Reading the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians today, I noticed this verse: “You suffered much, but still you accepted the teaching with the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). I suppose it jumped out at me because for a while lately, I’ve realised I haven’t felt as close to God. It’s not that I’ve stopped believing in Him or been particularly venomously angry with Him. It’s been more a sadness really. When you see friends or family going through trials, sometimes you feel disillusioned and you can think so much about the problems, but not enough about the difference God makes.
This post I wrote for Alex is one example of the difference God’s made in my life, just this year. When I went up Table Mountain in Cape Town, I prayed the night before about which guide I’d have on the day. It’s really important to pray in faith about the little things, as well as the big things. I really believe God will help you if you involve Him in your life and your plans, but conversely, if you don’t involve Him so much, it can have a negative effect. When I’m not as zealous in my heart about the difference God can make, I don’t cope as well with situations. Like Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing”.
I went out last night to hear some Christian songwriters share their stories and perform some of their music. One thing somebody said was: “We can change, but God never changes” – so true. We might feel great; and six months later we might not feel so good, but God stays the same. We were encouraged to remember what we’d already come through, and that’s what I want to do.
I want to be like those Thessalonians. When suffering comes my way, or my friends’ or family’s way, I still want the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit. I want to remember the difference God’s made to me and keep close to Him. That’s my prayer. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
A friend on Facebook pointed me to this video. I had too much to say to just write a comment, so thought I’d blog about it instead. It’s an interview with 82-year-old Kenneth Copeland. I knew of him because he got involved with a project I used to support. He’s what Christians call a ‘Prosperity preacher’. I’ve come across so much criticism of the prosperity gospel and because I’m far from a millionaire myself, I also couldn’t see how it fitted in with Christianity.
One of the journalist’s main points seemed to be the question of why Kenneth Copeland’s ministry had private jets and he wouldn’t fly commercially. He spoke about the atmosphere on commercial flights and about alcohol. Was that the best place to be, he said, when you were about to preach to thousands? I certainly don’t believe the majority of people on a plane are drunk, but I do agree that alcohol can have a stronghold in people’s lives which is demonic. I’ve seen how it’s negatively affected people I know, and I’m sure they would live happier lives without it. If you want peace and quiet on a flight, you could put a pair of earplugs in and close your eyes; but if you can afford a private plane, and it leaves you feeling more comfortable and refreshed when you get to your destination, what’s wrong with that? He said in the interview that other ministries use the planes, not just his own, and that’s what God asks of people who are rich in this world – to be generous and willing to share. As far as I can see, he isn’t doing anything unbiblical. In fact, when he quoted the Bible, I thought he got his points across fairly well. I had never thought of Galatians 3:29 as a verse that connected Abraham’s wealth with us as Christians.
I don’t like the way he treated the journalist though. I found it annoying and quite sleazy. ‘Sweetheart’? ‘Babe’? ‘I love your eyes’? Straight onto first-name terms, and launching into prayer without asking whether she was comfortable with that? She came over as by far the most respectful of the two of them, which is very sad. I hope his wife’s had words with him about it, but are any of us flawless? Perhaps the interview helped her, as it helped me, come to a better understanding of the Biblical basis for the prosperity gospel. As I said, I’m far from a millionaire; but then, as far as I know, I haven’t been instrumental in one hundred million people coming to faith in Jesus. Maybe this is his reward for devoting his life to the cause of Christ. Jesus does talk about rewards now and in the age to come.
I may not be in a hurry to donate to Kenneth Copeland’s ministry, but shouldn’t respect and tolerance be within the church, as well as for those who aren’t church-members?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Maybe you’re an Overcomer who’s seen it on Facebook, or maybe you’ve never heard of Overcomers and are now wishing you’d been one of us! Hopefully this has given you a taste of what it was like, and I’ve saved my favourite song for last.
When Jesus met with His followers after He had risen from the dead, He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Now we can be filled with His Spirit until He comes again or we go to be with Him in heaven:
We long for the day
When we will see Your face;
We long to be with You – come quickly,
And breathe on us until You come.
If we ever had any kind of Overcomers reunion (which I would love, by the way), you can be sure I’d be singing this song with all my heart.
What a wonderful thing to look forward to at the end of an earthly life, dancing on a golden street beside Jesus – your forever Bridegroom. This definitely is a song of celebration. It goes on a bit, so I tend to switch off before the end, but I like the main part of it.
This is another where I was fooled by the title. I always called it “My God is Faithful”, but it’s “I Will Worship You”. The line I’ve found most practical would be:
My God is Ruler over all that is. I remember thinking of that line when I trod on some litter and a couple of angry insects flew up out of it. They wouldn’t have the power to sting me unless God allowed it.
This really is a beautiful song, and I’d like it at my funeral. You know when people come in and there’s music playing? I want it to be this:
And when my life’s complete, I’ll place my crown at Your feet,
And I will worship You on bended knee.
This is another song we sing in church, but it’s funny because at my current church, we only sing the chorus! The chorus starts:
Be to our God, for ever and ever.
What? What do we want to be to our God forever and ever? It flows on from the end of the verse:
Praise and glory, wisdom and thanks,
Honour and power and strength
Be to our God, for ever and ever.
So it makes no sense to just sing the chorus; we should really sing all of it.
This song isn’t specific to Overcomers; we sing it in church too. It’s actually very popular, and I’ll include it here because it goes with the ‘King’ theme.
Overcomers usually met every week at the church I went to, but for a few years, we had an annual weekend away. The group-leaders invited friends from their church in Scotland and its affiliate churches in England and Wales. There would have been around thirty of us, half I knew and half I didn’t. We’d go to a basic retreat centre – shared rooms; no en suite; nothing like the places I’d stay in nowadays. Now when I go on holiday, I like to have a room of my own because it’s nice to just take some time out if things feel too much, but there was none of that. As a blind person, everything was unfamiliar and if I needed anything, I had to ask. It was unsettling and going to the conferences made me very nervous, but I still went because sometimes in the meetings, you could really feel God’s presence. I knew they were special times and I didn’t want to miss out.
At one of these conferences, we sang this song and afterwards, it went very quiet. The Scotsman who was leading the meeting had been inspired. I remember him calling another man up to the front of the room, and dictating some lyrics as he typed into the laptop. The atmosphere was electric, and I listened closely as he rewrote the first half of the chorus. The original chorus starts:
Hear heaven’s voices sing;
Their thunderous anthem rings
Through emerald courts, and sapphire skies,
Their praises rise.
His extra chorus, which we immediately sang, went like this:
And now our voices sing;
Our grateful anthem rings
Through earthly courts, and clouded skies,
Our praises rise.
I liked that. We may not have reached the splendour of the heavenly city yet, but even where we are, our praise can still go up to God. Maybe it means more to Him because our circumstances are less than ideal. I’m not sure the extra chorus is still sung anywhere, but I hope it is.
This is a song that always comes into my head after I read John 6:66-69. Jesus had just said some things that were difficult for His followers to wrap their heads around. Some walked away and no longer followed Him, but Peter said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”, as quoted in this song:
You have the words of eternal life;
You are Jesus Christ the Lord.
The word that comes to mind for this song is affirmation. Please don’t misunderstand me; I know that as Christians we’re Christ’s ambassadors, so it matters greatly what people think of Jesus when they look at us and the way we live our lives, but it doesn’t really matter what people think of us. When we sing: I’m forgiven; I’m accepted; Your Spirit is within me … we’re singing truth over ourselves. Those things won’t change, whatever other people think.