16. Mystery

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 16. Mystery

Rom 15:25 “the revelation of the MYSTERY hidden …. but now revealed and made known.” 

We spoke yesterday about wisdom and revelation imparted by the Holy Spirit, and it’s especially the word ‘revelation’ that seems to call so strongly now. Revelation as we said before is disclosed knowledge, knowledge that was previously hidden. The Revelation of John, for example, the last book in the Bible, is prophetic insight shared by Jesus to John (Rev 1:1) about how things will be in the last days. In 2 Sam 7 Nathan the prophet comes and gives David the big picture of the future of both the present and the future (v.4-16) and so we read, Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.” (v.17) In one sense the who Bible is God’s revelation to us.

Hindsight is both a blessing and a bane. Having the completed Bible as we do means we have the whole picture in our hands and that is a blessing, but that means we often miss the struggles that people in the Bible had. Paul spoke of the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4, Col 4:3) or the mystery of the Gospel (Eph 6:19) or this mystery more generally, (e.g. Rom 16:25, Eph 1:9, 3:3,6,9, Col 1:26,27). Before Christ came there was this prophetic sense of a ‘coming one’, a messiah, but that was all it was, a shadow in history. The prophets longed to understand what they were sensing (1 Pet 1:10). We now know what it was. Let’s not miss out on the privilege we have of living in this time with this knowledge.

I wonder if that is how we see it – a privilege that we have of living in this present time with the complete Bible in our hands or on our bookshelves? But there we have it for so many, Bibles on bookshelves. They need to be in our hands for Paul wrote, that we are saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thes 2:13b) i.e. we experience God’s salvation as the Spirit works in us and our faith builds up daily our ‘belief in the truth’.   When Paul spoke of a ‘mystery’ he was referring to the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament that hinted at a coming one and yet it had come with different hues – he might be an abused servant, he might a mighty king (and of course he turned out to be both) that it was confusing for scholars. It needed the events to be rolled out in history and then spoken into the spirit of this out-of-time apostle before what had been a mystery became clear. The truth is that the word of God is a mystery to many, very simply because they don’t approach it in prayer and with a submissive heart, and so because it does seem a mystery, people fail to read it daily, fail to be fed by it daily, fail to be built up daily by it, fail to be transformed by it as the Spirit applies it. And so the enemy whispers, “It’s hard, you don’t need it, you can get by without it.” A lie, in fact three lies! It is the foundation of our faith and it is food for our faith and so without it we feel unstable and worry, we feel ‘thin’ and weak. I recently ran across a simple quote by a well-known Christian leader: “Anxiety comes from unbelief,” and I believe he is right and is why so many people are living in anxiety. They have not let God impart faith, confidence, and assurance through His word because they have kept the mystery book closed. Away with these lies, away with this folly. At times in history we have been known as ‘the people of the book’. May that be true again today as we cast off the negatives spoken in the world about it, and let God come again in both His Spirit and His Word and unshackle the Church.

14. Faith & Love

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 14. Faith & Love

Gal 5:6  “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

As we started this series we declared our intent was to seek to view afresh this Christian life we are called to live and they have turned out to be things that are quite contrary to the ways that the world thinks. Just recently we have been thinking how God’s provision for us is not limited by material limitations but now we go backwards, so to speak, by observing the most basic and most fundamental elements of the Christian faith.

One paraphrase version speaks of faith expressed in love” while another puts it, “faith which expresses itself in love,” but it seems to me that the emphasis they bring is on OUR action, our response, in our love for God we express faith, and I am sure that is partly right, but there is another deeper way, I believe of viewing this. The apostle John wrote, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19) Put it another way, we have love because we are loved, because we are the recipients of love. God made us to be people capable of giving and receiving love, knowing something of what love means and we are what we are today because we have been loved and we look into a future in which we anticipate more of this love. We live, with Him, in an environment of love; it is like the air we breathe, it’s all around us.

Much of the time Christians focus their thinking and their ‘spiritual actions’ on reaching out to God, of performing ‘worship’ or ‘prayer’ as vehicles not only expressing our love but as means of reaching Him. We ‘do’ to get near Him, we ‘do’ to achieve things and yet our verse above suggests a possibility of something else, of faith being an expression of living in this fish tank of love, of us swimming in it.

In context Paul was saying, put aside all your religiosity, your religious thinking, the only thing that matters is the way faith oozes out of your live saturated by God’s love. We don’t HAVE to have faith, because when we realize we are in this environment of love, faith will naturally flow through us, as we hear the whispers of God and respond the His advances of love, advances that were seen in the Cross, received as the Spirit was imparted and which will continue for ever: today, tomorrow and into eternity, His love. So yes, like the air we breathe, His love surrounds us and like the air around us we can take it for granted, but faith appreciates it and soars in it. Can you see this?  The possible life for this year, seen not as a series of actions, or of church performances, but as life in an existence that IS love because we are ‘in Him’  and He IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16). When we become aware of this, all we think, say and do is an expression of faith that naturally flows out of being loved, of being aware of this entire environment of love in which we now exist. Maybe we hadn’t been aware if it before, but now we bathe in it, swim in it, rejoice in it, grow in it, worship in it, speak naturally to God in it, read His word with fresh eyes in it, love others in it. Do it, enjoy it, wonder in it.  

9. Faith Expectations

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 9. Faith Expectations

Acts 12:5 Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”

Recap: We have been considering how we view impressive buildings or impressive people, and then how we view ourselves. We have rejected doing good or performing spiritual acts as ways of gaining self-esteem or building our self-image. In the previous study that took us on to considering how we pray, but now we want to consider another aspect of the way we view prayer. Yesterday it was seeing it as a spiritual activity to be done as part of our relationship with God, but now I want us to face the uncomfortable question of how we see what we speak. Do we just utter words or are we declaring words that will change the world, change the circumstances?

Jesus’ Example: I first observed the significance of how we pray when I noted something in John’s Gospel. At the feeding of the five thousand, John records, Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated.” (Jn 6:11) Later, after Jesus and his disciples had gone back across the lake, John records, Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” (v.23) He doesn’t say, “the place where Jesus had performed the miracle,” for it seems he has something else in mind. He doesn’t even say “where Jesus had broken the bread and fed the crowd.”

The strange words that almost seem out of place are “after the Lord had given thanks.” Before a meal the head of the family would have given thanks for the food. John doesn’t record the Last Supper words about bread and wine (the other three Gospels have covered it adequately). Luke includes that (Lk 22:17,19) but also the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and it was only when Jesus gave thanks and broke bread that they realised who he was. It almost seems as if there is something significant about the way Jesus gave thanks. What could it be?

Watch how leaders, for example, pray at the beginning of some Christian activity. There are those who just instantly plough in with words, and that is all they are, and ‘pray’. There are others who pause to acknowledge the presence of God, the One to whom they are speaking and only then do they speak. There is far more of a personal sense, a sense of intimacy, of relationship, with this latter group and I think, in that, they emulate Jesus. Prayer was not formality for Jesus, it was a time when he spoke personally, intimately with his Father in heaven. Giving thanks was no mere formula, it was a sacred act of Son to Father, the Son of God to the Almighty One, ruler of heaven and earth.

Expectancy: How do we view prayer? We have just suggested prayer as a time of intimacy with the Father, but how do we see what we are praying? Is it simply uttering words and hoping for the best – but not having too high hopes?  In our starter verse, the church was surprised when Peter turned up, while they were still praying. No, it can’t be Peter, that would require a miracle. But it is. You prayed, you asked, and God did it. Why be so surprised? Because we don’t believe it can be that easy. Sometimes it’s not, and we need to keep praying and persevering as Jesus taught in his parable of the unjust judge, to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1) but I also believe the truth is that God loves to bring us to a place of simple believing where we pray and rest and rejoice, like little kids trusting DAD.

Intimacy plus Expectancy: Little children expect answers when they ask. When Christmas or a birthday approaches they may come out with a list of things they want. Money permitting they may well get them. As they get older they come to realise they don’t always get their demands. But the childlike faith of small children is challenging. When prayer is indeed an intimate experience with the Father we find that we start to catch Father’s heart, and prayer is not so much a shopping list, as a list of things we believe the Father wants to bring about.  It’s fine to be childish as we grow in faith, chattering stuff at the Father, but as we grow, we can learn something deeper.

The apostle Paul taught, pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests,” (Eph 6:18) or as the Living Bible puts it, “Pray all the time. Ask God for anything in line with the Holy Spirit’s wishes.”  The emphasis is on being led by the Spirit. When we combine this with the Father’s love, this intimacy inspired by the Spirit, focused on the Father, coming in line with the rule of the Son reigning at the Father’s right hand, we may expect faith to rise in us, a sign that we’re on the right track and we may expect to see what we are praying coming about. If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!(Mt 7:11) or as Luke records it, no doubt on another occasion of Jesus’ teaching, If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” And Us? Can these things thus mature our praying to have an intimate element which in turn develops a higher level of expectancy so that when we pray for someone to be released from prison (of whatever sort), we will not be surprised when they turn up at the door, delivered.

14. Place of Transformation

Wilderness Meditations: 14. The Place of Transformation

Isa 31:1,2  The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God

And So:  And so I believe we come to the end of this brief series of reflections about the experience and lessons of life in the wilderness, a life most of us would wish to avoid and yet, in 2020, a new life imposed upon us where for a while human resources were limited, freedom of activity was limited, and yet still a time where we learnt that the Lord was still there. For some of us it came as a shock, for others as a welcome respite from the busyness of the life that had been.

Transformation?  Have we been changed by the experience of ‘wilderness’? For the good? Are we more confident in Him or have we allowed ourselves to be almost overwhelmed by the uncertainties and fears? Have we seen this as a time of restriction or a time of potential for God to come and bring glorious transformation? Again and again the prophets of the Bible come out with these amazing pictures of the transformation that God promises. How do our hearts respond? Have we been become those who can reach out to others, or those who have become too beaten down by the circumstances that they need others to reach down into the cistern of mud and despair that they feel they are in, and carefully lift them up again? (see the picture of Jeremiah – Jer 38:11-13) Do the words of the prophets thrill our hearts with an anticipation from the Spirit that this is His goal for this time – transformation of us and the world about us. Let’s put three of these sets of verses before us and ask the Spirit to release faith in us as we read them:

 Isa 31:1,2 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” What an amazing picture from a land of silence, solitude and barrenness to one where life bursts forth. Have you ever seen one of those films that show life bursting out of the ground after the rains come? It is amazing. Can we pray for the rains to come now?

Isa 35:6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”  This is no more than happened when Jesus came (see Mt 11:5) and no more that he said was possible for us (see Jn 14:12). Is it something we have been praying for or had we, as I suggested previously, allowed our expectations to be quashed by the enemy and the unbelief of the world around us? Read it again: healing and an outpouring of His Spirit. Now pray for it – and keep praying.

Joel 2:22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.”  The wilderness, He promises, is not one of dry lifeless existence, but a place where He seeks to bring transformation in and through His people, a church that is alive with the presence of God by His Spirit,  where life and vitality, fellowship and friendship, power, authority and revelation pour through the congregation of His people, through this potentially wonderful ‘body of Christ’, bringing constant life transformations, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life, and the world is impacted and transformed. Can we believe for that? Pray for it. Work for it.

Watch: But Joel’s word reminds us that often these things come gradually. How the Lord decrees His coming is up to Him. Maybe He will just suddenly turn up, maybe as in this word there will be gradual signs building and building. Gardeners and horticulturalists know this. They watch for the various stages of development; first the leaves form after winter, blossom appears and falls, tiny fruits gradually appear and grow bigger and bigger until ready for picking. Jesus nudged his disciples on one occasion, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” (Jn 4:35b) But that was after he had just said, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’?” (v.35a) Don’t look at the natural seasons, he was saying, just look at the people coming, there is the harvest.

Today? “He began to say to them,Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:21) Jesus had just read one of the Isaiah Messianic prophecies. Jesus has done his part; he’s come and done all that was necessary for salvation to be opened up to all who will come. Now we wait on him to see the next phase of his work and he continues to work in the midst of his enemies to bring in the kingdom. Elijah waited for the rain and as soon as he saw the glimpse of a small cloud (1 Kings 18:44) he knew the rest was about to come. Are we looking for it coming? Are we gazing at the horizon to see the signs of the coming of the Lord in power? In recent weeks I have started to make a note of the little signs that ARE appearing of Him moving in our midst in a new way. In the space of two weeks I have noted six specific things, six different people revealing the presence of God coming in a new way. He wants to come and transform the wilderness, He is coming, be alert, be full of faith (Lk 18:8), pray, watch, make ready, you may be His means of bringing it. Yes??? Yes!

2. The Foundation

Short Meditations on the Ascension: 2. The Foundation

Lk 24:46  He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day  

We have just noted that Jesus is opening up the meaning of the Scriptures to his disciples before he leaves them. They need this foundation of understanding, it is what is at the heart of the Christian  Faith, the word of God. Without it we would be lost, unknowing, floundering in a world of uncertainty but, instead, we have the existence and the will of God revealed through the Bible. And so, “he told them,” he teaches them; it is what every Christian leader has to do with the flock of God – lead them with teaching.

Thus he starts this verse, “This is what is written.” He refers back to what we call the Old Testament, the scrolls they had, the truth of God written down: “The Messiah will suffer.” Luke doesn’t expound on this here and so we are left to glance back to the Old Testament prophecies, for example Psa 22 and the anguishes cries of Psa 69 and the suffering servant of Isa 52:11 to 53:12.

Whatever else we as Christians proclaim, the Cross of Christ must always be THE most important element of the Gospel, Jesus dying on the cross at Calvary taking our sins. We are what we are and we only have a future with God because of Jesus dying on the cross for us.

But his death was only one side of the coin, the other was his resurrection: “and rise from the dead on the third day”. There it was hinted at in Psa 16:10 that Peter took and applied in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:24-32). Isaiah had hinted at it – Isa 53:10. By his resurrection Jesus was vindicated. The Old Testament hinted at it, he had prophesied it (Mt 16:21, 17:9,23, 20:19, 12:40, 26:32, 27:63)

The death of Christ on the cross is the unique testimony of the love of God in history. The resurrection of Christ is what marks out Christ from every other man in history, the proof of the Father’s intent (But God raised him from the dead.” Acts 2:24, 3:15) and validation or endorsement of His Son, a fact that comes down through history to challenge every person, like a banner calling all to their knees.

So as Jesus opens up the Scriptures to his disciples, these are the first two vital elements of The Faith that he puts before them, there in the Old Testament, now worked out in experience and thus proving the love and the power of God as He reaches out to mankind. This is the message that the disciples – and us – need to understand and this is the message they are to bring to the world. There is more to follow but this must be the starting place, this is the first thing they must be absolutely clear about. And us?  May it be so!

Snapshots: Day 41

Snapshots: Day 41

The Snapshot: “The Lord said, “I have indeed seen…” (Ex 3:7) Foolish people say, “God doesn’t see.” Yes He does! Foolish people say, “God is powerless otherwise He would act.” No He’s not, He’s just waiting for the right time, for the circumstances to be right for action. Don’t worry about Moses, it’s not him, he’s just a plane caught in a holding pattern over the airport, waiting for the right time to land – only he doesn’t know it yet.  We get so caught up in our own little self-concerned worlds that we fail to realise that sometimes God is waiting for bigger things to come into line. Check out Eccles 3:1-8.  Easter came at ‘just the right time’ (Rom 5:6). The trouble is we probably don’t realise these things. That means we are just left with trust, and you can trust Him.

Further Consideration: Theologian, evangelist and writer, Michael Green in his well-known book, ‘Evangelism in the Early Church’, suggested that the Roman peace (pax Romana) meant that “the spread of Christianity would have been inconceivable had Jesus been born a half a century earlier.”  Not only that, the use of the Greek language “was so widely disseminated through the Mediterranean basin that it acted as an almost universal common tongue.” Add to this the existence of the Jewish religion that had spread so far afield, so that “The Christian faith grew best and fastest on Jewish soil, or at least, soil that had been prepared by Judaism,” and you have all the natural ingredients for the rapid spread of the Faith.

We so often, rightly, attribute the spread of the Gospel to the work of the Holy Spirit but that does not say that He doesn’t use the affairs of man in which to work. We would do well to observe that the narratives of the Bible do very clearly move on one from another in clear chronological or historical order with references made again and again to things that happened earlier, and on which current events depend. Unlike a fairy story or so-called ‘myths’ the ‘story line’ within the Bible is not a series of random events, but clearly interlinked events, bound together by common geographical history – and a divinely declared purpose, and it is within this that God moves.

So when the Lord says to Moses, “I have seen….”  that is but the prologue to Him explaining that all this was part of the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex 6:2-8). It is clear that God holds back judgment but knows how long it will take foolish mankind to build up their sin to the point of no return, at which point He steps in. God’s times are not accidental. He sees and He knows how long He can hold back – and then He acts.  Never ever think that we can do things that we can hide from God. We can’t

50. More on Faith

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

50. More on Faith

Lk 16:10  One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much

Lk 17:5,6  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Lk 18:8  when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Continuing on: This subject is too big to just leave there; it is at the heart of all that the church is. As I was thinking about this, I ran across this quote from the writings of Pastor-Teacher Jeff Lucas speaking about discipleship: “The gospel call is not to ask Jesus into our hearts – His coming to where we are, but rather that we become His followers and friends, who go with Him where He is going. And it’s not just that we travel through the scenery of changing circumstances, but into the personal metamorphosis that He brings. We’re called to be a people on the move, forward into change, onward into being changed.” I like that, that is faith!

An Imaginary Conversation: Some time back in an earlier series, I sought to imagine the conversation between Jesus and Levi (Mk 2:14) when Jesus called him. This is what I imagined:

“Hullo, I’m Jesus.”

“Yes, I know I’ve heard all about you.”

“OK, well I’m looking for a band of men to train up to take over my work when I’m gone so I want you to come with me.”

“But I’ve got a job.”

“This will be a better one. Come with me.”

“Where are you going?”

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“What are we going to do?

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“When will I be fit enough to take over your job?”

“You’ll find out when you follow me.”

A Life of Faith: Do you see the point? It is when we have once started following Jesus that he will then show us the way. As the apostle Paul said, “we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) Yes, it may start with having a basic belief that God exists as we saw yesterday in Heb 11 but it also means that we take the Bible and we make that our anchor point and follow all the teaching we find there. But it doesn’t end there because, as we’ve reminded ourselves a number of times, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and we are led by Him, the Spirit of Jesus with us, on a daily basis. Sometimes the path will appear obvious but not always and it is those other times that will drive us to seek Him for wisdom and understanding. Sometimes we will get by with what we feel is ‘our’ natural strength, but sometimes we will need grace, His supernatural power to cope.

That seeking Him and receiving, that is an act of faith. It started the day we first turned to Christ and were saved. It continues right the way through this present life until it takes is through to the life beyond. As Paul said in his famous ‘love chapter’, For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face,” (1 Cor 13:12)  although I prefer the picture in the old KJV, For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” Living this side of eternity is like looking through a smoky glass, it is often unclear, and that means we have to trust, we have to step out by faith, believing what we have heard even if we cannot ‘see’ it clearly.

Growing Faith: As I have already commented, it is possible to have different levels of faith. Faith is a gift: “think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Rom 12:3) That is the starting place but does that mean that that is all we can expect in life? Paul said to the Thessalonians, your faith is growing abundantly,” (2 Thess 1:3) and to the Corinthians he said, “But our hope is that as your faith increases….” (2 Cor 10:15). There are hints of this all over the place in the New Testament, for example, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” (2 Pet 3:18) could be taken to mean, let that source of faith, your knowledge of Christ, grow in you more and more which will result in your faith level growing.

Surely this was what Jesus meant when he was explaining to his disciples how parables worked and said, “to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.” (Mt 13:12) The same thing was said at the conclusion of the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30): “to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.” (v.29) That almost identical wording is linked there to the story that required followers of Jesus to use what they have been given. His expectation is that we will grow in our hearing and our responding – our faith!

How does it work? The thing is there is no set pattern because if there was we could rely on the pattern rather than on the Lord himself. But I have watched and observed various things. For example the person who steps out and shares their faith with a non-believing friend or family member, is more like to do it again and again than the person who never does. You need to step out of the boat and do it once and then it becomes easier and then natural. Or there is the person who wants to learn to hold their money lightly. Whether they decide to use the tithe as a means of stepping out, or whether they simply respond a first time to a perceived need, it’s a start and once they do it and are blessed, it becomes a path to be followed, that gets more exciting as you go along it.

Or suppose there is a person who catches Jesus’ heart to heal people. They often start by praying for something minor, may be theirs or an ailment of a loved one, and to their joy, the Lord answers and heals. They are now more confident and when He does it again they are then on the lookout for people to pray for! I’ve noticed it also with the prophetic gift; someone ‘hears’ the Lord and tentatively shares it with another person who is blessed by it. They start listening more attentively, even making time to wait on the Lord. They start hearing more clearly for themselves, and they become more confident. They start praying for others and start hearing words for them, simple to start with, more complex later. These are all just ways that faith grows when we give it the chance. The truth is that God wants our faith to grow, because it blesses Him, it will bless us, and it will certainly bless others.

A Heart-of-God People: When the Lord spoke through Samuel of His choice for a king, he said, “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14) This matter of growing faith is not to be a legalistic thing, but a heart thing and that means it starts with the way we view God. Many of us have grown up either in family situations or church situations that have left us suspicious of God.  To use an analogy I’ve used recently, we tend to be like the tropical fish in a tank who most of the time shy away when a human comes close – except when it is clear they are going to feed them. Many of us think God will chide us, tell us off, do us harm, and we shy away – except when we want something. I don’t know if you have a garden or back yard with birds. If you have, you’ll know the same is true of them – they fly away as you approach, they are suspicious of you, they can’t believe you won’t do them harm.

The starting place for faith is trusting in a loving heavenly Father. In that parable of the talents we referred to earlier, the one who held on to his one talent and did nothing with it, did it because, “I knew you to be a hard man.” (Mt 25:24) If that is how you view God you will constantly have trouble with faith. Start believing that, “God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and that He is for you (Rom 8:31), start believing that He wants good for you more than you want it for yourself, and you’ll be on the path to blessing, growing and of increasing faith. When we have a church full of people who believe this – world watch out!

49. The Need for Faith

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

49. The Need for Faith

Heb 11:6 without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Lk 18:8  when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Rom 10:17  faith comes from hearing the message

 The Need: Back in Study No.13 – A People of Faith – I started out with these same verses above, and so you might wonder what we are doing rerunning this same subject. Well, I need to ask the all-important question, where in our daily individual lives and where in the corporate life of our church, do we see faith? It is there I am sure but one of the things I see Jesus doing more than once is reproving his disciples for their ‘little faith’ which implies that you can have little faith and big faith and faith in between, if I may put it like that. In this Part we are running those things that are unique ingredients to the church of the New Testament and, yes, they may be things we have touched on before but which need reiterating – and faith is a key ingredient to enable the church of the twenty-first century to survive and even flourish (I don’t accept that merely because there are millions upon millions around the world who go by the name ‘Christian’ it means they are real or part of the living vibrant church of the New Testament.)

Why the Importance? Well we have expounded these verses above before, but they bear repeating. Faith comes from ‘hearing the message’ is how we might find it put in at least one version of the Bible, but if you like we could say, faith comes from hearing the truth. (That doesn’t mean that everyone who hears the truth will respond to it, but it does mean that those with open hearts and who hear the truth, find it impacts them, lifts them etc.) Now I want to suggest to you that in the previous 48 studies I have presenting you with ‘the truth’. For the most part I have simply presented you with what the New Testament says. No doubt my own opinions are mixed in there as well, and if they are contrary to the truth, the wind will just blow them away. But what about all the myriad of verses I have presented to you over these days, did they stir faith in you, did you find a rising within you that says, “Yes, Lord!”  When the writer to the Hebrews says, “without faith it is impossible to please God,” don’t be limited by the one illustration that he gives – of believing that God exists, for although that is the starting place, accepting that He is there, faith is also believing all that He has said, and that is His word in the Bible. Now if we have hearts that are genuinely open to Him, then all of these truths of Scripture should impact us, challenge us, lift us, build us, excite us, for that is what faith does.

A Need for Wisdom: Sometimes faith has to say, “Yes, that is the truth, I agree wholeheartedly with it, yet I am not sure in my present circumstances that I can see how we can work out these practical issues.”  For instance, when I have spoken about plurality of elders, you may be someone ministering on your own and you look around and say, “But there is no one here who ‘fits’ the calibre of an elder and so as much as I would like to develop an eldership, it just not seem practical here in these circumstances.” I agree and I understand, but remaining inactive means a failure to respond in faith, and a perpetuating of a less-than-wise and less-than-scriptural pattern for church which will remain unfruitful or at least remain with limited fruit, less than the head of the church would like. The answer surely is to pray for wisdom which is the knowledge of ‘how to’.

Reviewing James’ teaching: Let’s look at one of the paraphrase version of James 1: “When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.” (Jas 1:2-5)  First of all, don’t see your circumstances that we are addressing in this illustration as a trial. It is only such in as far as we are checking to see if you will pass the test of obeying Scripture. Don’t get down by this but simply see it as a problem to be overcome. (The problem? That we have allowed ‘church’ to become something so far from its origins that it is difficult to get back!) We overcome such problems by seeking the Lord for His wisdom, assured by scripture that He will give it. The only difficulty to be faced is, whether we will believe what He says – and then do it.

Wider Application: Now I am aware that I have been using plurality of elders as an example here (which may not be your particular issue) but the same thing can apply to any of the other issues I have covered – vision, learning, real life, power etc. – and we need to do the same thing if we cannot see how this particular ‘issue’ is to be worked our for us individually. Our great danger always, is that we read the things in ‘academic mode’ i.e. we see them, say yes, that seems right, but we leave it there, just head knowledge. I will later be touching on the subject of obedience but that is what Jesus looks for, not merely an academic acceptance that goes nowhere.  Seeking God for wisdom as to exactly how to work out these things in my own local circumstances must surely be the pathway through.

Sometimes these things can be very simple and very practical. For example in the case of plurality of eldership, our sole preacher/minister/pastor might start off a new teaching series with the words, “We tend to take for granted the way we do things in church, but I wonder how the church in the years following Jesus three years of ministry did it, and are there things we can learn from them? What were the characteristics of that first century church, how did they do things, and what might we learn from them?” This paves the way to gently open up the subject. At the same time the lonely minister prays for the Lord to raise up those in the congregation who will with humility show care and concern for the congregation, revealing a servant heart, some perhaps expressing more of a spiritual concern, others revealing a more practical concern. Patience and perseverance and a gentle approach – but a positive approach – are key here. Can I win my people over to see something that is different from what they have only known in the past?

And so? Put most simply, and this is as far as we will go for the moment, can we be those who, confronted with the teaching of the New Testament, will allow our hearts to be stirred and yearn to go forward, and who are willing to think through the issues and pray them out before the Lord. The theory is easy but applying it does need the wisdom and grace of God. Faith is responding to the word of God positively, making ourselves available to Him, seeking Him, crying out to Him to bring change that takes the church from being on the defense to stepping up and confronting the world with the truth that can be verified by life transformation, community and culture transformation. We desperately need this today in the West. Can we rise to that goal?

13. A People of Faith

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

13.  A People of Faith

Heb 11:6 without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Lk 18:8  when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Rom 10:17  faith comes from hearing the message

Faith? I have a feeling that as we come to this subject we come to the heart of the challenges that I find confront me as a leader and as I let my eyes wander over the congregation of whom I am a part today. But it is also at the heart of what it is to be a true Christian. It is this subject of ‘faith’, and it is vital that we distinguish belief from faith.

Faith & Belief:  Now we must not confuse faith with belief. The apostle James nailed this one. Listen: faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (Jas 2:17-19) We started this particular Part by considering that all Christians are believers (Study 9) but see what James says: (i) Faith has to be accompanied by action.  (ii) Deeds alone are not a substitute. (iii) Belief alone is not adequate. Faith is belief in action.

Belief, the Starting Point: In that previous study no.9 I noted that there has to be a body of belief which led us through into this new life, and we considered believing that Jesus is the unique Son of God who has to be our Lord and Saviour. It is that initial belief that motivates us and which the Holy Spirit uses to convict us so that we come to a point of surrender and repentance. That initial believing and that initial action is what theologians call ‘saving faith’, it is the belief plus action that opens the door for God to come and declare us justified (which we will go on to consider in the next study) and adopted (the subsequent study) and then indwelt by His Spirit. We tend to be a little casual in our language and so we often just call Christians ‘believers’ (as I have done previously) but the reality is that ‘belief’ is just the starting point and the ongoing life is – if there is to be any reality in it – a life of faith. So what does that mean?

Faith comes from hearing: One of our verses above from Romans 10 suggests that, not only is faith belief in action, it is action in response to God. God speaks, we hear and we respond. THAT is faith. Now if you are stuck in unbelief you will say, “But I can’t hear God.” Yes, you can. There are different levels of ‘hearing’. For instance Rom 10:17 that we only partly quoted, goes on, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Where do you find that “word about Christ”? In the Gospels in the New Testament. The apostle Paul declared, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe,” (1 Thess 2:13) and thus put his own speech on the level as that of the prophets of old, and was therefore ‘the word of God’. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.” (Heb 13:7) Then of course there are Paul’s famous words, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Tim 3:16) If God breathes it, it is His word.

We ‘hear’ when we read the Bible, we hear when we hear a preacher or a prophetic word brought, we ‘hear’ when the Holy Spirit whispers truth into our hearts and minds – but it depends on the state of our heart.  You could listen to a preacher and say, “What rubbish!” despite the fact that he was anointed and spoke with God’s authority. You can open the Bible and randomly read and nothing happens. On the other hand you can feel spiritually hungry and pray, “Lord, please speak to me through your word,” and suddenly it goes alive and you are challenged and transformed. So faith is also a heart response – a right heart response – to what you hear. If you have set in your mind that God doesn’t speak then you won’t hear.

A Personal Story: Relationship with God, which is what faith is all about, can touch our hearts and minds and emotions. I was recently reminded of something that happened to my wife and I many years ago. We belonged to a little evangelical church. We knew little of the life of the Spirit, even less of gifts. One day we heard some news about someone in our family, someone not particularly close and also many miles away. I found myself strangely disturbed by this news and felt in real anguish for them. This feeling carried on and I shared it with my wife and said I had a feeling that I was feeling what God felt for this relative. She responded negatively, “That’s presumptuous, we can’t feel what God feels.” Well we had an ongoing conversation about this that went on and off for the next three days. It was three days later that we attended the church prayer meeting and during the course of it, the pastor’s wife brought this ‘prophecy’. It wasn’t directed so no one else knew it was for us but in it the Lord said very clearly that He had been listening to us and, yes, He had shared His heart with me so that what I had been feeling was from him. It then got scary, because the prophecy went on to literally quote things we had both said in this ongoing three-day conversation, giving point by point answers to what we had both said!  That woman spoke out in faith; we heard it as God speaking by faith. That was relationship, that was communication with God.

Belief then Faith: Consider for a moment the first of our starter verses from above: “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) Do you see that? Belief in God comes first but it is clear that the writer means a belief that goes into action – seeking God – and that action is faith. Indeed, as Christians, everything we do is supposed to be by faith. My starting point is turning to God. I do that freshly every morning. For me, my personal practice is first thing in my ‘Quiet Listening Time’ to declare my submission to Him and reliance upon Him, for His salvation, His direction and His presence. I present me and my family to Him with thanksgiving. And I listen. That is just my practice. These days I have learnt to have a notebook beside me and I jot down the things that start flowing in my mind. I get guidance for the day or the days ahead. Look at the verse again. Do I hear complaints that “God never rewards me”? Is it because we don’t “earnestly seek him”?

Ready for Return: Finally, let’s pick up that verse we’ve mention before, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) I’ve said it before, but I find that a real challenge. The things I wrote about in study no.4, ‘Wondering about Fitness of Purpose’, make me feel we are rushing towards this Doomsday scenario and I wonder how much more the Lord will allow, and I wonder if He will use these things to bring the catastrophes that are spoken about in the book of Revelation. Godless mankind has brought into being – and is in the process of bringing into being – means of self-destruction in ways and magnitude never dreamt of a hundred years ago. Whether it is then, or simply when He calls us home, will He find in us a people of faith? Not a people who live by rules or rituals but a people who live out of a living relationship with the One True God, mediated by His Son who sits at His right-hand ruling in the midst of his enemies, and enabled by His Spirit who indwells all true believers. A people of faith? THAT is ‘church’.

Next we will go on to see what happens to us that make us different when we come to God through Christ and are born again.

(Here again at the end of this Part we provide an overview of the series)

Part 1 – Falling Short?

  1. Wonderings about Church
  2. Concern for People
  3. Challenged by Scripture
  4. Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose’
  5. Problems with Religion and Revival
  6. Appearance & Performance (1)
  7. Appearance & Performance (2)

Part 2 – A Different People

  1. Different
  2. Believers
  3. Supernatural
  4. Repentance and Conviction
  5. Needing to be ‘Saved’?
  6. A People of Faith

Part 3 – Making of Believers

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

  1. The Significance of Vision
  2. More on ‘Why Vision?’
  3. The God Focus
  4. Spiritual Expressions
  5. Building People

Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

  1. Clear your Mind
  2. A New Creation
  3. Life (1)
  4. Life (2)
  5. Being Together
  6. Fellowship

Part 6 – thinking about Leaders

  1. Led
  2. Local leaders – overseers
  3. Local leaders – shepherds
  4. Local leaders – elders
  5. Local Leaders – The Nature of the Church (1)
  6. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction
  7. Gifts of Ministries – to plant
  8. Gifts of Ministries – to build up
  9. The Servants – Deacons
  10. The Nature of the Church (2)

Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

  1. Uniqueness
  2. Another quick look at ‘Vision’
  3. Power – for Life Transformation
  4. Power – for Life Service
  5. Power – for Living
  6. The Need for Faith
  7. More on Faith.
  8. Obedience
  9. Finale – the Church on God’s heart

43. Stop Grumbling

Short Meditations in John 6:  43. Stop Grumbling!

Jn 6:43   Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered  

So in v.41 we saw the crowd grumbling because of Jesus speaking about coming down from heaven and then in v.42 the fuller explanation, that they thought they knew his background so the whole thing didn’t make sense. Now we have Jesus telling them off for this grumbling.

We noted in v.41 that grumbling is an irritable or grumpy response, a negative response that looks to blame the communicator, but Jesus is going to give a completely different reason from the one we might give for their grumbling, but we’ll have to wait until the next verse for that.

We did consider previously how grumbling is the evidence of a bad attitude which we often see or hear about at the end of Sunday morning’s when the preacher doesn’t live up to expectations, but here we face something different: the challenging Jesus.

We are living in a period where we so often try to focus on God’s love but the trouble with that (and I started placing this emphasis over twenty years ago) is that it can almost sound like God tolerates whatever we do. I know I have said many times in the past, “God loves you exactly like you are, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you than you have at present.” Very often we have tended to major on the first half of that mantra about God loving you exactly as you are, particularly to help those with low self-esteem or those who feel beaten up by their failures or the hard knocks of life. And it is true. We see it in the way Jesus took on board the disciples, the way he treated Zacchaeus and the way he accepted tax collectors and ‘sinners’.

But the second part of that mantra is equally important, that God desires more for each of us, so that we are able to receive yet more of His love, but that comes not by staying as we are, immature and childish with little understanding, but by Him changing us and it is at this point that we encounter the challenging or correcting Jesus.  To the woman caught in adultery it was, “Go, leave your life of sin.” (Jn 8:11) To Zacchaeus it was ‘come and invite me into your life’. (Lk 19:5). With Nicodemus he challenged his inability to understand (Jn 3:10).  Again and again we find Jesus challenging belief, looking for faith in the people before him and what he did then he does with us today. Remember the apostle Paul said the Scriptures are useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting,” (2 Tim 3:16). Teaching sounds fine but ‘rebuking’ means reprimanding, censoring, scolding, while ‘correcting’ means putting right, changing to get it right, changing from wrong to right.  Jesus does all this with us. Are you OK with that?