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!

50. More on Faith

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

50. More on Faith

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

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

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

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

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

“Hullo, I’m Jesus.”

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

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

“But I’ve got a job.”

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

“Where are you going?”

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“What are we going to do?

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

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

“You’ll find out when you follow me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49. The Need for Faith

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

49. The Need for Faith

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

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

Rom 10:17  faith comes from hearing the message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

48. Power – for living

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

48. Power – for living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

45. Another quick look at Vision

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

45. Another quick look at Vision

Acts 10:3   One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Got the Tee-Shirt: OK, we’ve been there, done ‘vision’, got the tee-shirt , “Vision is about Seeing Clearly”, so what more is there to say? In Study No.23 we considered the significance of vision, that it provides purpose and direction for our church to pursue. In Study No.24 we noted the reality of the teaching of Prov 29:18 that without vision we go astray, life ebbs away and death ensues. It is that important. In Study No. 25 we considered the need to be a God-focused people, a people who relate everything about our lives and our church experience to God, being and growing as a spiritual people, and in Study No.26 we expanded on that. But if God is to be at the heart of our vision for church, then running a close second there is to be concern for people, and that we looked at in Study No.27. Those we suggested are to be the key issues at the heart of our vision. So again we might ask, what more is there to say?

Critical Importance: I feel the need to underscore all these things above in this final study on Vision and seek to emphasize how critical this subject is for the modern church. The casual approach to church simply says, we’ll we’ve got it all there in the New Testament, so let’s just follow what we have there – and that is right, in as far as it goes. Having said vision is critical, I am putting it alongside power, obedience and faith as equally critical ingredients for the church today. Why? Two reasons. First, the negative reason, because in reality so often these ingredients are missing from the modern church and that is seen in the poor quality of church life – life compared to what we find in the teaching in the New Testament, that is. Second, because these four ingredients have the capability, I believe, of transforming the church from something that is being constantly side-lined by the modern world which, as I said previously, threatens on one hand to crush it, or on the other hand, to mould it into its own image, and make it into what it is supposed to be – a God-glorifying, life-transforming and community impacting body. Let’s look at an illustration of this from the New Testament.

Peter & Cornelius: So here is the church that has come into being. Jesus has ascended into heaven but has poured out his Holy Spirit on the believers and life is pouring forth – but it is Jewish and looks like it will stay Jewish.  Now Jesus had said to them, 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) but one has to suggest that they took this to mean that they would witness into all the Jewish communities around the world because when Peter, as one of the key leaders of the apostles in the Jerusalem mother church, received a vision challenging him to put aside the past and accept whatever God was putting before him, he struggled with this on the grounds that it compromised his Jewishness.   He submits to God’s challenge and ends up preaching in the house of Cornelius, a Gentile.

The Effect: As a result of that – and we tend to forget this – he has to explain all that happened to the leaders back in Jerusalem and we read, When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18) i.e. the door to the world was opened in the minds of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.  Nevertheless, a bit later we find various Jewish believers in Jerusalem were still insisting on all believers being circumcised (Acts 15:5). It is then that Peter stood up and declared, “you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:7-11) Thus when Barnabas and Paul described what God had done through them with the Gentiles, this became easily accepted (v.12 on). Peter accepting the literal vision he had received in respect of Cornelius opened the way for the Gospel to go to the rest of the word – Jew AND Gentile – a wider vision than that held previously by them.

Other ‘Visions’: If we accept that ‘vision’ refers to the revelation of God as to what He wants to achieve through His people, we can see that His words to Abram in Gen 15:13-16 speaking of the next four hundred years, was clearly vision. Similarly when the Lord spoke to Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3 & 4) it was clearly vision. Indeed we might go further and say when anyone is inspired of God to declare the future possibilities that is vision, so God’s words to Samuel to anoint David (1 Sam 16:1) is about a new vision for Israel’s future. When David declares before Saul (1 Sam 17:34-37) his intention to kill Goliath, it is vision built on past experience and, although not explicitly stated there, a surge of faith in David. Vision is thus clearly the impartation of revelation from God to His people to release faith in them to step out and do His works.

Growth of Vision: Vision for the local church starts, I suggest, with stating the obvious things of what God wants for His church as shown in the teaching of the New Testament. That is really what all these studies have been about, about establishing a vision of what the church of the New Testament is all about.  Now the sad thing is that because of weakness in teaching in many places, and absence of the motivating ministries of the apostle and prophet, many of these things are not known by many Christians. Thus they become part of a foundation to be laid on which to build faith and vision in modern believers. Now as we go about doing that, I believe we will find the Holy Spirit enlarging our faith so our leadership and congregation start getting excited with specific things He puts on their hearts to become or do in respect of the church itself and the local community, and this will be unique to each individual local church community. Thus laying down this foundation and allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate it, will become one of the four motivating forces that can set the church on fire in God’s hands and become that God-glorifying, life-transforming and community-impacting body I referred to earlier. May it be so. Amen. Right, we need to move on now to the first of the other three ingredients, power.