43. Relevancy again

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 43. Relevancy Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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25. The Relevant Church?

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 25. The Relevant Church?

Mt 7:6 (Msg) “Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honour to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

(NIV) “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Psa 1:1,3  Blessed is the one That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.

Relevancy? I am breaking a habit of a lifetime, for I have a sense of what we ought to be covering and yet I do not have a verse upon which to hang it.  In scanning for the word ‘relevant’ it does not appear as such in any translation and the verse from the Message version is the only hit that I could get, and that seems a warning against trying to be relevant! And yet it weighs on my heart. That seems a bit of a leap in the paraphrase from that verse 6 that we probably are more familiar with. Now I’ve got into this conundrum when I finished the previous study with the comment, ‘so often the world considers the Church irrelevant.’  So what, I think, does the Bible say about us being relevant. Well, actually, nothing! So much for those leaders who carry out surveys in their local neighbourhood to find the perceived needs that they can then address! Well, actually there is some value in that, but perhaps we miss a key point.

Goals restated: In case you think I am straying badly from our objectives, let’s restate them. We are examining things that will help us grow. We are now examining that through the perspective of being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms and we are examining aspects of the ministry of Christ through us in bringing in the kingdom of God on earth through the body of Christ, the Church. Right, we know where we are going.

Threat of the Days: So why am I worrying about being irrelevant or being relevant? The answer is because I believe we are moving in such a time of development in science and technology (and those words are really inadequate to cover this) that for some of us (and this applies especially to the younger generation) there is a very real danger that we will lose perspective and the enemy will lead many to think that the things of the Bible belong to a long-distant past and have no relevance today in the light of modern developments.

Days of Change: It has been suggested that we are living in a period of such dramatic change that is greater by far than the changes seen in the past with the agricultural revolution and much later the industrial revolution and in the last century the technological and cyber (Defn. culture of computers, information technology, and virtual reality) revolution. The possibilities that are already realities are likely to mean the most dramatic changes in the lives of probably every human being on the earth. If you doubt these things, as a start try doing a Google search for ‘bit-chain’, ‘quantum computers’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and if you have never been in these areas before, be ready to be blown away.

Relevancy of my Faith? It is at this point that you, and certainly your young people and children, may find yourself wondering, what is all this talk about the kingdom of God? Is it really real? Is it meaningful? I am shortly, according to the preaching rota of our church, to do a sermon on Abram.  What relevance has Abram got in my world of cell phones, of new genome projects redesigning the human being, of politics through social media, of computing power that is doubling almost every year, of nanotechnology that looks at unbelievably small cell manipulation, of lives that will interact with ‘smart computers’ or ‘thinking computers’ at every turn, where physical money ceases to be used, and face recognition means accountability wherever you are in the world. It is either here now, or it is literally just around the corner. In the light of this, how relevant is the church, how relevant is the Bible, how relevant is my faith?

For instance, the ‘elephant in the room’, as we might say today, for Abram, was the fact that his wife was barren. If you have ever watched one or more of the Star Trek series, you will have seen a future where sickness has been overcome (today the Gates Foundation is making great strides in this realm in Africa) where injuries are healed up within moments, where violence is abhorred and so on. And yet even there in that fictional future world, people are people and have their personal worries, get stressed with other people and so on. One of the big discussion points at the present (early 2018) could be summarized as the Pessimistic Outlook versus the Optimistic Outlook.

Whether it be scientific or technological revolutions, political upheavals or threats to global existence (nuclear winter, ozone holes, or over population) the Christian is going to be challenged over the relevancy of their beliefs, so let me lay down some markers to anchor our thinking in these days of dramatic change.

First, God is still God. He is there, and nothing changes – except perhaps our perception of Him. Years ago I did a study of developments of inventions etc. through the ages and observed it alongside the development of the revelation we observe in the Bible. When we used to not know things in science, we attributed things to God – the ‘God of the Gaps’. As knowledge increases, science suggests answers for questions about the world, those gaps close up, and ‘scientific reasons’ for the need for God disappear. Let’s get a perspective that is Biblical that sees and understands that a) God created all things and knows all things, b) God has given this world to us for us to enjoy and find out about and, I suspect, nudges inventors and researchers to find ways to make life easier and better for the human race, and yet c) God still gives us the ability (and duty?) to consider how to wisely use these things – to avoid a nuclear winter, or avoid destroying the ozone layer and stop being so self-centred we care little about those who have less than us.

Second, Sin is still Sin: Human beings, despite the fact of their cleverness at developing, researching, at finding out and using knowledge, still struggle with themselves and with others because they have, as someone has put it, a ‘God-shaped hole’ in their life which, unless it is filled, will always cause a sense of emptiness, a sense of questioning and so on. Human beings, until they encounter God through Christ, are still contaminated by this thing the Bible calls Sin, that I define as self-centred godlessness which leads to behaviour that is contrary to God’s design and is therefore destructive.

And So? The things I have mentioned earlier in this study, will certainly change the landscape of human living but God and the human condition remain the same and God’s salvation for us through Christ remains exactly the same.  For the record, when I read the Abram story I see a) the effects of living in a Fallen World – barrenness and the anguish it brings, b) a God who communicates with us and reveals just a glimpse of His plans to provide a way for us to be rescued from this godless, self-centredness, plans that give purpose to the present and hope for the future…. and lots, lots more, and every bit of it is relevant to me, to my life, to my plight, today – and to you! I will return to this question of relevancy again and again as we think more and more about being the body of Christ that brings in the kingdom of God. Tomorrow, we’ll show how this can work in very practical ways.