43. Relevancy again

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 43. Relevancy Again

Luke 4:18,19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”

May I take a couple of quotes from earlier studies in this Part of this series. First, “Will we confront the truth of His word and seek for a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed?” Look at those last words: “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. Second, “I will go on to ‘listening evangelism’ in a later study as well as ‘listening to His written word’ as well as listening for healing or deliverance and listening for changing the community.”

Now I want to link these quotes back to the study that I am sure raised some questions, about the relevancy of our faith in the face of the enormous changes that are taking place in our world, social and environmental changes as well as scientific, cyber and technological changes. The whole teaching about the kingdom of God is incredibly practical. Consider the things that took place in the simple imaginary story about the prayer meeting and the things that followed it:

  • It brought a change in faith expectancy in Alan
  • That led to him being able to help his younger member of staff.
  • It also opened up the way for Alan to offer to pray for his boss’s family and then pray over his boss, which opened his heart to Alan.
  • It also changed his approach to his client which in turn brought a complete change in him.

That prayer meeting? Part of “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. The changes that took place could be summarised as:

  • Faith released
  • Compassion, care and concern released
  • Faith for further prayer, including healing prayer
  • Three sets of circumstances, involving unbelievers, changing.

Now you might say, yes, but no one got saved! Hold on, it was an imaginary story and so I could have made the office junior, the boss and the client all come to the Lord, but I left that hanging, a possibility for the future. The changes that will take place in respect of the kingdom of God will

  1. Come as we pray (and listen)
  2. Occur as we step out in faith, and
  3. Involve the sovereign working of God to change people and circumstances.

In the light of the prophetic words from Luke’s Gospel above

  • The (spiritually) poor (the unbeliever) will hear the good news
  • Those who are in prisons that are emotional or mental will find freedom
  • Those who are (spiritually, and maybe even physically) blind will be enabled to see
  • Those who are spiritually oppressed will be released
  • And those we touch with His love will realize that this is indeed the year when He favor is available to them.

Changed lives, changed circumstances, the coming of the kingdom or rule of God. And how?  Through “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. That is what all this talk about Jesus being glorified through his ascension goes, this is where it ends, these are the practical outworkings. Is that your church? Is that mine?

There is another facet of all this that we haven’t really touched on because it was necessary to first of all pick up on the fact of the largely absent belief in much of the modern church that Jesus is alive today wanting to do exactly the same things he did on earth two thousand years ago. It is the aspect of the compassionate and generous and hospitable expressions of the church. It is the practical ministry summarized so often as ‘caring for widows and orphans’ but which has been observed throughout the church era as establishing schools, hospitals, clinics and so many other things that have impacted our worlds for good.

“Good works” (Mt 5:16) are not to be one thing or another, but both spiritually supernatural and humanly natural. The ‘supernatural’ may include the miraculous or simply people and circumstance changes, as we’ve recently been considering, or they may be the incredible grace that sometimes enables believers to act as they do beyond usual abilities. The ‘natural’ is being kind, compassionate, caring, hospitable and generous and, of course, all these are expressions of Christ, expressions of his grace in believers. It’s not one or the other, it is both. Both require the power and the presence of the Lord and both reveal the kingdom of God in action – but it is action.

I have just now suggested why we have taken so much time working on our faith levels for the works of Jesus through the body – the absence of it so often in the modern church – but there is something else linked to this that I have observed in the modern church. It is the ‘good intentions’ that people have to reach out to the world around them with the good news of the Gospel of Christ, and even start community projects which are in themselves good.

However, what I also witness is an absence of the manifest presence of God so often in these things, absence of clear direction to start these things, or how to go about these things, i.e. their origins that should be clearly coming from the heart of God, people ‘doing stuff’ but with the absence of the presence of God or the revelation of God (because they haven’t learn to listen) or the power of God to bring changes. i.e. often such ‘projects’ seem such hard work because they come from human enthusiasm, and they operate with human effort so that when crises come (and they do) the resources are not there to cope. The truth is that a lot of charities and other ‘good works’ operate in a godless environment. Our activities must originate from the Lord and be carried out with the revelation of the Lord and the power of the Lord. When this does happen, the world will know, and God will be glorified. That is what all this kingdom stuff is about. May it be so.

11. God of Initiative

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  11. God of Initiative

Ex 3:1-3  Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.”

There is always a danger with spiritual matters in thinking that we have to take the initiative and yet the Biblical testimony is that God is ALWAYS the one who takes the initiative.  He created the world to start with. He initiated a relationship with Adam and Eve, He reached out to a pagan called Abram and started off a long-term relationship. And then we come to the verses above where a failed prince of Egypt who has been looking after sheep for forty years comes across a burning bush that is not burning, and finds himself in a conversation with God that will mean life will never be the same again. What we see in those verses is the start of the revelation of the plan of God for the deliverance of His people from Egypt.

The day before I would guess that Moses had no thoughts for the life he had forty years ago, the memories had probably dulled. He is, after all, eighty years old, a time when most of us today would consider we ought to be in retirement. But God has His plans and they include using this man for another forty years.

That is the trouble with the will of God, it stretches out in ways beyond our dreams. We may have had ideas once upon a time of what we might like to become, but the ways of the world, the knocks of life got all that out of us, and so we opt for settling in a quiet lifestyle that upsets no one and allows me to drift on through life. But God looks down and sees a need and sees me and sees what He can do with me, and suddenly there is a burning bush, something that catches my attention and breaks into the hum drum of life. God has plans to do things with me. I would have considered them presumptuous but He simply sees the potential of His child that His child fails to see, and suddenly He creates a burning bush, and I pause and look.

Recently we considered the angel coming to Mary, the same angel that had recently come to Zechariah. Both were instances of God taking the initiative, of God moving His plans on, plans which include human beings. It will be thirty years before the next phase of His plan for salvation comes into being, but then He has waited over four hundred years for the time to be ripe for this phase to come. And so we start to realise that what appears to us as a unique taking-the-initiative is, in fact, just the next phase of a plan that had been thought out from before the foundation of the world – but each stage is brought on by God Himself when He sees the time is right.

So I wonder, perhaps, can I see this life as a plan being rolled out by God and somehow He has a part for me to play in it: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) The ‘good works’ that God has got for me are things He knows I can do with the gifts and enablings He gives me, and they are all part of that bigger long-term plan that He has on His heart.  Now if this is so then it changes me from being someone who either wonders if he is ‘good enough’ to be used by God, or berates himself for not doing enough, into someone who simply says, “Lord, show me what you want of me today, and if you need me to change to fit more fully your plans for my future, please show me what you want of me.”  May my response to what comes be the same as Mary’s,  “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38)

So what is happening when someone seems to be so burdened that they pray their heart out to bring about the will of God? Surely if God has it all mapped out already they don’t need to be interceding like that? Well that intercession is simply part of the process that God uses to bring about His purposes. Prayer is always a mystery but it seems that sometimes God waits upon our praying, as if our praying actually brings about changes in the heavenly realms. As we say, it is a mystery and so when we catch a sense of what ought to be and start praying for it, we suggest that it is God putting the burden on our heart. Without doubt He does seem to burden some people more than others to become intercessors and that to bring about His purposes, but even in that we suggest He takes the initiative.

What happens when someone moves to bring a word of prophecy or a word of knowledge or pray for healing? The are being prompted by the Holy Spirit – God is taking the initiative to intervene through what we now call gifts of the Spirit. ANY ministry should, we would hope, be a response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and in each case it is God taking the initiative to bring about a change here on earth. Moses’ burning bush was just one classic example of what God does in a variety of ways again and again as He acts into our lives and works in cooperation with us – He initiates and we respond. Good isn’t it!

12. Personal Righteousness

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 12 : Personal Righteousness  – Psa 15

Psa 15:1   LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?

Those of us who have known the Lord for any length of time come, I believe, to take so much for granted, that we tend to lose some of the wonder of the Lord and what has happened to us. It is amazing, first of all, that human beings can claim to be able to have a meaningful relationship with the true living God. But after that come questions: what does He want of me, what sort of life does He want me to live?

It is in this vein that David now ponders his relationship with the Lord. There is no indication of where or where these thoughts flowed in him, but he is pondering on the wonder of the possibility but is aware that God places demands on us. He gave Israel the Law through Moses, instructions of how to live out life as His people, in ways that would enable them to live in line with His original design for mankind. So David now ponders on the possibility of living in relationship with the Lord, living close to Him:LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” (v.1)  There must be requirements, he muses, as to just who can dwell close to God because God is against evil, so what sort of life does the Lord require of me?

Now before we move into the list that follows, it is imperative that we clarify the truth that you cannot reach God and be saved by good works. Our works will never be good enough and so it is always a case of us surrendering to Him and receiving the salvation He has provided through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. In his death on the Cross, Jesus took all our punishment so that we might receive God’s forgiveness when we ask for it. That is how we are saved, but after that, the question then becomes, what sort of life does the Lord now want of me?

The verses that follow come as a continuing list: “He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” (v.2-5) We need to work through this carefully.

Whose walk is blameless? Our conscience will scream out, with the Spirit’s help, if we know there are things for which we can be blamed, that were our fault, and so we should endeavour to see that we do not do such things. What is righteous? It is what is right before God. These are general attitude and behaviour issues.

Speaks the truth and allows no slander? This is all about words and speaking. How easily we let ourselves and the Lord down with careless words. This must be especially so in respect of others, never saying things that are untrue about another but, going further, never speaking wrong about another that pulls them down, i.e. doing no wrong to a neighbour and casting no slur on anyone.

Despises a vile man? This is about distinguishing between good and evil. Vile means wicked, sinful, offensive, disgusting, degrading, low or mean. Where we see these characteristics we should recognize them for what they are and we should despise them, look on them with scorn as things unworthy of people, things to be avoided. We need to recognize the wrong when we see it and reject it.

Honours those who fear the Lord? It is too easy to be skeptical about people who are more pious that we are, people who appear more holy than me. No, we should honour and encourage every believer who fears and respects the Lord. Again this is an attitude thing that reveals our own heart.

Who keeps his oath, even when it hurts. Wow! We are to be those who keep our promises even when it causes us work, effort or whatever. Truth, honesty and integrity go together in these things and we do well to consider them.

Who lends his money without taking interest? That is a challenge in the modern age when it is standard to charge for loans, but the word is saying be kind and generous in your dealings with others so you are working for their well-being and do not put them under pressure.

Finally, does not take a bribe against the innocent. Maintain justice and have no part in anything crooked, and especially have no part in anything that does others down and even more, do nothing to corrupt justice so as to blame the innocent!  Truth and honesty and integrity join now to justice.

And then he concludes, “He who does these things will never be shaken.” (v.5b) maintaining right and good standards mean these things will not backfire on us and the Lord will have no need to act against us. Even more, He will bless those who live His way and will keep and sustain them and protect them. There’s quite a lot here to think on, things to ponder on in the light of the ways of the world today.

17. A Job to do

Ephesians Meditations No.17

17.  A Job to do

Eph  2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

You may become tired with me keep pointing this out, but this passage is one long continuous flow of Paul’s thinking and verse after verse starts with a link word, tying it in to what has gone before or showing what is the next logical thing to think about. See it again: As for you (v.1)… All of us also (v.3)… But because (v.4)… And God (v.6)… in order that (v.7)… For it is (v.8)… For we are (v.10). We have pointed this out because these are not individual points of doctrine but all different facets of the same thing – the wonder of our salvation. We need to see in today’s verse the individual components and then the thrust of the whole thing.

“For we are God’s workmanship.” We have seen this already a number of times in the preceding verses, that we are the outworking of God’s activity: God….made us alive” (v.4,5) and God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms” (v.8) and “it is the gift of God.” (v.8). John stated it clearly at the beginning of his Gospel: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13). Hopefully you have been seeing it as we have gone through these meditations so that you are completely clear in your minds – we are a work of God!  Paul said it elsewhere as well, he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6). The good work was a work of transformation. He speaks of some of the components of that work to the church at Rome: “think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you ….. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:4,6)

Yes, this is a wonderful truth that perhaps few of us can really comprehend: the work of making us new creations (2 Cor 5:17) was a pure act of God, but it wasn’t just a one-off thing involving Him forgiving us, adopting us and putting His Holy Spirit in us, it also meant that somehow (and this is purely a suggestion of how it might work), He by His Spirit emphasized the natural within us and made it so that the new ‘blown up’ characteristics of us were now seen as gifts to bless others and bring honour to Him.

But there is another component in this verse: created in Christ Jesus.” Again, without labouring the point too much, we’ve seen this a number of times so far in this letter: blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (1:3), then, “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” (1:5), then, “the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.” (1:9), then, “seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (2:6) and “expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (2:7) and now “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” (2:10) It’s ALL about Jesus! Everything that the Father has achieved has been through His Son Jesus coming to the earth and dying for us and then being raised to life and then ascending to heaven where he now reigns.  NOTHING but NOTHING about our faith exists without Christ. That is how significant the coming of Christ is to us!

But there is yet more:created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” God didn’t just make us anew for us to sit in isolation (up poles or out in the desert) as some of the strange Christians did in the past!  No, because God has put part of Himself in us, He energises us to continue doing what He has been doing ever since He created mankind. Ever since He created Adam and Eve, He has been seeking (despite their free will that led them into sin at Satan’s suggestion) to bring blessing into their lives. Indeed, the whole of the later ‘Israel experiment’ was to seek to lead a whole people into a way of life where they would live in the way God had originally designed mankind to work and thus be blessed and be a light or revelation to the rest of the world – yet sin kept on breaking through and that got it wrong.

But there is even more: good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This takes the onus off us because what it says, is that when God brought us through to Himself, He knew us completely and He knew how we would best ‘work’ and be more fulfilled and most successful. So, He knew how He could lead us into lives that were being totally fulfilled by doing the things He put before us, and in such a way blessing would follow. What is often so sad, is that in the same way that Israel allowed self and sin to rise up so they missed the target, so many of us start out this wonderful new experience of encounter and life with God, but allow the enemy to focus us on our own thinking and he raises up self-centred desires in us, and so we miss God’s desires for us and so live half-fulfilled lives. How tragic!

So let’s put all this together. We are to look back and see the people we were, and then see afresh the wonder of the work of God in us. Thus we will see that we are God’s workmanship, a new creation brought about by God through Jesus, designed to share our lives with Him and He with us, so that we live out His desires and plans for us which are designed to bless us and make us fruitful. What we achieve in life, then becomes that which He has designed us for, and we are most fulfilled – and this all through Jesus. How wonderful!

Approval

Readings in Luke Continued – No.6

Lk 4:14,15 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

There is a time in the early life of the Church when Luke recorded, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46 ,47). It was a good time when the blessing of God was clearly on the Church. After the Ananias and Sapphira affair it took on a different slant: “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” (Acts 5:13). It has been said that in the early centuries of the life of the widely scattered Church in the Roman Empire, when an emperor decreed a persecution of the Christians, local Roman leaders warned the local Christians of what was to happen so that they could flee for however long it took for it to blow over, so well thought of were they in their communities. We are called to be salt and light and as such we can be a blessing to the community in which we live.

For the time being, in these early days, Jesus received the praise of everyone. He started his ministry teaching in synagogues and obviously all that he said was well received. He is, after all, the Son of God with the wisdom and grace of God and his teaching would be exemplary. However the approval he seems to be getting is almost the lull before the storm; it is about to change, but we’ll have to wait for the next meditation to see that. So far Jesus has merely affirmed the truth of God’s word, for that is what he would have been doing in the synagogues for they were primarily teaching places, where the truth of God’s word was conveyed to the local population. So far he has not said anything that will bring a challenge. So far he has simply been acting as a teacher of the Scriptures and so far that has been very acceptable.

This preliminary phase of his ministry is uncharacteristic of what followed, because soon he would declare himself, soon he would be performing signs and wonders, and soon he would be seen as a threat to the religious establishment – but none of that has happened yet. Writing this in the early part of 2008, I believe that many churches in the United Kingdom at least, are in a similar position. Having found ourselves relegated to the fringes of society, we have heard the word of the Lord to go into our communities with acts of good works. There, many of us are well thought of, and we often receive the praise of community leaders for the acts of service we perform in this needy land.

There is going to come a time, I suggest, when as more and more doors are opened to us and more and more hearts are opened to us, that we will speak the Gospel into more and more hearts and will see a harvest that is greater than has been seen for a long time. It will be at that time that we will find ourselves moving into the second phase of Jesus’ ministry, when opposition arises because we become a challenge and a threat. The larger part of the book of Acts records the hostility and opposition that the early church received as the Gospel was proclaimed. Various Roman emperors issued decrees against the Christians because they threatened the deity that such emperors dared to proclaim. Indeed early Christians were called atheists because they did not believe in the Roman gods.

John, in his Gospel, records that Jesus was full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). In this early phase that grace was seen and appreciated. If was only as the truth was brought to bear, that more and more, that appreciation was eroded by the religious leaders.

That raises a question for us in the Church today. Are we well thought of before we preach the challenging Gospel? There are two negative approaches or outlooks to be considered. First, that we say and do nothing and are totally unnoticed. This is the church that is completely ineffectual by inaction. The second alternative is that we simply blast the Gospel at whoever we meet without having earned the respect of the listeners and are largely rejected as religious freaks. This is the church that is ineffectual by insensitivity and ignorance. Now I add ignorance, because it suggests that we have not learnt from Jesus. A careful observation of Jesus will reveal that he went first performing signs and wonders with great healing, doing good for needy people. He also mixed with the needy and the sinners and accepted them where they were. It was only subsequently that the convicting words of truth came and caused either a harvest of salvation or opposition.

Yes, John in his Gospel describes all these acts of power as ‘signs’ pointing to God, but they would have also warmed and melted the hearts of people towards him. When you have just healed someone of a serious illness, they feel good towards you! They are willing to listen to you. Jesus was using the power of God to do good and to open hearts to hear the truth. Some accepted it and some didn’t.

Thus today, it is a valid question to ask, are we doing the same? We may not have the same power that was flowing through Jesus, until God moves in sovereign power through us, but we may seek Him for that and get ready. In the meantime, we do have His grace to be people who bring blessing and goodness into our communities to open doors and open hearts. It is only the preliminary stage, but are we actually doing that? It bears thinking about.