45. Recap 3B

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 45. Recap 3B

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.

Jesus transforms life: As we moved into the final Part, looking to apply practically the theory of the previous Part, we observed the barrenness of religious life in Israel until Jesus came bringing life transformation through the power of God. That was a challenge for us today, to become a people who don’t simply act as spiritual sponges absorbing the word through sermons Sunday by Sunday, but who are to genuinely become the ‘body of Christ’, learning to minister one to another and then to the world outside.

God & People of Communication: We moved on into thinking about us being a people of revelation, expressing Jesus to the people around us as we learn to listen to him and then convey what we hear to one another, to strengthen, encourage and comfort one another.  I gave illustrations of listening to God. We pursued this whole subject of learning to listen to God and gave a further variety of illustrations. We confronted the fact that the word, ‘said’ comes up again and again in respect of God in Scripture and considered the God who communicates and still wants to speak to His gathered people.

Guidelines for Personal Prophecy: We laid out ground rules that personal prophecy today is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort, and we are to keep it simple and express love in accordance with God’s written word. Our words should come with humility and deference and without dogmatism, in everyday English, without dressing it up, and being open enough to check how our recipients are receiving it and leaving the outcome in the Lord’s hands.   In such ways we can be available to the Lord to bless others.

An Imaginary Example: In the following four ‘studies’ I gave an imaginary example of a prayer meeting and what came out of it so that we might see the fruit of listening to God and then following up with raised faith levels to see how He wants to work out the answers to that praying.

Living in the Fallen World: To bring a balance to what could potentially become triumphalist teaching, we considered the reality of living in this fallen world where things go wrong, which can often bring confusion, pain and questions. We considered the matter of discipline which can be painful but is always for our good in the long-term.

Exercising Authority: Back on the main track we considered how, being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, as he rules at his Father’s right hand, bringing in the kingdom of God on the earth, we may be led by him to exercise authority as through prayer we may proclaim, testify, command, bind or loose and pronounce the will of God. To catch the bigger picture, we reminded ourselves of the ‘creation mandate’ where we have been called not only to fill the earth but to reign over it and subdue it, and we saw that this includes the vast majority of activities that we call ‘work’.  This not only means that we seek to do well in our work, but we look for ways that the Lord might want to work in it sand through it.

How Jesus ruled: Considering the subject of authority, we considered various ways that Jesus ‘ruled’ while he was on earth – having control over the physical world, which included bringing healing etc. – but also in the way he controlled himself and his tongue and his emotions. When we apply them to ourselves we see areas of life for us to work into as he leads us.

Being a Relevant People: We expanded and clarified our thinking about being a relevant people in the midst of today’s world, as we reminded ourselves of the outworkings of that imaginary prayer meeting and all that followed. The outworking of all this, as we are led by Jesus, means lives are touched and changed and circumstances can be transformed, and God is glorified as the kingdom is expressed.  We noted that it isn’t just supernatural gifting but also expresses the nature and character of Jesus to bless the world around us through our ‘good works’.

Being a Distinctive People: Finally, we considered our distinctiveness that is holiness, being utterly different in the mold of the Lord, specifically as we express love, unity, truth, and goodness or, more generally, the ‘fruit of the Spirit’.   In these ways we are to grow as a body that is led by the head, Jesus, who is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.

And So? How can we sum all this up?  This third phase, if we may call it that, of Jesus being glorified when he is lifted up, of him ruling at his Father’s right hand in heaven, is all about how, when we allow ourselves to be led by his Spirit we will become a people who don’t only express the character of Jesus but also the works of Jesus. It will be not only by what we have historically called ‘sharing the gospel’ (presenting the truths of the New Testament about who Jesus is and how he has come to bring us salvation) but also by being his ‘body’ today, being led by his Spirit as he rules in this world in the midst of his enemies, to express God’s kingdom in the midst of the effects of the fallen world around us.   As we do this, lives and circumstances will change. The only question is, will we rise to be this people the scriptures describe?

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44. Distinctive

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 44. Distinctive

Heb 12:14   Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

The Relevant Church: We must be drawing near the end and as we do we need to sharpen some of the things we have said along the way. We have countered the potential accusation that the church is irrelevant in today’s scientific age, with talk of the unchanging truths about God and mankind, while at the same time pointing out that the church which is genuinely acting as the ‘body of Christ’ will be demonstrating the power and revelation of Christ in such ways that lives and circumstances will be changed.

The Distinctive Church: This, you might think, is enough to suggest that the church, seen like this, will be distinctive and will stand out in society as both a lighthouse that sheds light and shows the way, and a rescue and recovery centre for lost and damaged mankind. Yet I must suggest that its distinctiveness must be seen in its very nature or its character as suggested by our verse above – its holiness.

Holiness in God: So what is holiness? It is the very foundational character of God which, put in its most simple of terms, refers to His utter ‘differentness’. God is different in many ways: in His nature, size and scope – He is Spirit, ever present, everywhere present, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise. But then there is the ethical or moral element – He is utterly good, totally perfect (cannot be improved upon), beyond criticism.

Holiness in Us – Generally: Now when this is seen in human beings, and it should be seen in some measure in every Christian, this sense of being utterly different should include

  • our godliness (the presence of God with us and being the focus of all we do), and
  • our piety (the way we express our devotion to God), and
  • our spirituality (fully embracing this material world but also clearly operating in the world of the Spirit)

Holiness in Us – Specifics: But these distinctives, these things that make us stand out in the crowd in a good way, should be able to be seen in specific characteristics that the New Testament speaks about. Here are some of the key ones:

Love: Love is a foundational command (see Jn 13:34) still seen in later centuries: “See, they say, how they love one another” (Tertullian’s Apology, Chapter XXXIX). Love is seen in compassion, care, acceptance, all very ‘tangible’ visible things. It is love (total commitment come what may) that was seen in Jesus and is what binds relationships together today. The love that holds us is often expressed as ‘grace’.

Unity: “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:23) The presence of God in us – revealed in the ways we have been considering in so many of these studies – working to make the unity that IS, visible. 

Truth: The word comes up about 35 times in the Old Testament but about 102 times in the New Testament. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) Jesus was truly God and truly man, and in both there was nothing that was unreal, nothing false, nothing of pretense, just absolutely genuine. Can that be us, with no pretense, utterly real? Can it be seen in the ways we live and deal with others, seen in honesty and integrity? Can it be seen in purity, having nothing to do with the distortions and perversions of the life of sinful mankind, so clearly and visibly demonstrated in life in the West today?

Goodness: Goodness is difficult to define but obvious when you see it. Something that is good is something that is right, appropriate, pleasant, apt, enjoyable. Goodness is the expression of that and, yes, it does have a moral dimension but goes further that just ‘doing right’, it goes beyond that with such things as mercy and grace that may be seen in generosity or hospitality.

And So? So, yes, we are to be distinctive by the spiritual power and revelation seen through our lives as we allow Jesus to work through us bringing in his kingdom rule, but it is also to be seen in the nature or character of who we are, his children and his disciples, displaying his nature: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) Not work or character, but both: working with his character, both revealing him, both glorifying the Father. This is what the kingdom is all about, this is what the body of Christ is all about. Can we grow in this, for this is what growth is all about?

40. Misc. (1)

Meditations in the Law : No.40 : Miscellaneous Laws (1)

Lev 19:1,2 The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: `Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.

Chapter 19 takes us into a batch of miscellaneous laws, a number of which pick up on those found either in the Ten Commandments or in the covenant laws of Exodus 21 to 23.  The point that is made from the outset is that these are laws given by God to make Israel distinctive (holy) like He is distinctive. This distinctiveness is because God is pure and perfect and this people is thus to be the same. These laws will make Israel stand out in the world, as a people who live according to God’s design for humanity, and as such they are to be a light to the rest of the world.

Immediately after this introduction we have a double relationship reminder: Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God,” (v.3) echoes of the fifth and fourth commandments (Ex 20:8-12) Relationship is at the heart of community – of life with others. The family is the basic building block of society and a respect for God built into community life is the umbrella over it all. This is followed by a warning against idol worship: “Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.” (v.4)  which echoes the second commandment (Ex 20:4,5). Hold fast to the One True God!

Verses 5 to 8 basically say, if you want fellowship with the Lord then make sure that when you bring your fellowship offerings you do it in the prescribed way. Fellowship with God is not to be equated with casualness: “When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the LORD, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. Whoever eats it will be held responsible because he has desecrated what is holy to the LORD; that person must be cut off from his people.” (v.5-8). Thus, as with the Ten Commandments, the initial commands are about relationship with the Lord. If we get that right, then there is hope for everything else to follow and fall into place.

This is then followed by instructions that were meant to bless the poor: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (v.9,10) Thus the ‘leftovers’ of harvest are to be accessible and available to the poor, as an additional form of God’s provision for them. God’s concern for the poor and needy also comes a few verses later: “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD,” (v.14) as an obvious protection for the disabled.

The verses that follow are a mixture of laws about property and ownership, and truthfulness in life. First the property and ownership laws: “Do not steal” (v.11a) is a repeat of the eighth commandment (Ex 20:15), “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him,” (v.13a) is a general instruction to let there be right dealings in society, and “Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight,” (v.13b) takes the right dealing into the work place so that employers do not hold back what they owe employees.

The laws of truthfulness are, “Do not lie,” (v.11b) which is a simple and straight forward call for truthfulness to always be yours, followed by, “Do not deceive one another,” (v.11c) which takes truthfulness into behaviour as well as speech. Indeed part of that deception may include making false oaths, and so they are forbidden: “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” (v.12) i.e. don’t try to use God’s name to bolster up your wrong doings. He is holy and so if you invoke His name in such dealings you will be in serious trouble!  This takes us into the area of justice: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (v.15) Again, let honesty prevail in society. Again, more on truthfulness: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.” (v.16)

From there the Law becomes more general in concern for well-being in society: “Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD,” (v.16) but it is not only actions but attitudes: “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” (v.17a). It is not only negative or passive, it is also positive and active: “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” (v.17b) i.e. if you see your neighbour moving into wrong, do something about it, go to him and talk to him. Wow, that is community care!

Positive heart attitudes will have strong effects in society: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” (v.18). Again and again where we have that final reminder, “I am the Lord” we are being reminded that this is to be a holy people, a people who are distinguished from the self-centred, ungodly, sinful nations of the world – or at least, that is how it was supposed to be if Israel had heeded these laws. What a wonderful society it could have been but, tragically, so often it wasn’t as they ignored or forgot about these guidelines from the Designer on how to create a good, secure and caring society. The blueprints were there, but they just didn’t follow them – just like we don’t in modern Western societies today!