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Series Theme: The Wonder of the Church

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

14. A Guilt-Free People


Rom 3:23-25 all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.


A tighter focus: In this third Part we are going to move on from the general ways Christians are different from non-Christians to considering just what happens when a person does actually become a Christian, in God's eyes as declared in the New Testament, AND is some practical ways. Yes, we have observed that there is a God-difference , that Christians are first and foremost believers in Jesus Christ, that they have had a supernatural experience or encounter with God that Jesus called being ‘born again', and this followed their conviction by the Spirit and repentance . We also noted in passing, so to speak, the basic need to be saved and meaning of becoming a faith people , but now we are going to move on to see the things that happen to the believer as part of and following this experience of being born again. I want to approach it by recognising the needs that we have as we come to God and what He does to meet those needs.


We start with the guilt that we have and how He removes that, expanding on the things we considered in Study no.11, ‘Repentance and Conviction'.


A Basic Problem: There is a problem that is at the heart of human experience. It is the problem of guilt. Wikipedia comes up with a good definition: “ Guilt  is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or have violated a universal moral standard and bear significant responsibility for that violation .” Now we may try and deny that – and modern thinking desperately tries to do away with standards in order to do that – but the truth is that deep down each of us feels that somehow we are falling short of some standard or other, and yes we may go to great efforts to cover that up but it is still there.


Cover-up Jobs: Oh how varied are the means people use to cover up this sense of guilt, a guilt that is sometimes very shallow, the guilt of not living up to one's own expectations or even those of our parents, or it may be a deeper guilt where we know our behaviour towards another, or even against society, in the past was less than glorious! We try to cover up these feelings by appearing nice, trying to be good, trying to be respectable, aiming for achievement, fame, status, things that make us look good in the eyes of others.


Why? But why do we have these feelings. Well, the apostle Paul wrote that it was because we got it wrong (sinned) and fell short of the incredible potential that each of us have when we are in harmony with God (falling short of God's glory). I have watched various Christians struggling with their lives, struggling to achieve and I have found myself saying, “Don't you realise that God desires more success for you than you desire for yourself?” Sometimes that success may be to simply make ends meet and create a great home for a family, sometimes it is to make millions to bless the world with jobs and so much more (consider Bill Gates), sometimes it is success that has nothing to do with money. I suggest Mother Teresa was a staggeringly ‘successful' person, but that requires us to readjust our thinking about what success means.


The Answer- Justification: OK, we've faced the fact that so many of us in the human race struggle with guilt so now I am going to make a possibly surprising suggestion: Christians are possibly one of the only groups in the world who are not guilt laden – or at least should not be. Now how am I able to say that? It is what I briefly referred to earlier, the doctrine of ‘justification'. If I say I was justified in taking a particular course of action it means I was actually right to take it. If I appear in a court case accused of murder and I plead a case of self-defence and am found ‘not guilty' we might say I was justified in the eyes of the Law for accidentally killing someone while defending myself.


The use of the word ‘justified' means I am found not-guilty, or innocent. Now the problem we have been facing when we come to such verses as our starter verse – “all have sinned,” is that I have to acknowledge that I am a sinner – and we all are – because I have fallen short in my life because I did not get God's help, i.e. I was self-centred and godless. It appears to leave us in a hopeless state where we will be condemned by God, and with no hope of change or escape. But that is where we come to the wonder of the plan of God for salvation, ‘the Gospel': I am guilty and I do deserve the punishment that justice demands BUT Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has died on the Cross in my place and when I accept that truth, the Bible tells me I am justified, I am put right in God's eyes and in the eyes of justice because the punishment has been taken for my Sin.


As the apostle Paul wrote, This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe ,” (Rom 3:22) and then he explains, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” (Rom 4:3) and applies that to us,   The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us , to whom God will credit righteousness— for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom 4:23-25) When we believe (and remember we've seen previously faith means belief in action, i.e. we respond to what we hear) that Jesus is God's Son and that he died for our sins and was raised from the dead to prove that this was right and acceptable to God, we are justified.


In God's eyes it is faith that He uses to measure our righteousness. He declares us righteous (right before Him) when He sees this faith in us – this belief accompanied by action, belief in Jesus. As it was in the case of Abraham in the Old Testament period, so it is with us today. That, and only that, is why I and all of us who know we are Christians, born again of His Spirit, can say we are not burdened by guilt.


Freed! This is the wonder for the true believer, we know our propensity to get it wrong but we seek with God's help not to; we know we are less than perfect and yet we know that the basis of our relationship with God relies upon what Jesus has achieved on the Cross, him taking my punishment and satisfying justice, leaving me to simply believe that and receive all that He has to give me as we live out this new life of relationship. I am thus freed from guilt and free to live in the wonder of this relationship with God whereby He provides for me through His Spirit.


Dealing with Failure: For the believer living in relationship with God, brought about by the work of Christ on the Cross and now enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit we are, in line with the apostle Paul's teaching, to consider that we “have died to sin,” (Rom 6:2) and so we are to, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11) Nevertheless, although our objective is never to sin, there will be times when we trip over our feet, if I may put it like that, and get it wrong.


The apostle John recognised that when he wrote, ” I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin , we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) and he had just written, if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil.” (1 Jn 1:9) To summarise: we should not sin, but if on the occasion we do, we are to confess it to God, repent of it, and Jesus' work on the cross applies again to us.

We do not need to go on feeling guilty, but just get on living positively for Christ. This is what all true believers are called to. Do you remember the first study in this Part (no.8) was all about the fact that a Christian is different from a non-Christian? Here is the first of the things that come about when we are born again that make us different: I am justified (put right) in God's eyes by what Jesus has done for me. I don't have to struggle to get right with God, just believe that Jesus has made it possible, and receive it and live it! Hallelujah!




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

15. No Longer Orphans


Jn 1:12,13 to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

1 Jn 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God ! And that is what we are!


Me - Us?: I wonder if you were asked what aspect of ‘being a Christian' stood out most to you, what you would reply? A believer? A church-goer? A good person? I want to suggest in this study that our starting and finishing point is that I am a child of God. That speaks of origins and identity, and it speaks of ongoing relationship, and it opens up thoughts about the future and our eternal destiny. Let's browse together in this field.


Alienated: Psychologists talk about alienation, environmentalists talk about alienation, Marxists talk about alienation. It simply means being separated or estranged from some essential part of life. That counterfeit religion, Marxism, blames capitalism for isolating and dehumanizing people, psychologists blame relationships for human breakdown, sociologists blame society for human injustices that warp outlook. There is always a cause and always an effect . Sometimes in the context of his writings, the apostle Paul used the word ‘Gentiles' to simply mean those who had no relationship with God. Speaking of this group he said, “For they live blindfold in a world of illusion and cut off from the life of God through ignorance and insensitiveness. They have stifled their consciences and then surrendered themselves to sensuality.” (Eph 4:18,19 JBP) See the cause: ignorant of God, insensitive to Him, hardening themselves (their consciences) to Him. See the effect: they just live lives given over to the five senses – and that is all. They are alienated from God, separated and cut off from Him, and thus live in a world of illusion, of deception, of delusion, and it feels lonely.


The Big Picture: The truth is that God created and brought this world into being and designed us to be people who had a relationship with Him, but that was lost at the Fall. There may be a bundle of secondary reasons why we experience difference sorts of alienation – from ourselves (not facing who we truly are), from others (not being able to relate to others), from society (who we see as hostile and cruel) and so on, but the ultimate truth is that because we are alienated from God, the One we were designed to relate to as Father, all these other things tend to be dysfunctional, not working as they should. And that is how it would stay if God had not foreseen all of this and planned to counteract it by the work of His Son and His Spirit.


The Problem of Sin: Have you ever thought that when God said, “you must not eat from…” (Gen 2:17), the first and only prohibition, in their perfect provision for Man, the Godhead knew that living with provision was fraught with dangers? Eating too much would cause obesity. Making and using alcohol in excess would have many harmful effects, and so on, so many potential hazards – and so many hidden boundaries. Throughout the Creation, excess would harm but wise use would bless. And thus man would have to learn about boundaries, so God applied a limitation to just one tree to teach the lesson, and man learnt to restrain his appetites as wisdom decreed, an expression of love, of relationship, an acceptance of God's wisdom in provision.


But then came, “Did God really say…” (Gen 3:1) and behind even just one boundary, one limitation, there lurks temptation, temptation to reject, temptation to ignore, temptation that says, “Perhaps He didn't mean it, perhaps my way is best.” Temptation is there behind the many hidden boundaries that wise usage means are there. Temptation had to be faced and overcome or given way to, and whichever way, lessons learned. And thus God stood back while a tempter came, the test faced, and the Fall experienced, and life would never be the same again. And that is how it has been for you and me ever since. We sin, we do wrong, we miss the mark, we fall short, and all these things alienate us from God. In the same way that Adam and Eve hid from God immediately after their disobedience (Gen 3:8), the deep-down sense of our failures, our inadequacies, our falling short, mean that we too feel alienated from God. We should be children of God but we lost our relationship, we became orphans.


Adopted? Which is what makes that verse in the first chapter of John so wonderful: “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jn 1:12) We ‘become' – we weren't but now we are adopted into God's family, taken back into the family where we were designed to be from the start. Expanding that, as the Amplified Bible puts it, to as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the authority (power, privilege, right) to become the children of God, that is, to those who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) His name.” See the new cause: believing, sticking to, trusting in, relying on Jesus – that is what brings about this new relationship. See the new effect: we become children of God, and when it says, “He gave the authority”, those other words explain that God conveys the right to be called a child, the privilege of being a child of God, and the power to be a child of God. Keep on turning those words over. I not only have the privilege of being able to be called a child of God, I have been given a legal right from heaven of having that title – and it doesn't stop there – and I also have the power to live as a child of God.


Divine Act: But how and why? Because of what follows: “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:13) There is early warning of what was to come a couple of chapters later – “Children born…. Of God” Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.” (Jn 3:6,7) So why, to use the language above, do I have the right to be called a ‘child of God'? Because I am a product of the work of God, Him justifying me, Him placing His Holy Spirit within me to indwell me. Why do I have the power of a child of God? Because His power indwells me.


Different! Do you remember the first study in this Part (no.8) was all about the fact that a Christian is different from a non-Christian? Here is the second of the things that come about when we are born again that make us different – I am given the right to be called a child of God because I have been born of God – He has made me that when I surrendered to Him, and that is only possible because of the work of Christ on my behalf on the Cross, (It is for you also if you receive it as such!) and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in me for the rest of my life. How wonderful!



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

16. Growing in Sonship


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

17. The Yeast of Humility


Lk 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable

Lk 18:17 anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it

Lk 18:24 “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!

Lk 18:34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

Lk 18:40,41 Jesus asked him,   “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied.


Refocus: We are, you may remember, focusing on things that happen to the believer when they come to Christ and become a Christian, a member of the church. You may be wondering about the title of this series, ‘The Wonder of the Church' but the point we are making again and again is that those who form the church are radically different from anyone else. Now when a believer becomes a believer, something takes place in them which, I think, is rarely observed and yet which is something vital and so often missing in the ongoing life of believers. It is the presence of humility and so we need to see what it is, why it is present, and how it is so easy to lose it.


Humility: Perhaps the significance of humility is seen in the apostle Peter's words, All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble,” (1 Pet 5:5) i.e. it is clearly something God wants in us (and we'll see why soon), while the apostle James declared, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom,” (Jas 3:13) while the apostle Paul taught, “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” (Phil 2:3) and “as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humilit, gentleness and patience.” (Col 3:12)


What is it? Well a dictionary defines it as, “ the quality of having a modest or low view of one's importance,” but I think in a spiritual context it might be better defined as, “the quality of having a right assessment of yourself, to know your failings and your weaknesses in yourself, but also to recognise your greatness in Christ,” so that, yes, it does have a ‘modest or low view of one's importance' but it also should mean that we face the true wonder of what we are, a “new creation” who, as we saw two studies back have been ‘born of God' and are being remade by God. if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17).


Why is it so important? I suggest four reasons: first because it mirrors what we felt when we first turned to God, second it is the characteristic of Christ who indwells us, third , it is a prerequisite to be able to receive his leading and guiding and, fourth , it is a requirement to be able to be Christ to other people. So let's look at each of those and use Luke 18 as a guide to do this.


When we turned to God: Luke 18 is a useful chapter in that it says so many things pertinent to this subject. First we see Jesus challenging those “who were confident in their own righteousness.” (v.9). Now we have seen that vital steps for someone to become a believer who goes on to become a person of faith, a Christian, are conviction and repentance. Until we have seen ourselves as we truly are without Christ – helpless and hopeless (helpless without the power to change ourselves, hopeless because we've come to see that nothing we can do on our own stops us being self-centred and godless) – we will never come to repentance, and that work of conviction is a work of the Holy Spirit enabling us to face that truth, which comes as a point or time of crisis for our self-belief. In what followed Jesus also taught that, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it,” (Jn 18:17) In other words it is necessary to stop being ‘all grown up' and self-satisfied and become simple in outlook as far as God is concerned, i.e. humble!


The character of Christ: Jesus taught, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:28-30) Again and again the New Testament reveals a picture of Father and Son whereby the Son is submissive to the Father. For example , “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (Jn 5:19) Jesus portrayed a life reliant upon the Father, and it is the life He calls us to. Why? Because God knows best! It is as simple as that. But reliance upon God does not always come easily. In fact Jesus taught, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (v.24) Why? Because the rich person relies upon their wealth and it is very difficult to let go that reliance, especially if you had a hand in creating it! Pride and self-ability says, “I got rich on my own, why should I pray; humility recognises affluence is a gift and wisdom is needed to live with it.


Accepting God's Leading: it is fairly obvious that when we came to Christ it was in a way of submission so that we accepted that we had messed up in life and needed forgiveness, cleansing and redirecting, but unless we take that attitude on in life we will do what so many do, and that is relax into a self-centred and godless way of living. Simple tests of whether we do that are to ask some basic questions: when I start a new day do I start planning and working out how I will cope or do I commit the day to the Lord and ask for His wisdom and His grace to manage it? When illness strikes is my first response to ring for the doctor or pray and seek God's hand on us? When problems arise, do we fret and fume and struggle with how to overcome to do we seek Him for His wisdom? In each of those three cases if I opt for the first response that can only be described as self-centred and godless. If, when I surrendered to Him and was born again, I gave Him control of my life, may have I taken it back again? Pride says, “I can do this,” while humility says, “Lord, with your help alone I will be able to handle this.


Being Christ to others: My problem is that other people are frequently less than a blessing and so they deserve criticism – but then that's me as well! If I am to be Jesus to other people it means I will love them and accept them as they are and when I realise I am what I am only by the grace of God, I will never look down on them but will look to see how I can bless them.


Crisis and Ongoing: We said that to come to Christ there had to be a humility that sees me as I am – without Him, helpless and hopeless – and recognises that I need His help. As life carries on, nothing has changed, except that He may have blessed and used me, and then the big temptation is to believe that I have so changed that I can manage it on my own. Deception! But this is a challenge that goes on and on throughout my life and will continue until I die. Humility was what brought me to my knees to be born again, and humility is what will maintain a channel of blessing from God to me.


And Luke's teaching in chapter 18? Well again and again I will hear things from Him, or see things happening around me, that will leave me nonplussed. Life is often complex and so like the disciples (18:34) I will not understand what is happening or even what God is saying in it. Thus, like the blind man at the end of the chapter, I need to be ultra-simple and ask and say, “Lord, I want to see.” (18:41) Humility is acknowledging my need and recognising that He alone has the answer. How long does it take to learn this, or how many times will it keep happening before we do learn it? Maturity is about learning it quickly. Oh, why did I entitle this ‘The Yeast of Humility'? Because where there is true in-depth humility from the start, it will spread (like yeast through the dough) right the way through every aspect of our lives. Don't kid yourself that because have a good education or good training, you can ‘handle' certain areas of our lives. If you don't believe me, just ask Him to send you a crisis in life and see how you get on – but there are easier ways!!!




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

18. Getting on a Learning Curve


Mt 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Heb 5:12-14 though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.


Students: When we speak about a learning curve we refer to a person's progress in gaining knowledge and experience. When we speak of a ‘steep learning curve' we mean there has been a lot of learning in a short period of time. If it is a shallow learning curve it means we have learnt very slowly over a longer period of time. On a graph of learning (the vertical axis) and time (the horizontal axis), a straight horizontal line denotes no additional learning taking place. Now I wonder what your learning curve looks like? Not long ago, after I had retired from leading my own church, we went to a large local church (large for the UK that is) and both my wife and I were dismayed at the ignorance that was obvious in this church.


Learning what? “Hold on,” I hear some saying, “what are you suggesting you wanted to see there? What do you want for us?” Well, let's talk about what first of all, and then why. I heard someone the other day say out loud, “My knowledge of the Bible is rubbish,” and yet I know that person has been a Christian for many years. What have they been doing, what has their church been doing all those years? When I became a Christian over fifty years ago, within two years I was leading seven different bible studies a week. I was hungry for God's word and found others who were similarly hungry. And then I go into the church prayer meeting and I hear people just throwing out requests to God like He was a market stall holder giving out goodies. Where is the sense of the God of strategy and purpose who is found when we wait upon Him and seek Him in prayer? Why haven't these people been taught what prayer is all about so they see it as the lifeblood of the church's experience? So I look around and hear people confessing how difficult their lives are and I wonder about the absence of teaching about overcoming, about spiritual warfare in prayer, and personal prayer ministry? Where are these things? And that's just a start!


But why? Stop and think what has happened when a person becomes a believer. Listen to how the Message version puts Paul's description of what our old lives used to be like: “It wasn't so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. 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. It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.” (Eph 2:1-3) Look at that – you let the world tell you how to live, a life of unbelief and disobedience, and self-centred in every way. To the Romans he said, “ Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2)


The 'what' again: So we turned away from our old life which was going nowhere except downhill. We were convicted by the Holy Spirit of the mess we were in and we turned to God and received His salvation through Christ. Right! Now before us we have a whole new life, one that is not self-centred but Christ centred, one that is not godless but God-focused (godly). We have so much to learn! Now I would suggest that there are the following areas of learning we need to look at:

•  learning who God is and what He is like (correcting all the old false ideas we had previously),
•  learning what a relationship with Him means,
•  learning the character He wants to form in us that is Christ-like,
•  learning how to relate to others in a Christ-like way,
•  learning how to manage my life righteously (e.g. handling money at work etc.),
•  learning to recognise my gifts and talents that he has given me,
•  learning how to become like Jesus and do his works as he leads me (part of his ‘body' that we will consider in detail in a later Part).

The call of a disciple: Those who Jesus followed in the Gospels were called disciples. A disciple is first and foremost a follower who learns to be like their ‘master' (or teacher or mentor) and the important word is ‘learns'. When Jesus commissioned the church he told them, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20). It was a call to create a church who learnt to be like Jesus, not only in character but also in action. Sadly in the modern church we focus on the character part, but we limit the ‘doing' to what some have called the ‘spiritual disciplines' – prayer, Bible reading, worship, witnessing – and have stopped there.


A Step Further: But is that all that Jesus expects of us? He taught a lot on prayer, but virtually nothing about preaching or bible reading, although there is this strong indication that the church should be teaching the truths we have been talking about. Worship, yes, a natural expression of love for God when we come together. Witnessing, a natural sharing when we rub shoulders with our neighbours and they ask us why we are so good, loving, gracious, caring, compassionate etc. etc. as we are. But consider what Jesus said he was doing: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) and then his teaching, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12)


A New Mandate for your Life? Now it is clear from the Gospels that Jesus meant each of those things literally and physically, so somewhere along the line, I suggest, we need to learn to do those things, or at least get the whole body to do those things, because (and we'll see it in a later Part) there are some described as those with the gift of healing (1 Cor 12:9,28,30) which implies not everyone – so relax, it may be you or not.


But how about spiritualising those things above, which I think is legitimate for this exercise, to take the pressure of those who fear the literal translation. Let's see if this is any easier for you. Can we expand that verse in Mt 11:5 as follows: “(i) those who have been spiritually blind and have been unable to understand and receive the gospel, have been enabled to see and understand it; (ii) those who are limping through life, lacking strength, lacking purpose, lacking clarity, have been enabled to walk tall with purpose; (iii) those whose lives are blighted by past bad relationships, bad experiences and lies from the enemy, have been ministered to by the love of Jesus, forgiven, cleansed, restored and set running with purpose; (iv) those who had apparently been unable to ‘hear' what we had been saying to them, suddenly now start showing they are hearing it; (v) those who are clearly spiritually dead heed the Gospel and receive his life and are raised to new lives, and (vi) those who have been made to feel they are nothing have received the good news that in God's sight they are precious. How about that as a fresh mandate for your life, what has happened to you, for the things you say and do, and for the mandate of the church?


Challenging the Impossible: But, I hear some saying, I'm not sure I can do that. Isn't it merely a matter of you learning to do it, learning to listen to God, learning to seek Him for His wisdom, His words, His faith? But I've got so little faith, I hear another say. Excellent, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed , you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20) Go back to the study on a faith people. Faith coming from hearing. When you hear God and respond to what you hear, THEN stuff will happen, but it is a learning exercise and it starts with that realisation. The truth is that Jesus is the Master-Teacher and he knows you are a slow learner (!!!!). Why do I say that? Because he chose twelve close disciples who travelled with him for three years and who saw all the incredible things he was doing and heard all the amazing teaching, but still got it wrong, still argued who was the greatest, still wanted to call fire down on those who didn't agree with them, still betrayed him, still denied him, still abandoned him – but he kept on with them. Peter is our best example of a failure and yet still appointed to lead the church (read Jn 21). Amazing! Then see him in Acts doing the stuff. Talk about a learning curve!


And Us? Hungry for the truth? I hope so. Become a learner. Got questions? Become a learner. Got doubts? Become a learner. Got a murky past? Become a learner. God failures? Become a learner. Unsure of the future? Become a learner. Unsure of your part in the church, the body of Christ? Become a learner. Learning knowledge? Yes, but more than that, be a doer, a listener to God, one in whom faith grows, one who learns to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's daily leading, grow in it. And when you stumble and fall and get it wrong, get up again and learn from it. Learning includes failures and mistakes and Jesus doesn't abandon you when you get it wrong; he wants you to learn from it. It's a life of learning, lifelong learning. Amen? Amen!



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

19. The Reality of Sacrifice


Rom 12:2 I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Mt 10:37-39 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Mt 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.


Sacrifice? It is an interesting thing but in the New Testament there is virtually nothing about you and me being sacrifices for God. Now why would that be? Perhaps it is to make sure we don't try and take on any ‘noble' thoughts about us contributing to our salvation. There is much about Christ being sacrificed for us, for example, Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; (Heb 9:28) and when Jesus taught, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed . But if it dies, it produces many seeds,” ( Jn 12:24), although he was clearly referring to himself, he was also laying down a principle that applies. But there was also the teaching brought from the Old Testament, “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” (Mt 9:13) In other words God is not impressed by self-serving sacrifice. Isa 58 is the classic chapter that hammers in nails in the coffin of self-serving sacrifice, seen in that instance in fasting and appearing religious while in other ways not bothering about righteousness.


Right Perspective: As we'll see there is an element of sacrifice that is essential in being a Christian but it is NOT in any way for winning approval or achieving self-righteousness. In earlier studies we majored on conviction and repentance as two key elements that are necessary to come to Christ and we've also talked about giving up the old life of Sin and, indeed, the language of having died to sin (see Rom 6) should be familiar to us. But consider that life that you ‘gave up'. There was nothing heroic or noble about giving up that life because it was a life dominated by self and sin and prompted along by Satan, a life where we were enslaved to living by the senses and by human effort and striving. When we came to Christ, yes, there was a surrender, but that involved a recognition that that old life was one to be delivered from and you need God's help even to come to that point.


Right Values: When we came to Christ we were, by the help of the Spirit, re-evaluating our lives and recognising that Christ was to be valued over and above all else. He alone could be the source of our salvation, which is why Jesus taught, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”. (Mt 10:37) In other words if you value people, even your closest loved ones, more than Jesus, you will always be putting them first and that will hinder you following the guidance that Jesus will bring you. If we listen to people who don't love Jesus (implied) we will never fully receive his salvation. When Jesus went on, whoever loses their life for my sake will find it,” he was referring to this letting go the old life so that he could bring us into a new life. Indeed to counter-balance that teaching of letting go close relationships, Jesus taught, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Lk 18:29,30) It is a promise of blessing that make up many times over for anything you think you might have lost.


Right Sacrifice: Yet there is that one powerful word from the apostle Paul: “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice , holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” The Message version is particularly good at this point as it expands verses 1-3 of Romans 12: So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering . Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.” Isn't that good? The “place it before God as an offering” is almost swallowed up in the goodness of God that follows because it focuses the life God has for us as THE best thing possible for us. It's like we hand our life to Him each day and say, “Here it is Lord, just as you said, all yours for you to bless!”


Isn't that exactly what He has promised? the riches of his glorious inheritance.” (Eph 1:18) “the incomparable riches of his grace.” (Eph 2:7) “the boundless riches of Christ.” (Eph 3:8) “his glorious riches .” (Eph 3:16) the riches of his glory.” (Phil 4:19) “the glorious riches of this mystery.” (Col 1:27) “the full riches of complete understanding.” (Col 2:2) If you want fuel for worship then just look up each of these verses in context. It's like the Lord says, “Hey, let's do a swap. You give me your old life and I'll give you all these things.” Nothing to complain about there!


Taking up your cross? But then there is this unpleasant picture (as we see it) of having to carry our cross that Jesus refers to: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mt 16:24) Well, again the Message version puts verses 24 to 26 very well: “Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?” Look, everyone living in this Fallen World ‘suffers' at some time or other, but Jesus promises to help us through it. But it's more than that (and the Message misses this bit) because ‘taking up your cross' is simply shorthand for saying, ‘keep with yourself a constant reminder that you have died to your old life and you are now walking in a resurrection life.'


Reminder of the Past: We said above that it is all about getting a new perspective. So how do you “deny yourself”? Well you remember that HAS happened to you: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) It is a teaching that is repeated again and again (see Rom 6:6, Gal 6:14). Again the Message version puts it, “I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God.” i.e. I ditched the old life when I came to Christ, it's like I killed it off (with God's help), crucified it, if you like. This ‘cross' I'm carrying now is not what I'm walking towards, it's a reminder of what has happened, what I'm walking away from , resurrected if you like, now living with the power of the resurrected Christ within me. That's how we now ‘deny ourselves', not by lots of self-effort, but by remembering that the old life has gone and the life I now have is his life, his power, his energy, his purposes, his plans, his goals.


  In Practice? well, yes, there is a dimension of this where we make choices, acts of will, because we still have free will and so we have to employ it and ensure we live in line with what Christ is purposing for us. Hence the apostle John taught, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” ( 1 Jn 3:16) There it is, the use of our conscious will to conform to or comply with the will of God that Jesus is working in us. That is the life we now live, resurrected with his power in us, dead to the old ways, alive to God, raised by Him. (See Rom 6:11, Eph 2:4-6, Col 2:13, 3:1) This is the truth of your life and mine as those who have been born again. That resurrected life means being open to and receiving his life, his power, his guidance, his wisdom and his grace. “if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation ; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come .” (2 Cor 5:17 RSV) Hallelujah!

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

20. No Add-ons


Jn 19:28-30 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished , and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. 30  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.


The Cross? There is an aspect of being a believer that I think we should cover and this appears the appropriate place to do it. In the previous study we touched on the subject of sacrifice and inevitably that takes us to the Cross. Now when we use the words, ‘the Cross' like that, we don't just mean the two pieces of timber that were used to execute a criminal, but the work or effect that Jesus dying on that wooden execution piece had. It covers everything that Christ achieved.


Sacrifice: Yesterday we touched on the fact that the New Testament speaks of Christ dying as a sacrifice, and we quoted, Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; (Heb 9:28) but it comes up many times, for example, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed ,” (1 Cor 5:7) and “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood,” (Rom 3:25) and “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” ( Eph 5:2) and “Christ ….has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb 9:26) and “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” (Heb 10:10) and “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world,” (1 Jn 2:2) and “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10)


The Sin-Bearer: Isaiah had made this clear: “by knowledge of him my righteous servant will justify many,   and he will bear their iniquities….. For he bore the sin of many” (Isa 53:11,12) In that he was summing up the work of the whole sacrificial system within the Law of Moses whereby the guilty were to offer a sacrifice of an animal and by placing their hand upon it as it was killed, the picture was that their sin was passed to it and it was dying to take the punishment of the sinner. The apostle Peter echoed this when he wrote, “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” (1 Pet 2:24) When the word ‘atonement' is used (see above Rom 3:25, 1 Jn 2:2, 4:10) it again reflects the Old Testament Law. It basically means ‘a making at one' (at-one-ment), bringing us back to God by removing the one thing that separates us, our sin, our guilt, the punishment that justice demands. In the Gospels we find, the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45 & Mt 20:28) There we find implied the same idea of a substitute that was implied in the Old testament sacrifice of atonement. Jesus stood in for us and carried all of our sins in himself on the cross at Calvary. Paul echoes this in 1 Tim 2:6 and the writer to the Hebrew in Heb 9:15.


Finished: looking at our starter verses, just before he actually died, hanging on the cross, we find John observing, knowing that everything had now been finished,” Jesus received the drink and declared, “It is finished.” There is no further commentary by John in the text but his previous comment indicates an understanding that the life of revealing the Father to the Jewish public and then his work as the atoning sacrifice to take our sins and our punishment, was completed. There was no more that he could do. As he dies he carries our sins and takes our punishment. There was no more that anyone could do.


The Point: Why am I writing this particular study? Because so often we find make-believe believers, or young believers who have not been taught, struggling and striving to be good to appease God, or get on God's good side, as if there is something they can do to win his approval. No you can do nothing. I find myself so often referring to “the finished work of Christ on the cross,” and I do that because we need to be reminded of this. Listen to Paul: What happens now to human pride of achievement? There is no more room for it. Why, because failure to keep the Law has killed it? Not at all, but because the whole matter is now on a different plane—believing instead of achieving. We see now that a man is justified before God by the fact of his faith in God's appointed Saviour and not by what he has managed to achieve under the Law.” (Rom 3:27,28 JBP) The NIV puts it, “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded.” None of us can boast, none of us can do anything that can cover up our sins and hide them from God, none of us can do anything sufficient to make up for them, in fact the more we do the more we express our self-centred godlessness, because we are trying to save ourselves and we are rejecting God's provision for us.


But I want to do good! Of course you do because that is what God wants for you and what the Spirit energises us to do. But that is just it, ‘good' for us now is first simply believing in Jesus and utterly trusting him for our salvation, and then, once we are born again, following his word and his Spirit as he leads you. (And that takes us back to the study on being a faith people). Going to church, praying, reading the Bible, worshipping, or witnessing, none of these things make you ‘more worthy' to be called a Christian, they are just outworkings of the faith you already have. If you try to use them to please God and ‘improve your salvation' you fall into the trap that the Jewish Galatian Christians fell into when they went back to placing reliance on circumcision and received Paul's very strong censure (see Gal 3). It is never ‘Christ plus'! Jesus has done everything necessary for your salvation; all you can do it receive it with thanks and praise and worship Him for His gift. Please, rest in that and stop striving.




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

21. Servant Hearted (1)


Matt 20:28 the Son of Man did not come to be serve d, but to serve , and to give his life as a ransom for many

Matt 23:11,12 The greatest among you will be your servant . For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Mk 9:35 Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”


Purpose: I said at the beginning of this Part that we would recognise the needs that we have as we come to God and then what He does to meet those needs. I am not sure I've done that in each of the recent studies, but I feel it is important to do it at this point. Now I also said at the start of this part that we would move on from the general ways Christians are different from non-Christians to consider just what happens when a person does actually become a Christian, in God's eyes as declared in the New Testament. Looking back I wonder if this study should have been partnered with No.17 on Humility, because the old life we had lived prior to coming to Christ was, we have noted many times, self-centred and godless. However in the process of coming to Christ, there came this recognition of this attitude and we repented of that and turned from it to become others-centred and godly. The first ‘other' is of course God and the result of making Him the centre of our life is godliness, and that is expressed in various ways. One of them is in humility and another is in taking on a servant heart – a heart to be available to God to be used by Him to bless His world, starting with the Church.


Servant-hearted? Our verses above clearly indicate Jesus' desire for his disciples to also be servants. We said previously that Christians are to be seen as disciples, those who learn from the ‘master' and who become like the ‘master'. Well this master came, he said, to serve as a servant. A servant is one who does the bidding of another and although we see Jesus using such language as, “What is it you want” (Mt 20:21) in response to the mother of James and John coming to him, it is clear from what follows that he is not here to automatically do our bidding. However, a short while later in response to the cries of two blind men, Jesus asked, What do you want me to do for you?” (Mt 20:32) and, in response to their faith, healed them both. In the latter case we might suggest that Jesus ‘served' them – using his power – because that conformed to his mandate (see Lk 4:18,19 and Mt 11:5), the will of the Father for him. Thus we must suggest that when Jesus speaks of himself as a servant it is one who serves the will of the Father, the will of the Godhead decreed before the foundation of the world.


A Starting Expectation: Perhaps we should first recognise the fact of expectations that we find in many Bible-believing circles, the right expectation, that God wants us to be those who are doing, the expectation that the Christian life should be a ‘doing' life, an active life. Now because of that, we can find many ‘doing things' in the church context but for not the right reasons, and this takes us to the heart of the subject of ‘servant-heartedness'. They ‘do' for the sake of doing, not because it is the natural Spirit-led flow of life and of their relationship with the Father. So, check out these (wrong) ways of thinking why people ‘do' stuff as Christians :


Wrong Attitudes: So in our starter-verses above we see Jesus teaching that he wants us to be servants and, like him, we are to be first and foremost servants of God, ones who obey God's calling, but what do we so often find as we look around the church? What is it motivating people to be ‘doing stuff' in church?


First of all there are those have a pious look about them that says they are serving God but what it is in reality is that they are seeking to appease God. They still think they need to get God on their side or appease Him for their failures (sins), which they seek to cover up by the public display of service. As we pointed out in the previous study, their serving to please and get God on their side, to make sure their salvation is complete is, of course, error. Our salvation is complete and we cannot add to it, so serving for this reason is a wrong way of thinking.


Second, there are those who seek to impress others and this can be true in several different ways. First , this can be most simply the member of the congregation who wants to please the Pastor, the Minister, or whatever other name the leader is known by. After all he preaches his heart out that we should be servants of God and so we want to please him and honour him, so we think we are serving to bless the minister, but actually that is a wrong focus. At this point someone might be asking, “But does it matter as long as we're serving?” Well actually, yes, because our serving should flow out of our relationship with God , not with the minister.

Second, it is also possible that the leader isn't serving for a right motive. We would hope that he/she is serving God and that is as a result of a specific calling, but it is quite difficult to be a minister without having that sense of being observed by the congregation, some of whom at least will be thinking, “Is he/she earning their money?” so another aspect of this one is that the Pastor-Minister-Leader may feel driven as an ‘employee' of the people not as a Spirit-led chid of God with a special calling.


Third, in this ‘impressing others' category, there is also personal fulfilment issues in the person serving, not only the main leader, but it could be the church secretary, a deacon, even a worship leader. Being seen to be an ‘out-front person' is without doubt a potentially ego-boosting experience and it is only attention to that previous study on humility that can stop a subtle growth of pride in ‘being a leader'.


So, third, returning to the primary general wrong attitudes that we can hold, there are those who serve out of a guilty conscience because they feel they ‘ought' to serve and ought to be seen to be doing something. One of the greatest temptations of the modern church (and this is primarily at leadership level) is that we hear what other people are doing, we hear of their successes and so if they are successful in that way then, we think, if we do the same thing we too will be successful. So we scour around the Christian world and come across a variety of things that others are doing, maybe even established organisations that can be most helpful in a particular ministry, and we leap at those things as ways that will show God we are being obedient. They are quite likely to be things that could come under the umbrella of ‘reaching out into the community' or even ‘growing the church' – and that surely must be good (we think). But was it what God wanted?


And so? Well there is a lot there to digest and think about and we have yet more to cover, so let's end this particular study with a summary statement: we are called to be servants but that means servants first and foremost of God, and the way we express that servant-heartedness should be as an expression of our loving relationship with Him and the things He puts on our hearts to do. We'll consider some more of this in the studies ahead.




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

22. Servant Hearted (2)


Matt 20:28 the Son of Man did not come to be serve d, but to serve , and to give his life as a ransom for many


Recap: In the previous study we noted verses at the beginning that point us toward this subject that show that having a servant heart starts by seeing it in Jesus and then follows by the expectation that any disciple of his will be the same. We concluded by noting that we are called to be servants but that means servants first and foremost of God, and the way we express that servant-heartedness should be as an expression of our loving relationship with Him and the things He puts on our hearts to do. In that study we noted three wrong ways of thinking about serving but now we need to go on and see this serving from a slightly different angle.


The Errors: The reality behind these wrong attitudes or ways of thinking that we considered in the previous study, can be expressed as a number of ensuing practical errors , the things that are wrong in this apparent appearance of ‘serving' or the way we go about serving. In observing the errors we can then see the way things should be.


First, there is the reality of the problem of ‘service'. Most simply put, first of all, there are too many needs in the world out there for us to meet all of them. Unless we have a large and diverse congregation, we will be limited in manpower and ability. I remember a well-known Christian leader of many decades ago warning of this; we are not called to meet every need of society, there are too many of them. Second there is the truth of the reality behind those problems: many of them will be resolved when the individuals in question meet Jesus and allow him to straighten out their lives.


So, our first realisation is that although we are called to help people and love them, that help and love is first shown by sharing the Gospel with them, to help them see that through Christ they can come into a living relationship with God who has a plan and purpose to bless their life once they accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord, as we have considered earlier in these studies. So failing to perceive the extent and nature of the needs around us, is the first error, which can lead us into unnecessary stress as we think we need to be all things to all men. No the answer comes when we address the second error.


Second , there is the danger of human wisdom in the absence of God's wisdom, and so we see a need in the world around us and leap at it. We need to remember what we've just said and realise that when Jesus gave the picture of the vine and branches (Jn 15) he was conveying a picture of life flowing from him to us. That ‘life' includes, wisdom, revelation, direction, purpose and power. Now the important thing to note is that those things come when we wait on God, submit to Him, listen to Him – and we need to do this collectively, not simply as individuals. The fruit of failing to do that is fruitlessness! We start projects and they totter on with little, if any, fruit. Failing to listen to God, receiving His direction and anointing is the second error and it leads us into human-wisdom, human-effort centred activity, which so often results in our resources becoming rapidly depleted so that physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion sets in, making us vulnerable to enemy attack.


Third , there is the error of failing to ‘discern the body' , failing to recognise the hearts and the gifting of the people in our particular part of the body. Who or what is on their hearts? How are they gifted? How can we equip and release them so that what God is already doing in them can be further released to bring forth fruit? I have always been challenged by a mega-church in the Far East that ran on a cell basis and each cell was restricted to people of the same station in life, so one group might have been made up of bankers, another group shop workers, another group social workers. Now I am aware that there is a school of thought that says sanctification works best when you totally mix people but, consider, who are bankers best at reaching? Other bankers!


Let's consider this a little further, not forgetting that ultimately we are thinking about what happens when a person becomes a Christian. Consider: “ we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Now whatever else you might think this verse says, it implies that when we come to Christ, God already knows the sort of person we are and what our potential is. Now potential is a combination of natural gifting, spiritual gifting that God wants to give us, and availability and openness of heart. All those things, I believe, contribute to what God can do with us. In the New Testament the Lord used a scholar (the apostle Paul), a professional, a doctor (Luke), an ordinary fisherman (Peter) and another ordinary fisherman (John). As a result, churches were planted all over the place and an amazing repository of fundamental teaching was produced (Paul), an early history of Jesus' ministry and that of the early church established (Luke), a church established under apostolic calling (Peter), and the long-term witness of that church built up with deeper understanding of Jesus (John). Different people, different personalities, different abilities, different potential. So who have we got in the part of the body where we are located? What is my gifting? How do all these things fit together? What is God putting on our hearts (not merely the heart of the leader)? What is God saying through the prophets and prophetic people? If we pay attention to these things, we will not have square pegs in round holes, people serving out of guilt trying to fulfil someone else's ministry, people running out of resources and becoming a problem themselves.


Fourth, and I believe this is often a major problem in the modern church, we look to what needs doing in the church, and the needs of the community around the church, while failing to care for the sheep within the church. I wonder in how many churches, where a large number, for a variety of reasons, have been wounded or damaged by life, are now living by putting on a brave face, being one of God's children, and their inner needs and hurts are not being ministered to because the church is too taken up with ‘outreach' without getting the balance. That is both uncaring and unrighteous and stops people being effective members of the body of Christ, because deep down those hurts from the past produce doubts and questions in the present. It also probably means that when people from outside are helped, are saved, their deepest needs are similarly not addressed because the whole work is too shallow.


Fifth , because the church direction is lacking God's wisdom and empowering, the various areas of service are not being done as they should and so are done badly, resulting in little fruit and blessing, and those involved become weary and exhausted and downcast. There is also frequently a failure to recognise the spiritual dynamics or spiritual warfare (which we'll consider later in the series) involved in what we are doing, and thus we can find the enemy running rings round us. The error here is the failure to understand the situation and failure to equip and empower God's people to cope with it.


A Right Approach: So how do we sum up these things? First we must be clear: service is not to be a legalistic outworking of the guilty conscience of the church. It is to be the loving expression or outworking of the relationship we have with our Lord, whereby we come to realise who we are – sons and daughters of God – realise that He has purposes for us (see Eph 2:10) and when we move in them, He will guide us into what He wants us to be doing and that will bless both us and those we serve. Moreover He will guide us as to how we do it (with wisdom) and empower us with His Spirit so that we will be fruitful.


“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (Jn 4:34) As we do what God gives us to do – in His way, with His empowering – it will be like food and will nourish us. Moreover, note the words, “and to finish his work”. We will not have projects that fade away from lack of energy and lack of fruit. Consider the will of the Father for Jesus for three years: success, blessing, thousands taught, thousands healed, many delivered from demons, some even raised from the dead. THAT was fruitful service.


And So? Is it down to The Leader? We are a body and so there are many different gifts and abilities within the local body. Collectively we need to wait on the Lord for His vision – that builds, restores and blesses the church internally, and then blesses the world round about us with His love and goodness. One man gets only a partial vision. “victory is won through many advisers.” (Prov 11:14 Also 15:22, 24:6) The good news is that we are not called to serve alone. Service is the flow of life from Jesus to his people (vine and branches), a flow through the body of Christ with its many parts that blesses both the servant and the served. May it be so. As we move into the next part of this series, on what the Church actually is, we will start with the vital subject of ‘vision' that we have just mentioned.



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

23. The Significance of Vision


Prov 29:18 (NKJV) Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint (or ‘no prophetic vision' )

Prov 29:18 (AV) Where there is no vision, the people perish

Prov 29:18 (Message) If people can't see what God is doing,    they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals,    they are most blessed

Eph 2:10 we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


At Last: At last we come near to the subject of the Church itself. In Part 1 we considered reasons for approaching the subject of the Church, in Part 2 we considered what made Christians different, and in Part 3 we considered the making of a Christian, or what happens to change the person. The Church is made up of people, that's what ‘church' is, we saw from the early days, and so it was important to cover these previous studies, but now we come to what church actually is, and in so doing I hope we may be able to get a completely fresh insight into who or what this body of people is supposed to be, at least according to the New Testament, the whole of the New Testament, and we will do it in this particular Part by focusing on the subject of ‘vision'. In this short Part we will cover:

23. The Significance of Vision

24. More on ‘Why Vision?'

25. The God Focus

26. Spiritual Expressions

27. Building People


Vision? I couldn't help using the Prov 29:18 reference (which we may come back to later) because it always has been a key verse people use for this subject. Having said that, I would simply like to ponder on what vision is and why it is so important. A small anecdote might, however, bring a warning against just going through a procedure. Quite a number of years ago, the church that I led decided to go down this path and so we spent some time waiting on the Lord and formulating that we felt He was saying to us. We came up with a ‘vision statement' which was relatively general, could be easily understood, fitted scripture, and could be applied to any church. Yet it did have specifics that we could work towards. This we did. A number of years later I was aware that we had worked well on this vision with one exception. There was one part we had not got to grips with. Nevertheless, I felt we were still on track. That was until someone said one day, “We don't have a vision!” To cut a long story short, with an extended leadership team, we spent another complete year, starting from scratch, praying and seeking for clarity. By the end of this long and not always happy process, we came up with an end result. I will never forget the day that one of the newer members of our leadership team looked at this end product and said, “You know, this is identical to the one we had those years back.”


Lessons? I think, having gone through that double process, there are some lessons to be learnt. First , it is good to wait on the Lord to seek for a sense of purpose and direction. Second , if you do formulate a ‘mission statement', it should have specifics within it that you can work towards in such a way that you know you have achieved them, i.e. in some way or other they should be measurable. Third , it is vitally important I believe that we convey the statement to the church and catch their heart with it so that they are all on board with it. That means, as I noted above, that it is in line with scripture and easily explainable and people can see what they are working towards. Fourth , it is equally important that it is not merely a piece of paper that is trotted out at an annual ‘vision Sunday' but is something that a) the whole leadership buys into, b) is constantly brought before the church as a reminder of where we are going, and c) we constantly check all we are doing against.


But why? It is important that we understand that the vision we have been talking about is something we, collectively as this local church, are working on to achieve something we can all understand. But why, I still hear. Stop and think of some of the things we have covered previously. How we come to the Lord: conviction, repentance, conversion, and so on. We have become a Christian and we have a life that is now (or at least starting to be) as different as chalk is from cheese in comparison to what it used to be. We know, at the outset, little of the teaching of the New Testament (if not the whole Bible) about God, Jesus and who we now are. There is a whole new world and whole new future ahead of us. We need teaching. On a desert island over many years, alone with a Bible, we could come to our own conclusions, but we are now relating to a whole bunch of other people who have also arrived at this same point as you – some of them many years back, and we find they have ideas, standards, approaches to life, that are quite alien to what we have known in the past. Moreover we find that we too have a different way of thinking about the world around us and we soon catch the idea that the Bible has a lot to say about all of this.


We need teaching: But then these things start to really sink in and we realise we are part of a corporate body, that the Bible speaks about and so when we are harmonising and working together with others in this ‘body', the church, we can achieve greater things. How and why? We need teaching. Now this process of us as individuals and us as a body is a long-term process. It is going somewhere. I touched on this in Study no.3 in Part 1 when I gave an example of a part of a vision from the past: “It would be a place where learning was normal, new believers shown the way, introduced to the Bible, prayer, fellowship, worship and witness, and introduced to the life in the Spirit, introduced to gifts and abilities in the kingdom of God, released, and equipped to find their place in the body that expresses the kingdom of God.” (We also considered the subject of learning in Study No.18). Now I wonder if this is the outlook, expectation, or vision of your local church, or do people simply turn up week in, week out, participate in the service and go away without any ‘big picture' of an underlying purpose to what is going on (which will be much bigger that just this element – the whole of this Part really answers this).


Less formally: Sometimes the formal approach is limited, I believe, in conveying something of what we believe the heart of God wants for us. Here is another example of part of a vision that came from one of the women members when I invited our church years back to write: “It would be a place where people meet with Jesus and their lives changed. People would leave wanting more. The place would be used at other times for Bible studies, full of relevance and LIFE!!! Banquets to invite friends to …. not Outreach, no, no, no! It would just happen as people came in contact with those who knew Jesus, as they saw our lives and community. Old people's groups, coffee mornings, drop in centre, toddler group, creative group, singing, kids, young peeps having coffee, discussion, a place to be. Stillness group, listening group. The Police would be dropping in often to chat, we would be able to work with them and minister to them too. Other counsellors, people in the community, would also just turn up, be interested, involved. Much prayer, much ministry, all sorts, vibrant, real, true.”


Life Flowing: Wow! I emphasized that it was written by a woman, because I think it just oozes ‘relationships', because so often the women of the church are so much better at that aspect. In fact, strangely enough just recently, we brought together a small group to meet for an evening to wait upon the Lord and just be His kids together and see what would happen, and it just happened to include the lady who wrote that passage many years ago. After the evening she instantly instigated a Whats App group for this little gathering which will meet monthly, and instantly there was banter and chatter and relationship communication that would have not been possible twenty years ago. My instinctive reaction was, “Wow, how wonderful – life! Life flowing between the members of this group in a dimension that had not been possible on that first evening. Incredible! Relationships! Awesome!”


And so? And so in this first introductory study about vision, although I haven't identified it as such, I have been talking about expressions of what Paul spoke about to the Ephesians: “ we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” (Eph 2:10) and as much as I think that applies to us as individuals, I also believe it applies to us as the corporate body we call the local church. There is much more to say and we'll say some of it in the next two studies. For the moment can I finish with some outline notes I sent to a colleague a year or so back as he was struggling with the whole concept of vision:


Vision is:

a) a picture of how the future can be, combined with

b) achievable goals that are understood by the people and are seen to be do-able by the grace of God,

c) an action plan of a course to be followed that

  i) identifies the gifts within the church,

  ii) releases people and enables people to use their gifts (and thus feel fulfilled),

  iii) includes teaching that envisions the hope and the means of achieving it, and

  iv) specific training that equips and releases people to play their part in the body.


Vision is about getting:

•  The heart of God for our future
•  The wisdom of God how to achieve it
•  The power and anointing of God for it to be achieved by God through us.


Vision, to become fruitful, must

•  Come from the heart of God
•  Touch the lives and hearts of the people
•  Be bought into by the majority
•  Be spoken of regularly
•  Be worked at continually


It is not restatement of where we are but where we're going.




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

24. More on ‘Why Vision?'


Prov 29:18 (NKJV) Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint (or ‘no prophetic vision' )

Prov 29:18 (AV) Where there is no vision, the people perish

Prov 29:18 (Message) If people can't see what God is doing,    they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals,   they are most blessed

Eph 2:10 we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


Starting Point: I have at the top of these two recent studies used a variety of versions of that favourite verse in Proverbs because I believe the different versions bring out different things and it is worth pondering on (OK, meditating upon) them. In a third study I want to go, as so often happens to go backwards are consider most simply a couple of key, fundamental, basic, vital, essential, major, crucial (I've run out of words to make my point) elements of the life of the church which, I suspect, any talk of vision should include, but for the moment I want to hold on and ponder these verse expressions.


People Perish: I was brought up initially on the Authorised Version, the old King James Version, where we find this sharp but bald statement, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Now Proverbs is a strange book in that unlike most other books there is not a flow and so we so often have to say, “Check the context!” but in Proverbs, mostly we find individual statements that do not flow on from one another. (It is possible here but it is a bit of a stretch!) But actually we have quoted the whole of the verse which reads, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The back half, counter-balancing the first half, indicates that the absence of vision here refers to an ignorance of, and therefore failure to keep, the Law of Moses. We might more generalise this to remind ourselves of what we said in the previous study, that coming into this new life in Christ means we need a lot of teaching. Part of our future goal for our church must include this aspect of growth for our people, a need to be taught, which is why in the previous study, the short example I cited started, “ It would be a place where learning was normal, new believers shown the way…..”


In the past, I would have referred to texts on preaching by Martyn Lloyd-Jones or John Stott (even quoted by Americans!) but today the modern text I have found excellent is that of Timothy Keller, simply entitled, ‘Preaching'. In the notes on chapter 1 (and his notes at the back are sometimes as long as the main text!) he reveals the strategy he has for ensuring a broad spectrum of expository preaching each year so that the often-transient population today gets a wide but basic spread of teaching over a short period of time. It is worth reading. The absence of such teaching, Solomon suggests in Proverbs, means that people perish or die.


The apostle Paul wrote, “ Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”   How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom 10:13,14) Part of our ‘vision' must therefore be a reminder to ourselves that sharing the Gospel is an essential to the life of any church for without it, the people - maybe some in the pews, and certainly those outside are destined to perish. I would also add that I believe the absence of good teaching within the church means the people hunger and, if it continues, hunger leads to starvation and starvation to death (the absence of life). Is this why in more liberal churches, a diet of little moral homilies means an absence of life in what is virtually a sterile congregation, one that is far from that envisaged in the New Testament?


Removal of Restraint: But then the more modern version have this, “ there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint ,” and the implication there is that, as the whole Bible shows, there are boundaries within life, because of the way that God has designed us, and where those boundaries prescribed by the Law in the Old Testament or the apostles teaching in the New, are cast off then behaviour and practice appears very little different from the world around us, with all of the problems that are observable there today. Of course the classic example in the Old Testament of a people casting off restraint is the situation with the golden calf at Sinai while Moses was up the mountain, and the end product of their casting off restraint, quickly forgetting Moses and quickly forgetting the revelation of God that had so recently had, was the making of an idol. Idolatry seems to be such a quick response in the human mind after rejecting, ignoring or forgetting God, and so we might suggests that today the rejecting of God in much Western society means not only a casting off of restraint in terms of behaviour, especially in respect of human relationships, but also turning to idolatry in the form that is seen in the way society has “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” ( Rom 1:25) We need to teach what the Bible teaches to steer our people away from this folly.


It is interesting that the NKJV that we cited at the start has as an alternative, “no prophetic vision” which extends understanding of this from the Law from the past, to God's specific intentions for us for the future. As we concluded the previous study, it is not restatement of where we are but where we're going that we should be looking for in vision. Vision is about what is ahead. When we look at the modern church we so often see an absence of spiritual life and vibrancy that is revealed through the New Testament and this comes from an absence of anointed preaching and clear vision with goals to which we should be aiming. If a people do not see the clear path ahead, they will wander all over the place and be picked off by the enemy of souls who watches for stragglers in the flock. Our vision should aim for being a holy people, a righteous people who adhere firmly to God's word, especially in these days, as far as behaviour and outlook is concerned.


See what God is doing: But the Message version's paraphrase take on this verse is equally illuminating and adds to the thoughts about ‘prophetic vision': “ If people can't see what God is doing,    they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals,   they are most blessed.” See that – “if people can't see what God is doing.” There is a challenge for those who say God is at a distance and doesn't speak any longer now the canon of Scripture is complete or reveal Himself personally. Jesus said, “ the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. ” (Jn 5:19,20) That was the divine pattern and it still applies to us as the expression of his body today that we will consider in detail in later studies. So dare we pray today, “Lord please show us where you want to move our local society and how you want to use us in what you do”? Should we include in our vision something like, “We will be a body that listens to the directions of heaven and follow God's direction into whatever areas of service He leads us into in the local community”? Perhaps the prophets will discern specific areas of local ministry that He wishes to lead us into. The key question is, will we be a listening and watching community of God's people who are ready and available to serve Him in the things that are on His heart? May it be so.


A Stumbling People: Vision is all about clarity of purpose and creating a clearly defined people. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” (Jn 8:12, 9:5) Light shows the way, making the path ahead clear. In the absence of light, in the darkness, we stumble and fall about. But he also said to us, “You are the light of the world,” (Mt 5:14) and when he went on to say, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven,” (v.16) he is putting purpose into our steps so that as we, “we walk in the light , as he is in the light ,” (1 Jn 1:7) we will shed light around us, showing the way to others. If we are a people who know little or nothing of the presence of God, without any vision of God, it is not surprising that we stumble and fall, and that we tolerate behaviour that the Bible speaks against.


And So? Each of these ways of seeing this verse point out specific truths to us. We need vision that is based in His word and in the leading of His Holy Spirit. Failure to get that vision means people perish, they die for lack of salvation, they die for lack of feeding. Failure to get that vision means that people cast off restraint that should be stopped by a clear declaration of the word of God, both written and prophetic. That should remind us who we are and where we are going. This vision should be part of the light that Jesus brings and when we are able to walk in it, we will not stumble and fall. For these reasons vision is essential to the church.



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

25. The God-Focus


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

Eph 2:10 we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


Starting Point: In the previous study, referring to this one, I said I want, as so often happens, to go backwards and consider most simply a couple of key elements of the life of the church which, I suspect, any talk of vision should include. A while back I had cause to think through some of this to help a struggling colleague who needed help in focusing on what church was all about and I found I summarised what I suggested in two suggestions. First, make the ‘Spiritual' the keystone of your direction, the starting point and then, second, make ‘building people' your second priority.


The God Focus: But does this mean? (We have said something of this in the very early studies but it does require reiterating in greater detail). It means first and foremost ‘church' is all about God. That may appear so obvious we miss it and I am certain in much modern church life it is missed. I have already picked up on this in various ways in earlier studies but let me ask you a question. If your church has a website or maybe a Facebook page, would any wandering investigator who came across either of those be struck by the God-centredness of them or would they, like one church Facebook page I know, think they have simply come across a nice social group and no more. A church website, if it fails to point visitors to God (as well as explaining who they are, when they meet and where they can be found) has forgotten their reason for existing. Facebook pages, I suggest are ideal places to drop nuggets of Biblical truth and testimonies. But the impression I get sometimes is that we are often ashamed to mention what we believe and what has happened to us.


Unbelief, which I believe is so common throughout the modern church, is often exhibited by refusal to talk about God and appear ‘spiritual'. I had an example of this a while back when a church I know was holding a Christmas Bazaar. Christmas, the time that celebrates Immanuel, God with us! This year that church decided to set aside a small corner of the lounge next to the hall that was being used for the main Bazaar and it was being suggested that some spiritual posters be put up to create the right atmosphere and in that little area, one or two people would be there to answer people's question who might come and stop and talk. “You mean to pray over people?” asked one of the volunteers. “Oh no,” said the woman organiser, “people don't want to be prayed over.” Well actually our experience tells yes they do, but we might leave that to a later study. Now to be fair that wasn't the attitude of all of the church but it does demonstrate unbelief.


Relationship, Expression and Ministry: Because this is so fundamental, I think I need to go into basics-mode here. God reveals Himself to us as the supreme Father, the Creator of all things – God! But He also reveals Himself as the Son, begotten (brought out of) of the Father, the one who came to earth to reveal the Father's love, give his life as a ransom for many, be raised from the dead and ascend back into heaven where he is now seated at his Father's right hand ruling over all things, ruling in the midst of his enemies until they have all been put under his feet and he hands the kingdom back to the Father. (If you are not sure on all these things then I recommend an earlier series, “Focus on Christ”). But He also reveals Himself as the Holy Spirit, the executive arm of the Godhead, if you like, God expressed to us in daily experience, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, yes the Holy Spirit. Now all three of these expressions, I suggest, should be known and understood by any and every church member who has been around longer than a few months.


But how do we express relationship with this multi-revealed Godhead. Well commonly we pray addressing ‘Father' or ‘Lord Jesus' (personally I dislike ‘God' because it is like addressing me as ‘man') but when it comes to power or revelation experience we refer to the Holy Spirit, often asking the Lord, perhaps, to “let your Spirit fill me with grace and wisdom” or whatever else it may be. How many churches, despite the history of the last hundred years, still never move in the dimension of the Spirit? We'll talk more about this in a later study or three! How many Pentecostal or Charismatic churches never allow the Spirit space to guide, inspire, bring revelation or healing and release?


The Obedience Factor: So great has this cloud of unbelief come in many churches (there are notable exceptions of churches and streams in the Western churches) that I believe we have to almost make a point of emphasising this in our vision expressions. One such exceptional stream I know and highly respect declares, “we have made worship our highest priority, believing that it is God's desire that we become, first, worshippers of God.” This may appeal to young worship-orientated Christians but it does not emphasise the word that comes up so many times in the New Testament, “obey”. I know this particular stream would wholeheartedly affirm ‘obedience' but, I suggest, in the light of many church trends it needs speaking out more clearly. The apostle John was really strong on this in his letter (note every chapter!): ”If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth,” (1 Jn 1:6), and “ Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person,” (1 Jn 2:4) and Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth,” (1 Jn 3:18) and “ whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister,” (1 Jn 4:20,21) and this is love for God: to keep his commands,” ( 1 Jn 5:3) perhaps echoing the truth of his master's words, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching,” (Jn 14:23) also echoed in the Synoptics, for example, “ go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20)


And So? Time and space runs out so we will continue this in the next study, but for the moment, let's take this reminder from this study, “ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment,” said Jesus (Mt 22:37,38) This, in vision terms, perhaps we should be declaring as, “we are seeking to create a growing community of God's people, who know and love Him and express their love in obedience to His word and His Spirit.” We shouldn't ever take that for granted and so need to be regularly declaring it in grace.




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

26. Spiritual Expressions


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

Eph 2:10 we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

27. Building People


Mt 23:39 the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'

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.”


Vision Focus: We perhaps need to remind ourselves we are reflecting upon what it means to have a vision for our church, trying to catch something in more general or overall terms of what the New Testament shows is upon God's heart and which we can work towards. Without vision, we have suggested, people die from lack of hearing the word and from lack of being fed. In the last two studies we have majored on the need to be God-centred, a spiritual people, but there is another side to this coin, people. Someone, in a conversation with me about the direction of the church, recently uttered the words, “Well people don't matter.” I spluttered back, “But they do. They mattered to Jesus so they must matter to us.”


The Jesus Approach: It is perhaps so familiar to us at Christmas that we perhaps forget it, but part of the Christmas story – and especially as it flows out of Isaiah's prophecies – is ‘Immanuel – God with us'. The incarnation is all about God leaving heaven in the form of His Son and coming and living as a human being (not as an angel or some other ‘spirit-being') to share in the experience of humanity and to reveal His love to us through that channel – as a human being . Yes, it is vital that we restore the God-focus to church but equally that we catch afresh the significance of being human beings made in the image of God who Jesus came to save.


As we read through the Gospels we see Jesus calling twelve men to travel with him for three years, to be with him, learning of him, to be like him. There were also a number of women who also travelled with him, and with whom he appears completely comfortable. But then the Gospels are filled with personal encounters, Jesus interacting with individual human beings, but when it comes to references to people groups we find he was completely at ease with the tax-collectors, prostitutes, and ‘sinners', the riff-raff of society. Yes, he ate and drank with socialites as well and so we see him with a wide spectrum of people.


Thinking about People: The Church is about people and so perhaps we should consider, in the context of vision, what we think about that we do as people, with people. Perhaps we could consider a) how we relate on a normal daily basis with one another in church, b) how we view past hurts, c) how we go about serving together and d) how we go about reaching out to others, all good valid points for consideration as we look forward and ask, “What sort of church is it that God wants?”


Daily Encounters: The ethos of the church has to be love (and we'll consider this in detail at a later stage). Very briefly, our starting point is, “For God so love d the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16) to which John adds in his letter, “This is love : not that we love d God, but that he love d us and sent his Son,” (1 Jn4:10) i.e. it starts with God's love for us. As we experience that and are filled with the Spirit of love (for “God is love” – 1 Jn 4:8,16) we respond to Jesus command, “My command is this: Love each other as I have love d you.” (Jn 15:12) We do this by loving, caring and accepting one another, learning to be encouragers, being there for one another. This is the starting vision we would want to convey, a church for whom people are important.


The Past is Important: Now I have referred to this already in a past study, but a danger that we have is to assume that once a person becomes a Christian, everything is fine and the past is sorted out. History and experience shows that this is not always so. Why? We live in a fallen world and a world that in the past century (at least here in the West) that has strayed badly from God's norms. Thus we have many people damaged by past relationships going wrong. But it's not just that, there are hurts from things beyond our control, inabilities to conceive, death of babies, death of children, death of loved ones prematurely through disease, all of these things cause hurts and often leave deep scars. Over the years I have had the opportunity to be in contact with ministries that minister to all of these sorts of things and I conclude, after having watched this for many years, that in any church of any size, part of their vision must be to seek healing for their hurting members, either through regularly (perhaps once a year?) bringing in an outside ministry, or training up our own people to so minister. All part of vision.


Serving Together: We have covered this in some detail in the two previous studies on servant-heartedness, so let's abbreviate this to creating a church where individual gifts can be discerned and encouraged and developed and given space in which to operate. A big subject we will no doubt cover again before we finish.


Reaching Out Together: To misquote Jesus' parable (Mt 13:45,46), having found a pearl of great price we will want others to find it as well. Now let's try and remove some guilt from church. There will be those who have the gift of an evangelist (Eph 4:11, 2 Tim 4:5) and we need to encourage them, protect them and give them space and opportunity in which to operate. But we are not all evangelists. Some of us are what I call ‘people-people', people who are natural communicators who get on well with anyone, but not everyone is like that. Introverts (and it is not a sin to be an introvert!) are not naturals like that. Yes, Jesus does call us all to be witnesses of his, and so there will come times when in conversations we need to speak out for him, but it does require sensitivity. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Pet 3:15) Some of us are good at creating and making such opportunities, others of us will just be salt and light and then have people asking about us.


Preparation: Now if you anticipate having such a conversation, because a friend or family member asks you about your faith, about God or about church or anything spiritual, it is useful to prepare before hand what you are going to say. To save space, here I will simply suggest that part of our vision is to prepare our people for this, train and equip them to be witnesses or evangelists, and within that, design special services or special gatherings (or just meals) where not-yet-believing friends or family can be invited in to hear and consider the possibilities of faith. Unless we put it in our vision, it probably won't happen.


And So? So there it is: vision is presenting a picture of what we believe God has on His heart for us in such a way that we can see things to work on, goals to aim for. If it is of God's heart and we get God's grace to share it, we should win over the vast majority of our flock to it, to enter into a future that draws us closer to God, enables us to experience His presence, His equipping, and His empowering, and gives us exciting purpose and direction for the days ahead. The excitement is in what we could become with His enabling and linked with that will be anticipation of the church changing and us bringing changes to the world around us – for good! So I guess it is time we moved on into the real stuff that thinks of what church is about in real terms. As we go into the next Part, perhaps with an eye to where we have been in this part, I want to start by considering what would we do if we were starting utterly from scratch. So take a dose of amnesia, sit down on a desert island with a Bible, and see what might happen.