Snapshots: Day 75

Snapshots: Day 75

The Snapshot: “These are the laws you are to set before them.” (Ex 21:1) Many people don’t like ‘laws’ but the Laws of Moses are a sign of God’s love. They were clues to how He had designed us to live, how a community can live at peace, how things can be put right when we mess up, how to live differently and distinctly from the pagan nations surrounding them, how to live healthily dealing with various health problems that crop up in this fallen world  and, of course, how to relate to Him. They were specifically for Israel (and not us – many people don’t realize this), an agrarian society that was uniquely called to be God’s people. As Christians we have different ‘laws’ in the New Testament, all enhancing the wonder of our relationship with God through Jesus.

Further Consideration: We have been considering the ‘rules’ we find in the New Testament that guide us in our walk with Christ, rules which, I would suggest, reflect the laws of Moses in their purposes. They tell us how He has designed us to live in Christ, (e.g. Eph 2:1-10) forgiven and cleansed by his work on the Cross, now empowered by His Spirit. They show us how to be put right with God when we mess up (1 Jn 1:9, 2:1,2), how we can live differently from our neighbors (Rom 12:2), how to deal with health issues (Jas 5:14-16) and how to relate to Him (e.g. Phil 4:6,7). As you read through your New Testament watch out for these things and you will see many more instances of each of them. But there are two important things to be said.

First, keeping these laws or rules are not what enables us to be a Christian. We do not earn our salvation by rule-keeping; we receive it by believing in Jesus, that he is the Son of God who has died and risen again and is seated at the Father’s right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies. The ‘rules’ are just ways we live out this new relationship with God that Jesus Has earned for us.

Second, these ‘rules’ distinguish us from our non-Christian neighbour and our call to him or her is not to follow the rules but to believe in Jesus. Our ‘rule-keeping’ is to demonstrate the wisdom and way of God that has been opened up to us through Christ. Don’t expect your unbelieving neighbour to follow and understand these same rules, because they cannot do that except as an outworking of the faith they have come to accept (hopefully) in Christ. The Laws of Moses and the rules of the New Testament reveal the love, goodness and wisdom of God. Some of those laws are strange to us because they reflected the pagan lives and practices around them to be avoided. Another reason why they are not for us. We have our own in Christ.

Advertisements

4. Fear Not

Studies in Isaiah 54: 4. Fear Not!

Isa 54:4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”

It’s about Redemption:  History can be a curse. Guilt so often hangs over us. Shame follows us. We wonder if the past will mar the present and blight the future. In the following verse there is an amazing statement: “the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer.”  A year ago I found myself writing a series on ‘redemption’. Mostly we think of redemption as something the Lord does just when we come to Him but the truth is that every day of our lives, He is redeeming us. There are three things about redemption we should note.

1. An Ongoing Process: Very well, the first is that it is a process, an ongoing process. It started when we first turn to Christ and it will only be completed when we stand before him in heaven. It involved us being forgiven, our guilt being removed (i.e. us being justified), us being adopted into God’s family, and being empowered by His Holy Spirit to live new lives.

2. Change: But then next, second, it is a process whereby Christ is working to change us; it is a process with a purpose. This process seeks to deal with our past in such a way that as much as possible the past will not inhibit who Christ is seeking to make us become today. Yes, often the memory of past failure remains but Christ uses it in the transforming process as both a reminder of what not to do again, and as a deterrent to keep from that particular failure. However, once we see the whole picture that we are laying out here, although it should humble us, that failure will no longer act as a weight that limits us today.

The Goal of Perfection: Very often we see this process of change as about moral or ethical behaviour but it is very much greater than that. Jesus once declared, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) When something is perfect is cannot be improved upon, it lacks nothing. That is God and that is what He wants to work into our lives. There is nothing He thinks, says or does that can be improved upon. Is that true of you and me? Right!  That is why we need Him to work this process out in us.

My Lacks: Let’s consider how we fall short of perfection and so need to make it a goal to which we let Him draw us.  First, my lack of knowledge; there is so much I don’t know (about you, for example, and if I did know more it would mean I would have a better attitude towards you!) I need Him to teach me, inform me, bring me knowledge and understanding. Second, there is strength, mental, physical and spiritual.  I need constant replenishing and refreshing and rest.  Even when I am fully charged and refreshed, third, I need more grace, more wisdom, more insight, more everything else to cope with you, others, circumstances, difficulties, etc. etc. than I have got.

Therefore there are times, when running on my own resources, which may be good at times, that I still get it wrong and may react defensively, or with hostility. I may be unsure of myself and may therefore feel bad (guilty) about how I handle life, or maybe I allow myself to be hurt by your dealings with me. I need constant help to remind me of the truths of God’s love and provision. We could expand these things considerably but they provide some starting thoughts for the idea of our lives being a process of change.

3. The Cross: Now we are considering three things, we said, about redemption and the third thing is that redemption is all about the Cross. Through his work on the Cross, Christ paid the price for our sin. His death, for all the wrongdoings of my entire life, satisfies justice and so I am freed from the Judge’s sentence of death that such a life of sin deserves. He has bought my freedom by taking my punishment; the guilt has been dealt with. That is what redemption means – buying us back from the guilt and the sentence of death.

Now that act of redemption is applied to my life the moment I turn to Christ in surrender and repentance. From that second on, I am freed and as far as God is concerned from that second on I am His justified son. But the reality is that I still have free will – He never takes that from us – and so as I work my way through life, I make decisions and, even as we noted above, sometimes, because I am not yet perfect and am inadequate for the task of living blameless in this fallen world, I get it wrong.

The apostle John understood this: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) The goal is that I don’t sin, but if there are occasions when I trip over my feet and blow it, the moment I acknowledge my failure and confess it, seeking His forgiveness, it is there for me – because of what Christ has done on the Cross.

Back to the start: Very well, let’s apply all this to our starting verse: “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”  We said that the past can be a curse if we let it, and so for Israel, just as with us, there is the memory of the past lurking there, of their failures and standing before them, so to speak, is Almighty Holy God. They need serious reassurance.

Reassurance: Is God going to smack us for our past? No! Is He going to hold up our failure for display to the whole world? No!  Is He going to humiliate them for their failures? No! Instead He is going to so move that the blessing they will experience will completely over-shadow and obliterate all the past. That is what is so incredible about redemption: God never changes in His determination to do whatever needs to be done to draw us back onto the right course, to draw us back to Him, to heal up the past, bless us in the present, and present hope for the future.

That is as much true for us today as it was for them then. We could add various caveats about the time He sometimes takes to work these things through, but let’s just stick for the moment with the basics: God IS in the process of redeeming you and me and so we don’t need to worry about all the negative aspects of this verse – no fear, no shame, no disgrace, no humiliation – all we need do is rejoice in the wonder of what He is doing in us – working us towards the perfection that will be ours in heaven, a life of ongoing change that is getting better all the time. Yes? May it be so! Hallelujah!

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.

48. Power – for living

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

48. Power – for living

1 Cor 4:20  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

Rom 15:13   May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Power behind all else: There it is in the verse above, joy and peace come out of hope and that hope is fuelled by the power of the Holy Spirit who now indwells our lives as Christians. It would be wrong to say that it is only the power of the Holy Spirit that our lives are based upon, for it is also the finished work of Christ on the Cross, but as he has opened the door to heaven for us by his work on the Cross, so the Spirit now comes down from heaven and enables us to live out the life that God has on His heart for us. So far we have considered the subject of power in a more general way, but then how that power that was manifest through Jesus’ ministry is also available for us to walk the same path. But in doing that it is easy to miss the point that this power is the foundation (together with the Cross) of our everyday lives, as well as our service, and it is to that that I now want to turn.

Diametrically Opposite: The apostle Paul wrote, For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor 1:18) and there he brought together the work of the Cross and the effect that it has on us. Yet this is something that is diametrically opposite to what the rest of the word thinks. A few verses on Paul expanded on that: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:22-24) Jews & Greeks (or Gentiles) the two summary symbols of mankind. The Jews had the Law and their prophecies and wanted to see signs to confirm those prophecies,  i.e. prove to us you are from God. Meanwhile the Gentiles want a nice neatly packaged form of logical and systematic self-help salvation that you so often see on the shelves of bookshops (do you remember bookshops????) But instead we have the Cross. God’s means of salvation is a man dying on a Cross! That is so not human thinking! And so when we come to living out our daily lives we are surprised (and sometimes uncomfortable) to find that we are not told to follow a set of rules, not to follow a carefully laid out programme (although so many church do love that), but instead to follow the daily prompting and inspiration and guidance of the powerful indwelling Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God. This is another totally different ballgame.

Unseen but seen?  Let’s pick up some more of the teaching we find in the New Testament letters. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” (1 Cor 6:14) The problem is – if it is a problem to you – that you cannot see this power, only the end result of it. If you had been there in that tomb when Jesus was brought back to this life, all you would have seen was the body start to move and start to unwrap the grave clothes off the body. There was power at work but you only see the end product. Consider this: “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7) Let’s expands that with the Message version: “It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.  If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.”  i.e. the wonder of the presence of Christ, the glory of God, is now in us but all people see is ordinary clay pots, like the sort I grow plants in, in my greenhouse. They are rough-finished not the beautiful ceramic-finish pots. So the unseeing see rough pots, the seeing see the glory of Christ in us, his power present within us. Amazing. Now why  am I saying this? Because many of us just look on the outside forgetting that God told Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

The Reality of Power: This same thing comes out in many ways. Consider Paul’s testimony at one point: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12:9) This was Paul who suffered a ‘thorn in the flesh’, something that made him feel weak, but the Lord told him not to worry about that because His power is best shown through our weakness.  This power is not the sort you find in Superman, or Mr. Universe, or even some local wrestler, who all have muscles that make the rest of us feel ten-stone weaklings by comparison.

No, this power is an energy source that flows in and through us, so when you feel like giving up, you don’t. It shows itself when you are challenged over your faith and you suddenly find yourself speaking words of grace and truth that confound your attackers. It is expressed when someone slaps you round the face and you simply turn the other cheek. It is shown when someone begs a shirt from you and you give them three. It is shown when the waitress has been having a bad day and the service has not been brilliant but you double her tip anyway. It is shown when someone turns up and says, “I need someone to talk to,” but you have sixteen things more you still have to do in the day, and yet you smile and welcome them in, give them coffee and listen for two hours. This is power. Note the difference from ‘self-control’ (Gal 5:23) because self-control is simply about restraint but power talks about going forward to, for example, loving enemies by action, and praying for those who oppose you (Mt 5:44) and the various other things we suggested above.  Power in these instances are expressions of grace.

More and More: Paul repeats these sorts of things again and again so, for instance somewhat similar to our opening verse Rom 15:13, he also said to the Ephesians, “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. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,” (Eph 1:18-20) See the order: he prays for revelation for us, which is the realization of the hope – “what it is he is calling you to do” (Msg) – and within that we realize the wonder of our future empowered God’s Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. This moves this power from simply something internal that we considered in the previous paragraph, now to an externally observable strength.

He reiterates this later in the same letter: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:16-19) Note again the order: first that we will be empowered internally in our knowledge of Christ, second as we experience his love we will have power that brings revelation so that we may ‘grasp’ – actively take hold of – the wonder of his love, and to know it – in practical practice not mere head knowledge – to receive more and more of the expression of Christ through his Spirit. This comes out in his teaching again and again to bring forth, for example, power to endure and be patient (Col 1:9-11), fruitfulness (2 Thess 1:11), boldness (2 Tim 1:7), and the ability to cope with suffering (2 Tim 1:8).  It is also seen in the writings of other apostles, for example, power to pray with effect (Jas 5:16), to shield or protect us (1 Pet 1:4,5) and to enable us to live godly lives. (2 Pet 1:3)

And So?  The message comes over loud and clear: the life we live as a Christian IS empowered by the Holy Spirit, it IS a life of power. That may be seen when we are feeling very weak but it does not depend on our feelings; it is internal, it is there! It is available for us to draw on.  It is the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and it does equip us to persevere under trials, be a blessing to others around us, and bring glory to God. That is the wonder of all that we have been considering in these last three studies; this is one of the unique ingredients in the life of the Christian. This IS the truth; let’s believe it and live it.

46. Power – for life transformation

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

46. Power – for life transformation

1 Cor 4:20  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

Rom 8:9-11   You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Taken for Granted: I have a feeling that we take the word ‘power’ for granted in some parts of the church. As you may have gathered if you look back over the full sweep of this series, my mind ebbs and flows rather like the waves on the seashore and so there is a sense that some of the things that I suspect may emerge here, have already been touched upon when we talked about ‘life’ in an earlier study, but I feel that this subject is of vital importance in that it distinguishes Christian thought and experience from non-Christian, and nominal believer from real believer.  Rather that lay out a systematic, possibly soulless outline on the theme of ‘power’, I think we may be fed more from Scripture if we meander our way through verses in a more organic way, seeing where the thoughts lead us.

What is Power? I wonder what John the Baptist’s followers thought when they heard him telling the crowd, “after me comes one who is more powerful than I.” (Mt 3:11) Now John was a pretty powerful speaker. Having heard Billy Graham in the past, I would have said he also was a pretty powerful speaker. In fact the modern church has many ‘powerful speakers’, but was that what was meant about Jesus? I don’t think so. Why? Well, later on in his ministry we find people asking about Jesus, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” (Mt 13:54) which must refer back to, “Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.” (Mt 12:22) Prior to that Jesus told John’s disciples to tell him what they had seen: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised.” (Mt 11:5) Later the apostle Peter was to sum up all this as: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22) Power, seen through Jesus’ ministry was God’s life force exercising authority to bring physical and spiritual changes to people.

More than Words: We have already pondered on the use of power in respect of preaching but there is a danger here that we can short-change the kingdom of God. Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20) When Herod heard about Jesus, having known about John the Baptist – and having had him beheaded! – he knew that John was a powerful preacher, but he recognised that something was going on with Jesus that was more than what happened through John, hence he speculated, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Mt 14:2) This is the primary thing that distinguished Jesus from John, the power of God. During his teaching, Jesus chided the Sadducees, “you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Mt 22:29) I simply make that point because there he noted two distinct things: knowing the Scriptures and knowing the power of God. We (leaders) often pride ourselves on our knowledge of the Scriptures, but I wonder about the power of God?

Power of the Word for Salvation: Now I think ‘power’ is used in two ways in respect of how we come to Christ, how we are born again. First, there is a more general sense. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Rom 1:16) There is a process that is followed for elsewhere he wrote, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Rom 10:17) having earlier written, “a person is justified by faith,” (Rom 3:28) and went on to say, it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Rom 10:10)

So the process, which we have considered earlier in this series, is the word is preached to us, the Holy Spirit applies it to us and we are convicted by it in such a way that the power of unbelief in us is broken, and so we confess our sins and repent of them and receive the salvation that God offers us through Jesus’ finished work on the Cross. It is a combined work of applied Word AND Spirit, creating the power to release us to repent. (At one point Paul taught Timothy about, “the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Tim 2:25 suggesting the work and gift of God, the help of the Spirit, to bring about repentance.)

Power of the Spirit for Salvation: The second way ‘power’ is used in respect of our salvation is through the specific indwelling of the Holy Spirit that comes about  at conversion. Jesus referred to this power when speaking to Nicodemus when he likened the coming of the Holy Spirit to wind – power.  To his disciples he said of the Spirit, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17) The apostle Paul was to refer again and again to the Spirit in our lives, for example, Do you not know that you[c] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” (1 Cor 6:19) It is foundational teaching through the New Testament, as we have seen in earlier studies, that we are ‘new creations’ (2 Cor 5:17) brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit who comes and indwells us.

Powerless?  What about us today? Paul warned Timothy about the ‘last days’, of people who would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:4,5) Do we have a form of Christianity, a form of church, that is embarrassed by such Biblical talk and simply reduces Christianity to ‘being nice’ or ‘being religious’? How many churches are there that deny the power of God that transforms lives when they surrender to Christ, not merely transforming them by giving them a new set of rules to live by, but by indwelling them with His Holy Spirit and bringing that transformation from inside-out?

Bible or…..? One of the battles that is being fought over the Church today is the veracity of the Bible. It always has been a battle and always will be, but when it comes to power in the Church, observe the churches that believe the Bible and make it the basis of their beliefs, and there you will see the power of transformed lives. See churches where it is just a background feature to faith, probably where tradition is more important, and you see lack of power. This matter of ‘power for transformation’ is the second of the four motivating forces that can set the church on fire in God’s hands so that it becomes that God-glorifying, life-transforming and community-impacting body I have referred to earlier.

Believers being transformed is the first step in the power equation; power for service is the second step and that we will go on to consider in the next study. But may I conclude this one with one more comment: I have observed in some places in recent years, a tendency in the church to downplay this power transformation that takes place when a person is ‘born again’, and I believe we need to restate it loud and clear and expect to see it when there is a profession of faith being made. I leave it to the Living Bible to have the last say here: we Christians …. (are like) mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him.” (2 Cor 3:18) May it be so!

Snapshots: Day 14

Snapshots: Day 14

The Snapshot: “The woman you put here with me gave me the fruit.” Don’t blame God. It’s the natural thing to do but the wrong thing. When God gave us each other, it was to bless us with yet another expression of His love. But how easy it is to make another person my scapegoat instead of facing my own shortcoming, and in so doing we trample love underfoot. Don’t blame God for bad situations that we bring about by our own folly, and which continue and multiply because we fail to be honest, confess, seek forgiveness, restoration and healing to resolve the past. Judgment falls on dishonesty and loss of integrity, but security opens the way for honesty and integrity to be restored. Lord, help us create a secure community that can become an honest restorative community.

Further Consideration: Over the last two days we have considered the outworkings of the Fall – a sense of guilt with a desire to hide from God because of fear of what might follow. But now they are called out into the open. I have this feeling that when we each one stand before God at the place of Judgment at the end (which may simply be the end of our time on this earth, the end of our life here) we may be brought ‘out into the open’ where God shows us with His perfect vision, two things. (this may be a split second or longer; this is just a reasonable speculation).

The first is that He will show us ALL the wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong deeds throughout our entire lives – so that we may see our need of the Cross.  The second is that He will show us all the good achieved through our lives by the working of His grace and His Spirit, the outworking of the Cross in our lives. I suspect both will be considerably greater than what we usually perceive. But this will be God calling us out ‘into the open’, to stop hiding from the truth, to face the awfulness of the failure of Sin, and the wonder of the working of God in and through us. THAT is a balanced picture.

But the Lord doesn’t want to wait until Judgment Day for grace and truth to saturate and permeate our lives. Growing to maturity means we learn to come out into the open and face the reality of our lives, in the presence of the light of His love. Of myself, I am a total failure – yes ‘total’ is true. But I am no longer by ‘myself’, I am in Christ and in Christ, I am something else! “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:13) and that includes all the good things He has planned for me (Eph 2:10). Facing the two sides of this coin is what maturity is all about. I am not to wallow in my failures but let them keep me humble. I am not to be overly triumphant but soberly with rejoicing know my place – ‘in Him’. Hallelujah!