7. Appearance & Performance (2)

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

7. Appearance & Performance (2)

Mt 24:1 ‘Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.

Jn 12:24 unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Recap: In the previous study I have dared tread on hallowed ground, risking offending those who hold great store in history, tradition and education and, indeed, religious formality. I only dare do this because I know where this is going and detractors of what I have been saying can only do it if they ignore or reject the teaching of the New Testament.  In that previous study, I noted that appearance, self-confidence, performance, and unbelief are primary hindrances to Biblical faith. I maintained that religious performance should simply be the channel through which the presence of God can be manifest and promised to explain that in detail in later studies in this series. In considering unbelief in the life of a local church, I touched on worship and public prayer. Now I am going on to another vital aspect of church life that is so often a demonstration of unbelief, that of pastoral care.

Tolerating Pain: Many years ago, the first book I wrote was called ‘Creating a Secure Church’ and in the first chapter I imagined a typical congregation with people listening to their pastor, but with their minds filled with the worries of everyday living. Now nothing has changed. In a local church I know fairly well, a congregation of up to 150, the following are what I suspect are fairly typical anguishes: women with non-Christian husbands, men and women who are struggling to make ends meet financially, families with worries about their children and their teenagers, people wrestling with failures and guilts from the past, people with worries about their jobs, their finances and the future, young people worrying about study and/or exams and their futures. These are people with many and varied worries and concerns, hurts and anxieties, and so I have to ask the question, what do we do about them?

Ignore the Pain? This is the first expression of unbelief in respect of pastoral issues, and I believe it is true of so many churches. Pretend it is not there or if it is there, accept that this is what we all have to suffer, living in the Fallen World.  But Pastors may be aware of it and yet feel out of their depth in dealing with the scope and breadth of such issues, so simply try to cover some of these things in a surface way in twenty-five minutes of Sunday morning preaching. Some churches have house groups but what I so often find, is that they do such spiritually sounding things as Bible Study and ‘praying for the nations’ yet fail to create an atmosphere of security whereby people are put first, people who are anguishing and struggling with burdens that almost overwhelm them. In church, if God is to be our first focus, people should be a close second, because they were with Jesus. A damaged people cannot be a community-transforming people. Our transformation should start within the church, and then when we learn to do that, we can reach out to do it in the community.

When Jesus declared the Isaiah mandate as his mandate, “to proclaim good news to the poor.… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,” (Lk 4:18) the reality is that those poor prisoners are in our congregations too, and it is only unbelief that continues to tolerate that state of affairs; Jesus wants to heal, deliver, transform and change such people with their threatening circumstances.

We can in our churches be the same as the synagogues in Jesus’ day, shown by the classic instance in Mark 1 when a demon possessed man was in the synagogue and when Jesus delivered him, the reaction was amazement by the people who considered this something new. Presumably this man existed in the synagogue on a weekly basis at least and it was only when Jesus turned up that he was delivered. I have a suspicion that many in our churches (including leaders) would be utterly shocked if our neat and orderly services were interrupted by Jesus turning up and healing and delivering people publicly.

Misguided Disciples: In the first verse of Matt 24, the first of our starter verses above, Jesus’ disciples are carried away by the grandeur of Herod’s Temple. And, of course, that was how it was always described, Herod’s Temple. Herod the Great added on to the old, smaller temple, and created this great and beautiful building. And here is the irony of those verses: the disciples were excited by the amazing building and missed the fact that God, in the form of His Son, was walking away from it.  Jesus, in his response to them, warns, “not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down,” (v.2) and of course that was exactly what happened within some forty years in AD70.

Now the example of the disciples in this instance is what is at the heart of the belief system of so many people and I only mention this in this study so that we will realise that this feeling of grandeur can never be at the heart of true faith. Please understand, I am not attacking great ecclesiastical buildings, or religious institutions or other institutions that support and strengthen our societies, but I am saying they have little place in creating biblical faith. Similarly, familiar religious practice and standard service formats are in no way an expression of the life of the church revealed in the New Testament and should in no way replace a vibrant life of the Spirit in the church.

Death to self: We have, in this study, been suggesting that it is so easy to look at status and size as means of gaining confidence in who we are, or of establishing a sense of security, and that regular format services can act as a means of creating a weekly comfort zone. However, there is a teaching in the New Testament that lays an axe to the particular belief that human effort and endeavour is the key to religion. It may be summarised as the need to die to self to become a follower of Jesus. The second of our starter verses today came from the lips of Jesus: “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  He was, of course, referring to himself and his impending death but he was also laying down a principle that applies to each of us, and indeed dare we suggest it, the way we go about ‘church’.

Baptism: Baptism of believers in the New Testament period involved total immersion and the act of immersion was a picture of the spiritual reality of what would happen to Jesus and what has to happen to us. Going down into the water is symbolic of him – and us – dying, and then being raised up out of the water is symbolic of his resurrection and ours, as we are raised to a new life.

The Message version puts it, “That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!” (Rom 6:2,3) It continues with the apostle Paul’s teaching, That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father.” (v.3-5) He explained the same thing to the Colossians: “Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ.” (Col 2:12 Message version)

This same concept comes up again and again in the New Testament, that in coming to Christ we have to die to our old life, i.e. we have to completely let go of it, we have to reject and leave that old self-centred life, the life of human endeavor, that is so often godless and which, so often, results in things going wrong  We have already described Sin as self-centred godlessness that leads to unrighteous acts. God has designed us to live in relationship with Him but before we come to Christ, we will not have known that experience, we will have led self-centred lives, lives that are in reality, godless.

Being nice, having status, relying upon traditions, buildings, institutions, regular religious formats etc., none of these things counts for anything with God. We could say so much more here, but we will let the teaching of the following Parts speak further as it becomes applicable. These are the things that I have found had motivated and challenged me to come to this point of starting afresh to consider what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be part of the Church.

Instead of diving straight in and making suggestions about what the New Testament says about ‘church’ we need to start before that by considering what a Christian is, what has happened to them to be able to claim this title, and yet before that we need to consider what went before, their need, and what brought about the transformation that the New Testament speaks about. That is where we will go in the next Part.

(If you have simply come to this series and not followed it each day, you may wish to know where it is going, and so here at the end of each Part is an overview of the series)

Part 1 – Falling Short?

  1. Wonderings about Church
  2. Concern for People
  3. Challenged by Scripture
  4. Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose’
  5. Problems with Religion and Revival
  6. Appearance & Performance (1)
  7. Appearance & Performance (2)

Part 2 – A Different People

  1. Different
  2. Believers
  3. Supernatural
  4. Repentance and Conviction
  5. Needing to be ‘Saved’?
  6. A People of Faith

Part 3 – Making of Believers

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

  1. The Significance of Vision
  2. More on ‘Why Vision?’
  3. The God Focus
  4. Spiritual Expressions
  5. Building People

Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

  1. Clear your Mind
  2. A New Creation
  3. Life (1)
  4. Life (2)
  5. Being Together
  6. Fellowship

Part 6 – thinking about Leaders

  1. Led
  2. Local leaders – overseers
  3. Local leaders – shepherds
  4. Local leaders – elders
  5. Local Leaders – The Nature of the Church (1)
  6. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction
  7. Gifts of Ministries – to plant
  8. Gifts of Ministries – to build up
  9. The Servants – Deacons
  10. The Nature of the Church (2)

Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

  1. Uniqueness
  2. Another quick look at ‘Vision’
  3. Power – for Life Transformation
  4. Power – for Life Service
  5. Power – for Living
  6. The Need for Faith
  7. More on Faith.
  8. Obedience
  9. Finale – the Church on God’s heart

19. Self Gone

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 19. Self Gone

Rom 6:6   For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—

We pursue this link between death and resurrection, especially as it is worked out in spiritual terms and applies to our lives as Christians. In yesterday’s study from Galatians Paul spoke of his own life as having been crucified or put to death, with Christ, so that the risen life or power of Christ could live in him.

Now in today’s verse from Romans, Paul says the same thing but now expounds on that life that has been “done away with”, the old life that we lived before we came to Christ. He uses this same parallelism to what happened to Christ when he says, “we know that our old self was crucified with him,” i.e. to be able to live the new life our old life had to be put to death.

Now there is nothing very mystical about this, indeed it is very practical. For you to become a Christian you had to come to a point in your life where you recognised that the life you were living fell short of what it could be and, when you eventually understood it all, fell short of God’s wishes for you. In simple language, you repented. No repentance, no salvation. Not only did repentance mean a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turnabout, turning from an unrighteous life towards a God-empowered righteous life, to obtain that you had to surrender the old life to God, give it to Him and be prepared to walk away from it. Everything from then on would be Jesus focused – the means of receiving forgiveness, and the power to live a new life.

But the big issue about your old life was that Sin prevailed in it. There was this propensity to being self-centred and godless and that was worked out in wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong actions, maybe not all the time to your awareness at least, but you were certainly aware that that was how you were – and as much as you might try you couldn’t break free from that (see Paul in Rom 7).

Paul referred to that as “the body ruled by sin.”  Notice the word ‘ruled’; we were not masters of ourselves. The reality was this ‘Sin thing’ dominated us, controlled us and in Paul’s words made us “slaves to sin.” The only way of changing the situation was for that old life to die and so we put it to death – crucified it – by giving it to God, surrendering to Him. By NO other way can that life change. But it didn’t just finish there with us being empty, lifeless beings; He justified and adopted us and empowered us by His indwelling Holy Spirit. It is now by His indwelling presence that we have the means to live different lives that are selfless and godly and righteous. Hallelujah!

23. Deserving Death

Meditations in Romans : 23 :  Deserving Death

Rom 1:29-32 They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them

We are working through this list that Paul presents to us, that are ways a depraved mind expresses itself through the lives of the godless. In the previous meditation we had got as far as ‘boastful’. Before we continue with the list it is worth reminding ourselves that these are the outworkings of a mind, we said, “that has been spoiled, damaged and doesn’t work properly.” That is what depraved means and that is the mind of every person, says the Bible, who has never come to God and surrendered their lives back to Him. Let’s continue the list.

“They invent ways of doing evil” i.e. these people are ever looking for new things to do to express their hearts, they are never content with where they are, there always needs to be something more, because nothing satisfies. One level of sexual perversity is never enough, there has to be more. One level of drug taking is never enough, there has to be more.

“They disobey their parents” i.e. they reject the first level of authority that they ever encounter in the world. In God’s design parents are crucial to a good life and to blessing; that is why we find in the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) which Paul himself later reiterates: “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise— “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph 6:2,3). How tragic it is in so many families that the parents provoke their children to disobedience and the children end up missing out on God’s blessing!

‘Senseless’ means having no good sense, being stupid or foolish or having no real point or purpose in life, meaningless. The expression of the depraved mind here is that they reveal that they are aimless by the stupid things they do. If they were rational they would look at what they do and realise this.

‘Faithless’ means they lack faith or do not keep faith, which suggests being dishonest, disloyal, unreliable and undependable. They lack character.

Heartless’ means they are hard and pitiless, they lack kindness or feeling, they are callous. Heartless people don’t mind what happens to others, and look on others’ misfortunes with scorn and derision.

Ruthless’ means they are absolutely without pity in their activities in life, and this is just a further stage down the path away from God’s design. Ruthless people cause harm to others without concern for the consequences or for the feelings of those they hurt.

Each of these latter descriptions take us further and further away from God’s design for mankind and show us people who are behaving more like vicious animals than human beings made in the image of God, and all of this is the outworking of a mind that no longer works properly.

But these godless and unrighteous people continue down this path willfully and with knowledge. They know deep down that these things are utterly wrong and that before God they deserve to die. They are damaging themselves, they are harming others and they are damaging God’s world. It is a miracle of grace and mercy that they are still alive! If we were God we would almost certainly have wiped them off this beautiful world that we had made, but God’s grace and mercy has other plans!

Yet these people continue down this terrible path. They don’t only do all these terrible things but they approve others who do them as well. It is like any form of sensitivity has been dulled or anaesthetised and so they are utterly careless as to where this path is taking them and about the effects they are having on others. They are utterly taken up with ‘self’ regardless of the consequences. This is the plight of the human race and it is only a matter of degree as to its outworking. When God’s hand of restraint rests upon us, these things are limited but when, in His wisdom, He decides that people are so set in their ways that He has to act, more often than not He simply lifts His hands of restraint off so that we are free to go down this terrible downward path until we are either destroyed or we come to our senses and call to the Lord to be saved. That is the divine strategy behind all we have been seeing in the latter part of this first chapter of Romans.