Front Page
Meditations Contents
Series Theme: The Wonder of the Church

Series Contents:






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

8. Different

9. Believers

10. Supernatural

11. Repentance and Conviction

12. Needing to be ‘Saved'?

13. A People of Faith

Part 3 – Making of Believers

14. A Guilt-Free People

15. No Longer Orphans

16. Growing in Sonship

17. The Yeast of Humility

18. Getting on a Learning Curve

19. The Reality of Sacrifice

20. No Add-ons

21. Servant-hearted (1)

22. Servant-hearted (2)

Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

23. The Significance of Vision

24. More on ‘Why Vision?'

25. The God-Focus

26. Spiritual Expressions

27. Building People

Part 5 –Starting from Scratch

28. Clear your Mind

29. A New Creation

30. Life (1)

31. Life (2)

32. Being Together

33. Fellowship

Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

34. Led

35. Local leaders – overseers

36. Local leaders – shepherds

37. Local leaders – elders

38. Local Leaders - The Nature of the Church (1)

39. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction

40. Gifts of Ministries – to plant

41. Gifts of Ministries – to build up

42. The Servants – Deacons

43. The Nature of the Church (2)

Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

44. Uniqueness

45. Another quick look at ‘Vision'

46. Power – for Life Transformation

47. Power – for Life Service

48. Power – for Living

49. The Need for Faith

50. More on Faith.

51. Obedience

52. Finale – the Church on God's heart

Part 8 – Counter Attack

53. Awareness

54. A Time to Regain Identity

55. A Time to go on the Offensive

56. Are we ready to fight?

57. About ‘Attitude'

58. Finally, regain Perspective



Wonder of the Church: Part 1 – Falling Short?

1. Wonderings about Church


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

Rev 2:1 To the messenger of the church in …. Write….


I wonder: I wonder how much we let Jesus build his church? Or perhaps another way of putting it, I wonder how much of what we call church today is actually built by Jesus? What is church? How has it come into being? How will it continue to come into being? Are all the people in ‘church buildings' actually part of the church? Just wonderings. I look around at the various expressions of ‘church' that I know and wonder how the Lord of the Church feels about them. I'm not wanting to be negative, just real, just curious.


Direction: The overall plan for this series will start as follows:

•  Part One: Falling Short – things that have challenged me about the modern Church

•  Part Two: Making of Believers: What makes a believer different, what are they?

•  The following parts will consider ‘Church'

Objective: In this and the following ‘studies' of this first Part, I want to consider fairly generally some of the things that challenge me about ‘the church' today. The heading of this Part gives away my goals, to face the things I see and hear of modern church life that suggest to me that we may be falling short of God's intentions for us.


In the studies that follow I will use the capital form ‘Church' to designate who we are as a whole, all the believers across the world, and the lower case ‘church' where it applies to the local congregation, the local expression of believers.


Prompted by Reading: Very well, let me explain what first started me off down this particular track. I have recently been in the psalms and then in John's Gospel and, in many ways, I prefer meditating on Scripture, taking it as it comes, verse by verse, and the list of such series on this blog will testify to that. However, my starting point is that as I have been praying and reading, I find an urge to return to a specific ‘subject' or ‘theme' approach next.


I just mentioned reading and I recently read Francis Chan's book, ‘Letters to the Church', and within it he covers various specific subjects or themes for the Church to consider. I am about to read it a second time to make sure I take it in. I think I agree withmost of what he says and, indeed, I find he has been expressing much that has been on my own heart over recent years, but he probably says it better than I might. (He has such church experience that I think I feel a bit like John the Baptist felt: “I am not worthy to undo his sandals!”) So, as I pray, I sense my next area of investigation within these pages should be the Church itself.


Approach: I have, I find, a same concern within me that Chan speaks about, that of the need to approach the subject in humility and without a critical spirit – and that is quite difficult if you are an honest observer of the Church, comparing what is, with what should or could be. Crusading atheists such as Richard Dawkins have been most scathing about the Church or, to be accurate, parts of the Church and, to be fair, many of the points he has made are valid. However, he only refers to a small part of the Church, I believe, and so as an overall criticism of the whole Church, his comments are quite unfair and inaccurate.


My objective, I think, is different from Chan's because this is first and foremost a ‘Bible-study site' and so the ‘meditations' I write start and finish with the Bible (or at least that is its intention, although this first Part will be more discussional). He does seek to build all his comments on the New Testament teachings and I will do likewise though, I suspect, I will have a broader and more basic approach. He observes our shortcomings and prescribes New Testament remedies, all of which I think I agree with. I would like, as this is more a ‘Bible Study' series, to take simple scriptures from the New Testament and build the picture from there and, for the sake of those for whom perhaps these things are not so familiar, will start at a very much more basic level. So, hold on to that word ‘basic' if you will.


Grace not Legalism: I agree wholeheartedly with Chan that such writing about the Church can be used as a weapon by the critical to bash leaders. Never let that happen. I am aware in my own writings that sometimes my comments that challenge the modern church could be seen as lacking grace, although I never want that to be; that is not my heart and if my writings have come over like that, I apologise.


Preaching and teaching and imparting vision can be quite legalistic, and I suspect there is often a lot of this around. The ‘law' or ‘rules' approach says, “This is what it ought to be,” and comes with a heavy judgmental hand on all expressions of modern church life that deviate from New Testament teaching. I would like to present, if I can, a grace approach that says, “I believe (agree with me if you can) that here is the vision of what the Lord puts before us in the New Testament – I wonder how we could rise to apprehend this vision and enter into it?” But of course, to do that we have to identify what the New Testament says, make sense of it, and then, if we can honestly face how we presently fall short of it, ponder on how, perhaps, we can reach for it. OK, so hold on to two more words – vision and grace, if you will.


The Context of Revelation: The structure of the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, is intriguing. Chapter 1 presents the Lord of the Church, Jesus, but not in the form of the Gospels that emphasise him humanity, but a human form that is also very clearly divine, and as such he comes to the seven churches of Asia Minor and presents a devastatingly revealing assessment of each of them. This is the Lord who sees all and knows everything about the Church – and that includes each and every expression of it today.


And Today? But whether it is the worldwide expression or the local expression, I wonder what the Lord thinks of these gatherings of us, His people, today? How much do we match the teachings of the New Testament? How secure are we, I wonder, in who we are and how we express ‘church' here in the first quarter of the twenty-first century? Is it a security that comes from having aligned ourselves against the teaching of the New Testament, or is it a false security that just hopes for the best, a hope built on ignorance, a hope built on, “Well, we've always done it like this so it must be all right”? This must be the challenge of all that follows here.




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

2. Concern for People


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

Jn 13:34,35 A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.'


Recap: In the Introduction, I reflected on a need to look afresh at ‘the Church', sharing how part of my motivation (and it was only part) came, as well as in praying, through reading a book by Francis Chan about the church which resonated with my own spirit. I acknowledged our need to approach this subject with humility and an absence of a critical spirit, noting my approach would be very basic, focusing on Bible teaching from a very fundamental standpoint and asked you to hold on to the word ‘basic'. I went on to plead for grace and not legalism so that we can respond graciously to the vison of the Church that is portrayed in the New Testament.


Another Motivation: And yet I have a further challenge that goes beyond prayer and reading; it is listening to and watching various people I know who are struggling with ‘church'. Let's look at them and then consider what Jesus teaches us about them. Take a relatively young couple I know, who used to be youth leaders. Their situation concerned me because, to use the jargon, they were not covered, they had no one watching over them, guiding them, guarding them, correcting them, encouraging the church to pray for them, encouraging others to serve with them, and the net result was they burned out. He had a nervous breakdown, and no one in the church leadership contacted them to see how they were and ask how they may help. Help and loving concern were never forthcoming. Subsequently they are looking for another place to worship and serve. They have a heart for God but are not so sure about His church.


Another couple I know went to a different church where heavy authority made decisions without any reference to the church, asked for money for a project but then didn't do it. They felt uncared for and started looking for a new spiritual home. They went to another well-known and flourishing church where no one spoke to them the whole time they were there. OK, it's a two-way street and they could have reached out to others, but they were feeling vulnerable from past experience. They are now feeling less than enthusiastic about ‘church'.


A third couple I know attend a good evangelical church where the routine is guaranteed week by week, but they feel uncared for and unfed. They keep going because that seems the best in their area and the children's work seems good. Yet they have yearnings for something more. They also are not enthusiastic about church where life and love are largely absent. I could continue on and tell you about various friends we have who have also been burned by church and feel less than excited about attending an institution where words are uttered but love and life are absent, but the more stories we tell, the more depressing it can become, so I don't think this is a good path to follow.


My end concern: I have wondered and prayed and thought and talked into all these situations at some length, but I am left with two feelings: anguish and concern. I genuinely anguish that so many expressions of ‘church' that we encounter are simply organised formalities and rituals and far from the power houses of the teaching of the New Testament (although the early church had its problems!) with the result that so many of us perform for an hour or so a week and go away little fed, little challenged, little equipped, little empowered and little changed. I can only believe that we grieve the Lord of the church – the Lord who had strong words to say to the seven churches of Asia Minor - with what we are doing, or not doing!


My concern is for those people I see in ‘church' who are struggling, who want relationships, who want reality, who want to worship in a real and meaningful way, want to know and serve the Lord and yet find it almost impossible to see past the organisations, the programmes, the planning, the rituals and the rites that seem to have lost any semblance of life. So, by praying, by reading, by watching and listening to the people I encounter, I am prodded into stopping in my tracks and, starting from scratch, looking afresh at what ‘church' is really all about or, at least, what the New Testament says it should be about. Your frustration may be that I appear to go too slowly but I have the feeling that it will only be as we pick up each brick of teaching in the New Testament about the church, and examine it thoroughly, will we get anywhere. The challenge will then be, what will we do with it? Pray and stay with me if you can.


To Conclude: Ponder the second of our opening verses: “ A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Put aside for a moment everything else you might know or think about ‘church' and consider this instruction of Jesus to his disciples before he left them to go to the Cross. He was about to lay down his life for them – and for us – and he gives them this basic building block. Whatever else they might become, this was a fundamental calling, not to be religious, not to have great worship or great sermons, but to love one another with the same sacrificial love that he demonstrated to them.


Do we have that when we allow those who serve in the church to burn out, do we have that when someone in our church suffers bereavement and nobody at all enquires after their well-being (as someone only the other day told us about), do we have that when new people appear at the door, is this at the heart of our teaching and planning, are we so structured that love can genuinely grow between individuals, do our gatherings operate in such a way that this love can be expressed and grow, because if it isn't, we really do have some serious thinking to do, and some serious changes to make. And that's just the starting place! But love has to start with me: will I come to the gathering of God's people with an open caring heart that will reach out to the needy in the congregation and love and accept them as Jesus does, will I start with those nearest to me and express His love and concern to them? Theory must be practical.



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

3. Challenged by Scripture


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

Acts 9:31 Then the church … enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.


A Brief Pause: We are considering the need to look afresh at what constitutes this thing we call the Christian Church, looking hopefully with humility and grace, while facing the instances of the Church falling short of what it should be, but seeing these as goals to be dealt with, not causes of guilt, failure and discouragement. A concern for people and a desire to encourage love for one another, is also another motivating force in our quest to review modern church life. But there yet are other things that press us on as we consider the need to go down this path. The first of them is the way we approach Scripture and the challenges it brings us.


Refocus: Previously I shared about some people I know who have had a less than wonderful experience of church. Those were all negatives, but you may not have had such experiences and think your church life is something quite different, something good. (If that is so, I am pleased for you.)


I did wonder about painting some big brush-stroke pictures of churches that I have experienced and may be the sort you attend. The danger of doing this is that I could appear destructively critical and that's not my intention. Anything I write, is with the intention of getting us to look at what we are doing and ask the question, “Is there something better than this that the Lord wants for us?” Now the problem is that until we work our way through the teaching about the Church in the New Testament, we may think we are all right, and any comments that I may make at this point in these word-pictures will really need the support of the content that will follow in the rest of this series, so be patient with me please.


Open to the Bible? But this talk about the New Testament teaching raises an important assumption here. First, I believe what the Bible says – all of it – and so I do not believe we can shrug off particular verses because we either do not understand them or they scare us. Let's check ourselves with a few New Testament quotes.


For example: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” (Heb 12). Take it at its face value and it means that the Jesus who ministered on earth for three years, is the same Son of God who continues to minister on earth today, through his body, the church, as we'll see later. And when Jesus said, “Anyone who believes in me will do the works I do,” (Jn 14:12) what does it mean but that we, the Church are to be doing exactly what we see Jesus doing in the Gospels, and if we are not, there is a goal to go for. Now these may be foreign verses for some and if they are, may I invite you to hang around and see how they can possibly be worked out, rather than run away to something more comfortable.


More Wonderings: I am provoked to ponder on these things whenever I pick up my Bible, especially the New Testament, it seems. Acts 9:31 , for example, speaks about the way the very early church started to grow. I was struck by the description of it: “Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit…..” Trying to be honest, I wonder how many churches that I know (and even more I know nothing of) could say that this is a reasonable description of them, that they are “living in the fear of the Lord”. Where is this holy respect for the Lord of glory, a respect for a God who shuts churches down (Rev 2 & 3) and even takes His children home to glory prematurely (see 1 Cor 11:30)? Do we even believe in a God who does this? And how many of us, I wonder, could say that, as a church, we know what it means to be “encouraged by the Holy Spirit ”? Just wonderings. What picture of ‘church' does the New Testament convey? Is there something more for which we should be aiming? I believe it is there to be seen in the pages of the New Testament.


Now if you thought you passed the tests of belief in what you read in the paragraphs above, how, for example, did you react to my references in the paragraph above to Rev 2 & 3 and 1 Cor 11? I said nothing there that those passages don't imply or say specifically.


Preparing the way of the Lord: To prepare ourselves for the days ahead, may we give thanks for all the good things we know of our local churches but pray and ask the Lord, is there something more He wants us to become, to more fully express Him to the watching world. If we can face the truth, we must acknowledge that mostly the number of believers in the West has been declining over the past twenty or more years and our influence on our societies have been negligible. If that wasn't true, our societies would not have been declining spiritually and morally in that time in the way that they have. But peering into the future also means we face the challenge that the Bible teaches that one day Jesus is going to return in power. What will he find when he returns?


The Coming of the Lord? Put most simply we have two options. First , we can sit back and just watch the continuing decline and continuing growing dissatisfaction within the church and wait for the Lord to come either in revival (of which there are some signs around the world) or in the Second Coming (and I do believe that event is possibly rapidly approaching). Second , we can ask the Lord to teach us to come in line with His word and be available to His Spirit, so that the Bride will be much better dressed when the Bridegroom returns (see Rev 19:7,8). Jesus once asked a very simple and short question which I find echoes around in my mind: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Something to ponder on, and we'll look at what that means at a later date.


Back to the Beginning: So Jesus said, I will build my church.” I keep finding I come back here. What sort of Church does Jesus want, what is he working towards. I recently came across some notes from the past that I had when, over a decade ago, I asked our church to each paint a vision of the church they felt Jesus wanted. Here, to conclude, is part (and only part) of one of those ‘visions' to whet your appetite. See how it grabs you, just some of the possibilities:

•  “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.
•  It would be a secure place where healing from the past can be received and enabling given to face the challenges of the present. It would be a place where each person knows they are loved, supported, encouraged and empowered to become the person God has designed them to be, individually and within the body. It would be a place where practical and financial needs are shared and met together, and life changes brought about.
•  It would be a place where outsiders are welcomed in and shown the reality of the love of God in word and deed, and the possibility of a new life, forgiven, cleansed, and set on a new path, a life where the power and the personal word of God was shared, received and used to bring change of life. It would, in other words, be a city on a hill whose light shines forth to transform the community.”

Just possibilities. These were, as I said, just some of the things put forward. What would you like to add to a picture of what the Church could be like? Make your own list, and then pray for those things to come perhaps.




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

4. Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose'


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

Deut 8:11-14 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12  Otherwise , when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13  and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14  then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.


Reminder: I need to go back over an area I looked at for the first time in the series on ‘Redemption' a while back, concerning the dangers we face that undermine faith, that have come uniquely in the day in which we live. They are unique challenges because we are living in a world that is facing a) the challenge of the removal of absolutes which result in changes in society in the West never seen before, and b) the challenge of science and technology that has never ever before been seen on this planet. The results of these are that the environment, indeed the very atmosphere that we breath, is different from anything before ever faced by mankind. Not wanting to prolong these thoughts I will seek to condense or summarise these challenges into this one study.


Fitness for Purpose? The heading here is the challenge, “Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose'” because it leaves me wondering how effective the modern Church is, and will be, in handling these changes? Are we living out the life and ministry of Christ through the Church in such a way that we will be fit for purpose – the purpose of extending the kingdom of God and bringing Glory to God in the face of all these changes? So, let's consider some of them, that face us today.


The Removal of Boundaries: As we moved into the twenty-first century, the removal of absolutes from the public opinion of the West was let loose following the removal of society's belief in God. The result of that change, which has gone on and on, is that we now live in a world – in the West at least – where boundaries are being stripped away so that anything goes.


Removal of Moral Restraint: In a world where right or wrong is simply what fits your life (as long as it apparently doesn't hurt too many other people) then the boundaries of human behaviour are unlimited. You only have to observe attitudes to sexual behaviour, to take just one example, and the worst you can imagine is happening somewhere and, slowly but surely, is being portrayed as acceptable, however terrible you and I may think it, and as far from God's design it may appear. Unless revival comes, it may be many decades before modern humanity recognises the folly and the harm of this attitude, but until that does happen, society is in confusion and the strongest and most strident voices prevail. But how are our young people coping with these temptations? How are we equipping them to stand in the face of this? How many older people, feeling jaded with church life, are drifting from the Lord and even starting to participate in these things? What are we doing to counter this?


Unleashing a Communicating Planet: Never before has mankind had the ability to communicate across the face of the earth as we do today. The number of mobile phones in existence exceeds the population of the world, I am told. When the Internet first came into being, the vast majority of us had no idea of the coming earthquake in human communications, in human values, and in community changes in every major populated area of the world. Across the world TV ownership grew but that was one-way communication. The cell-phone changed all that and then Facebook arrived, and two-way communication went viral.


Leaps in Thinking: As these changes took place, the balance of power changed, in many countries at least, from a limited number of rulers to rule by public opinion, accentuated by the media, facilitated by social media. In the last twenty years, the world has changed, and the change has been dramatic and rapid, increasingly involving more and more of us. Rapidly changing public opinion, often stimulated by social media, means that the Christian voice of restraint is often rubbished, and so we are all being swept along in the fast rushing torrent of rampant and unthought-out change.


Have we been accepting the changes of the past four or five decades, changes in social and moral thinking, changes how we view the world? Have these things been eroding faith and belief? Are we those who increasingly find faith unreal and church experience even more unreal and so slowly cease to be salt and light to the world around them?


Science, Technology and the Cyber-World: Be clear in our understanding.

•  Science = “ activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”. When science goes small it studies atoms, molecules, quarks and dark matter.
•  Technology = “ the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in creating machinery and devices developed from scientific knowledge”.
•  Cyber refers to the “culture of computers, information technology, and virtual reality”.

No period of history has known research in each of these areas in the volume known in the past century and, I suspect, the pace of increase has been incremental, phenomally so. We are at a point of time when there is talk of ‘ quantum computers ' that will be able to handle massively larger amounts of data, vastly faster than ever know before, and the word is that they are coming into being now . The speed of such data handling has opened the door to artificial intelligence , although the debate is about how developed this is. Big-Mind scientists such as Stephen Hawking have given doomsday warnings, that such AI development, linked to advances in robotics may mean that we are rapidly approaching a period in history where the self-learning ‘machines' will be cleverer than humans and will perhaps determine that humans are no longer needed.


Alongside this, developments in genetic engineering and nanotechnology is now causing some to suggest that not only will we soon have the capability to do away with genetic faults and thus do away with ‘disabilities' etc. but we will also be able to change the brain to increase intelligence and create two different levels of human beings, with the potential horrors that will accompany that.


Please understand that these are not science fiction, they are the realities on the ‘drawing boards' of research and development NOW – plus much more. As one CGI developer (computer-generated imagery) said not long back, “If you can imagine it, we can create it on film”. The same is rushing towards practically as science and technology push back boundaries that a century ago would be scoffed at, boundaries where some say, “We are now God.”

But why? So why have I gone down this path in reflections about the ‘Church'? Because this IS the world we now live in. My own belief is that God has given us the abilities to think, reason, plan, research and develop, all for our blessing. I am blessed to be living in this age where medical research and development has meant that the literal short-sightedness of most of my life has been removed. Many others could testify to the good things that have come through modern medicine or modern surgery. It IS good and it came through human development – aided I believe by God.


And Yet: But, of course, the trouble is a) we don't know when to stop and b) we so often use these things for national advantage and not the welfare of mankind and c) these developments can get into the wrong hands and so, for instance, biological weapons are increasingly easy to be used wrongly by the disenchanted.


Have you come across the ‘Doomsday Clock'? If not let me use Wikipedia to educate you: “The  Doomsday Clock  is a symbol which represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe … an analogy for the threat of  global nuclear war and  climate change  and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity . The clock represents the hypothetical global catastrophe as "midnight" and  …. how close the world is to a global catastrophe as a number of "minutes" to midnight. Its original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight. It has been set backward and forward 23 times since then, the smallest-ever number of minutes to midnight being two (in 1953 and 2018) … As of January 2018, the clock is set at two minutes to midnight.” This is the thinking of ‘top people', not me.


And So? So why do we need to rethink ‘church' apart from my earlier starting reasons?

First , to overcome the temptation to lose perspective. God is still God, Jesus is still seated at his Father's right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies, and nothing in the human condition has changed – we are still ‘sinners' with a tendency to being self-centred and godless and in desperate need of salvation.

Second , ‘Church' is about how that works out in practice. As I suggested above, this raises questions about whether the modern church is ‘fit for purpose' so that the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Mt 16:18).

Third , we need to refocus on the Biblical truths about God and Jesus and eternal life, to counter the fears that are growing and growing in this present world, and to counter the temptation to believe that simply because we know more than our ancestors, we are better equipped to handle the human condition. The news every day shows we are not.




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

5. Problems with Religion and Revival


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

6. Appearance & Performance (1)


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 die s, it remains only a single seed. But if it die s, it produces many seeds.


Next: And so, before we can move on, I feel we have to face a primary truth, one of the very basic things of bringing a person to God through Christ. In terms of things that have motivated me to consider this subject and that I find a major challenge today, it is what I would sum up as the matter of appearance, self-confidence and performance, all of which come under the umbrella of unbelief. In the previous study we spoke of the ‘nominal believer' but here we not only include again that category, but also those who would strongly declare themselves Christians but yet who live out lives that have little in common with the Christians of the New Testament. Let me try and explain it using the four descriptions above - appearance, self-confidence, performance, and unbelief.


Appearance: In the UK we have large cathedrals of beautiful architecture, in Rome there is the holy city, in the USA there are ‘Crystal Cathedrals' and the like. All of these things speak of permanence. We have denominations which also speak of permanence. In the USA and the UK (and even more so in Rome) we have traditions, parts of society bound by the past, and the remembrance of the past helps bring a sense of security to many. We have great educational institutions which, through the centuries, although providing very fine education, can sometimes fail to transmit the same values that we find in the New Testament. An absence of humility and a life full of pride in position, status and achievement, will in fact be the things that condemn at the Final Judgment – but of course, such people count on such an event never happening.


The problem here, as we will shortly see with Jesus' disciples, is that appearance of greatness, permanence and stability in these things above, can lead many to have a (false) security and even adopt a religion of appearance but no substance. I believe there was one well-known figure in history (sorry, I've forgotten who it was) who travelled to Rome and when he saw from a distance the great buildings he exclaimed, “This must be the true religion.” Well, such beliefs are not at the heart of Jesus' calling. Please understand I am not saying that well brought up, well educated people, or even senior churchmen etc. cannot be Christians, but simply that such beliefs have little to do with true spirituality and should not be used as evidence that builds true faith.


Self-confidence is what separates classes in both the USA & the UK. The student of wealthy background, privileged schooling and then fine college or university experience, is a very different person from the child from a low-income background. When Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” (Mt 9:24) that doesn't only mean wealth, it also means rich in prestige and for the many who come out the top of a fine education system, coming to true faith is particularly hard. The danger for such people is often that ‘a little bit of religion' is seen as part of respectability, and so they may participate in religious performance.


Religious Performance: Those who come from a Pentecostal, or Charismatic or Evangelical background may be feeling secure at this point, having strong Biblical and theological backgrounds, sure of their beliefs, confident that what they do every week is based in New Testament teaching, and so it often is, but is life there? The question is often asked at such times, if God did not exist, would that make any difference to the services performed in so many churches?


May I make a radical suggestion here that I will go into in some detail later in the series: religious performance should simply be the channel through which the presence of God can be manifest. If such religious performance is so set that we can guarantee what will happen in the next ten minutes, I suggest that we are seriously missing what it means to be a Christian and what is means to be church. Now this may be so utterly alien to some that you will not have a clue what I am talking about and if that is the case may I encourage you to stick with me throughout this series.


Unbelief: Wherever I travel, I believe it is fair to say that I rarely witness belief and faith in action. Unbelief can take so many different forms. May I ask what you expect of your ‘church' experience next Sunday? Are you anticipating entering into worship where the presence of God becomes almost tangible so there is a sense of holiness, of beauty, of wonder, of true worship that is so wonderful you just don't want it to stop? In our cultures it is likely to involve music and singing but this is not down to the choir or musicians except in the sense that they are very sensitive to the Spirit's presence and allow His guidance instead of following a carefully rehearsed package.


I was speaking at a medium sized Pentecostal church a number of years ago and they had two morning services. At the first one there seemed to be this sensitivity by the worship band that I have just referred to and at one point there was an awesome holy pause followed by singing in the Spirit. I was blessed. At the second service the worship followed exactly the same route, same songs, including the ‘holy pause' and singing in the Spirit at exactly the same point. I suddenly felt disillusioned and conned. I don't care how many services you have on Sunday, it is pure performance if the same things happen at each service! It is unbelief.


Have you observed unbelief in public praying , praying by the leader out front? I saw this a little while back while meditating on Jn 6:23 (the series ‘Short Meditations in John 6', no.23 ‘Prayer') Prayer for Jesus was a personal encounter with Father. May I repeat what I said there: I have taken to watching how leaders, for example, pray at the beginning of some Christian activity. There are those – the most sadly – who just instantly plough in with words, and that is all they are, and ‘pray'. There are others who pause to acknowledge the presence of God, the One to whom they are speaking and only then do they speak. There is far more of a personal sense, a sense of intimacy, of relationship with this latter group, and I think, in that, they emulate Jesus. The former group utter words. It is a performance, something they have learned to do and there is no expectation that the Almighty One is a hairsbreadth away, waiting to inspire the speaker and bring the congregation into the presence of God in the throne room of heaven. No, it just remains a passing performance and is often so boring that some of the congregations are probably looking at their mobile phones.


Now there is much more to say here so I will stop at his point and pick it up again in the next study tomorrow. But for now, dare we honestly sit before the Lord and do what the apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:28) to do at the Lord's Supper – to examine ourselves – examine what we do as ‘church'. The Corinthians were under God's hand of discipline (see v.29-32) because of how they were acting as ‘church'. Is what we do any less honouring to the Lord of Glory? The answer is repentance and to open our hearts and cry, “Lord forgive us for we don't know what we do! Please come and teach us and lead us to become a people in whom you can show yourself in word and in power.” That is where we will pick this up next.



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 die s, it remains only a single seed. But if it die s, 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 die s, it remains only a single seed. But if it die s, 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 endeavour, 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.



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

8. Different


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

1 Pet 2:9 B ut you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood , a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.


Approach: In this second Part we are going to be looking at the things that make a Christian different from a non-Christian, what they believe and what – initially at least – in general terms, they are. In the third Part we will go on to consider the things that the Bible says happens to believers when they become Christians, why and how they change. For now we ask the question, what makes your ‘church' different from a social club?

Different: Very well, I will start this second Part with this idea (which is really so obvious that it should not need mentioning, but perhaps is not so clear in some minds) that ‘the Church' is different and distinct from those who are not ‘the Church'. The word has become so confused and abused over the years that to ask any individual, “What do you think ‘the Church' is?” will evoke a wide range of answers from the building on the corner down the road, to the national institution or even an international institution. The Greek word, ekklesia , (from which of course we get the word ‘ecclesiastical') used in the original New Testament manuscripts, has the meaning, ‘assembly' or ‘called out ones', thus meaning a group of people who have been called by God (e.g. Rom 8:28, 8:30, 9:24, Eph 1:18, 4:4, 2 Thess 2:14 etc.) Buildings, organisations, institutions may demonstrate the existence of this group of people but first and foremost ‘the Church' is people who have been called by God – as distinct from those who have no such recognisable calling.


I did wonder about trying to have different sections within this second Part, the first one headed ‘Different' but the more I have thought about it the more I realise that everything about church is about difference from those who are ‘not church'. In the studies that are to follow, I hope we will look at those many things that make us different from the people next door who are not part of ‘church', who are not Christians. The result of this, hopefully, will be to clarify in our minds our identity, our activities and our goals which are all quite distinct (and for good reasons) from people who are not part of ‘church'. It may sound obvious but it needs saying.


A Lasting & Resistant Church: From our starting verse above – “I will build my church , and the gates of Hades will not overcome it,” we see Jesus taking ownership of this ‘church' these ‘called-out ones' but warning that it (they) will have opposition, but he will ensure that it (they) will stand and not be overcome. That is encouraging, but to enter into the fulness of that assurance we will have to see what else the New Testament says about us, the Church, to live it, experience it, and enter into all that is said about it. Our starting point, therefore, is to see ourselves as a people who are what we are because we have been called by Jesus, called to be a different people, a distinct people, from those who have not been so-called. We'll see something more about that calling in the next study and then see the differences in subsequent studies. In the meantime, you might like to think about your own experience, your experience of being called, what it entailed and what has followed to make you a different person, a Christian, part of a different group of people.


Not a Club: “But”, someone might ask, “what is the fuss all about? I belong to a bowls club and we the members are different from those who don't play bowls. We have skills others don't have, we play the game that others don't play, and so on; what's the big deal?” Or someone else might say, “Well, I belong to a ladies' group that does charitable work. We are very respectable, we do very good things to help the community, and in this we are different from those who are not community minded and not at all like us. What is the fuss?” Or perhaps you may come across a third person who says, “Well, I belong to a yoga group; not one of these exercise groups that might just go by that name, but we enter into all the spiritual aspects of it that come from the East, as well as doing the exercises. We are very spiritual, and we're disciplined and so in that we are quite different from many other people.”


Not a nice religious group: In the UK we have lots and lots of very old stone buildings with spires and towers and beautiful stained-glass windows. In some of them you may find very nice and very respectable good people who come together at certain set times to go through ancient rites led by a man or woman in black robes wearing a stiff white circular collar. Clearly very distinguished, and by that, I mean distinguished from other people who don't wear black robes and stiff white collars. Their congregation tend to wear suits (the men) and nice dresses (the ladies) and they tend to be very nice people – and some of them are Christians. But are they collectively ‘church'?


Back to the definition: The Greek word used in the original New Testament manuscripts, ekklesia , we said, has the meaning, ‘assembly' or ‘called out ones', thus meaning a group of people who have been called by God. Looking at the two paragraphs above, clearly those clubs in the first of those two paragraphs have not been called into being by God and they certainly make no mention of God. In the second paragraph the activities of the people mentioned there tend to focus on a building and specific ‘services' and both contribute to what they feel about their religion. In fact, if their building was demolished one night and their services were abandoned, they would feel rather naked and their identity under question.


For the true Christian, building or ‘services' or liturgy or ritual should not be what defines them. They may all be acceptable add-ons but they are not what defines us, and that, perhaps, is what so often confuses the onlooking world. The danger is almost certainly accentuated by ‘mega-churches' with their large buildings and car parks, great facilities that compete with the best the world can provide, and a mega-sense of being a ‘big people' grouping. Unfortunately this sometimes means that the growth of an individual and growth of their relationships with other people can be stunted, as we will see when we come to focus on some of the specifics of what it means to be a part of ‘the body of Christ'.


A Voice from the Past: To focus the distinction between the social club church and the real thing, listen to the writing of an early twentieth-century devotional writer, Oswald Chambers, in his famous devotional, ‘My Utmost for His Highest': “The experience of salvation means that in your actual life things are really altered, you no longer look at things as you used to; your desires are new, old things have lost their power… If you are born again, the Spirit of God makes the alteration manifest in your actual life and reasoning.”


As you read that, are you uncomfortable with such words as ‘salvation' and ‘born again'? If the answer is yes, then there is clearly some Bible reading to be done and some serious thinking to be followed through. They are not obscure, irrelevant or hardly mentioned words. Instead, I would suggest, they go to the heart of what ‘church' is all about, not what I think it is all about but what the New Testament says it is all about, not grabbing at a few random verses to make a point, but catching the entire drift of the New Testament, Jesus' teaching in the Gospels, and the apostles in the ‘Acts' and letters, and ‘Revelation' that follow. Those are the fields into which we are going to wander in these days ahead. Stay with me if you will and let's ask the Lord to open our eyes to see afresh what His word will say to us.




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

9. Believers


Jn 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Acts 2:44 A ll the believers were together and had everything in common.


But why? There may be some of you who look at where we are and wonder why we need to spend time considering the most obvious of things about Christianity and the Church. My answer is that a) they may not be obvious to everyone and b) what we think of as obvious may have aspects to which we have not given much thought. In the previous study I distinguished church from clubs and from other ‘spiritual' groups and maintained that the first big difference is that those who comprise ‘the Church' are those who have been called by God. But it is a bit more complex than that.


Sufficient Knowledge? I recently was in a service where, at the end, a man responded to what had been going on and joyfully said, “I have found God in this service,” and I couldn't help feeling, no you've been pointed in the right direction, but we need to introduce you to Jesus. If I had had the opportunity to question him, I might have asked, “What is it that you believe?” I suspect he might have answered, “Well, I believe there is a God and I have sensed His love in this service and that is wonderful.” Yes indeed, it is wonderful, but it isn't the same as coming to Christian faith and becoming a believer in the terms that we find in the New Testament. I have written elsewhere on this in other series', that I am sure when many of us do come to real and genuine faith, the extent of our knowledge is strictly limited but God sees that what we do know has provided a sufficient foundation for us to be ‘born again' (which we'll consider in the next study).


What Knowledge? If you are going to become a believer, one who constitutes the Church, a Christian believer, then there surely has to be a minimum of things we can say we believe. Now this can lead us into deep waters, some of which we need to explore in the coming studies and so I am reticent to lay out that ‘minimum'. However, let us rest in the fact that to be a Christian – and the Church is made up of Christians (sorry I took that for granted before) – there has to be a body of belief which led us through the narrow gate (Mt 7:13,14) and into this new life. Although being reticent in laying out too much detail at this point, nevertheless we should perhaps be definite that b elieving in Jesus really should have three aspects although, as I've said above, they often only filter into our consciousness in stages. They are that a) he is the unique Son of God, God in the flesh, b) he has come to be Saviour of the world, and also c) he is Lord. Let's consider each of those briefly.


Son of God: So-called believers often appear unclear on their beliefs, even about Jesus, so let me ask various simple questions. First , would Jesus have been able to do the things he did if he were not the Son of God? The apostle Peter hinted at this in Acts 2:22. For Peter, in those early days, the emphasis was that Jesus was the Messiah expected by his audience (Acts 2:31,32, 3:30 accredited by the resurrection). It was only when Paul (ex-Saul) was saved that the message that Jesus was the Son of God was truly preached (see Acts 9:20) and written about (e.g. Rom 1:4,9, 5:10, 8:3,29 etc. etc.) The apostle John identifies him thus in his Gospel – written a lot later to remedy the earlier omissions (see Jn 1:49, also 3:18, 5:25, 10:36, 19:7, 20:31). Second , if the Scripture teaches that Jesus is our substitute (and it does), dying on the Cross to take our punishment, would anyone less than God Himself be ‘big enough' to be able to do that for every single sinner who turns to Him? Third , what are we to make of Jesus' teaching, seen most obviously in John's Gospel, where Jesus claims divinity for himself, if he is less that the unique Son of God, God incarnate, God in the flesh? This must be the first foundation stone of belief.


Saviour of the World: The biggest problem we have to face (and we'll look at this in more detail in a later study) is that every one of us is a guilty sinner who is confronted by a Holy God.


Justice demands that God cannot simply shrug His shoulders and say, “Oh well, very well, I forgive you, let's forget about it.” No, justice demands that sins be punished and with the weight of all our sins that pile up through a lifetime, that bulk of sins, demands death. The angel instructed Joseph, you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins .'” (Mt 1:21). Another form of ‘Jesus' is ‘Jeshua' or ‘Joshua' which means deliverer. It was not to save his people from the Romans but to save them from their sins , from the sword of Damocles, the judgment of God, that hangs over every sinner as demanded by justice. We may come to accept the first point, that Jesus was and is the unique Son of God but unless we go the next step and see him as our saviour, we simply make him a disinterested deity who looks on and leaves us lost and helpless. But no, God did not send His Son into our awareness to do that: “ he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ” (Jn 3:16)


Lord: The apostle Paul said, “ 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.” (Eph 1:18,19) Speaking about the salvation Jesus has bought us, he shows that by his revelation we will come to know, (in the words of the Message version, “(a) exactly what it is he is calling you to do, (b) grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him — (c) endless energy, boundless strength!” (My divisions to emphasise) There the Message suggests hope is about the life Jesus is leading us into, the riches are the incredibly blessed life he has for us, and that power is what enables us - physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually – to live that life. But it is all about Jesus leading the way into it and he can only do that if we let him or, to be more specific, if we follow his instructions, directions and commands, i.e. we let him be lord of our lives.


The work of God: So when Jesus says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent,” (Jn 6:29) he lays out the will of God for believers – to believe Jesus! The Amplified Bible builds it out to include, “ This is the work of God: that you believe [adhere to, trust in, rely on, and have faith] in the One whom He has sent.” Believing is not merely mental assent, it is having a life that is changed by that assent, that doesn't merely believe things about a Jesus who is ‘over there' but lives out a real and living relationship with him. Mental assent will mean a changed life. Believers reveal they are believers by the life that ensues, a life that is not merely good and loving but is obviously endued with power from on high, which we will consider next.



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!” 5  Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit . 6  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.' 8  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. ”


Work of the 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.


Testimony: 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.




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

11. Repentance & Conviction


Mk 1:15 ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!'

Jn 16:8 when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God's righteousness, and of the coming judgment.


To Recap: In the previous study we examined Jesus' specific words to Nicodemus, about the kingdom of God, being born again, the (Holy) Spirit, and coming into the place of God's blessing, having surrendered to Him and having had a life-changing encounter with Him through His Spirit, all made possible through the death of the Son. This followed a previous study that focused on the major difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, that the Christian has been called by God, has been ‘called out' to become part of this assembly we now call ‘the Church'. But in the last study I did say we would need to look in more depth at the process of this ‘calling'.


A Change of Direction: The starting point for this means we have to examine the word ‘repentance' which simply means a complete turnabout to create a change of direction. No one will become a Christian (in the Biblical sense, not a sociological sense) unless they had had this change of direction. Now we need to understand this change of direction more fully because it is not just because we liked the idea of the Christian life, we liked the idea of the ethics involved. Someone might join a political party because they hear about and agree with a particular political viewpoint, but that is NOT what happens here. Someone goes into a church building and they like the architecture, they like the beauty they find there, they enjoy the liturgy and go out saying, “This will be my church,” but that doesn't make them a Christian. Yes, there is a change of direction, but the cause is completely self-centred. For a person to become a Christian, there almost has to become at some point what I can only describe as a revulsion of their self-centredness linked, with an awareness that previously, in reality, they have been godless.


Self-centred godlessness: The apostle Paul nailed it when he was speaking about our pre-Christian lives: “ We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat.” (Eph 2:3 Message version) In that he was describing a life where ‘self' reigned, and God never came into the equation. We might have even appeared ‘nice' people but the fact was that we were self-centred and godless, and in that we were running in exactly the opposite direction to the way God had designed us to be: Him-centred and thus godly. It is the recognition that we have been living in this way - linked to a growing dissatisfaction about it – that works to start bringing about the other word we are focusing on here – conviction.


Conviction? We don't realise it at the time, but it is the working of the Holy Spirit who brings about this conviction. As Jesus put it in our verse above. The Message version builds it out: “ When he comes, he'll expose the error of the godless world's view of sin , righteousness, and judgment: He'll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above , where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.” See the key words and phrases.


First there is, “the error of the godless world's view of sin.” When we were ‘godless' we got upset at being called ‘sinners' and, anyway, who uses that old-fashioned word ‘sin' any longer, doing right is just what you feel is right? Right? Well, actually, no! The word that the Bible often uses, ‘sin' means just this – self-centred godlessness that leads to wrong thinking, wrong words and wrong actions that the Bible summarises under the umbrella of one word – unrighteousness. As we start being convicted by the Holy Spirit, we find a growing awareness that this is what we are like, if we can only be honest about it.


We struggle and we argue about it, but deep down He is working to help us face the truth – and we don't like that truth. That is conviction and conviction leads on to repentance which involves i) acknowledging this truth, ii) asking God to forgive us for it and iii) asking Him to save us and give us a new life, a new direction, with new power and purpose.


That is what HAS to happen for a person to be ‘born again'. I often say this but it bears repeating, I am sure many of us when we are born again are not fully aware of all these things but the Spirit is bringing them to bear on our will so that we surrender, and the reality and fuller understanding of them only follows afterwards. Sometimes there is an immediate clarity but often it only follows gradually.


Believing in the Cross? But perhaps we ought to pick up more on some of those things in that Message version of Jn 16:8-11. “He'll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin.” That is at the heart of all this, that these godless lives we've been referring to are, in reality, lives that have not believed in Jesus and why he came. The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus died on the Cross to take our punishment for our sins and up until this time we've been talking about, we didn't see our need, we didn't realise the extent of our self-centred godlessness that leads to unrighteousness, so we couldn't see the point of Jesus dying. That simply demonstrated our blindness, the blindness that is part of the expression of Sin in our lives. Sins are the individual acts of our wrong thinking, wrong speaking and wrong doing. Sin is the propensity or tendency that we all have to be self-centred and godless with all the rest following. Jesus died to take our punishment, remove our guilt and open the way up for us to be restored to God the Father.


I can't be righteous: However much I try, it is still the old self-centred me, I can never be perfect and, however much I try, failure is going to happen somewhere. Hence Paul spoke of the fact, “that righteousness comes from above”. God decrees us righteous when we simply say, “I believe” (and of course, mean it!) It is about how God views us. When we believe in Jesus as we've just been saying, God says we are now assessed as ‘righteous' in His eyes and as far as judgment of sin is concerned and justice satisfied.


Now of course we know that the rest of our life will be spent changing to ensure our now God-focused lives are righteous in terms of the things we are now thinking, saying and doing, but now Jesus, by his Spirit, is there indwelling us, as we saw in the previous study, and helping and guiding and directing and empowering us to live this new life.


A Relationship: Once this happens, we no longer strive to appease God or win over His approval, because He has now given it the moment we believed. As the Spirit convicted us, as we repented and declared our belief and surrendered our lives to Jesus to save them, take them and lead them from now on, it is now not a matter of ‘following the rules' but living in a new relationship with the Father and the Son, enabled by the Spirit. Relationship is all about interaction : we pray, He responds; we need help, He gives it; we need guidance, He gives it; we mess up and ask again for forgiveness, He gives it; we need a fresh start, He gives it. (We'll consider this again in more detail in a later study).


THAT is what this Christian life is all about – being convicted by His Spirit, coming to repentance, surrendering our life to Him, believing in Jesus, being led by Him in a living, loving empowered relationship – and receiving a glorious new future, new future meaning all the days we have on this earth and then into eternity. Hallelujah!


A final word: Again, just in case anyone reading this study finds themselves responding, “But I've never known this, I've never experienced these things or this ‘new birth' you've been referring to”, it is never too late. Consider the ‘ingredients' of all this, if I may refer to them like this.

  • First, a recognition that I have been self-centred and godless.
  • Second, a desire to change.
  • Third, a recognition that I need to say sorry to God for this and need His help to change.
  • Fourth, a recognition that Jesus is God's unique Son who came to die for me in my place (even though I may not fully understand that) and my need to declare that belief.
  • Fifth, the pathway to God is to come to Him and pray all this out, telling Him you are sorry, telling Him you believe in Jesus, asking Him to forgive you, take your life and lead it, and make you anew. Then leave the rest up to Him. Have a wonderful new life!   



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

12. Needing to be ‘Saved'?


Heb 2:3,4 ‘ This salvation , which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

2 Cor 7:10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death


Salvation? In the previous study I faced the challenge about the language of ‘salvation'. Apart from the Salvation Army the word salvation gets rarely used in modern life and so for some, the use of this language in a religious context appears either old fashioned or overly emotional. Yet it is a word that appears in the New Testament many times. Talk of ‘being saved' is slightly more common in modern life for we use it of people being rescued from a sinking ship or people being rescued from a burning building, or even of captives being rescued from the hands of terrorists. In every such case, ‘being saved' means being delivered from the threat of death. In the Bible that death is seen in the light of the Judgment of God.


A God of Judgment? Because there is a modern tendency to view God through rose-tinted glasses and many see Him as a distant figure who, having once set everything in motion, now just sits at a distance watching us make a mess of things. (That is ‘deism'). The thought of God intervening or interfering in human life is, to such people, almost abhorrent. Religion, for them, comprises performing acts of devotion (going to church and performing the rituals) but expecting no more. The talk of interaction with God and encountering the power of the Holy Spirit, simply frightens such people. But the truth of the whole Bible is that God does judge, God does intervene – now! – and not just at what is referred to as the Final Judgment. But the bigger picture shows a God who does judge but also provides a way of avoiding that judgement through repentance and trusting in the finished work of Christ on the Cross. That is salvation.


The focus of salvation: Because it may be that some might think I am exaggerating here, we do need to eyeball this truth. When the angel came to Joseph in a dream, he said to Joseph, speaking about Mary, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, ] because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) You may find an additional footnote in your Bible that Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua which means, ‘the Lord saves', i.e. another way of saying he will be a deliverer – from sins, and by implication, from the death that follows: “the wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23) i.e. death is the end product of sin, of this life that I have referred to as being self-centred and godless. That is what this is all about, of God providing a way whereby we can be delivered from a self-centred and godless life and from the death that it brings. NB. Death here should be contrasted with the eternal life that is so often referred to as the outworking of salvation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life .” (Jn 3:16)


The Language of Salvation: But this is not a rare or occasional use of this language. Let's spend a little time considering this by picking out a few of the verses of the New Testament. Observing the apostles in Acts, we find as Peter speaks about Jesus, Salvation is found in no one else , for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved .” (Acts 4:12) That is somewhat uncompromising, especially in this modern world that wants to be all things to all people. Again, speaking of this coming to the wider world and not just the Jews, the apostle Paul declared, “I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles,” (Acts 28:28) and then to the Romans he declared, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” ( Rom 1:16) There we see it, a declaration that the good news of Jesus coming as a saviour-deliverer, came to the whole world, Jew and Gentile. But was it a passive thing, simply an act of God so now we can ignore it because God has simply forgiven us, and we are all saved? Well, not exactly.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation . When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” ( Eph 1:13) So writes the apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus. This takes us back to an earlier study (No.7) about Christians being believers, and belief is the first stage towards all that subsequently follows. What follows is a transformation that we have considered in Study No.8, first at the act of conversion, of us being ‘born again' and then in the ongoing life: continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12,13) There salvation is seen, not just as what happens as we surrender and repent, but everything that follows in our lives thereafter. We started this section with a quote from the apostle Peter in Acts, so let's finish it with a quote from his first letter: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet 1:8,9) Faith opens a door to life with Christ and Christ delivers us (an ongoing process) from our old self-centred and godless life. Being a Christian thus means receiving and living out this life of relationship with Jesus. (You can check out a few further ‘salvation quotes' in 1 Thess 5:9, 2 Tim 2:10, Heb 2:3, 5:9.)


And So? What are the key points that stand out in what we have been considering in this study? First , I would suggest, this language of ‘salvation' is not merely common to the New Testament, it is fundamental to it. Second , it is seen as something available for the whole human race and yet only applied in conjunction with belief. Third , it is spoken of so many times and in such a basic and fundamental way, because the big issue that the New Testament deals with, is how can sinful men and women (all of us) be saved from the demands of justice, applied by the judgment of God? Fourth , but it doesn't stop there; having been saved from it once, how can that deliverance be continued on throughout our lives on this earth, in such a manner that justice is still being satisfied? The answer to this, more fully, is how God then views us, and that will take us into exactly what happens, as far as heaven is concerned, at our point of conversion, and that is where we will go on to soon.




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

13. A People of Faith


Heb 11:6 without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Lk 18:8 when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Rom 10:17 faith comes from hearing the message


Faith? I have a feeling that as we come to this subject we come to the heart of the challenges that I find confront me as a leader and as I let my eyes wander over the congregation of whom I am a part today. But it is also at the heart of what it is to be a true Christian. It is this subject of ‘faith', and it is vital that we distinguish belief from faith.


Faith & Belief: Now we must not confuse faith with belief. The apostle James nailed this one. Listen: faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (Jas 2:17-19) We started this particular Part by considering that all Christians are believers (Study 9) but see what James says: (i) Faith has to be accompanied by action. (ii) Deeds alone are not a substitute. (iii) Belief alone is not adequate. Faith is belief in action.


Belief, the Starting Point: In that previous study no.9 I noted that there has to be a body of belief which led us through into this new life, and we considered believing that Jesus is the unique Son of God who has to be our Lord and Saviour. It is that initial belief that motivates us and which the Holy Spirit uses to convict us so that we come to a point of surrender and repentance. That initial believing and that initial action is what theologians call ‘saving faith', it is the belief plus action that opens the door for God to come and declare us justified (which we will go on to consider in the next study) and adopted (the subsequent study) and then indwelt by His Spirit. We tend to be a little casual in our language and so we often just call Christians ‘believers' (as I have done previously) but the reality is that ‘belief' is just the starting point and the ongoing life is – if there is to be any reality in it – a life of faith. So what does that mean?


Faith comes from hearing: One of our verses above from Romans 10 suggests that, not only is faith belief in action, it is action in response to God . God speaks, we hear and we respond. THAT is faith. Now if you are stuck in unbelief you will say, “But I can't hear God.” Yes, you can. There are different levels of ‘hearing'. For instance Rom 10:17 that we only partly quoted, goes on, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Where do you find that “word about Christ”? In the Gospels in the New Testament. The apostle Paul declared, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God , which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word , but as it actually is, the word of God , which is indeed at work in you who believe,” (1 Thess 2:13) and thus put his own speech on the level as that of the prophets of old, and was therefore ‘the word of God'. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.” (Heb 13:7) Then of course there are Paul's famous words, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Tim 3:16) If God breathes it, it is His word.


We ‘hear' when we read the Bible, we hear when we hear a preacher or a prophetic word brought, we ‘hear' when the Holy Spirit whispers truth into our hearts and minds – but it depends on the state of our heart. You could listen to a preacher and say, “What rubbish!” despite the fact that he was anointed and spoke with God's authority. You can open the Bible and randomly read and nothing happens. On the other hand you can feel spiritually hungry and pray, “Lord, please speak to me through your word,” and suddenly it goes alive and you are challenged and transformed. So faith is also a heart response – a right heart response – to what you hear. If you have set in your mind that God doesn't speak then you won't hear.


A Personal Story: Relationship with God, which is what faith is all about, can touch our hearts and minds and emotions. I was recently reminded of something that happened to my wife and I many years ago. We belonged to a little evangelical church. We knew little of the life of the Spirit, even less of gifts. One day we heard some news about someone in our family, someone not particularly close and also many miles away. I found myself strangely disturbed by this news and felt in real anguish for them. This feeling carried on and I shared it with my wife and said I had a feeling that I was feeling what God felt for this relative. She responded negatively, “That's presumptuous, we can't feel what God feels.” Well we had an ongoing conversation about this that went on and off for the next three days. It was three days later that we attended the church prayer meeting and during the course of it, the pastor's wife brought this ‘prophecy'. It wasn't directed so no one else knew it was for us but in it the Lord said very clearly that He had been listening to us and, yes, He had shared His heart with me so that what I had been feeling was from him. It then got scary, because the prophecy went on to literally quote things we had both said in this ongoing three-day conversation, giving point by point answers to what we had both said! That woman spoke out in faith; we heard it as God speaking by faith. That was relationship, that was communication with God.


Belief then Faith: Consider for a moment the first of our starter verses from above: “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) Do you see that? Belief in God comes first but it is clear that the writer means a belief that goes into action - seeking God – and that action is faith. Indeed, as Christians, everything we do is supposed to be by faith. My starting point is turning to God. I do that freshly every morning. For me, my personal practice is first thing in my ‘Quiet Listening Time' to declare my submission to Him and reliance upon Him, for His salvation, His direction and His presence. I present me and my family to Him with thanksgiving. And I listen. That is just my practice. These days I have learnt to have a notebook beside me and I jot down the things that start flowing in my mind. I get guidance for the day or the days ahead. Look at the verse again. Do I hear complaints that “God never rewards me”? Is it because we don't “earnestly seek him”?


Ready for Return: Finally, let's pick up that verse we've mention before, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) I've said it before, but I find that a real challenge. The things I wrote about in study no.4, ‘Wondering about Fitness of Purpose', make me feel we are rushing towards this Doomsday scenario and I wonder how much more the Lord will allow, and I wonder if He will use these things to bring the catastrophes that are spoken about in the book of Revelation. Godless mankind has brought into being – and is in the process of bringing into being – means of self-destruction in ways and magnitude never dreamt of a hundred years ago. Whether it is then, or simply when He calls us home, will He find in us a people of faith? Not a people who live by rules or rituals but a people who live out of a living relationship with the One True God, mediated by His Son who sits at His right-hand ruling in the midst of his enemies, and enabled by His Spirit who indwells all true believers. A people of faith? THAT is ‘church'.


Now we will go on to see what happens to us that make us different when we come to God through Christ and are born again.