5. Problems with Religion & Revival

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 1 – Falling Short?

5. Problems with Religion & Revival

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

Isa 8:20 (NKJV) To the law and to the testimony!       

Where next? Other challenges? Well, there are two worrying extremes of which we ought to be aware.  A consideration of Samson will help us focus.  Now Samson was born and lived in a time described in Judg 13:1 “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.” Now I am not saying that the church is like Israel were back then. That description more aptly fits what is happening generally in the West at the present time. I have best heard Samson described as a ‘carnal charismatic’. That simply means he was someone who was out for personal pleasure while moving in the power of the Spirit. (It is interesting to note that God used him for His purposes, by His Spirit, despite his carnal appetites! That is not to be used as an excuse for our own worldliness though.) Now there are two ‘extremes’ if I may put it like that, whereby the ‘believer’ disregards the apparent call to holiness.

The Nominal ‘Believer’: The first of these is the person who purports to be a Christian but who has never, to use Jesus’ language, been ‘born again’ (see Jn 3 and a later study). These are people who ‘attend church’ but who know little if anything of the life of God in their lives. They are ‘religious’, apparently devout and even pious, regular church attenders for whom the words of the preacher mean little but words. They have never yet been convicted and so have never repented and never made a profession of faith, receiving Jesus as their saviour and as their Lord. In fact, words such as ‘born again’ and ‘repentance’ and ‘salvation’ are considered by them to be the language of religious zealots, the ‘over-enthusiastic’ or even the ‘super-spiritual’. Prayer is for formal times, during liturgy, before meals, at funerals and so on. Bible reading is for church services.

These people need to be confronted with the truths of the New Testament and the realities of the Christian faith. If Sunday morning messages are gentle little homilies, happy little talks rather than the robust declaring of the Gospel and the call of God to the holy life, ‘religion’ remains convenient; it also tends to remain out of the boardroom and workplace. Having been an observer of the diverse church over the years, I believe there are many who fit the descriptions of this paragraph and for that reason, apart from the others we have considered so far, we need to be quite clear in our minds what is required of a believer, what it is that makes a person a Christian, part of the Church, and the sort of life they are called to.

In Days of Revival: Now it may appear bizarre at first sight, to be considering revivals as the second of the two extremes that I referred to, but as we will see, we must consider what happens so often. The student of revivals know that they are not the same as an evangelistic meeting, which has often been a description in the States, but a revival is a sovereign move of God in power where conviction falls on individuals and crowds sovereignly, a mighty move of God. The charismatic movement in the back quarter of the twentieth century was not a revival. A revival is a sovereign work of Almighty God, a time when God turns up in sovereign convicting power. I have used that word ‘sovereign’ more than once because observing the revivals in the Church era of the last two thousand years, that is the primary characteristic of it, as God brings mighty conviction to men and women in numbers that they are sinners and need the salvation that He has provided through His Son.

Now in all my reading of the years of revivals, one of the sad things that is often observable about a revival is that it is of a limited period. It may be a few months or a few years or even a few decades. The fact that it is a sovereign move of God does not mean that the wills of men and women are completely subjugated. History shows that there can be a diminishing of fervour, there can be competition among leaders, indeed there can be a falling from grace, as incredible as that sounds under such circumstances. Another characteristic that can appear is that teaching becomes sublimated into narrow channels to do with the Spirit and the focus can become experience-orientated at the cost of doctrine. The key is to always ensure Spirit AND word, life and experience, and power enhanced by teaching and the word.

Now as I have said previously there may be signs on the earth of revival coming and I know one well-known prophet has prophesied there is coming in our time, not far off, a worldwide outpouring of the Spirit in revival power. Certainly let’s pray for that, for our world certainly needs it. Yet we have to acknowledge what I said earlier, that the Lord does not force revivals to go on and on and on. The lessons come and yet humanity still seems to have a way of forcing itself to the surface, and so initial excesses are accepted and even welcomed, which means men often love the experience and love the power, so that other aspects of living a holy life are lost along the way. Now I don’t want this to sound depressing, simply to help us face reality so that, in so doing, we may prolong such times by seeking that balance I just referred to in the previous paragraph.

Lesser Moves: You may read the two paragraphs above and respond, “Surely not! Surely that cannot happen when God moves in such sovereign power?” There are three answers to that. First, read the history of Israel in the Old Testament and you see a people who managed to get it wrong again and again, despite the powerful presence of God in their midst, especially through the Exodus period. Second, check out Paul writing in his first letter to the Corinthians and you see a carnally charismatic church. Flesh and Spirit.  Third, do you own reading of historic revivals where there has been a mighty outpouring of the Spirit, and make sure you read on to see what happened and how the power was dissipated, and see the human goings-on, that we can only speculate caused that to happen.

But there have been lesser moves of God in our times and I have referred before to the Charismatic movement which was really precious, and the Toronto Blessing movement which tended to be more hilarious than precious, but they both passed. I have also been in a part of the world where revival had been for over thirty years and we can only say that the present church life there was near lifeless and no longer Spirit led.  Sad.

Word AND Experience: When Isaiah used that famous phrase, “To the law and to the testimony”, (Isa 8:20) he was saying, revert to God’s word and the experience of God. We need both; we need the power of the Spirit to impel us forward and we need to word of God to keep us on a right track. In these days when we so often try and make everything so easy, and in the process teaching goes shallow, we need to regain the truth of God’s word that comes through exposition, not dry formal teaching but the truth declared with life under the anointing of God. Awareness of these issues should put us on our guard for the days ahead and act as a challenge to continually be alert to see that we maintain the life and vibrancy that has been known previously.

40. Refusal

Short Meditations in John 5:  40. Refusal

Jn 5:40   yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

When we come to short verses like this, we really do need to check the context, especially when there is a link word, ‘yet’. So, see, These are the Scriptures that testify about me yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  You study the Scriptures, he has just been saying, the very Scriptures that reveal me and my Father’s purposes, but despite that you do not really see who I am and what I have come to do, and so you don’t come to me to receive the life I bring.

This, of course, has so often been the case when religion is involved, for ‘religion’, the following of rites and rituals, has always been the enemy of faith and so there are people who go along to churches – especially liturgical churches where the ritual can create a feeling of difference and specialness – and they hear a brief sermon every Sunday but they fail to be touched by it, they fail to see their need and they fail to come to God to receive the salvation He has provided through His Son Jesus Christ. They are content with the ritual and are even offended when told they are sinners who need a Saviour – just like these Jews of Jesus’ day.

It is an amazing thing that people can actually read the Bible and yet remain untouched by it – just as Jesus says was happening here. When I first became a Christian, I went looking for a local church and found one nearby, went to the Sunday Service, heard they did a mid-week Bible Study and so went along. I was bemused at the blindness that I observed in this group; even as a young believer I could see it, and in retrospect, I believe of this group of some dozen or so people, I believe only the Minister and myself were born-again believers.

But this was exactly what Jesus was experiencing with the Jews of his day, and especially in  those who should be the last offenders – the Pharisees, the guardians of the Scriptures, the priests, the guardians of the Temple. These people you would have expected to know the presence of God in the word and in the building, and thus you would expect them to also recognise the presence of God in Jesus, but instead all he found was hostility against him.

Here was God in human form walking on the earth, walking in a country that had been prepared for over a thousand years to receive Him, but instead they were wrapped up in the laws He had given them, wrapped up in the Temple, the original one of which was designed to house Him and be a focal point  for Israel to meet with Him, but instead it had become a monument, a great and spectacular building that now housed ritual and was almost a tourist attraction. Blindness of Sin means God appears to go incognito. It should not be.

15. Is this too impossible?

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 15:  Is this too impossible?

John 3:4   How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

There is a form of religious life that is content with a religion that reveals itself through ritual “in church” and in “being nice”. These people, when asked, say they are Christians for, after all, they go to church regularly don’t they and they ARE by many standards, nice people. The apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, about such people – having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:5) These are people who take on a form niceness or religiosity but who have not been impacted by the power of God.

We have now seen two week’s worth of these studies (assuming you read one a day) and so what we have seen again and again is God changing people or situations by His power. Again the apostle Paul wrote, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20) Mere words do not take a person into God’s kingdom, the place where God’s presence is, where God’s reign is expressed. It is power – God’s power. This is the truth that many do not like, that we can only enter God’s kingdom, we can only be truly changed on the inside, by HIS power working in us and transforming us.

And this brings us to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus and the use by Jesus of the phrase being ‘born again’. Oh, say some defensively, this is just those people who try and be super-spiritual, trying to make it all sound something more complex that it is. Well actually you cannot be more simple that to accept Jesus’ very simple analogy: “Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (Jn 3:3)  Make that more simple and you might say, “No one can enter into a living relationship with God unless he or she receives a completely new life.”

Now note the words “new life”. This is not “a new set of rules to follow” which is what we put on and try to work on, but it is an absolute change of life, which starts on the inside and works outwards. It means the things you start saying or doing come  about because of the change that is taking place on the inside. There is a transformation here that goes beyond mere superficial behaviour; this is heart change, attitude change, belief change, life transformation.

Oh this is too complicated, says the nice religious person, you don’t need to make it that complicated! No, precisely, it is not complicated it is ultra simple. I don’t normally try and distil things down to ‘three point sermons’  but let’s try and do that for simplicity sake here.

First there is a change in belief. In fact there are two beliefs that change and they may come in different orders with different people. The first change in belief is about me. I come to realise that I am lost, I am not the good person I kidded myself I was, as much as I put on a good front. I try to be nice but every now and then I get a flash of insight and realise that I am actually not nice and this comes when I say or do things less than are worthy of a nice person. Most of the time I used to cover it up and pretend that’s not how things were but it didn’t matter how much I tried, when I was being honest with myself, I knew I was still just a self-centred individual and God seems miles away. I could go to church but it was mere ritual and the thought of God being close or even speaking to me was completely foreign.

It was my recognition that I needed help that turned me in God’s direction and I found that I was confronted by a God of love who wanted to come and bring change to me. This God was revealed through the person of Jesus Christ, God’s unique Son, who came and expressed the love of God in a most wonderful way but then, allowed himself to be crucified, put to death in the most horrendous way possible. Why? I was told it was to take the punishment that was due to me for all the sins of my life. So how does that affect me, I asked. It means the way is open for you to come close to God and receive His love and forgiveness. How can that happen?

Thus we come to the second thing which is a simple action by me. I bow before Him and surrender my life to Him and ask Him to forgive me. It IS that simple.

Then the third thing is what God does for me. First there is His declarations – I am forgiven, I am cleansed and I am adopted as His child. Second, there is His action, which is to put His own Holy Spirit within my life, within me, inside me – yes, that’s it. His Spirit is His power and so He doesn’t just call us children, He gives us power or the ability to live as His children. We have this new power source on the inside and it is that which transforms us.  His very presence within me, picks up the change of attitude that I offered to Him – for Him to take and lead and transform my life – and He does just that. He communicates with my by His Spirit within, as well as by His word, the Bible, and He guides me, teaches me and leads me on. I am a new person, from the inside out, but it is not just me, it is Him in me.  Again the apostle Paul put it, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17)

I could not do this because it is not merely a wish to change – I had had that before but couldn’t do it when I strived to. No, this only happens when I invite Him in and He comes in the power that is His Spirit, and He changes me from the inside out and empowers me to walk or live it out every day until I die and go to be with Him in heaven. Yes, it IS impossible humanly speaking, but this isn’t humanly speaking, this is the God of transformation being invited in and He comes and transforms.

To take out of context a beautiful little word from Jesus, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20) How that encapsulates what happens. He comes knocking on our lives. We probably don’t realise that it is Him but when we start questioning who we are, that is Him knocking. He brings us to a point of surrender where we open the door of our lives – our will – and we invite Him in. Then look at the promise – He will come in and sit and share most intimately with us, that is what eating together is all about. That is the most beautiful picture possible perhaps that distinguishes the new life from that old self-centred and (in truth) godless life that we had previously. What an incredible transformation! Hallelujah!

17. Superficial Religion

CHAPTER 2: Part 8: Freedom from the old religious ways

Meditations in Colossians 2: 17:  Superficial Religion

Col 2:16    Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

If you’ve followed these meditations for any length of time you’ll know we always pick up on ‘link words’ because they tie the verses together. So here we have a ‘Therefore’ which means the logic or instruction of this verse comes in response to what has just gone before. Paul, in the previous verses has focused on the spiritual realities of salvation, that we were dead, and have been made alive by God, and have been forgiven by Him, after all law or rule-keeping and the failure and guilt that go with it have been dealt with by the Cross. The final focus was on now having to major on keeping the rules and that is why Paul now homes in on these particular expressions of rule-keeping.

When I became a Christian in the last third of the twentieth century I found myself part of the good-evangelical wing of the Church but sadly the refocusing on the life in the Spirit had not come to the fore and therefore so much of instruction to new believers was all about what you can or cannot do. Our verse above is all about behaviour and although the words “You must,” or “You ought,” or “You mustn’t” or “You shouldn’t,” aren’t here, there is an implication that they lurk beneath the surface.

As I hinted above, when the power of the Spirit is absent, all you are left with is keeping rules. This is not to say that we should rely only on the Spirit, for we need both word and Spirit, but if we focus on rule-keeping, again as we said above, we are doomed to failure and then to be subject to guilt. So how does it, or should it, work?

If our awareness of the Lord’s presence is weak and if we know little of the life of the Spirit, then we may come across a simple little instruction from Paul’s teaching such as, Be joyful always,” (1 Thess 5:16) and our human thinking says, “Good Christians are happy Christians. I must be happy, I must be joyful,” and so we put on a superficial ‘face’ whereby we make ourselves look happy; we always smile and we always sound full of the Lord’s goodness – even if inside we are deeply upset over something. The trouble about this is that we convey an  unreal or false Christianity and most people see right through us, and the thing we are upset about does not get dealt with properly and, even more, other people (often non-Christians) think we are on a superficial plane well above them and cannot empathize with where they are at. Untruth and self-deception reign.  The truth is that we are sufficiently insecure in our uncertainty of God’s love for us, our lives are one of pretence.

Now watch this person get filled with the Spirit and start to enter into the wonder of being loved by God. They don’t try to be joyful, they just are as the Spirit who has been given the freedom to work within them, brings out the joy of the Lord – that is real – as they wonder in the glory of God’s love for them. Joy is the outworking of the Spirit (see Gal 5:22) not a hard and difficult thing to be put on by self effort.

But then we come across another of Paul’s little guiding lights: “Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thess 5:21,22) Back in my early days in the late twentieth century immediately it became, “Oh don’t go to the cinema and watch bad films, don’t drink alcohol and so don’t go to pubs where you will be mixing with ungodly unbelievers.” We didn’t worry about social injustice, caring for the poor, working to deliver people from slavery, saving women out of prostitution and so on; we simply focused on a few superficial prohibitions and as I look back now, I believe it was because our faith was so weak that we were ultra-defensive, unlike Jesus who mixed with sinners and tax-collectors and prostitutes.

Thus Paul says, “do not let anyone judge you by…” and goes into a list of things where ‘do’s and don’ts’ will apply: “what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.”  The reference to eating was probably in respect of kosher food or food given to idols that he deals with elsewhere in his writings. Drink was almost certainly to do with alcohol. Religious festivals was about having to keep the various Jewish feasts. No longer for the believer were these significant matters. To the Corinthians Paul was to say, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20). It is not about words (directing behaviour) but about life in the power of the Spirit. To the Romans he said,the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17)

As we said earlier, the expressions of our Christian life are to be the outworking of the Holy Spirit in us, not a hard and difficult thing to be put on by self effort. Yes, we will not get angry, or whatever other prohibition is given in the scriptures, not so much because we have to make an act of will and make a great effort, but because the Spirit of love fills us and flows through us and prevents that thing having space. May it be so!

24. House Church

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 24. House church

Mk 1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.

Such a simple verse but such profound meaning!  Think of religion in general and what religious people across the world think. So often it is the picture of a big, awesome, unreachable God who makes such demands, that adherents of the religion have to jump through hoops in performing their pious acts – which they only can hope will please their deity.

Then you come to this verse and look at what is behind it. A preacher, a rabbi goes into a home of some of his followers. Nothing remarkable about that until you realise that the Gospels declare that this rabbi is the Son of God himself, come from heaven for a temporary (33 years) time on earth. The Son of God? The second expression of the Godhead – this is God Himself walking into this house.

But there has been no preparation. If this had been a king the preparation team would have gone ahead and checked the place out to see if it was worthy of his visit. The security people would check that there were no likely risks to him in this poor dwelling with these fairly poor people. The people haven’t prepared themselves. They haven’t washed or carried out special rituals to enable them to meet this personage.

In fact, when it comes down to it, they are completely blind to his greatness and they just think of him as another man – and he’s not bothered by that. He is not upset that they are not falling on the ground worshipping him. He’s not upset that they don’t refine their language or clean up their habits to acknowledge his holiness – for he is holy, even if they do not realise it. No, he is not put out by their ignorance and their ordinary approach to him.

No, this is the One real God, supreme and almighty and he has nothing to prove. He doesn’t need people to give him glory – it’s his anyway and he is comfortable in being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in disguise! In fact if they did recognise him they would flee from him and he wouldn’t later be taken by them and sacrificed as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. No, he comes in simply humility and gentleness.

Lord, thank you that this is how you are!

16. Spirituality

Meditations in James: 16 :  Practical Spirituality

Jas 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The Human Race seems, so often, to go in for extremes. In Christian circles, in the past at least, there have been charismatics who have never wanted to touch the world, activists who are only concerned with the world, fundamentalists who huddle in holy corners protecting the truth, and liberals who shy away from dogmatic truth. James isn’t such a person. Scan back over his letter so far and you will see signs of faith and works.

On the ‘spiritual’ side he has spoken about our faith (v.3), asking God for wisdom (v.5), not getting things from the Lord (v.7), the crown of life that God promises (v.12), God not tempting (v.13), all the goodness coming down from God (v.17), the new birth from God (v.18), the righteous life that God desires (v.20).

Yes, very God-centred for there is plenty on the spiritual side, but what about the practical side?  Well all along he’s been speaking about the trials of everyday life (v.2), the realities of poverty and riches (v.9,10),  falling in temptation (v.14,15), getting rid of anger and evil (v.19-21), and controlling the tongue (v.26). However when you consider these two lists, they overlap or interlink so really it is difficult to distinguish between them. The truth is that James really sees all of life as coming under the spiritual umbrella, everything coming in the ambit of our relationship with God.

Now it is necessary to say these things because James has had a bad press historically. There have been those who say that because he hardly mentions Jesus (twice only in passing) he is not very spiritual. We want to suggest that such people entirely miss the point. James is very much concerned, as we have already noted a number of times, to be a pastoral help to the Christians now scattered far and wide. He wants to help them as they combat the ways of the world, and therefore his letter is, in many ways, very down to earth yet, as we have just noted, his thinking of these things is completely saturated with the recognition that we are God’s children and everything we do comes within the range of our relationship with Him. Our relationship with the Lord is what under-girds everything that James speaks about. If he chides us about anger, it is because anger doesn’t conform to the righteous life God desires for us. If he chides us over the use of the tongue it is because the wrong use of the tongue doesn’t fit with the idea of us being religious, having a relationship with God. No, every practical issue comes back in some way to our relationship with the Lord.

When he talks about ‘religion’ he is meaning the practical expression of our spirituality, the way we express our faith as Christians in our daily lives. Very well, he says, you have a religion, a faith, an expression of your relationship with God being worked out in daily life, then check it against the sort of practical faith that God wants of you. After all, he surely implies, the most important thing is to be doing what God wants. So you want to be religious? OK, he goes on,  then express your faith, the love from God you have, His love that He wants to express to His world, by looking after those who are in need, the widows and orphans who are in distress because they have no one looking after them. You want to be real in the expression of your faith? Then reach out and bless those in need.

Before we go any further, can we counteract any tendency you may have that leads you towards extremism, wanting to go out to one or other of the extremes we started off thinking about. Merely because he is saying express your faith towards people, he is not therefore saying, don’t express it towards God. That has already been covered and he will come back to it. Oh no, it’s not one or the other; it is both. God wants us to relate to Him AND to people.  God wants us to have a strong spiritual aspect to our lives, reading the Bible, praying, worshipping etc., but He also wants us to have a strong practical faith dimension to our lives as well. He wants to see that we are reaching out, not only to bring the word Gospel to people but the whole Gospel to people, expressed in words and deeds, just like Jesus did.  How tragic that we so often divide these two aspects of the spiritual life and then only focus on one.

Perhaps to conclude we would do well to check out both sides of the spiritual equation as it applies to us personally. Do we have a strong spiritual dimension whereby we do read the Bible regularly, pray regularly, worship regularly and fellowship with other Christians regularly?  We need all those things.  How about the practical dimension to our lives, first as it affects those closest to us? How do we treat our partner, our children, people we encounter in the world, those we work for or work with? Are our emotions under control yet free to be expressed in a good way, do we have our tongues under control – just the issues James has covered so far! But what about the wider practical expression of our faith that James has just been referring to, caring for those in need, for those who have no one else to stand with them – there are a lot of such people. There is a whole world out there to be loved with Jesus’ love and he’s just longing to go to them through you, as you work out your relationship with Him.

Walk of Imitation

WALKING WITH GOD. No.34

1 Kings 12:28,29 After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.”

You may be surprised to see that we are focusing on two verses today that we referred to in the course of explaining Jeroboam’s failure in yesterday’s meditation, but we need to consider more deeply just what was going on in this man’s mind, that can so often go on in ours. As we noted yesterday, Jeroboam had been made king over the northern ten tribes of Israel , while Rehoboam, the son of Solomon reigned over the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south – which included Jerusalem. That, as we observed yesterday, had been Jeroboam’s concern, that Israel might drift back down to Jerusalem to worship the Lord in the Temple there, and thus align themselves with Rehoboam.

Now there is something very important to notice here at the outset: God had declared His will in respect of Jeroboam and the northern tribes and so the Lord would not just sit back and let the tribes all drift back together again. The first thing to note was that Jeroboam was half-hearted in receiving the word of God. He had not fully taken on board what that word had said and had not thought through the significance of it.

If there are common failures in the Christian world, one of the main ones is that so often the people of God do not take in the word of God and the significance of that word. That is one of the main reasons for the presence of these meditations, that we provide a resource where people are refocused on God’s word and its significance. The question for you, therefore, is how important do you consider the Bible? Do you read it daily or just once in a while? Are you at this meditation page by chance or because you have disciplined yourself to read your way through them and take in God’s word? The same thing applies to the preached word and the prophetic word, I have observed. People’s reception of both is often quite casual, and that was Jeroboam’s first problem! If Jeroboam had realised that he was living in God’s declared will, he would not have had the worry he had.

Now the second thing to note is that having saddled himself with this worry, he then began reasoning how he could deal with it and he did not turn to the Lord and seek and answer from Him. If he had, he would probably have received a word of reassurance. The Lord hasn’t got a problem with us seeking reassurance, as long as we do seek Him.  No, here is another common tendency – failure to turn to the Lord for answers. Now if you don’t get help from the Lord you are only left with yourself (or perhaps other counsellors) and so Jeroboam started reasoning and came to the wrong conclusions.

Conclusion number one was that the people would drift south, and conclusion number two was that he would have to do something about it, and conclusion number three was that he would have to provide a substitute religion for his people to stop them going to Jerusalem. So he sets up what is clearly an imitation of the true religion that God had instituted at Sinai through Moses. It has altars, sacrifices and festivals. Why not, reasons Jeroboam, it will still enable the people to worship the Lord. Do you see that? That is the subtle error that sounds so right – they’ll still be able to worship the Lord. However as the text goes on to show us, that was not all right with the Lord. What He had given them was what should happen, not some pale imitation of what He had given – because He wasn’t in the pale imitation!

Can you see a parallel to this in what has so often happened in the church down through history? The Eastern Orthodox Church focused on the use of icons to help them focus on God. The Holy Spirit and the word of God were not sufficient. The Roman Catholic Church built great church buildings (our cathedrals were mostly built in the time of the Catholic Church being the only church), the church leaders wore special clothes to make them distinctive, and a managerial hierarchy was set up to maintain control and exercise authority. We take all these things for granted, but they are all things that come from the thinking that, “The people will need something more to encourage their faith and keep them true to God.”

None of these things were anywhere in Jesus’ thinking in his teaching. There was just a bare, simple, straight forward faith, expressed collectively when the people of God gathered together, under men who were raised up by God without any external trappings, only the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Some of those men were gifted to be pastors and teachers, some to be evangelists, some to be prophets and some to be apostles (see Eph 4:11,12), so that they could help everyone else become what they were called to become, those who do the works of God.   Instead we very often have an imitation of the real thing, an imitation that is devoid of the power and presence of God. The final question must be, do we each as an individual, know the power and presence of God in our lives, or are we walking a walk of imitation?  A serious question!