17. Chosen

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 17. Chosen

Eph 1:4 he chose us in him before the creation of the world.”

It is not uncommon for children to question their parents, “I wasn’t adopted was I?” It is a question that underlies our insecurity and need to feel we belong. It is also quite likely that it is the motivating force that energises some of us to ‘do’ things to earn God’s love. Perhaps it is the biggest challenge that the enemy whispers to us, “Oh he doesn’t really love you, you’re not worthy of his attention.” Or maybe it is, “See he’s paying no attention to you, you’re on your own, he doesn’t care about you.” Lies.

When God wants us to pay attention to something He says it a number of times. This verse above is just one of seven references in the New Testament to God’s plan involving Christ, that was conceived by the Godhead BEFORE Creation (Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2).

The life we are living out today was conceived by God before He made anything. He knew sin would come to Eden and His world, He knew the only way for justice to deal with it was through the Cross and, as He looked into the future, He knew that you would be a responder, and in that sense, even right back then He ‘chose’ you. Today you are walking a path that was planned before anything else came into being. Nothing about your life is an accident, it was known, it’s ‘in the Plan’. Live it secure in that knowledge and rejoice in it.

Now here’s something else about the plan which, as you personally are concerned, kicked into being when you were born again: not only did God conceive it and see you in it, He didn’t just start it off in you, He’s going to do all He can to ensure you finish it and ‘get the goods’ at the end as you enter heaven to a fanfare of angelic trumpets. he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)

But not only has He got the end in mind for you, He’s actively working day by day right through to that end: in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8:28) That’s all things EVERY day, He there watching over your life.

Check out Psa 121 again. Five times (v.3,4,5,7,8) it says He watches over you. He didn’t choose you to abandon you and leave you on your own. Being chosen means much more than that; it means He is there for you providing you with protection (v.5-7) and he will do it, “both now and forevermore.” (v.8) But back to Ephesians 1, He chose us, “to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (v.4b)  That’s how He sees you. Yes, He knows about your foibles (and will be working on them) but when He looks at you and feels for you, it is as a son or daughter who is spotless as far as the Book of Life is concerned, as brought about by Jesus. Not only that, in v.11 He says you were chosen “for the praise of his glory,” (v.12b) or as another version puts it, so that “we would bring praise to God.” That’s it, chosen to be His kids (yes adopted! v.5) who will reflect their Dad. Awesome! Amazing! Wonderful!  

2. Sentient Life?

Short Meds in the Goodness of Life: 2. Sentient Life?

Gen 2:7 Then the Lord God formed a man.. and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

I started this series yesterday by suggesting that the things we take for granted are more than I could count on all my fingers and toes. No more true is this than in respect of ‘life’. We live, we breath, we think, we move – and we’ll consider all these in detail in the days to come – and we take all this for granted, and yet we are and we do because at some point in existence God decided this is how it would be. Life is not an accident; it is part of the plans and purposes of God.

We are sentient beings which means we are emotional, sensitive, responsive, have feeling – able to interact meaningfully and with understanding, with the world round us – and we take it for granted, until our lives are threatened or curtailed and then we start thinking about these things. We are self-aware and yet so often, not aware.

I have various regrets when I look back on my life but one of the greatest is that I took life for granted, I took my health and strength for granted. I used to go out into our garden on a Saturday morning in the Summer and start work, digging and planting and so on. I would take a lunch and tea break but would work from nine in the morning until nine at night.. I’m tired just thinking about it – but I did it and yet I was tired at the end of the day but today I do heavy work and sit for a rest every hour.  How I took it for granted.

But I suspect we’ve never thought about this when we open the Bible, this book which is filled with activity, human beings all doing their own things, some good, some not so good and some downright bad. And there’s another thing we take for granted – our conscience, that tells us, “This is not good.” Or there’s what we call common sense: ”That stove look hot. I must keep at a distance or I’ll burn myself.” We stay alive by awareness. Elephants, I am told, can hear the sound of approaching clouds.  I simply use my sight.

Self-awareness can be a bane and a blessing. David wrote at one point, “Why are you cast down, oh my soul?” (Psa 42:5) So many of the psalms are songs of awareness, awareness of the world, of God, of ourselves, and we take such things for granted. I need to pray: “Lord, please forgive me that I have taken my ‘life’ for granted, I took for granted my health, my energy, my activities. I took for granted my work and my play, my endeavours and my holidays, and most of all, your blessings in my life. Thank you for making me, me, the living being that I am, able to appreciate this world, interact with this world, impact this world and even change this world. I accept this is how YOU made me. Thank you so much. Amen”   

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.

30. Life (1)

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

30. Life (1)

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.”

Life?  According to my concordance the word ‘life’ occurs 565 times in the NIV. It is possibly one of the most often read words (229 of them in the New Testament) and yet, I suspect, one of the most least unthought about words. We speak so easily of ‘eternal life’ and we see Jesus speaking of it so often, for example,

Quote 1: “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Mt 6:25) and,

Quote 2: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Mt 6:27) and

Quote 3: “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:14)

Even that little selection should get us thinking. Life, says Jesus, is more than about eating. Well yes, we might respond, it’s about meaningful things like relationships, family, work, fulfilment and so on. And indeed, that is the life in both the first and second quotes, but then then comes the challenge of Mt 7:14 about another dimension, life that is more than mere physical existence; it has to be spiritual life he is referring to.

John’s perspective: Look up life in John’s Gospel and it is mostly this spiritual dimension. John, who had had decades to ponder on the things he had personally heard Jesus say, comes into the Gospel accounts at a much more profound level: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind,” (Jn 1:24) and, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it,” (Jn 5:21) not to mention the numerous references to eternal life (e.g. 3:15,16,36, 4:14,36 etc. etc.)

And So? What is the outworking of this? It must be to ask the questions, “Do we know and experience this ‘life’ individually and in a corporate sense in the church, is this what we seek to impart to one another, and is this the dimension we seek to introduce others to?” To this we might add, “Where in our church experience is this ‘life’ evident?” The discerning Christian recognises another Christian by the sense of ‘life’ about them. I have shared previously how, when I came to the Lord, I woke up next morning a completely different person. There was ‘life’ there in way that had not been previously. I was once in East Malaysia in a jungle village waiting for a translator to turn up and our Christian hosts were having to communicate by sign language, and I have testified many times that I had this bursting sense to want to be able to speak language to them because there was this sense of ‘life’ in these Malaysian Christians, a life that wanted to be communicated.

It’s Absence: But then, I have attended services that were pure performance and the dear man out the front was ‘doing his job’ and life was not flowing. You know it when you see it, but you also know it when it’s not there, whether it be Nuns in a Convent who may be overflowing with life or monks in a Monastery who may be there for a quiet life but there is no ‘life’; it may be in an Anglican church where the Spirit has been let loose and life abounds, or it may be a little evangelical church where law, conformity and lifelessness abound. The ‘streams’ tend to have let the Lord loose but many denominational churches hold fast to a rigid past, fearing a God on the loose. Its absence is seen in an environment where, “We don’t do it like that,” prevails, very similar to “We’ve always done it like this.” Its absence is also seen where there are power groups in the church who exercise control, whether it be ‘the choir’, or ‘the worship band’ or even a family that has been here since the church began a hundred years ago, who want to hold fast to tradition at the cost of the Presence of God!

Recapping? But why do I seem to be recapping where we’ve been before, I hear you say, I thought we are moving on to look in detail at the church of the New Testament? And so we are but whatever we talk about as aspects of the life of the Church, we must keep reminding ourselves of the foundation upon which we are built. So, yes, we’ve previously considered the language of ‘being born again’ which, although disliked by some, nevertheless is language used by Jesus and language which points us at this very subject, and we perhaps need to remind ourselves what is at the heart of it.

Life involves Movement:  When you look at Jesus’ words in Jn 3 through the lens of the Message version, it sheds light: “You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” (Jn 3:8 paraphrase) Jesus spoke of the moving of the Spirit upon us using the picture of wind, and then it indwelling us. Now that is very helpful because it is something with which we are all conversant. Who hasn’t felt the wind on our face, watched the trees sway and bend, and all this speaks of movement?

When a child is born, if there is no movement, we know something is wrong. When a person is born again, we expect to see movement, change, and if there is none, we question the reality of it. When a person says they have been filled with the Spirit, we expect to see change, movement. When it happens, signs of it happening (or happening again) may be a release of tongues or prophecy (see instances in Acts) and will certainly be accompanied by a fresh outpouring of joy with a sense of being loved. There is always a release of ‘life’ and sense of ‘freedom’. I have entitled this Part as “Starting from Scratch” and this is exactly what we are doing. At the heart of the life of the individual AND the Church has to be ‘life’ and life involves change and movement.

Church involves Change: Because of all this, the life of a Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered, Spirit-directed church will mean that ‘change is here to stay’ as is sometimes said.  In a healthy church, those changes will be seen in several different ways. First, in the addition of new members,  new people coming to Christ and being added to the Church. Second, as people grow up and develop spiritually, they will change. Are we different from what we were say five years ago? We should be? We should be learning new things that change our outlook, the way we think, and that in turn will change our behaviour, the things we say and do. But, third, as we grow and mature, that will also include in areas of gifting and ministry, as we learn to recognise the gifting God has put within us and we become more confident in using it, and thus become more fruitful. We recently quoted Jesus’ teaching of the vine which is applicable here: I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) That speaks about life flow, Jesus life flowing in us and as we maintain this relationship, so it brings forth fruit in and through us.

And So? We should conclude by asking those questions we asked before and hold them before us, to ponder the reality of our answers: “Do we know and experience this ‘life’ individually and in a corporate sense in the church, is this what we seek to impart to one another, and is this the dimension we seek to introduce others to?” To this we might add, “Where in our church life is this evident?”  Stuff to think about.

23. The Significance of Vision

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

23. The Significance of Vision

Prov 29:18 (NKJV) Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint (or ‘no prophetic vision’)

Prov 29:18 (AV) Where there is no vision, the people perish

Prov 29:18 (Message)  If people can’t see what God is doing,  they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals,  they are most blessed

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

At Last:   At last we come near to the subject of the Church itself. In Part 1 we considered reasons for approaching the subject of the Church, in Part 2 we considered what made Christians different, and in Part 3 we considered the making of a Christian, or what happens to change the person.  The Church is made up of people, that’s what ‘church’ is, we saw from the early days, and so it was important to cover these previous studies, but now we come to what church actually is, and in so doing I hope we may be able to get a completely fresh insight into who or what this body of people is supposed to be, at least according to the New Testament, the whole of the New Testament, and we will do it in this particular Part by focusing on the subject of ‘vision’. In this short Part we will cover:

23. The Significance of Vision

24. More on ‘Why Vision?’

25. The God Focus

26. Spiritual Expressions

27. Building People

Vision?  I couldn’t help using the Prov 29:18 reference (which we may come back to later) because it always has been a key verse people use for this subject. Having said that, I would simply like to ponder on what vision is and why it is so important. A small anecdote might, however, bring a warning against just going through a procedure. Quite a number of years ago, the church that I led decided to go down this path and so we spent some time waiting on the Lord and formulating that we felt He was saying to us. We came up with a ‘vision statement’ which was relatively general, could be easily understood, fitted scripture, and could be applied to any church. Yet it did have specifics that we could work towards. This we did. A number of years later I was aware that we had worked well on this vision with one exception. There was one part we had not got to grips with. Nevertheless, I felt we were still on track. That was until someone said one day, “We don’t have a vision!” To cut a long story short, with an extended leadership team, we spent another complete year, starting from scratch, praying and seeking for clarity. By the end of this long and not always happy process, we came up with an end result. I will never forget the day that one of the newer members of our leadership team looked at this end product and said, “You know, this is identical to the one we had those years back.”

Lessons? I think, having gone through that double process, there are some lessons to be learnt. First, it is good to wait on the Lord to seek for a sense of purpose and direction. Second, if you do formulate a ‘mission statement’, it should have specifics within it that you can work towards in such a way that you know you have achieved them, i.e. in some way or other they should be measurable. Third, it is vitally important I believe that we convey the statement to the church and catch their heart with it so that they are all on board with it. That means, as I noted above, that it is in line with scripture and easily explainable and people can see what they are working towards. Fourth, it is equally important that it is not merely a piece of paper that is trotted out at an annual ‘vision Sunday’ but is something that a) the whole leadership buys into, b) is constantly brought before the church as a reminder of where we are going, and c) we constantly check all we are doing against.

But why? It is important that we understand that the vision we have been talking about is something we, collectively as this local church, are working on to achieve something we can all understand. But why, I still hear. Stop and think of some of the things we have covered previously. How we come to the Lord: conviction, repentance, conversion, and so on. We have become a Christian and we have a life that is now (or at least starting to be) as different as chalk is from cheese in comparison to what it used to be. We know, at the outset, little of the teaching of the New Testament (if not the whole Bible) about God, Jesus and who we now are. There is a whole new world and whole new future ahead of us. We need teaching. On a desert island over many years, alone with a Bible, we could come to our own conclusions, but we are now relating to a whole bunch of other people who have also arrived at this same point as you – some of them many years back, and we find they have ideas, standards, approaches to life, that are quite alien to what we have known in the past.  Moreover we find that we too have a different way of thinking about the world around us and we soon catch the idea that the Bible has a lot to say about all of this.

We need teaching:  But then these things start to really sink in and we realize we are part of a corporate body, that the Bible speaks about and so when we are harmonising and working together with others in this ‘body’, the church, we can achieve greater things. How and why?  We need teaching. Now this process of us as individuals and us as a body is a long-term process. It is going somewhere. I touched on this in Study no.3 in Part 1 when I gave an example of a part of a vision from the past: “It would be a place where learning was normal, new believers shown the way, introduced to the Bible, prayer, fellowship, worship and witness, and introduced to the life in the Spirit, introduced to gifts and abilities in the kingdom of God, released, and equipped to find their place in the body that expresses the kingdom of God.”  (We also considered the subject of learning in Study No.18). Now I wonder if this is the outlook, expectation, or vision of your local church, or do people simply turn up week in, week out, participate in the service and go away without any ‘big picture’ of an underlying purpose to what is going on (which will be much bigger that just this element – the whole of this Part really answers this).

Less formally: Sometimes the formal approach is limited, I believe, in conveying something of what we believe the heart of God wants for us. Here is another example of part of a vision that came from one of the women members when I invited our church years back to write: “It would be a place where people meet with Jesus and their lives changed. People would leave wanting more. The place would be used at other times for Bible studies, full of relevance and LIFE!!! Banquets to invite friends to …. not Outreach, no, no, no! It would just happen as people came in contact with those who knew Jesus, as they saw our lives and community. Old people’s groups, coffee mornings, drop in centre, toddler group, creative group, singing, kids, young peeps having coffee, discussion, a place to be. Stillness group, listening group. The Police would be dropping in often to chat, we would be able to work with them and minister to them too. Other counsellors, people in the community, would also just turn up, be interested, involved. Much prayer, much ministry, all sorts, vibrant, real, true.”

Life Flowing: Wow! I emphasized that it was written by a woman, because I think it just oozes ‘relationships’, because so often the women of the church are so much better at that aspect. In fact, strangely enough just recently, we brought together a small group to meet for an evening to wait upon the Lord and just be His kids together and see what would happen, and it just happened to include the lady who wrote that passage many years ago. After the evening she instantly instigated a Whats App group for this little gathering which will meet monthly, and instantly there was banter and chatter and relationship communication that would have not been possible twenty years ago. My instinctive reaction was, “Wow, how wonderful – life! Life flowing between the members of this group in a dimension that had not been possible on that first evening. Incredible! Relationships! Awesome!”

And so? And so in this first introductory study about vision, although I haven’t identified it as such, I have been talking about expressions of what Paul spoke about to the Ephesians: “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) and as much as I think that applies to us as individuals, I also believe it applies to us as the corporate body we call the local church. There is much more to say and we’ll say some of it in the next two studies. For the moment can I finish with some outline notes I sent to a colleague a year or so back as he was struggling with the whole concept of vision:

Vision is:

a) a picture of how the future can be, combined with

b) achievable goals that are understood by the people and are seen to be do-able by the grace of God,

c) an action plan of a course to be followed that:

i) identifies the gifts within the church,

ii) releases people and enables people to use their gifts (and thus feel fulfilled),

iii) includes teaching that envisions the hope and the means of achieving it, and

iv) specific training that equips and releases people to play their part in the body.

Vision is about getting:

  1. The heart of God for our future
  2. The wisdom of God how to achieve it
  3. The power and anointing of God for it to be achieved by God through us.

Vision, to become fruitful, must

  1. Come from the heart of God
  2. Touch the lives and hearts of the people
  3. Be bought into by the majority
  4. Be spoken of regularly
  5. Be worked at continually

It is not restatement of where we are but where we’re going.

63. Discernment

Short Meditations in John 6:  63. Discernment

Jn 6:63   The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life

Life. We all have life, don’t we? We are all alive? That’s true isn’t it? Well, clearly not because Jesus implies that the Holy Spirit brings life – to people who we would say are already alive! The obvious conclusion is that there are two levels of ‘life’. First there is physical life, so often referred to as the life of the flesh, the physical life we experience through the five senses – taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing. Every single living person experiences life at this level.

But then we each have a ‘spirit’, it is said, and here we arrive at the realm of faith where we will either believe Jesus – or not! The problem is that there is no part of our physical body that houses the ‘spirit’. It is probable that we might be speaking of the brain, the part of our body that enables realisation of existence, the area of experience, of awareness, but for the most part, all those things are only in the material or physical realm, aided as we said by the five senses.

In Gen 2 there is the well-known reference to God breathing into the first humans “the breath of life” which some suggest is His Spirit imparted to us to make us alive. The fact that Jesus was to later teach that the Holy Spirit would indwell us, suggests that that initial “breath of life” was simply God’s initial starting ‘life’ off in us.

If this is so, then the subsequent inference from these verses in John clearly suggests that by coming to Jesus there is an impartation of his own Holy Spirit who will impart Spirit-life which enables us to live on a completely different plane, one that enables us to both communicate with God, be sensitive to Him, and be led and guided by Him. This takes us far beyond merely living at the physical level and gives us insight into spiritual realities in ways that nothing else does.

Now what is interesting is that Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life.” In the light of what we have just been considering, this sheds a completely different light on everything that has been said by Jesus in this discussion that has taken up such a large part of this chapter. The words you have been hearing, implies Jesus, come from that spiritual plane and can only be discerned spiritually. If you are spiritual, you will have no problem with them. If you are operating on the purely physical or material plane, you will really struggle with them. Now, in the light of all this, what does it mean to be spiritual? It means to have come to Christ and now be indwelt by his Holy Spirit, and without Him you are not a Christian – see Rom 8:5-11, esp. v.9. This is why it is so important when we study His word that we pray and seek the Spirit’s help and revelation.

57. The Flow of Life

Short Meditations in John 6:  57. The Flow of Life

Jn 6:57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me

Notice the flow that runs through this verse: the Father lives so the Son lives so we can live.  There are fundamental, absolutely basic truths here that perhaps we don’t often think about. The starting point is that life exists because God exists. He is life, He is ‘alive’ and because he made all of this material world we also live.

This is something so basic that we take it for granted and so really need to define it. ‘Life’ = “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.” There we are, life involves growth, reproduction, activity, and change. A rock may change with the effect of weather upon it but left to itself it will not change. We have life and without it, life ceases, activity ceases, growth ceases, change ceases. That is how important all this is.

So life is in the Father and, as the creeds declare, Jesus was begotten of the Father, meaning he came out of the Father and is one in essence with the Father. In him is life as well. But then they created us and so we live but that ‘living’ is purely at a material level and yet they have also made us with a spirit which is capable of coming alive and that happens when we receive Jesus and we receive his Holy Spirit, who is life.

Thus when we are ‘born again’ it is an act of the Holy Spirit who then indwells us, and His life then energizes us so that spiritually there is growth, reproduction, activity and change. The purpose of the Father was for Jesus to come to the earth so that His life would be manifest on the earth, spiritually as well as physically. Hence we see impartation of revelation from heaven, a flow of power that brought life to dead bodies, sight to blind eyes, hearing to deaf ears, and brought about what otherwise we call miracles. Where there is ‘life’ there is change, movement, activity.

Now when we see this in relation to our own lives, this takes on a new significance. His life flowing in us as Christians brings change, brings movement, brings activity, brings revelation. We change, we grow we are activated by His presence and His life movement in us. But there is something else about ‘life’, it needs feeding to be constantly energized. God doesn’t need feeding because He is unlimited, but we do and the feeding is spiritual, it is that which we have been considering a number of times already, taking in the presence of Jesus, living with him, going with him and so on. This ‘feeding’ energizes and releases life.

(Today we have added two studies to come to a place where we can pause up in order to start a brief series tomorrow to reflect on Christmas. We will  continue with John 6 later.)

51. It’s here today

Short Meditations in John 6:  51. It’s here today

Jn 6:51   I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

The clarity of Jesus’ teaching sometimes is breath-taking and it leaves no room for obfuscation (confusion); it is right in your face and you either receive it – or not. OK, says Jesus, I have been talking about bread that feeds more than ordinary bread, a bread that comes down from heaven that gives eternal life – and I am that bread. It is that simple! See it in this power-packed verse.

“I am the living bread.” Somehow Jesus is a means of bringing a sustenance to our lives that is beyond ordinary, it is ‘living’, it is alive, it is life-bringing.

“that came down from heaven.” This provision – me – is from God, from heaven, that was my home, that is where I have come from.

“Whoever eats this bread.” Yes, that needs thinking about and we did it in the previous study. It means taking Jesus fully into our lives and absorbing him into ours.

“will live forever.” This is the potential that overcomes our fear of death; there is the potential of a life with God that goes on for ever.

“This bread is my flesh”. Somehow or other this analogy of bread applies to Jesus life, his very body. As we observe and react to what this one single human (?) body did, that is what causes the dramatic change in life, that brings the consequences we’ve just spoken of.

“which I will give.” Somehow there is a hint here of Jesus relinquishing this life, of giving it up, a hint of the days to come.

“for the life of the world.” This is not just for a special few here in Israel, this is for the entire world and it is a thing of life and death, something that affects every single human being, past, present and future. What Jesus is talking about is how any person who has ever existed can have the opportunity of receiving this ‘eternal life’, this glorious and wonderful life for ever with God.

So here is the claim in stark definition. It is hard to see how it can be misunderstood and the key thing is, this ‘bread’ is here in front of them today; they are the most privileged people of history to have this ‘bread’ stand before them. Yet many if not most will misunderstand, grumble and turn away. So why does Jesus speak in these somewhat obscure yet staggeringly sharp ways? He uses the language of analogy as well as parables because pictures are graphic and memorable and even if they will struggle to understand at the moment, the word pictures will remain with them. Even their hostility will help create memories that will speak on.

28. Redeemed To (1)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 28. Redeemed To (1)

Eph 2:6,7    God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Moving On:  Having, for the last three studies, been focusing on the things the Lord seeks to redeem us from, we now move on to what He wants to redeem us to. You remember the picture of the Exodus? God wanted to deliver Israel out of the land of slavery, Egypt, into the Promised Land, a land of new identity, freedom and resources. The first 3 verses of Ephesians 2 were about our old life that God had delivered us from, a life of spiritual death (v.1), a life of being led by the deception of the world’s godless ways of thinking (v.2), a life that was focused on responding to personal whims, personal desires, personal emotions (v.3). Those are the things we have been considering in the last three studies.

Balancing Verses: But from verse 4 he balances out those things with the things God had made us to be and is making us to be: alive to Him (v.5), joined with Christ (v.6), recipients of His incredible blessings (v.7). From being spiritually dead, He has made us spiritually alive; from being led by the world, He has made us one with Christ to be led by him; from having to struggle to satisfy ‘self’ by getting, He has brought us into a place of wonderful provision. Now because I suspect we so often succumb to taking these things for granted and becoming so familiar with the teaching that we just don’t rejoice in it any longer, we also succumb to relying on the old ways and fail to enter into the wonder of the reality of these things. For this reason we will, in these next three studies, major on these things.

Alive? For those of us who have had a dramatic salvation experience, this is more of an observable reality. For those of us who made childhood professions of faith or professions of faith spread over a period, this often fails to be so clear. I am in the former category and I can remember to this day (even though it is now over fifty years ago) praying on my own, late in the evening, going to bed and waking up a new person. I was alive in a way I had never known before. There was much I would take time to appreciate, but I went off to visit a cousin and spent the day seeking to convert him. I bought a Bible and started reading avidly. I got involved in Bible studies and very soon was leading a number each week. I became involved with a youth evangelism team and found myself sharing my testimony. I had found Christ and was changed. Without being particularly conscious of it, it was happening. His life in me was a reality, prayer became part of my life. I knew the reality of Paul’s words, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17)

Familiarity dulls: Now let’s be honest. For those of us who have known the Lord for many years, it is quite possible (probable?) that that early feeling has abated. The trouble is that we get sucked into daily life and life of ‘church’, and regularity and familiarity take the edge off. When you have prayed every prayer you can think of, when you have read your Bible inside out, when you have heard thousands of sermons and attended thousands of ‘church services’ there does become a feeling of ‘been there, done it three times, got the tee-shirt’ and faith on a daily basis seems to become a struggle, and you know it shouldn’t. What had happened? ‘Life’ was replaced by routine; faith was replaced by ritual. Church becomes a ritual, prayer becomes a ritual, Bible reading becomes a ritual.

Think about ‘life’: ‘Life’ is something spontaneous, new, fresh every moment. Watch a new born baby. Every new move, every new experience is avidly watched by its parents. We observe it beginning to focus and watch a mobile hanging above its crib, we watch it develop so that it can roll over, then sit up, then stand and then take its first step. Excitement! We note its first word which creates competition: “Say Momma,” “No, say Dadda.” Sometimes we cause laughter trying to make it learn new words. A nephew of mine had been given a brightly coloured plastic duck and so someone said (without hope), “Say fluorescent duck.”  He didn’t, but other words soon did come as he grew and developed at his own pace. This is the thing about ‘life’, it is natural, it changes and grows and develops at its own pace, and some parents worry about the fact that their child isn’t saying or doing the same things as the new child next door, and they have to learn that their baby is unique. Each ‘life’ is unique and here’s another thing you watch as your children grow: they have ‘growth spurts’.

‘Life’ for Jesus’ disciples: I’ve written this at least twice previously in this past year, but it bears repeating. Imagine Levi the tax collector at his collection booth when Jesus walks up. “Hullo,” says Jesus. “I’m Jesus.” “Yes, I know,” comes the response from Levi, “I’ve heard about you.” “Great but I don’t want you to just hear about me, I want you to follow me.”  “But I’ve got a job here, I’m a tax collector.” “Yes, I know but I want you to come and follow me.” “Where to?” “Wherever I go. Follow me and see.” “What to do?” “Whatever I do. Follow me and see.”  “When do I have to start?” “Right now.” “For how long?” “For as long as it takes. Follow me and see.” “What will happen to me?” “Follow me and see.” That was life; it was following Jesus as he was led by the Holy Spirit.

Ah, there is the crux of life for the Christian, it is the life of the Holy Spirit, and being led by Him. Sometimes that is a conscious thing, sometimes it is a natural flow, sometimes we seek Him, wait upon Him, and sometimes He comes without warning. But Jesus said it would be like that: “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.” (Jn 3:8) Now to come back to what we’ve said a number of times about redemption, this may apply to the initial ‘new birth’ but it also applies to the nature of the ongoing new life. We can put ourselves in the way of the Lord as we wait on Him in prayer or reading the Bible and all we can do is pray, “Holy Spirit, please come,” and then just be open to Him. Life flows, life is spontaneous, life comes from Him.

Regaining Life: How can we get back on course so that our daily and weekly experience is one of ‘life’? One of the ‘rules’ I have adopted in the last few years is ‘God first’. Now what I mean by that is when we are ‘doing’ anything we consider spiritual, we pause and seek Him and ask, “Lord, what do you want here?” That can apply if we are church leaders and worship leaders in respect of weekly services. Some of us will be part of denominations that use prayer books or other means of established, regular ritual. This is not for you; you will feel frustrated by this. But for those of us from so-called ‘free churches’, dare we put aside our routines and try this new approach? My congregation used to laugh when so often I would say, “This morning we’re going to do something different.”  But why shouldn’t each Sunday morning be different? We follow a Creator God and we do Him a disservice by using preplanned, premade repetition instead of the life He wants to bring. No wonder the people in synagogues (where ritual prevailed) were delighted and surprised when Jesus came in, brought authoritative teaching and healed and delivered people.

Let the Spirit flow: Where the Spirit is allowed to flow, He brings life. Ezekiel’s picture is so graphic and powerful (Ezek 47) that wherever the river was allowed to flow, life followed it (see v.8-10), but not in the ‘swamps (v.11). A swamp is a stagnant quagmire where there is no movement and life dies. I will refrain from saying the obvious here about much modern church life. But the call is to let the Holy Spirit come, let Him lead, let Him bring fresh life. It is all there in the New Testament.

And me? Will I remember every morning to turn to Him when I pray and be aware of His presence and not just utter words? Before I open His word, before I study, before I write, will I pause and seek Him and look to Him for His life flow in what I read? And on Sunday mornings, will I come to Him and make myself available – if not able to break loose in the structure others are responsible for – at least to bless Him in the reality of my worship, and my availability in looking to bless and encourage others before I come home?  In my daily life when I am confronted with problems, difficulties, ways of doing things, will I turn to Him for wisdom and grace to carry me through? This is what the Lord is redeeming us to, and away from arid formalism and meaningless ritual that stifles the Spirit. No where do I find this more challenging than in preaching. When I get up and speak, will I seek for and allow His life to flow in my words, bringing alive His word so that people are thrilled, lifted, challenged, encouraged, blessed and sent out full of faith? To do this every week is one of the biggest challenges of church leadership and so team ministry allows time to think, reflect and, most importantly, overcome routine and familiarity.

Reality: In truth, there is no easy ABC (despite the books!) of retaining a fresh flow because, although I can do the things above, life is a spontaneous thing and it seems the flow is more like the ebb and flow of the tide rather than the regular flow of a river. Sometimes He is very evident, other times not so – perhaps to prove the reality of it. On the good days, rejoice in the wonder of the life; on the quiet days, remain faithful and continue to wait on Him and seek Him. “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (Jas 4:8) This is not for spiritual-super-giants, this is the potential for each and every one of us, this is what He is redeeming us to.

46. Conclusion

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 46. Conclusion

Jn 12:32  “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

Rev 1:5   Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

How to put all these studies together? It is impossible in a relatively small space to cover every one of the studies of the past six weeks. All we can do is observe our starting point, our finishing point and the key parts in between.

Jesus our model for growth: Our starting point was our ultimate goal which was to consider the New Testament call to us to grow. Our framework for that was John 12:32 above and I suggested from the outset that there were expressions or outworkings of that verse: first, Jesus lifted up on the cross to die for our sins, second, Jesus lifted up from death by his resurrection and, third, Jesus exalted on high through the ascension, so he is now seated at his Father’s right hand, where his presently ruling.

Jesus’ model applied to us: That was the framework, and I suggested that this same framework can be observed in the Christian life – first, our call to die to the old life and to sin, then second, our call to live the resurrected, Spirit-empowered life, and finally, to realize and see that that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms where we are to rule with him, as the Spirit-led body of Christ on the earth, that is bringing in the kingdom or rule of God on the earth. Perhaps a few key items for each of those.

Death: Without death to the old life and to our old way of doing things and our old ambitions, we cannot come and receive Christ as both Saviour and Lord. Christ cannot bring his salvation to us and cannot lead us in a new life if we insist on holding onto the things of our old carnal life.

Resurrection: Without death there can never be resurrection.   Resurrection is the shorthand picture of what takes place when we come to Christ. When we are ‘born again’ it is a work of the Holy Spirit who God places within and so the Spirit becomes an inner source of revelation (teaching) and power (for life transformation and service).  All the virtues and all the gifts and fruits of the Spirit find their origin and expression in Him.

Ascension: This is the area that many of us struggle with most. It is first of all seeing ourselves seated with Christ in heaven, linked by his Holy Spirit, second, it is understanding that now he is there ruling over the affairs of the world, even in the midst of his enemies who will eventually be destroyed, enemies that are all things contrary to the way God originally created this world perfect, and third, it is seeing ourselves as now his body on the earth, directed by him from heaven, led and empowered by his Spirit on a daily basis and, finally, fourth it is understanding that his body now, as two thousand years ago, is to work to bring the kingdom or rule of God on the earth.

It is the enormity of this third phase that leaves many of us struggling and is, perhaps, the most difficult area for growth. Perhaps there are various reasons for that. First, it is a spiritual experience that is expressed into the physical world. We are all right with the spiritual bit (e.g. simple prayer) but when that is extended to hearing God and responding to His directions that mean us stepping out in the physical world to bring physical changes, our faith wavers.

Second, we have settled in the past in the good, but only partial, teaching that the spiritual parts of being a Christian are just about being a witness, sharing the Gospel with friends, family etc. etc. Now that is good and right, but it stops short of Jesus call that said, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) and his explanation of those works is seen in Matt 11:5 and Lk 4:18,19. The other ‘spiritual’ aspect that we have watered down is in respect of prayer which is so often simply reduced to telling God what He ought to do and uttering words into the air, instead of it being a life-filled experience where there is a two-way communication. It is the so-often absent ‘hearing element’ of prayer that releases faith for action.

And So: So there we are, death, resurrection and ascended to a place of ruling, that is our syllabus or our learning program, a program that is not merely about learning words but putting them into action (Mt 28:20). To conclude, note our second starter verse from above: “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Rev 1:5) There again we have the three phases of the life and ministry of the Son of God.

First, he was a faithful witness, sharing in all the Father was doing (Jn 5:17,19), perfectly fulfilling the plan of the Godhead, formulated before the beginning of time and resulting in his death on a cross for the sins of mankind. Second, he is the firstborn from the dead, having been raised to life after death. Third, he is now the ruler of all the earth, seated at his Father’s right hand, working slowly and purposefully in the midst of his enemies on the earth to bring the rule of God which will be culminated in his Second Coming. Oh yes, there is very much yet a future element to all this, as there is for us. That says to us that we are working towards a guaranteed future when, if we learn these things, we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” while at the same time being welcomed home as the sons and daughters, the children of God, that we are.  Hallelujah and Amen!