Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Visited Planet

planet1The Visited Planet – Introduction

Christianity is a revealed religion.  God has chosen to make himself know by stepping into his creation in the person of Jesus Christ.   Planet Earth is the Visited Planet, to borrow a phrase from J.B. Phillips in his book ‘New Testament Christianity’.  Belief in the incarnation, God becoming a man in the person of Jesus Christ, is at the heart of the Christian faith.

The Visited Planet A parable by J.B.Phillips

Once upon a time a very young angel was being shown round the splendours and glories of the universes by a senior and experienced angel.  To tell the truth, the little angel was beginning to be tired and a little bored.  He had been shown whirling galaxies and blazing suns, infinite distances in the deathly cold of interstellar space, and to his mind there seemed to be an awful lot of it all.  Finally he was shown the galaxy of which our solar system is but a small part.  As the two of them drew near to the star that we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis.  It looked as dull as a dirty tennis ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.

‘I want you to watch that one particularly’, said the senior angel pointing with his finger.

‘Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,’ said the little angel.  ‘What’s special about that one?’

‘That,’ replied his senior solemnly, ‘is the Visited Planet.’

‘Visited?’ said the little one.  ‘You don’t mean visited by…..?’

‘Indeed I do.  That ball, which I have no doubt looks to you small and insignificant and not perhaps over-clean, has been visited by our young Prince of Glory.’  And at these words he bowed his head reverently.

‘But how?’ queried the younger one.  ‘Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince, with all these wonders and splendours of His Creation, and millions more that I’m sure I haven’t seen yet, went down in Person to this fifth rate little ball?  Why should He do a thing like that?’

‘It isn’t for us,’ said his senior a little stiffly, ‘to question His ‘why’s’, except that I must point out to you that He is not impressed by size and numbers, as you seem to be.  But that He really went I know, and all of us in heaven who know anything know that.  As to why He became one of them – how else do you suppose could He visit them?’

The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust. ‘Do you mean to tell me,’ he said ‘that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping crawling creatures on that floating ball?’

‘I do, and I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice.  For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them.  He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.’

The little angel looked blank.  Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.

‘Close your eyes for a moment,’ said the senior angel, ‘and we will go back in what they call Time.’

While the little angel’s eyes were closed and the two of them moved nearer to the spinning ball, it stopped its spinning, spun backwards quite fast for a while, and then slowly resumed its usual rotation.

‘Now look!’  And as the little angel did as he was told, there appeared here and there on the dull surface of the globe little flashes of light, some merely momentary and some persisting for quite a time.

‘Well, what am I seeing now?’ queried the little angel.

‘You are watching this little world as it was some thousands of years ago,’ returned his companion.  ‘Every flash and glow of light that you see is something of the Father’s knowledge and wisdom breaking into the minds and hearts of people who live upon the earth.  Not many people, you see, can hear His voice or understand what He says, even though He is speaking gently and quietly to them all the time.’

‘Why are they so blind and deaf and stupid?’ asked the junior angel rather crossly.

‘It is not for us to judge them.  We who live in the Splendour have no idea what it is like to live in the dark.  We hear the music and the Voice like the sound of many waters every day of our lives, but to them – well, there is much darkness and much noise and much distraction upon the earth.  Only a few who are quiet and humble and wise hear his voice.  But watch, for in a moment you will see something truly wonderful.’

The earth went on turning and circling round the sun, and then quite suddenly, in the upper half of the globe, there appeared a light, tiny but so bright in its intensity that both the angels hid their eyes.

‘I think I can guess,’ said the little angel in a low voice.  ‘That was the Visit, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes, that was the Visit.  The Light Himself went down there and lived among them; but in a moment, and you will be able to tell that, even with your eyes closed, the light will go out.’

‘But why?  Could He not bear their darkness and stupidity?  Did He have to return here?’

‘No, it wasn’t that,’ returned the senior angel.  His voice was stern and sad.  ‘They failed to recognise Him for Who He was – or at least only a handful knew Him.  For the most part they preferred their darkness to His Light, and in the end they killed Him.’

‘The fools. The crazy fools!  They don’t deserve…..’

‘Neither you, nor I, nor any other angel, knows why they were so foolish and so wicked.  Nor can we say what they deserve or don’t deserve.  But the fact remains, they killed our Prince of Glory while He was Man amongst them.’

‘And that I suppose was the end?  I see the whole Earth has gone black and dark.  All right, I won’t judge them, but surely that is all they could expect?’

‘Wait, we are still far from the end of the story of the Visited Planet.  Watch now, but be ready to cover your eyes again.’

In utter blackness the earth turned round three more times, and then there blazed with unbearable radiance a point of light.

‘What now?’ asked the little angel, shielding his eyes.

‘They killed Him all right, but He conquered death.  The thing most of them dread and fear all their lives He broke and conquered.  He rose again, and a few of them saw Him and from then on became His utterly devoted slaves.’

‘Thank God for that,’ said the little angel. ‘Amen.’  ‘Open your eyes now, the dazzling light has gone.  The Prince has returned to His Home of Light.  But watch the Earth now.’

As they looked, in place of the dazzling light there was a bright glow which throbbed and pulsated.  And then, as the Earth turned many times, little points of light spread out.  A few flickered and died; but for the most part the lights burned steadily, and as they continued to watch, in many parts of the globe there was a glow over many areas.

‘You see what is happening?’ asked the senior angel.

‘The bright glow is the company of loyal men and women He left behind, and with His help they spread the glow and now lights begin to shine all over the Earth.’

‘Yes, yes,’ said the little angel impatiently, ‘but how does it end?  Will the little lights join up with each other? Will it be all light as it is in Heaven?’

His senior shook his head.  ‘We simply do not know.’ he replied.  ‘It is in the Father’s hands.  Sometimes it is agony to watch and sometimes it is joy unspeakable.  The end is not yet.  But now I am sure you can see why this little ball is so important.  He has visited it.  He is working out His Plan upon it.’ ‘Yes, I see, though I don’t understand.  I shall never forget that this is the Visited Planet.’

J.B.Phillips concludes: ‘If New Testament Christianity is to reappear today with its power and joy and courage, we must recapture the basic conviction that this is the Visited Planet.  It is not enough to express formal belief in the “Incarnation” or in the “Divinity of Christ”, the staggering truth must be accepted afresh – that in this vast, mysterious Universe, of which we are an almost infinitesimal part, the great Mystery, Whom we call God, has visited our planet in Person.  It is from this conviction that there springs an unquenchable faith and hope.  It is not enough to believe theoretically that Jesus was both God and Man; not enough to admire, respect and even worship Him; it is not even enough to try to follow Him.  The reason for the insufficiency of these things is that the modern intelligent mind, which has had its horizons widened in dozens of different ways, has got to be shocked afresh by the audacious central Fact – that as a sober matter of history God became one of us.’

Quoted from ‘New Testament Christianity’, published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1956.

Advertisements

God’s House – A Conducted Tour

One Saturday evening in the 1970s, I was relaxing at home when I felt prompted to go into the study and started typing.  This is what came:

God’s  House – A Conducted Tour

I cannot show you all of it because there is much more to it than meets the eye and it’s more like a mansion than a house.  There are rooms I haven’t been in yet, but I hope I will one day.  There are rooms you can tell me about: rooms that you know about and I don’t because you have been there and I haven’t.

We begin with the hall that is remarkably large, in fact it’s more like a railway station than the hall of a house.  There is a lot going on in the hall and it is almost like a house in itself.  Many people seem to live there supposing that this is all there is to it.

There are more doors than I can count, all leading into the hall of the house.  Each of them carries a label: one reads ‘Sunday School’, another ‘Baptism’, another ‘Women’s Meeting’, another ‘Young Wives’, yet another ‘Men’s Meeting Point’.  The hall is a meeting place for everyone in the house.

On the far side of the hall there are two swing doors marked ‘Jesus’.  Here I pause, puzzled.  I had not properly noticed them before and the feeling I have as I look at them is that they don’t lead anywhere.  Is not the hall all there is to the house?  Do these doors just lead outside again – or what?  Just then a voice in my ear whispers:  ‘Try them and see’.

Looking round, I find that it is a servant of the Master who has spoken to me inviting me to go through the doors marked: ‘Jesus’.  ‘How do I go through?’ I ask. ‘Just lean against the door’ is the reply.  ‘Give your whole weight to it.  Give your whole self to the Door and it will open.’ I try it and it does.  I find myself in a room with unaccustomed brightness and it takes me a while to get used to the light.  Somehow I feel different. I feel as if I’ve changed in some way.  One thing I know: it is great to be in the Light.

I go back into the hall and try to tell them about the light, thinking that they will be as enthusiastic about it as I am, but they’re not because they’ve not seen it yet.  They don’t know that it is there and many of them are concerned with other things.

Sadly, I turn back to the door marked ‘Jesus’ and this time I find that it opens of its own accord as I approach it.  It takes some time for my eyes to get used to the brightness but then I notice that there are a lot of people there.  Somehow this comes to me as a surprise that there have been others who have gone through the door before me.  Having left the people in the hall I am not alone after all.  I notice a knot of people clustered round another door marked ‘Baptism’.  They appear to be arguing about the label on the door.

‘I’ve been baptised already’ says one.

‘I was baptised as a baby’ says another.

‘Read the label more closely’ says a third.

Surprised, they turn to look at the label on the door again and find that it reads not ‘Baptism’ but ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’.

Just beyond this door,  there are other smaller doors which can be seen clearly.  Most of them have groups of people around them discussing the label on the door.  There is a large group in front of a door marked ‘Speaking in Tongues’.  Some of them are getting  heated as they argue among themselves about what, if anything, lies on the other side of the door.  Just then, someone comes back through the door.  ‘This is a prayer room’, he says.  A silence falls on those clustered round. They realise that there is a room here that they haven’t been in yet.

Another door is marked ‘Healing’.  Just as I am looking at it someone comes through looking excited:  ‘The Lord has just healed my daughter’, he says.  Again I am left wondering.

As I look round and become accustomed to the light, I see that there are many more doors and many people going in and out of them.  Then it dawns on me that the Master of the house is inviting everyone into all of it.  There is no door marked ‘Private’, no corridor labelled ‘No entrance’.

This realisation  makes  me  feel  a little afraid because I don’t know what’s in the rooms I’ve not been in. My fear is a fear of the unknown, of the things I don’t understand. Then I realize something   else.   The   Master   is   with   me.  Where  He  leads  I  will follow.  I will put my hand in His and not be afraid.

Baptised in the Holy Spirit

doveflight-xx1I invited Fred, the Pentecostal evangelist, to lead a series of services.  Each evening he invited people to receive Jesus as their saviour, to receive healing, and to be baptised in the Holy Spirit.  One night I stood in response to the last invitation.

The following night, the last in the series, Fred gave the same three-fold invitation.  No response.  The meeting felt as dead as the proverbial Dodo. In desperation he prayed: ‘Lord, please do something!’  Whereupon a young man, sitting across the aisle from me, began to pray in tongues.  As he did so, I experienced a tingling sensation from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes. My awareness was of the presence of Jesus.

The meeting being effectively over, I walked to the front and said: “If those of you in need of healing would like to come forward, I will lay hands on you in the name of Jesus and you will be healed”.  No ifs and buts because I knew that Jesus was there to do it.  I knew that there were a number there in need of healing because I had invited them to come. In the event no one moved to come forward.

The following week, one of those present told me that when he got home he was about to have another glass of whisky when he heard an inner voice say to him “You don’t need that any more”.

For me, the immediate result of this experience was that my theology changed.  I already believed that God loved and that Jesus had died to pay the price for my sins, now I knew that he lived for me as well.  I came to see that Jesus is alive in the person of  the Holy Spirit to do today what he did during his lifetime.  I also came to see that the enemy is alive as well!  Whether we like it or not we are involved in spiritual warfare.

Another result was that the bible came alive too.  I came to see that it is the Word of God, authoritative for faith and practice and that the ministry of deliverance, the casting out of evil spirits, is a valid and important part of Christian ministry.

This took place in 1965.  I discovered that others were having a similar experience, including a young curate at All Souls, Langham Place, London, called Michael Harper.  It was not long before he left and founded the Fountain Trust that became the focus, for the mainstream churches in this country, of what came to be known as the Charismatic Renewal.

I went to one of my appointments as a Methodist minister with a question: could an ordinary Methodist church be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit? Within six months of going there I invited a colleague to come and explain what it meant to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.  Slowly people came into blessing, beginning with some of the young people.  Some began to get excited about Jesus.  Others began to feel like second class Christians and troubled about the changes beginning to take place.  For some a new togetherness was emerging: others began to feel left out and resisted attempts to include them in.

When the time came to consider whether I should be invited for a further period it never occurred to me that it might be right to leave, though with the benefit of hindsight I feel that it probably was.  The question was decided for me when I discovered that someone had organized a petition and secured twenty-five names of people threatening to resign their membership if I was invited to remain for a further period.

The decision not to invite me for a further period took effect eighteen months later and during this time I encouraged the development of the emerging lay leadership.  I am glad to say that the growth of the church continued after I left.

The Forgotten Factor

holy-spiritI recall how surprised I was at theological college when we were told that the emphasis of the preaching of the early church was on the resurrection of Jesus, as shown conclusively by C.H. Dodd in his book ‘The Apostolic Preaching And Its Development’. As a result of my conversion I was deeply convinced that God loved me and that Jesus had died to make me right with him.  I was therefore expecting the emphasis to be on the Cross, that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures’  (I Corinthians 15:3).  It included that, but it was not the emphasis.  Beginning with Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, the emphasis was on the resurrection (Acts 2:32-36). It was not until I was in my first appointment as a Methodist minister that I began to understand why this was so.

One day the local newspaper carried a headline: ‘Miracle Man comes to town’.  The story concerned the forthcoming visit of a Pentecostal evangelist called Fred Ball. Having a free evening and being curious I went along to see what it was about.  He began  by sharing that when a young man he had been told that he had an incurable liver condition and had been given a life expectancy of about six months.  He told us how he went home and prayed: ‘Lord, if you heal me the rest of my life is yours.’  ‘The Lord healed me’, he said, ‘And here I am’.  Another surprise.  I was even more surprised when, at the end of the meeting, he invited those who were in need of healing to come forward to be prayed with.  This was 1965 and I had no awareness that Jesus is alive in the person of the Holy Spirit to do today what he did in his physical lifetime.

It was like seeing colour television for the first time after black and white.  Here was another dimension to ministry about which I knew nothing.  I asked him what was his secret.  What did he have that I didn’t?  He pointed me to the promise concerning a spiritual baptism, or immersion, in the Holy Spirit, a promise that is found in each of the gospels, indicating its importance.  (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:7, Luke 3:16, John 1:32-34).

I came to see that John the Baptist was contrasting what he was doing, baptising people with water, with what Jesus would do, baptise people with the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit is a gift he wants to give us (Luke 11:9-13).

Most of the teaching of Jesus concerning the person and work of the Holy Spirit was given during the Last Supper and is found in John’s gospel chapters 14-16.

This was his last opportunity to share with his disciples before his crucifixion.  He tells them that he is not going to leave them to manage as best they can.  He promises to return to them in a spiritual form: ‘Now I am living with you, then I will be living in you.  I will not leave you as orphans: I will come to you.’  (John 14:17-18).  He goes on: ‘On that day you will realize that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.’ (v.20)

The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete meaning ‘One called alongside’.  He is the teacher who will remind them all that Jesus has said to them (John 14:26). He is the Spirit of truth who will guide them into all truth (John 16:13)

In one of his resurrection appearances shortly before his ascension, Jesus said to his disciples:  “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit….you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1: 4-5,8). The promise of the Spirit was fulfilled during the Jewish festival of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2   “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” (Mark 16:20).             The Holy Spirit, the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18), was now living in them as Jesus had promised.

It was this awareness of the Lord being with them and in them that gave the early Church its zest and impetus.

Jesus has not changed.  As the writer to the Hebrews puts it: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”

Hebrews 13:8