7. The Divine Provision

Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 7. The Divine Provision

Zech 4:6 “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

Recap: So far: return to God, don’t worry that the world doesn’t care about the plight of the people of God, He does. He will deal with all injustices, rest in that. He purposes good, blessing and growth for His people and calls them together. He comes to redeem and create a people, cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, dressed in the robes of righteousness, called to rule with Christ in the kingdom of God. Chapter 4 comes in three parts: Part 1 – verses 1 to 6, the lampstand and olive trees, Part 2 – verses 7 to 10, promise that Zerubbabel will complete the temple and then, Part 3 – verses 11 to 14, explanations of the olive trees.

Wake Up: It’s the middle of the night, – ‘visions in the night’ (1:8) – and Zechariah has dropped off; he obviously just couldn’t stay awake, just like the disciples with Jesus (Mt 26:40,43,45), and as soon as he wakens the angel draws him back to the visions: “Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?” (4:1,2a)

The New Vision: “I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” (4:2b,3) Note the two parts to the picture. First, there is a lampstand comprising seven lamps on arms receiving oil down the arms or channels from a bowl at the top. The lights are lit by oil.  Second there are two olive trees one either side of the lampstand. It is obvious that the two olive trees are the source of the oil that is used in the lamps to provide light.

Again it is not obvious what meaning is being conveyed here so Zechariah asks: “I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” (4:4) Note there is no reticence on the angel’s part, he gives an answer straight away – but with a question: “He answered, “Do you not know what these are?” (4:5a) Zechariah is nonplussed: “No, my lord,” I replied.” (4:5b) Now note what follows because it is crucial. He does not spell out, as I have above, what he is seeing but makes a simple but powerful and vital declaration: “So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (4:6) In one sense the objects aren’t important, what they convey is!

The underlying and all important lesson is that the work of God is completed by the Spirit of God, not by human might or power, not by human strength. What is being spoken about here is provision by and of the divine. To understand the importance and significance of this we must hold on to the context – the work of God’s people rebuilding the House of the Lord. The modern Church has almost lost this fundamental understanding: the Christian life and service of the Lord is empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit and without Him all we are left with is human endeavor which God does not bless.

Declaration: First of all the declaration: The angel continues to declare the word of the Lord: “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” (4:7) It is not a vision but picturesque language conveying the will of God. The Living Bible expands verse 7 well: “Therefore no mountain, however high, can stand before Zerubbabel! For it will flatten out before him! And Zerubbabel will finish building this Temple with mighty shouts of thanksgiving for God’s mercy,” or, even more simply, God will allow no obstacle to stand in Zerubbabel’s way and nothing will stop him finish rebuilding the temple. The capstone is the top stone, the stone that holds everything else in place, the final stone, and so as it will be put in place with shouts of appreciation that this is the work of God.

Next comes explanation: If there was any doubt in the preceding words, they are removed in what follows: “Then the word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.” (4:8,9) The certainty of the completion will convince everyone that this is indeed the working of God. When you read both Ezra and Nehemiah, the rebuilding of the temple and the walls of Jerusalem came with continual opposition from the enemy, but here Zechariah’s word reassures them that that opposition will not stop the work being completed. God Himself will rejoice when He sees the work being completed: “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?” (4:10) Seven, the perfect number here speaks of the perfect vision of the Lord through the Spirit that sees everything. He will see this come about!

The Olive Trees: But the inquiring spirit of the prophet is not satisfied, he wants to go back and find out about the olive trees: “Then I asked the angel, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?” (4:11) He has looked more closely and seen the source of supply for the lamps: “Again I asked him, “What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?” (4:12) Again the angel prods him: “He replied, “Do you not know what these are?” and Zechariah has to reply, “No, my lord,” I said.” (4:13) Only then is he given the explanation: “So he said, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” (4:14)

Uncertainty: Now there is no further explanation given here as to who these two are. John in Revelation 11:3,4 makes a similar reference about two ‘witnesses’ but again with no further explanation. For the prophecy to make sense to those who heard it, they must have taken Zerubbabel and Joshua as the two key leaders to be these two servants of God, empowered by Him to perform His will. In the long-term, in the end times, I would suggest that the Church and the believing element of Israel could be the two ‘witnesses’ but as we are not told we will have to just wait for history to be rolled out.

Certainty: THE point of this chapter is twofold: first, to declare the certainty that the temple WILL be completed and, second, that it will be by the working of the Holy Spirit, God’s divine enabling. For them that enabling will be to provide revelation, encouragement, strengthening, perseverance etc., everything that is needed to overcome the enemy opposition and thus fulfill the will of God.

And Us: I hesitate to drum home the lesson yet again, having already declared it in previous studies, but the point is made so strongly in this chapter that it would almost be wrong not to reiterate it. The life and the service of ‘the body of Christ’, the Church, is what it is by the power and working of the Holy Spirit. When He is present and manifest, then we see power and revelation. The power to do the works of Jesus (see Jn 4:12, Matt 28:20, Mt 11:5, Lk 4:18,19) results, as I suggested in an earlier study, in constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings. Nothing less fulfills the call of Jesus to his Church. The revelation that the Spirit brings, envisions the church, releases faith to serve, brings wisdom to overcome obstacles and proceed with the will of God, and personal encouragement, comfort and strengthening to individuals. If we cannot say we clearly have these two aspects of His presence and work, in the Church today, let’s pray and ask Him to come and bring them.

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?

43. Nature of the Church (2)

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

43. Nature of the Church (2)

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

So what? In this final  study on Leadership, I want to try to bring together some of the things we’ve said so far and see where they lead us. I want to start by picking up the thread from the previous study about deacons. Now even before I go there, may I simply testify to an experience I’ve had when I was leading as an elder and retired. The greatest sense that I had when I stepped down and retired was relief that I was no longer ‘running’ a church. This was some years ago and I have thus had time to ponder on that. As much as I led a charismatic and (we would have said) a Spirit-led church, we had never broken free from organised ‘services’. Now I realize I am about to move onto shaky ground for many here, and the larger the church the shakier it will be, because the more people you have the more they expect an organised service that blesses them, and I have never yet found a local church that risks stepping out without structure. Bear with me, I may not end up where you think!

Years ago I had someone in the church who wanted us to approach every Sunday morning without any preparation except prayer. He and I discussed this at length. Brethren friends suggested their experience was that although that was the intent of their meetings, in reality the lead was always taken by the same people and in reality it was no freer than any other church meeting. Pentecostal churches I have known have been just as structured and hidebound as any other church. Those of you who come from liturgical backgrounds may wonder whatever I am talking about and wherever I am going.

Spirit Led? Let’s put it in the context of much of what we have said earlier in these studies when we talked about the Holy Spirit, life and trying to get back to basics. I think I probably said this before, but compare life with Jesus with our current traditional approaches to meeting together. Now yes, I am aware that Jesus went to the synagogue and then to the Temple to celebrate the feasts but also bear in mind two things he taught. First, God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:24) Be honest, can that happen with a fixed liturgy? (and so called Free-churches may not have it written down but are usually as predictable). What does worship “in the Spirit and in truth” mean? The Message version puts it well: “the Father is out looking for those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” It means no pretense, no putting on a show, no going on what someone else has written, but what our heart and mind pour out in His presence.

But let’s pick up some of the other things we have hinted at along the way. A church that has a fixed liturgy cannot respond to the directing of the Holy Spirit who may want to come and bring revelation, or healing or deliverance to God’s people when they meet together. Liturgical churches either have to pause the liturgy to make space for God to move and make space after the liturgy. Please don’t hear me wrongly; liturgy can be very beautiful and may be the one time the truths of the faith are regularly declared by the people of God, and in those senses can be a great addition to the experience of the church, but if it means there is no openness to the moving of the Spirit to bring guidance, direction, revelation and so on, we are not only demonstrating a very poor example of what the church can be, but we are failing to reveal to visitors the powerful presence of the living God.

Leaders? But, I hear someone complaining, I thought this was all about leadership? But it is. How we ‘do’ church is down to leaders. In an earlier study I listed a number of reasons why we don’t accept change but persuading the church to catch the vision of the ‘better’ that God has for us, is the responsibility of leaders. As we saw, where there are apostles and prophets exercising their ministry, there will be this ongoing motivating and driving force, but in the absence of such ministries, it is down to the elders-overseers-shepherds to do the motivating. The enemy will constantly be seeking to thwart change and so there will be a spiritual battle which will be overcome by prayer and preaching and teaching. Those are the three primary tools that God uses to mature and develop His people. Very well, let’s look at these three, demonstrated by the leaders.

Preaching: Put most simply, preaching is the declaring of the truths of the Bible so that the intellect is informed and the will challenged. But preaching has to be a faith exercise, a declaration of the truths that God has spoken into the hearts of the preacher as he has waited on his Lord. What a difference there is between sitting down and concocting a neatly packaged three point sermon  that has been arrived at by hours of striving, and a message (which may have three points!) that has come from waiting in God’s presence and is stirred by the heart of God in the heart of a preacher who is convinced that the Bible is the vital inspired word of God and the Gospel is the power of God that brings salvation.” (Rom 1:16) God’s redemptive saving process is brought through the application of the power of the word of God. Lives change, the church grows and matures, and the world will be impacted.

Teaching: Put most simply, teaching is the expounding the truths of the Bible to provide a foundation of belief and faith on which the believer’s life is founded, strengthened and built up.  The more we spend time in God’s word, the more we study it, the more we seek the Lord to understand it, the more confident we will be as to the veracity of the whole book. The more we do this, the more we may find there are things we have accepted in the past, because traditionally the church has accepted it thus, but are not as we have previously thought. One of the challenges that seems to be rippling through the modern church is the difference between trying to scare people into the kingdom and trying to woo people into the kingdom. There is a delicate balance between the two that can only be resolved by a strong knowledge of the whole Bible and an openness to the Spirit’s teaching. There is a constant battle, not only to proclaim the truth, but how we are to proclaim the truth. Many modern believers only tolerate a twenty or twenty-five minute weekly sermon, but that may be because of the quality of what has been put before them. Seeking God, catching God’s heart, catching the wonder of the truth, all these things will contribute to the leader being able to feed the flock in ways that leave them going, “Yes! And more please!”.

Prayer: If you find a ‘leader’ for whom prayer is not of vital importance, I question whether you have a spiritual leader. Where leaders do not demonstrate that by pausing up in the presence of God, pausing to recognize the one to whom we speak, yet taking any and every opportunity to pause the activities of the people of God and come to the One in whose name it is all being done, then it is likely that there will be a shallowness in the people of God and a vulnerability to enemy attack.

Back to the Service: I suggested earlier that leaders are responsible for how the church goes about meeting, worshiping etc., and raised the question of how we can allow the Spirit of the Lord to have space, and the struggles we have in seeking to walk a path between over-organising our services and under-planning them. The first produces sterile performances and the second can produce a shambles. So is there something between? The key, I suggest, might be summed in the adage, “Planned but flexible and open to change.”

Planned and Flexible? In other words, although there is a general idea – formulated while waiting upon the Lord beforehand – of where the service is going (and this may include  the worship leaders having an idea of what music is wanted, and the preacher having a structured sermon to deliver, and maybe a variety of other things to be gone through – the infamous ‘Notices’ of which a book could be written, possibly a set time of prayer etc.), the role of the leaders becomes more and more to be listeners to the Spirit so that at any time there can be a change of direction etc. The worship team may suddenly sense the manifest presence of God and either pause up to appreciate His presence or may direct a perhaps quieter, more reverent worship time, and times may be given for the releasing of prophetic words and subsequent prayer ministry.

Here there needs to be a flexibility and wisdom as to how to administer such times so that the majority of the people are not mere spectators. Having space at the back for people to respond to such words and to go to receive prayer ministry, enables the time to proceed without the majority sitting a little bored.  It is in such situations that certain words become highly applicable. For example our starting verse: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  (1 Cor 12:27) In other words, we need to release gifting in each and every member so a ‘service’ is not merely a time for out-front participation by the leading few, but the whole body be encouraged to learn to listen to God and participate with whatever He gives. This is down to the leaders to bring about in the long-term training of the body of Christ. There is also, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21) Yes, I know Paul is going to expound on family relationships, but doesn’t it apply well here as well? Failing to be aware of one another and, I suggest, encourage all to be part of the active body, was part of Paul’s corrective words to the church at Corinth (see 1 Cor 11)

And so?  So much to think about. What sort of church do we want, or more to the point, what sort of church does the Lord want? Much to think about, much to pray about. Dare we become something far more glorious that we know at the present, and something that is definitely not boring, but is instead life-bringing and life-transforming, as His revelation and His power is released in our midst to His glory. Amen? Amen!

59. Redemption and the Church

(Yesterday while praying I found the following thoughts flowing so I hope to be able to insert this into the series I thought we had recently completed)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 59. Redemption and the Church

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

Now the Church: Yesterday we asked the question, ‘What is God doing with mankind?’ and made a few suggestions. Now I want to turn to another equally important question, what is God doing with the Church?  The problem for most of us is that we each tend to be parochial, i.e. we are limited in vision to our own little experience and we assume that is the norm, but possibly it isn’t. Over the past century there have been a number of changes to the church world-wide but the greatest one, I would suggest, is the attitude and then experience of the church in respect of the Holy Spirit. Whole new denominations sprang up in the last century that were Spirit-focused. In the back quarter of the last century the charismatic movement took the Spirit into more traditional mainline denominations, while at the same time provoking a whole new outlook on ‘church’; the concept of the ‘body of Christ’ came to our awareness. Over the past twenty years or more, while the bulk of ‘the Church’ has been carrying on as normal, in some quarters it would appear that the Spirit is provoking new thinking about just what the church is. Indeed words like ‘fresh expressions’ seek to express something of this.

Expectations: (I speak for the UK, not the rest of the world). While these ‘fresh expressions’ appear to be popping up here and there, rather like unexpected mushrooms appearing in a lawn, what we see for most of church, is carrying on, “same old, same old.” In most, expectations for change, for life, for vibrancy, for impacting the world, is not great. Indeed it goes further than that, for in many there appears a world-weariness, except it is not weariness in respect of the world but in respect of the church. Talking recently to some long-term friends from elsewhere in the country who we only see every couple of years, this sold-out for God couple said, “We’re all just so tired. We’ve done it all, we’re so busy and we’re so worn out, we’ve got no more to give.”  Another couple who are good friends closer to home had dinner with us recently, again long-term faithful Christians, and when I casually commented, “How is church?” they replied, “We don’t do church, it doesn’t do anything for us.” Again they are a couple worn and weary. We need a revival! I remember one well-known international prophet who a number of years ago prophesied a coming revival which, if my memory serves me right, would be about 2021 or 2022. Time will tell, but we need it.

Let’s make it personal: As a retired leader, I still have the heart to see life, growth, salvation, change, maturity and Spirit-life flowing in God’s people and out into the world, but so often as I watch Facebook pages, church comes over more as a social club, not God’s power-packed army of radical change. Church goes on, ‘same old, same old’! Change is resisted, life is absent. There are exceptions, in churches and individuals; there is a remnant of both that yearns for and wants to go in the Spirit and see Him being Lord. But when it is a case of ‘business as usual’ or world-weariness, what are we left with? We can either continue with the week by week ritual that lacks life, or we can drop out, or we can stand on the hillside like a prophet of old and declare the truth and trust for the Spirit to come and bring transforming life to the words we declare. Opt out, cop out or opt in? What will it be? As with Joshua I would like to say, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Josh 24:15)

Church Context: As an individual I am called to maturity, to grow up: using his word (Heb 5:14) and obeying his word (Mt 7:21, Mt 28:20), allowing his graces to develop in me (Jas 1:4), to be stable (Eph 4:14), learning to play my part in the ‘body’ (Eph 4:16), resisting the lure of distraction by riches & pleasures, and learning to deal with worries, all of which hinder growth, maturity and fruitfulness (Lk 8:14,15). But then in this context, the big issue is that I am also a member of the body of Christ, the Church (Rom 12:4,5, 1 Cor 12:12,27, Eph 1:23, 4:15,16,25, Col 1:18) designed to continue Christ’s expression and work of God on earth (Heb 10:5-7), a body to do the will of God on earth. Working all these things into reality in my life is what ongoing redemption is all about. So, if I am to opt-in, regardless of what anyone else might do, what is to be my role in this ‘body’ in these days, these days of uncertainty, of constant change, of world-weariness?

Holding the Truth: I believe we need to restate some of the most basic and obvious truths that can get submerged in this age that we’ve spoken about earlier in this series. For example: “What is a Christian? One who has become God conscious, one who has had a God-encounter, one who has surrendered to God, sought and received His forgiveness earned by His Son, Jesus Christ, one who has been made right with God by His Son, one empowered by His Spirit, one with an ongoing relationship with God that hopefully grows day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year, one who is being changed into the likeness of the Son, one who is open to Him, to be used by Him to bless others. A Christian is a divinely supernatural work of God.” We may become world-weary, but this is still a basic unchanging truth and if it is true – and I am certain it is – we need to be challenging ourselves and each other: God-conscious, surrendered, empowered, changed, used, divinely supernatural? Is that me? If not, then I am living as less than I am designed to be.

Let’s have another example: “What does it mean to be spiritual? To be spiritual means to be conscious and aware of another dimension, the dimension that complements the material world, the world of God, of the angels, of demons, of spirits, of powers and principalities. To be spiritual means to feed the spirit as well as the mind. To be spiritual means to flow in the spirit in harmony with the Holy Spirit. To be spiritual means to experience a living relationship with the unseen One, the Lord of all things, to refer to Him, talk with Him, question Him, ask of Him, worship Him and live with the awareness of Him.”  Is that me, is that us? Aware, feeding the spirit, flowing in the spirit, referring to, talking to, questioning, asking, worshiping Him? Is that how I live, is that how we, the church, live?

Let’s just have one more of these ‘basic-truth’ concepts: “Why do Christians think the ‘will of God’ is so important? The Bible teaches that God is all-knowing and all-wise and that He is perfect, loving and full of goodness. This means that everything that God thinks, says or does cannot be improved upon (i.e. is perfect), and is an expression of love and goodness. It follows, therefore, that everything God wants for us is the very best, cannot be improved upon, is loving and utterly good.  If this is true – and the Bible says it is – then we would be unwise to reject His plans for us (Eph 2:10) and should do all we can to find and follow His unique will for us.” Am I concerned with His will, do I trust that it is epitomized by love and goodness and His perfection, and that it is for my blessing?

Alone and together: Now these three things are, I suggest, just three of the many things that go to the heart of what it means to be part of the Church, the body of Christ. They are things I need to ponder on and apply as an individual, but they are also things that we need to ensure are at the heart of our church life. Without them, we are well off-beam. Now these are quite specific things, but the danger is that we expect the same of the way we each work them out. Now what I have noted over the years is that each Christian has different faith levels.  This may be in general terms, i.e. someone has a generally low level of faith, or the opposite, or it may be to do with a specific area. For example, one person may have a high level of faith for praying but perhaps little faith for giving, while another person may have great faith for giving but little when it comes to praying.

Thus we should never take each other for granted; we are all different and I need your differences, I need your grace and your gifting. This is where those who opt out are at a severe disadvantage, they do not have the resource that is you. Even more – and I have observed this a number of times – when we step right out of the ambit of the church (and our criticisms may be spot on) we actually make ourselves vulnerable to attack from the enemy. That I believe was what was behind Paul’s teaching to the Corinthian church when he spoke about putting a specific sinner ‘out’ of the church, so that he would be vulnerable to the work of the enemy and be thus chastised and brought back to repentance (see 1 Cor 5:5,13). Sadly we take for granted the protection we receive by being a part of this living body. Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 12 is twofold: first, I am unique, we are all different and, second, we need each other because of those differences.

Church being Redeemed?  The church in the West seems to be reducing in numbers in terms of percentage of the population, but at the same time, many parts of it are looking healthier and are exhibiting life. Although many are indifferent to change and to life, there is still that faithful remnant that hungers and thirsts to be the real body of Christ that exhibits his reality, exhibits his life, his love and his goodness, his revelation and his power. The challenge to me, and to each of us, is will I opt out when I am faced with this indifference or will I determine, with His grace, to remain one of the faithful ones who will continue to hold to the truth and live it out? Will I be working wherever and whenever I am given the opportunity to bless, encourage and build those either side of me in this body, communicating and imparting His love and goodness wherever I can? Can that be you as well? This is how we play our part as God works in this ongoing process of redeeming the Church.

15. A Reigning Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  15. A Reigning Body

Eph 2:6,7  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus

And so we come to the last of this particular series which leaves us realizing a crucial spiritual reality – and it is spiritual.  We have considered that we, the Church, are Christ’s body on earth today, and that he is still the head of the body, even though he is seated at his Father’s right hand, ruling in heaven over all things. So positionally Christ, the Son of God, is in heaven with his Father, but we have also observed that we are indwelt by his Holy Spirit who not only unites us with each other, but now also with him in heaven.

And so he now wants us to grasp this picture that Paul brings to the Ephesians, that because we are untied with him by his Holy Spirit, it means that we too, having been raised to new life after dying to the old, are in a sense, sharing with Christ in his role as the present king ruling over all things.

Now is this just an academic or theological nicety or does it have any practical outworking? Yes, it is far more than just a theory, it is an overall picture of how the body is supposed to work to bring about the will of God, the reign of God on the earth.

First of all this means a change of understanding. We are to see ourselves as sharing with Christ in his rule, so that, second, as we listen to him and sense and receive the revelation of His Holy Spirit, so we are led to do the things on his heart and those things will bring change on the earth.

Third, we will see these things as incomparable riches of grace, amazingly wonderful expressions of his love and mercy that come to us through his kindness, here within the body so that the body uses this grace to perform signs and wonders to bring changes on the earth. Every time you pray, every time you command in the name of Jesus, as he leads you, so his grace is released in the form of power so that things are changed on the earth, people released, people delivered, circumstances changed. Every time we bind something in his name (Mt 16:19 & 18:18) the power of the enemy will be annulled.

We have much to learn about being his servants, about wielding authority and bringing in the reign of the kingdom of God, as we experience what it means to be “seated with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”, i.e. as we experience what it means to be part of the active body led by the head from heaven. Hallelujah!

14. A Broken Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  14. A Broken Body

Luke 22:19  And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

There is something about this phrase from Jesus, “This is my body given for you.”  I always thought it was ‘this is my body, broken for you’ but it isn’t there in the text although the language of action conveys that, as Jesus then broke the loaf and gave it to his followers. The giving that Jesus refers to must surely mean his giving himself to the will of God to die on the Cross, particularly when he goes on to speak of the cup of wine, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk 22:20)

There are two thoughts about the body that flow from this. First it is all about self-sacrifice. Without doubt, not only was the Cross a sacrifice of the Lamb of God (see Jn 1:29,36) for the sins of the world, but the Cross was also a picture of supreme sacrifice as Jesus’ words of anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane show (Mt 26:36-44). As we have noted earlier in these studies, Jesus came to do his Father’s will, as painful and awful as it was about to be. A willingness to die for the world was at the heart of Jesus’ mission.

For many of us ‘church’ conveys peace, comfort, nice songs or chants, liturgy, and joyful Sunday mornings but actually the attitude of willing self-sacrifice for the needs of those around us should be a characteristic of this body. Sacrifice means time, energy, work and a willingness ‘to go’, to volunteer, to be available to the Lord for whatever He wants to use us for.

The second thought that flows out of these thoughts is related to the above one which would have preferred peace and comfort and, above all, lack of change. Many of us feel upset whenever change is mooted but this loaf was broken so that it could be shared around, and that spoke of change. We have already referred to the growth factor in these studies about the body of Christ, and growth means change. There is something very intimate when a small group comes together and church life is expressed, but if it is genuine ‘life’ then the group will grow and develop and change.

Whereas in a small group it is easy to minister to one another and have words of prophecy brought, say, when the numbers grow, that is difficult to administer (though not impossible). And then someone gets a vision for a church plant and volunteers are called for to start the new plant, and people leave to do it. Uncomfortable change. We miss people and miss their contributions, but these things are necessary if the church is truly to grow. Constant ‘breaking up’ is an essential for kingdom growth.

12. A Glorified Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  12. A Glorified Body

2 Thess 2:14   He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is an unusual concept and, I suspect, one that is foreign to many believers. Glory is a strange concept. We get it when, in the Old Testament, the glory of the Lord filled either the Tabernacle (Ex 40:34,25) or the Temple (2 Chron 5:14 & 7:1). It was an immense brightness revealing the presence of the Lord. Generally we might say it means divine splendor so in our verse above it might read, “that you might share in the divine splendor of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In his prayer before the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus used this word six times. Sometimes it was about himself: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:4,5) i.e. Father I have revealed your divine splendor by what I have been doing, but I realise that has been limited so let the same splendor that I have when I am in heaven be seen by the things that are about to happen (my death, resurrection and ascension).

Sometimes it was about us: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” (v.22) This must refer to the work of the Holy Spirit who unites us by bringing life to us all as He indwells us. In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit within us should be revealing to all onlookers the presence and divine splendor of God, by who we are and what we do. Who we are? Are people able to look at us and see something different about us, not an arrogance or self-centred piety but a humility that expresses love and goodness and is there to bring God’s love and goodness to whoever we find ourselves with, as much as they may be open to us.

What we do? We have just touched on that because it should flow out of who we are. Jesus touched on this when he taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) i.e. let God’s goodness and presence and divine splendor be seen through the good that the Holy Spirit inspires you to do. When we forgive, when we love, when we do good, when we bless, when we persevere, when we are patient, when we are kind, is it with such divine inspiration and empowering that people look on and wonder and say, “How can you be like that? I want what you have.” Who was the famous saint who said, “Evangelize by all means; use words if you have to.”? God’s glory is revealed more by deeds than by words (Acts 2:22 where words are not mentioned!).

11. A Body that fellowships

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ: 11. A Body that fellowships

1 John 1:7    if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.

There is something special that happens when Christians come together. It is a very different thing from what occurs when say a local club or organisation gathers. I never appreciated this so much as on one occasion when I went on a teaching trip to inner East Malaysia. The denomination we were serving made  up our itinerary and gave us plane tickets to get to various places. On one of the first legs of this journey, to cut a long story short, we ended up in a village in the interior but an interpreter had not arrived. Local church people had identified us as we got off the small plane and taken us to their village where for the first few hours all communication was by sign language.

As we sat cross legged either side of a mat covered with food, eating with these believers, I have never felt more frustrated being unable to communicate freely with these believers who I knew had years before experienced revival. Yet there was something that flowed between us, something that united us, something that was special, even though we could not speak the same language. That ‘something’ was what Christians refer to as ‘fellowship’.

Put as simply as possible “fellowship” is about sharing your life with another Christian, and it is more than merely speaking; fellowship occurs when the Holy Spirit within us communicates a special unity that we have. You can sit in the same room with another Christian, you can be at of a Bible Study or even Prayer Meeting and you can remain separate and distinct – or you can fellowship. Fellowship occurs when you open your hearts one to another and it requires openness and honesty. When there is an openness to one another, the Holy Spirit is able to bring this special sense of unity, of oneness and this is fellowship.

This is the potential of this ‘body’ that is knit together by loving relationships, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. His presence in us is a remarkable thing that so much of the time we take for granted. He brings the revelation of who we are – or who we are not. I have walked into the presence of ‘church people’ and known instantly that there was not a single Christian believer there. I remember another time, in my very earliest days after I had been born again, when I went searching for a local church and sat in the mid-week Bible study and realised that in a group of about twelve, only the minister and I were truly Christians! His presence in us can bond us or divide us. Be aware of the wonder as fellowship takes place.

9. Be who God has made you to be

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  9. Be who God has made you to be

Rom 12:6    We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

If churches have problems, one of them is that so often we try and cast everyone in the same mould. Now in one sense that is right for we are all being shaped into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18) and as far as morals or ethics are concerned, that should be true, but the greater reality – and you see this in all of Creation – is that God loves diversity.

The apostle Paul touched on this in his famous chapter on the different parts of the body – and we will consider that more fully in the next meditation – when he speaks of us as different parts of the body: The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” (1 Cor 12:12) and he goes on in his analogy to speak of the foot, the hand, the eye, the ear and he goes on, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (1 Cor 12:18,19)

Note, “God has arranged.” The Lord gifts us, He gives us different abilities according to His grace (His Holy Spirit’s enduing with power to act in specific ways). Regular readers will know one of my favourite verses in the New Testament is, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) We are what we are because God (through Jesus reigning at his Father’s right hand) through His Spirit, has brought us into being with different personalities, different gifts, abilities, desires etc.

Writer Gary Chapman in his “The Five Love Languages” suggests our different preferences for the way we show or receive love, or there is Patrick Morley’s, “The Six Worship Languages” that goes right back to Gordon MacDonald’s “Six leading Instincts of the Soul”, which is opened up even more by Gary Thomas’s “Sacred Pathways: Discover your Soul’s Path to God”. All of these writers grasp at the same thing – we are all different. (This has even been taken into ‘Learning Styles’ although this has been questioned by some).

Perhaps a personal application: the Bible thrills me, I come alive with it. Prophecy and preaching bless and thrill me. Worship, I long to go deeper with a greater reality. Prayer, I’m limited. Evangelism, I love sharing with those who want to know and although I have brought a number to the Lord, I grieve that it is so few and long to be gifted, but I am not. So how about you? What thrills you in the Christian life? Build on that. What gives you a buzz? Develop it.

6. A Self-Serving Body

Meditations on the Body of Christ:  6. A Self-Serving Body

1 Cor 14:12  So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

In the previous meditation we focused in the ‘serving function’ of the body of Christ, the Church, and particularly on the upward serving, the serving God, seeking to do His will. But there is what I also referred to as an ‘inward serving’, serving the body itself.

The apostle Paul wrote, describing the function of the ministry gifts, gifts of people to the Church, that their goal was 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 that is interesting because when we observe the outworking of those ministries, apostle, prophet etc. they so often involve, in our minds, developing the church  by adding to it and so the apostle Paul was not only an apostle, he was also a leading evangelist, but having done that all his efforts went into building up the church and establishing strong and vibrant local congregations.  We will go on to consider that outward serving which involves evangelism, which can take many forms, but having brought people to Christ, the role of those ministries is to build up the church to the church actually functions as it should becoming a more and more able vehicle for bringing the love of God to the world and seeing many more added (or at least that is how it is intended to be).

So how do you and I  go about building up this body, this local expression that we are part of. May I make some simple starting suggestions.  First of all, be with the church when it meets on Sundays, at it’s various other meetings when it is possible to bless one another and fellowship together. (We’ll talk about fellowship as a separate subject in a later study). Second, set your attitude to be one of loving acceptance of all the others in your local church (we’ll talk about practical love in another study). Let there be no divisions in your thinking between you and anyone else in your church. The person you find difficult, determine to make time to be with them, to get to know them better, have coffee with them, share with them, change. Third, encourage one another.  When others have led in some way, and you’ve been blessed, tell them so and thank them. Always look to say something positive about others. People ARE often what we declare them to be. If we speak badly of them, they will appear bad to us, when we speak well of them, we will observe a change in our thinking and in who they actually are. Bless them and be blessed.