Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sowing Seeds

Whilst serving on the missionary ship, the Dolous, the Lord introduced me to Isaiah 55:11.

So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”

Thanks to God, after sharing my testimony (Rev 12:11), I have experienced many people coming to faith and giving their life to Jesus. This has happened in Australia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. Literally hundreds of people being saved; it soon becomes very addictive. Heaven shares the joy of the sinner repenting and thus your heart races in excitement when it occurs. However, when I experienced it not happening - I started worrying.

What did I do wrong? Did I say the testimony incorrectly? Did I not talk enough about Jesus Christ? Was I too forceful? Was I too timid? God listened intently to my questions. It was then I was handed Isaiah 55:11. For me it was a revelation.

My word will not return void’. I instantly realised what God was saying. His word is so powerful it created the universe. It will achieve its purpose, though sometimes like a seed it takes time to grow. As humans we cannot even contemplate the authority of God’s word. Yet even our own words can command authority. A policeman can tell you what to do and you are obligated to oblige – or else. A Judge can sentence you with his words and your own position will not affect the finality of his sentence. A Doctor’s words (the diagnosis of a terminal illness) can have devastating effect. Human words have power. Imagine the words of God.

This week I shared my testimony at Summerville Baptist School. I had been invited to speak to the whole grade seven students. I was excited as usual. The night before I had prayed to the Lord and asked Him to sow seeds. These young people were all around twelve. Within two or three years the temptations of alcohol and drugs will inevitably emerge. I wanted seeds planted that would bring them closer to God and further from the foolishness of the world.

I arrived and found sixty wonderful children and their teachers. Projector was all set up including speakers. God had paved the way. I introduced myself and showed the presentation. I then talked about moving from soldier of the world to soldier of God. The children listened attentively. At the end many asked questions and I was encouraged by what they asked. Many were seeking advice in regard to someone they knew; a mother struggling with alcohol, an older brother that had been attacked in Northbridge. For twelve year olds it was startling.

The head master stood up and thanked me sincerely. Amazingly, he then said the following words... “I am sure many seeds have been sown after your talk”. The precise words I had asked for in prayer were repeated back to me. I smiled and choked back a tear. When God speaks through someone (and you are aware of it) you are always overwhelmed.

I was handed an envelope as a thank you. In the car I opened it. It was a thirty dollar hardware voucher. I choked back another tear. God was reassuring me that the Rehab farm will come (in His time). “Here is a voucher to buy some nails or a hammer when the right time comes. Or perhaps a spade to sow some seeds? “

I drove home in Joy. The children had even approached me after the talk and took brochures about Harvest of Hope. Again you could sense their concern for their loved ones. Along the highway I contemplated all that had happened. As I reviewed the talk word by word, I glanced sideways at a car passing by. On it was written “Bravo”. God was actually thanking me. And whilst the little ones were not asked to give their lives to Jesus (the timing and setting not right) His word never returns empty. Seeds were sown and that is what matters.

The Bar

As I study idolatry and addictions, I often come across interesting testimonies and insightful sayings. Idolatry is the root sin that starts it all (the downward spiral of sin), you can find that startling conclusion in Romans 1:17-28. Yet once we turn to other 'gods',  we then become ensnared by them. For myself, for seventeen years, it was alcohol. Thanks be to Jesus Christ I am free now. Yet the memory of the often tragic exploits of a drunkard linger on. I found this poem in one of the books I am reviewing. For any that have struggled with drinking, the words will ring true. For those that still struggle, may these words help untangle you -

The Bar
The Saloon is called a bar...
It is more than that by far!
It's a bar to heaven, a door to hell,
Whoever named it, named it well.
A bar to manliness and wealth;
A door to want and broken health.
A bar to honor, pride and fame;
A door to grief, and sin and shame.
A bar to hope, a bar to prayer;
A door to darkness and despair.
A bar to an honored, useful life;
A door to brawling, senseless strife.
A bar to all that's true and brave;
A door to every drunkard's grave.
A bar to joys that home imparts;
A door to tears and aching hearts.
A bar to heaven, a door to hell;
whoever named it, named it well.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Icing on the Cake

At the moment I seem to be under a fair amount of duress. Between a fulltime (four units a semester) Masters Degree in Theology (thus a spiritual journey as much as academic) and trying to establish a Christian Rehabilitation Centre, a volunteer Street Chaplain, helping within two local churches and an international one (Cambodia), the odd public speaking engagement and leading a men's Bible study, I often get a bit strung out. I don't know why. Oh I forgot, I am also working on a large scale Christian networking website (that's on the side in my free time). A Pastor the other day said to me "Super Jack" you should get a big J on your chest. And yet  I often feel I am not doing enough and find myself on my knees in tears to God.

The land for the rehab centre has had significant problems and I sense a trial, test or persecution (not sure which one to be honest) in the ongoing dealings with it. Thus the pressure often builds to a crescendo where you want to run away to the third world or something. During all of the above God is always there, a loving confidant, encourager and comforter. I couldn't do any of this without God. I would simply be on drugs as I was in the past, unable to face stress unless 'out of it'.

I lost my temper in a theological lecture and stormed out. I didn't agree with what was being said and rather than exploding I left. Much to the lecturer's dismay I might add. Ironically that very morning I had prayed to God and asked Him to help me be gentle. I felt the whole world is against me. I felt alone, persecuted and unable to trust anyone - except God. Thus i wanted the Creator of the universe to drop whatever He is doing (cant be that important ) and attend to ME! I surely try God's patience and praise Him with all my heart that He is the God that He is. A God of long suffering, long suffering in putting up with us.

Did God punish me? Did He chastise me? Did He send a message letting me know I was being so unreasonable and demanding and deserve condemnation for losing my temper? No... He anointed me...

By Sunday I had calmed down somewhat. A lot of prayer (hours of it) and plenty of Bible reading. I went to a night Church I love very much, an outreach to the needy and downcast. A meal is provided and a full service. Often God uses me there helping people, however, last Sunday I needed help. I felt like a wounded soldier or a blindfolded boxer in the ring with three opponents. The Pastor came up to me out of the blue and said 'I need to speak to you about what is happening'. I said 'ok', I was humbled enough to accept any help I could get and needed to trust someone!

I explained to him about the Rehab land (metaphorically that was the right hook, the other happenings more like well timed left jabs). At the end he said do you mind if I anoint you with oil? Five intense years in fulltime ministry and nobody has ever offered such a thing. This particular Pastor is a nice man he faces some very real spiritual forces (working with convicts, drug addicts and homeless you always do), thus he is no fool. His request and offer caught me off guard. I accepted sheepishly. He placed a fragrant oil on my forehead and prayed asking for blessing  and rebuked (in Christ's name) any schemes of the Devil coming against me.

I left the Church in wonderment. Thinking 'I've been anointed?'. That doesn't happen everyday. That week I was forgiven for my outburst in class. Thankfully. I then received a high distinction for my Research Proposal on idolatry and addiction. A mature brother came up to me, someone I respect, and said "never give up jack" - I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking through him. Lastly we were invited for a coffee for our final lecture by our Doctorate. When he suggested it I remember thinking maybe I should buy a cake and bring it along?, I then thought No, I will just leave it.
When I walked into the class later that night a Miss Maud's Chocolate Cake was sitting on the table. I stared at it in disbelief. Another student had purchased it. I knew straight away it was God's hand. I had decided I can't be bothered buying one, so God had prompted someone else to. It was literally the icing on the cake for Him comforting me.

I pray someone reads this and may see how real God truly is; so real He became a man, died on a cross for our sin and then sent His Spirit to comfort us. Why did He do that? God is Love, that's why.

God Bless

Thursday, June 2, 2011


The second fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) is Joy. Elsewhere in the Bible it states "The Joy of the Lord is my strength". It's true. The Lord's Joy is very different to happiness though. Happiness is fleeting, like an ice cream. Nice enough whilst you are eating it, however, when it's finished so to is the sensation. Happiness can't give us strength when the world deals us a blow.

Tonight at the Community Cafe (our Church's dinner outreach) I felt the Lord's Joy and blessing. I enjoy serving, you get to know the people there, none of us are perfect, yet I fall in love with all of them. We become family as we serve one another. It is a lovely experience. It's God working in community (Theologian Stanley Grentz would agree enthusiastically). Tonight I gave a brief talk, I spoke of Christ, and our Lord's suffering in exchange for our joy. Afterwards I was overwhelmed by the people who thanked me. Many of them were new comers to the Church (some for the first time) yet they responded sincerely with warmth. It was so encouraging; the Joy continued to grow in me.

As I departed a new friend, I will call her Kat (I know she is reading this!), did one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. Ever. She gave me a box of Bibles. Brand new beautiful Bibles. Each one a pathway to heaven for someone's soul. More precious than gold. More valuable than any treasure, the gift of eternity. I had to contain my tears.  Receiving Bibles from someone is also a gift directly from God. In this case through His daughter Kat. Nobody has ever given me Bibles before. I have bought over a thousand and given them all away. Tonight someone gave me some Bibles. I thank God for her. The exciting part is now waiting to see who will receive them. Stay tuned and be patient - God will get us there!

As I left, overwhelmed, I found my laptop had been stolen. At first I couldn't believe it. I ransacked the car and searched the church. Sure enough it was gone. Everyone was sympathetic. I thought during it, "Ok God, If you want the laptop gone that's ok, I know you will bring a good from this". I even thought God was doing such so i could get an extension on some assignments! One thing I didn't want to do was complain, or whinge too much. It was gone. The Lord Jesus states do not store up your treasure on earth. I don't, however, my theological assignments were stored up in the laptop. A full four  years worth. A friend made us pray in a huddle. We even started to accuse who may have done it. Thankfully the general consensus was not to. I remember saying everyone is innocent till proven guilty. I tried to hold onto the Lord's Joy; rather than let external circumstances effect the internal. If you do that you become a thermometer: up and down with the weather.

I decided to go home, I said "oh well I will get a new one tomorrow". My friends were all genuinely concerned. One wonderful man, Trevor, said with his innocent faith, "God will bring a good from it". I looked at him and thanked him. I knew The Holy Spirit was talking through him. As I turned and walked out the Church, another friend's wife called me back. The laptop had been found. Someone had placed it in the office for safe keeping. Relief flooded over everyone. And I did the dance (see Evan Almighty). The genuine relief in my friends was incredibly touching. Everyone was in Joy.

I see lessons in all of it. God wanted us to remain in joy laptop or not. It doesn't effect our salvation . The  salvation that Christ paid dearly for us on the cross. Under intense suffering He cried, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" however, if you use what is theologically called canonical contextual criticism (reading across the Bible horizontally - Scripture interpreting Scripture) you then get a deeper understanding of what Christ goes on to think. It is all there in Psalm 22. It begins with the aforementioned sentence, yet near conclusion states "may your hearts live forever!" (Psalm 22:26). Later we know Christ calls out in a loud powerful voice "IT IS FINISHED!". What was happening? He was exchanging the most intense suffering humanity will never know;  for your salvation, joy and eternal life. It is worth more than the entire earth. For even if we gained the whole earth but forfeited our soul, what good is that?

The Lord's Joy - may it become our strength.

God Bless