Lord of the Church Introduction

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  Lord of the Church Introduction

Rev 1:10,11   On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,  which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches

Why? God’s guidance comes in many different forms. I have recently, by accident I would have said, found myself reading a book in which a pastor tells his story and it involved the book of Revelation. Just a couple of words he said grabbed me and nudged me back to the familiar first three chapters of Revelation, and so here I am with a heart hooked and wondering what is coming. It had better start with the feel that I have. I have studied this book again and again over the years and marveled at it, but I fear sometimes that we analyze in such a measure that we fail to grab a sense of the reality of what was going on.

As I glimpsed into chapters 2 and 3 this morning it struck me what a kaleidoscope of experiences and challenges with find here. No two churches are the same for the Church comprises people and people all have their own life experiences and experiences of God, and so every local church, although it may have similarities to many others, will have their own struggles, and that I believe is what we will see here, that is the sense I have here.  We will first of all go through the seven churches individually in each study, and then will conclude with 3 recap studies; first focusing on how Christ portrays himself, second on different ways the struggles against the enemy are seen, and finally on the possibilities that are offered to over-comers of those struggles. That’s the plan!

To Whom: After the prologue of verses 1 to 3 in chapter 1, we see straight away the direction of what is about to come: John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia:” (v.4a) The ‘Asia’ here was just one province in Asia Minor. If you have maps in the back of your Bible, possibly showing Paul’s journeys, you should see it there, together with the seven cities that are soon to be mentioned: “I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” (v.10,11)

The Greeting: As with many such letters in the New Testament, he starts his letter to them with, “Grace and peace to you.”  i.e. may God’s provision be yours and may it bring you peace. He speaks as a messenger from God: “from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne.” (v.4b) i.e. God who is eternal, God who is Spirit, God who rules on high. But this blessing to them also comes, “from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (v.5a) i.e. the Son who has faithfully testified to the Father in his ministry on earth, who was raised from the dead and who now rules over the earth (see Psa 110:1,2 & 1 Cor 15:25). John comes with all the authority of the Godhead.

John’s Testimony: Pastor John seeks to draw alongside those to whom he is about to write.  We’ve just said he’s come bringing the blessing of the Godhead and he comes with the authority of God, but that authority also comes because of what has happened to him and what is happening to him: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” (v.9a) He stands with them, he is a brother in Christ and he has shared in the suffering that believers so often experience, a suffering that requires endurance to ‘just hang on in there’. But there is more. He, “was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (v.9b) Patmos was a prison island and he is there because, as a faithful pastor, he was a thorn in the side of the authorities who banned him there. I have heard it said from the underground church in China, that a qualification for being a pastor there is, have you been in prison?

From Whom: After the instruction we saw in verses 10 and 11, he explains to his readers how this message came that he will shortly be passing on. In the vision he heard the voice speaking to him, turned around and, “saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,” (v.12,13) a term used by Jesus and seen in Dan 7:13 referring to the one coming from heaven, the Messiah. He appears, not as the one John had known on earth but as a priestly figure (v.13) of great wisdom (v.14a) but penetrating eyes (v.14b). He also appears as one who has been through the testing and trying of the furnace of life and yet who now speaks with immense power and authority (v.15).

He holds seven stars in his right hand (the hand of authority), he speaks with cutting authority and his face shines with the glory of God (v.16). His appearance petrifies John, because he is so unlike the one he knew before, so that he just falls before him lifeless (v.17a). The Son reassures him (v.17b) and John declares, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (v.17,18) The description is of eternal divinity in human form, a form that had died but had been raised. He explains that the seven stars are the angels or leaders (unclear which) and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

And So? So we have seen how John came to be writing: in exile on Patmos he gets this vision and in it he hears a voice and sees this figure who has to be Jesus and he is shown to be the one who has all authority over the seven churches amongst whom he walks. One might wonder why these seven churches and no other? Two main reasons are usually given. First, it may be that these were seven churches over which John had apostolic authority. It is thought he was an elder in Ephesus and perhaps it is significant that Ephesus is the first one mentioned. Second the number seven occurs many times in the book and seven is considered (for a variety of reasons) to be the perfect number that signifies completeness. Thus, it is reasoned, these encouragements, exhortations and challenges to these seven churches might be considered to be God’s word to the whole church. It is likely that these words would get spread over the whole area and so any church might read what was said to these seven and wonder how they stood before the all-seeing eyes and challenging voice of the ascended Son of God, the head of the Church, the Lord of all the earth.  In that sense these words should be a challenge to the whole Church.

However, from our point of view, the sense that I have is that as we meditate on what the Lord says to each church, we will see the variety of experiences that confront church life and within that we will find encouragement, exhortation and challenge. To keep these studies simple I am going to avoid going into detail about each of the places, for the place does impact on what was happening, but I am simply going to take at face value the things said, as things that can face any church anywhere.  For the same reason I am not going to get into any of the various schools of interpretation about possible ‘bigger meanings’, we will simply see the church in that day and see what it says to us for our church today.

43. God of the End Game (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  43. God of the End Game (1)

2 Pet 3:7   the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

2 Pet 3:10  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare

2 Pet 3:11-13  You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

Limited:  Perhaps there is no greater untruth that the human mind has held onto than, “This is all there is and this is all there ever will be.” In science, once upon a time, there was the belief that everything that is had always existed, but now scientists believe in a beginning. In the world today there are rumors of doomsday scenarios, the definition of which is, ‘an extremely serious or dangerous situation that could end in death or destruction.’  The possible end of this world has, in recent years, become a topic of frequent conversation. Interesting!  No longer is that untruth held so strongly.

Throughout the Bible the are many clear references to both the beginning and a purposeful end to all we know, and it is clearly by the design of God. The duration of this world is thus seen in the Bible as limited, and increasingly the world is agreeing with that.

Work of Mankind? The question that must lurk behind all this talk is, is the beginning and the end a work of chance (beginning) AND of mankind (ending) or are both the design and will of God? In the ‘doomsday discussion’ the environment features largely, population explosion used to be but not so much now, but other ends at the hands of mankind also now feature largely: the continuing threat of nuclear holocaust and terrorism (may be one and the same thing, very high probability), robotics & human destruction (the Matrix scenario), ‘Star Wars’ weaponry and warfare (growth of technology to kill which, in the wrong hands may be devastating), cyborg lives (technology within the body changing us out of all recognition), superhumans (intellect/memory enhancement, ditto with all the ensuing problems, social and economic), biological pandemics (on purpose & accidental). All of these things in one form or another have in recent years become possible realities, realities that end the human race and possibly the very existence of the planet.

Work of God? When we turn to the Bible, the last book, Revelation, which is mostly a prophecy of the ‘end times’ and ‘The End’ confirms the probability (not merely ‘possibility’) of large scale destruction, seen as angelic prophetic figures apparently bring destruction, for example, “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” (Rev 6:8) War, famine and plague are observable features of history, one thing leading on to the other so that when the population is wiped out, wild animals roam the earth unhindered. We also read later, “A third of the earth was burned up.” (Rev 8:7) When I was young I could not think how such destruction could be but in my lifetime so much has changed that it is easy to conceive it now.

But is God the instigator of these things, and how do they come about? Well clearly, as we have been considering with the talk of doomsday scenarios, these are all the work of mankind. What the Bible does show is that sometimes, mankind seems to get to such of rebellion against God that we find the words, “God gave them over to…” (Rom 1:24,26,28) suggesting that His acts of judgment often take the form (and we see it again and again in the book of Judges) of Him lifting off His hand of restraint so that mankind is given the freedom to do exactly what it wants – and that ends up being self-destructive – but it is our choice! The book of Revelation is, remember, pure prophecy and prophecy is sometimes literal and sometimes figurative. The angels cited above may or may not be figurative but the outcomes, we have just demonstrated, could be the work of mankind and the destruction literal.

A Glooms-day Scenario? Is this just gloomy talk or is there something more here? May I make a suggestion which I don’t think is expressly stated in the Bible yet I believe is clearly there. Again and again God sets up mankind to live and be blessed but each time the consequences of free will mean that Sin (self-centred, godlessness leading to self-destructive living) prevails. We see it in the beginning and we see it in the establishing of the nation of Israel that we have considered in earlier studies. Israel went into hiding for two thousand years (see Rev 12) but have now been restored to their land. With the development of science and technology, God has enabled us to provide for the whole world (if we will only use it for that) so that every human could benefit from it. That could have been the possibility but instead, the very presence of all these doomsday scenarios shows us clearly that we are more bent on destruction than on life and blessing and so John’s prophecies in the book of Revelation simply record that. Godless mankind, bent on doing their own thing,  appear bent on their own destruction. That unfortunately includes you and me!

Is that all? So is a burnt-out earth all we can look forward to? If aliens (should they exist) turn up in a hundred years, will all they find is a scorched earth, a devastated earth that so many films portray as a possible outcome? The Biblical prophetic answer of Revelation says definitely not but to see that we will need to move on into another study to be able to cover it in the required detail.

And So? So what are we left with? We have considered a scenario where God creates this wonderful world and us on it. To enable us to be human in the sense we know, not robots, thus able to be creative, loving, thinking, reasoning, etc., He gave us free will. The truth, that has been made obvious multiple times in the Bible, is that we have used that to do our own thing to the exclusion of God and whenever we do that it has destructive consequences, often allowed by God but motivated by us.  That sequence has been seen a number of times and appears to be in its final phase where the science and technology we have been given to bless the world is, in fact, being used by us to bring about greater destruction than ever before possible – our choice.

Nevertheless, godlessness still prevails and so the end will come either by the hand of God (which we’ll look at in the next study) or by the hand of man, permitted by God, but with a yet further goal in mind. The future holds questions marks but some things are clear from the Bible: first, it is not ‘out of control’, it is all happening by the permissive will of God; second, He has an ultimate ‘end game’ in mind which will be achieved; third, the duration of the existence of mankind on this earth is strictly limited; finally God’s intent is that there is yet to be something infinitely more glorious to come than we can possibly comprehend at the moment and this, too, will be the subject of the next study.

5. God of Gradual Revelation

Getting to Know God Meditations:  5. God of Gradual Revelation

Gen 14:19,20   “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Gradual?  There is something about the history within the Bible that many people don’t think about. It is what is sometimes called ‘the doctrine of divine accommodation’ which can be expressed as ‘God’s communications with humans are always limited to their current capacity to comprehend’. Together with this we should note that,

a) Mankind has developed or evolved in knowledge, understanding and ability to where we are today (a slow and gradual process only accelerated in the past century) and,

b) God has always existed, and is unchanging, (and the Bible says He knows and has always known everything) but has only gradually revealed Himself to the human race, in line with our ability to comprehend.

We live in an age of incredible knowledge and, for instance, science and technology are built on that knowledge, but that knowledge had to be gained gradually, as the history of scientific development clearly shows. There is nothing surprising about it, but when it comes to the Bible we hear silly things being said, but they are said because of not having thought about these things we’ve just noted. The point we need to make is that there is change, progress, and development, and to understand what is being said in scripture requires us to understand the historical context, i.e. where people had got to, if you like.

Examples: We have already seen how God communicated with Moses and declared of Himself that He was the God of the Patriarchs but also could be known as ‘I AM’.  Now we like to tie every detail down neatly, defining whatever we can but definition is not crucial to relationship with God. So we have cited Abram as the first person in the Bible with whom God establishes a long-term relationship and we saw that it was with the purpose of establishing a family line and eventually a nation who would know and experience God, and that came into being in Moses’ time. But what is missing from the records involving Abraham is definition. God does not explain to him who He is, He does not explain His nature, He does not pour out in one go all the knowledge that we now have with the complete Bible. Why? Because that is not what relationship is all about. When you make friends with someone you don’t usually ask them, “Tell me everything about you.” No, instead as the relationship develops so your knowledge of them develops, and the same is true of God in the Bible.

Revelation from Another: Now what is fascinating is seeing how knowledge comes in different ways. Our verse above comes in an incident involving Abraham. He has grown in prosperity and influence and got involved in a conflict in Canaan. On his way back to his home he passes Jerusalem, known at that time as Salem, and we read, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram,” (Gen 14:18,19) and the blessing is our two verses above. Now what is strange about this is that we have no idea who Melchizedek was beyond this brief description, that he was a priest-king and claimed to worship “God Most High” and this God is “Creator of heaven and earth.” Now up until that point Abram doesn’t seem to have been bothered about the character or nature of this One who has been speaking to him, but now he acknowledges this fresh revelation as truth as he explains why he will not take benefit from simply having helped out in the conflict: “Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you.” (Gen 14:22,23)

Of course we have the early chapters of Genesis but the book had not been written then (it is believed that Moses compiled and wrote it from a combination of the accounts that had been passed down through the generations and the revelation he received from God in the many hours he spent in God’s presence in the forty years of his leading Israel to the Promised land) and so the thought that the One who had been speaking to him, calling him and guiding him, was no other than the Creator of all things. That is the claim of the Bible and it comes up again and again, that this world is NOT the product of total random chance and random evolution and thus with no possibility of meaning and purpose beyond basic survival, but is the result of the purposeful working of God who has designed humanity to work in specific ways that avoid self-harm and bring only goodness and blessing. (We’ll see in a later study why we don’t experience life like that most of the time).

Revelation by Experience: When it comes to observing the life of Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Israel as a people, much of our revelation about God is gleaned from the ways He interacted with these people and what He said to them. It is revelation by relationship and it is gradual. When we read, for example, the accounts of God’s dealings with Abraham, I suggest the following things come out about Him:

  1. God sees and knows and understands everything there is to know about us.
  2. He has a purpose for the earth which stretches far into the future.
  3. He persists with our slowness to understand, yet He continues to communicate with us.
  4. He is a God who can intervene in His material world and bring (from our perspective) miraculous changes.

Those are just some of the things we can learn about Him  through His relationship with Abraham, but they are profound and they can be seen again and again throughout the Bible.

Recap: So in this study we have suggested the following:

– God reveals Himself through Scripture only gradually, in accordance with the ability of the people at their particular time in history could understand.

– God is more concerned not to reveal Himself by definition but through relationships.

– there are times of specific additional revelation but they are rare.

– mostly the revelation about God is gleaned from observing how He interacted with individuals or with the nation of Israel.

To this we must suggest that for the fullest revelation we can have of God in the Bible, we must include that which comes from the New Testament. What appears hidden in the Old Testament becomes obvious in the New. But before we can see that in its fullness, we need to take a step back and look again at the how the purposes of God that are revealed in His activity throughout the Bible, are weaved into the activities of mankind. That we will start to do in the next study

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.

37. Hearing leads to Action (4)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 37. Hearing leads to Action (4)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We continue with this fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came, to see how we may cooperate with the Lord, seated with him in the heavenly realms, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.  Now let’s move on to see the final phase of this story:

(Proactive after further prayer)

Having been left feeling somewhat encouraged by what had happened so far in the week with his junior and his boss, Alan realised that the problem of the Client was still not resolved, and he needed to do something about it. He prayed briefly and dialled the number. The call was not exactly an unqualified success but at the end of it the client had agreed to have lunch with him in two days’ time. In that waiting time he called a couple of others from the prayer group and asked them to pray for his coming encounter.

 (Approaching the Client)

Two days later he sat at a table in the restaurant waiting for the client who was ten minutes late.

As soon as the man arrived, he muttered at Alan, “I don’t know why I am bothering with you! I’m thinking of taking my business elsewhere. You’re a blithering idiot!”

“Yes, I am,” was all Alan could manage.

“Well, that’s a good starting place,” the other replied tartly.

“Yes, I’m really sorry I upset you on the phone the other day. I’m afraid I made a very bad job of explaining some of the pitfalls of the course of action you were proposing, and I fully understand that it upset you, and I’m really sorry.”

(A change of response)

The other looked embarrassed. “Well I must confess I wasn’t expecting to hear that from you.” He looked a lot calmer. “All right, let’s order and as we’re here, you might as well have another go at explaining what you’re thinking.”

They ordered and talked.

Twenty minutes later the client put down his knife and fork and smiled at Alan. “You young idiot! Why didn’t you put it like that in the first place?”

Alan thought it better not to say that he had said roughly the same thing before, and just shrugged his shoulders. “I must have been having a bad day. I’m sorry.”

More smiles. “Right, well let’s talk some more.”

An hour and a half later Alan returned to the office with a lucrative contact under his belt.

And that is the end of the story. But let’s consider the lessons that come out of this particular part of it. It doesn’t matter that it was fictitious for it demonstrates how things need to be and how they can work out.  First, for this part of the prayer request, Alan recognised that he needed to be proactive. Second, before he acted, he prayed, made contact and then requested further prayer backup. Third, in his approach to his client he exhibited humility. Fourth, and this is vital for us to see in these things, God clearly moved by changing the man’s heart. Our expectation must be for God who answers prayer to move and bring changes to the circumstances. Our role of to pray (stick close to Him), be alert and watch the changing circumstances and be ready to move within them with His grace. In that we are watching to see these moves as the hidden hand of God.

The story of Esther is famous for not having clear and obvious signs of God moving dramatically (as, similarly, with the story of Ruth) but we do see what we call the providential hand of God – circumstances changing to make way for God’s people to move in. In the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, we find first of all in respect of Potiphar, Joseph found favour in his eyes,” (Gen 39:4) and then in prison, “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warder.” (Gen 39:21) i.e. God moves on the heart of unbelievers on behalf of His people. As people of faith, we should be expecting this when we are available and seeing ourselves as seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6)

Now our danger is that having read that story, you say, “Oh but it’s only a story. It’s not that easy!” Well it is, and things happen like this a) when we approach prayer meetings like this and b) are willing to be part of the answer to what we pray. If we reflect on the wider story, we can see a number of things that may help us in our own prayer experiences:

  • The praying people had learned to listen to God for HIS will as they prayed.
  • What they ‘heard’ from the Lord became a resource for further prayer for encouraging activity afterwards
  • The ‘answers’ involved Alan stepping out in faith in the week ahead:
    • looking at what was happening as the Lord provided opportunities for him to speak and act,
    • being willing to be humble, gracious and available for whatever came up,
    • being willing to accept that he perhaps hadn’t handled some of the people very well previously but, even more importantly,
    • here were opportunities to be a blessing to others, despite the past.
  • The ‘answers’ also involved the needs of other people coming to the surface and providing a basis for Alan to show love, care and compassion and faith – and then for God to move some more!

Perhaps we may analyse it in the following way. In the Prayer Meeting faith and encouragement and future direction were given when the people listened to God. After the Prayer Meeting, things happened (answers came) when the person in question was willing to play his part in bringing answers. Or to put it in yet another way, simply praying words out loud in a prayer meeting can be unbelieving ritual. Praying, listening and then acting on what you hear is faith building and opens the way for God to move in a much greater way. Simply praying weekly ‘shopping lists’ does little to build our faith and we remain unchanged – and circumstances and people around us only change a small amount. ‘Listening prayer’ followed by ‘available obedience’ develops faith and enables us to grow to be more available and more like Jesus, and so that God can work, and circumstances and people can be radically changed. The kingdom comes!

30. The Arrival of ‘Revelation’

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 30. The Arrival of ‘Revelation’

1 Cor 14:3 (Msg) when you proclaim his truth in everyday speech, you’re letting others in on the truth so that they can grow and be strong and experience his presence with you.

(NIV) the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

Different Responses: Moving into these practical outworkings of this picture of us being seated with Christ in the heavenly places to reign with him in bringing in the kingdom of God on earth, will almost certainly mean that a number will be feeling uncomfortable and even defensive because it transforms our concept of ‘church’ from a place where we go every Sunday and join in some rituals, sing some songs and listen to some teaching somehow connected to the Bible, to a living body that is an expression of the Son of God who actively speaks and moves in this world today. If you see Christ as anything less than this, I have to very gently suggest to you that you have an inadequate understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what Christianity is all about.

God on our case: In yesterday’s study we went from principles to practicalities and I suggested a very simple faith model example that allows Jesus to move in and through His body when they gather together. Because it is such a simple picture and yet a challenging one, perhaps we need to briefly look again at its significance. Back in Study no.26, ‘The Caring Church’, we observed two crucial things: the fact that as humans we still have needs to be met and, second, God is love and love delights to help, if I can put it as mundanely as that!

Start with the Bible: In the Evangelical wing of the church we have emphasised salvation through faith in Christ, the need to make a commitment, and the value of Bible teaching, and I would be the first to shout a loud ‘Amen!’ to all those three things, but then we stopped there. Indeed, some defensively then took on that ungodly and unbiblical stance that God is no longer the communicating God that we see throughout the Bible and everything we needed to hear was there in the finalised canon of Scripture. Yes, we do need to hear everything that we have in the final canon of Scripture, and I think you would agree that I am one of the foremost who value it so much I meditate on it every single morning, but as much as I do value it, I have to tell you that the life pivoting moments of my life have been when God has spoken directly to me. Yes, sometimes it has been when something in His word stood out so directly that it was clearly Him speaking to me, but there have been a number of other times when His word has come directly to me – and changed me!

Is it God? How do you know it is Him?  First, it is in line with His written word. Second, it brings a sense of peace, of goodness and even worship. Third, it cuts across your existing train of thought in a way your natural mind would not have done. Now I am sure these three examples from long back, that I am going to give, are somewhere in the myriads of studies I have written but they have not appeared for a long time so bear repeating.

Conversation 1: When my daughter, our first-born, was just a couple of months old (forty years ago but it seems like yesterday it is so vivid still) she was in a crib in our room and as a new dad I crept into our bedroom one day and looked down at her. It was then a ‘conversation’ ensued (and I was a sufficiently young Christian as to just take it for what it seemed) when into my thinking came, and it came just like this:

“Son, what are you feeling for your daughter?”

“Oh Lord, I love her,” I thought back.

“What does she do?”  That was a strange question. I paused and thought.

“Well, she cries a lot, she wakes us in the night, she’s always wanting feeding and she messes her nappies (diapers) and keeps on needing to be changed.”

“And you love her?

“Oh, yes Lord!”

“Why?”

Without a blink, “Because she’s mine!”

“And that, son, is why I love you, because you’re mine.”

End of conversation but I was never the same again.

Conversation number two (and there were others but this one stands out) came when I was preparing for a ministry trip to Malaysia. Now I had been several times before under someone else’s leadership, and each time, by way of preparation, we had prayed and fasted for ten days before we went.  This time was my first time to lead a small team and although I didn’t impose those on the others who were young people, I had decided to do the usual ten days fast.  The only problem was that ‘this voice’ had said, “Son, I do not want you to fast,” but I had rejected it as having come from the enemy, but the Lord is very gracious. There is nothing romantic about fasting, they are times of self-discipline, but I had previously got through the first three days without a problem. This time on the first morning, just a few hours from when there had not been breakfast or the customary cup of tea or coffee, I was literally rolling around the floor in agony and cried out to the Lord for His grace to cope. Back came the voice in my mind, quite clearly, “Son, I told you not to fast. Get up now and eat and I will bless your trip.” Chastened but still in agony, I got up and ate. I was fine. What is more the Lord blessed that trip and the subsequent one I did, doubly! I am not sure if I heard it, but I knew it: I didn’t need to try to twist the Lord’s arm to bless these ministry trips; He wanted to bless and use us more than I did!

Conversation number 3. I was reading a book and came to a bit where the author was writing about American TV evangelists who made big money, fail off the rails and so on, and I found myself thinking, “Lord, how can you use such people?” Now it was just a thought with, to my understanding, no significance or direction, but instantly I ‘heard’ back, and it came from beyond me, “The same reason I use you, son.” I sat bolt upright. Where did that come from? That didn’t sound good! But before I had time to think any more came the following: “Son, I use you, not because you are right but because you are available.”  Again, I was never the same again.

When you hear it and learn to know it and know where it comes from, there is nothing so precious as the Father speaking directly to you.  He knows me. He is here. He loves me. Yes, all this His written word tells me, but the ‘now-Presence’ is life changing in a way nothing else is. When the voice comes with ‘The Presence’ nothing is ever the same again.  I remember another time, many years ago, when a group of us had been praying and fasting for the day, and The Presence had been very real. When we broke up and I returned to my home, after a little while I realised something strange: I was tip-toeing everywhere around my apartment; The Presence was still there. I have taken up my space but there is more to say, so I’ll continue it tomorrow.

18. Resurrection Mind Change

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 18. Resurrection Mind Change

Rom 12:2    Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Power through Revelation: I have a feeling that when we talk about power, as we have been doing in this Part as we consider the Christian life as a resurrected life, we rarely connect power to the mind or to our thinking, we tend to link it to physical power. But the fact is that when we receive ‘revelation’ it is because God communicates with us. When I speak or listen, energy is involved. If I was dead I would be unable to either speak or listen. Those two capabilities only operate when there is power, energy, life.  You may never have thought of it like this, but when you came to Christ it was because God’s power was being used to communicate with you and the Holy Spirit convicted you of the truth. Yes, when you were born again, power was involved, the power of the presence of the now indwelling Holy Spirit, but before that, power was being experienced (even though we were almost certainly not aware of it) in the form of the communication.

The fact that many of us rarely if ever think of revelation as an expression of God’s power in us, means that we have a passive attitude towards our thinking and perhaps fail to realize how important our ‘thinking’ is and how important ‘revelation’ is.

Renewal & Transformation: In our verse above today, the apostle Paul says, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Now many times in writing these studies we face the fact that the Christian life is to be a life of change, a life of transformation, and Paul says that that transformation takes place as our mind is renewed.

Now what does that actually mean, for your mind to be renewed? Well, on the basis of my starting point so often these days – “God first!” – we must ask, what is God doing? In this respect He (the Holy Spirit) is seeking to teach us, to impart knowledge and understanding to us which will give us a new framework of understanding the world, a framework that starts from God and works out: God made this world and us in it with free will, and knowing we would exercise it to experience Sin, the Godhead agreed on the plan of salvation that would involve the Son of God coming to earth etc., etc.

Everything we now are flows from this. If you like, we might say that the framework for our lives today is that we are now redeemed sinners, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit and directed by Jesus at the Father’s right hand, still exercising our free will to conform, as much as we are able, with the will of God. But that ‘renewing’ is important for us to understand what the will of God is. It is as Paul says, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Renewal brings Understanding: As our mind is renewed, so we become more open to understanding what God’s will is and thus more open to His power flowing in us. The order appears to be as follows: i) He convicts us or imparts knowledge of our state that needs to be changed, ii) we submit to, or agree with that impartation of knowledge and desire to do it and so as we step out to do it, we find that iii) He empowers us to enable us to do the thing. Revelation – mind change – power impartation.  God’s will is simply His desire for us, for our lives to conform to His design, the basic way for all humans to live plus the specific aspects of that which apply to me as a unique creation.

As I conform my life to His written word and allow His Holy Spirit to lead me in specific directions, so I will be conforming to His will for me. In the overall sense it will be the same as for you – not doing sinful things, ‘putting off’ the old life, as we’ve seen before, and clothing ourselves with the character of Jesus. However, in specific ways it will be different from your life for I am a different person to you with different gifts, talents and abilities and He will have different things on His heart for me to do in my life.

In my old life I was ‘dead’ to God and He seemed a million miles away and never available to me, but then He imparted His Holy Spirit into my life and a fresh power flowed in my ‘resurrected life’, a power that enabled communication. However, as with all aspects of my new life, it is a combination of His moving and my exercising my will to conform to His leading.

Our Activity: If we insert ‘YOU’ into those two Romans 12 verses we can see the call to us for us to exercise our will and make the effort to do what he says: I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, (THAT YOU) offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (YOU) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but (YOU) be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  As we’ve said before, as we act to obey and conform to His desire, so He enables us, and power flows and changes us.

Thinking & Behavior: It is often said, ‘as a man thinks, so he is’. That simply means our thinking – our knowledge and understanding and wisdom – is the precursor to our behaviour, our words and our actions. So, as the mind things are changed, so do our words and our actions. We so often think our ‘behaviour’ is the important thing but the truth is that it is what goes on in our heads that triggers the behaviour. Perspective is important. Knowledge is important. Understanding is important. Wisdom is important. All these ‘mind things’ are what are behind our words and actions. Words and action never act independently.

So, as we near the end of this Part, let’s realize that ‘power’ for the resurrection life as I have been calling it, is not merely in our actions, it starts in our minds. His power is there to transform our minds as we open ourselves to Him, and those transformed minds result in transformed observable lives.  Very well, before we move into the final Part, we will carry out a recap of the things we have considered in this Part and that is what we’ll do tomorrow.