Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Couch Grass

Been down to the allotment this week.  I have to say it’s amazing how quickly weeds grow!  I had a break from doing it for a couple of years whilst some friends gave growing a go.  It kind of went a bit downhill, and the weeds have returned!

In particular, Couch Grass is annoying me, it’s a bit like golden syrup in the hands of one of my children.... it gets everywhere, and spreads via roots underground, working its way under the surface and then popping up somewhere as a clump of grass.  Even found a potato (very old) with couch grass roots growing through it - they have nice points on them so that the grass can get through almost anything!!!

I reckon it is taking over an hour to dig 2 square metres of soil, getting as many roots out as I can see. It is very tempting when it takes so long to clear to either dig it over, covering up the roots,  or just break the roots up a bit, but leaving them in the soil.....

The problem comes in a few months time, if you just cover the roots up, the couch grass reappears, bursting through the surface alongside all the plants. But chopping them up is an even worse option – each chopped up bit becomes another clump of Couch Grass to get out!

Either way, you’re left with a load of grass growing up alongside the plants you are lovingly looking after! At that stage, even if you carefully try to pull out all the roots without disturbing your plants, little bits of brittle root break off and even more couch grass springs up! One way or another you’re left with Couch Grass above the surface, choking the life out of your lovely plants whilst  under the surface, its roots are taking nutrients away from the plants you are trying to grow.

If you want plants, if you want the fruit, you have to prepare the ground and dig out every last bit of root.

Jesus knows what I mean! He told the story of the ‘wheat and the tares’ and seed sown in ground that wasn’t prepared properly. So it seems to me that God’s refining is a bit like this weeding process. Getting rid of stuff which drains the life out of us, preventing goodness getting in, or breaking strongholds that strangle and constrict us from doing or being who we should be....

If we are going to be fertile and fruitful ground, we can’t just turn over a few new leaves, try harder, change a bit. We’ve got to dig out the roots. To mix metaphors, it requires all out battle not just a bit of dabbling then stepping back from the frontline.

My experience is that there are times when things are going well, we have got most of the weeds out of a patch in our lives..... then we leave it a bit, get on with doing stuff...... forget to do the weeding, fail to dig down far enough to ensure the whole root is gone... and slowly the weeds grow back and if we’re not careful they overrun the whole plot again.

We forget we are in a spiritual battle zone....passivity in the weeding process is not an option....Passivity = losing ground to the enemy, we need to take up forks again and root out what has grown. Of course the enemy will say it’s much too difficult, that the patch will never be clear, that you’re too old, too busy, too young, too anything... to give it the time it needs. But the truth is that the weeds cannot stay in the soil against the power of the fork! Likewise with Gods power at work in us anything the enemy has sown can be uprooted, and the ground transformed.

God’s gardening is not something to be dismissed to later but an ongoing process.....and greater fruit comes as our hearts and minds are prepared. So even though it’s painful sometimes, don’t just cover over the roots, but rather dig them out with God. It is lots of work, but whilst you’re gardening, you can chat with God about stuff, you can listen to the birds, feel the sun, get some exercise and look up and see the smile of your Father as he watches the fruit grow. Just recently we discovered a big weed in the allotment. We started to dig down and tried to pull it up. One of those silent-movie moments where the inevitable happens - the root snaps and the person pulling falls over backwards. We decided then that this was a prophetic root. Absurd as it seemed to other allotment holders - and to some of our friends, we decided this root was coming out. Five hours of work later, including a team of people and the use of specialist tools, not to mention a two foot six deep hole, we finally got the last, smallest piece of the root out.

God is persistent like that if we let him. He doesn't want any root of bitterness in our life, not even the faintest tendril of the enemy left to press on old wounds, to control or poison our life. He wants us free. Of course the digging, the dislodiging might seem uncomfortable. We might think we are free so why is God poking around that area of our life... Truth is, he doesn't want it growing back. He doesn't just want you a little free, he wants you 'free indeed'.

In the end, the weeds and all their roots get thrown on the compost heap and strangely, the very thing that was sent to damage or destroy ends up making the ground more fruitful than it was before.

We are in a battle with the enemy, just like the weeds, he comes to kill, steal and destroy. God on the other hand comes to give life in all its fullness - not just an ok life but a fandabbydozy brilliant life

What are the roots and weeds in your life?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Divine Mandate

Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?

Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you,  for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.  Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.  But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.  Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.....”

“... Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near.  In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”

In these key extracts from Matthew 24 Jesus says some profound things. Perhaps this paraphrase summarises it:

“Not even I know the precise date of my return, it is dependent on many factors and only the Father will know when all those are in place. But I do know this – they can be fulfilled within the lifetime of some you here now. Of course, the enemy will do all he can to delay it, he wants to maximise the horror of his reign – wars, the fear of war, ‘natural’ disasters and the like – and he wants to postpone his own defeat and judgment. In fact the symptoms of this battle are amongst the signs that the preconditions are being fulfilled. And you will recognise these signs just as surely as you recognise the signs of the changing seasons. Above all, when everyone has had the opportunity to choose between the kingdom of the enemy and the kingdom of God, then I will be free to return to judge how men have chosen. So be wholehearted in the battle and be empowered by the Spirit I will send; this generation can see the gospel preached to all nations and set the scene for my return.”

The gospels, the book of Acts, the earliest letters of the New Testament resound with this theme, with this urgency. As Paul puts it in Romans: there is a task to be done and we are the generation to accomplish it. The battle is fierce, we are being imprisoned, killed even, but nothing can separate us from God’s love, nothing can chain the gospel, let’s press on and claim the prize...

Yet here we are, two millennia later with the task still incomplete. Was Jesus unrealistic, over-optimistic, or has something gone badly wrong with the church that was commissioned to accomplish the task? Do we in fact, need to take responsibility?

Well, it turns out that far from being unrealistic, the task was extremely achievable. Let’s say that each of the 500 to whom Jesus gave his 'go' command led one other person to a place of faith every three years – and they subsequently ‘went’ and did the same, then the whole world would have been reached inside 60 years. Within the lifetime of some in his audience, exactly as he predicted. Of course there were special challenges, not all the world was discovered for example. But then our one person every three years was not the norm at the start; 3,000 on the day of Pentecost alone...

Pause for a minute to meditate this reality. Yes, 2000 additional years for people to hear, billions now rather than the millions then. But consider too how many of those billions live in despair, pain, horror and suffering. The enemy of our souls feeds on anguish, desolation, hurt, decay and death. He perpetuates it, stirs it, initiates it, fosters it. And through the inadequacy of the church he has had 2000 more years to do that with ever more people. Yes, there are purportedly more believers now than at any time previously, but there are six thousand million people who are not. Every one of them vulnerable to the ravages of the enemy. Yes, for the fleeting minority there is more comfort and material ‘good’ in their lives than ever before. But amongst even this elite, there is no more happiness than in previous ages. And for those outside that clique there is what there has always been. Oppression, suffering and death. Only now, multiplied by billions of individuals.

How must this add to the suffering of Christ on the cross? How must this break the heart of the Father, how must it grieve the Spirit? And who will be held responsible for this? Satan and his cohort of course. But who else? Who else has the light, who else tasted the Kingdom? Who has been redeemed from this hell, who has been empowered and gifted with everything that is needed to preach good news and be good news to all nations?

So often in the biblical narrative, unbelief, orthodoxy and insititutionalisation has strangled the life and urgency out of the movement of the Kingdom, turning it into an organisation with structures and a life of its own, sapping energy, momentum and effectiveness. Abraham called to go in haste, takes the whole entourage,resulting in civil war, battles with enemy cities, lies, the death of his relatives and above all, delay. By the time they reached the land, it was too late – it had been settled. When famine came, the people should have stayed in Egypt three years, instead comfort trapped them and they were there for 400. Once they were released they should have entered the land after an 11 day march. Unbelief and dysfunction led them to submit to their fears and they lost a further 40 years and a whole generation suffered.

No surprise then that what could have been accomplished inside 60 years has taken over 2000. Two millennia of sin, pain, death and destruction, fuelled and sustained by the enemy. This should appal us. Billions of people unnecessarily subject to the wrath and destructive power of Satan. Millennia of unnecessary freedom for him to cause death, disease, poverty, hatred, war, rape and every evil imaginable.

God graciously gave us the opportunity to co-create a kingdom of peace, love and joy from the wreckage of the fall. At immeasurable cost he won a victory over the enemy, placing him as it were on bail pending his full imprisonment. Christ gave us the unspeakable privilege of sharing the victory through the battle winning movement called church.

It may take a further 20 years before we have a cure for cancer, 50 before we tame fusion power. It may be 40 years before we put a man on Mars. Using the same assumptions as before, given today’s population and the number of Christians, it should take less than a decade to complete the task. How much longer will God stay his hand - not just against the ravages of the enemy, but against the inadequacies of his people?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Not being frightened of him, but in awe of his great mercy and grace to respond wholeheartedly to him. Not in a 20 minute time of worship, but with our whole life, for our whole life. Nothing else comes close to an adequate response.

Lord have mercy on me. Lord have mercy on your people. Lord have mercy on a suffering world. Lord, graciously we plead, start with us.