OUTRAGEOUS ”FORGETTERY”

Once he had put behind him his God respecting father, he was able to embark on a disastrous, debauched, reign of his own.

He began by celebrating religious diversity. Leaving behind the God of his Fathers, he promoted any and all kinds of cult – the more perverted the better.
Baal, or “The Master”, a storm god, and his consort Asherah were favourites – and depraved in the extreme. Asherah , – a female mother deity – was worshipped with ritual prostitution, famous for phallic “Asherah poles”. Sex as worship soon became very popular and he led his nation into an enthusiastic celebration of immorality.

In the temple, built for the one true Creator God, he placed altars for stars and planets, angels and demons. As bad became worse he introduced a cult to honour Moloch, involving the horrific ritual sacrifice of children to the fire.

He replaced his cabinet with witches, mediums and spiritualists resulting in civic chaos; a corrupt government filled the capital with innocent blood.

Perhaps, at some point, his conscience was pricked but he learned that, with constant practice, he could ignore it and that, eventually, it even seemed to go away.
Those challenging him were silenced. One brave prophet gave him two words… One was a simple picture of a builders plumb line; “what isn’t built straight, God will flatten”. The other, “like a dirty bowl, I will clear you out, and turn you upside down”.

When the end came it was dramatic. Brought down by a foreign power, Manasseh was led around with a hook through his nose, like a prize bull. Having been ritually humiliated, he was then exiled and imprisoned in what is now Iraq.

Hooray!! The prophet killing, child murdering, despotic, satanic, God rejecting, sex addicted tyrant was history! … Except, before we all cheer, he wasn’t!

This atrocious, obnoxious man turned to an amazingly gracious God. In some “god forsaken” dungeon he prays and finds he is not, after all, God forsaken. He vomits up the deep truths about himself – and God forgives him. Whilst I might have given him a million years solitary confinement, and then the same on probation, God even restores him to his throne!
Grace is truly outrageous!

God loves to respond to “gut prayers” and he alone sees what is going on in our hearts. Genuine repentance irresistibly releases God’s mercy. This was not a token gesture kind of “sorry”, but a genuine remorse. – “I wish I’d never done this, I wish I could undo it, I am ashamed before God and want to renounce it all” kind of praying.

The reinstated King then removes all the idols and altars, rebuilds the neglected capital city and its defences and reinstates the worship of Creator God.

This king, Manasseh, illustrates a wonderful Bible phrase – “their sins … I will remember no more” This is “grace” – a totally undeserved “forgettery” in which go all our demerits. No atrocious sinner is beyond the grasp of an amazingly gracious God.

Perhaps our temptation is to identify ourselves too much with our past sins, and mistakes, when the truth is that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us”

Paul once wrote to a people trapped by their past and reminded them “this is what you were”. The Christian can grasp hold of a whole new identity – “I was this but now …”
• “You have been washed” – the work of Jesus totally cleanses you from sin and shame
• “You are sanctified” – the Holy Spirit has set you apart and gifted you with a new identity
• You’ve been justified – The Father himself has declared His verdict “not guilty”.

This is outrageous – and wonderful.

(The bones of this story are in the Bible – 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33 v 10ff. Other useful verses, for the curious, are Psalm 103 v 10-12, Heb 10v17, 1 John 1 v 9 and 1 Corinthians 6 v 9-11)

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SHOCKING LOVE

She’d never settled, though she had been married once, and had children with her husband. Those who knew her, and liked her, said she was discontented. Those who liked her less spoke of her being wild and flighty. Those who disliked her said much worse!
Perhaps inevitably, her eyes wandered. She took a steady lover and later left her husband. A tragic cycle developed as she loved, lost and moved on … A couple of children later, and with no one to support her, she found that certain men were willing to pay for her attentions.
When it finally all fell apart she felt deserted and damaged. Dishevelled and penniless, the decision had been made for her – she would sell herself into domestic slavery.

The Market Place.

I can picture her there, in the market place. Humiliating though it all is, shameful though it may be, there is plenty of interest in this lady! She may no longer be in the first flush of youth, but she remains beautiful, so the bidding rises sharply.
“9, 10, 11 pieces of silver”
“12” – and the lower bidders drop out.
“13… 14 … 14 and a half” – the half a sure sign of dwindling resources!
“15” says “H’”…
Another bidder, out of cash and on his way home from the market, adds, “And a bushel of barley”
In desperation “H” shouts “15… and a bushel and a half!”

The gavel falls. Gomer, for that is her name, is now the property of Hosea.

The Scullery.

After the silent trudge to her new owner’s house, she sits, head bowed. He stands, clears his voice, and outlines his household rules…
“1. There will be no unfaithfulness – no prostitution, no sleeping around, no sex – purity”. – That’s not a line Gomer has heard for a good few years!
“2. You are going to live here for a long time, – and I will wait for you to love me”.

WHAT!?!? – This is not “the ideal Christian family”! – It is amazing, shocking, tragic and wonderful!
Here is a man, Hosea, who wants pure, faithful love; but can do nothing to ensure it. He wants intimacy not just sex. But you can’t make someone love you. You can’t force faithfulness. His is an extreme vulnerability.
The final twists in the plot, like a tale of the unexpected, are that Hosea is already Gomers’ husband, a believer, who claims he’s done the whole thing “because God told me to!”

You can find the gist of this drama in the book of Hosea. Shockingly God tell this man to “go marry an adulterous woman, and get children … for the whole country has become nothing but a whore, by abandoning God”. Later, after being abandoned, he is instructed to go and find her again…

The Great Grace Drama

History’s greatest drama is God’s fixed and determined desire for an intimate relationship with us.
Playing the part of God in a living drama may well have appealed to Hosea at the audition. It sounds good, until you realise that God compares himself to a deserted husband of an adulterous wife!

If we re-live the story, playing the part of Gomer, we discover a story of grace like no other. Created to be in intimate friendship with God, who has pledged himself to us, we have disgraced ourselves, repeatedly. Uncomplimentary as it is, the story portrays us as unfaithful, prostituting ourselves with other, lesser loves.
Many things in this world make bids for our affections, offering fun, power, satisfaction, comfort and security; and to our shame, we fall for them.

The outrageous “Grace news” is that while we were still “adulterous” Jesus entered the market place to buy us out of slavery and to win our devotion. Christ’s own love was demonstrated by his bidding his own life blood – He used the exact word, “ransom”, the price paid to free a slave, to describe his mission. (Mark 10 v 25)

Accepting his love, he re-clothes and re-homes us and asks us to live in friendship with him. What undeserved love!
There is, in this story and within God’s love, a fierce vulnerability. Determined to love us, under no illusions as to who and what we are, He cannot make us love him, yet longs for closeness with us.
God has never desired sterile religious adherence. He has, shockingly and wonderfully, purposed to overlook our former disloyalty, and deeply longs now for us to “abide with him”. Receive his love, and respond to him with new affection.

WORSHIP – a misty morning

Climbing up past an ancient hill fort on the Malvern Hills, on a bright but slightly misty morning, the view began to shrink. I had intended to walk to an obelisk but soon I entered a whitened out world.
Hill fog closed in. The path ahead was not clear. A Bible verse suddenly came to my mind, “be still and know that I am God”. (Psalm 46 v 10) As I couldn’t see which way to go I sat on a rock and just tried to “be still”.

I would have said, until then, that it was a perfectly calm day but, as I sat for a while, my senses “tuned in” and I could actually hear, in my right ear, a slight breeze. I heard pheasants in the woods far below, and a blackbird singing in the distance.

A wonderful bead work of pearl-like dew drops glistened on the grass in front of me.
I was surprised by 3 birds, sitting on the grass, motionless, no more than 2 metres away. They studied me – and I returned the favour. They had been there all along but I had been unaware of them.

I slowly came to the realisation that my left check was warmer than my right – where the sun was struggling to break through the heavy curtain of mist. (I’m not the sort of person who normally takes much time to consider the relative warmth of my cheeks!)
Over the next few minutes a circle of mist, directly above my head, disappeared – an extraordinary ten pence piece of sky blue – with a line drawn across its diameter where a jet’s trail slowly evaporated.

The initial frustration of not being able to get on with the walk changed gradually to an enjoyment of all that I could hear and feel and see.
None of this, I believe, would I have experienced if there had not been a white out. If I had not been forced to take time to be still and open up my senses.

Traditionally there are said to be 5 senses, (seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, and hearing), but there are more of course. – A sense of balance (equilbroception), a sense of heat, (thermoception), the awareness of where our body parts are (so you can be on all fours and put your leg out straight behind you – called propioception) Then there is our ability to sense pain … not to mention arguments over our sense of morals (conscience) or justice or beauty ….

However many or few there are it is certainly true that, if we build in moments of stillness, we can perceive things that are there all the time but which we had no time to sense.

What is true in the natural is also true in the spiritual realm. God is speaking all the time – through his word, through nature, by His Spirit. We need to open up all our senses and learn to be still enough in our spirit to tune in to anything he might be saying.

I don’t believe we are called to an aesthetic withdrawal from the world. The Bible verse not only tells us to “be still” it goes on to say he will be “exalted in the nations” I do believe, however, that carving out time to know again that He is Lord, to be still and listen to Him, receive and be in his presence, is essential. If we take the time who knows what he may speak to us about!!? – songs to be written, people to make friends with, ministries released, business strategies developed, leaders trained, … Worship is sometimes best expressed by being still and receiving. He is, after all, a giving, speaking God.

WORSHIP – Values and expressions

When we talk about “worship values” what we mean is “here are the things we feel are are really important … so here goes…

  • The Father seeks worshipers John 4 v 23 – so worshiping God is the highest calling and will continue through eternity. Worship is not a preliminary to the main thing, it IS the main thing!
  • God delights in our worship  – “he will take great delight in you… he will rejoice over you with singing” …”The greatest thing of all, oh Lord I see, – You delight in me”
  • Worship is a response to who God is and what he does and also an encounter with Him – a meeting!
  • We delight ourselves in him Psalm 16v11, Psalm 84 v1-4.
  • There are many ways to express worship – (see below)
  • It is to do with entering his courts and knowing his presence – not just the singing of songs and the saying of prayers …James 4 v 8, Psalm 95
  • We can come with confidence, Heb 10 v 22, as well as awe, Heb 12 v 28-29
  • God wants all believers to be priests and play an active part in worship 1Cor 14 v 26, 1 Peter 2v 9
  • In God’s presence we also expect gifts as he speaks Psalm 95 v 7b-8
  • Bread and wine was a part of NT worship – it focuses us on remembering the object of our faith, what he did, what he  accomplished and his future return
  • Worship is spiritually powerful 2 Chronicles 20v21-22
  • Unbelievers can recognize something of God’s presence when the church body worships. 1 Cor 14 v 25

Expressions of Biblical Worship …

There are many traditions but here are some Biblically valid expressions of worship..

  •  laughter and joyful songs Psalm 126 v 2;
  • singing 89 v 1, Psalm 105 v 2;
  • bended knee 95 v 6;
  • the bowed head 2 Chron 29 v3 0, Neh 8 v 6;
  • clapping and shouting, Psalm 47 v 1, 95 v 1, 98 v 4-6;
  • making music to the Lord 98 v 5;
  • lifted hands 28 v 2, 134 v 2;
  • prostration, 1Kings 18 v 39, Rev 11 v 16-17;
  • dancing, Exodus 15 v 20, 2 Sam 6 v 14, Psalm 149 v 3;
  • silence Rev 8 v 1;
  • stillness and waiting psalm 37 v 7, 46 v 10.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD WORSHIP LEADER ?

We live in a day of high profile worship leaders and song writers – but, amazingly, we actually know the names of some of the worship leaders from back in the reign of King David!

In 1 Chron’ 15 v 17 – 22 several key people are mentioned – all gifted and no doubt practised and skilled. All invested their talents to develop the corporate worship of the nation of Israel. I find their names fascinating… perhaps giving us some pointers as to the qualities we should develop as worship leaders or worshippers!

HEMAN (v17) means “one who is faithful”. To lead well requires a certain amount of endurance, determination and consistency on our part. Heman became that sort of leader. It would seem he had not had an easy life – in Psalm 88 we find him overwhelmed, feeling low, without strength or friends – and yet he faithfully and honestly cries out to God for salvation. God greatly values faithfulness! What matters is not whether we are overwhelmed or not, but where we go when we are!!

ETHAN (v17) is derived from the Hebrew words for “permanence and strength”. No one is strong in themselves, but how wonderful to be a person known for consistency, strength and a determination to worship. It is perhaps easy to be switched on for a big occasion, or, on the other hand, to be overwhelmed by our current feelings or circumstances. Our Father God is surely worthy of our taking up a more robust, determined, attitude of giving “permanent praise!”

KENANIAH (v22) is not a name found in baby name books today – but what a great meaning, “One established by Jehovah” If we serve in order to establish ourselves then we are, and always will be, insecure. Is our sense of being firmly established always dependent on what people say? or how the last event went? It is great to know that we are called by God to worship – there is no need to perform for HE already loves us unconditionally. He has established us. Our need for constant affirmation from others will grow weaker the more we bask in his love and enjoy serving without the need for applause.

ASAPH (v17) means “one who gathers together and removes reproach”.  As we gather to worship our congregation will always include folk wrestling with big issues, overwhelmed with sorrows, and with failures on their minds. Ethan drew people together to our God, who replaces those things with a sense of acceptance, faith, forgiveness and adoption. How wonderful to lead people into an awareness of the person, presence and love of God on a Sunday! Much as I appreciate the virtuoso worship, or musical, “performer”, truly gifted worship leading draws people together, reminds us whose we are, who He is,e is,HH and focuses us wonderfully on the object of our worship.

(Incidentally not only did Asaph write some psalms, he also grew in his gifting and developed, so that he is later described as a seer (2Chron 29v30) – A reminder that worship is intimately connected to the presence of God and the flow of his spirit and gifts …)

A last thought – A hundred and twenty-eight singing descendants of Asaph return from exile with Ezra the reformer (Ezra 2:41), and perform during the dedication of the new temple’s foundation (Ezra 3:10). I wonder what values we will pass on our children and grand -children?

WORSHIP – obstacles and benefits

The psalmist says “I will extol the LORD at all times, his praise shall always be on my lips”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when people think of us, they think “He (or she) is really a worshiper!”?

Since God himself desires worshipers we can be pretty sure the “enemy of our souls” is keen to put hindrances between us and worship. “Life is too busy”, “worship is a luxury”, “we do that on Sundays”, I’ll get less done, and I’m busy”, “isn’t this a bit inward looking?”, “I need to answer these emails first” … All these and more need to be identified for what they are – “Worship Obstacles”

The truth is that our first priority is to live our lives for what one writer called “the audience of One” It is not a heavy duty to be before our God but a glorious privilege, our eternal destiny and what we were created to do!

Of course, God does not need our worship, He is entirely self sufficient and complete in his self. Although he is glorified by us reveling in him the truth is that worship brings many benefits to us!

  • We magnify the LORD. We cannot enlarge a perfect God but as when we look through a telescope at the moon we change our perspective of what we are looking at. God is already huge and magnificent and all powerful. When we worship him we enlarge our view of Him, and gain perspective on things we have made too big in our lives. Alternatively, if we fail to worship him we tend to diminish our view of who he is and magnify the wrong things.
  • We experience his presence. Grace gives us access to the Father at all times. If we learn to worship as a lifestyle then we can know the reality of him being with us all the time … in our work, family life and so on… what former Christians called “practicing the presence of God”
  • We receive fresh hope. I’m not sure “my problems disappear” as the song says … but I do know I see them in better perspective when I have an eye full of who he is and what he can do. I gain faith and the weight of burdens are lifted as I see God
  • We revel in the truth. The words of our worship songs are so important as truth fuels worship, as does the word of God… sing, read, pray and the truths of God will seep into your soul!
  • We receive fresh life and joy. We all get tired and weary but “those who wait on the LORD renew their strength” Someone once said to me “if you are tired, go to bed but if you are weary go to the Lord”. Good advice! I am grateful I have a wife who will spot the signs and tell me “you need a prayer walk!”

“Rejoice in the Lord… draw water from the well of salvation … the joy of the Lord is your strength”

Life gets cluttered and complex and confusing so let’s remember our number one priority, fight to overcome worship obstacles, and make the One who is THE first thing first in our lives!

WORSHIP IS POWERFUL!

I’ve just been reading 2 Chronicles 20 v 13 – 22. Responding to prophetic direction, from Jahaziel, the King organises a battle formation with a big difference – it has a worship band at the front!

Those he appoints then advance toward the enemy praising God for “the splendour of his holiness” and giving thanks to Him. As they advance “The LORD set ambushes for the enemy” – I’ve no idea what that looked like!! – But they defeated the enemy, and have gone down in history!

When in trouble we often do anything but worship, and turn to anyone but God! – Here, then , is an alternative response and also a great example of the power of corporate worship.

We can, one day, ask Paul and Silas for a similar New Testament testimony of the in-breaking of God’s power as they praised God. (See Acts 16 v 16… esp’ v 25ff)

Paul says “the weapons we fight with are not weapons of this world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (1Cor10v4) I believe truth filled worship, in the Holy Spirit, is a powerful weapon.

Worshipping in spirit and truth has God’s power to break down strongholds of wrong thinking, which the enemy uses to hold individuals back.

The truth about God – who he is and what he has done is a great weapon to set people free, remind them they are adopted, beloved sons of a heavenly Father. This brings new life and engenders faith.

The name of Jesus and his wonderful character has power since God has given him “the name above every name” – every knee must bow! The blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sin, guilt and shame, and as we sing about it we are enabled to resist accusation and know we are righteous by his grace.

Knowing the wonderful presence of the Holy Spirit, as we enter into adoration and experience the wonder of him actually being with us, strengthens us for life and defeats an enemy who wants us to believe we are on our own…..

The content of our songs is important since worshipping in truth powerfully reminds us of who He is and who we are.

Leaders, like Jehosaphat, can set the example of being those who first “bow down and worship before the Lord” (v18) It is a wonderful relationship, not a method or a formality!

God loves to then come – to save, to heal, to set free, to set ambushes, to break folk out of prison … Honouring and enjoying the person and presence of God is the destination of worshippers. Worship is powerful, because God is!

Granary update

 

granary from asda car park

 

We are thrilled that our gift day in March resulted in giving and commitments of £190,662 towards the building works needed to bring the Granary into use.

In addition we have already raised the purchase price and funds to cover architects and legal fees… Thank God for such generosity!

We continue to pray for a further , estimated, £400,000 to complete works and would be so thrilled if you would support us in prayer.

If you would like to contribute please contact ….

info@hope-church.org.uk

or PO Box 230, Worcester. WR5 3ZE. U.K.

THE HEART OF A WORSHIPER

“I am of the opinion that we should not be concerned about working for God until we have learned the meaning and delight of worshiping him”      A.W. Tozer.

In AW Tozer’s book “Whatever happened to worship”  the writer says that, like an amnesiac, the human race experienced a dramatic fall and, as a result, we have forgotten that we were made to walk with our God and worship him. Even as Christians we can forget this and take our place in Sunday worship out of habit, duty, love of music, enjoyment of the people or atmosphere.

We must therefore learn, or re-learn, “the meaning and delight of worshiping Him”

A heart to give thanks.

The fall of mankind was characterised by a lack of worshipful gratitude – “though they knew God … they neither glorified him as God, nor gave thanks to him” (Rom 1 v 21) A  prime characteristic of those restored to relationship with God, therefore, is the cultivation of a renewed attitude of gratitude

When people think of you do they think of a worshiper?Remember, the Father himself is seeking worshipers.  (See John 4 v 23-4)

 A heart to give our whole self.

The “first” or greatest, command is “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. (Luke 10v27) Our God requires, and deserves, nothing less than wholehearted worship.

In Romans 12 v 1 Paul takes up the notion of totally giving ourselves and gives us a picture of placing our whole selves on a sacrificial altar of worship – This in a willing and joyful response to the magnificent mercy of God in choosing us and saving us by Jesus’ work on the cross.

 A heart to seek Him.

In Psalm 42 v 1-2 the writer compares his hunger for God to the physical longing of a deer for water. He “pants” for God and knows that nothing less, or other, than the Lord himself can meet his thirst.

“Where can I go and meet with God?” is the great question of the worshipping heart. God has hidden things for us not from us; and he promises to be found by those who seek him wholeheartedly.

 A heart to delight in Him.

What a great command – “go on, indulge yourself!” – “delight yourself in the Lord” Psalm 37 v 4

The psalmist encourages us to exalt, boast and revel in our Lord – His attributes and actions. To delight ourselves is to glorify him!

A wonderful cook is most glorified in the licking of lips, the mopping of gravy, the longing for seconds, and the salivating expectation of more!! The very enjoyment glorifies the provider all the more as the consumer delights in the feast!

In the same way we are encouraged to “delight” in the Lord – to be enraptured, delighted; to honour and esteem, applaud and shout, relish and indulge ourselves! To luxuriate and be captivated and fascinated with all He is and has done. What a privilege!

 A heart to know Him

 David’s primary request was to “gaze on the beauty of the Lord” Psalm 27v4

It has been fashionable to say “I do not want to know any more about the Lord ; I just want to know Him”  Why settle for “either/ or” when it is the Lord’s will for you to have “both/ and”? We can cultivate our love Him with all our minds as well as all our strength and soul!

If I had said, to my future wife, “I don’t want to know anything about you I just want to experience you”, I would have been told to get lost, – and rightly so! If you love someone you want to find out their opinions, taste, family background, ambitions, gifts, character and desires.

Further earthly discovery sometimes leads to discovering areas of disappointment in one another. – BUT there is no disappointment in our God, for He is perfect and complete and His beauties are endless.

Let’s gaze on his beauty in ways that involves both learning more about him and experiencing his wonderful closeness – there will always be more to know!

 OUR PERSONAL PRIORITY

Matt Redman wisely says “The private place always needs to outweigh the public place”  Wherever your time and place is – do whatever it takes for you to meet with God. Developing the heart of a worshipper is the best thing you can do to glorify God and enrich the worship of your church.

Thank Him, give yourself to Him, seek Him, delight in Him, know Him!

 “If we give ourselves to God’s call to worship, everyone will do more than he or she is doing now. It will have the quality of eternity in it. It will be gold, silver and precious stones, not wood hay or stubble” A.W. Tozer.

Pigeons away … drains, (and gift day), here we come!

granary pigeon men

At The Granary, work has been completed, by contractors working on the problem of years of pigeon occupation and what is politely called guano!

It is great to see something actually happening on the site, as most of the huge amount of work so far completed has been legal architectural or planning. Much investigative work has also been done to find out where, and how, we can reconnect the building with services.

On Sundays 1 and 8 March we are having gift days for the redevelopment work, which we estimate will cost in the region of £600,000 (in addition to the purchase price).

The purchase is moving ahead slowly with contracts being written, valuations undertaken and searches being conducted.

It is so good that at the same time as we are working through the practicalities of buildings we are, as a church, having a period of focused prayer for our city. From a spiritual point of view “unless the LORD builds the house, we are labouring in vain”