than a few occasions people have said or done things that add to the occasion of being attacked by the enemy.  I've had people say things that could never have been in their knowledge, yet they come forth with words to make the burden even harder.  With the weariness and exhaustion that comes with spiritual attack, it feels right to unleash on the people but we are not at war with people as Ephesians 6:12 affirms.  It is also tempting to live in fear of people and their words.  We may also get an option of a person who has clearly been manipulated by the enemy.   A whole world of drama can come from building a profile of a person based on this.  Resist!  

Much of this comes in on the blind side.  Being in proximity to the Lord, praying, imbibing God's word and being around your brothers and sisters is God's plan for survival during these times.  The enemy's strategy varies person to person but it will always include stopping you going to church, neglecting the Bible, distraction away from praying and feeling like the Lord can't help you.  

Hope this helps.  

Gary Ward

Critical / Cynical / Biblical?

One of the more significant challenges when wanting to follow the Lord and obey His word is being misunderstood.  One of the best examples of Jesus being misunderstood is in his death! He was Messiah, Israel knew this yet had him killed.  One of the reasons for him being set up for death was John Chapter 8.  Here we find Jesus absolutely ripping into the Pharisees and leaving no margin of 'whatever could Jesus mean by that?'  Jesus was responding to the accusations with basic facts which when understood could lead to their salvation.  So Jesus used hard truths in love.

Today there are hard truths around just like in Jesus' day.  If a believer delivers hard truths to other believers there are boxes available to be placed in.  'Cynical' and 'critical' are two of the boxes that people get put into.  It is true, however, that there are critical and cynical people around and their 'truths' can be easily measured against the word of God and debunked.  Also truth can be delivered in the wrong way to appear that there is an agenda.  To speak hard truth today is tricky because of the many boxes there are and believers ready to assign if they don't like what is being said.  The other side to this coin is that ideas that are offered as truth but are un-biblical are assigned to the 'acceptable' box and the body of Christ wanders down any old cul de sac.

Recently I was talking to a believer about mega churches not seeming to have discipleship as a priority.  This person said I was critical but I asked what Jesus meant when he said 'you compass the land and sea of the earth to win a convert then make him into twice the son of hell that you are.'  The believer asked if Jesus really said that!  It was a hard truth in Jesus time and a hard truth today... some churches are focused on looking good... filling seats.  Yet the aim of all of this, 'making disciples' is signed off with church attendance and service.  Discipleship is facilitating a believer to source themselves in their risen Lord and draw upon Him.

That said, it is also easy to become cynical and critical as we see the unbiblical practices of the church.  If you love the idea of God's people coming together to grow and encourage one another, when others make a mockery of this and clearly make it into a means of gain, it's hard to contain the frustration.  The answer is to figure out biblically why this is not sitting right in your heart.  Ive met so many people who are for 'this' and against 'that,' yet cannot tell you why biblically.  It's just their opinion based, again, on their own criteria for serving self.

 It appears to me that Jesus was unconcerned about gaining a fan club so he said it as it is.  It is a precarious position to sit between a scriptural stance and the affections of Mankind.  So many don't want the hardship of standing for Gods word that will inevitably lead to being isolated, alone and misunderstood.   Does that life sound familiar?  Jesus would identify with it and so would the Apostles and Prophets.  As the aspirations to build mega church increase, there is one who is building His church with the remnant who will not bow the knee to status, profile and personality cult.

The way ahead is to be constantly calibrating self to God's word.  That's what the Lord is doing as we offer our lives as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Rom 12:1-2).  As we join in His program for us we will find ourselves understanding that all of the corruption we see around us has all happened before in Israel.  As Paul tells the Corinthians a ballpark, ' learn from the journey of Israel' because all of that occurred for our observation.  Yet millions of believers continue to repeat the mistakes made by the leaders, even in Jesus' time, raising up a platform for self and using the ministry for personal gain.   The way to stand firm and resist error is to steadfastly avoid these ministries and make sure as they reap their rewards now, we are nothing to do with it. 

Gary Ward

Friday, 13 July 2018

God's love for the orphaned heart 1

As many people will know, you don't need to be lacking parents to be an orphan.  So many people like myself have experienced parenthood that was positional.  The ideal is that parents are functional and walk out the responsibility of parenthood.  Sadly, there are those who can interact with a person who was part of their being born but not engage the love and joy of having functional parents.  I have had this experience where my dad has been present-absent all my life.  As an adult I can pretty much live life without my dad but have to say it impacts on my relationship with my heavenly Father.  It turns out a few from our church also have issues in this area.  So how do we navigate these waters when 'father' was not exampled?

For many the main issue lies around believing that the heavenly (F)ather is not like your (f)ather.  I can readily accept this as a fact but it all gets snarled up when I have to go to the Lord when troubled.  My father caused much of my trouble so to go to my Father when troubled seems impossible.  The unlearning old patterns of thinking seems exhausting when you can't muster the faith to believe Father loves you.  Some have written books about their intimate relationship with their heavenly daddy and quite frankly it frustrates me.  'Thank you for telling me how cuddly you are on His knee!'  My experience is not that and I have to believe the unbelievable to even think he cares.

So I do my 'orphan therapy.'  I put myself in the shoes of the prodigal son.  Then I put myself in the place of the woman caught in adultery.  I'm then in Ephesians 1 seeing the Father has pleasurably, with all wisdom and understanding chosen me to be in the New Covenant.  Psalm 139 comes in handy and I am starting to feel better.  This is about me.  My Father has been pleased to give me the Kingdom.  All of this is great and helps but one thing slips through the confusion:

God made an independent free will decision to adopt me personally.

The Creator of the Universe chose me before anything was put on the clock.  This has to eclipse any absent parenthood that was also trying to recover from the fall.  God, in the most lucid state anything could ever be, saw every particle of your being, including the very bad bits, and elected you for eternal life.  Still not moved?

Now consider that the Father could not do any of this unless his own Son was crushed... and the Father had to do the crushing!  To rescue me and you, the Father went to ultimate personal expense such is His regard for you and me.  He had to inflict torture and pain on His Son to rescue us after it was us who willingly choose to rebel.  God took the hit for you, and it was of unimaginable proportion.

With this in view we can conclude that no father has ever done what the Father has done!  So you and I can take the component of 'I don't understand the love of the Father' and re-examine.  NO-ONE can fully grasp the whole nine yards of this love!  If anyone says they do then they either don't understand it or are fooling themselves.  Would I crush my Son for anyone or anything? NO!

Let us with orphaned hearts re-calibrate towards the Father and encounter this Joy!

Gary Ward

The Inst-Abram age...

Media platforms are useful in many ways but it doesn't take much to see how dangerous they are.  Providing a snapshot of our lives doesn't tell of the whole nine yards of what's actually going on.  It's not like everyone who uses social media is deceptive, its just that we don't tell the whole story.  Many of the false teachers and teachings offer something useful but the error is always that they don't tell the whole story.  In this age we live in it is more like Inst- Abram ... just seeing the good bits of someone like Abraham's life instead of the issues. 

Reporting on just good parts of something provides perfect marketing.  If we did it in our own small biblical house group we could say some really good things.  There's been healing amongst us, we have sweet fellowship, lovely times of worship and amazing times of sharing.  Sounds great... and it is!  But also we have times of brokenness,  spiritual attack and oppression and real, earthy needs amongst us.  What I am describing in the sunshine and rain is reality!  Rather than make false promises like the prosperity gospel does, we just promise a biblical journey with all it's ups and downs.

So what happens if we only report on the good things? People would be misled in believing that we have some sort of utopia.  I think it is human nature, especially us over catered for westerners, to avoid suffering.  And the more I promise continual ease, the more we buy into it.  Then... the problems come in churches who promise the ideal.  There are several ways to maintain the illusion that all is well and that is to tell the person that they are still in utopia but they are the problem.  Many Christians have been made to feel condemned, maladjusted and in some cases demonised for simply stumbling along in their walk.  It is normal to falter and fail and in the ekklesia the Lord wanted, people are there to support and assist.  Having a family to lean on when the going gets tough is the plan but in so many cases 'tough' means 'lack.'

If the gospel is presented in such a way that normality is constantly being swept along by the gentle breeze of the Spirit of God, any 'snagging on the barbed wire' would be seen as personal failure.   Obviously wrong to see snags as failure but even worse, we have entered in to 'performance mode' as believers.  It matters that we are intending a holy walk but the whole self assessment must be offset by Jesus completed work and his glorification right now.  The Lord knows the potential of our weakness yet still works with us to nudge us towards transformation.  So because he sees all, there is no surprise (to Him) when we falter and fail.  The problem is, we do like to 'post' the good bits, the perceived successes and the impressive performance.   This speaks back to us and reinforces the idea that we are not all that bad.  When the snags occur we are again shocked and appalled that we are indeed wretched.

The only way to see a joyful and peaceful walk is to fix our eyes on things above all the time and attribute the good, the bad and the ugly to our risen and glorified King.

Yours in the struggle,

Gary Ward

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Understanding 'contending for the faith'

Jude's letter was clear about the dangers facing Christians, especially in the last days.  That there would be those who 'slip in among you' and masquerade as believers was a problem then but now denominations are based on this calamity.  The issue here is that the practices and false doctrines of these impostors are adopted by believers and we see it every day in churches.  It is my responsibility to firstly walk out the faith in obedience but then to discern where the rot has set in. Then I will make all those I am walking this out with aware of the error.  In this way I am again doing what Scripture teaches: 1 Timothy 4...

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
If however the 'pointing out' or 'making aware' is actually a cover for bitterness or revenge then it is a whole other matter.  I would have to examine my own heart (see, you don't have to!) for motives in calling out an individual or a church et al.  I have personally been part of churches that have publicly lied to their congregations, mismanaged money, built a 'kingdom' for themselves etc.  All these things are explicitly reasons for repentance.  Where repentance is not evident the person or church are in danger.  God gives churches or individuals over to 'it,' whatever 'it' is for that group.  We see this in verse two above and in Romans chapter 1 just as two off the cuff examples. 
Over the last year or two I have seen people I know lie to my face about the lies they told to their church.  I didn't expose this beyond some trusted friends to whom I have some accountability. Recently a church was on national UK TV because of a scandal involving the head of that organisation.  One of the reasons aspiring mega churches pat themselves on the back is because of the social action they get involved in.  The un-biblical practices they employ to get people in, and get their money, is always justified by 'helping the helpless.'  Got to say... if you have a load of people doing anything... helping the helpless is a good thing!  But if the helpless become subject to the same business-like tactics as everyone else we have a problem.  Control, megalomania and the such like are ugly in every context.  Its no problem for me to let my church family know that this is wrong and can never be right.  Biblically, I'm doing my job.    
My concern is for the believers who have fallen into the cult of personality.  Some people can do anything and the followers wont see it as sin.  This is concerning because it shows the word of God is coming second to the vision of the movement.  Believers buy into the proposals of the leaders and if they happen to violate the word of God... who cares!  As long as the movement is moving and I'm part of it... let's not tip up the apple cart!  This is exactly what Israel were castigated for... the widespread acceptance of sin as being all well and good because "WE ARE GODS CHOSEN."  
What could go wrong... turns out everything!
This is not a shock to anyone who has read the Prophets and takes the Apostles seriously.  The growing problem is acceptance of this unrepentant behaviour.  The VAST majority are taken in by the key performance indicators of 'what works' church wise.  As long as they are a part of the hive, all is well.
It isn't well.  It is everything the Apostles and Prophets warned about.   

Gary Ward 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Managing appetites...

Paul to Timothy:

1Tim 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

How do we know what is the demonic teaching and which is Godly?  Paul offers two examples of what demonic teaching does.  The underlying theme is restriction.  But the devastating other side to this coin is the works associated with it.  They forbid people to marry when marriage is the very core of God's plan that is patterned through the Bible.  The true church is a bride!  They also forbid certain foods.  Food is a blessing!  God loves feasts!  What are the demons trying to do in being behind such teachings and practices? 

When people become Christians having been implicated by the rescue plan of God, they enter more freedoms than restrictions.  This is not what people think about Christianity but it is actually true.  Paul goes on:  

4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.  

When someone brings about extra rules and regulations that God has not sanctioned they create a false religion.  This misrepresents God and people get an impression of God that is not accurate.  As a younger man I HATED being misrepresented.  It has happened so much that I've seen it as God's hollowing out process.  I have also seen more clearly the reason people do it.  Nevertheless God is misrepresented.  That is not a great idea but it is devastating to the people led into the doctrines of demons.  Central to our growth, maturity and even salvation is seeing God for who He really is.  

The whole problem with all of God's dealing with Israel was misrepresentation.  This led to carving Idols and in the same way, creating restrictions is also Idolatry.  This has been clearly said by the Holy Spirit!  The big question has to be whether Paul's observations have taken form.  I mean if you claim the Holy Spirit is clearly saying something you'd better be right, right?

I'm sure there are other examples but two huge examples remain of restricting foods and marriage.  Firstly it is the Roman Catholics that forbid their priests to marry.  This has serious repercussions in society.  Roman Catholics re-enact Jesus' sacrifice at mass, denying the Lord's once and for all sacrifice.  Secondly there is the devastating error of returning to Law.  This proclaims the work of the cross as being ineffectual and sets the person partaking into observing prescriptive Law.  Practically it means restrictions in what is eaten as Mosaic Law banned certain foods.  Interestingly, Judaisers and the Roman Catholics have this in common: Ignoring the completed work of the cross.  

Jesus fulfilled the Law for us so that we can have access to God by believing on Him.  Once truly following Jesus by faith we are not required to tick boxes or refrain from what God has given as pleasurable blessings.  Although these blessings can be abused, doing or not doing something to help God fix us is not required.  When the Apostles wrote to the gentile believers at Antioch, the main areas they advised to be aware of was managing food and their sexual practices.  In no way did they says stop eating and enjoying intimacy in marriage.  Our appetites are God given and to be met with thanks within the holy boundaries of God's graces.  

Gary Ward