58. Finally, regain Perspective

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

58. Finally, regain Perspective

1 Sam 17:45   I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty,

Perspective? In some ways this entire series has been about regaining perspective of who and what the Church is. In these recent studies I have been suggesting it is time for a counter-attack against those voices of atheism, of indifference, of complacency, over everything that resists the presence and work of God. Sometimes it is important to examine single verses or paragraphs in gaining understanding of who God is, who we are and what he has called us to, but sometimes it is wise to step back and try and grasp the big picture to gain an overview of where it has all come from and where it is going to.

Key Background Issues: Let’s try and make this simple and so just lay out some of the basics of what we know about the world in which we live:

  1. It is fallen because of Sin and so is broken, and often dysfunctional, not working right.
  2. Because of the presence of Sin, Satan has been given opportunity to reign over the lives of men and women who reject God (see 1 Jn 5:19)
  3. None of this is a surprise to God who foresaw this from before the Creation, because of the necessity for humans to have free will. Indeed He planned to send Jesus at the right time in history to reveal His love and His means of redemption through the Cross, to draw whoever would come back to Himself.
  4. Jesus, demonstrating His love, brought healing and deliverance and proclaimed the day of the Lord’s favour (Mt 11:5, Lk 4:18,19) and instructed his followers to do the same (see Mt 28:19,20, Jn 14:12).
  5. Our role today – negatively – is to resist the devil (Jas 4:7), overcoming his wiles and deceptions and temptations, and overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).
  6. Our role today – positively – is to take the Gospel to whoever will receive it, using prayer, the fruit of the Spirit to melt hearts, and the power and gifts of the Spirit to overcome strongholds of the enemy, seeking to overcome lies and deceptions and wrong beliefs, bring healing to those wounded by the world and the enemy, and bring freedom to captives, those held by anything that hinders them coming to Christ and enjoying all the goodness he has for them.
  7. We are living in the realm of the kingdom of God which is only partially here, and that state will continue until Jesus returns and puts all his enemies beneath his feet (1 Cor 15:25).
  8. That ‘partial’ aspect of the kingdom has certain aspects that suggest we are in an ongoing battle (that this last Part has been about) and has consequences that we would do well to confront as we conclude this series.

Consequences of the Partial: The truth is that in this era, people can still resist God, people can still reject the Gospel when we bring it to them. Some people will turn and be saved. Brilliant, never lose sight of that. Sometimes we will pray and pray and not seem to see answers; that’s part of the battle (see how Daniel experienced that Dan 10:12-14) but sometimes we pray and get immediate answers. Brilliant, never lose sight of that. Sometimes we pray for healing and often don’t see it – but sometimes DO! Brilliant, hold on to those times and keep praying.

Resistance: All around us in this fallen world, we see people saying and doing wrong things. Some repent, some don’t; it’s the way of these times. In the book of Revelation we see God bringing judgments that are meant to bring mankind to its senses and back to God, and yet we read, “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Rev 9:20,21) and later, “They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.” (Rev 16:9)  In the Old Testament we saw this folly in the mind of Pharaoh as he resisted Moses. In the day in which we live and possibly the years to come, we see this same resistance.

Resistance is Futile: This chant from various sci-fi films applies well here. The world resists -and God graciously allows them to do so – but there will come a time when He says, “Enough!” and Jesus will return as a conquering king and that will be it!  There will come a time when all will stand before the Last Judgment, and that will be it!  The enemy would seek to distract us, make us forget these truths, get us caught up in materialism or the worries of this world, and so it is important that we hold firmly on to these truth of the big picture and never lose sight of them.

And Us? Our call as the people of God is to remain faithful: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Our call is not to be successful (although the Lord does promise that) but to be obedient. That we have seen in detail in an earlier study, together with the other ‘unique ingredients’ that make the church what it is supposed to be. If we get knocked down, He is there to pick us up. If we fail Him, He is there to forgive us, cleanse us and set us on the path again, when we repent. When we lack wisdom, He is there to give it to us when we ask. When we lack energy or resources generally, He is there to provide as we wait on Him. Yes, it is all about Him; everything we are and have comes from Him.  David knew it: “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty,”  as he came against his enemy. That is to be our stance as well. May that be what is seen in us, the Church, and may He be glorified in and through us. Amen. Enough! Let’s be it!

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57. About ‘attitude’

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

57. About ‘attitude’

1 Sam 17:36   Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.

Attitude? We sometimes talk about young people with ‘attitude’. Attitude means a strong or belligerent spirit, almost a youthful arrogance. David had ‘attitude’ but it was based entirely in his knowledge and experience of the Lord. He is the supreme example for us of a warrior. He is a man after God’s own heart, we’ve already noted, he’s been chosen by God to eventually replace Saul as king, but in the meantime he is a humble shepherd boy, doing his father’s bidding, living out on the hillside looking after his father’s sheep or, as now, taking provisions to the other brothers at the battle front. And it is when he arrives here he finds this terrible situation – Israel brought to a fearful halt before the taunts of this pagan giant. Everyone else is in a state of fear, and fear immobilizes, and so there appears a stalemate. Nothing is happening – except the giant comes out day by day with his taunts and his challenges.

And the Church? In this day of confusion and chaos, that we have already considered, there is a word-weariness. How does the church appear to deal with this? Apparently by minding their own business and just carrying on as normal holding services.  In the UK, where for well over a year, there has been Parliamentary shambles over Brexit, the church has been silent. Where are the voices of leadership at the top of all the main denominations that should be crying out, “Stop bickering, stop maneuvering for your own ends, work together for the good of the country, seek wisdom to come to a collective agreement, care for the country not your own petty kingdoms!”

In the USA, where for the last two years the integrity of the office of the President has been torn down in the eyes of the watching world, where are the big church voices that should be crying, “Mr. President, some of your goals are worthy but please work for them without tantrums, without abusing people, without lies and apparently constantly changing your mind in a war of words, please regain credibility for the office.”  Where are the voices of the church? They are silent. We gaze across the valley at the enemy (of lies and unrighteousness) and we stand silently immobilized by fear. Where are the Davids?

David’s Testimony: David first testifies to what he knows God has done for him in the past. Remember Isaiah cried out, “To the law and the testimony,” (Isa 8:20) and at the end, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11) In the Old Testament it was to rely on the Law and what God had done previously delivering Israel out of Egypt; in the New Testament it is the work of Christ on the Cross and the testimony of what Jesus has done for us. How much of a testimony do we have today?

The psalmist wrote, “The righteous …. will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green,  proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15)  The elderly righteous have an important part to play in this battle – they have a testimony, years of experiences with the Lord to be declared aloud, things to encourage the following on generations. Where are the voices of testimony in your church or does the church, in attitude at least, push aside the elderly generation as “past it!”?

And me? I can have ‘attitude’ because of my knowledge of the word of the Lord, because of the work of Christ, and because of the years of blessing that I have known. Each of these things should act as fuel for a fire that should burn bright in each of us, that brings boldness, brings courage. And you? Who are there around you in your ‘bubble’?  Family, friends, people at college or in the workplace? What have they learned about me that gives credibility to my voice? Do we stand out as trustworthy, hard and conscientious workers, reliable, gracious, loving, kind, gentle, caring, wise? Are these things part of our testimony, or has the enemy silenced us with a sense of failure? It’s never too late to start again, never to late to start reaching out with God’s servant-hearted love to those around you.

Trust & Relationship & Process: David trusts the Lord to turn up for him, to enable him to do what is necessary to bring down this pagan giant. He knows the relationship that he has with the Lord and knows that Goliath is an enemy of God: Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26) The fact that this giant keeps on demeaning Israel is an insult to God. We are God’s people! Don’t we believe the many scriptures where He promises to look after us? Is being a Christian, is being a part of the church, just about turning up on Sunday mornings to work through an hour or so of ritual? Isn’t the calling of Jesus to build up the body (teaching it to do what he did) and take it out into the world to wage war on lies, deceptions, untruth, unrighteousness.

Those are some of the things Jesus is warring against: “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:25) Is this understanding part of our ‘attitude’? Jesus IS reigning in the midst of this fallen world, he IS working for the good of his people (Rom 8:28) and he IS working for the glory of his Father (Jn 17:1), he IS working to extend the kingdom and rule of God on the earth, so that love and goodness and light are extended into the darkness, and he WILL continue to do this until he has achieved it, with all these negatives brought down. Now part of this process is surely taking place today and he uses whoever will be available and will respond to him with their unique gifting to be used in their unique ways, and part of it must be when he returns again in sovereign triumph (see Rev 19)

Your unique part: Because we are just a part of the body of Christ, the church, we should not let the enemy taunt us with, “So you are going to challenge Parliament or the President! Just who do you think you are?”  Well, some of us may have that role, may have positions where we can be voices to the inner sanctum, but that is not true for most of us. So what about us? Are all the words of this study just hot air? No, there are specific things we CAN do. Let me give some starting pointers:

  1. We can and must ‘stand’ (see Eph 6:13,14), holding faithfully to Christ and who he calls us to be, be clear about our identity and holding on to it.
  2. We can and must pray as he guides us (see Eph 6:18, 1 Tim 2:1,2) for our nation and those who lead it. Never belittle your power to pray.
  3. We can ask the Lord to put specific people and local situations upon our hearts to pray for, and as he opens up understanding ask him for wisdom to know what to do, or what to say, so that you may have the opportunity to be salt and light (see Mt 5). This may include people who are in our family, or friends, neighbors etc. Don’t just pray for them but ask the Lord what part He wants you to play in bringing His love to them.
  4. In your church context, ask the Lord to use you to build up, encourage and build faith in others so the body will be strengthened and become more available to go to battle.
  5. Learn something of spiritual warfare – there are books out there, and I have written elsewhere on this site about this – and gather others around you who will be like minded, and make yourself available to the Lord, to pray, to intercede, to act to bring life and light to others.
  6. Daily maintain your relationship with Him for it will only be out of this that all these things will come about into reality.
  7. Pray for the Lord to draw you close, fill you with His Spirit, use you, and enlarge faith in you. Resist a mentality of settling for ease and comfort, declare you will be a kingdom bringer!

Amen?  May it be so.

56. Are we ready to fight?

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

56. Are we ready to fight?

1 Sam 17:38   Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

Two men:  Several decades ago, a raspy voiced American, Ern Baxter, caused waves in the UK when he spoke at a Dales Bible Week with a week-long series, entitled, “The King and his Army” and in that series contrasted Saul and David.  Saul, he typified as ‘head and shoulders’ church government  (Saul was a “head taller than any of the others” 1 Sam 9:2) Saul was tall and broad and good looking, a potential fighter-leader which is what the people wanted, someone who looked good, and he relied on human wisdom and human strength. David, he typified, as a ‘heart man’, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14) Those two descriptions have probably stayed with all of us who heard those talks back then, and they are as applicable today as back then.

The Contrasts: When we come to fight to regain our Christian heritage in the West, we have to ask ourselves, will be rely on the Church looking good with its pomp and ceremony, its rites and rituals, or will we be the people who are moved by God’s heart and God’s Spirit, to reveal the life, love, power and authority of the ‘body of Christ’?  When David turned up at the battlefield full of faith and was directed to Saul, Saul was still in ‘human-thinking-mode’. You want to fight a battle? You need armor. You have no armor. Take mine. Except David doesn’t fight in armor, he has no need of it.

The armor the world uses is the media, politics, ‘handling people’. The armor we use is truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, our salvation and the word of God itself. (see Eph 6) But then consider Jesus’ advice to his disciples: “be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” (Mt 10:16 JBP) or “Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.” (Msg) I expect we can go along with the ‘wisdom’ bit, but how about appearing as harmless or inoffensive? Is that a description seen in some Christian activists? I suspect not, in which case there is room for change!

Waging Christian War: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 210:3-5) The J.B.Phillips paraphrase version is enlightening: The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defence that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.” Yes, our battle is not physical, it is spiritual and the moment we recognize that we realize that to fight spiritually means prayer. The ‘enemy’s strongholds’ are simply set ways of wrong thinking. People get locked into ways of thinking, or attitudes which in the cold light of day – or perhaps seen from a decade looking back – leave you gasping.

Aspects of the Present War: In both the United States and the United Kingdom, in the past three years, events have unfurled that I believe will leave historians in ten years gasping. Let me try and identify some key features of the present battles without taking sides:

  1. The Opposition party is our ‘enemy’ and we hate them. In the last two years enmity has grown up, a hostility, that is worse than seen before.
  2. Truth is being challenged and social media being used as never before to express scenarios that are factually false, i.e. Fake news has become the currency of political warfare.
  3. Fake news means lies and lies mean unrighteousness. Unrighteousness is being used in order to obtain what otherwise might sometimes be laudable goals.
  4. The combination of these things means a loss of integrity, seen in the way there has become an openly declared mentality that says, “If we don’t like the results of the last election or referendum, let’s work to reverse it.” Nothing like this has been seen or heard previously in my lifetime.
  5. The barrage of opposition that is then seen in the way this is worked out includes postulating fearful outcomes, making dubious forecasts (which are often proved to be false), making false statements about others in order to bring them down.

Whatever our political outlook, honesty demands that we see these last few years as having expressions of unrighteousness that seems unparalleled in our times. Where they will lead us only time will tell. By-products of all this on both sides of the Atlantic are, according to the polls, fear, anxiety and uncertainty, world-weariness and a desire to just give up in many.

Opportunities: In the spiritual world, whenever the world takes a nose-dive emotionally with a loss of confidence, this is an opportunity for the Gospel to be heard and received. Historically at such times, it has been shown that the world opens up so that God seems freer to bring revival. Prophecies have suggested that we may be moving towards such a time. One prophecy circulating around the world in Christian circles, brought just at the end of 2018, indicated a need for us in our warfare to do three things:

  1. Learn to listen to God as we never have before – we need His guidance, His strategy.
  2. Be aware of the world’s ways and reject them
  3. Learn to use divine authority and learn to receive divine provision.

Now even if these hadn’t come from a credible prophet, I would suggest they are three good guidelines to be followed in our spiritual activities, as I have said in these and previous studies numerous times.

Key Points Recap? Let’s summarize and then examine the key points:

  1. There IS a battle and it is a battle involving truth and righteousness (righteousness is all about living God’s way) and it is spiritual.
  2. We fight by holding to the truth as revealed in the Bible, seeking God for wisdom and maintaining the fruit of the Spirit – and leaving the rest to God!

Searching for Truth: When it comes to truth, in whatever the subject under debate, our starting point is to say, “Hold on a minute, what actually is the truth here?” We need to challenge the truth or otherwise of what others are saying, not in any hostile confrontational way but in a gracious way that seeks to avoid hostility. I have sought to do this in the past in the series “Reaching into Redemption” and study no.36 ‘Islands of Belief’ and the studies that follow where I have sought this approach with a range of contentious subjects.

Considering Righteousness: Righteousness is the other area I mentioned above, over which the battle wages. It is simply living according to the way God has designed. There are two simple approaches to be thought through here:

  1. What IS God’s design for mankind revealed in the Bible – and why? i.e. what are the practical reasons for this design? In order to see why this is the best approach to live, we need to carefully think through the second, following question.
  2. What is the way of the world today that goes against that, and what fruit is being observed in life in the West because of that, i.e. what harm is being done in the lives of individuals because of that modern way of living? With this second one it is legitimate to ask, is this lifestyle one you could say is a good example to be followed and one you could advise young people to follow, and if not, why not?

If we can provoke honesty to see the weaknesses and failures of modern lifestyles, we will be part way towards possibly helping people face the truth, seeing an alternative to what they have that will be better, and then their need of help to be set free from the old to a new life. There is nothing magical or super-spiritual about this approach but is simply one that calls for honesty and integrity in facing the truth about life.

55. A Time to go on the Offensive

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

55. A Time to go on the Offensive

1 Sam 17:10,11   Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

Hostile Neighbors? Israel in history, especially in the Old Testament, can be seen to be a demonstration of various things. We could focus, negatively, on the fact of their apparently continual habit of getting it wrong, of rejecting or rebelling against God, and when we do I also remind us that in that they were merely demonstrating what we as a human race are like. They were not especially bad; they just reveal the reality of sin that is true of all of us. But for this present exercise, Israel reveal to us what it meant to be a special people, God’s people because, as far as their neighbors were concerned, they were enemies.

Now I am not sure if I can find anywhere where the Scriptures say it was specifically because they were God worshipers, and it may be that in those primitive times, one expression of the Sin of mankind simply meant that one nation beat up another nation. Having said that, it seems more than a coincidence that Israel had more than their fair share of getting beaten up. (We should remember in passing that Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” [Mt 10:34] which opens up the whole area of division between believer and non-believer).

But this all goes to show something, perhaps, of what was behind the passage that we are going to examine in this and the next two studies, found in 1 Sam 17 when Israel are being opposed by their old enemy, the Philistines. (It is clear from the Old Testament that the Lord used the Philistines to discipline or chastise Israel when Israel had turned away from Him. They were part of His oft-used method of bringing disciplinary judgment that was designed to drive them back into His arms.)

The Battlefield statistics: The beginning of chapter 17 shows us the Philistines lined up against Israel: “The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.” (v.3), shown to be in the foothills to the west of Bethlehem, on the border of Israel. There is in a sense, a picture here of the divide between the Church and the rest of the world. On one hillside are the atheistic crusaders shouting their derogatory abuses about the folly of belief. With them, in much larger numbers, are the unbelievers of the world. In the UK where the real believing church is said to be only between 5 and 7% of the population, and the USA where more recent figures suggest it is only about 30% of the population who are really believers, the appearance is that we are outnumbered and the church numbers so often appear to be declining.

Outnumbered and talked down to: There is an amazing little picture found in 1 Kings at one point: “The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.” (1 Kings 20:27). What an amazing picture of little Israel facing the might of the Arameans. No contest! Well, yes, actually it was, because the Lord was with Israel and they utterly defeated the enemy. A lesson not to be forgotten. But here we are in this world today and lined up against us are atheists who bring derisory words spoken the Bible, derisory words about the nature of God, and derisory words about faith and being a Christian. Note that: so often the enemy’s attack starts with words. The classic example of that was when Sennacherib’s field commander stood outside Jerusalem before attacking it (a tough task with high and thick walls and strong gates) and demeaned their trust in God (e.g. Isa 36:4-10 and then v.12-20). It was pure propaganda designed to bring down the morale of Israel.

Challenging Questions: So today the Battle is joined and the voices of the enemy shout out, “You can’t trust the Bible, it is full of errors and tales of a harsh God,” or “Creation in seven days? What are you lot on about? Everyone knows it took hundreds of millions of years of evolution to bring about what we are today!” or “How can you believe in a God who has women and children put to death in genocide?”  The trouble is there are good answers to this untruths or even half-truths at times, but so often we do not prepare ourselves  because we have never thought to read the great apologists of the kingdom who have got good answers to these questions, and our minister is too busy doing verse by verse exposition of passages we have all heard before, to teach the answers to the questions that the world has.

Occult Spiritual Warfare: Thus very often I find that, if we are honest, many of God’s people are “dismayed and terrified” just like Israel were, because we haven’t trained them and there is little hunger to search out the truth and become warriors who can combat the lies and mis-truths and half-truths of the enemy.  I didn’t mention it in the previous study but there is another whole area of deception that the enemy uses to undermine the faith of God’s people and it is that of the occult. How often I have heard people casually say, “Oh yes, I played with a Ouija board when I was a teenager but it was only a bit of harmless fun.” Think again. Or the other common one is “My husband has been invited to become a Freemason.” Really, watch out for trouble in your spiritual life because any honest Freemason will acknowledge that there is a spiritual dimension to what they do, even though many would prefer to ignore it.

Ignorance of spiritual warfare and a failure of the Church to teach on it, means that many have lives that are blighted without them realizing it, having failed to repent of past dealings with the enemy and thus allowing themselves to be open and vulnerable to him. There are a number of really good ministries that help people be set free from their past, but the trouble is that most of us either don’t realize there is a spiritual battle going on or don’t realize they are walking wounded because of it. There is a strong case to be made for either in-house counselling or invited-in counselling. If we think this is all exaggerated talk, that is a sign that we have been subject to one of the enemy’s attacks I spoke of two studies back and have been lulled into a place of unbelief and placid acceptance of his deceptions.  Ask Him to open the eyes of your understanding, and touch and challenge your heart

Remove the Grave-clothes: What I have just been advocating is the equivalent of Jesus words at the tomb of Lazarus: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (Jn 11:44) You and I, if we are truly Christian believers, are not dead – we have died with Christ but we have also been raised with him (see Rom 6). Grave clothes are anything which hinders our present movement as resurrected children of God, anything that thwarts the will of God, preventing us living and working as the body of Christ today. ‘Grave clothes’ are unbelief, complacency, indifference, ignorance, self-concern, lack of concern for the glory and honour of the Lord, cynicism, pessimism, anything that stops us living according to His word and at the prompting of His Spirit. If you struggle with these things, talk to your leaders or mature trusted Christian friends and ask them to help get them off you. Don’t be part of the problem of this world, start being part of the answer to it.

54. A Time to Regain our Identity

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

54. A Time to Regain Our Identity

Mt 16:18  I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

1 Pet 2:9,10  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

I wonder? I have wondered if the average church member ‘sees’ themselves in any way different from anyone else? Very early on in this series I considered a number of ways the Christian – and subsequently the Church – is different from their non-believing neighbors. So yes, being a ‘believer’ is perhaps the starting place, but is that all you see?

Why? Now you may be thinking, why is he taking us back over this ground if we have covered it so thoroughly in the past studies? Well, it is simply because when I meet with other believers, that is the sense, and only that – that we are ‘believers’ – that ever seems to get communicated, and because I believe that is so, I think it is one of the reasons that Christians are so often backward in coming forward, or so deferential when it comes to standing up and declaring how needy the world is and how wonderful the answer that we have is. Mostly I detect we are on the defense.

A Positive Faith: One of our failures of recent decades is that of not communicating the positive aspects of Christianity – which are only found in Christianity – which can help this sick and ailing world. Of course part of that has been our ongoing failure to coherently and graciously communicate why the ways of the present world of the West are failing. It seems it is only the occasional columnist of one of the big ‘broadsheet’ newspapers who shouts, “This is not working!”

The appearance – and forgive me if I am wrong – is that in the UK where there is a ‘state church’, the Church of England, it is too tied in to the establishment to be regularly prophetic and thus it fails to prepare itself and its leading bishops to be voices of hope and change in a dark world. In the USA, although there is no state church, church and politics appear entwined so often but this seems to have resulted in specific limited battles being fought – the abortion battle being the most obvious but there have been others – but without conveying, “Hey this Christian thing is the best thing going!” and so there has been a failure to collectively convey the positive nature of the Christian faith that should be life changing, and if given a chance, also community-changing and nation-changing.

My Identity: So if someone asks you who you are, do you reply, “I am a believer in Jesus Christ,” or “I am a Christian,” because as excellent as those testimonies are, they only take us a short way along the path of identifying who we are. A shorthand answer along this path is, “Well, the Bible says I am a child of Almighty God, the Creator of all things” and that opens up a whole new area of discussion. But perhaps the more important issue is not so much what I have to declare as what I feel about myself. Knowing who I am, enables me to speak or act as I do.

For example, a number of times, either in this series or other series, I have reminded us that a) Jesus is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Eph 1:20) and then, b) that we are told that we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). Now this is quite remarkable if we believe it (understatement of the year!) because it means we are linked to Almighty God and because of that there is a sense where we should see ourselves as ‘above’ the world, having an overview of it that provides a more accurate view than anyone else, which means learning with Christ how to live with that.

Part of a Strategy: But this also reminds us of a verse we have considered many times in the past: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.   For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”   (1 Cor 15:24,25) Now this requires us to realize and recognize how Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2, Heb 1:13, 10:13, Mt 22:44) – even though the world seems to be doing its own thing – but also for us to realize that we are part of his ruling, we are with him in working to bring down these enemies (which include such things as unbelief, unrighteousness, ungodliness, anger, bitterness, hostility, wars, fighting, etc. etc. as well as the more obvious evils, such as slavery, still as prevalent today as in the past). We have a privileged position, privileged power and a privileged calling within the strategy of Christ in his calling to bring in the kingdom of God.

Inferior or Special?  So let’s be honest, how do we really feel about ourselves before the onlooking world? Have we let Satan demean us, do we feel inferior?  Now if this was a church meeting and I was one of those preachers who hype up the congregation, asking those things in an ever louder voice, we might expect the temptation might be the shout back, “No, we’re superior!” but that is not Christlike, it is not what the apostle Paul taught, or any of the other apostles. The word we are looking for is ‘special’.

I have a friend who dislikes us saying to anyone, “you are special,” because, he says, you can’t say to everyone, “You are special.”  Yes you can. First of all we can say it to us as a group of people in the world. At Mount Sinai, God said to Moses to say to the people, if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Ex 19:5) Don’t tell me that “treasured possession” doesn’t mean special! Perhaps it was with this in mind that the apostle Peter wrote to the church (see 1 Pet 1:1,2) those words at the top of this study: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet 2:9,10) Here I have highlighted words that say we are special.

Uniqueness: So dare we say, “I am special to God,” or “We as a local church are special to God,” so that marks us out from the rest of the world?  We are special because we have responded to Him and we have been adopted into His family so that we can say we are children of God, even sons and daughters of God. We are special because we have open access to heaven, a voice to God and an ear to hear from God and the ability to receive all the resources of God.

If that doesn’t make us feel good, perhaps we need to pray and ask the Lord to open our eyes to see the reality of these things, rather like the apostle Paul prayed, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19)  All this comes only by revelation. We need today the fresh revelation of who we are, the wonder of who we are, the wonder of what we are, the wonder of our destiny, and when we get that afresh, perhaps we will stand up in the midst of the world and cry fearlessly with the apostle Paul,  “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes,” (Rom 1:16) and then go on and demonstrate that power – which leads us on to the next studies about going into battle. Stick with me.

53. Awareness

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

53. Awareness

Mt 16:18  I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

1 Pet 2:9,10  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

More? I thought we had finished this series, at the end of the last Part, but  woke one morning with such clarity of something more, so we have to go on at least one more Part which is all about NOT being a passive, ineffectual bunch of religious people who are increasingly marginalized in this modern world. No this is about standing up and saying, “Enough! It is time to become who we were called to become.”  The studies you will find as we go through this Part are as follows:

  1. Awareness
  2. A Time to Regain Identity
  3. A Time to go on the Offensive
  4. Are we ready to fight?
  5. About ‘Attitude’
  6. Finally, regain Perspective

It starts with this verse from Matt 16 that the gates of Hades (or Hell) will not overcome the church. In such context the phrase “the gates of Hades” can be taken to mean Satan and all his forces, as one commentator puts it, “storming out of the hell’s gates in order to attack and destroy the church.” Now as C.S.Lewis sought to show in his “Screwtape Letters”, he seeks to do that in various ways and they are clearly observable today. Thus our starting point in this final Part must be to identify the ways the enemy works to seek to undermine and bring down the Church. Sometimes that is by big, all-embracing strategies that affect many at a time (usually the weak of faith) and sometimes it is by personal and individual attack. His end objective is to weaken, disarm, disable and dismantle the Church and to eventually destroy it. As we will see, a hopeless task!

The Ways of the Enemy: In a variety of ways, Satan strategizes to undermine and bring down the Church. First, on one hand, he seeks to encourage the atheistic crusaders of the twenty-first century who sought to rubbish the truth of the Bible, successfully in those who were weak in faith, but unsuccessfully for others as the Lord raised up His intellectual warriors to show the folly of the attacks.  (This is the ‘roaring lion’ attack – see 1 Pet 5:8).

Second, he seeks to encourage what is often referred to as the liberal wing of the church who downplay the veracity of the Bible and unwittingly undermine faith. This is the approach of ‘reasonableness’ and ‘logic’ which demeans the divinely supernatural and denies the truth that God speaks and acts into His world. (The is the ‘angel of light’ attack – 2 Cor 11:14).

Third, he seeks to make The Faith seem outdated and irrelevant in the face of the tidal waves of knowledge and science and technology. Fourth, in another deceptive strategy, he seeks to suggest that the modern world is so civilised and wise and all-knowing, that we no longer need these ‘outdated and superstitious folk tales from the past’. Unfortunately for him, the Bible truth still remains, “A man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7) and so the fruit of this folly is observable in every area of life where men and women abandon God’s ways and God’s laws, and this is clearly visible for those who have eyes to see.

Fifth, especially in affluent Western societies, he seeks to make people so comfortable and secure in their affluence and tells them that they have been successful and so, again, don’t need these outdates rituals or beliefs. They can get by quite happily without them. He fails to remind them of Jesus’ parable of the two house builders in Matt 7 where we are reminded that temporary security is illusory without Christ, so when the crises of life hit – and they will – downfall will follow.

Futility of his efforts: History, ancient and modern shows that even though persecution comes, His Church remains strong and even thrives. The history of the church in China in the past hundred years is a classic example of that. While numbers in the church in the West decline, numbers of the church in China have spiralled, making it greater in number than the Communist Party of that country. In the West, leaders are qualified by education; in China they are qualified by having been in prison! Scripturally Jesus taught that God’s kingdom would grow and grow and grow and be the largest of all the ‘plants’ (Mt 13:32, Mk 4:32). In the West, while traditional denominations decline ‘new shoots’ thrive and increase in numbers. In that sense it is difficult to discern the exact truth of what is happening to the church.

Assessing the Reality: We have maintained throughout these studies that whatever the numbers, the overall signs are of a Church that a) so often is more concerned to maintain the status quo rather than constantly be pushing to expand the boundaries of the kingdom, b) so often is more concerned with managing buildings and institutions than putting much effort in reaching the lost, c) so often retreats into social work to appease a guilty conscience rather than train and send disciples to go out preaching the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, d) so often is more concerned with comfort and ease and constantly seeking personal well-being rather than sacrificially living out lives that reveal the wonder of the Servant-King, e) so often are more concerned with speaking carefully crafted words rather than moving in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit so that, f) so often there is little fruitfulness in the reality of transformed lives that now reveal the light and the life of their risen Lord and move on in service in the power of the Spirit. .

And Yet: Yes, this is the truth, God still looks to us to play our part. Yes, Scripture does appear to show that the powers of darkness may yet have a field-day but despite that we are called to display the resurrected Christ in and through the life of the Church. If there is any truth in these assessments of the place and the state of the Church in these different places, the end call has to be the same. Are those right who suggest that the picture of the church at Laodicea in Rev 3 applies to this time? Are we lukewarm, neither hot nor cold? (3:15,16)  Are we deceived into believing we are rich while all the time (spiritually at least) we are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”? Is Jesus writing off the Church in the West? Will the Church in China, or from other severely persecuted countries, be the light that the Lord will use to shine to the rest of the world in the end-time darkness?

A word of hope. One thing I notice about Jesus with his disciples, is that he often chided his disciples for their little faith (e.g. Mt 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20) but he never wrote them off. When Jesus scolded the disciples for having ‘little faith’, it was not to put them down but to challenge them to rise up in it – he continued giving them opportunities to minister and become more and more like him. May that be true of us in these days, and that I will be examining in the remaining studies.

52. Finale – the Church on God’s Heart

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

52. Finale – the Church on God’s Heart

1 Cor 12:27   Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Heb 10:5-7  when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,  but a body you prepared for me;  with burnt offerings and sin offerings  you were not pleased.  Then I said, “Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll –  I have come to do your will, my God.

1 Pet 2:9,10  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The End? I have pondered on continuing this series into a further part, all about the body of Christ, but I have done that in other series’ and the feeling I have is that enough has been said here – more than a few times! In Part 1 we considered some of the ways the Church can fall short of God’s heart for it. In Part 2 we considered why we are a different people and in Part 3 we went on to consider aspects of being a Christian believer. In Part 4 we considered the need to have a clear vision of who and what we are called to be. Then in Part 5 we went right back to square one and sought to think what are the very basics of ‘church’? In Part 6 we looked at the whole subject of local church leadership and the wider subject of ministries. In this part we have sought to look again at basic or fundamental ingredients of the church that make it unique – the vision we have, the power that has been imparted to us, faith being the very life-style, and obedience the key to being led and guided by God to become all that He has on His heart for us.

Who for? Could we say more? Of course we could but we have to stop somewhere and the more we say the more what we have already said will be diluted. May I simply invite you to go back over this series and ask the Lord to make the issues raised here really come alive for you. I am sure some might have thought, why is he saying all this? Surely this is for leaders not just the ordinary person in the church?  Well no, we all need to be aware of what the Bible says about who we are supposed to be, and if we sense our expression of church falls short, then prayer is the first response, calling out to the Lord to touch the hearts of those who lead us, as well as the rest of the people in my part of what we call the local church? Perhaps there are things, maybe whole areas, where we as individuals need to seek the Lord.

Special People: So what we can we pick out to highlight and bring a final focus as we wind up this series? Let’s consider Peter’s declaration but we’ll look at it in the Message version: you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.”   Isn’t that awesome! We’re chosen, we’re God special people; that’s what we said in the earliest studies. We’ve got a job to do, not just filling up pews on a Sunday morning but acting as priests and you know what they did in the Old Testament period – stood between God and the people to introduce them to each other! They were holy, special, utterly different, His instruments to speak out for Him, introduce others to Him in the right way, to be a testimony to His life-transforming goodness. Once I was a nobody, now I am a somebody, once I was far off from Him, separated by my sin, but now I am forgiven, cleansed and brought near, adopted as a child of God.  So much there to meditate further on and to praise God for!  But it’s all about identity and purpose.

God’s will – the Kingdom: But when we try to look at the big picture, the whole of the Bible from beginning to end we see, behind this fallen world, God’s plan of redemption, a plan brought to its half-way climax by the death and resurrection of His Son. But it is only half way (all right, please don’t be pedantic, I am not being precise, just figurative). There was the beginning – even before Creation – when the Godhead determined this plan of salvation, a necessity if Creation was to eventually function as it could with human beings with free will being brought back to the original possibility – a relationship with God Himself, in complete peace and harmony with Him. Then there was the end – eternity stretching away beyond our understanding where man and God exist for ever in perfect harmony. But in between the beginning and the end, there would be the Fall, the establishing of a new way for man and woman to live outside the presence of God and yet still able to call upon Him. That was how it continued for hundreds of years through the period of the Patriarchs, the period of Israel – through the Exodus and the Exile and eventual domination by the power of Rome. Into this environment stepped the Son of God to reveal the glory of God and die in our place, thus satisfying justice. And out of this – came the church! The Church, all the believers in Christ down through what has been so far two thousand years, testifying to the love and goodness of God and all the while exercising the will of God otherwise known as the kingdom or rule of God.

The Purpose of ‘the Kingdom’: To what aim, all of this? To speak into each and every generation down through the ages to turn the eyes of self-centred and godless mankind to God, to see the plan and purpose of God and realise and experience the love of God. Sadly down through the ages we haven’t done very well have we? Every now and then God has injected life through the means of revivals around the world, through the outpouring of His Spirit again at Azusa Street last century, later through the Pentecostal Churches in general, then through the Charismatic renewal and various other outpourings of His love and power. Without doubt this last century has seen the outpouring of God’s Spirit in a measure never seen in such quality in the previous eighteen hundred years. And the recipient of all this blessing? The Church. And why? Surely to empower the Church to cope with the horrors shown in Revelation of the Last Days. And how are we doing? Not very well. In the West numbers decline and although there are signs of occasional new life through new groups, overall the end result is not good. The world continues to become more and more ungodly and even though there are some strong voices, they tend to be relatively few and far between and our impact in our individual cultures appears very little.

And Jesus? Jesus remains unchanged. He is still the Son of God seated at his Father’s right hand, continuing to rule in the midst of his enemies on the earth, moving ever nearer that time when , “when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (1 Cor 15:24) And when he comes – “will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Where will he be looking for it? In the Church. Will he find it? That is down to you and me. Will all these reflections be just theoretical or theological ponderings, or will we let the Spirit of God move us to bring our lives back to the Lord, with open hearts that are crying out for Him to take us and use us? The End! Or the Beginning?