A hard head for a hard task - Day Five

Friday 11 July 

David Parker is the Lead Pastor of Desert Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Southern California.  From Monday 7 July to Friday 11 July he will lead the morning Bible teaching sessions at the New Wine Ireland Sligo Summer Conference.  Here we bring you summaries of each message!

David Parker speaking on Friday morning.

David Parker speaking on Friday morning.

Reading together Ezekiel 3: 1-9.   God has hard things to say to the people of Israel about the place they are in. There are beautiful promises but there is a challenge for them to change their ways.

Ezekiel is given a hard head for a hard task that was ahead and the hard hearted people he sought to serve.  That is what going as sheep among wolves is all about. 

We face difficult tasks and hard challenges as we follow Christ.  Like Ezekiel, we need to have a forehead like “flint”.  We are called to do God’s business both in the world and within us.

It has to start internally.  Ezekiel needed to eat the scroll.  We need to face down our own faults and to look at the cracks in our lives.

Some people have a struggle to overcome their difficulties and weaknesses.  We want things to be easy.  We want quick fixes. The reality is process and perseverance.  Every day is a victory.

I wish we could “arrive” and find that we have everything sorted.  I’m grateful that God deals with us as we really are.  God doesn’t deal with me according to the façade.

  • We need the mental toughness to deal with yourself, to deal with your “stuff”, to deal with your circumstances.
  • We need the mental toughness to deal with what He has called us to do.

“We are hard pressed by not crushed, perplexed but not despairing, persecuted by not abandoned…” - 2 Corinthians 4.

It is okay to be perplexed.  If you are facing hard things in your life that you don’t understand, it is okay!  Paul was perplexed but not despairing. 

When we are facing painful and difficult situations, do not conclude that God has done this to you unless He has told you that!  The reality is that God has entered into our lives, into this world… the kingdom to come has no suffering, no regret, no pain, it is the completion of all things but the kingdom now is only a taste… it is not the fulfilment.

I wondered at one point why God didn’t stop the pain.  I received a vision of a tapestry and it had strings.  If you pulled certain strings the whole tapestry unwound.   When God looks at the suffering and brokenness in this world, He withholds intervention because when He intervenes, then whole tapestry will unravel.  There are things that are wound into the fabric of reality that once they are pulled, the end will come.  There are other things that can be pulled out.  They are the healings and the evidence of the final conclusion.  

If God has given you vision, then don’t let that go.  Allow Him to increase the thickness of your skull, the battering ram of your brain, to do the hard things He has called you to do.  He wants to lead you into fruitfulness. 

We need the Lord to equip us with a hard head so that we don’t give in! 

Sometimes survival is victory.  Some things have to be let.  Ezekiel was not the most successful of God’s prophets. 

We need a tough head to win the battles we face. 

The big battle for you and I is to know that God is with me.  Shalom is that sense of peace from knowing that it is all going to come right in the end.

Public speaking is the worse fear for many people.  Many would rather be in the casket than speaking at the funeral.  Even in the face of your worse fears, God is with you.  He won’t abandon you or crush you.  It won’t be easy.

The Challenge of Connection - Day Four

Thursday 10 July

David Parker speaking on Thursday morning.

David Parker speaking on Thursday morning.

David Parker is the Lead Pastor of Desert Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Southern California.  From Monday 7 July to Friday 11 July he will lead the morning Bible teaching sessions at the New Wine Ireland Sligo Summer Conference.  Here we bring you summaries of each message!

We have been wrestling with Matthew 10:16 - Jesus sends us into the world as sheep among wolves.  Following the good shepherd and seeking to do what He does.

The challenge of the wolfish world requires a certain posture from us.  We are followers.  We need to be innocent and true, tough and tender.  We need to have deep convictions, courageous commitments and compassion.  Jesus calls us to a depth of understanding that enables to engage with the world and not be devoured by it… not only survive it but help redeem it.

On our own we are capable of walking but with God we can ride a bike.

Connection - we are meant to do this together, not alone.  We need to meet the challenge of connection by

1)    Overcoming independence

Independence is not a bad thing, it can be a sign of maturity, but it is the means for something else: freely chosen connectedness (inter-dependence).  No wonder the Bible makes marriage the illustration of our relationship with God - freely chosen connection with our creator.  

Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought.  Think of yourself accurately, not pridefully or independently.  Don’t look at others and think, “I don’t need you.

One day we will face the stark reality that we don’t have independent lives.  My life is not independent from God or from others so why not freely choose connectedness. 

2)    Overcoming indifference

Jesus calls us to engagement not indifference.  So many coping mechanisms end up isolating us. What a disaster.  That choice of compassion is meant to help us overcome indifference.  It matters that we do it together.  I’m a pastor but I just want to slap people sometimes!

It is a terrible thing when we are indifferent to connecting with people who are different from ourselves! 

3)    Overcoming in-fighting

What shocks someone who has never been to church before is that they will come in and everyone will love each other.  Sadly it is not true.  Even in the best of circumstances.  Maybe it is in part because of the tension of what we are supposed to be (conviction vs compassion). 

The Bible is so honest.  It tells us the reality of Paul and Barnabas’ partnership in the Gospel and also their disagreements.

We part company over the smallest things.  In the US, first marriages fail at a 45% rate while second marriages fail at a rate of around 70%.  It is way easier to deal with the stuff you are in than to re-create it somewhere else.  Make sure the reasons for separation are serious enough.

Enduring commitment - Day Three

Wednesday 9 July

David Parker is the Lead Pastor of Desert Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Southern California.  From Monday 7 July to Friday 11 July he will lead the morning Bible teaching sessions at the New Wine Ireland Sligo Summer Conference.  Here we bring you summaries of each message!

We are talking about following the call and command of Jesus as His disciples, as His sheep following the good shepherd.  We are talking about the challenge of being tough minded and soft hearted (being shrewd and innocent).  This continual process of engaging with God and engaging with the world by choosing compassion.

This morning we are talking about commitment.  Today people are increasingly commitment-phobic.  Adolescence used to start at 13 and end at around 16 / 17 but now it starts at 10 and ends at 40!  People are reluctant to grow up.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) , Jesus takes the most basic of human commandments (do not murder) and says you should not find your commitment to that law when your hands are around someone’s neck.  You need to start much earlier.  Back up.  Start following God’s commands before you  reach the point of no return!

People are walking away from marriage because the failure rate is high and they are afraid of that life-long commitment.  What will hold us together?  Jesus speaks against the casual nature of commitment where the Jewish law gave a man the right to dismiss his wife for any reason (even for burning the meal!).  Jesus confronts that head on.  We need to look at commitment differently

Then it gets really interesting. He talks about vows. You pledge yourself based on something more valuable than you (e.g. the gold in the temple).  Jesus says, “Stop doing that.” 

"Let your yes be yes and your no be no." This is the essence of entering commitment: that we would have an enduring “yes” and an enduring “no”.  The way we approach commitment is so important. 

There are different things we are committed to. 

  • We are committed to people
  • We are committed to tasks
  • We are committed to causes

People’s identity is not formed by external factors of race, background or environment.  Fundamentally a person’s identity is built by their commitments.

The foundation of who you are is poured into these commitments.  Good parenting at its essence is our commitment to our children… providing encouragement, comfort and urging children to live worthy lives.

The commitments we make shape us.  We need to make commitments that are:

1) Open-eyed

Uncertainty undermines commitment.  We face the uncertainty of life with courageous and healthy commitments, these commitments need to be open-eyed, not based on fantasy.  Too often people are committing to what they imagine rather than what is.  So many people enter the commitment of marriage on a false basis. 

2) Will-driven

We enter into commitments “will-driven” not "will-surrendered".  I choose this. The commitment God is asking from you is your commitment of will to embrace His will.  Jesus prays, "Not my will but yours."  That is healthy commitment. 

 3) God-directed

Our commitment to God is supposed to reinforce our other commitments.  The Bible talks about our job… “Do all things as unto the Lord.”  Work full out because you are committed to God. We dream and think about how can God’s kingdom come and His will be done because we want God-directed lives.  They are going to be lives of commitment. 

4) Iron-gripped

Sometimes commitments are not just up to us but as far as it goes with us, we want to take hold and not let go because that is the way God is committed to us.  God’s commitment to us in unbreakable.

God who has an iron grip on your life… wants to help you to create the true identity you have as a child of God.

The habit of compassion - Day Two

Tuesday 8 July

David Parker is the Lead Pastor of Desert Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Southern California.  From Monday 7 July to Friday 11 July he will lead the morning Bible teaching sessions at the New Wine Ireland Sligo Summer Conference.  Here we bring you summaries of each message!

We're wrestling with the truth that Jesus communicates to His followers that He wants to lead them in doing what He is doing - to seek and save that which is lost, leading them as sheep amongst wolves!  

In calling us to this kind of challenging, life-giving task, Jesus tells us that we must be both tough minded and tender-hearted - a challenge to live by deeply-rooted conviction.  We need to have an engagement with others that enables us to offer the resources of the Gospel of Jesus in a generous way. 

Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 10 are, “You have freely received, therefore freely give.”

As wounded healers we are seeking to heal those around us.  Jesus did what He did out of compassion.  When God gets serious with us and asks, “What is it that you really want?” then we should tremble.

Solomon was given wisdom when he was presented with the terrible situation of two women fighting over a dead child and a living child.  The real mother had compassion on her child.

Compassion is the willingness to embrace loss. Throw the circle of your compassion wider. 

Exodus 33: 15 - 19 “ Moses said to Him, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?  … now show me your glory!

God tells Moses… “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion…”  God chooses to show compassion on His people.

Compassion is a choice - a free decision.  I choose to embrace loss on your behalf.  It is possible to expand our connection with what God is doing in our time and place.  It is possible to expand our engagement with our community.  It starts, like the blowing up of a balloon with the choice we make to have compassion.

I’m going to step off this religious road where I look at the beaten and broken beside the road and pass on by and I get off the road like the Good Samaritan and show compassion.

We have to grow in our ability to connect with the hurt and need around us.  If we disconnect, we become less human, less Christian.

When Ezekiel prophesied that we would have a new spirit, it foretells what God talks about in Romans about a new humanity.  Jesus came to recreate and transform and make us truly human in the way we were intended to be.

Compassion is something we choose and build into our character.

We are the recipients of enormous grace!  God has shown compassion to us.  As we understand our own history, our brokenness and need, we are free to have compassion on others.

Jesus had compassion on people because they were sheep without a shepherd.  Sometimes we are tempted to look at people who are suffering and thinking that they are just getting what they deserve.  If anyone had the right to think that way, it was Jesus but he doesn’t.  He has compassion on them.

  • In order to choose compassion we need to have an accurate connection with the truth of the past:  our past and other people’s past.
  • In order to choose compassion, we need to reject fear and judgement and allow our hearts to be soften by hope. How can I not have compassion because I have a history, a past?  The truth is that God had compassion on us and He calls us into a world where there are sheep without shepherds.
  • If compassion was the outstanding quality that characterised our churches, then amazing things will happen.  We need to embrace anybody because there is hope for the future because we decide to care.
  • We have to let our hearts be softened by the truth about love.  Whenever the Old Testament speaks about God’s compassion it almost always speaks about His love.  These two are bound together.  Choose compassion and love will follow.

When you consistently choose compassion in your life and you will form a habit of compassion.  Show me a person who is compassionate across the spectrum, then that is a person who has learnt how to love.

Sheep among wolves - Day One

Monday 7 July 2014

David Parker is the Lead Pastor of Desert Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Southern California.  From Monday 7 July to Friday 11 July he will lead the morning Bible teaching sessions at the New Wine Ireland Sligo Summer Conference.  The theme is "Nothing but a burning light" - When the Lord spoke, "let there be light" as  the first act of creation, His words were more than a command, they were an expression of intent. Here we bring you summaries of each message!

The church that I lead is unusual not that we do unusual things but what has happened.  We are racially mixed and economically mixed.  It is a fascinating environment.  We have tried to create a community and a context where people who do not have faith, can search for it.  The end result is that during our weekend services, we have hundreds of people who are in process, who have not found faith yet but they are interested and reaching.

At the end of chapter 9 in the Gospel of Matthew, the writer summarises Jesus’ ministry:

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

Then in Matthew 10, Jesus sent out his disciples to do exactly what He was doing. Maybe the disciples thought they were Jesus’ road crew (fetching Him water and food, carrying His bags) and then one day it turned and Jesus said, “I want you to do what I am doing.”  That would have been a frightening day - when a disciple goes from being attracted to Jesus’ teaching and begins to put it into practice, it is scary.

 Before I knew God, I bought a Bible thinking if I knew what my friends were believing, then I could talk them out of it.  Someone told me to read the Gospels.  When I encountered Jesus’ teaching, I was amazed! 

Jesus knows what is waiting for His disciples as He sends them out.  He tells them, “I’m sending you out as sheep among wolves.” (Matthew 10:16)

We are vulnerable, servant-hearted… like sheep.  A complex combination of shrewdness and yet softness.  We are going to overcome in a way that is compassionate and open hearted.  We are drenched with the knowledge of suffering around us and it would be easy to become hard.

The world produces soft-headed and hard-hearted creatures.  We need to be tough-minded and soft-hearted people.

Too often, the seed falls on the hard soil or the rocky places or the thorns … there is no understanding, no depth… truth needs to take a deep root in our lives. A good soil response allows the root system of conviction to grow.

We seek to live a life of faith in a world of tragedies, trials, temptations and testings.  Following Christ requires us to combine toughness and tenderness, innocence and shrewdness. 

We hunger for what is true and for what God has for us.  But ultimately, that hunger won’t be satisfied by information but by encounter.  People need to see it, own it and receive it. At the time of the early church, Christians died for their faith because they had encountered a person - Jesus Christ.

Our convictions are deepened in our life because we do something with what we believe.  We must put it into action In that process, the rocks are put out of the way and the thorns are pushed aside.  It is in the place of engagement and action and doing of it… I’m so through with spin and people talking who don’t match their talk with any kind of walk.  I’m so tired of the internet as a source of “expertise”.  We need to put it into practice.

What do you believe about God? Confidence comes from love and character - our convictions are linked to who God is, His character, His grace and His love.  Are we living in a world of literalism? …where God looks down and condemns people over minutae? “…Got the day wrong, go to hell!” Who is the God you know?