30. Aspiring to Sonship

Aspiring Meditations: 30.  Aspiring to Sonship

Matt 5:9   Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Matt 5:44,45   Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

Rom 8:14   those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

In what I believe will be the last in the series, we face the fact of who we now are as Christians, a term that does not always sit very comfortably with some but which is nevertheless a very significant term – sons.

We tend to be more comfortable with John’s teaching about us being ‘children’ of God, for example, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13) and in his first letter, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God.” (1 Jn 3:1,2)

So if we are comfortable with ‘children’, why not so comfortable with ‘sons’? I think there are two reasons. One if I was a woman, I would prefer to be called a daughter but, as we’ll see there was a special significance to ‘sons’. The second reason, I suspect, is that of course Jesus is THE Son of God, and he is unique and we don’t want to detract from that, yet the scriptures are quite clear that by our lives we will show that we are God’s ‘sons’, His offspring with special privileges.

We see this in Paul’s writings: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Gal 4:8,7) See the significance in what he says here. He has put into us His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus and so as He lives and works through us, so we emulate THE Son and are, if you like, ‘little sons’, little replicas of Jesus, or at least that is what He is working towards (see 2 Cor 3:18). Earlier in Galatians he wrote, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal 3:26,27) It was by faith we came to Christ and the other side of the coin, from the side that says he was put into us (his indwelling Holy Spirit), says we are (figuratively) put into him (baptized or immersed in him) and thus become one with him.

When he wrote to the Ephesians Paul said, “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Eph 1:5), i.e. the long-term plan (from before Creation) was for salvation to mean that we were adopted into God’s family, as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross, to bring pleasure to God as His will is worked out in this way.

Now there are various scriptures that indicate that the way we live and act reveal to the world who we are, for example, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Lk 6:35) Our starter verse above says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matt 5:9) In other words, as we behave with the same nature as God – being kind, loving enemies, and doing good to them, and acting as a peacemaker (do you see how the two verses fit together?) you will be acting as a child of God, no, a son of God. So what is so significant about the son?

To answer that we have to go back into the culture of Old Testament Israel. The word ‘sons’ comes up 883 times in the Bible, most of them in the Old Testament. Observe something in respect of Noah and his family after the Flood: “So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.” (Gen 8:18) but then a little later, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1) The whole family was saved but it was Noah and his three sons that God blessed? Why? Well look right the way through a concordance of the Old Testament and you see that it is the sons who hold and convey the family name, even as it is mostly today. Why? I can only make suggestions.

Childbirth, I suggest, is the most demeaned human activity when it comes to ideology. To say men and women are equal is often a meaningless comment. Yes, I believe at work there are still centuries of the world’s understanding to be overcome, so there should be equal pay for doing the same job, but a much more meaningful description of the sexes is simply to say we are different, and THE difference is that a woman bears children and then has the heart to raise them. Yes, I applaud men who share in that, but I observe the heart of my wife as she refers to our three children. They came out of her body and nothing can diminish that. She has a feeling, an understanding of them, if you like, that I cannot possibly have because she carried them, she birthed them, she weaned them and I did none of those things, and historically no man can ever do those things and if in our foolish world today we lose that, we are simply showing our folly.

But this is only one side of the coin but I’m afraid it needs saying in this world of distorted truths. The other side of the coin historically is, very simply, that while the wife was doing those three things, the man was out making a name for himself and making provision for the family. It has nothing to do with inequality but simply to do with giving the man status to earn in the world in order to provide for his family. So the follow-on from that is from pre-teenage years (age 12) the son was recognized for what he was to become – the earner – and thus followed in his father’s footsteps in work or business, so that he too could become established as the earner once his own father got too old to work or died. (It was Jesse’s sons who looked after the sheep and went out to war and it was Jacob’s sons who looked after his flocks – with the exception of spoilt Joseph).

Now here is the point, when we are called the bride of Christ (and that includes us men) that refers to the preparation of the present body of Christ (the church) for the return of Jesus. When we are called ‘sons of God’ it is to emphasise the life we have been called to, continuing the Father’s business and also recognising that one day there is an inheritance yet to be received in heaven. Present responsibilities and opportunities serving the Father, and a future hope of a glorious eternity with Him, that is what this is about.

But it is all about understanding (remember, seeing the ‘significance’ of it), and taking hold of it, appropriating it. Aspiring to all these various things in this series is an expression of being a son of God, wanting to enter into the fullness of the life or inheritance that is ours, towards more and more living out all those things, including growing into maturity and more fully being available to serve Him – following in the Father’s business, bringing about the kingdom of God on earth. May we each move more and more into the fulfillment of this aspect of our life with the Lord. Amen.

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29. Aspiring to Worship

Aspiring Meditations: 29.  Aspiring to Worship

Ex 8:1    Let my people go, so that they may worship me

1 Chron 16:29  ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness

Isa 29:13  “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men

In the modern church, when someone says, “Let’s have a time of worship,” often all that is meant is ‘let’s have a time of singing praise songs’. Not wanting to be too disparaging of this, let’s acknowledge that it is a good starting place but worship means more than this. My dictionary has, “Worship = reverence or devotion for a deity; religious homage or veneration, a church service or other rite showing this, extreme devotion or intense love or admiration of any kind.”

Notice the key words: reverence, devotion, homage. These are heart and commitment words, words that go further than mere outward acts. Indeed Isaiah was most scathing about this as he brought the word from the Lord: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isa 29:13) What a condemnation. The people came into the sanctuary, actually bowed down before God and yet their hearts weren’t in it, they we doing it because the Law told them to, not because their hearts were filled with love for God. But is that what we do week by week, simply because we’ve got into the habit of doing it?

Let me give another definition of worship: the reverence, by bowing down and paying homage, that is shown by a lesser being to a greater being. Now that ‘bowing down’ may be literal or simply in the heart and it is an acknowledgment of greatness and of superiority of the one being worshiped. The moment we say that is the moment we see the distinction between true and false worship that is seen in so much of the Old Testament. True worship can only be worship of the one true God for He alone has greatness and ultimate superiority. Worshiping anyone or anything else must be false worship because, whether it be wooden idols or even people, none of them can fit the definition of greatness and superiority. A king in olden times was only great as long as his army supported him. In himself he was nothing.

This was seen in the account of Moses confronting Pharaoh in Egypt as again and again he brought God’s word, “Let my people go that they may worship me.” The only trouble with that was that Egyptian culture declared that Pharaoh was a deity to be worshiped – but then so was the Nile! Like the various Roman emperors centuries later, the call to worship God challenged the cultural call to worship the king. It was this that so often caused persecution of God’s people. Reality in the cold light of day, says why should we worship a mere human being who is exactly the same as us in his daily habits and his vulnerability to getting colds or other illnesses.

Worship is reserved for the ultimate deity, the Lord Himself and only Him. As David wrote in his psalm, “ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.” (1 Chron 16:28,29) i.e. give God the glory that is due to Him. When we truly worship we bring ourselves in line with reality. God is great, God is glorious and all we are doing is acknowledging the truth of that and acknowledging that we are vastly inferior. True worship brings a right perspective.

The writer to the Hebrews recognized this in the light of the work of Christ which was bringing the kingdom of God, or the rule or reign of God, onto the earth in a new way, the presence of the Lord coming to the earth in a new way: “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (Heb 12:28) When we really think about what Christ has achieved, and now what is going on in our midst as his Spirit works, convicts and brings individuals to their knees before the Lord God Almighty, we realise that He is here in His world working and moving and that should create in us a sense of reverence and awe (but that will only be perceived with those with spiritual eyes to see).

But the apostle Paul saw the significance of this and realised that true worship was to be an utterly wholehearted thing, something that involved every aspect of our being if we are born-again believers: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom 12;1) We may, we say, have given our hearts to the Lord when we came to Christ, but hearts are expressed by daily physical lives lived out and so, says Paul, the logical outworking of this is that you give your entire body to God as an act of worship, every single aspect of your lives being submitted to Him in reverence. Nothing, but nothing, of our lives is thus outside of this attitude.

There are many more verses from Scripture that we could cite in respect of worship but let’s conclude with the thought that in our testimony, like the apostle Paul, we should be free to acknowledge we worship God: “I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way.” (Acts 24:14). Yes, I need to aspire not only to seek to put meaning into Sunday morning singing, I also need to look at all aspects of my life and lay them down before Him for His inspection or whatever else, and also unashamedly declare, “I admit that I worship God” and in so doing testify to His greatness. Yes, definitely something to be worked on here.

28. Aspiring to Serve

Aspiring Meditations: 28.  Aspiring to Serve

Psa 2:11   Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.

Prov 22:29   Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.

Matt 20:28   the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve

To speak about ‘service’ not only sounds old fashioned (because those who served ‘below stairs’ as maids and butlers and so on, were referred as ‘being in service’) but also sounds boring and uninteresting, and yet the words ‘serve’ and ‘service’ are vitally important in the scriptures.

First a definition: To serve = to work for as a servant, to give obedience and reverent honor to God.  The second part of that is what becomes so very important in scripture. We should not be surprised at reading the apostle Paul speaking of, “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness” (Rom 1:9) but if we were a stranger to the Bible we might be surprised to find the Son of God himself, using the prophetic name from past prophetic books, saying, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,”(Mt 20:28) when chiding his disciples for their self-serving ambitions and when he added, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (v.26) Jesus’ followers are to be servants!

Perhaps no more is this seen so clearly as in John 13 when Jesus washes his disciples dirty and dusty feet and says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you!” (Jn 13:15) Serving, we said above, is to work as a servant and as such it is an expression of both humility and submission. A servant submits to a master – but which master?

Here the scriptures take us into deeper water. Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Mt 6:24) This picture of serving conflicting masters comes up a number of times in scripture and perhaps one of the most graphic instance is that of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who Nebuchadnezzar had thrown in a fiery furnace, and when they were challenged they replied, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan 3:17,18)

That challenge was about who they would serve – God or Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘gods’ and it is a challenge that comes right down through history to the present day, whether those ‘gods’ be money, ambition, self-serving or whatever else is the replacement for God. Because the definition I used above came from a Bible dictionary, it included under ‘service’, to give obedience and reverent honor to God.    Note it is not only ‘obedience’ but also ‘honour’, i.e. both deed and heart response.

Gehazi might have been described as Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 5:20) but when he went, clearly against the wishes of his master, and took gifts from the grateful Naaman (2 Kings 5:23,24) he showed that he may have been a servant in outward activities but not in his heart. Abraham’s servant, send to find a wife for Isaac, showed he was very different (Gen 24:10-), as he went with a prayerful and careful and sensitive heart to do the will of God.

This dichotomy between serving the Lord and serving the idols of the world was at the heart of a significant prophecy that Isaiah brought: “And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isa 56:6,7) These are foreigners (us) who will have turned from the idols of the world to ‘serve’ God, to give Him their hearts as they come before Him in prayer and worship.

Don’t ever see ‘service’ as a ‘having to do work for the Lord’ thing; it is far bigger than that. It is having your heart captured by His love so that you see the wonder of life in His presence, the wonder of life with His presence living within you, the wonder of His blessings flowing into your life, and part of those blessings come when we simply respond to His word and His Spirit to bless Him, and bless His world, and as we do that we will be blessed.

Now I think we need to bring a specific focus before we conclude. A warning. This is particularly true, I have noticed, when you move in to a new church. When I retired a number of years ago from being lead elder of our local church, we felt we needed to give space to the other leaders to just get with it without worrying about me, and so we sought a new church. We had only been in that new church a few weeks when a dear lady, no doubt with the best of intentions, invited me to look after the library.

Now please understand me here, I have been at the front of the queue to do the washing up or putting out the chairs in the past, for many a long year, but my plea now is ‘know yourself’. Know who you are, what your energy level is, what grace God has given you, what giftings you may have or even what ministry He has called you to. We often run church like the local library or a local club, and we just see it as activity. Yes, serving is about availability but it is all about what God has gifted you to do. Yes, it doesn’t need a calling to pick up a cloth and wipe some dishes but Paul has given us quite extensive teaching on gifting and it is all about what God wants to put on your heart or what He has already put on your heart.

So, to recap, we’ve seen serving is more than merely outward acts; it is also about having your heart captured by God to follow Him and do His bidding. It was only in that famous instance of Isaiah’s vision (Isa 6) that after Isaiah had seen the Lord and had his past dealt with that the call was made to serve and he answered the call. I am not going to disparage any activity in the church by naming it, but I do believe if we have sorted these basic things, we would be wise to wait on the Lord, and listen to the Lord (who often redirects us through the prophetic word), and sense what He is putting on (or as I said, has already put on) your heart. It’s never too late to start. I had a vision a number of months ago to start up a particular group and our present Minister has approved it, so just before my umptieth birthday we’re starting a new venture, serving the Lord in this new way. Exciting days! Oh yes, serving is definitely yet another thing to aspire to.

27. Aspiring to Pray

Aspiring Meditations: 27.  Aspiring to Pray

Matt 6:6   But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matt 6:9   This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven….

Matt 14:23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.

Matt 19:13  Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.

We might think that the subject of prayer is so familiar that we really need not consider it, and yet surveys reveal that even leaders – on average – tend to only pray a few minutes each day. So what can we say that hasn’t been said before? Nothing perhaps, but let’s lay out the basics and see if they will speak to us afresh.

Matthew and Luke both have the word ‘pray’ eleven times. It is a familiar topic. In Mt 6:6 we see some interesting things. First, Jesus assumes that prayer will be part of the life of his followers for he says, When you pray.” Second, prayer is shown to be an expression of a private and intimate relationship with God, hence pray in secret. Third, prayer is a channel through which God will ‘reward’ or bless us.  Challenging! These are merely starting points.

So concerned is Jesus for his disciples that he gives them a structure of how to go about prayer in Mt 6:9 on. When we come to Mt 14:23 we see that he himself prayed on his own sometimes and it clearly wasn’t just a quick few words. We don’t know what time he went up there to pray but he was still there “When evening came,” indicating the passing of time.  Luke shows us another time when he prayed: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” (Lk 6:12,13) Again it is clear he prayed for a long time and the second verse suggests that he had been praying to make sure he got right the choosing of the first apostles. Prayer thus took on a purposeful significance. In his teaching Jesus, perhaps backing up his own practice, “told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1) Persistence becomes an important element in prayer sometimes.

When it comes to life post-Jesus, it seems clear that the apostles followed in Jesus’ footsteps in respect of prayer: “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.” (Acts 10:9) Some suggest it was a standard time for Jews to pray but the fact of the matter is that this ex-fisherman now incorporated prayer into his life.  Later in Acts there is another lovely little picture involving prayer: “when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.” (Acts 21:5) As they parted from one another, the natural thing was to commit themselves and one another to the Lord in prayer. Excellent!

Now I have purposely left one of our verses above to last because I believe it is particularly significant to the church today: “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.” (Mt 19:13) Such a simple little verse and yet so profound. Parent (presumably) brought their children to Jesus for him to lay hands on them and pray over them. It was expected he would do that and although his disciples objected he did actually do it (v.15). The practice of laying hands on did not arise until the Law introduced it in Ex 29 when Aaron and his sons were instructed to place their hands on the sacrifices. Laying on of hands there was clearly to identify with the sacrifice.

Years later, however, we see laying on of hands in a different context: “Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he that this is tgo be and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed through Moses.” (Num 27:22,23) Moses laid hands on Joshua, not only to identify with him but to impart to him the anointing for leadership, and we later read, “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him.” (Deut 34:9) So now we see Jesus placing his hands on these children to impart a blessing. In Acts we see this same thing occurring again and again. See Acts 6:6 (praying over the new deacons), 8:17 (for the Samaritan believers to receive the HS), 9:12,17 (Ananias praying over Saul), 13:3 (sending off the new apostolic team), 19:9 (Paul prays for the Ephesian believers) and 28:8 (Paul healing a sick man). When we pray over one another, do we expect the Lord to turn up?

Now note the commonalities: it was always in the context of prayer and it was always to impart the blessing of God. I am aware that in many churches there are opportunities given for people to come forward to be prayed for but I believe I have a new sense of the heart of God that this is to be for all His people, Twice in the past six weeks (once in the UK and once in the USA) I have had opportunity to preach on faith and in both congregations I invited a dozen people to come forward who would like prayer. Then, and here is the difference and the point I believe the Lord was making, I asked leaders or prayer ministry teams to stand aside and specifically invited people who had never prayed over someone to come and pray for these people as I guided. I asked them to wait silently before the Lord’s to sense His presence and then sense what He felt about the person before them, and only then pray God’s blessing over them in whatever form they felt they could do it. It was thrilling to watch and awesome to behold.

Now I am aware of the dangers in doing this and it needs careful oversight and careful follow up but I believe the point the Lord is making is that He wants to encourage more and more of His people to pray over one another – expecting Him to turn up and bless.  I have been impacted by the picture in Mark 3:1-5 where Jesus went into a synagogue and healed a man with a shriveled hand. It is almost certain that the man was a regular, one of the men of the community who probably turned up week by week to hear the scrolls read and expounded, and to hear the prayers. Now that happened week by week but they expected nothing else, but then Jesus came in and healed the man. See the parallel: the word of God was expounded week by week but they expected nothing else.

Now Jesus comes to us and says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) We are called to do the works of Jesus. Now I am not suggesting that all will have faith to bring healing but I am suggesting that all can have faith to wait on God and expect Him to bless (Mt 6:6 – reward!) as we pray. Yes, this is a challenge to faith and to lifestyle but more it is a challenge to become the body of Christ who does the work of Jesus, not merely the leaders. If we do not make regular opportunity, and bring regular encouragement for the people of God to step out in faith, we will be like that synagogue and there will be people continuing to come and go, week by week with needs that Jesus wants to address but that we are failing to meet. It is time to rise up to truly be the people of God and it will be revealed as we pray. Yes, let’s aspire to this!

26. Aspiring to be a Teacher

Aspiring Meditations: 26.  Aspiring to be a Teacher

Heb 5:12    In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.

1 Cor 12;28    And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers.

Most of the thoughts about teaching come from Paul to Timothy or Titus, because they, as leaders, were teachers and therefore Paul instructs them about that. But then we come across this throw away comment in Hebrews that implies that maturity will include knowing more than the basic truths of our salvation and that knowledge with understanding and wisdom should be passed on by the mature.

Our two verses above show us there is a dichotomy of thinking here: on one hand the writer to the Hebrews makes this suggestion that we all ought to be teachers, while Paul suggests that teaching is a ministry gift.

The argument for every mature believer becoming a teacher is supported by Paul’s comment to the Colossians: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” (Col 3:16) I may be slightly biased in this direction because within a year or so of becoming a Christian I found myself teaching seven different groups of Bible Studies each week. Now that suggests various things. First, that was a period when among young people (and I was just 22) there were many groups inside and outside formal church. Second it says that so often people are looking for leadership, even of a very immature kind. Third, it was for me an amazing learning curve.

Now the writer to the Hebrews also brought a quote from the Old Testament that works for and against my experience back then: “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Heb 8:10,11) The fact that we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, means He is a conveyor of God’s laws. But if this was automatic then one would expect every believer to speedily become filled with the knowledge of God’s laws, God’s will, but that clearly isn’t so. No, the reality is that He is there as a resource to help those who are hungry to learn, but some are hungrier than others!

The good aspect of these truths is that the Holy Spirit was available to me to enable me to learn and to pass it on. This is also suggested by the apostle John’s teaching: “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2:27) Again that ‘anointing’ is there for every believer but not all believers avail themselves of it.

When Paul taught on ‘gifts’ he said, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach.” (Rom 12:6,7) Now the clear teaching there is that we have the particular abilities we have (including teaching) according to the measure of grace that God gives us, but therein is a mystery. Does He impose that grace on us or does He feed it into those He sees are available?

In the excitement of those early years, I launched out to meet the need that was obviously there, not with any preplanning or forethought, but simply taking the opportunities that were there. Subsequent to that, my future wife and I with some friends went off to a week-long Summer School at a Bible college. I also attended various teaching days in the years and decades to come, as well as attending a number of ‘Bible Weeks’ in the Summer that are held in the UK. As I grew, opportunities grew to speak or lead. We served on and then I was asked to lead an annual two weeks of children’s beach outreach for eight years. I become a leader in my church and was invited to speak in other churches and then abroad.  The point I make in this paragraph is that a combination of availability plus hunger for God’s word plus, I assume, the blessing of God, led me more and more to teach.

However, when we return to the subject of Gifts, Paul writes, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?….But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” (1 Cor 12:29-31) and the answer has to be, no. However, he does say, “eagerly desire” (aspire to) whatever you might consider are the greater gifts. Heart desire comes into this. He also says, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts,” (1 Cor 14:1) and then later, “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (1 Cor 14:12) Now all three of these last three quotes imply an element of human will, human desire.

Now if you are not a teacher at present, it may be that you shy away from the thought because you have a wrong perception of what God might want from you. You can teach without it being to large crowds. In my previous church, when a person came to Christ, we found someone who was available and willing and we got that person to disciple or teach the new believer. Yes, there were materials to help but discipling involves far more than merely going through some notes; it also includes listening, advising, imparting wisdom of experience, encouraging, all of which teach the new believer about their new life in Christ. That is teaching.

But then, do you have children? Church life in the last century has decided that “Sunday School teachers” ought to be the primary people responsible for raising our children spiritually. Wrong! They are to be the second string. The Bible clearly puts the responsibility on parents. Youth leaders, youth groups and youth camps are all, I believe, essential to the growth and well-being of our young people but if you, as a parent, opt out, you will have missed out on a great opportunity to teach.

Again personal testimony. When our three children were all small we found a book of ‘family devotions’ which we read to them all in our bed every morning and then prayed with them.  Later, as they grew, we went to a local Christian bookstore and found a set of Bible notes for children. However they seemed bored by these so I started typing, on an old portable typewriter on A5 paper, six questions on short Bible passages and then 3 questions to think about the information found, and produced a month’s worth of these ‘Bible Studies’, which we did with them. At the end of the month I suggested we go back to the professional notes (seeing hard work ahead!). “Oh no, daddy, yours are much better.” An example of family loyalty I suspect. But I carried on and the results are on my main website, daily verse by verse studies that cover nine tenths of the whole Bible.

Start off small and you never know where it will lead you. Don’t think about your capabilities, think about His. Availability, willingness and a hungry heart. And do I aspire to teaching and do I want you to aspire to be a teacher? Silly questions!

25. Aspiring to Maturity

Aspiring Meditations: 25.  Aspiring to Maturity

Heb 6:1    let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity

Col 4:12   He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.

I have come to the end of various ‘lists’ of things that the scriptures speak of, things to which we need to aspire, but I find there are one or two other words lurking in the back of my mind that we need to consider before we finish this particular series. The first of these words is ‘mature’ or ‘maturity’. Maturity only comes up once and mature not a lot of times, but they are there and they are significant in this search.

To speak about maturity means something or someone that is, ‘fully grown, fully developed, having reached initial potential.’  It is a state of being and it is something, I have observed over the years, that does not happen automatically; it does need our cooperation. Surprisingly the words crops us (sorry for the pun) in the parable of the sower: “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Lk 8:14,15)

Now that is interesting on two levels. First, it shows us that a person can fail to go on to spiritual maturity if they let worries and concerns about living in this materialistic world dominate their lives. When the apostle Paul starts off virtually every one of his letter with something like, “Grace and peace to you” you can be pretty sure that a) we need grace to cope with life and b) the end result of having grace is a state of peace. Maturity involves learning to receive God’s grace and living in a state of peace.

Second, it shows that whereas that person does not mature, the person who does is revealed by the fruit that he or she bring forth in their life. i.e. their life will change and their life will impact this world. How have you and I changed? Are the fruit of the Spirit developing in us?  How have we or do we impact the world? Are other people, or the world generally, changed because of us. Signs of maturity!

But then maturity is the end goal of the gifts of ministries to the church that the apostle Paul speaks about in that famous Eph 4 passage. He says their works is, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12,13) Now note that the end result is that ‘the body of Christ’ is brought to unity, “as each part does its work.” (v.16) The role of those ministries is to encourage each of us to become the person God has designed us to be (see Eph 2:10) and when that happens we will work in harmony with and in conjunction with the rest of the body.

But that is the corporate expression of maturity. What other signs are there for us individually? Well, the writer to the Hebrews said, “solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:14) and there he was referring to us moving beyond the basics of the faith in our understanding. I despair of those house groups who constantly do Bible Studies of the most elementary things of the scriptures, the easy parts if you like. I prefer the approach that says, “OK what are the things about the faith over which you have questions, or which parts of the Bible do you find the hardest? Right, let’s start there!” The more we study God’s word (all of it!) and the more we study the elements of the Faith, the more we will find ourselves being trained as the writer said, “to distinguish good from evil.”

We might add here, that the mature person doesn’t read the word, they put it into operation. That was the point of Jesus’ parable of the two house builders in Matt 7, and the point of the ‘Great Commission’: “go and make disciples from all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) That is maturity – doing it.

While on the subject of teaching, after his teaching about maturity coming from the work of the ministry gifts, he explains, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” (Eph 4:14) A sign of maturity is that we don’t get carried away by false teaching or false teachers; we are no longer ‘infants’.

Stick-ability is thus a characteristic of the mature and we see this is two other teachings: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:4) and “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (Jas 1:6) The mature person learns to hang on in there and not give up. Some people are good starters but are not good on following through. That is a sign of immaturity. The mature person is also mature in their relationship with the Lord and therefore has an assurance in Him that does not doubt when we come asking Him for things (wisdom in this case). We know the Lord, we know His goodness, we know His heart towards us, we know His will.

Are we there with these things? If not, then we still have something to which we are yet to aspire – maturity. If we are not there with these things, keep working to grow and get there. Will we ever fully get there? Almost certainly not (and having the occasional bad day is not a sign of immaturity, merely that we are still human beings!) but we can work on these things and we can see changes and so, yes, we can grow. Perhaps we should aspire to growing in these things rather than achieving some slightly intangible end goal. May it be so.

Addendum: if you want a motivation to grow, find yourself something to DO that places demands on you. Those demands will drive you to the Lord where you will have to receive from Him more grace and the rest will follow. More in the next study.

24. Aspiring to Encourage

Aspiring Meditations: 24.  Aspiring to Encourage

Rom 15:4,5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,”

1 Cor 14:3 everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

1 Thess 5:11   Therefore encourage one another and build each other up

Heb 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This is another of those words that I’ve not just noticed in a list, but a word that has been with me a long time as a vital and essential requirement in today’s church and therefore a word worthy of our investigation in this ‘aspiring’ series.

What does it mean? Again my dictionary includes the following: Encouragement = to give courage, hope, or confidence to; embolden; hearten, to give support to; be favorable to; foster; help.  Don’t we all need that? Don’t my brothers and sisters in Christ need that?

Our starting point as so often is God Himself. In Rom 15 above, Paul says God gives us encouragement. To the Thessalonians he said, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thess 2:16,17) That’s interesting. Eternal encouragement? Perhaps that means we are encouraged when we see God has a plan formulated from before the Creation that stretches into eternity, a plan to bless us, a plan to make us His children and to take us to be with Him in eternity. But that verse also shows us the outworking of encouragement – to strengthen us in word and deed.

I always find significant Paul’s words in 1 Cor 14:3 “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”  If you prophesy you bring a word from God and Paul says such a word will strengthen, encourage and comfort, so that is always God’s intent for His children.  There are two prayers I find the Lord answers so speedily, the prayer for wisdom and the prayer for encouragement. I have lost count of the number of times I felt worn in the battle and asked the Lord for some sort of encouragement. A little while back I felt the need of it and cried out for it and in the next couple of days had contacts from people in Australia, the USA and the south of England, people I’ve never heard of before, but the Lord clearly prompted them to contact me with expressions of encouragement. How wonderful He is!

Flowing on from that, we see that some people are especially gifted in the ability to encourage others: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us….if it is encouraging, let him encourage.” (Rom 12:6,7) But having said that the bulk of the New Testament teaching is for us all to encourage one other, but it starts with Him.

So if He encourages us, it is no surprise that in His word He encourages us to encourage one another (note the double – he encourages so that we may encourage). We have the word above from Hebrews 10 to encourage one another, especially because of the days in which we live, days that Jesus said would have many upsetting things happening. It is often a worrying world and the fact that we have an enemy means that life is not always easy and that means that we often need encouraging. The writer to the Hebrews also said, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Heb 3:13) i.e. our loving encouragement may keep others from giving in to temptation and sinning. Our encouragement of one another may act as protection as well as strengthening.

For the leader, encouragement is to be one of the things we naturally do for the flock: Encourage and rebuke with all authority.” (Titus 2:15) It is always a twofold ministry – one of correcting and challenging but also one of building up, comforting and encouraging. Again Paul instructed Timothy in his leadership role, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2) Again note the balance of correcting and encouraging. Correcting puts right wrong thoughts from the past, encouraging envisions and lifts us up to press on into the future.

How often do you leave church on a Sunday morning feeling, “That was a really great morning”?  Most Sundays I hope (be real, it won’t be every single Sunday). But what is it the contributes to such a feeling?  The worship? The preaching? The fellowship? How about the fact of being encouraged by another member or maybe, the fact that you were able to encourage someone else?  I go into church these days praying, “Lord, let me be a blessing to this people. Give me one, two or three people who I can specifically encourage.”  If the Lord answers that prayer (and we go looking to answer it), he will give us things to say to one another that does give courage, hope, or confidence to; embolden; hearten, to give support to others and therefore when we all leave, our encouraging others will be one of the ways the Lord strengthens the body, and people leave walking tall and feeling good, strengthened for the battles of the week ahead.

What potential we have. So how do we encourage others? First of all, look and listen. Around us, whenever we gather as the people of God there will be those worn down by the battles of last week, whether in the family, at work or in college, or maybe battles in the mind as the enemy seeks to sow doubts, discord, disappointments and discouragement generally. Ask the Lord to let you see something good about that person’s life and share it with them. If you are a more bold charismatic or Pentecostal, ask the Lord to give you a specific word of detail for them that will encourage.

I know a lady who has a lovely gifting whereby she gets a picture of someone, perhaps say a lady in a green coat, and the Lord says, “when she comes around the corner in front of you, stop her and tell her I love her and I understand what she is going through and if she will let me. I will help her.” And, lo and behold, the lady with the green coat comes around the corner. The God of encouragement! You and I may not have that particular gifting but we can bless one another with simple encouragement. Oh yes, this is definitely one to be added to the list of things to which I want to aspire more.