7. The Divine Provision

Zechariah builds the House Meditations: 7. The Divine Provision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

45. Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 45. Q.7 Judgment or Precursor to Revival?

Hab 1:2,3,5    How long, Lord, must I call for help,  but you do not listen? …. Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? …. “For I am going to do something in your days  that you would not believe, even if you were told.   

Hab 2:1  I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me

The Questions:  There are times when things happen on the earth which should raise questions in the wise – what is happening, why is it happening? The arrival of Covid-19 in the early part of 2020 is one such thing.

Habakkuk’s Experience: Habakkuk was a prophet, ministering, probably just a few years before the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586/7, who looked at the unrighteous state of his nation and asked God, “Why, why do you put up with this?”  When the Lord said He was going to bring disciplinary judgment on his people by bringing the Babylonians to deal with this nation, this left Habakkuk amazed and confused. His response: I’m going to have to go aside and listen and watch to see what He will say.”

God and Judgment (For detail go to my link ‘The Judgments of a Loving God): How God brings about a particular judgment is in some ways irrelevant. In Job we see Satan allowed to come against Job and he does it initially by stirring up the Sabeans to plunder his goods (Job 1:12-15). Howe did Satan do that? Did he make them attack? Only, I suggest, by whispering in their ears that Job was a good target. How did the Lord fulfil His word getting Nebuchadnezzar to attack Israel? Only, I suggest, by getting one of Satan’s emissaries (see 1 King 22:20-23) to go and whisper proud thoughts to him. God doesn’t need to make people do evil, He just lets Satan stir their already sinful attitudes to go that way.

Covid-19?  Is Covid-19 a judgment from God? How did it start? As one website puts it, “The source of the coronavirus is believed to be a “wet market” in Wuhan which sold both dead and live animals including fish and birds. Such markets pose a heightened risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans because hygiene standards are difficult to maintain if live animals are being kept and butchered on site.” It would also appear there was a Chinese doctor who warned about it but was disregarded. Careless workers plus disregard by the authorities? Sounds like the work of the enemy allowed, we have to say, by the Lord. But why?

The Effects: Consider what has happened. The world has ground to a halt, economies are under threat, proud authorities are lost as to how to deal with it, and relatively few numbers have died (over an above those who would have died in the northern hemisphere winter anyway.) Mankind has been humbled and people shut off from their usual activities given time to reflect on life. Discipline? Most certainly.

But Why? Well, what was God’s intent in bringing Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem? To discipline and humble the people, to stop the ongoing sin of idolatry that He had spoken against for so many years through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to cleanse the people of their sin to prepare them to return to the Land with a new outlook. What, if we are right and God is behind it, even if it is simply Him standing back and letting the sinfulness of mankind bring it about, is He seeking to achieve through it? Well of course only time will tell but what we have already noted might give us a clue: mankind is being humbled and people given opportunity to pause up in their lives and ponder on the important things of life. For some time now, various voices from around the globe have been hinting at the possibility of God coming with worldwide revival and such as this would appear to be a way of preparing people’s hearts to receive Him. The ministry of John the Baptist may be what should be the ministry of the Church to the world at the present time. Check out Isa 43:3, Mal 3:1, Matt 3:3 and see if they speak to you.

Revival or Renewal: But  I find a question rising in me, an uncertainty if you like: does God want to bring Revival or would He prefer to bring Renewal? We need to understand the difference and then listen carefully. Revival, history shows, is God coming in sovereign power for a limited period of time both inside the Church AND outside it bring in a great harvest of the lost. Renewal is where God comes by His Holy Spirit to reinvigorate the Church.  Restoration tends to refer to a restoring of gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit. If we have renewal and restoration together we have a reinvigorated ‘body of Christ’ that is equipped, empowered, and envisioned to continue to work of Christ as we have never seen before.

Christ’s Calling to the Body: Consider what Jesus said of himself: “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 favour,” (Lk 4:18,19) and “report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) As we have seen previously, Jesus sent out the twelve to do these things, then the seventy-two and concluded with an ‘all-church’ commission: “go and make disciples of all nations… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:19,20) having already declared, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).

How to Pray: Praying for Revival is easy: “Lord, please come and sovereignly do all the work.” Praying for Renewal and Restoration is harder: “Lord, please come in the power of your Holy Spirit to bring us together and equip, empower and envision us to be the body you called us to be so that through us you can reach this world – that you have prepared with this virus – with your power and your revelation.”

And So? Uncertain about the days in which we live? Pray.  Uncertain about God’s intents? Pray. Uncertain about your availability? That is down to you, your act of will, just declare it and make yourself available to Him, not only to pray but to be available to do whatever He wants to do as we pray. Amen? Amen!

37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

Jn 3:8   The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

Acts 4:8  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…

Acts 4:31  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Acts 11:24   He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Be at Peace:  As I have suggested before there are often fears and doubts and uncertainties about the Holy Spirit which the Lord understands but simply warns us against speaking wrongly of Him (Mt 12:31,32). To deny the work of the Spirit is to deny God. But uncertainties are understandable, but it is the way we respond to them that is important. I testified in the previous study how I foolishly experienced the Spirit moving, backed away from it, yet was graciously drawn back in repentance to receive again. The Lord looks for hearts that are open to him, even if they are uncertain. Be at peace in all this.

Uncertainty is Natural: If a leader like Nicodemus (Jn 3) was confused, don’t be surprised if we often get confused. To take Jesus’ analogy about the wind, many of us feel fearful simply because don’t know when He is going to turn up and what He might do. We live in a world that teaches us to be in control so it is natural to be nervous when God turns up and takes control out of our hands. It is natural but we are not called to be natural, we are called to be supernatural. We are to live by faith not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), we are to live not by human wisdom but by Holy Spirit and scriptural guidance.

Effects: I want to finish these reflections about the uncertainty of the Spirit by noting the fruitfulness that comes when we allow the Spirit to lead, inspire and empower us. In the previous study I used the analogy of a son growing into his father’s business as a picture of what God wants for us, and when we see the things He says He expects of us, we realize that these are things we cannot do by our own ability.

Boldness: Using our verses above, in Acts 4  when Peter is brought before the authorities we see him, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” (v.8) and Luke surely means us to see that it was because of this that he could answer them fearlessly and proclaim the Gospel. In Judges we have seen the Spirit come upon people to make them bold and courageous leaders. When we are filled with the Spirit there comes a new freedom to stand up and be God’s people. At the end of Acts 4 when the church are praying, the Spirit comes on them all and they were all filled so that “they spoke the word of God boldly”. (v.31) We desperately need some Holy Spirit boldness to speak into the world today.

Characteristic: When a problem of administration arose in the church in Jerusalem the instruction of the apostles to the other believers was, “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3) The experience of being filled, that results in visible changes in a person, was apparently obvious in the early church. “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.5) If you referred to someone as a ‘Spirit-filled believer’ you were saying there was something about them that stood out – a freedom in God, a love and joy in the Lord, and often wisdom – that could be seen! There was no wondering. Shortly afterwards we read of Stephen, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (v.8) Is this what caused the enemy to stir up opposition against him and yet, “they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” (v.10) This opposition was to lead to him becoming the first Christian martyr. But see all those things describing him: full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit, full of God’s grace and power, performing great wonders and signs, speaking fearlessly with great wisdom, and able to face death fearlessly. This is the life potential for those “filled with the Spirit”. If the modern church cannot live up to these descriptions, is it because we use the words but don’t experience the reality of the Spirit?

Similarly in Acts 11, Barnabas was described as, “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” (Acts 11:24). He was the man we know as an encourager (v.23), the one who drew Paul into ministry (v.25,26), who clearly was a significant teacher (v.26b)

A Quick Glimpse at History: We are sometimes not very good at understanding church history but let’s conclude this study with a quick refresher in respect of history and the Holy Spirit. It is said that you can find throughout the two thousand years of church history, little pockets of believers who were open to the Spirit but the so-called Azusa Street Revival, in Los Angeles, that started in 1906, brought out into the open the place and role of the Holy Spirit, which had already started to be considered in some ‘holiness churches’. Pentecostalism was born resulting in the formation of Pentecostal churches & denominations which spread worldwide. This teaching and experience restored the Holy Spirit to His proper place, but mostly stayed within Pentecostal churches

That is, until in the 1960’s when a change came which someone described as, “individual believers seeking the Father for his promised gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Out of his came a fresh awareness of the existence, experience, function, and role of ‘the body of Christ’.  The Charismatic Movement was born with personal Spirit-filling and gifting, and our place within the body, being taught and experienced in new ways. Unlike Pentecostalism the charismatic movement did not create new denominations but Spirit-filled believers continued their experience within their existing denominations.

In the 1990’s a new wave of Holy Spirit activity burst out across the world with the phenomena referred to as the Toronto Blessing, where the Spirit, sovereignly it seemed, broke in on individual believers as they gathered and brought a new joy and a new freedom to the people of God. It was not revival and mostly did not appear to stir evangelism into being. It was first and foremost a restoration of the wonder of being God’s children.

Now we may not have been around and experienced these times of blessing but the truth was that in each case new life poured into and through the church. Each of these were different from revival which is a sovereign powerful moving of God inside and outside of the church to bring fresh life to believers and a harvest of souls into the kingdom.

And Us?  Wherever we stand, whatever our experience of the Spirit and whatever our feelings in respect of Him, one thing in today’s world and today’s church is obvious: we need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whether He comes in revival sweeping all before Him sovereignly, or whether He comes in renewal and reinvigorates His Church to be what He wants it to be, is down to Him and we will have to wait to see. In this again there is uncertainty. There are signs in all that is going on in the midst of the world activities that the Lord may be getting ready, thus Isaiah’s (Isa 4:3-5 Msg) call is appropriate:

Thunder in the desert!  “Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys, level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.

How can we put it even more clearly?  Speak into this spiritual desert, this wilderness that is the modern world. Put your lives right for God is coming. Do all that needs doing to set your life right so that there is no hindrance in it to prevent Him coming and working in and through you. Clean it up, get rid of things you know would not bless God when He comes, fill in what is missing in your life and experience, and open up your heart to receive all He has for you, and then look for the coming of His glory.   Amen.

34. The Uncertainty of Pentecost

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 34. The Uncertainty of Pentecost

Acts 2:4   All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

More Whaaat?  The Day of Pentecost and the record of Acts 2 is both amazing and glorious AND a source of uncertainty, questions and doubts in many.  Was this a one-off marker-in-the-sand event or did it have greater ongoing significance? Was it just for those caught up in it, or does it have meaning for us today as well?

Personal Testimony: I need to make a confession before I go any further. I come from an Evangelical, Pentecostal, Brethren, Baptist, Free Church, Charismatic, Restorationist background. I have had the privilege of having friends from each of these areas and experiences within them in the Christian Church.  I was filled with the Spirit, rejected the experience, came back to the experience, spoke in tongues and have a reasonable gift of prophecy. My biggest concern in these studies is that we study what the Scriptures actually say and if our experiences don’t match the word, we pray that God will bring us in line with His word. I believe in all the Eph 4:12 ministries and all the 1 Cor 12 gifts.

Yet today I am retired and part of a church that would like to think of itself as charismatic but isn’t. I know of Elim Pentecostal churches that would like to think of themselves as Pentecostal but aren’t. As I look around the Church I don’t think many of us are doing what Scripture reveals. When it comes to the Spirit, I believe we often talk the talk but rarely do the real stuff – and I include myself in that. It is probable that in these studies about the Holy Spirit I am going to ask some awkward questions, but I ask them equally of myself. There are rumblings in the Christian undergrowth that God may be coming in worldwide revival – and don’t we need it – but mostly although my heart feels it, my eyes see little signs of it yet. (April 2020) I am uncertain where we are going, both in these studies and in the Church. I do not stand on a high place and preach down, but I do believe we each need to be honest as we face what the Scriptures actually say. Can we try and do that? Let’s consider what happened to the disciples first.

First the Disciples: They have received Jesus’ marching orders – or to be precise his ‘sitting and waiting’ orders (Acts 1:4) – they have been waiting and wondering in Jerusalem, praying much of the time. What else can you do when the Master has left you and you feel helpless? Peter tries to bring a semblance of order and normality to reinstating the Twelve (Acts 1:15-26), according to scripture you understand (Acts 1:20). Yes, they have and know their scriptures, and they have their marching orders. That ought to be enough surely? We’ve got the completed canon, we’ve got the Great Commission, what more do we need?  They organised and appointed a twelfth apostle, so we’ve got the leadership sorted out. We’re ready to go. What more do we need? But the Master spoke of waiting for power (Acts 1:8), saying we will be baptised (immersed) in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). How long do we have to wait for that? He just said, “in a few days” (v.5). How long is that?  What does it actually mean?

The Pentecost Experience: What then followed on the Day of Pentecost….. hold on, Pentecost? There were three annual feasts all Jewish men were required to attend: the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Tabernacles. (Deut 16:16). Unleavened Bread followed Passover, as we’ve seen, and the Feast of Weeks, otherwise known as the Feast of Harvest or Pentecost, came fifty days after Passover (Gk. pentekostos means fiftieth) and celebrated the completion of the grain harvest. In God’s economy this was a day of harvest, at the end of which at least 3000 souls had been brought into the kingdom. What a harvest!

But what happened? First of all the experience: This is a preacher’s delight – there was a sound, a sight and strange speech. There was “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2) The sound is of a violent wind and wind signifies power. Then, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” (v.3) Now fire normally burns up but when, like the famous burning bush of Ex 3, it doesn’t destroy, it is a sign of the holy presence of God. Finally, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (v.4) They were empowered to do something they were not naturally able to do. These ‘tongues’ were languages that visiting foreigners could identify as being their own native languages (v.8) and so they were empowered to cross cultural and linguistic boundaries – the curse of Babel (Gen 11:7) appears to be removed supernaturally.

Second, the effect: First of all note the disciples.  It is often thought the disciples were in the upper room, hence “the whole house” of v.2 but the fact that Jews in the neighborhood heard it all suggests the disciples we impelled out of the house by the Spirit into the open, out of their place of security, out of their place of quiet prayer, into the public forum. Dare we suggest that when the Spirit comes in power he bursts into and through His people into the public domain, the same domain where Jesus ministered.

But then notice, second, the watchers and listeners. They come to see what is going on, they are attracted by the noise and want to see what it is all about. Dare we suggest that when the Spirit comes in power, the world will beat a path to our door to see what is happening. But then don’t expect them to come clear-headed: “a crowd came together in bewilderment.” (v.6a) Why? “because each one heard their own language being spoken.” (v.6b) When they see the power and presence of God it will leave them bewildered. How can these things happen? Moreover, “Utterly amazed, they asked…” (v.7) This bewilderment will turn into amazement as they take it in and that in turn will provoke questions, and then more questions: “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (v.12) Amazed speaks of surprise, perplexed speaks of being puzzled, even baffled, by events that are beyond them. So don’t be surprise when some will jump to wrong conclusions: “Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” (v.13)

So then note again, third, the disciples again. Questions need answers. “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd.” (v.14) The fact of Peter standing up may negate the earlier comments of being expelled from the house, but not necessarily. The fact that this experience went on and on for at least a short while, may mean it was somewhat overwhelming requiring them to sit down again. His standing “up with the crowd” may simply be a description of him moving into the midst of the growing crowd. However, whatever is the truth of the situation, the fact that the crowd are acting this way, and jumping to wrong conclusions, provokes Peter to get up and speak out loudly and boldly presenting an  answer to the questions and confusions of his fellow Jews. We are given the main gist of his ‘first Christian sermon’ but he obviously goes on – “with many other words” (v.40) – warning and pleading with them to repent (see v.38) and some three thousand responded to his word (v.41). Although the words are not there, it is obvious he is speaking under great anointing, with the Holy Spirit so empowering his words that this large number responded.

To Recap: Now before I recap, I realize this will raise many questions and perhaps it is right to suggest that this is a unique day but a day that demonstrates perhaps true revival, the coming of the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit and the effects of this, which we will need to consider before we finish. But what have we seen?

  1. The Spirit: came with the sound of power, came with the sight of the holy presence of God, came releasing supernatural speech
  2. The disciples: were empowered to do something not possible before, were expelled from the place of safety to the public arena, were anointed to preach with power that brought a great harvest.
  3. The ‘world’: heard what was going on and were perplexed, confused, amazed, asked questions and jumped to wrong conclusions, listened to anointed answers, and responded in large numbers.

Questions that Arise: The presence and the work of the Holy Spirit has always been controversial, both outside the church as on this day, and inside it, sadly, as people have struggled to cope with a sovereign work of God that bypasses intellect and opens up the supernatural power of God in and through the body of Christ, the church. I suspect many of us would respond positively to what we have read here but will question, if this happened then, why doesn’t it always happen and is there anything we can do to make ourselves available to God for Him to do it regularly? Some would describe this unique day as the first Christian revival taking place and perhaps that is true, which means it is a sovereign work of God that cannot be repeated, and we certainly can’t make it happen, only God can.  However it is not the only picture of the coming of the Spirit in Acts, so perhaps we should lay all our uncertainties on the table and simply see what Scripture says as we move on in the next study.

In the meantime, as we look at the world around us and the relative ineffectiveness, in the West at least, over the past fifty years say, of the Church, can we see the effect of that? Can we see that the world has moved steadily away from God with the result that self-centred godlessness prevails and brings behaviors throughout society that are unrighteous and self-destructive? What is the answer to all this uncertainty? It is that we pray for God to come in power again, in and through us (which means making ourselves available to Him) to change the Church and challenge the world. Can we do that – daily?

51. Obedience

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

51. Obedience

Mt 28:19,20   go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Acts 5:32  the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him

Jn 8:51 whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

Jn 14:23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.

So Obvious: It is so obvious this thing about obedience that you might wonder why we are bothering to think about it. Perhaps it is because it is so obvious that we tend not to think about it. Consider: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mk 1:17,18) Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, follow me, and they did. That was obedience. Then, Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” (Mk 1:20) Jesus said to James and John, follow me, and they did. That was obedience. Then, “As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.” (Mk 2:14) Jesus said to Levi, follow me, and he did. That was obedience.

Reasons for Doing: Do you see the pattern? It is one that is followed throughout the Gospels. Jesus tells the disciples to do things – and they do. That is obedience. At the heart of discipleship is obedience, and because it is so obvious that we might forget it, let’s state it, obedience means DOING what Jesus says.  In the ‘Great Commission’ in Mt 28, it is to “obey everything I have commanded you.” Notice the strength of these words. ‘Obey’ means to respond positively to whatever God says. “Everything” means that we cannot take bits of things we find in the New Testament and exclude them. This is all-inclusive, it means nothing Jesus said is outside our discipleship. “Commanded” means instructed with authority. God doesn’t give nice advice. He says, do this. And He expects us to do it. It is not obligatory, and it is a call to all disciples.

Focus: I found myself writing the following the other day: “Church is not for your entertainment. It is for your salvation, your transformation, your equipping and your sending.” Many of us turn up on Sunday morning expecting to be entertained by nice lifting music, and a humourous entertaining sermon so we go out feeling happy. Last Sunday I listened to the minister ask the congregation, “Why are you here? What have you come for?” As I sat there and pondered that, my answer was, “To meet God, to meet with His people, and to be changed.” I was surprised by the force of that and so I think it is worth thinking about.

To Meet with God: As I have indicated a number of times in this series, if the Holy Spirit is leading us when we gather together, He will have inspired the worship team, inspired the leadership and hopefully will inspire us, and it will all be to the end that we encounter God.  Now Job is an uncomfortable book in many ways, but it is also enlightening. Not only does it reveal to us some of the inner workings of heaven, as well as the anguishes of living on a fallen world, but we also see (at the end) the effect of encountering God: “My ears had heard of you  but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself   and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6) When we truly realize we have met with God, we are humbled. When Peter encountered Jesus at the lakeside, and Luke gives us the fuller picture, a miracle ensues and Peter realizes he is in the presence of someone who is much more than a mere man: “he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8) Encountering God, means I am changed. This might challenge us to ask, how often do we on a Sunday morning encounter God?

To Meet with God’s people: The picture that comes from Paul’s writings to the Corinthians is that when the Holy Spirit is present when we come together, He will flow through us, one to another. He longs to speak, He longs to convey His power and when He does that through one and another, we are blessed, we are challenged, we are envisioned, we are released, we are changed.

To be changed: Well there it is, we saw it twice in the two paragraphs above, the end result of meeting with God and meeting with His people is that I am changed. But where, you might ask, was obedience in all that? It is in the ‘end product’ if I may put it like that. When I encounter God directly or through His people, the end result is that I am more aware of who He is, more aware of who I am, more aware of His love for me, more aware of His goodness and I am a more pliable, open disciple than I was before. I am changed and the end result is that I desire more to be obedient to all He says, because I have seen the wonder of who He is, and the wonder of His intentions towards me – and I want more and more of that. As that transformation takes place I realize even more clearly that blessing follows obedience because all He ask of me is for good.

The Process: May I take two of my favourite verses (and there are many others) and ponder on them in this context. First, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Here is the background for my life. God is working in my life to bring good – through everything that happens. But it is not a case of God waving a magic wand so that everything will turn out right. No, He will be working into the situation from outside of me, if I may put it like that, but He will also be working from inside me, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who seeks to guide me and lead me in right paths. And there it is again – so simple – He says, ‘follow me’ and the blessing flows when I do. That is obedience.

The second verse is, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) There it is so clear. God has got plans for my life, that He has “prepared in advance” or as the Living Bible puts it, “long ago” with the inference that fits what is said over half a dozen times in the New Testament, that this was planned before Creation. So what is happening now is that the Holy Spirit, living within me, seeks to guide me and inspire me into moving into those things that God Has got on His heart for me. The ‘good works’ are simply the things He wants me to be doing, the things He knows I am suited to doing, equipped to be doing by His enabling. When I move in these things, that is obedience and I am blessed.

A Warning: Now I dare not finish this without warning against complacency. This teaching is not so that we can have a life that is utterly problem free; never be under the illusion that when we speak of God’s intent to lead us into a place of His blessing, it means a life where we are lounging in a hammock in the sun with not a care in the world. It is clear from the Gospels and from Paul’s testimony in the New Testament, that it is often far from that. The reality is that we live in a fallen, broken, dysfunctional world, a world where stuff goes wrong, and God does not sit idly by. Remember what He said to Moses: ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them “ (Ex 3:7,8) This shows a God who sees and who feels and is moved to action, but note what follows: I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (v.10) Moses won’t be alone for God will be with him every step of the way.  That’s how it is with you and me. We aren’t saved for our entertainment, we are saved for our transformation, our equipping and our sending. We were part of the world’s problem; now we are part of its answer – in God’s hands. As we, the church, step out in obedience to His word and His Spirit, He will use us to bring life, freedom, deliverance and transformation to the world round about us. That is what this is all about. Amen? Amen!

47. Power – for life service

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

47. Power – for life service

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

Eph 3:14,16 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being

Jesus expresses Power: Power accompanies Jesus. It is a word that appears with him a number of times. For example, after his temptation, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” (Lk 4:14) So as he appeared on earth manifesting the power that IS God, so one day he will return: “they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” (Mt 24:30). When he started teaching and healing, “All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” (Lk 4:36) Later Gospel writer Like observed, “And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.” (Lk 5:17) so much so that he goes on to record, “the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” (Lk 6:19)  Now this was so obvious and so specific that when a woman simply touched the hem of his garment in her belief that she would be healed, we see, “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mk 5:30) At the end, after he was raised from the dead, the two men who met him on the road to Emmaus testified, “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” (Lk 24:19)

And the apostles: Now many of those verses we have just cited come from Luke’s Gospel. Matthew uses power 5 times, Mark 6 times, John 4 times but Luke 14 times. Luke’s Gospel is the one, it is said, that portrays Jesus as the servant but clearly the thing that impacted Luke was the power that was expressed through Jesus. But look at what more Luke brings to us: the fact that this power is passed on to Jesus’ apostles: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,” (Lk 9:1) and “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you,” (Lk 10:19) and finally in that Gospel, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:49)

Ongoing: This it is that Luke carries on this emphasis when he writes the book we call the Acts of the Apostles: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) i.e. their witness to the world would be because they were empowered by the Spirit. Then, “When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Acts 3:12) i.e. Peter knew that the miraculous healing had not been by his power but by Jesus’ power. So, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.” (Acts 4:33) This became the ongoing important feature of his testimony about individuals, for example, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8) and “Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts 9:22) Interestingly, in that latter case the power was an intellectual-spiritual power declaring the gospel and overcoming detractors. Peter, testifying about Jesus spoke of, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38)

Paul’s Testimony: If we haven’t yet got hold of this truth, listen to Paul’s testimony: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile,” (Rom 1:16) and, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” (Rom 15:18,19) and, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power,(1 Cor 2:4,5) and, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.”  (Eph 3:7) It was the power that was the Holy Spirit that brought the Church into being. Grace, the ability to preach, the ability to persevere, call it what you will, was all an expression of the power of Jesus flowing in and through Paul.

And us today? How often do you see this power that we’ve seen in all these verses, expressed in and through the church today? It seems to me that so often we substitute social events and carefully preplanned services for the power of God. Let’s suggest some ways that we should see it if it is in the way of Jesus: transforming people when they come to Christ, delivering people from addictions, fears, doubts etc, bringing healing – mental, emotional and physical – bringing power to preaching & teaching, bringing revelation – words of knowledge, words of wisdom, words or prophecy – all expression of Jesus’ ministry. If “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever,” (Heb 13:8)  then surely we should be seeing these things in and through the life of the Church today. Do we have a power-full or powerless church today?

A Response: If our honest answer is a negative one, then I suggest we should be seeking the Lord in repentance, asking his forgiveness for having lived in unbelief, and crying out to him for a fresh outpouring of that power in our individual lives and ministries. May it be so.

28. Clear your Mind

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

28. Clear your Mind

Mk 2:21,22  “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

The Problem of Presuppositions : A presupposition is, according to a dictionary, “a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action.”  I concluded the previous study with the following words: I want to start by considering what would we do if we were starting utterly from scratch. The next few studies will be:

28. Clear your Mind

29. A New Creation

30. Life (1)

31. Life (2)

32. Being Together

33. Fellowship

So take a dose of amnesia, sit down on a desert island with a Bible, and see what might happen. I have tried to put myself in the position of starting completely from scratch, as if I knew nothing about church life at all, but the trouble is I have all these assumptions, these presuppositions, because I have history and I’ve just written twenty-six studies on the beginnings of it. It’s almost impossible to clear my mind of what I know from the past fifty years of being a Christian. But why should I want to do that? To perhaps see if it is possible to imagine what Jesus wants of us, without all the clutter of my (our) history.

An Imaginary Scenario: Supposing I just had a Bible, found myself on a desert island with a bunch of other people and we’re all unbelievers who have never been to church. We know nothing of church. I read the Bible I find in the remains of a wreck that got us there, and as I read my heart is strangely warmed on one hand yet convicted on the other. There is a sense of truth about what I am reading and I am warmed by the sense of love that comes through the stories of Jesus in the four Gospels and then I find myself convicted that I know nothing of this love. As I read on through the New Testament, I hear more of prayer, of talking to God and so one day, on my own, I talk to Him for the first time. I tell Him how wonderful I find the things I’ve been reading and yet how sorry I feel that all these years I have not known of it or experienced it, and I ask Him to change me, take me and do whatever needs doing in me to make me the person He would like me to be. I assume, having come down this path, it is first and foremost to experience more of this love that I have been reading about while at the same time letting Him (somehow?) speak to me to show me more of what He does indeed want me to become.

Church? But then one day I share what has happened with another of the survivors and they respond in exactly the same way as I did. Amazingly the word spreads like wildfire and before we know it there are over fifty people who have responded in the same way. As we read the Bible, we realize we are what the Bible calls ‘Christians’. “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26  See also Acts 26:28) and then we realize we have run across the word ‘church’ a number of times: “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it,” (Mt 16:18) and “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Mt 18:17). Then later, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events,” (Acts 5:11), and “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem,” (Acts 8:1) and “But Saul began to destroy the church,” (Acts 8:3) and, Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened,” (Acts 9:31) and “News of this reached the church in Jerusalem,” (Acts 11:22) and “Barnabas and Saul met with the church,” (Acts 11:26) and so on. We see that ‘church’ were the Christians gathered in various places, presumably where they lived. But what more can we gather about this concept of these Christians who gather together? Why do they gather together? What do they do together?

Back-tracking? Yes, I realize as I said that I have already written a lot of words describing how this body of people comes into being, but what do they do in the New Testament and why? If I’ve taken rather a tortuous route to get here, this far in this study, it is simply because I have history that includes the knowledge of so many different churches and it is almost impossible to clear away my presuppositions of what church ought to be, but I can’t help thinking that going back to basics must be a healthy exercise and if it challenges some of the things we do today, so be it.

Where to Start? The Gospels are not the obvious place to start; following the Son of God in the flesh was a limited-period experience. The easier starting place – as far as experience in history rather than principles in teaching is concerned – has to be Acts. At least it shows us a) how the church started off without the physical Jesus in their midst and b) what God led them to do. Now in respect of that latter thing, some of the things they did were clearly led or inspired by the Holy Spirit and others were natural responses to who they now were and the circumstances in which they found themselves. Let’s try and tabulate those two things:

Things clearly inspired by the Holy Spirit Natural expressions
All filled with the Spirit 2:4 Prayed together 1:14 (men & women together)
Spoke with other tongues of other nations 2:4-11 Peter preached 2:14-40 Chose replacement for Judas 1:15-26 (Some point out nothing more heard of Matthias!)
Apostles performed signs and wonders 2:43 Taught by apostles, met in fellowship, held ‘communion’ and prayed together 2:42
Peter & John heal a cripple 3:1-8 Met regularly, had everything in common even selling goods to help others 2:44,45
Gave answer to leaders 4:8-12 Met regularly for breaking bread together, praising God and seeing more added 2:46,47
Sprit falls as they pray 4:31 and enabled to speak boldly Went to temple prayers 3:1
Peter exercises word of knowledge and Ananias dies 5:3-5  Ditto his wife  5:7-10 Preached to crowd  3:12-26
Signs & wonders performed by the apostles 5:12 Arrested for preaching Jesus 4:1-3
Angel releases apostles from jail 5:19,20 Prayed together 4:24-39
Apostles arrested & jailed 5:17,18

That is probably enough to go on with. In the left-hand column some of the things are specifically explained as happening as the Spirit filled individuals, power fell, angelic help given, but some, the miraculous happenings at the hands of the apostles, are clearly impossible to humans and are therefore obvious manifestations of the work and power of the Spirit.

Early Spirit Activity: Here we see inspired preaching, healings, signs and wonders, all very clearly the work of God in their midst. In each instance we see men inspired and empowered by the Spirit, i.e. responding to and being used by the Spirit. For future consideration, the questions might be asked, were these things purely for that point of history? Well  history denies that. The records show that at various times (relatively rarely before the 20th century) such things have been seen in a number of parts of the church. Following the Spirit outpouring in the early part of the 20th century, and then subsequent movements of the Spirit  (Charismatic movement, Toronto Blessing, Wimber movement etc.) in the late decades of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, it is obvious to anyone with integrity who bothers to research these things, these things have had a resurgence in various denominations and ‘streams’ within the Church. Perhaps we need to look later at why.

General Lifestyles: Without doubt the early church was impelled by the wonder of the Spirit’s outpouring, and their ‘life-in-common’ lifestyles are sufficiently challenging that we need to consider them more fully in subsequent studies. A common prayer life, regularly meeting together, specifically to remember the Lord, sharing with one another, caring for the less well off, etc. seem to be uncontroversial characteristics of their corporate life that perhaps we need to think about emulating. Watch this space!

18. Getting on a Learning Curve

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

18. Getting on a Learning Curve

Mt 11:29   Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Heb 5:12-14  though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Students:  When we speak about a learning curve we refer to a person’s progress in gaining knowledge and experience. When we speak of a ‘steep learning curve’ we mean there has been a lot of learning in a short period of time. If it is a shallow learning curve it means we have learnt very slowly over a longer period of time. On a graph of learning (the vertical axis) and time (the horizontal axis), a straight horizontal line denotes no additional learning taking place. Now I wonder what your learning curve looks like?  Not long ago, after I had retired from leading my own church, we went to a large local church (large for the UK that is) and both my wife and I were dismayed at the ignorance that was obvious in this church.

Learning what? “Hold on,” I hear some saying, “what are you suggesting you wanted to see there? What do you want for us?”  Well, let’s talk about what first of all, and then why.  I heard someone the other day say out loud, “My knowledge of the Bible is rubbish,” and yet I know that person has been a Christian for many years. What have they been doing, what has their church been doing all those years? When I became a Christian over fifty years ago, within two years I was leading seven different bible studies a week. I was hungry for God’s word and found others who were similarly hungry. And then I go into the church prayer meeting and I hear people just throwing out requests to God like He was a market stall holder giving out goodies. Where is the sense of the God of strategy and purpose who is found when we wait upon Him and seek Him in prayer? Why haven’t these people been taught what prayer is all about so they see it as the lifeblood of the church’s experience? So I look around and hear people confessing how difficult their lives are and I wonder about the absence of teaching about overcoming, about spiritual warfare in prayer, and personal prayer ministry? Where are these things? And that’s just a start!

But why? Stop and think what has happened when a person becomes a believer. Listen to how the Message version puts Paul’s description of what our old lives used to be like: “It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.” (Eph 2:1-3) Look at that – you let the world tell you how to live, a life of unbelief and disobedience, and self-centred in every way. To the Romans he said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2)

The ’what’ again: So we turned away from our old life which was going nowhere except downhill. We were convicted by the Holy Spirit of the mess we were in and we turned to God and received His salvation through Christ. Right! Now before us we have a whole new life, one that is not self-centred but Christ centred, one that is not godless but God-focused (godly). We have so much to learn! Now I would suggest that there are the following areas of learning we need to look at:

  • learning who God is and what He is like (correcting all the old false ideas we had previously),
  • learning what a relationship with Him means,
  • learning the character He wants to form in us that is Christ-like,
  • learning how to relate to others in a Christ-like way,
  • learning how to manage my life righteously (e.g. handling money at work etc.),
  • learning to recognize my gifts and talents that he has given me,
  • learning how to become like Jesus and do his works as he leads me (part of his ‘body’ that we will consider in detail in a later Part).

The call of a disciple: Those who Jesus followed in the Gospels were called disciples. A disciple is first and foremost a follower who learns to be like their ‘master’ (or teacher or mentor) and the important word is ‘learns’. When Jesus commissioned the church he told them, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20). It was a call to create a church who learnt to be like Jesus, not only in character but also in action. Sadly in the modern church we focus on the character part, but we limit the ‘doing’ to what some have called the ‘spiritual disciplines’ – prayer, Bible reading, worship, witnessing – and have stopped there.

A Step Further: But is that all that Jesus expects of us? He taught a lot on prayer, but virtually nothing about preaching or bible reading, although there is this strong indication that the church should be teaching the truths we have been talking about. Worship, yes, a natural expression of love for God when we come together. Witnessing, a natural sharing when we rub shoulders with our neighbors and they ask us why we are so good, loving, gracious, caring, compassionate etc. etc. as we are. But consider what Jesus said he was doing: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) and then his teaching, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12)

A New Mandate for your Life? Now it is clear from the Gospels that Jesus meant each of those things literally and physically, so somewhere along the line, I suggest, we need to learn to do those things, or at least get the whole body to do those things, because (and we’ll see it in a later Part) there are some described as those with the gift of healing (1 Cor 12:9,28,30) which implies not everyone – so relax, it may be you or not.

But how about spiritualising those things above, which I think is legitimate for this exercise, to take the pressure of those who fear the literal translation. Let’s see if this is any easier for you. Can we expand that verse in Mt 11:5 as follows: “(i) those who have been spiritually blind and have been unable to understand and receive the gospel, have been enabled to see and understand it; (ii) those who are limping through life, lacking strength, lacking purpose, lacking clarity, have been enabled to walk tall with purpose; (iii) those whose lives are blighted by past bad relationships, bad experiences and lies from the enemy, have been ministered to by the love of Jesus, forgiven, cleansed, restored and set running with purpose; (iv) those who had apparently been unable to ‘hear’ what we had been saying to them, suddenly now start showing they are hearing it; (v) those who are clearly spiritually dead heed the Gospel and receive his life and are raised to new lives, and (vi) those who have been made to feel they are nothing have received the good news that in God’s sight they are precious. How about that as a fresh mandate for your life, what has happened to you, for the things you say and do, and for the mandate of the church?

Challenging the Impossible: But, I hear some saying, I’m not sure I can do that. Isn’t it merely a matter of you learning to do it, learning to listen to God, learning to seek Him for His wisdom, His words, His faith? But I’ve got so little faith, I hear another say. Excellent, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20)  Go back to the study on a faith people. Faith coming from hearing. When you hear God and respond to what you hear, THEN stuff will happen, but it is a learning exercise and it starts with that realization. The truth is that Jesus is the Master-Teacher and he knows you are a slow learner (!!!!). Why do I say that? Because he chose twelve close disciples who traveled with him for three years and who saw all the incredible things he was doing and heard all the amazing teaching, but still got it wrong, still argued who was the greatest, still wanted to call fire down on those who didn’t agree with them, still betrayed him, still denied him, still abandoned him – but he kept on with them. Peter is our best example of a failure and yet still appointed to lead the church (read Jn 21). Amazing! Then see him in Acts doing the stuff. Talk about a learning curve!

And Us? Hungry for the truth? I hope so. Become a learner. Got questions? Become a learner. Got doubts? Become a learner. Got a murky past? Become a learner. God failures? Become a learner. Unsure of the future? Become a learner. Unsure of your part in the church, the body of Christ? Become a learner. Learning knowledge? Yes, but more than that, be a doer, a listener to God, one in whom faith grows, one who learns to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s daily leading, grow in it. And when you stumble and fall and get it wrong, get up again and learn from it. Learning includes failures and mistakes and Jesus doesn’t abandon you when you get it wrong; he wants you to learn from it. It’s a life of learning, lifelong learning. Amen? Amen!

15. No Longer Orphans

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

15. No Longer Orphans

Jn 1:12,13 to all who did receive 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.

1 Jn 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Me – Us?: I wonder if you were asked what aspect of ‘being a Christian’ stood out most to you, what you would reply? A believer? A church-goer? A good person? I want to suggest in this study that our starting and finishing point is that I am a child of God. That speaks of origins and identity, and it speaks of ongoing relationship, and it opens up thoughts about the future and our eternal destiny. Let’s browse together in this field.

Alienated: Psychologists talk about alienation, environmentalists talk about alienation, Marxists talk about alienation. It simply means being separated or estranged from some essential part of life. That counterfeit religion, Marxism, blames capitalism for isolating and dehumanizing people, psychologists blame relationships for human breakdown, sociologists blame society for human injustices that warp outlook. There is always a cause and always an effect. Sometimes in the context of his writings, the apostle Paul used the word ‘Gentiles’ to simply mean those who had no relationship with God. Speaking of this group he said, “For they live blindfold in a world of illusion and cut off from the life of God through ignorance and insensitiveness. They have stifled their consciences and then surrendered themselves to sensuality.” (Eph 4:18,19 JBP) See the cause: ignorant of God, insensitive to Him, hardening themselves (their consciences) to Him. See the effect: they just live lives given over to the five senses – and that is all. They are alienated from God, separated and cut off from Him, and thus live in a world of illusion, of deception, of delusion, and it feels lonely.

The Big Picture: The truth is that God created and brought this world into being and designed us to be people who had a relationship with Him, but that was lost at the Fall. There may be a bundle of secondary reasons why we experience difference sorts of alienation – from ourselves (not facing who we truly are), from others (not being able to relate to others), from society (who we see as hostile and cruel) and so on, but the ultimate truth is that because we are alienated from God, the One we were designed to relate to as Father, all these other things tend to be dysfunctional, not working as they should. And that is how it would stay if God had not foreseen all of this and planned to counteract it by the work of His Son and His Spirit.

The Problem of Sin: Have you ever thought that when God said, “you must not eat from…” (Gen 2:17), the first and only prohibition, in their perfect provision for Man, the Godhead knew that living with provision was fraught with dangers? Eating too much would cause obesity. Making and using alcohol in excess would have many harmful effects, and so on, so many potential hazards – and so many hidden boundaries. Throughout the Creation, excess would harm but wise use would bless. And thus man would have to learn about boundaries, so God applied a limitation to just one tree to teach the lesson, and man learnt to restrain his appetites as wisdom decreed, an expression of love, of relationship, an acceptance of God’s wisdom in provision.

But then came, “Did God really say…”  (Gen 3:1) and behind even just one boundary, one limitation, there lurks temptation, temptation to reject, temptation to ignore, temptation that says, “Perhaps He didn’t mean it, perhaps my way is best.” Temptation is there behind the many hidden boundaries that wise usage means are there. Temptation had to be faced and overcome or given way to, and whichever way, lessons learned. And thus God stood back while a tempter came, the test faced, and the Fall experienced, and life would never be the same again. And that is how it has been for you and me ever since. We sin, we do wrong, we miss the mark, we fall short, and all these things alienate us from God. In the same way that Adam and Eve hid from God immediately after their disobedience (Gen 3:8), the deep-down sense of our failures, our inadequacies, our falling short, mean that we too feel alienated from God. We should be children of God but we lost our relationship, we became orphans.

Adopted? Which is what makes that verse in the first chapter of John so wonderful: “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jn 1:12) We ‘become’ – we weren’t but now we are adopted into God’s family, taken back into the family where we were designed to be from the start. Expanding that, as the Amplified Bible puts it, to as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the authority (power, privilege, right) to become the children of God, that is, to those who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) His name.” See the new cause: believing, sticking to, trusting in, relying on Jesus – that is what brings about this new relationship. See the new effect: we become children of God, and when it says, “He gave the authority”, those other words explain that God conveys the right to be called a child, the privilege of being a child of God, and the power to be a child of God. Keep on turning those words over. I not only have the privilege of being able to be called a child of God, I have been given a legal right from heaven of having that title – and it doesn’t stop there – and I also have the power to live as a child of God.

Divine Act: But how and why? Because of what follows:  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:13) There is early warning of what was to come a couple of chapters later – “Children born…. Of God”Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.” (Jn 3:6,7) So why, to use the language above, do I have the right to be called a ‘child of God’? Because I am a product of the work of God, Him justifying me, Him placing His Holy Spirit within me to indwell me. Why do I have the power of a child of God? Because His power indwells me.

Different! Do you remember the first study in this Part (no.8) was all about the fact that a Christian is different from a non-Christian? Here is the second of the things that come about when we are born again that make us different – I am given the right to be called a child of God because I have been born of God – He has made me that when I surrendered to Him, and that is only possible because of the work of Christ on my behalf on the Cross, (It is for you also if you receive it as such!) and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in me for the rest of my life. How wonderful!

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