I am His child

In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will 1:5

Paul would call himself later in his letter a prisoner of Christ Jesus and also a prisoner for the Lord. He is never just a prisoner. Never let your circumstance or situation label you.

God foreknew this prisoner. Maybe some will think this is a stretch too far. That Paul is referring to the Church as a whole. I am sure he is. However, it is a stretch I am prepared to make. So that Paul is saying whether you are free or not, whatever the circumstance of your life, you may be outside living your life or inside a prison like I am, it matters not, God foreknew you not based on the situation around you but for what He has done in you.

What did He know? Paul has already told us that God knew before the creation of the world that we were chosen to be holy and blameless in His sight. He knew He would come and do the work to make that possible through Jesus Christ. But there is more in this verse today. God foreknew He would adopt us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, to be His sons and daughters, His children, His family.

We nearly ran over her. It looked like just a pile of clothes on the road. But it was a person, a young girl, 15 years of age, she was called Maria meaning ‘sea of sorrow’ or ‘wished-for-child’. Both applied to Maria. She had a traumatic story, a painful ironic story as a rejected child. My mum had only had 2 sons I’d wondered if she ever wanted a daughter, here she was. My parents never adopted her legally but for the next few years they put her back together again and gave her a new start in life. For me, it was strange to have a female peer, who was 1 year older than me, in my space. Now I had 2 older siblings bossing me around! Our family all had to adapt. With adoption there has to be adaption. I look back on my own walk with God who adopted me and I thank Him for the many times He has adapted to my waywardness. When I have gone left or right, He adapted and found me and brought me back to the centre. When you were sinking into a sea of sorrow He adapted, He stopped and picked you up and brought you to Himself again and again, time after time. The adaption of God for your life is as precious as your adoption.

Why does He do all this?

It is in accordance with his pleasure and will.

Meditate on those words, they are so beautiful.

Let me start with His will. He wanted to. He didn’t have to because God is love and He has to do that. It is in His will to have you as His child. Think for a moment with tears in your eyes of the many lost people in this world who don’t feel wanted anymore. We have to let them know that they are wanted by Him. You see when you are sat in a prison as Paul was it is very easy to think you are not wanted.

But as I close I do so with the best bit for me. His pleasure. I am blessed and truly graced to have a beautiful relationship with my son and daughter. As I reflect on our story of life together pleasure has been a central component. I have seen their desire and enthusiasm to please me with not just kindness but with a desire to live their life for God. They are strengthened, inspired and empowered by my pleasure. So I know they are trying to please me and they know they are a pleasure to me. In that place we both thrive. Now how much more with God! As we come closer to Him, as we walk with Him and try and please Him we also feel His pleasure, we know His smile and His applause.

So today we can sit in any prison that may come our way and we say I AM HIS CHILD.

I am chosen

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. Ephesians 1:4

Even though it is now over 30 years ago I remember studying 1 year of New Testament Greek in Bible College. I actually don’t remember enough but this one thing has come back to my mind this morning as I have meditated on this wonderful verse. These first 14 verses in the original Greek are a single sentence!

As you know every morning in my time with God I am typing out a blog on a verse. I have known those moments when I can’t stop typing words and then I look back and think oh no this sentence is far too long. Not being a grammar expert I think I need at least commas, a semi-colon, I need to put a full stop somewhere in the middle and create another sentence. Looking back at the moment I am trying to bring a better order so that it can be read a little easier. This is what the translators have done with verses 1-14. But in the moment, Paul had no breaths, no full stops. He is bubbling over and praise just seems to spill out from his lips. This is a cascade of adoration. This is a burst of worship coming from the depths of his heart in a prison.

In this prison I am chosen. Whatever the circumstance of our life, left behind, locked down or in prison, it is easy to look through the bars of the prison and see that all the activity is outside. Everyone else seems to be advancing rather than me. I see they have great marriages, perfect families, nice homes and satisfying jobs. But it is not the activity of life, the destiny of life in terms of experiences gained, qualifications and accolades earned that is of any importance. None at all. It is this and this one thing. To be chosen. Not to be chosen for the stages of the world. Not to be chosen by a man or woman. But by Him, God.

I recall the time when a leader said to me, “Paul, I want you to know I nearly chose you for my team. You were in my top 12. I could have chosen you out of those 12 people. But I didn’t. You nearly made it. I just want you to know how close you were to being chosen.” I smiled, lost for words, gazing at a leader who had become lost.

You may wake up this morning and realise you were nearly chosen. Friends! You are! By the one who really matters!

What matters is that you are chosen not for activity but relationship with Jesus! How we need more people to realise that!

When did that choosing happen? Was it when you did something amazing? No of course not! It was when you was never even here. It was before any of us were here. Before the world began He saw you and He chose you. He actually chose us. He saw in His mind the Church, you and me, together as a community being built for His glory. Not chosen to be an island but in connection.

What were we chosen for? To be holy and blameless in His sight.

Here is what happened:

  • We were made in His image.
  • We were significant, we had a purpose.
  • We were provided for, safe and secure.
  • We had a sense of identity and belonging to God and others.
  • We had an environment.
  • We sinned and lost it all.

What we lost was our image of who we belong to and what we are here for. So we began to bear sons and daughters of our image and not God’s. Then we built a world set against the Lord’s image in our lives. And all the time we carried a hurt, a gaping wound in our heart.

And God saw it all. He saw how we would be holy and blameless in his sight. And of course that is the work of Jesus.

You may wake up a failure. Maybe you are not where you should be. Or perhaps you wake up in a prison charged with accusations that are just not true and in truth you should be anywhere but where you are right now. Let the words of the Spirit fall into the recesses of your mind and heart: you are holy and blameless in his sight. How? It is Jesus. If we fail tomorrow, how? It will be Jesus. It will be Jesus until He takes us home.

And he chose us to be his very own, joining us to himself even before he laid the foundation of the universe. Because of his great love, he ordained us, so that we would be seen as holy in his eyes with an unstained innocence. Ephesians 1:4

I am not where you think I am

It was the weekly filming day. I knew what that entailed. I had to try and make my birds-nest hairstyle sit in one position. I did the comb over and it seemed to work. I had to put a shirt on after living in t-shirts for the last few days. Then I had to position where I was sitting having been told not to have the light behind me. I was being careful especially with any reflections as my son said my last film showed I was secretly wearing shorts! I had to put my camera phone on the best setting then position it what seems to be back to front but it’s the best way apparently. In my hand I had my list of 10 top tips for producing the best digital sermon ever. I had invested in my new digital ministry with a £10 tripod for my phone. I positioned that on the stool and checked a few times that I was actually in view. After a few dodgy starts (there’s a rumour that I’m known as ‘one-take Hudson’ but it’s not true) I was rolling. Point one was brilliant and smooth. Point two was magnificent and I was feeling confident. Point three, the tripod fell off the stool.

It was then that I realised I was beginning to hate lockdown and I entered into a few hours of being fed-up.

When our circumstances are anything but pleasant we face a battle to choose how to respond and live.

Paul is under house arrest with a Roman guard. He is contained, limited and not free to travel like he has been. He is restricted to reach the many churches he still wants to visit.
This is where Paul was.

According to Jewish custom a bereavement is followed by a week of mourning known as ‘shiva’. Mourners sit on low stools as near to the ground as possible. Remember how Jobs friends could not recognise him because of his suffering and for 7 days and nights they sat on the ground and in the dirt with him (Job 2:13)? Similarly the ‘shiva’ demonstrates their heartache of the mourners by bringing themselves as low as possible. The enemy of your soul wants you to stay low, to keep you down and to be hard-pressed (as Paul would write to the Corinthians).

You may know where you are today. You can describe your condition and the place where you have ended up in life. It may not be where you would have chosen. You may have hoped for better things. Your circumstance may be trying to bring you low, you may even have those feelings right now.

But Paul says to us that this is not where we are.

He knew where he was physically, the prison was real; there was no doubt in his mind.

This is where I am. However, it is not where I live.

Paul was actually not under Roman guard, he was not under house arrest, contained, limited, not free to travel like he had been, restricted from reaching the many churches that he still wanted to reach. He was not at that place. Paul saw it differently,

“I am limited under Roman guard but that is not where I am living my life.”

He says, v3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ”.

For us today we are not sitting low to the ground.
“I am not sitting in this prison, I am living my life in the heavenly realms!”

The heavenly realms is the unseen world of spiritual reality where we are one in Christ. Through Jesus God has made us alive and in relationship with Christ! That relationship is found in the unseen world but the proof of that relationship is evident in the seen world!
I am under arrest but I am at the horizon. The horizon is the point of the physical and spiritual, the visible and the invisible. The prison and the praise.

I’m under arrest but I’m at the horizon.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, how is that possible?

Because the physical circumstances will not define me, I will find a way because I live at the horizon of 2 dimensions. I am not where you think I am.

“I am blessed in the heavenly realms.”

I am in the right place.

 

The year is around AD 60-62 and the apostle is under house arrest in Rome, the place where he would be martyred probably around the time of a great city fire (let’s blame Nero) in AD 64. He would not have been crucified as a Roman citizen so he was probably beheaded. Of course no one knows the details exactly but what we do have are 4 incredible prison letters, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Not just incredible, but beautifully crafted, heart-felt and moving letters. Let’s read the opening of his letter which we call ‘Ephesians’ and let us do so slowly.

Ephesians 1:1-3 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

YOU ARE IN THE RIGHT PLACE.

However you would describe your situation today. In your pain; with all your mixed emotions; perhaps distractions and even your failings.

Paul doesn’t start his letter about being locked down or contained or not free to travel. He begins with God.

Read it again. Nearly every word is Christ Jesus or God the Father. For Paul there is no separation. There is no Christ without God. God has made Himself known to us in Jesus.

How can we be in the right place when we are in prison?

I saw on social media a few days ago a posting of the America’s Got Talent show and a man called Archie Williams who came onto the stage to sing, “Don’t let the sun go down on me.” It is hard to watch without tears. The series begins this week. Archie went onto the stage and opened up with this sentence: “I was just incarcerated for 37 years for somebody else’s crime. DNA freed me.” He later explained, “On the morning of December 9 of 1982 a 30-year-old white woman was raped and stabbed in her home. I was arrested on January 4. I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I knew I was innocent. I didn’t commit a crime. But being a poor black kid, I didn’t have the economic ability to fight the state of Louisiana.”

He continued: “At the trial, none of the fingerprints at the scene matched mine. Three people testified that I was at home, but they wanted somebody to pay. I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole or probation.  Days turned into weeks and into months and into decades. It was like a nightmare.”

He concluded with these words, “Freedom is of the mind. I went to prison, but I never let my mind go to prison.”

How can we be in the right place when we are in prison? Only if we don’t allow prison to be the place we are in.

We have got to bring God back into the centre of our prison so that we don’t talk about the prison as much as we do of Him.

Paul would talk about being in prison later but none of his letters begin there. He begins with God.

Our vocabulary must reveal where we are with God not where we are in this world.

If God is with you then you are in the right place.

It’s not the end

John 21 v 24-25

“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. 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.”

 

I commenced blogging on John’s gospel on December 22nd.

So much has happened since then.

It has been a wonderful journey of slowly crawling through this gospel trying to savour all that John has written. Over 5 months of daily meditating on the truth that Jesus spoke, the signs that He delivered and understanding that the most important truth is that Jesus the Word became flesh and lived amongst us. Jesus showed us how to do this life. He has sent us all out as missionaries into this world.

But here is the truth of these end verses: sent by Jesus in the power of the Spirit to create more stories of Jesus.

John ends prophetically whether he knew it or not.

The world does not have enough books to recall all that God has done across the world.

Today there will be more Jesus stories on every continent and every nation of the world.

Today is day 3 of the Elim Africa prayer and fasting week. Leaders from 20 nations of the world have been uniting in prayer for one another knowing that God has not finished yet! He is still writing!

Since December 22nd there have been people from 58 nations of the world that have been reading through these blogs. That is a huge encouragement to me of course. But the point is in those 58 nations Jesus is creating new stories as His followers continue to lay their lives down for the gospel.

May we all continue to do so until He comes!

What story can be created in you today? He has finished writing your story. How amazing is that?!

Don’t turn.

John 21: 20-23

“Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumour spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

 

It seems in the early years of the Church people saw John (let’s presume) as a hero. He was the disciple most loved by Jesus. More than that it appeared that Jesus said he wouldn’t die! Of course that’s not what Jesus meant. He was just trying to tell Peter to mind his own business.

Peter and John had walked closely together. They were Jesus’ closest friends. They had seen the transfiguration on the mountain, they were around the table of the last meal, they had been closest to Jesus in the garden of tears, they had been together in the courtyard of denial and they were there witnessing Peter’s reinstatement. It would be only natural for Peter to ask if Jesus had anything to say to John.

Since lockdown it has been difficult to compare ourselves with others in the Church. We can’t look around the building to see if our attendance is higher than the other person. We can’t judge our engagement in worship compared to others. We are in our homes, on our own with Jesus, following Him with no one else watching, just Him. That’s how it should be. We have been stripped back. Still we have social media to compare. Who’s got the best programme, the most likes, the biggest and the best? Who has the smartest answers? What about them? What will happen to those people God?

“None of your business”

“Follow me.”

And that is enough.

Be careful who you turn to. Peter turned away from Jesus and saw John. Stop comparing with others. Don’t turn your eyes from Jesus. This is your race no one else’s. He has a path set for you which is yours and yours alone.

Follow

John 21 v19 “Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Here is the grace of God.

Three years previously Jesus had used the exact words.

Gifted students of the day would approach a rabbi and ask “May I follow you?” The rabbi either accepted the student or sent him away to pursue a trade. If he was accepted, it meant the rabbi believed the student had the ability and commitment to become like him.

But Jesus, he chose his followers. He approached them. People who had adopted a trade either because they had been turned down by a rabbi or that they hadn’t even bothered asking because they knew they weren’t good enough.

The decision to follow a rabbi meant total commitment.

Three years later after Peter’s denial, he is now reinstated and once again it is Jesus who initiates with the statement ‘follow me’.

Jesus is saying “I believe in you. I believe you can become like me. I believe you can be committed to me.”

This is incredible grace!

After all that has happened. All that you have failed in. I believe in you. Follow me.

A few days ago I opened the blog with the story of Simba. Let me close with it again.

The lion king does have a happy ending. Simba through the help of a childhood friend begins to return to Pride Lands. He meets a wise monkey who asks Simba “who are you?”

He takes him to a pond and shows him his reflection and as Simba peers in he sees his father’s reflection and hears his voice.

“You are more than that you have become. Remember who you are. You are my son.”

And Jesus still calls to you today. No matter what has happened, “follow me”.