45. Recap 3B

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 45. Recap 3B

Eph 2:6,7  And 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.

Jesus transforms life: As we moved into the final Part, looking to apply practically the theory of the previous Part, we observed the barrenness of religious life in Israel until Jesus came bringing life transformation through the power of God. That was a challenge for us today, to become a people who don’t simply act as spiritual sponges absorbing the word through sermons Sunday by Sunday, but who are to genuinely become the ‘body of Christ’, learning to minister one to another and then to the world outside.

God & People of Communication: We moved on into thinking about us being a people of revelation, expressing Jesus to the people around us as we learn to listen to him and then convey what we hear to one another, to strengthen, encourage and comfort one another.  I gave illustrations of listening to God. We pursued this whole subject of learning to listen to God and gave a further variety of illustrations. We confronted the fact that the word, ‘said’ comes up again and again in respect of God in Scripture and considered the God who communicates and still wants to speak to His gathered people.

Guidelines for Personal Prophecy: We laid out ground rules that personal prophecy today is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort, and we are to keep it simple and express love in accordance with God’s written word. Our words should come with humility and deference and without dogmatism, in everyday English, without dressing it up, and being open enough to check how our recipients are receiving it and leaving the outcome in the Lord’s hands.   In such ways we can be available to the Lord to bless others.

An Imaginary Example: In the following four ‘studies’ I gave an imaginary example of a prayer meeting and what came out of it so that we might see the fruit of listening to God and then following up with raised faith levels to see how He wants to work out the answers to that praying.

Living in the Fallen World: To bring a balance to what could potentially become triumphalist teaching, we considered the reality of living in this fallen world where things go wrong, which can often bring confusion, pain and questions. We considered the matter of discipline which can be painful but is always for our good in the long-term.

Exercising Authority: Back on the main track we considered how, being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, as he rules at his Father’s right hand, bringing in the kingdom of God on the earth, we may be led by him to exercise authority as through prayer we may proclaim, testify, command, bind or loose and pronounce the will of God. To catch the bigger picture, we reminded ourselves of the ‘creation mandate’ where we have been called not only to fill the earth but to reign over it and subdue it, and we saw that this includes the vast majority of activities that we call ‘work’.  This not only means that we seek to do well in our work, but we look for ways that the Lord might want to work in it sand through it.

How Jesus ruled: Considering the subject of authority, we considered various ways that Jesus ‘ruled’ while he was on earth – having control over the physical world, which included bringing healing etc. – but also in the way he controlled himself and his tongue and his emotions. When we apply them to ourselves we see areas of life for us to work into as he leads us.

Being a Relevant People: We expanded and clarified our thinking about being a relevant people in the midst of today’s world, as we reminded ourselves of the outworkings of that imaginary prayer meeting and all that followed. The outworking of all this, as we are led by Jesus, means lives are touched and changed and circumstances can be transformed, and God is glorified as the kingdom is expressed.  We noted that it isn’t just supernatural gifting but also expresses the nature and character of Jesus to bless the world around us through our ‘good works’.

Being a Distinctive People: Finally, we considered our distinctiveness that is holiness, being utterly different in the mold of the Lord, specifically as we express love, unity, truth, and goodness or, more generally, the ‘fruit of the Spirit’.   In these ways we are to grow as a body that is led by the head, Jesus, who is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.

And So? How can we sum all this up?  This third phase, if we may call it that, of Jesus being glorified when he is lifted up, of him ruling at his Father’s right hand in heaven, is all about how, when we allow ourselves to be led by his Spirit we will become a people who don’t only express the character of Jesus but also the works of Jesus. It will be not only by what we have historically called ‘sharing the gospel’ (presenting the truths of the New Testament about who Jesus is and how he has come to bring us salvation) but also by being his ‘body’ today, being led by his Spirit as he rules in this world in the midst of his enemies, to express God’s kingdom in the midst of the effects of the fallen world around us.   As we do this, lives and circumstances will change. The only question is, will we rise to be this people the scriptures describe?

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44. Distinctive

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 44. Distinctive

Heb 12:14   Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

The Relevant Church: We must be drawing near the end and as we do we need to sharpen some of the things we have said along the way. We have countered the potential accusation that the church is irrelevant in today’s scientific age, with talk of the unchanging truths about God and mankind, while at the same time pointing out that the church which is genuinely acting as the ‘body of Christ’ will be demonstrating the power and revelation of Christ in such ways that lives and circumstances will be changed.

The Distinctive Church: This, you might think, is enough to suggest that the church, seen like this, will be distinctive and will stand out in society as both a lighthouse that sheds light and shows the way, and a rescue and recovery centre for lost and damaged mankind. Yet I must suggest that its distinctiveness must be seen in its very nature or its character as suggested by our verse above – its holiness.

Holiness in God: So what is holiness? It is the very foundational character of God which, put in its most simple of terms, refers to His utter ‘differentness’. God is different in many ways: in His nature, size and scope – He is Spirit, ever present, everywhere present, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise. But then there is the ethical or moral element – He is utterly good, totally perfect (cannot be improved upon), beyond criticism.

Holiness in Us – Generally: Now when this is seen in human beings, and it should be seen in some measure in every Christian, this sense of being utterly different should include

  • our godliness (the presence of God with us and being the focus of all we do), and
  • our piety (the way we express our devotion to God), and
  • our spirituality (fully embracing this material world but also clearly operating in the world of the Spirit)

Holiness in Us – Specifics: But these distinctives, these things that make us stand out in the crowd in a good way, should be able to be seen in specific characteristics that the New Testament speaks about. Here are some of the key ones:

Love: Love is a foundational command (see Jn 13:34) still seen in later centuries: “See, they say, how they love one another” (Tertullian’s Apology, Chapter XXXIX). Love is seen in compassion, care, acceptance, all very ‘tangible’ visible things. It is love (total commitment come what may) that was seen in Jesus and is what binds relationships together today. The love that holds us is often expressed as ‘grace’.

Unity: “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:23) The presence of God in us – revealed in the ways we have been considering in so many of these studies – working to make the unity that IS, visible. 

Truth: The word comes up about 35 times in the Old Testament but about 102 times in the New Testament. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) Jesus was truly God and truly man, and in both there was nothing that was unreal, nothing false, nothing of pretense, just absolutely genuine. Can that be us, with no pretense, utterly real? Can it be seen in the ways we live and deal with others, seen in honesty and integrity? Can it be seen in purity, having nothing to do with the distortions and perversions of the life of sinful mankind, so clearly and visibly demonstrated in life in the West today?

Goodness: Goodness is difficult to define but obvious when you see it. Something that is good is something that is right, appropriate, pleasant, apt, enjoyable. Goodness is the expression of that and, yes, it does have a moral dimension but goes further that just ‘doing right’, it goes beyond that with such things as mercy and grace that may be seen in generosity or hospitality.

And So? So, yes, we are to be distinctive by the spiritual power and revelation seen through our lives as we allow Jesus to work through us bringing in his kingdom rule, but it is also to be seen in the nature or character of who we are, his children and his disciples, displaying his nature: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) Not work or character, but both: working with his character, both revealing him, both glorifying the Father. This is what the kingdom is all about, this is what the body of Christ is all about. Can we grow in this, for this is what growth is all about?

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.