Category Archives: Musings

The Rainmaker

I’ve been pondering over this morning a verse which was in the intro video at the opening of Manifest Presence conference last night.

Has the rain a father?
Or who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb has come the ice?
And the frost of heaven, who has given it birth?
-Job 38:28-29

Over the years I’ve found that God often speaks to me through some of the more unusual and less well-trodden parts of His Word. Some of the verses that I find myself fixated on can seem pretty weird on first glance – but I’ve learnt that for me this seems to be God’s  invitation to dig a bit deeper and discover something new about who He is and what He’s doing.

To put this passage in context, Job has just spent 35 chapters moaning at God after the opening 2 chapters of what could euphemistically be referred to as a bit of a rough patch in his life. After round upon round of little to no help or real understanding from his wife and mates, God Himself enters the scene in chapter 38, and gives Job quite the perspective lesson!

And these two verses that jumped out at me in the video are part of God’s masterclass in how much higher His ways are than ours and why He’s God and we’re not 🙂

But as I turned these two verses over in my mind, I was interested to note that all four lines contain a reference to water (rain, dew, ice, frost) – and a link to parental relationship (father, begotten, womb, birth). There’s something deeper going on here….

Here Comes The Rain

We’ve had a lot of rain here in Auckland in the last 24 hours, and it looks set to continue over the next few days. But until now I can’t say that I’ve ever looked outside at the downpour and considered it’s parentage!

Instead I usually tend to focus more on what that rain is doing in the here and now… making me wet, causing traffic congestion, reminding me that finer weather has yet to grace us with its presence….! #bringonsummer

Yet the rain comes from somewhere. The cloads bloat with evaporated moisture and reach a tipping point where they dump their load on the earth. Most people can explain the process. Nearly all of us would have drawn colourful pictures with crayons in primary school showing the seas, the clouds and the yellow sun radiating from the corner of the page to demonstrate our understanding of the water-cycle. Yes, the rain has an ORIGIN.

Origin-ality

As humans, we are naturally curious about the origins of things. We have scientists across the world putting large amounts of time and energy into understanding how everything began – and we’re especially interested in how the universe, the earth, and ultimately we as humans came into being.

But here’s the thing. When you try to understand creation but exclude a Creator, the best you can come up with is a PROCESS. A big bang, a galatic shattering that somehow birthed everything. A purposeless, personless process which somehow begat the beauty and unbelievable intricacy of the planet we live on, the bodies we dwell in, and the minds that we think with.

Setting aside the unfathomable leap of faith required to actually believe that this is what led to the billions of cells in my body functioning seamlessly together as I write this blog post (save that for another time) – the study of ORIGINS without reference to an ORIGINATOR can only ever at best tell us HOW things happened.

But they can’t answer the deepest and most pressing question that humanity has… WHY am I here?

The Rain Has A Father?

The rain falls from the sky. It has an ORIGIN and a PROCESS. Sure.

But God questions Job… “have you considered if the rain has a father?”

Why would God want Job to link the process of rain in with the person of a father? Could it be to get us to connect the dots that there’s another reality behind the reality that we see? (wow, that’s deep!).

Behind every PROCESS is an ORIGIN.
We see the process of water falling from the heavens, we wonder where it comes from. We study it and observe it. We come to a conclusion about it’s origin.

And this is where most of science stops. Here’s HOW it happens. Here’s where it comes from.

But God wants us to keep going and to look deeper and see…

Behind the ORIGIN is an INTENTION.
The rain isn’t there by accident. It’s there by design. Thought and intention was put into it’s construction and process. Which leads us to see that….

Behind the INTENTION is a PERSON.
It seems to me that our Heavenly Father has an underlying plan for us. He wants to fundamentally change how we see ourselves and the world that surrounds. He wants us to understand that our lives and existence aren’t just an accident, but part of a wonderfully good grand design. He wants to let us know that we’re not just vagrant sentient beings moving around in the time and space of interconnected processes. We’re here on purpose. There’s a reason.

Through something as simple as showers from the sky – God wants to answer once and for all the burning question of WHY we are here.

God wants us to see that not just the rain but everything, everything … EVERYTHING has been given to us not by accident or fate, but through the provision and hands of a loving Father. It all comes back to Him.

The sky has a Maker. The universe has a Creator. Humanity has an Author. The rain has a Father.

We’re not just connected physically to this world.  But we’re connected relationally to the One who made it.  We’re not accidents.  We’re not orphans.  We belong.  He is our Father, we are His children.  How awesome is that!

So today… it looks it’s going to rain!  But thanks to Job, I’m seeing more than just the heavens opening and the need for an umbrella. I’m looking beyond it, and seeing the wonder and glory of a good God, who graciously provides all that I need.

Discipleship From A Distance

Been thinking about discipleship a bit recently.

I’m so grateful for leaders and spiritual (and natural!) parents who’ve taken the time and energy to personally walk with me and invest into my life. I’m doing what I’m doing today because of what they gave me….

Hmmm… maybe they’d prefer to not take credit for how my life has turned out… haha 🙂

Anyway… I’ve been thinking too about how I’ve ALSO been discipled by people I never had a personal relationship with. I saw something on their life that I wanted to be like, and I MYSELF took the time and energy to read their books, listen to their music or messages, go to their conferences. They may have never known my name or the effect that they’d had on me. But they’ve been incredibly influential and there’s things I do differently in my life simply because I learnt it from them.

A great example of this for me is Keith Green. Keith died in a plane crash in 1982 when I was only 6, and it would be another 9 years before I ever ‘discovered’ his ministry. Yet I throughout my teenage years I devoured everything and anything he’d written, played, said or done! He was totally my teacher and I was absolutely discipled by him… after he’d already been taken to glory!

“Special Time”?
Ps Phil Pringle made a fascinating point at the C3 Leaders conference I was at earlier this year. He said that often people ask him to mentor or disciple them, and what they’re really asking for is ‘special time’ with him.

He then went on to say that it’s been interesting for him how over the years, there’s been all these peope he spent ‘special time’ with, who never really listened or took on board anything he said. But then, he’s found people all over the world who have read his books, listened to his messages, went to his seminars, and who are living out in their lives the very essence of what he preaches.

So the question has to be asked really – who is the true disciple? The one who gets the ‘special time’ or the one who actually listens and puts into practice what is taught? Of course these things aren’t always mutually exclusive. There are those who get ‘special time’ who become true disciples for sure. But it’s really made me think.

Discipled From A Distance
I never met Keith, but I learned a lot of my piano style by studying and imitating his music and I got a foundation for ministry through his uncompromising, sold-out life for Jesus.

I’ve only met Ps Phil once in person, but his teachings on faith and vision, and his answer to a question I asked at a leaders event earlier this year on how he spends time with God have been absolutely put into practice for me. I’ve been a disciple in those areas through blogs, podcasts and from three chairs along from the left in Row 49 🙂

So what conclusion does it bring me to? It makes me think that perhaps discipleship isn’t just about the teacher taking the time to pursue the student. Perhaps it’s equally as much about the student taking the time to pursue the teacher!

4 Things Before Saying Sorry (The Lord’s Prayer)

Was thinking this morning about The Lord’s prayer – I love how God designed such a simple framework for us to be able to come to him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our [sins],
as we also have forgiven those who [sin against us].
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. ’
– Matthew 6:9-13

Yet for so many of us – as soon as we think about God or come to pray, we become immediately conscious of our unworthiness and the various ways that we have failed God and others. Yes, sin is a thing and it does have the effect of isolating us from God and people. We need God’s forgiveness and cleansing to be healed and made righteous for sure.

But what struck me this morning was how much there is in the Lord’s Prayer before you get to the lines ‘Forgive us our sins…’.

Think about it.

The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t start with ‘Forgive me Father for I have sinned…’ does it?

In fact there’s actually 4 things that we pray before we get to asking God for forgiveness. Interesting eh. I don’t believe this is a mistake on God’s part or that He overlooked something here.

The Lord’s Prayer wasn’t designed to be prayed by perfect Christians who’ve already got everything sorted out. No, it’s a way that anyone can approach the Father, no matter where they come from or what they’ve done.

Embedded in the opening lines of this prayer is a wonderful demonstration of God’s love and commitment to us as a good Father!

1) “Our Father…”

Regardless of where you feel like your life is at, these two words show us two things:

‘Our’ tells us that we belong to a group of people. I’m not a perfect husband, father, son or brother – but my status as a member of a family doesn’t change depending on my righteousness. Starting with ‘our’ reminds me that I always remain part of a group of people who call on the Name of God – regardless of what my life might look like right now.

‘Father’ tells us that His relationship to us doesn’t change. We don’t start with ‘Lord’ or ‘Master’ and then finally say ‘Father’ once we’ve gotten cleaned up through prayer. We start with Father. He is always ‘our Father’. It doesn’t change.

2) “Hallowed Be Your Name…”

This shows me that I can still give God glory and worship from an imperfect life. The idea that we have to get our lives perfect before we can come to God is a religious lie. It’s THROUGH prayer and worship that we become righteous.

I’m not condoning sin or saying it doesn’t matter – but just pointing out that Jesus deliberately put ‘Hallowed be thy name’ in the prayer ahead of ‘Forgive us our sins…’.

God has made a way for us to give Him glory even before our lives get sorted out and often it’s as we start to worship Him that we move into a place where He can deal with our sin.

3) “Your kingdom come, your will be done…”

This reminds me that about God’s overall mission on earth. This line gives me the WHY of my life… why I’m here, why God has given me the gifts and talents he has. It’s because He’s extending His kingdom.

I’m not just asking for forgiveness so I can stop being a ‘bad person’. My being cleansed and made righteous means that I can move and work in His kingdom more effectively.

4) “Give us today our daily bread…”

In natural human relationships, we don’t tend to do kind things for people who’ve upset us… at least until they’ve apologised to us!

But again God shows us just how different He is to us. Whether or not my kids behave doesn’t change my fatherly desire to make sure they’ve got what they need to survive.

God is a good Father! We can just ask Him for stuff. It’s not a matter of rooting out every little thing we might have done wrong before we can ask our heavenly Father for what we need.

Finally…

Obviously I’m not downplaying the need for us to ask for forgiveness and repent of our sin. It’s vitally important and one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to convict us and show us areas of our lives where things are out of alignment with Him.

I’m also not saying that living righteously doesn’t help us see our Father more clearly, worship more powerfully, understand His mission more readily or ask Him for our needs more effectively! Purity and holiness in our lives enable us to move in a closer way to God’s heartbeat and see things that we’d be blind to otherwise.

But I do believe this… that God has much more for our lives than just a constant cycle of ‘sin-repent-sin-repent’! Jesus died on the cross to cleanse us from sin so that we can get on with the real business of His kingdom and His plans!

So the next time you think about God or come to prayer, put your fears and unworthiness to one side for a moment and remind yourself that He’s STILL your Father, you can STILL worship Him, you’re STILL part of His mission and you can STILL ask Him for things.

His heart towards you and promises for you don’t change!

The #1 Thing To Remember About Bible Reading Plans

I love the beginning of a new year. Sure, for the cynical – it’s really just the sun going down and coming up on another day like it does the other 360-something times each year. Maybe it’s just the way I’m wired but I really like time markers. Beginning and ending points. I often think about my life in terms of ‘today’, ‘this week’, ‘this month’, ‘this term’ and ‘this year’ – probably because I use them to motivate me to get things done!

So with the dawn of 2016 carting 366 shiny new days in it’s backpack (woohoo – go the leap year!) one thing that will undoubtably be on many Christians’ radar is to get into the Bible more this year. That’s a great goal and it usually leads to finding some kind of Bible reading plan.

Heaps Of Options

Fortunately because we live in this great age of technology – there’s a whole lot of different ways you can easily get Bible reading plans. You can have them emailed to you, do them in a Facebook group, or just download PDF files to print off and keep with your Bible. There’s lots of Bible software for your notebook or smartphone with reading plans included with it such as Olive Tree or YouVersion.

I’m really big on getting the most of out reading the Bible and I’ve certainly found that having a reading plan over the years has really helped me get more regular with my Bible reading.

Plans I’ve Used

For a long time I did the One Year Bible plan which was great because you’d read a bit of Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs each day. It kept it fresh and meant that I didn’t get days where my entire Bible reading was ‘Arphaxad was the son of Eliab… was the son of…’. or the count of how many golden spoons and bowls the tribe of Judah brought to the offering for the tabernacle. (At some point I’ll blog about how to get some great insights out of even the most boring parts of the Bible – but that’s not for now).

These days I’m doing Prof. Grant Horner’s plan which comes with Olive Tree. You read 10 chunks out of different parts of the Bible every day. It might sound like a lot, but it actually doesn’t take long to go through them and I really enjoy the variation of reading stuff all over the Bible each day.

There’s real advantages of having a reading plan. It’s meant that I didn’t have hold my Bible aloft like the Lion King, and letting it divinely fall open to what I was going to read today (which was usually Job or Psalms… conveniently located near the middle of the Bible). It meant that I did read books and passages that I probably wouldn’t have naturally chosen instead of just reading Ephesians and Matthew over and over again! (lol).

The One Thing To Remember!

Now here’s the point of this post.

If you’re going to use a Bible reading plan this year – please remember this one thing:

A Bible reading plan is simply a tool to help you read the Bible – it’s not a spiritual test that you fail should you miss a day.

And with that I now make my confession… brace yourself…

I don’t read the Bible every day.

I wish I did. I make daily reading my continual goal – and I do read the Bible nearly every day. But the truth is that like most other people I regularly fight the common human conditions of procrastination and busy-ness and there’s always days that I don’t get to it. I’m not condoning it – I’m just being honest.

Now before you unfriend me on Facebook or cross the road when you see me coming – let me point out that in my experience there are only a very small number of extremely diligent people who actually manage to read their Bible EVERY SINGLE DAY. If you’re one of them then that’s awesome! But if you’re not – then don’t feel like you’re the only one who struggles in this area. The truth is that the vast majority of Christians find themselves in this particular boat.

How To Make Bible Plans Work For You

Many people don’t like Bible reading plans because they’ve tried them in the past and then have missed a couple of days and feel like failures.

Yet Bible reading plans have worked really well for me for one big reason: it’s because I don’t view them as a challenge to get 360+ ticks on a piece of paper. In fact (funnily enough) I don’t even think about them in terms of a whole year.

Instead I see them as a daily invitation. A starting point which has been provided for me each day which I can use to get me going reading the Word. God wants to speak to me every time I open His word. The challenge is getting me to do it and I’ve personally found that having a selection of verses ready to go should I choose helps me just get started. If I end up missing a few days in my plan I don’t fret about it or even think about it because getting 100% in the Bible reading plan isn’t the point. Reading the Bible is. So I just use today’s plan to get me reading.

You see, ultimately, it’s not the ‘doing the plan’ which brings us life – it’s the ‘reading the Word’!

Ultimately, it’s not the ‘doing the plan’ which brings us life – it’s the ‘reading the Word’!

So whatever method, plan or way you get into doing it doesn’t actually doesn’t matter as much as just doing it! We can get easier wins if we move the goalposts from ‘have I kept the plan’ to ‘what does God want to say to me today?’

My prayer for you in 2016 is that each day you’ll find a way to open up the Bible and get a daily fresh word from God. This book truly is a phenomenal gift that we’ve been given!!

12 Signs Of Selfishness

We’ve been doing a series at The River called ‘Breaking Down The Walls’ – dealing with attitudes and issues that put walls between people and work against friendships and relationships.

So on Sunday I dealt with a particularly nasty wall-maker in our lives – one that makes others put up walls against us to protect themselves, and an area that can be particularly difficult for us to see in our own character… the wall of ‘Selfishness’.

Most people don’t think of themselves as particularly selfish, it’s usually an attribute that we’re quicker to label others with! But it’s something that we need to root out of our lives if we’re going to have good friendships and relationships.

So is selfishness at work in your life? I’ve compiled a quick 12-point checklist…

1) You have high expectations of what other people should do for you, and you feel angry or irritated when they don’t meet your expectations

Selfish people generally have high expectations of others and a clear idea of what others should be doing for them.

2) You think a lot about what you’re entitled to, and you feel angry or irritated when you don’t get what you feel you deserve

Selfish people are all about their rights, and they take full advantage of them. It’s not that it’s bad to know and use our rights, but truly selfish people would sooner end or endure a difficult relationship than have to budge on what they feel they’re entitled to.

3) You spend a lot of time thinking about why more people aren’t helping you

Everyone has problems going on in their life, but selfish people are consumed with why everyone else isn’t ‘doing what they should’ to help them.

4) You move people in and out of your life based on how useful they are to get you to where you want to go

It’s great to have a vision for life, but selfish people use others to get to their vision and dispense with them quickly once they lose their usefulness. This one can be a tough area for leaders – but in leadership it’s important that we remember that the vision is there to serve the people… not the other way around!

5) You often find yourself surrounded by selfish people

If the majority of people around your life seem to be quite selfish to you… the problem may not actually be with them!

6) If you’re asked to help with a need your primary concern is how helping out will affect you

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take into consideration our own time and energy levels – it’s good to think through what a commitment means to us before we make it. But there’s times when we just have to jump in and help someone… maybe it’s incovenient for us, but it’s the right thing to do at the time. Selfish people can’t see past their own priorities to the needs of others.

7) You find yourself on the end of conflict often, but it’s never your fault, and you don’t say sorry easily

Selfish people often find themselves in conflict, because the people around their life get tired of having to put up with their selfishness. But because of #1, #2, #3 and #5 – selfish people often don’t see that they’re the cause of the conflict! So they usually won’t apologise because they don’t feel like they’re the problem!

8) You find it hard to rejoice when others get blessed, or get the spotlight

Selfish people see the limelight and accolades as just rewards for their effort. They struggle when the spotlight is on someone else, because then people aren’t noticing the important contribution they feel like they’ve made which is connected to…

9) You want to make sure that you receive proper recognition for the things you do, and you get miffed if you don’t

Selfish people want to be noticed and want to receive what they believe is their ‘due entitlement’ (#2). So recognition by others (and especially by important people) is vital for them. Everyone finds it hard if they’re contribution is overlooked, but for a selfish person – they just can’t let it go… it eats away at them.

10) You like being in control of things and you find it very hard to compromise on what you want

Selfish people are usually uncompromising and have a very clear idea of what they want and how everyone needs to behave so that they can get it!

11) You keep a personal tally of what you’ve done for other people

Selfish people don’t GIVE… they TRADE. Even if they look like they’re giving, they’re still trading. They keep a personal tally of when and how they’ve served, given, blessed and done things for others. They want to make sure that the ‘balance’ of giving and serving and them receiving their rewards stacks up. Selfless people on the other hand, just give… because it’s all for God anyway.

12) You are the star or the centre in most of the stories, experiences and events that you share in conversation with other people

Selfish people don’t have conversations – they have monologues and soliloquies with an audience. Selfless people understand that conversations need to be two way, and endeavour to include others and bring out what’s inside them. Selfish people just want everyone to focus on them.
Naturally we’ve all got a bit of selfishness on the inside of us. If you took the test and none of it applies to you… I’d suggest that there’s a good chance that selfishness could be a bigger issue than you think!

If you took the test and none of it applies to you… I’d suggest that there’s a good chance that selfishness could be a bigger issue than you think!

3 Quick Tips For Becoming More Self-Less

1) Have a huge view of the super-abundance of God

Selfish people generally have a scarcity mentality – they don’t believe there’s enough to go around, so they make sure that they get ‘their share’. The more we see that in God there’s an abundance for all that we need and more – the easier it is to hold lightly to stuff. We can rejoice in the blessing of others, because we know that it’s not taking away from our blessing! There’s more than enough!

2) Have a mindset of humility

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; – Philippians 2:3

To ‘regard one another as more important than ourselves’ means that we treat every person we come across the same way that we would treat someone that we highly esteem. We take into consideration their needs and do our best to serve in every situation.

3) Give generously

Give. Not trade!

Giving our time, energy and money to others with no desire or expectation for return is a great way for us to keep selfishness far from us. Maybe this is why Jesus said that when we give we should do it in secret. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the ‘payback’ when no-one knows that it was you who gave!

Self-Less

Finally, a very simple way for us to embrace a selfless life is to simply live ‘self…less’. Jesus didn’t call us to be ‘self-none’, just ‘self-less’. In every situation we find ourselves in, there’s an opportunity for us to take a little less for ourseves, so that others can have a little more. Ask one more question about the other person in conversation. Leave something on the buffet table for the one who’s coming after you. Take 5 minutes out of your day to do something that will really be a blessing to someone else.

An Acceptable Offering

“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” – Genesis 4:3-5

I’m pretty passionate about worship! But in more recent years I’ve seen an increasing emphasis across the church seeing worship as something that ‘does it for me’.

Certainly, taking time to worship God has a positive effect on our lives – but it’s not the primary reason we worship, nor should it be our primary motivation. Worship isn’t about God pleasing our hearts – it’s about us pleasing His!

What I think is interesting about this verse is that God did not look on Cain’s offering with favour. It’s easy for us to think that God will accept an offering of worship from us, simply because we’ve taken the time to do it. Cain sure took the time to do it, and not only that but it was probably much harder work for him to dig up some vegetables and clean them up to bring to God, rather than for Abel to select a lamb and sacrifice it. Yet God was pleased with Abel’s offering, and not with Cain’s. He didn’t just take it because it was brought – he was looking for something in particular.

So just because we bring an offering – it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to please God’s heart. We have to look past just what we like, or what does it for us, and ask the same question that Abel did… what does God want? What does it for Him? For Cain, that would have meant getting outside his own comfort zone, and doing something that didn’t come as naturally to him.

The Tempter

“After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” – Matthew 4:1-2

The dictionary defines ‘tempt’ as meaning ‘to entice or try to entice (someone) to do something that they find attractive but know to be wrong or unwise’.

Right from the first moment we meet the devil in Genesis 3, he’s doing business with humanity – enticing and offering a substitute for God’s best.

What’s interesting here is that the devil pitches up after Jesus has fasted and waited on God for 40 days and right before Jesus gets his breakthrough.

In my experience, I’ve always found that he comes around in that time between sacrifice and breakthrough. When we’ve paid a price to set ourselves apart for God, or we’ve taken an action of obedience, but we haven’t seen God fulfill his promise yet. That’s prime devil-zone.

He comes in with lies (‘what are you doing? God’s not going to come through… you’re wasting your time’) or he comes selling something less than what God has promised, but with the bonus that you can have it right here, and right now.

The passage goes on and three times Jesus resists him, until the devil finally leaves… and ‘angels attend him’ (v11).

If we stand firm through temptation, then we will receive the promise that God has for us. And it’s not some second-rate substitute – it’s the real deal!

Your ‘Aha’ Moment…

Despite the title, this post doesn’t have a lot to do with a certain 80’s band, but it’s about an experience that I’m sure everyone who’s read the Bible has had at one time or another.

It looks like this: You’re spending time reading the Bible, and you come across a passage or Scripture that’s confusing – you’re not sure what it means.

Now the temptation can be just to ignore it and move on…. pretend it’s not there and put it in the ‘too hard’ basket. Or you could take the option to disagree with what it seems to be saying because it doesn’t make sense to how you see the world or what you value.

But the truth is that there’s gold sitting right in front of you.

God has made His Word to be like a treasure hunt, and the difficult parts are actually designed to be doorways rather than dead-ends.

If you’ve been around church for a while, you’ll have undoubtedly heard the word ‘revelation‘. It might sound like a very super-spiritual word – but it simply means ‘to reveal’ – to take the veil away. It’s the ‘aha’ moment that comes when something that was mysterious becomes obvious. It’s like when an illusionist does a trick and you sit dumbfounded… until he shows you how he did it! Then the ‘aha’ moment… the ‘revelation’ comes.

So when you hit a Scripture or passage that looks like it’s a dead-end for you, rather than get discouraged, get excited… you’re looking at an opportunity to understand who God is and how He works in a greater way. An ‘aha’ moment is waiting!

So how do you go about the process of getting a stream of water out of a brick wall? Here’s what I’ve found works for me:

  1. Look at what’s around the verse or passage.  What’s before it and after it?  What context is it being said in?
  2. Look at the key words in the verse or passage and find where they’re used elsewhere in the Bible.  This is where a concordance or a Strongs Dictionary comes in handy.  Discovering how the words in the verse are used in other parts of the Bible can help shine light on understanding what the passage is saying.
  3. Ask God to show you what it means, and journal what you feel like He’s saying.  Write down any thoughts you have, questions that it makes you ask, conclusions that reading the passage and looking at the words brings you to.
  4. Look at what other great Bible teachers and commentaries say about this verse.  The awesome thing about the day we live in is that we have such easy access to wisdom and insights from brilliant Bible teachers through the ages.  Some great online resources include the Blue Letter Bible,  the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (really good for historic Christian writings) and I also really appreciate John Piper’s writings on DesiringGod.org.   If you’ve got e-Sword or a Bible program on your computer, Matthew Henry, John Gill and James, Fausset & Brown are great commentaries too.

There’s nothing wrong per se with going straight to a Bible teacher or commentary to discover what a Bible verse or passage means. But something I’ve discovered is if I go through the first three steps and use the last as a ‘check’, then I develop my ability to mine gold from the Word of God. And it’s MY gold too! Not just something I heard from someone else.

So the next time you hit a passage or verse you don’t understand – remember, it’s not a dead-end, it’s a doorway. There’s treasure to be found… and an AHA moment waiting for you!

The Power To Remain

“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” – Isaiah 7:9

External actions come from internal decisions and faith is the invisible motivator inwardly that brings about visible actions outwardly.

Our ability to remain constant and committed to a course of action depends not on our willpower or physical strength, it is the natural byproduct of having ‘SEEN’ something by faith that we just can’t let go.

When you have truly perceived something by faith, you end up standing firm not to prove a point or win an argument, but because it’s the only logical response. Others may be surprised or wonder at the level of confidence but to the person of authentic faith, there is literally no other choice!

How To Build A Life-Ruining Stronghold In 4 Easy Steps

When you come into the church, there’s often a whole new language to learn. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘Christianese’ – words like redeemed, sanctified, fellowship and altar call can be commonly used, which never get a hearing outside the church community.

To help with the culture-shock, Tim Stewart has gone to the trouble of setting up a whole website called The Dictionary Of Christianese – so now you can know the difference between a testimony and a bragimony, and where the 10/40 window actually is! There’s a few beauties on this site that really made me laugh.

But despite what some people say, it’s not wrong for us to use spiritual language in the church – in fact the apostle Paul said that we are ‘explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words’ – 1 Corinthians 2:13.

But what IS important is that we understand what the words we’re saying actually mean. Otherwise we end up saying them or singing them and they’ve lost all power for us.

The Location

I came across one of those words while I was reading the Bible this morning… the word STRONGHOLD! The church spent much time in the 80’s and 90’s ‘breaking strongholds’, and it became a common theme of many of the songs written during these years. For me, when I was praying for someone and asking God that ‘strongholds would be broken’ I would see in my mind a person being set free from a spiritual prison, or having spiritual chains removed from their lives.

But these days I’ve come to the realisation that although the sentiment and picture wasn’t wrong – maybe the LOCATION of the stronghold was something that I missed. Maybe it wasn’t so much around their body, as much as around their MIND.

The Progression

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretention [lofty thought] that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

This is an upside-down passage. What I mean by that that instead of starting with something small and zooming out to something big… it starts with the big thing, and zooms in to the root cause. When you look you see four things:

1) Strongholds ….which come from
2) Arguments ….which come from
3) Lofty thoughts against God’s knowledge …. which come from
4) Our thoughts

So we can see that strongholds are literally ‘strong holds’ on our life which have their origin in unchecked thoughts which don’t line up with what God is saying about Himself, the universe and our lives.

How To Make Your Own Stronghold At Home!

Let me show you how to make your very own stronghold at home, in four easy moves!

1) Have a thought
This part is pretty easy. In life, a few people ‘think’ but pretty much everyone has ‘thoughts’. But in order to make a really good stronghold, ensure that your thought is about something important – like what you are on earth for, who you are as a person, what your future is going to hold, or what God is like.

2) Have a really good thought
The next step to building your own stronghold is to have an epiphany – a ‘Eureka’ moment. It’s a really good thought – a ‘lofty idea’ that stands out amongst the rest of your thoughts. The kind of thought you share with others when you’re sitting around the barbecue or hanging out with mates.

What is CRITICAL at this point though, in order to make a really good stronghold, is that you DO NOT check that thought against the Bible! Otherwise you’ll realise that it’s a lie, take it captive, and your stronghold will crumble.

3) Build an argument
Having now created the basis of your stronghold with a great idea, you now need to strengthen it with an argument. The Greek word used here is ‘logismos’ – you want to use logic and reasoning here to demonstrate why your idea stands up.

To get a solid stronghold, you also need to think about actions that go along with your arguments. If you’ve constructed the first part well, then the actions will come pretty naturally.

4) Complete the stronghold
Another word used in the Bible for stronghold is ‘fortress’. Having started with your great idea, and built your arguments and reasoning around it, you now need to protect the idea like a fortress against anyone who may see things differently. The Greek word used for ‘fortress’ is pretty close to the word used for ‘lots of people’, so you’ll want to find others who agree with you. Together you can stand strong and mock those who disagree with you.

Congratulations… your stronghold is now complete!

The Scary Reality

Maybe you’ve noticed something as you’ve been reading. Perhaps you can see actions that you’ve done yourself in the list above. The truth is that every single human has strongholds built around what they believe. This is why it’s a struggle sometimes for people to come to Christ… in order to receive Him they have to dismantle a lot of what they formerly built.

But what I hope will be a little more of an awakening is just how important it is that we do what Scripture says and ‘take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ’. If we allow stray thoughts that are at odds with what God says about Himself, the universe and our lives to start to take root and grow in our mind… the eventual destination is a stronghold.

The Good News

But the good news is this – we’ve been given divine power for the demolishing of strongholds! We can, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God together, set people free from strongholds of the mind that are ruining and wrecking their lives.

One of the most powerful ways we can experience life transformation is to be ‘transformed by the renewing of [our minds]’, – which means that as we start to think differently, we live differently.

So let the combined power of God’s Word and His Spirit into your thought process – and you’ll find that instead of ending up with strongholds in your life against God,you’ll be like the person who built their house on the rock. The storms will come and you won’t be shaken – standing firm in the promise and the knowledge of God!