48. Power – for living

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

48. Power – for living

1 Cor 4:20  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

Rom 15:13   May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Power behind all else: There it is in the verse above, joy and peace come out of hope and that hope is fuelled by the power of the Holy Spirit who now indwells our lives as Christians. It would be wrong to say that it is only the power of the Holy Spirit that our lives are based upon, for it is also the finished work of Christ on the Cross, but as he has opened the door to heaven for us by his work on the Cross, so the Spirit now comes down from heaven and enables us to live out the life that God has on His heart for us. So far we have considered the subject of power in a more general way, but then how that power that was manifest through Jesus’ ministry is also available for us to walk the same path. But in doing that it is easy to miss the point that this power is the foundation (together with the Cross) of our everyday lives, as well as our service, and it is to that that I now want to turn.

Diametrically Opposite: The apostle Paul wrote, For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor 1:18) and there he brought together the work of the Cross and the effect that it has on us. Yet this is something that is diametrically opposite to what the rest of the word thinks. A few verses on Paul expanded on that: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:22-24) Jews & Greeks (or Gentiles) the two summary symbols of mankind. The Jews had the Law and their prophecies and wanted to see signs to confirm those prophecies,  i.e. prove to us you are from God. Meanwhile the Gentiles want a nice neatly packaged form of logical and systematic self-help salvation that you so often see on the shelves of bookshops (do you remember bookshops????) But instead we have the Cross. God’s means of salvation is a man dying on a Cross! That is so not human thinking! And so when we come to living out our daily lives we are surprised (and sometimes uncomfortable) to find that we are not told to follow a set of rules, not to follow a carefully laid out programme (although so many church do love that), but instead to follow the daily prompting and inspiration and guidance of the powerful indwelling Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God. This is another totally different ballgame.

Unseen but seen?  Let’s pick up some more of the teaching we find in the New Testament letters. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” (1 Cor 6:14) The problem is – if it is a problem to you – that you cannot see this power, only the end result of it. If you had been there in that tomb when Jesus was brought back to this life, all you would have seen was the body start to move and start to unwrap the grave clothes off the body. There was power at work but you only see the end product. Consider this: “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7) Let’s expands that with the Message version: “It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.  If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.”  i.e. the wonder of the presence of Christ, the glory of God, is now in us but all people see is ordinary clay pots, like the sort I grow plants in, in my greenhouse. They are rough-finished not the beautiful ceramic-finish pots. So the unseeing see rough pots, the seeing see the glory of Christ in us, his power present within us. Amazing. Now why  am I saying this? Because many of us just look on the outside forgetting that God told Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

The Reality of Power: This same thing comes out in many ways. Consider Paul’s testimony at one point: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12:9) This was Paul who suffered a ‘thorn in the flesh’, something that made him feel weak, but the Lord told him not to worry about that because His power is best shown through our weakness.  This power is not the sort you find in Superman, or Mr. Universe, or even some local wrestler, who all have muscles that make the rest of us feel ten-stone weaklings by comparison.

No, this power is an energy source that flows in and through us, so when you feel like giving up, you don’t. It shows itself when you are challenged over your faith and you suddenly find yourself speaking words of grace and truth that confound your attackers. It is expressed when someone slaps you round the face and you simply turn the other cheek. It is shown when someone begs a shirt from you and you give them three. It is shown when the waitress has been having a bad day and the service has not been brilliant but you double her tip anyway. It is shown when someone turns up and says, “I need someone to talk to,” but you have sixteen things more you still have to do in the day, and yet you smile and welcome them in, give them coffee and listen for two hours. This is power. Note the difference from ‘self-control’ (Gal 5:23) because self-control is simply about restraint but power talks about going forward to, for example, loving enemies by action, and praying for those who oppose you (Mt 5:44) and the various other things we suggested above.  Power in these instances are expressions of grace.

More and More: Paul repeats these sorts of things again and again so, for instance somewhat similar to our opening verse Rom 15:13, he also said to the Ephesians, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,” (Eph 1:18-20) See the order: he prays for revelation for us, which is the realization of the hope – “what it is he is calling you to do” (Msg) – and within that we realize the wonder of our future empowered God’s Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. This moves this power from simply something internal that we considered in the previous paragraph, now to an externally observable strength.

He reiterates this later in the same letter: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:16-19) Note again the order: first that we will be empowered internally in our knowledge of Christ, second as we experience his love we will have power that brings revelation so that we may ‘grasp’ – actively take hold of – the wonder of his love, and to know it – in practical practice not mere head knowledge – to receive more and more of the expression of Christ through his Spirit. This comes out in his teaching again and again to bring forth, for example, power to endure and be patient (Col 1:9-11), fruitfulness (2 Thess 1:11), boldness (2 Tim 1:7), and the ability to cope with suffering (2 Tim 1:8).  It is also seen in the writings of other apostles, for example, power to pray with effect (Jas 5:16), to shield or protect us (1 Pet 1:4,5) and to enable us to live godly lives. (2 Pet 1:3)

And So?  The message comes over loud and clear: the life we live as a Christian IS empowered by the Holy Spirit, it IS a life of power. That may be seen when we are feeling very weak but it does not depend on our feelings; it is internal, it is there! It is available for us to draw on.  It is the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and it does equip us to persevere under trials, be a blessing to others around us, and bring glory to God. That is the wonder of all that we have been considering in these last three studies; this is one of the unique ingredients in the life of the Christian. This IS the truth; let’s believe it and live it.

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Snapshots: Day 2

Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 2

The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God …. was the word…”: (Gen 1 & Jn 1) In the beginning was The Thought and the Thought was One, independent, reliant upon no one, and the Thought expressed itself as a word and the word was one with the Thought, one Spirit, one essence, coming out of it, begotten of it, and the Thought and the Word were perfectly one and because they understood each other, the Word uttered, “My Father,” and  the Thought uttered, “My Son,” and together they existed in perfect unity, perfect harmony, perfect oneness and yet unique, one who existed always, and one who was begotten out of the eternity.  One.  Wonder and marvel.

Further Consideration:  I have tried to convey a truth using the words ‘Thought’ and ‘Word’. Now the Bible doesn’t describe God as a Thought but it does describe the Son of God as ‘word’. I hesitate to put an article before ‘word’ because ‘a’ is imprecise. However, the apostle John does describe him as ‘the word’ (Jn 1:1,14 & 1 Jn 1:1), speaking into the Greek culture of his day for which the Greek word for ‘word’, ‘logos’, was taken to mean ‘plan, reason or purpose behind all things’.

But I have used the word ‘Thought’ of God to capture the sense of distinct existence, distinct from inert material, to describe a sentient being, one who is responsive, emotional, perceptive, being capable of rational thought, consideration and expression. In Day 1 we observed the revelation of the Bible showing Him to be all-powerful, all-knowing etc. but that could be said of Terry Pratchett’s giant tortoise weaving through space carrying all on his back, but the God of the Bible is infinitely greater than this, He has a mind that is rational and so my previous definition of ‘spirit’ as ‘power or energy with personality’ equally underplays the reality of who He is. If He was not spirit but material then we might describe Him with a ‘brain’ billions of times greater than anything we can conceive.

But then, perhaps for our benefit, perhaps to convey something more of Himself to us, the Bible conveys the idea of the Godhead, a God who expresses Himself in three forms, and the second form is as a ‘Son’ begotten of (as the Creeds put it – meaning simply ‘brought out of’) God who then, as the two exist distinctly but one, is considered as ‘Father’. There is communication. In a mind there are ‘thoughts’. Now consider two ‘thoughts’ that having come into being, remain as two separate distinct thoughts. We move forward.  Marvel and worship.

26. Spiritual Expressions

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

26. Spiritual Expressions

1 Cor 2:13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

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.

God-centred: at the beginning of the previous study I spoke about focusing on what church was all about, summarized in two suggestions. First, make the ‘Spiritual’ the keystone of your direction, the starting point and then, second, make ‘building people’ your second priority, and we started considering the first of those two things, the need (often taken for granted and therefore not practiced) for being God-centred. This, we said, should impact every expression of our relationship with the Lord and our ministry, and noted how obedience is to be virtually the key starting place for both of those. Now I am aware that this is all about vision, and although these are not things we want to spell out in a brief mission statement, they are nevertheless the realities that we need to keep before us. So rather than plough on into ‘building people’ we need to flesh out some of the aspects of the Christian life and ministry, seen under the magnifying glass of this part – “Being God-centred”.

Spirit-Led: I fear if you go into many churches and randomly ask people in the congregation, what it means to be Spirit-led, you would receive a lot of blank looks, because I have rarely heard it preached upon and taught. Surely we need to build a people who are open to the Holy Spirit, who are learning to sense/listen to Him and respond to Him, producing leaders who lead in the ways of the Spirit, who can be an example and go ago ahead (that’s what leaders do!) in the Spirit.  Surely we need to encourage our people who are unquestionably people of the Word and of the Spirit, to feed and drink and then feed others and enable others to drink, being seen to be people stepping out in faith and in the Spirit and trusting God to turn up, not being afraid to get it wrong.

Spiritual Expressions (Disciplines): If we are to be God-centred, God-focused, we also need to major on Prayer, creating meetings that do not just utter words but who learn to listen to God and then pray out of what they hear. We should encourage leaders to always be at them, and encourage the church to be at them, and give it high profile at every opportunity

In Preaching, we need to focus on who we are rather than ‘this is what you do’ to build assurance, confidence and faith, challenging people to rise to a vision of ‘this is who we ARE and this is therefore what we can rise to’.  i.e. we motivate by preaching grace not law, vision not vices, hope not guilt, reaching up, not driving up. Beware teaching ‘law’ (more Bible reading, more prayer) but instead show attainable goals that build faith. Again and again, can we place an emphasis on being God-enabled in this, rather than just intellect driven.

In Teaching encourage our leaders and then our flock, to be well read, both in the Bible and outside it, feed people and give them a strong base for their belief, also equipping them to resist the thinking of the world, knowing who and what they are and why, to give a springboard to ‘becoming’. As above, again and again, may we motivate by grace and flow out of our relationship with the Lord, being God-orientated at all times.

In Worship, can we encourage expressive and involved and Spirit-inspired worshipping and, as the Spirit is allowed to move, be seen to be an initiator, enabler, a totally involved follower.

The Problems of Leadership: Our greatest failure is to look to people who are successful in the world. I can remember in my youth being in a church where the diaconate of twelve men trouped out of a door at the front of the auditorium with the Minister, twelve men in suits, twelve men at the top of their game, bankers, lawyers, accountants and the like, and the church was proud to have such men at the front. But there were at least six problems with that. First, these were committee men, men good at running organisations, not organic bodies like the church. The church is the body of Christ and he is its head and the Spirit is its energizing and directing force.

Second, there is a great deal of difference between a business man and a spiritual leader. One might suggest that being a deacon is merely being a servant who helps administer the practical side of the church (see Acts 6) but actually the Biblical requirement is that they be filled with the Spirit (back to God again!). The other thing, in my past experience in that particular denomination was that deacons sought to exercise power and authority (in the role of elders) without having either the calling or equipping for that. We’ll look at this in detail later in the series. Third, these men were so proper, so respectable, that I am sure none of them would have dared step out in the Spirit if He might encourage them to do something ‘undignified’.

Fourth, this respectability drove such a wedge between them and the poor people who they were supposed to be serving. Some might say their lives were so different from some of the poorer members of the church (past tax-collectors and sinners?) that they would hardly know how to communicate with them. Fifth, and this goes back to an earlier study in an earlier part, humility was often lacking in these men, so not so good examples of Christ-like servants. Sixth, perhaps associated with this, these men could be seriously opinionated and so when there was a difference of opinion, politics came into play, and church is not the place to play politics. Now all I am doing here is showing from a past example what church leadership should NOT be like. Where the emphasis is on God, on serving and obeying Him, being those who respond to His Spirit and who are filled with the Spirit and with gifts of the Spirit, these things above, tend to disappear.

True Leaders: Now this may not be something that you want to work into your vision materials but it is, I suggest, nevertheless, stuff you want to hold before you as you think about ‘church’. What is a true spiritual leader? First of all, in general outlook, they are not someone who is perfect but someone who knows who they are in Christ, what their calling is, where their resources are, what their limitations are, and what they do when they fail.  I suggest, as far as God is concerned, they will be people of prayer and people of the word. Generally they will people of faith, people who listen to God and who respond to Him, people who are filled with the Spirit and are led by Him, people of vision seeing possibilities that are realistic in God and in the light of the people available, people of humility but who are not afraid to lead with the calling they have in God.

One would hope that they are hungry for God and when tiredness, weariness and exhaustion blunt that, they have the wisdom and humility to step back, sit down and get refreshed. They will recognize availability in the flock and will encourage people to recognize the gifts God is giving them, encourage them in those gifts and maybe even pray for them for those gifts to be released.  They will not be one-man ministries and they will not lord it over others as a CEO but will act as the chief servant being an example to all (see Jesus in Jn 13). We could no doubt add to that list (and may do in subsequent studies) but for now that should be enough to help refocus on the nature of this body we call the church and those who lead it. More will come later but there is just one more thing that needs mentioning here in this context.

Accountability: Leaders need to find spiritually mature (if possible) people who are for them, inside the church, to whom they can be accountable as they share with them, making opportunities for them to sit and listen to, question and encourage them. ‘Outside people’ cannot do this because they will not be there on the ground to watch and be there in it (and our natural tendency with ‘outside people’ is to only share with them things we are comfortable sharing).  ‘Insiders’ should be given permission to be honest, which doesn’t mean you have to follow everything they say but go away and weigh it – and you are more likely to get a realistic assessment. This is simply a safety measure and where it is real and there grows a close and open relationship, it will help guard against the temptations that the enemy would bring that has caused the downfall of so many leaders who did not have that protection.

And So? We have been considering how we can make the church what it is meant to be – a living expression of a relationship of people with their God, something that goes beyond simply mouthing words, and becomes reality that not only blesses the Church but also reveals the Lord to the onlooking world. May that become how it is for your local church and mine. But if we said the starting point for ‘church’ is making the ‘Spiritual’ the keystone of your direction, we said, second, making ‘building people’ our second priority and that is what we will move onto in the next and concluding Part on ‘vision’.

16. Growing in Sonship

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

16. Growing in Sonship

Gal 4:6,7  Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Heb 12:7,8  God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

Eph 1:5  he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ

Rom 8:15 the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (also 8:23)

Heirs:  In the previous study we considered the fact that the New Testament speaks of Christians, believers in Jesus Christ, as children of God.  Now there is another facet of this relationship issue and it is that of growing up and entering into what God has in store for is, referred to as our inheritance (see Eph 1:14,18, 5:5, Col 1:12, 3:24, Heb 9:15, 1 Pet 1:4) because as ‘sons’ we are also heirs (Gal 4:7 above). But that ‘inheritance’ appears to have two dimensions, first the life we have to live here on the earth, and then, second, the life we have in eternity with God.

The Life Today: If the problem we considered in the previous study was one of alienation, the one we face now is the problem of life purpose and meaning and possibilities of fulfillment.  Now you only have to look on the self-help shelves of any good bookshop and you will see that there are many means suggested of being fulfilled as a human being, but they are all focused on ‘doing’, but there is no motivation or reason d’etre beyond simply to feel good in yourself. It is a purely self-centred thing. However, when we come across this teaching in the New Testament we find it is focused in ‘being’ and about ‘identity’ and then out of that comes the ‘doing’. We ‘do’ because of who we are.

Sonship: That is where we come back to this concept. Without in any way being sexist, if we can observe life two thousand years ago in Israel, we  will see something very significant. Because of the way we are made, when girls grew up it was expected of them that they would get married, have children and put all their effort into raising a family. (Anyone who has witnessed the phenomenon of a Jewish mother will know that this is not a passive, subservient role but a powerful and strong role!) The role of the man was thus left to be the breadwinner. He either had a trade or business or worked for others. If he had a trade or business that trade or business would be the path that the son followed. Thus Jesus was a carpenter (Mk 6:3) because Joseph was a carpenter (Mt 13:55). The son would be trained up by the father and enter more and more into the business and eventually take it over when his father died. When ‘sonship’ is brought into the New Testament, we see that the picture is of one who enters into the father’s business and eventually inherits the father’s business.

Father’s Business? Now if we are implying that this is now a picture of what happens with us and God, the question has to arise, what is the Father’s business? Rather than making a long discussion out of this I will simply suggest that since the Fall (which the Godhead knew would occur) God’s ‘work’ ever since – at least in respect of this earth – has been a long-term project of restoring relationship with mankind, and thus restoring the life God originally designed for us in its many facets. So if we take this Old Testament picture of ‘sonship’ and bring it into the ambit of New Testament salvation we can suggest that the Father’s plan for us is to a) draw is into an ever-deepening relationship with Him, so that b) He can lead us into a place where we receive all of the goodness He has on His heart for us.

Crisis and Gradual Change: Of course we enter into this life by a crisis that we have referred to in shorthand as conviction plus repentance, which happens at a specific moment in time. Once that happens there is life to be lived out, a life in relationship with God, made possible through the finished work of Christ on the Cross but now enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Now we come to looking at what it means to have an ever-deepening relationship with the Father. It comes from first of all taking in what the New Testament says about our new life and this we find by reading and praying and seeking understanding and application (obedience) of what we find there. Sometimes there will direct commands to follow, for example Jesus said to his disciples and therefore to us, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 13:34) and we therefore have to see how we can do that in respect of other Christians. Another example would be, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” (Col 3:12) and so we will consider how we can ‘put on’ those things as we relate to others. The new life involves us working out (with His help as we pray) these things we come across.

But then we come to learn, as we’ve read, that the Holy Spirit indwells us, and so what will happen is simply that we will get a sense that ‘this is what I should be doing’. For instance, as we’ve used this as an example before, I get a feeling I ought to ring up an old friend, and when I do they say, “Oh I was just thinking about you. I need help in….” and we find life becomes more than coincidences, it becomes ‘guided’ and so learning to be sensitive to the prompting of the Spirit becomes a very real learning process in this new life.

Increasing Understanding: But this new relational life we have been talking about, when we see it in the ‘father and son’ terms we considered earlier, we find is also a life where we are learning to understand how the Father works and, consequently, how He wants us to work in harmony with Him. But it is a life of learning, of growing and maturing, and of testing and training, and changing us (of course when we refuse to be changed, it stops!).  In other words we start learning the strategies of God, how He works. Possibly contrary to our previous beliefs, we come to learn and realise that He loves us, is for us, and is always working for our best. (There are so many verses I will not use quotes to make the point). We will learn that although sometimes we seem to lose a sense of His presence, He never leaves us. We learn that although we are sometimes in a hurry for change, He is never in a rush and takes His time. And so it will go on, a lifetime of learning!

But there will also be things that we are slow to learn because they come more with the knowledge of Him rather than just by learning some rules. Knowing Him is more important than knowing the rules, for the more we seek Him, read His word, pray, and are obedient to His promptings, the more we will learn to sense His presence and that will change us more than anything else. Within that relationship we will learn how important His word, the Bible, is to us.  Within that relationship we will learn how important prayer is to us, or worship is to us. Initially they will be simply things we do because other Christians seem to do them, but as we grow in maturity and in understanding and in our knowledge of His presence, the more these things will become essential realities for us which we cannot do without. So, is this the Christianity we know – you know?  If not, may it become so.

10. Supernatural

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

10. Supernatural

Jn 3:3-8   Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

And So? In the previous studies we made the point that to be a Christian, to be a member of the Church, is to be different, to be different from a sports club or a social club or even a political club, and the difference is – God! We are called by God, but calling is merely the start and so, in the days to come, we will examine in more detail how this calling comes about and where it goes. But we did also say that everything about ‘being a Christian’ is different from being an unbeliever, and that it what this series is really all about. But having said the first difference is that we have been called by God, the second difference is that God does NOT simply lay down a lifestyle and expect us to work on it and live it, He gives us the means to do it.  But in these verses in Jn 3 that we have above, Jesus uses three sets of words which are really important. This will be very basic but, for anyone who has never really thought these things through before, are really critical to this subject. The three sets of words we need to start examining are, the kingdom of God, being born again and the (Holy) Spirit.

Focus on the Kingdom: no one can see the kingdom of God unless…..”  So we start with the first ones, ‘the kingdom of God’. Put very simply it simply means the realm, or the existence, or the experience, of being under the rule of God. ‘Church’ we will go on to see later is simply an expression of the rule of God, expressed through the people He has called out as we considered previously. Now some people immediately get nervous about this because they don’t like being ‘told’ what to do and so talk of the ‘rule’ of God may conjure up pictures of a despot who has serfs who he bosses around, but what we have here could not be further from the truth. We are really in this paragraph jumping the gun because we will need to consider this in more detail in the days ahead but, if we are to understand this whole package, we need to understand what is at issue here. If I may explain in brief skeleton outline form what we will consider in detail later, the truth is twofold: first, we haven’t made a very good job of life so far, and second, God’s desire is to help us live the best possible life that a human being can live. As I say we’ll explain that more in the days to come, but for now can we just take that as read?.

When Jesus first appeared at the start of his three-year ministry we read, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15) Perhaps we might put that latter part, “Do a complete turn around and dare to believe the wonderful news that I am here to bring all of the love and goodness of God to this world.”  That is what we struggle to believe, that everything God has for us is an expression of His love and goodness and so when Jesus ‘ruled’ it was to get rid of sickness and cast out demons to free people and bless them.

Let’s use some different analogies. Suppose you go on holiday and part of the package is to learn rock-climbing. The instructor says I need you to do everything I tell you. Or suppose it was scuba diving and the instructor says the same thing. You wouldn’t get upset with that and respond, “I’m not going to have anyone boss me around and tell me what to do!”  That would make you stupid! Why? Because the instructor knows better than you and if you ignore them you may be putting your life or the life of someone else at risk. So we think we know better that Almighty God who designed and create this world? We need to give ourselves a severe talking to!

Born Again: So when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless….” he is saying, no one can come into the place where they can receive all of God’s love and goodness unless….. and that brings us on to the second phrase ‘born again’. “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Now good old Nicodemus tried to take this literally and so he starts chatting on about how you can’t restart life by going back into the womb. Absolutely not, Nicodemus, you’re completely right, so what does Jesus mean?

Water and Spirit: Jesus explains: “unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” Commentators get themselves in a bit of a twist over the water bit and go on about baptism, and indeed baptism does have a part to play as we’ll see in the future, but it is more likely that Jesus means ‘natural birth’ and ‘supernatural birth’. We talk about the ‘waters breaking’ as a woman goes into labour, and this understanding is reinforced when Jesus adds, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

In other words, to become a Christian and part of the Church, it requires a work of God, of the Holy Spirit, a work of the third person of the Trinity. Later when teaching his disciples about the Holy Spirit, he says, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17). Just to pick up one or two of the many references to the Spirit indwelling believers, let’s note the apostle Paul’s words, all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Cor 6:19) When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, it meant that from that moment on every real Christian, every true believer, would be indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Thus, to use Jesus’ language, when we come to him and surrender our lives to follow him, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us. The apostle Paul was most specific about this: “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Rom 8:9) i.e. no Holy Spirt = no Christian. Just in case I should be addressing anyone who has been a church goer for years and has considered themselves a Christian but who has never been ‘born again’, never come to that point of surrender to God, never received the empowering of the Holy Spirit, it’s never too late. It’s not about being religious, it’s not about ‘going to church’, it’s not about keeping the rules, it’s not about trying to be good, it is about surrendering to God and receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour as we spoke about earlier, so that he places his own Holy Spirit within you to empower you and provide a new channel of communication within you.

I think my testimony is fairly common. I was living on my own, heard the Gospel and so before I went to bed, knelt down and prayed and surrendered my life to God and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I then got into bed and fell asleep, and that was that. Except the only thing is that next morning when I woke up I realised I was a different person and went out and shared what had happened to me with others. I started to learn to pray and read my Bible but they were merely add-on things to what had already happened IN me. I was different, I was changed. Nothing about turning over a new leaf or making a resolution, this was an act of God. And that is what is available to whoever comes to God in humility so that He can not only put them on a new course in life, but also empower them to live it. You can pray in the same way.

46. The Hidden God

Short Meditations in John 6:  46. The Hidden God

Jn 6:46 “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.   

It is perhaps the fact that God cannot be seen that is the biggest stumbling block to Christian and non-Christian alike. God is spirit said Jesus (Jn 4:24) and you can’t see spirit. There have been times in the Old Testament when there have been ‘visions’ of heaven but that is different from the reality and so Jesus’ statement in this verse is simple and true. The fact is that we may have seen representations of God (angels) but never God Himself – until Jesus came. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9)

But Jesus said those words to his close disciples at the Last Supper, and they struggled with it, so here with the crowd he isn’t that specific – but he does imply that he who has come down from heaven has obviously seen the Father. Again, it is a simple statement but so simple and true. But it does require a great leap of faith – that one has come from God, and that one is Jesus.

Now, interestingly, this verse doesn’t claim divinity; it’s a little less than that, simply that he has come from God and that could be taken by the crowd in a variety of ways. It is almost as if Jesus is putting it in ways that are gentler and more easily accepted. The fact that he performed miracles, such as the recent feeding of the five thousand, lends credibility to the claim of having been sent by heaven: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22)

But this verse doesn’t lend itself to the interpretation that he was simply a man, like John the Baptist, sent with a mission. No, the clear and unavoidable implication is that he has seen God face to face in heaven and that, now as a human being, makes him unique.

That is the extent of this particular but the overall teaching of this chapter is much more than that. First and foremost it is that he existed in heaven and left it: “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” Second, he is constantly claiming a unique relationship with God in heaven who he existed with and calls Father. The strong implication is that he is saying he is the Son of the Father, the unique Son of God.

I think it is fair to say, looking at the Gospels and Acts, that the early disciples struggled with this idea and it took a while for it to settle in, but now we have the full canon of Scripture and have the whole New Testament before us, we should never doubt the claims that we are considering here, that Jesus Christ, was (always has been) and is (and will always be) the unique Son of God. Hallelujah!

7. The Mystery – of the Anointed Preacher

Focus on Christ Meditations: 7.  The Mystery – of the Anointed Preacher

Isa 61:1,2   The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, .

As we briefly browse some of Isaiah prophecies in our search for hints of the Coming One in the Old Testament, to focus the ‘mystery’ that the apostle Paul spoke about, especially in respect of Christ himself, we cannot move on into the New Testament without first observing this most truly remarkable prophecy, not as remarkable as the Isa 9 word perhaps, but remarkable nevertheless.

Imagine you were a Jew living in Israel, say twenty years before the birth of Christ. You go along to the local synagogue on a Saturday morning to hear the scrolls read, and the rabbi expound the week’s reading before conducting prayers. This morning the scrolls of Isaiah are brought out and the above ‘chapter’ is read. I wonder what you would have thought about it?

Perhaps you hear these words and hear them as Isaiah explaining his own ministry. As a prophet, the Spirit of God is on him and by the Spirit’s enabling he brings God’s word, a word that can bring healing to those with broken hearts who are anguished by the hurts of life. For those who feel prisoners to dark thoughts, to feelings of inadequacy, and to failure, he sometimes had words of comfort and encouragement for those whose hearts were inclined towards the Lord. He proclaims that today is the day of God’s blessing for those same ones who seek the Lord, a day when God comes to judge all the negative things that inhibit our relationship with Him and comfort those who mourn, not only for the loss of loved ones, but for their own state perhaps.

Oh yes, God’s word does all these things but it seems it is limited to the spiritual world. You think of others in your community, the sick, the infirm, the disabled, yes even those troubled by evil spirits (and there do seem to be a lot of them) and you dare to wonder why God’s word, read and expounded every Saturday, seems unable to touch them – but you keep those thoughts to yourself for it seems unworthy of God.

You allow your mind to wander back to those earlier chapters of Isaiah. First there was that tantalising suggestion of a child who would come to bring the presence of God to the land in chapter 7, and yet there was linked with him the thought of judgment, but it was unclear and somewhat of a mystery. And then in chapter 9 there had been those almost unbelievable words about this child being God Himself, an even greater mystery. And then in chapter 11 there were words about a ‘branch’ of the house of David who would come (v.1) with the Spirit of God upon him (v.2,3) and as he rules he will bring justice (v.3-5) and the end result will be a life of incredible peace where, The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (v.6) This was all going to be the work of one who was coming with the powerful presence of God upon him to achieve these things. Surely that must be what is being referred to here, now, in Isaiah 61, surely this must be more than just what Isaiah achieved through his ministry?

And so the questions would have hung in the air and fifty years on from this imaginary moment, in the synagogue of Capernaum in the north of Israel, in Galilee, a demon possessed man would cry out in response to the presence of God that had come (see Mk 1:23) and would be delivered by the Coming One. The word of God had been read week by week and expounded week by week and the man had been able to remain there untouched. But now….   A while later, presumably in the same synagogue, a man with a shriveled hand (see Mk 3:1), quite probably a regular attendee of the synagogue who had heard the word being read many times but who had remained unchanged, this man found the presence of God so obviously there that he walked out healed.

The truth was that weeks before, not in Capernaum but in Nazareth, Jesus walked into the synagogue as was his regular custom (Lk 4:16), it being his local synagogue, and whether it was because he volunteered to read the scrolls or whether they had heard of his preaching already (Lk 4:14,15) and they wanted to honour him, he was handed the scroll of the day which just happened to be the Isa 61 prophecy and, after he had read it out loud for all to hear, he declared, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:21) The response to him was one of challenge, not a good start one might think, and anyway what did that actually mean? Was he saying that he has like Isaiah, a prophet-preacher whose words would heal and release – or what?

The ‘what’ we have already seen in the previous paragraph. This child – now grown man – did indeed come with the powerfully presence of God upon him for when he spoke demons were cast out and sick and disabled people were healed. This was not merely a ministry of words, but a ministry of power and authority. No wonder the initial response in the Capernaum synagogue had been, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” (Mk 1;27,28)

Up until now, the ministry of the local synagogue had merely been to read and proclaim the word of God; now Jesus brought a new possibility, it could be (see Jn 14:12) a ministry that changed more than intellects, it changed whole lives – but they weren’t ready for that, for ‘religion’ then and now, wasn’t and so often isn’t open to let Jesus be Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One.

If there was any doubt about it, Jesus himself spelled it out: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) or, as Peter summarized it on the Day of Pentecost, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22)

But back in the days before Jesus came, the Isaiah 61 prophecy hung there, so to speak, like a wanted poster; yes, this is what we want, if only it can be, but how can such a thing be? The words only version is pretty good, but is there something more? How can ‘something more’ come about? The mystery tantalizingly hung there, words declared by God, words that stirred questions, words that brought the possibility of hope, words just waiting to be fulfilled. Does that sound familiar?

To reflect upon: Jesus said anyone who believed in him would do the things he had been doing (Jn 14:12). Does our church do that?