54. A Time to Regain our Identity

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

54. A Time to Regain Our Identity

Mt 16:18  I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

1 Pet 2:9,10  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

I wonder? I have wondered if the average church member ‘sees’ themselves in any way different from anyone else? Very early on in this series I considered a number of ways the Christian – and subsequently the Church – is different from their non-believing neighbors. So yes, being a ‘believer’ is perhaps the starting place, but is that all you see?

Why? Now you may be thinking, why is he taking us back over this ground if we have covered it so thoroughly in the past studies? Well, it is simply because when I meet with other believers, that is the sense, and only that – that we are ‘believers’ – that ever seems to get communicated, and because I believe that is so, I think it is one of the reasons that Christians are so often backward in coming forward, or so deferential when it comes to standing up and declaring how needy the world is and how wonderful the answer that we have is. Mostly I detect we are on the defense.

A Positive Faith: One of our failures of recent decades is that of not communicating the positive aspects of Christianity – which are only found in Christianity – which can help this sick and ailing world. Of course part of that has been our ongoing failure to coherently and graciously communicate why the ways of the present world of the West are failing. It seems it is only the occasional columnist of one of the big ‘broadsheet’ newspapers who shouts, “This is not working!”

The appearance – and forgive me if I am wrong – is that in the UK where there is a ‘state church’, the Church of England, it is too tied in to the establishment to be regularly prophetic and thus it fails to prepare itself and its leading bishops to be voices of hope and change in a dark world. In the USA, although there is no state church, church and politics appear entwined so often but this seems to have resulted in specific limited battles being fought – the abortion battle being the most obvious but there have been others – but without conveying, “Hey this Christian thing is the best thing going!” and so there has been a failure to collectively convey the positive nature of the Christian faith that should be life changing, and if given a chance, also community-changing and nation-changing.

My Identity: So if someone asks you who you are, do you reply, “I am a believer in Jesus Christ,” or “I am a Christian,” because as excellent as those testimonies are, they only take us a short way along the path of identifying who we are. A shorthand answer along this path is, “Well, the Bible says I am a child of Almighty God, the Creator of all things” and that opens up a whole new area of discussion. But perhaps the more important issue is not so much what I have to declare as what I feel about myself. Knowing who I am, enables me to speak or act as I do.

For example, a number of times, either in this series or other series, I have reminded us that a) Jesus is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Eph 1:20) and then, b) that we are told that we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). Now this is quite remarkable if we believe it (understatement of the year!) because it means we are linked to Almighty God and because of that there is a sense where we should see ourselves as ‘above’ the world, having an overview of it that provides a more accurate view than anyone else, which means learning with Christ how to live with that.

Part of a Strategy: But this also reminds us of a verse we have considered many times in the past: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.   For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”   (1 Cor 15:24,25) Now this requires us to realize and recognize how Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2, Heb 1:13, 10:13, Mt 22:44) – even though the world seems to be doing its own thing – but also for us to realize that we are part of his ruling, we are with him in working to bring down these enemies (which include such things as unbelief, unrighteousness, ungodliness, anger, bitterness, hostility, wars, fighting, etc. etc. as well as the more obvious evils, such as slavery, still as prevalent today as in the past). We have a privileged position, privileged power and a privileged calling within the strategy of Christ in his calling to bring in the kingdom of God.

Inferior or Special?  So let’s be honest, how do we really feel about ourselves before the onlooking world? Have we let Satan demean us, do we feel inferior?  Now if this was a church meeting and I was one of those preachers who hype up the congregation, asking those things in an ever louder voice, we might expect the temptation might be the shout back, “No, we’re superior!” but that is not Christlike, it is not what the apostle Paul taught, or any of the other apostles. The word we are looking for is ‘special’.

I have a friend who dislikes us saying to anyone, “you are special,” because, he says, you can’t say to everyone, “You are special.”  Yes you can. First of all we can say it to us as a group of people in the world. At Mount Sinai, God said to Moses to say to the people, if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Ex 19:5) Don’t tell me that “treasured possession” doesn’t mean special! Perhaps it was with this in mind that the apostle Peter wrote to the church (see 1 Pet 1:1,2) those words at the top of this study: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet 2:9,10) Here I have highlighted words that say we are special.

Uniqueness: So dare we say, “I am special to God,” or “We as a local church are special to God,” so that marks us out from the rest of the world?  We are special because we have responded to Him and we have been adopted into His family so that we can say we are children of God, even sons and daughters of God. We are special because we have open access to heaven, a voice to God and an ear to hear from God and the ability to receive all the resources of God.

If that doesn’t make us feel good, perhaps we need to pray and ask the Lord to open our eyes to see the reality of these things, rather like the apostle Paul prayed, “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.” (Eph 1:18,19)  All this comes only by revelation. We need today the fresh revelation of who we are, the wonder of who we are, the wonder of what we are, the wonder of our destiny, and when we get that afresh, perhaps we will stand up in the midst of the world and cry fearlessly with the apostle Paul,  “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes,” (Rom 1:16) and then go on and demonstrate that power – which leads us on to the next studies about going into battle. Stick with me.

19. Holding to the Plan (2)

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 19.  Faith and holding to the Plan (2)

Heb 11:24,25   By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.

A couple of studies back we noted Joseph holding to ‘The Plan’,  the plan spoken out by God to Abram, Isaac and Jacob – this is my land and now it will be your land, for ever, and you will multiply and become a great people. Over four hundred years have passed – four  hundred years, how long that sounds! That was the same length of time that passed between the end of prophetic revelation in the Old Testament period to the start of the events recorded in the Gospels in the New Testament! It’s like us thinking about things happening in the early 1700’s, but with God time is not an issue, His plans and purposes remain regardless of how many years pass.

So Moses is living some 400 years on from the Patriarchs but he knows his history, he knows that he is a Hebrew, an Israelite as they will become. Somehow he’s done his history and presumably kept contact with his natural mother even though he was being brought up for the first forty years of his life as a Prince of Egypt.

Stephen in Acts 7 tells the story: At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.” (Acts 7:20-25)

Now of course we know that it all went wrong and the next day one of his own turned on him and it became public knowledge so that he had to flee from Egypt and spent the next forty years looking after sheep in the desert, until God called him to look after over a million human sheep in the desert. But it really all happened on that first day when, as Stephen put it, “he decided to visit his fellow Israelites”. Up until then he had been living a life of privilege behind palace walls, with everything laid on for him. Perhaps it wasn’t that he had kept touch with his family but had just learned about them in his private tuition in the palace and, knowing his own history, how his own palace mother had taken him out of the Nile, he decided to go an look for himself and visit the people from whom he originally came. When he arrived at where they were he saw they were slaves and he saw one of them being mistreated by a slave driver and at that point he stepped over the line and stood for being a Hebrew. All of his history, the history of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came rushing back from the lessons he had received and he knows these are his people, a people with a special relationship with God, Yahweh.

Yes, at that moment he ceased to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and was a Hebrew with a history that could not be ignored. At that moment he decided to stand for them and went too far and killed the slave driver. As the Hebrews writer puts it, “By faith Moses, …. chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.”  The ‘pleasures of sin’ were simply the life of luxury and leisure in the royal palace, self-concerned and godless.

Now there is a possible course of action that we don’t usually think about. He was a Prince of Egypt, no doubt a powerful man. The slave driver is likely to be just another slave as far as Pharaoh would be concerned, two a penny. So he died, so what? These things happen. He could have faced it out, but he didn’t. These were his people and he found himself going back to them the next day, at which point he has to remonstrate with two Hebrews who are quarreling and who turn on him. This is the point of decision. He could have brazened it out – “Who do you stupid slaves think you are? Don’t you realise I am a prince of Egypt, get back to you work or I’ll have you killed.” In his role that was a very real possible way through this – but he’s a Hebrew himself, and it’s got to him, and so “He regarded disgrace ….of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (v.26) His reward? To be counted as one of the people of God. At that moment he made the decision to leave; he could no longer handle this, being a prince in Egypt while his own people were slaves. He ran, and it was an act of faith. Whatever the future held it must be better than the reality I now know exists here in this land.

But there is an aspect of the record we have missed: “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.” (Ex 2:15) We have just examined what could have happened but for that to happen Moses would have to deny his people, deny his own birth and stand up in this situation as an Egyptian who cared nothing about the Israelites – but he couldn’t!

There is an unusual phrase I have taken out from the middle of that verse 26: “for the sake of Christ.” Now of course he would not have known about Christ, not known about the coming Messiah because that was something to only be revealed through the prophets in the centuries ahead – but we are told elsewhere in scripture that Moses was a prophet, a great prophet and so even here at this early part of his life, he senses there is something more to life, something more of God’s plans. He’s learnt about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and he’s no doubt seen the God factor in their histories and as he catches that in his spirit, something says, “There is something more” and even that is just a glimmer of the revelation that is to come. We’ve seen it in Abraham who looked for a city with God, a dissatisfaction with the present and a yearning for what God has on his heart, and Moses has it as well.

So this forty year old embryo prophet, who doesn’t realise it yet, senses something at this turning point in his life, something of the eternal will of God and in a moment of desperation, he goes for it, he rejects his life in Egypt and has to flee.  He’s caught something from God and he goes for it. That is faith.

Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling us and making us Christians, we too catch this sense, the will of God. The enemy will challenge it and maybe we will be confronted by difficult circumstances where we have to either own up or shut up, we either stand for the truth or we join the rest who deny truth. We ARE the people of God. Pharaoh doesn’t like it and will threaten us. ‘Pharaoh’ is the world attitude today that denies God, challenges Him and His people and we resist him in the same way Moses eventually came to resist the next Pharaoh, with the will of God, the word of God and the power of God, but we’ll only do that when we’ve made the same decision by faith that Moses made – I am one of God’s people. I am not a prince of this world. I will do His bidding and leave the rest up to him. Amen!