Friday, 31 January 2014


Alan's message notes
Sunday 26th January 2014
Bible Reading: Ephesians 1:1-14
The New Testament uses many different titles to refer to Christians - disciples, followers, believers, brothers and sisters, soldiers, workers and many more.  Those of us who have given our lives to Jesus are probably comfortable referring to ourselves by those titles.  
One of the most frequent titles Paul uses to refer to Christians is the word saint. In fact he used it at least 60 times.  Yet, despite the fact it is used so often, we are wary of referring to ourselves in that way. 
The title of ‘saint’ in some circles is reserved for men or women who have been especially recognised as especially devoted to God and who are known for their great holiness and good works. Some believe that there are some Christians who are so exceptional in faith and great deeds that after their deaths we can call upon them to intercede for us and work miracles for us.
Whilst we, who are not in that tradition feel that that is a mistaken approach there is still a lot of misunderstanding about the title saint. We have become reluctant to talk about ourselves as saints because we think that in doing so, we are being too full of ourselves, that we are putting ourselves on a pedestal. We associate sainthood with perfection and we know we are far from perfect so we think that the title can have little to do with us.  But, if we are Christians, being a saint has everything to do with us and if we understand it correctly, it is a title that gives us security, reassurance and purpose.
From the frequency with which he uses it and the way in which Paul uses "Saint" in his letters we can take it to simply mean a believer, someone who is a professing Christian. 
Whilst we think of only using the word saints to refer to people who are exceptionally flawless in character and deeds Paul uses the title to address any group who are believers. For example he called the believers at Corinth, saints but also called them immature, worldly and quarrelsome. 

 1. Saints are saved sinners
The word saint simply means “set apart” We have misunderstood that to mean a person who is set above others.
The big problem affecting every human being on the planet is that they have rebellion in their hearts against God, which causes a breaking down of their relationship with Him and results in being set apart “from” Him.
The gospel is that Jesus came to bring us back home to God so that the separation can be over.
Eph 1:7 says, “In him, (that is Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”
The word redemption comes from the slave market.  In the NT times people were openly sold into slavery. A slave could be bought back (i.e. redeemed and restored to their family for a price. The slave had no means of paying the redemption price themselves but relied upon the generosity of someone else.  We rely upon the generosity of Jesus to pay the redemption price to free us from sin so that we don’t need to be set apart from God any longer.  A saint is simply a sinner who has been set free.
The office of sainthood is not gained but given.  It’s not what we have done with our lives but what Christ has done for us.
There is now a new life to live.  The relationship changes from a person having been set apart from God to being set apart to be with God.
But does that mean that saints are people who have simply exchanged one kind of tyranny for another?  No of course not. 
Ephesians 1:5 gives us the amazing statement that we have been adopted by God, “In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, according to His pleasure and His will.”
We are set apart from sin in order to be set apart to be with God.

 2. Saints are people who are sealed by the Spirit  
But how do we know that we really now belong to God? How can we be sure that we have the right to call ourselves saints?
Paul tells us we can know it because we are sealed with the Spirit. Saints are people who are sealed by the Spirit.
Ephesians 1:13-14: “And you were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession - to the praise of his glory.”
Ephesus was a port trading mostly in timber. The dealers bought the logs at the harbour and put their seal on them. They would not immediately take the wood away with them but leave it to be collected later by a servant who would know which timber they had to take by recognising their master’s seal. In ancient times people who were devoted to a god had a sacred emblem of the cult tattooed on the body. Slaves had their owners seal burned into their flesh.
But Paul says that the mark by which someone shows they belong to Jesus Christ is not a physical but the inward presence of the Holy Spirit.
Whilst Paul’s illustration is connected with ports and cargo but God never sees us as goods and chattels. Our belonging to God is always in the   context of loving adoption into His family.
The Bible teaches us that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals Jesus to us He encourages us and convicts of the need to surrender our lives to Jesus. When we have made that surrender to the claims of Christ as our Lord then the whole transaction is endorsed by the Holy Spirit coming within us.
It is this that makes us officially Christian.
Romans 8:9: 'If any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”  You can't be a Christian without the Holy Spirit. He is like a stamp of ownership.
The presence of the Holy Spirit is what makes us authentic, real saints and not merely people who try to practice a religious code of ethics.
The Bible promises us that we can know that we belong to God.
Romans 8:16: “The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
When the Holy Spirit comes to live within us the character of Jesus starts to be evident. There is a family likeness. Our lives start to resemble His.
 3. Saints are people who are set apart for service
The word “saints” is from the Greek word hagios, which means “holy” or “sacred” or “set apart”. 
Saints are also people who “set apart” for God’s service.
All religions have sacred places, sacred rituals, sacred vessels with which to perform those rituals. The point is about a thing being sacred is that it must not be used for anything else at all, otherwise it’s sacredness or holiness is lost and it has to be consecrated all over again.
A tennis racket is not sacred because it is only used for tennis or a hoover because it is only used for cleaning carpets. Things are called sacred only if they have to do with the worship and service of God because God Himself is sacred. God is totally unlike anything or anyone else, not only in power but in His purity and goodness.
When we become rescued sinners who are adopted into God’s family, the desire is placed within us by the Holy Spirit to be totally dedicated to God and useful to Him. It is important we get the order right.
We are not called to strive to be increasingly useful to God so that one day we might earn the title saint. You can never be a saint until you’ve recognised that you are a sinner.
2 Timothy 2:20-21 “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself form the latter he will be an instrument for noble purposes made holy and useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”
The simple message of these verses is that all of us are called to be of use to God in His household.
A pastor called Kyle Hite writes,
“Each of us in some ways carries this haunting feeling inside of us that we are worthless. Each of us at some point in our lives looks around at the competence of people in this world and compare ourselves to those around us and say there is no way that I could do that. We regularly wrestle not with whether or not God has work to be done but whether or not God is right in asking us to do it.”  
Paul is not suggesting that God only wants to use the multi-talented, the superior intelligent or the good looking superhero but we do need to be dedicated and clean.
Most of us have some special dishes that we use only for special occasions. On other days we use our everyday plates, cups, saucers and glasses. But there are some vessels in our house that we wouldn’t use to serve food to our guests at all.
We wouldn’t give our guests the dog bowl or the cats dish to eat from?  It would be unthinkable for us to serve soup from our children’s potty.
Paul’s argument is that just as you wouldn’t use such vessels to offer food to a guest, neither should it enter our heads to serve God with lives that are not completely cleansed and dedicated to Him for His use.
We need to consecrate our lives to Him entirely.
In practical terms, that means that we decide to live purposefully to glorify God in all aspects of our lives.
It means we will do our job for His glory. We will relate to our family for His glory. We will worship for His glory. We will work in the Corps and in the community for His glory. We consecrate ourselves for Him and His glory.
That’s our part but God has His part.
When we consecrate ourselves to God entirely, the Holy Spirit will come to fill us entirely, setting us apart and empowering us to live the life we have committed to living.
We cannot be a useful vessel for God on our own.
We need the Spirit to give us the motivation and the ability to live for Him. He cleanses us, making us vessels fit for noble purposes.
We will always be sinners saved by grace but that is not all we are.
The Bible now states that those who are in Christ are now saints.
If we think, that all we are is sinners, then that is how we will act but if know we are already saints then we will live our lives from the security of knowing that we belong to God, that He has already chosen us to serve Him and He will provide the cleansing power to fulfil that calling, despite all our brokenness and flawed humanity.
There is a large stained glass window in Winchester Cathedral which was has an interesting history. 
At the time of the Reformation, the Roundheads stormed into the Cathedral, destroying the religious symbols. They wrecked the stained glass window depicting saints. The immediate response could have been to sweep up the broken fragments of glass and throw them away but instead the people picked up the pieces and leaded the shattered glass fragments back in the window frame. However they made no attempt to put them back as they had been.  Rather they put them back just as they found them and now, 400 years later, the sun shines through the same beautiful colours but of very mixed up saints.
This is really a parable because all of us have failed God in many ways. We’re sinners who have been rescued and brought back and in many ways we are still all a bit mixed up but nevertheless when cleansed and connected together in Christ, His light can still shine through us to a dark world.
God bless


Thursday, 30 January 2014


A number of people have asked me to publish this prophetic word that I had a couple of years ago.

A prophetic word for the Salvation Army
Salvation Army. Sing to the Lord! Sing, sing, sing.
Release praise from your hearts. You must find your voices. Where are your songs?

You say that the Army is full of singing but I am not talking about the borrowed words from others, but the songs of love that are hidden in your hearts but never find their way to your lips. You know I am not talking just about music here, but expressions of love, the release of joyful hallelujahs and the testimony of agreement through a vocalised Amen!

You have lost a freedom you were known for. You were a people whom other Christians looked to for an example of a people who have the ability to voice prayers from the heart, rather than read from a book.

If you are embarrassed by my love, when among God's people, how will you stand for me when the world is hostile? If you stifle joy in worship, who will release it in the wider community? If you are worried about affirming that you believe the word of God by the shout of your amen before each other, how will you find the courage to declare my word with confidence when your belief is questioned in the workplace or the leisure centre?

My word says "There is a time to be silent and a time to speak." You often mistake the time. Of course I want you to listen but I am grieved by the times that I have to wait so long for my presence and my name to be acknowledged when you meet together.

It has been said that we are called to live as holy examples of love and compassion and "if necessary use words" It is often necessary to use words. I gave human beings the unique gift among my creation of being able to communicate through words. I want you to use them to speak to me, I want you to use them to speak for me on behalf of the voiceless millions living in poverty and under injustice. I want you to use them to speak about me and my promises. There are many speaking words in our generation but saying nothing very much. It is my word that brings hope and salvation.

Is this too hard for you? Hear again what I said to Moses
"What I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend to heaven to get itand proclaim it to us so that we may obey it? Not is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?" No the word is very near you, it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it." (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

Yet I know your hearts. I know that there are many among you who long to speak out their praise, their testimony and to speak for those who are silenced through oppression. You want to speak but you are tongue tied. You want to speak but you feel you cannot. It is not lack of ability to articulate that prevents you but the bondage of fear. Will you recognise that we have an enemy whose business it is to silence worship, testimony and the word of God? Satan has gagged worship, testimony and protest for too long.

There was a man that Jesus met who couldn't speak because a demon silenced him and he was mute. But here this good news, "And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute, spoke." (Matthew 9:33)
Hear this Salvation Army. We need to go to Jesus and he will deliver us too. Then it will be said of us, "THE ARMY THAT HAD BEEN MUTE SPOKE!"
And then it will be rumoured among the people of God, "Nothing like this has ever been seen."
(Matthew 9:33b)



Thursday, 9 January 2014


Exeter Temple Bible message notes
Sunday 5thJanuary 2014
Bible Reading:                        Genesis 12:1-9

There are many kinds of travellers; tourists, commuters, migrant workers, yes and we could add, Nomads, Gypsies, New Age travellers, Day trippers, Evacuees and Refugees.  
A pilgrim has some similarities with other kinds of travellers but there is an added significance to the journeys they make.
The dictionary definition is this: “A pilgrimage is a long journey with an exalted purpose and moral significance.”
Pilgrims and the making of pilgrimages are common in many religions .In the Old Testament pilgrims travelled to places where significant revelation or provision from God had happened.  People went there to receive inspiration from what had happened there in the past but also hoping to receive new revelation or experience God’s presence and power.
Many religions including some sections of Christianity and Islam still see the making of pilgrimages as an important religious activity. But outside of faith communities many visit historic or cultural importance. Elvis Presley fans might refer to a visit to Graceland as a pilgrimage or communists, a visit to the birthplace of Karl Marx.
There is nothing wrong with making literal journeys to special “Christian” places if they help us draw closer to God.  However the concept of being a Christian pilgrim is much wider than that. It has been said, “The Christian life is not so much a performance as a pilgrimage.”
Another definition of a pilgrim “a person regarded as journeying to a future life.”
Abraham may have done his own bit of visiting religious sites of interest in his time but the Bible telling of his life story reveals that his whole life was a journey of journey with an exalted purpose, moral significance and towards a new future.

1.      A Pilgrim lives life in response to the call of God
If Abraham were to have a coat of arms it would probably have both a tent and an altar on it. The tent would represent the change of lifestyle he had from the settled city life he had in Ur to the nomadic life he had in Canaan.
The tent speaks of a willingness to respond to the call of God and go wherever he leads. Abraham left his own home by faith, all because God appeared to him and called him to go. 
We do not all have to up and leave where we are or what we are doing and go to an unknown land in order to describe ourselves as a pilgrim. As a Christian, you are a pilgrim and by that mean we are people who step out in faith and trust in God.
Everywhere that he went, Abraham was tempted to stop and make those places his home. It is so very easy to get to a place in the Lord where we think that we are exactly where we need to be and we get complacent and you aren’t hearing the voice of the Lord anymore.  But that’s not the life of a pilgrim.
We will always need to move on in terms of spiritual growth, knowledge of God, adapting our service, expanding our intercession for others.  Being on the move with God going towards his future has to be better than any plans we have of our own.  It is better to live in a tent than in a house built on sand.  The alternative to a pilgrim life is not a settled life, it’s a stagnant life and that stinks!

2.      A pilgrim is aware of unseen realities  
Just as a tent if a temporary structure so is life in this world.  Abraham did that by responding to the call of God and in faith set out for a future life of founding a nation in the very visible environment of Canaan.  Yet Hebrews 11 concludes that Abraham sensed he had a destiny far beyond that country. 
 “By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country;   For he was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and build is God.”  (Hebrews 11:9-10)
Hebrews goes on to say about him and other great people of faith, “They were longing for a better country, a heavenly one.”
Hebrews 11:13 says “they admitted they were “aliens and strangers on earth” or as the AV puts it “strangers and pilgrims.

We are not tied exclusively to this world. Food, clothing, care of families, health and the necessities of life are to be sought after and provided for but not with anxiety or stress as if these things were our chief source of happiness. 
There is a saying “The world is a bridge the wise man will pass over it but will not build his house upon it.”
We have temporary residence here on earth but our citizenship is in heaven. That is why when Christians die we say they have gone home.

3.      A Pilgrim makes sacrifices  
The second thing Abraham might have on a coat of arms was an altar. Abraham built a number of altars in his life but one in particular on Mount Moriah was made in order to offer God his own son. 
Abram was prepared to give up his own son, Isaac because no sacrifice could be too great for God.  Abraham’s call as a pilgrim was of greater importance to him, than even his position as a parent. 
In actual fact God only required the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son and the principle that Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews did not require child sacrifice as was common in every other culture was laid down.
The altar speaks of sacrifice, but it also speaks of the place where God meets with his people. When Abraham came to the altar, God was there to meet him and provided the sacrifice for him; a foretaste of what God does for all of us through Jesus.
One of the hardest things we have to do as pilgrims is when we sense the call of God on our lives will adversely affect the lives of others.  Jesus was called to go towards the cross, knowing what it might do to his mother Mary to watch him die in such a way.  But he went ahead, trusting God for the joy that would be hers through his resurrection. 
When it is tough to be a pilgrim, the important thing is to keep your eyes on the one who calls us to follow and on the ultimate, the “when all is said and done” things that will remain at the end of the day.  We are not tramps, with nowhere in particular to go but pilgrims on a journey home.

4.      A Pilgrim represents God in this world
A pilgrim will always keep in mind to whom they are answerable and who they represent. We are called to be his ambassadors in this world and serve him loyally.
In I Peter 2 we read about God’s people being a people who live in the world but who are really citizens of a heavenly kingdom. In the light if this he asked, “What kind of people should we be?”
We are moving toward the heavenly city each day and Jesus is closer today and tomorrow even closer. In knowing that, there ought to be a difference in our lifestyle.
1 Peter 2:11 “Dear friends I urge you as aliens and strangers (or pilgrims in the AV) to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
It’s easy to say live good lives among the pagans but something we have to battle to do.  The pilgrim is as Peter points out in war with sinful desires which war again the soul.  The word “soul” refers to our inner person.  The battle against sin is waged in the mind (1:13-14). If you can win the war against sin in your thought life, you will win in your behaviour. All sin starts in the mind and must be defeated there.  Pauls advice is that we mus  learn to take "every thought captive to the obedience of Christ2 (2 Cor.10:4).
We might be pilgrims but we must be dressed as soldiers, with our spiritual armour on at all times.  
But Peter says that as pilgrims, we are to maintain a lifestyle of attractive deeds, even in the face of will result ultimately in glory to God which is the overall aim of the Christian life.

The title Pilgrim helps us to remember the context of our life. Life has a goal and it has a connection with the unseen realities of God’s purpose for our life and heaven itself. It is not an easy way which is why we need to ask that God to help us realise his presence along the way.  This is expressed beautifully in the song the Pilgrims prayer

Saviour, draw thou near to bless us
Bind our hearts to thee we pray
Grant us Lord they steadfast purpose
Keep us on the pilgrim way
All our road is not in darkness
Walking, Lord where thou has trod
For the imprint of the footstep
Blossoms with the love of God
Lone may be our pilgrim journey
Stern the path before us set
But the glory of thy passing
Lingers by the wayside yet
So for the triumph of thy way we praise thee
Thou who has known temptation
Counted it joy our souls to ransom
Suffered and died for our salvation
Teach us the secret of thy strong enduring
On to the journey’s end
Bring us at last with songs to Zion
Where everlasting praises blend
Master by they toils inspire us
Walk with us earth’s road of pain
Let they Spirit flame within us,
Christ in us be formed again.
By Miriam Richards

God bless