with Tony Horsfall
Thursday 10 August
After graduating from London School of Theology, Tony served as a missionary and as a pastor before heading up a missions training programme at Bawtry Hall. Since 2004, he has had his own ministry, Charis Training and has a passion to see people grow in their relationship with God. As an author his books include Rhythms of Grace, Working from a place of Rest, Deep calls to Deep and most recently, Grief Notes. Tony loves nothing better than to lead people on retreat, taking quality time to be with God. Here the New Horizon Media team brings you a summary of what he had to say during the morning Bible Teaching at #NH2023.
Last night I was reminded of an African bishop who used to travel everywhere on horse back but when he got too old to ride it, he sold him to a missionary. The bishop told him, “I have trained this horse in my own ways. If you want him to start say ‘Praise the Lord’ and if you want him to stop say, ‘Amen’” The missionary was inexperienced but he said, “Praise the Lord” and the horse began to trot, then to canter and then to gallop and finally to bolt. In panic he tried to remember the word to make it stop but they were hurtling towards a cliff edge. Finally he remembered and he cried out, “Amen.” The horse came to a complete stop just inches from the edge of the cliff. In relief the missionary said, “Praise the Lord…!”
This passage is so special to me because these were the foundational verses of our little church in Yorkshire. In particular it was the end of verse three that caught our attention “Oaks of righteousness”. The village Ackworth (actually means Oak worth) and the acorn became our symbol. So it is a very special piece of scripture for me.
As we begin we turn again to chapter 6:8 “Here am I, send me.” The climax of this encounter with God for Isaiah was the giving of himself to God in service. Surrender to God is at the heart of Christian discipleship. God calls each one of us to offer ourselves completely to him so that his will be done in us, so we might be his servants. But surrender to God is to surrender to his love. We love because he first loved us. It is not a surrender to power or expectations but a response to his love.
Think about your relationship with God in that way. Maybe this week is an opportunity to offer ourselves to him once again. We want to say to God, “Here I am, send me.”
Reading from Isaiah 61: 1- 11
We’ve heard the proclamation of good news to the poor and the application of that (the oil of joy, the garment of praise and beauty for ashes – the three exchanges) and all of that comes together in the expression, “They will be called oaks of righteousness” (the very people who have offered them to God and who have been restored… they)… “ a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendour.”
This is all about Transformation – the developmental journey from babes in Christ to mature believers, who are established in their faith (Acts 15:41, 16:3). Becoming more like Jesus. We used to sing a little chorus:
Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,
All his wonderful passion and purity,
O thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine,
Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.
That is God’s goal and purpose:
I love oak trees and of all the trees it is my favourite. There are so many different kinds of trees and in fact there are hundreds of variety of oak tree. It is a very special kind of tree. That is the symbol that God by His Spirit uses to describe us.
God not only takes away our sins but He also clothes us in His righteousness given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Oaks of righteousness) Romans 3:22, Isaiah 53:11, 2 Corinthians 5:21
We can stand in the presence of God without shame and with confidence because He sees us in Christ. We are totally accepted and there is no condemnation. God made him to be sin, who knew no sin that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Understanding that we are already righteous and accepted by God gives us strength and stability, knowing who we are in Christ.
The planting of the Lord – this is His doing. This is not a righteousness that we do.
Display of His splendour – when people see us, they will see the likeness of God because we are the planting of the Lord. Although we go through the painful process of being changed and transformed. Letting him set us free and bind up our wounds, it results in the display of His splendour.
It takes a long time to cultivate an oak tree. This work of transformation doesn’t just happen overnight. Generally speaking it is a long slow work of God in our hearts. I was struck myself by the words of description on the video:
These oaks require years of cultivation because such is the long act of restoration. These oaks only grow from the broken-hearted. Their roots are planted in heartache, watered with tears, made resilient by storms, strengthened by seasons, grown great by loss, made magnificent in surrender, made hospitable by empathy and beautiful by sacrifice.
They grow in the light of hope.
We open ourselves up to Jesus and allow Him to make something beautiful in us.
Reviving hope (v4) – Rebuild, restore, renew
Back to the time of the return from Exile – after war and destruction you think, how will they ever rebuild. People like Ezra, Nehemiah and Zerubable.. they believed that God was calling them to rebuild the temple, the city walls and their homes. It speaks to us of what needs to be rebuilt. Society has been devastated. We need men and women of courage who will go to those difficult places and witness for Christ there.
This is revival that happens slowly. It is not always dramatic. One of the things that really encourages me as I come to the latter end of ministry life is to see young men and women who have a real call from God and are full of life and zeal and they are getting stuck into this task. That really lifts my heart to see another generation who are on fire for God. Not being overwhelmed by the state of the church and the state of society. It takes hard work but it can be down. They will rebuild. Maybe you want to consider, what does God want you to do with your life. The task is not glamorous – it will require mud, sweat and tears. That is the splendour when God is at work in people’s lives. They think, “How can God use my life for His glory?” It is all around us when we look. God is calling men and women to serve Him.
Receiving strangers (v5)
These are what the Holy Spirit highlights for us. Throughout the book of Isaiah there is an enormous missionary vision from the beginning to the end. He has the tremendous vision that people’s and nations, that foreigners and strangers will come to know the Lord. His vision isn’t just about Israel because he knows that one day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the see. That is radical thinking – the people will be a light to the Gentiles. The people of Israel had become exclusive. Mission used to be from here to there but now it is from there to here. God is calling people from Nigeria and elsewhere to come and minister here. We should welcome those whom God brings to us.
National exclusivity is shattered.
Great people movements have come into our country. God is blessing the church in Britain by people who are coming from other nations who follow God. We have to welcome them because they are coming from God and they bring a new surge of spiritual life to us. The faster growing churches in London are the black majority churches because they have a heart for evangelism.
It is not the church in the west that is leading the way, we have to let go of our superiority mindset. It is from elsewhere that the impetus is coming. We have to ask ourselves; do we have the humility to receive help and that we need others to come and shepherd the flocks. Can we welcome those who are different? Can we learn from them? I love listening about the Langham partnership that have Bible commentaries and the scholarship that is challenging us because we’ve only ever seen the scriptures with western eye. The splendour God is talking about is multi-national. We saw the film the Jesus Revolution -what a struggle it was for the churches to welcome hippies. It is one thing to pray for people to come to faith, it is another thing to welcome people who are different. “We’ve just got a new carpet.” Some churches cannot cope with difference. They do not recognise the moves of God. It is disturbing when God moves because He doesn’t do what we want Him to do or bring the people we expect. Get used to difference if you want to see the change that you long for.
Releasing gifting (v6)
The priesthood of all believers – Exodus 19:6, 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:5-6. This is a radical statement to the people of Israel who were so locked into the system of priests but God is now saying that God can work through anybody. That theme is right the way through scripture.
A place for ordained ministry but the need to recognise and use the gifts of all. There is a great place for the body of Christ to function as the body of Christ – every person released to use their gifts for the glory of God.
Removing shame (v8)
I’m sure the people of Israel when they returned from Babylon came with a deep sense of shame.
Shame is a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of my own wrong or foolish behaviour or what has been done to me. When we do something wrong, we feel ashamed. Shame protects us from continuing down that downward spiral and leads us to repentance. But sometimes shame is toxic because it is shame about who I am or what has been done to me. People carry a huge burden of shame and God wants to lift it from us. We are loved, accepted, forgiven and received. Shame is linked to disgrace (shame that is made public). It is one thing to feel shame in private, but some shame is made public and that is humiliating. It means literally a lack of grace. Some of us are so bowed down by shame that we feel totally unworthy before God and that we think we will never be accepted. That is not how God wants us to be. God is going to take that from. Instead of your shame, you will receive a double portion and instead of disgrace, you will receive joy. It is another exchange. You can stand with your head held because you are mine.
Healing = forgiveness + acceptance (for the sins we have done)
Healing = recognition + justice (for the things that are done to us – we were not to blame)
The splendour of God’s people is those that have been set free from shame.
Rewarding faith (v8-9)
The nature of God – He loves justice (Isaiah 58:6-7). He hates robbery and wrong doing. If God loves justice, we must love justice and we must hate injustice with that same passion.
God is the great rewarder of His people. Directed to the faithful remnant – the reward of faith (trust) – Hebrews 11:6, 6:10 and Isaiah 8:12, 26:3-4. If we seek God, He will bless our lives.
“God is not unjust. He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”
One of the things that keeps us going in our Christian service when there is little recognition, is the reassurance that God knows and He does not forget. There is reward.
A missionary people -v9. Mission is in our DNA and it is passed on from one generation to another. From the time of Abraham there is a great lineage of those who have followed the footsteps of God into mission.
Blessed by the Lord – the splendour is a blessing of God (that favour that rests upon our lives). We may not be aware of it. My mother used to say, “I don’t know what it is but our Tony always falls on his feet.” God did so many remarkable things and people saw that blessing in my life.
That is God’s vision for us. This is who we are becoming. We must know what God’s destiny is for us.