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Series Theme: The Wonder of the Church

The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

44. Uniqueness


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


   Taken for Granted: So much of the time, we as Christians take so much for granted. We became a Christian, we entered into the life of the church, if we have moved we may have experienced more than one local church community, we may have even tried out more than one local church community, but the fact is we ‘know church'.


The trouble is quite often we only know ‘our church' and that means we have little knowledge of the bigger wider world of the church. To make the point that I want to draw out of this particular study, may I share something of my own experience and then you will see where it is going.


Growth: My own experience, my own local church for a number of years, was a little independent evangelical church. Have said it was independent, the reality was that it was part of a small denomination – until the Holy Spirit started moving among us and the denomination asked us to move on. We were quite small and so having heard about ‘House Churches' we decided to meet (somewhat squashed) for three weeks in our front room. After that we made use of a public building that had a lounge in it that catered for us for a year or so. The amazing thing was that as soon as we moved out of the denomination (a long and quite exciting story) we started growing in numbers until a year or so later we had to move into a larger venue where we stayed, gradually taking over larger and larger rooms, and there we stayed for over two decades.


Bigger Changes: So far, we are still an independent little evangelical church with some charismatic leanings, but God in His grace didn't leave us like that. In the period of transition out of the denomination, the Lord wonderfully – and the story is too long to share here – put us into contact with one of the ‘streams' operating in the UK, in which all the Ephesian 4 ministries were recognised and operated. This meant lots of help and lots of outside input which was quite amazing. As people and as a church we grew and developed amazingly and various of us had opportunities to travel abroad with international ministries which also developed us. Jump forward twenty years and I felt the time was approaching where, because of age, I should retire, step down and let our leadership team carry on.


Moving On: To give them space to grow, my wife and I left, so they would not be constantly looking over their shoulders for my approval. We searched the local churches and settled in a lovely little congregation of another completely independent free church where we stayed, seeking to serve for some six years, as opportunity arose, until we felt it was time to move on. We moved into a larger denominational church where I have some measure of input. Now without naming them, this is an evangelical denomination that prides itself on being Bible believing and evangelistic, reaching out into the local community in a number of ways – all of which are excellent. There is also a charismatic undercurrent which the Minister desires to grow.


But…. But here's the thing, in the light of the nearly two decades of operating with apostles and prophets, we find in the two churches we have experienced since I ‘retired' a remarkable absence of teaching, knowledge of spiritual matters and spiritual warfare, linked to an absence of vision and understanding what vision is about. As we have pondered on this, we realise how rich our previous experience was, having apostles and prophets about, let alone excellent teachers. In the previous part on leadership I wrote about how, having known and experienced apostolic ministry first-hand, these apostles, men who were clearly church-planters, church-builders, men of faith, vision, power and authority, impacted the local church, energised and motivated the local church on, released faith and vision and enabled and equipped and empowered new leaders and new ministries. They were and are, if you like, God's catalysts. In their absence, the only word I feel that accurately describes the local church in the West is ‘moribund' meaning, as various dictionaries put it, in bad condition, veering towards death. Declining denominational numbers suggest this is true.


What is Missing? Apart from the obvious things I have just referred to, what are the ingredients of the New Testament church that are so often missing in the church of today. I suspect for many, if I mention four particular ingredients that were there two thousand years ago but so often are not today, there will simply be a gentle raising of an eyebrow which, if it is true, simply denotes an absence of understanding of four of the vital life forces of the Church. They are Vision, Power, Obedience and Faith. If you don't believe me, it may be because you are a rarity, a member of a local church where these four things are very obviously demonstrated. Alternatively you may simply not understand what I mean by these four, and so I hope the following pages may explain something of what I believe is often an absence of ‘life' in the modern church. Although we have considered ‘vision' in Part 4, I will include one further study as an overview of the need for vision, what is it and so on. Stick with me if you can. But we will pick up the other three before we finish this Part.


The Uniqueness of the Church: And so to the title of this final Part. In Part 2 – A Different People, I looked at some of the things that make the ‘church' different from any other group or organisation. Now we might say that a business has vision as the senior members of the company focus on their product, how they will develop it and where they will sell it and how they may trade most economically to obtain the greatest profit. Those won't be the constituents of our vision, but it is vision. If we speak of such a business as having power, it is a completely different use of the word from that which we will find in the New Testament; that we will examine later on. To use the words obedience and faith in connection with a business is a complete misnomer, unless of course it is a company run by Christians who seek the express guidance of God.


So vision, yes, power, most definitely and obedience and faith, unquestionably. These four we desperately need in the Church today if we are even to survive, yet more, to flourish. The pressures of modern life in the West, as I have written in Study 4 of Part 1 of this series, threaten on one hand to crush the modern church, or on the other hand, simply to mould it into its own image, which is very different from the unique organism seen in the New Testament. These four things that we will examine here are, I suggest, the most crucial issues in the life of the church and will be determinants of its future. I hope you pray over each of these studies but please, please, do pray over the remaining ones in this penultimate Part so that possibly together we may catch fire and become instruments that Jesus can use in these Last Days.




The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

45. Another quick look at Vision


Acts 10:3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision . He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”


   Got the Tee-Shirt: OK, we've been there, done ‘vision', got the tee-shirt , “Vision is about Seeing Clearly”, so what more is there to say? In Study No.23 we considered the significance of vision, that it provides purpose and direction for our church to pursue. In Study No.24 we noted the reality of the teaching of Prov 29:18 that without vision we go astray, life ebbs away and death ensues. It is that important. In Study No. 25 we considered the need to be a God-focused people, a people who relate everything about our lives and our church experience to God, being and growing as a spiritual people, and in Study No.26 we expanded on that. But if God is to be at the heart of our vision for church, then running a close second there is to be concern for people, and that we looked at in Study No.27. Those we suggested are to be the key issues at the heart of our vision. So again we might ask, what more is there to say?


   Critical Importance: I feel the need to underscore all these things above in this final study on Vision and seek to emphasise how critical this subject is for the modern church. The casual approach to church simply says, we'll we've got it all there in the New Testament, so let's just follow what we have there – and that is right, in as far as it goes. Having said vision is critical, I am putting it alongside power, obedience and faith as equally critical ingredients for the church today. Why? Two reasons. First, the negative reason, because in reality so often these ingredients are missing from the modern church and that is seen in the poor quality of church life – life compared to what we find in the teaching in the New Testament, that is. Second, because these four ingredients have the capability, I believe, of transforming the church from something that is being constantly side-lined by the modern world which, as I said previously, threatens on one hand to crush it, or on the other hand, to mould it into its own image, and make it into what it is supposed to be – a God-glorifying, life-transforming and community impacting body. Let's look at an illustration of this from the New Testament.


   Peter & Cornelius: So here is the church that has come into being. Jesus has ascended into heaven but has poured out his Holy Spirit on the believers and life is pouring forth – but it is Jewish and looks like it will stay Jewish. Now Jesus had said to them, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) but one has to suggest that they took this to mean that they would witness into all the Jewish communities around the world because when Peter, as one of the key leaders of the apostles in the Jerusalem mother church, received a vision challenging him to put aside the past and accept whatever God was putting before him, he struggled with this on the grounds that it compromised his Jewishness. He submits to God's challenge and ends up preaching in the house of Cornelius, a Gentile.


The Effect: As a result of that – and we tend to forget this – he has to explain all that happened to the leaders back in Jerusalem and we read, When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18) i.e. the door to the world was opened in the minds of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, a bit later we find various Jewish believers in Jerusalem were still insisting on all believers being circumcised (Acts 15:5). It is then that Peter stood up and declared, “ you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:7-11) Thus when Barnabas and Paul described what God had done through them with the Gentiles, this became easily accepted (v.12 on). Peter accepting the literal vision he had received in respect of Cornelius opened the way for the Gospel to go to the rest of the word – Jew AND Gentile – a wider vision than that held previously by them.


Other ‘Visions': If we accept that ‘vision' refers to the revelation of God as to what He wants to achieve through His people, we can see that His words to Abram in Gen 15:13-16 speaking of the next four hundred years, was clearly vision. Similarly when the Lord spoke to Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3 & 4) it was clearly vision. Indeed we might go further and say when anyone is inspired of God to declare the future possibilities that is vision, so God's words to Samuel to anoint David (1 Sam 16:1) is about a new vision for Israel's future. When David declares before Saul (1 Sam 17:34-37) his intention to kill Goliath, it is vision built on past experience and, although not explicitly stated there, a surge of faith in David. Vision is thus clearly the impartation of revelation from God to His people to release faith in them to step out and do His works.


Growth of Vision: Vision for the local church starts, I suggest, with stating the obvious things of what God wants for His church as shown in the teaching of the New Testament. That is really what all these studies have been about, about establishing a vision of what the church of the New Testament is all about. Now the sad thing is that because of weakness in teaching in many places, and absence of the motivating ministries of the apostle and prophet, many of these things are not known by many Christians. Thus they become part of a foundation to be laid on which to build faith and vision in modern believers. Now as we go about doing that, I believe we will find the Holy Spirit enlarging our faith so our leadership and congregation start getting excited with specific things He puts on their hearts to become or do in respect of the church itself and the local community, and this will be unique to each individual local church community. Thus laying down this foundation and allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate it, will become one of the four motivating forces that can set the church on fire in God's hands and become that God-glorifying, life-transforming and community-impacting body I referred to earlier. May it be so. Amen. Right, we need to move on now to the first of the other three ingredients, power.



The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

46. Power – for life transformation


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

Rom 8:9-11   You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.   If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.


   Taken for Granted: I have a feeling that we take the word ‘power' for granted in some parts of the church. As you may have gathered if you look back over the full sweep of this series, my mind ebbs and flows rather like the waves on the seashore and so there is a sense that some of the things that I suspect may emerge here, have already been touched upon when we talked about ‘life' in an earlier study, but I feel that this subject is of vital importance in that it distinguishes Christian thought and experience from non-Christian, and nominal believer from real believer. Rather that lay out a systematic, possibly soulless outline on the theme of ‘power', I think we may be fed more from Scripture if we meander our way through verses in a more organic way, seeing where the thoughts lead us.


   What is Power? I wonder what John the Baptist's followers thought when they heard him telling the crowd, “after me comes one who is more power ful than I.” (Mt 3:11) Now John was a pretty powerful speaker. Having heard Billy Graham in the past, I would have said he also was a pretty powerful speaker. In fact the modern church has many ‘powerful speakers', but was that what was meant about Jesus? I don't think so. Why? Well, later on in his ministry we find people asking about Jesus, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous power s ?” (Mt 13:54) which must refer back to, “T hen they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.” (Mt 12:22) Prior to that Jesus told John's disciples to tell him what they had seen: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised.” (Mt 11:5) Later the apostle Peter was to sum up all this as: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs , which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22) Power, seen through Jesus' ministry was God's life force exercising authority to bring physical and spiritual changes to people.


   More than Words: We have already pondered on the use of power in respect of preaching but there is a danger here that we can short-change the kingdom of God. Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power .” (1 Cor 4:20) When Herod heard about Jesus, having known about John the Baptist – and having had him beheaded! – he knew that John was a powerful preacher, but he recognised that something was going on with Jesus that was more than what happened through John, hence he speculated, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous power s are at work in him.” (Mt 14:2) This is the primary thing that distinguished Jesus from John, the power of God. During his teaching, Jesus chided the Sadducees, “you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Mt 22:29) I simply make that point because there he noted two distinct things: knowing the Scriptures and knowing the power of God. We (leaders) often pride ourselves on our knowledge of the Scriptures, but I wonder about the power of God?


   Power of the Word for Salvation: Now I think ‘power' is used in two ways in respect of how we come to Christ, how we are born again. First, there is a more general sense. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Rom 1:16) There is a process that is followed for elsewhere he wrote, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Rom 10:17) having earlier written, “a person is justified by faith,” (Rom 3:28) and went on to say, it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Rom 10:10)


So the process, which we have considered earlier in this series, is the word is preached to us, the Holy Spirit applies it to us and we are convicted by it in such a way that the power of unbelief in us is broken, and so we confess our sins and repent of them and receive the salvation that God offers us through Jesus' finished work on the Cross. It is a combined work of applied Word AND Spirit, creating the power to release us to repent. (At one point Paul taught Timothy about, “the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Tim 2:25 suggesting the work and gift of God, the help of the Spirit, to bring about repentance.)


Power of the Spirit for Salvation: The second way ‘power' is used in respect of our salvation is through the specific indwelling of the Holy Spirit that comes about at conversion. Jesus referred to this power when speaking to Nicodemus when he likened the coming of the Holy Spirit to wind – power. To his disciples he said of the Spirit, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17) The apostle Paul was to refer again and again to the Spirit in our lives, for example, Do you not know that you [ c ] are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” (1 Cor 6:19) It is foundational teaching through the New Testament, as we have seen in earlier studies, that we are ‘new creations' (2 Cor 5:17) brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit who comes and indwells us.


Powerless? What about us today? Paul warned Timothy about the ‘last days', of people who would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:4,5) Do we have a form of Christianity, a form of church, that is embarrassed by such Biblical talk and simply reduces Christianity to ‘being nice' or ‘being religious'? How many churches are there that deny the power of God that transforms lives when they surrender to Christ, not merely transforming them by giving them a new set of rules to live by, but by indwelling them with His Holy Spirit and bringing that transformation from inside-out?


Bible or…..? One of the battles that is being fought over the Church today is the veracity of the Bible. It always has been a battle and always will be, but when it comes to power in the Church, observe the churches that believe the Bible and make it the basis of their beliefs, and there you will see the power of transformed lives. See churches where it is just a background feature to faith, probably where tradition is more important, and you see lack of power. This matter of ‘power for transformation' is the second of the four motivating forces that can set the church on fire in God's hands so that it becomes that God-glorifying, life-transforming and community-impacting body I have referred to earlier.


Believers being transformed is the first step in the power equation; power for service is the second step and that we will go on to consider in the next study. But may I conclude this one with one more comment: I have observed in some places in recent years, a tendency in the church to downplay this power transformation that takes place when a person is ‘born again', and I believe we need to restate it loud and clear and expect to see it when there is a profession of faith being made. I leave it to the Living Bible to have the last say here: we Christians …. (are like) mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him.” ( 2 Cor 3:18) May it be so!



The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

47. Power – for life service


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

Eph 3:14,16 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…   that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being

   Jesus expresses Power: Power accompanies Jesus. It is a word that appears with him a number of times. For example, after his temptation, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” (Lk 4:14) So as he appeared on earth manifesting the power that IS God, so one day he will return: “they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” (Mt 24:30). When he started teaching and healing, “All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” (Lk 4:36) Later Gospel writer Like observed, “And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.” (Lk 5:17) so much so that he goes on to record, “the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” (Lk 6:19) Now this was so obvious and so specific that when a woman simply touched the hem of his garment in her belief that she would be healed, we see, “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mk 5:30) At the end, after he was raised from the dead, the two men who met him on the road to Emmaus testified, “He was a prophet, power ful in word and deed before God and all the people.” (Lk 24:19)


And the apostles: Now many of those verses we have just cited come from Luke's Gospel. Matthew uses power 5 times, Mark 6 times, John 4 times but Luke 14 times. Luke's Gospel is the one, it is said, that portrays Jesus as the servant but clearly the thing that impacted Luke was the power that was expressed through Jesus. But look at what more Luke brings to us: the fact that this power is passed on to Jesus' apostles: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,” (Lk 9:1) and “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you,” (Lk 10:19) and finally in that Gospel, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:49)


Ongoing: This it is that Luke carries on this emphasis when he writes the book we call the Acts of the Apostles: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) i.e. their witness to the world would be because they were empowered by the Spirit. Then, “When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Acts 3:12) i.e. Peter knew that the miraculous healing had not been by his power but by Jesus' power. So, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God's grace was so power fully at work in them all.” (Acts 4:33) This became the ongoing important feature of his testimony about individuals, for example, “Now Stephen , a man full of God's grace and power , performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8) and “Yet Saul grew more and more power ful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts 9:22) Interestingly, in that latter case the power was an intellectual-spiritual power declaring the gospel and overcoming detractors. Peter, testifying about Jesus spoke of, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power , and how he went around doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38)


Paul's Testimony: If we haven't yet got hold of this truth, listen to Paul's testimony: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile,” (Rom 1:16) and, “ I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” (Rom 15:18,19) and, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power , so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power, (1 Cor 2:4,5) and, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power .” (Eph 3:7) It was the power that was the Holy Spirit that brought the Church into being. Grace, the ability to preach, the ability to persevere, call it what you will, was all an expression of the power of Jesus flowing in and through Paul.


And us today? How often do you see this power that we've seen in all these verses, expressed in and through the church today? It seems to me that so often we substitute social events and carefully preplanned services for the power of God. Let's suggest some ways that we should see it if it is in the way of Jesus: transforming people when they come to Christ, delivering people from addictions, fears, doubts etc, bringing healing – mental, emotional and physical – bringing power to preaching & teaching, bringing revelation – words of knowledge, words of wisdom, words or prophecy – all expression of Jesus' ministry. If “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever,” (Heb 13:8) then surely we should be seeing these things in and through the life of the Church today. Do we have a power-full or powerless church today?


A Response: If our honest answer is a negative one, then I suggest we should be seeking the Lord in repentance, asking his forgiveness for having lived in unbelief, and crying out to him for a fresh outpouring of that power in our individual lives and ministries. May it be so.




The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

48. Power – for living


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

49. The Need for Faith


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

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

Rom 10:17 faith comes from hearing the message


   The Need: Back in Study No.13 – A People of Faith – I started out with these same verses above, and so you might wonder what we are doing rerunning this same subject. Well, I need to ask the all-important question, where in our daily individual lives and where in the corporate life of our church, do we see faith? It is there I am sure but one of the things I see Jesus doing more than once is reproving his disciples for their ‘little faith' which implies that you can have little faith and big faith and faith in between, if I may put it like that. In this Part we are running those things that are unique ingredients to the church of the New Testament and, yes, they may be things we have touched on before but which need reiterating – and faith is a key ingredient to enable the church of the twenty-first century to survive and even flourish (I don't accept that merely because there are millions upon millions around the world who go by the name ‘Christian' it means they are real or part of the living vibrant church of the New Testament.)


   Why the Importance? Well we have expounded these verses above before, but they bear repeating. Faith comes from ‘hearing the message' is how we might find it put in at least one version of the Bible, but if you like we could say, faith comes from hearing the truth. (That doesn't mean that everyone who hears the truth will respond to it, but it does mean that those with open hearts and who hear the truth, find it impacts them, lifts them etc.) Now I want to suggest to you that in the previous 48 studies I have presenting you with ‘the truth'. For the most part I have simply presented you with what the New Testament says. No doubt my own opinions are mixed in there as well, and if they are contrary to the truth, the wind will just blow them away. But what about all the myriad of verses I have presented to you over these days, did they stir faith in you, did you find a rising within you that says, “Yes, Lord!” When the writer to the Hebrews says, “without faith it is impossible to please God,” don't be limited by the one illustration that he gives – of believing that God exists, for although that is the starting place, accepting that He is there, faith is also believing all that He has said, and that is His word in the Bible. Now if we have hearts that are genuinely open to Him, then all of these truths of Scripture should impact us, challenge us, lift us, build us, excite us, for that is what faith does.


A Need for Wisdom: Sometimes faith has to say, “Yes, that is the truth, I agree wholeheartedly with it, yet I am not sure in my present circumstances that I can see how we can work out these practical issues.” For instance, when I have spoken about plurality of elders, you may be someone ministering on your own and you look around and say, “But there is no one here who ‘fits' the calibre of an elder and so as much as I would like to develop an eldership, it just not seem practical here in these circumstances.” I agree and I understand, but remaining inactive means a failure to respond in faith, and a perpetuating of a less-than-wise and less-than-scriptural pattern for church which will remain unfruitful or at least remain with limited fruit, less than the head of the church would like. The answer surely is to pray for wisdom which is the knowledge of ‘how to'.


Reviewing James' teaching: Let's look at one of the paraphrase version of James 1: “When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don't resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.” (Jas 1:2-5) First of all, don't see your circumstances that we are addressing in this illustration as a trial. It is only such in as far as we are checking to see if you will pass the test of obeying Scripture. Don't get down by this but simply see it as a problem to be overcome. (The problem? That we have allowed ‘church' to become something so far from its origins that it is difficult to get back!) We overcome such problems by seeking the Lord for His wisdom, assured by scripture that He will give it. The only difficulty to be faced is, whether we will believe what He says – and then do it.


Wider Application: Now I am aware that I have been using plurality of elders as an example here (which may not be your particular issue) but the same thing can apply to any of the other issues I have covered – vision, learning, real life, power etc. – and we need to do the same thing if we cannot see how this particular ‘issue' is to be worked our for us individually. Our great danger always, is that we read the things in ‘academic mode' i.e. we see them, say yes, that seems right, but we leave it there, just head knowledge. I will later be touching on the subject of obedience but that is what Jesus looks for, not merely an academic acceptance that goes nowhere. Seeking God for wisdom as to exactly how to work out these things in my own local circumstances must surely be the pathway through.


Sometimes these things can be very simple and very practical. For example in the case of plurality of eldership, our sole preacher/minister/pastor might start off a new teaching series with the words, “We tend to take for granted the way we do things in church, but I wonder how the church in the years following Jesus three years of ministry did it, and are there things we can learn from them? What were the characteristics of that first century church, how did they do things, and what might we learn from them?” This paves the way to gently open up the subject. At the same time the lonely minister prays for the Lord to raise up those in the congregation who will with humility show care and concern for the congregation, revealing a servant heart, some perhaps expressing more of a spiritual concern, others revealing a more practical concern. Patience and perseverance and a gentle approach – but a positive approach – are key here. Can I win my people over to see something that is different from what they have only known in the past?


And so? Put most simply, and this is as far as we will go for the moment, can we be those who, confronted with the teaching of the New Testament, will allow our hearts to be stirred and yearn to go forward, and who are willing to think through the issues and pray them out before the Lord. The theory is easy but applying it does need the wisdom and grace of God. Faith is responding to the word of God positively, making ourselves available to Him, seeking Him, crying out to Him to bring change that takes the church from being on the defence to stepping up and confronting the world with the truth that can be verified by life transformation, community and culture transformation. We desperately need this today in the West. Can we rise to that goal?



The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

50. More on Faith


Lk 16:10 One who is faith ful in a very little is also faith ful in much

Lk 17:5,6 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith !” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

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


Continuing on: This subject is too big to just leave there; it is at the heart of all that the church is. As I was thinking about this, I ran across this quote from the writings of Pastor-Teacher Jeff Lucas speaking about discipleship: “The gospel call is not to ask Jesus into our hearts – His coming to where we are, but rather that we become His followers and friends, who go with Him where He is going. And it's not just that we travel through the scenery of changing circumstances, but into the personal metamorphosis that He brings. We're called to be a people on the move, forward into change, onward into being changed.” I like that, that is faith!


An Imaginary Conversation: Some time back in an earlier series, I sought to imagine the conversation between Jesus and Levi (Mk 2:14) when Jesus called him. This is what I imagined:

“Hullo, I'm Jesus.”

“Yes, I know I've heard all about you.”

“OK, well I'm looking for a band of men to train up to take over my work when I'm gone so I want you to come with me.”

“But I've got a job.”

“This will be a better one. Come with me.”

“Where are you going?”

“You'll find out as you follow me.”

“What are we going to do?

“You'll find out as you follow me.”

“When will I be fit enough to take over your job?”

“You'll find out when you follow me.”


A Life of Faith: Do you see the point? It is when we have once started following Jesus that he will then show us the way. As the apostle Paul said, “we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) Yes, it may start with having a basic belief that God exists as we saw yesterday in Heb 11 but it also means that we take the Bible and we make that our anchor point and follow all the teaching we find there. But it doesn't end there because, as we've reminded ourselves a number of times, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and we are led by Him, the Spirit of Jesus with us, on a daily basis. Sometimes the path will appear obvious but not always and it is those other times that will drive us to seek Him for wisdom and understanding. Sometimes we will get by with what we feel is ‘our' natural strength, but sometimes we will need grace, His supernatural power to cope. That seeking Him and receiving, that is an act of faith. It started the day we first turned to Christ and were saved. It continues right the way through this present life until it takes is through to the life beyond. As Paul said in his famous ‘love chapter', For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face,” (1 Cor 13:12) although I prefer the picture in the old KJV, For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” Living this side of eternity is like looking through a smoky glass, it is often unclear, and that means we have to trust, we have to step out by faith, believing what we have heard even if we cannot ‘see' it clearly.


Growing Faith: As I have already commented, it is possible to have different levels of faith. Faith is a gift: “think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Rom 12:3) That is the starting place but does that mean that that is all we can expect in life? Paul said to the Thessalonians, your faith is growing abundantly,” (2 Thess 1:3) and to the Corinthians he said, “But our hope is that as your faith increases ….” (2 Cor 10:15). There are hints of this all over the place in the New Testament, for example, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” (2 Pet 3:18) could be taken to mean, let that source of faith, your knowledge of Christ, grow in you more and more which will result in your faith level growing. Surely this was what Jesus meant when he was explaining to his disciples how parables worked and said, “to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.” (Mt 13:12) The same thing was said at the conclusion of the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30): “to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.” (v.29) That almost identical wording is linked there to the story that required followers of Jesus to use what they have been given. His expectation is that we will grow in our hearing and our responding – our faith!


How does it work? The thing is there is no set pattern because if there was we could rely on the pattern rather than on the Lord himself. But I have watched and observed various things. For example the person who steps out and shares their faith with a non-believing friend or family member, is more like to do it again and again than the person who never does. You need to step out of the boat and do it once and then it becomes easier and then natural. Or there is the person who wants to learn to hold their money lightly. Whether they decide to use the tithe as a means of stepping out, or whether they simply respond a first time to a perceived need, it's a start and once they do it and are blessed, it becomes a path to be followed, that gets more exciting as you go along it. Or suppose there is a person who catches Jesus' heart to heal people. They often start by praying for something minor, may be theirs or an ailment of a loved one, and to their joy, the Lord answers and heals. They are now more confident and when He does it again they are then on the lookout for people to pray for! I've noticed it also with the prophetic gift; someone ‘hears' the Lord and tentatively shares it with another person who is blessed by it. They start listening more attentively, even making time to wait on the Lord. They start hearing more clearly for themselves, and they become more confident. They start praying for others and start hearing words for them, simple to start with, more complex later. These are all just ways that faith grows when we give it the chance. The truth is that God wants our faith to grow, because it blesses Him, it will bless us, and it will certainly bless others.


A Heart-of-God People: When the Lord spoke through Samuel of His choice for a king, he said, “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart .” (1 Sam 13:14) This matter of growing faith is not to be a legalistic thing, but a heart thing and that means it starts with the way we view God. Many of us have grown up either in family situations or church situations that have left us suspicious of God. To use an analogy I've used recently, we tend to be like the tropical fish in a tank who most of the time shy away when a human comes close – except when it is clear they are going to feed them. Many of us think God will chide us, tell us off, do us harm, and we shy away – except when we want something. I don't know if you have a garden or back yard with birds. If you have, you'll know the same is true of them – they fly away as you approach, they are suspicious of you, they can't believe you won't do them harm. The starting place for faith is trusting in a loving heavenly Father. In that parable of the talents we referred to earlier, the one who held on to his one talent and did nothing with it, did it because, “I knew you to be a hard man.” (Mt 25:24) If that is how you view God you will constantly have trouble with faith. Start believing that, “God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and that He is for you (Rom 8:31), start believing that He wants good for you more than you want it for yourself, and you'll be on the path to blessing, growing and of increasing faith. When we have a church full of people who believe this – world watch out!



The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

51. Obedience


Mt 28:19,20 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.

Acts 5:32 the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him

Jn 8:51 whoever obey s my word will never see death.”

Jn 14:23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.


So Obvious: It is so obvious this thing about obedience that you might wonder why we are bothering to think about it. Perhaps it is because it is so obvious that we tend not to think about it. Consider: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mk 1:17,18) Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, follow me, and they did. That was obedience. Then, Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired me n and follow ed him.” (Mk 1:20) Jesus said to James and John, follow me, and they did. That was obedience. Then, “As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. “ Follow me ,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and follow ed him.” (Mk 2:14) Jesus said to Levi, follow me, and he did. That was obedience.


Reasons for Doing: Do you see the pattern? It is one that is followed throughout the Gospels. Jesus tells the disciples to do things – and they do. That is obedience. At the heart of discipleship is obedience, and because it is so obvious that we might forget it, let's state it, obedience means DOING what Jesus says. In the ‘Great Commission' in Mt 28, it is to “obey everything I have commanded you.” Notice the strength of these words. ‘Obey' means to respond positively to whatever God says. “Everything” means that we cannot take bits of things we find in the New Testament and exclude them. This is all-inclusive, it means nothing Jesus said is outside our discipleship. “Commanded” means instructed with authority. God doesn't give nice advice. He says, do this. And He expects us to do it. It is not obligatory, and it is a call to all disciples.


Focus: I found myself writing the following the other day: “Church is not for your entertainment. It is for your salvation, your transformation, your equipping and your sending.” Many of us turn up on Sunday morning expecting to be entertained by nice lifting music, and a humourous entertaining sermon so we go out feeling happy. Last Sunday I listened to the minister ask the congregation, “Why are you here? What have you come for?” As I sat there and pondered that, my answer was, “To meet God, to meet with His people, and to be changed.” I was surprised by the force of that and so I think it is worth thinking about.


To Meet with God: As I have indicated a number of times in this series, if the Holy Spirit is leading us when we gather together, He will have inspired the worship team, inspired the leadership and hopefully will inspire us, and it will all be to the end that we encounter God. Now Job is an uncomfortable book in many ways, but it is also enlightening. Not only does it reveal to us some of the inner workings of heaven, as well as the anguishes of living on a fallen world, but we also see (at the end) the effect of encountering God: “My ears had heard of you   but now my eyes have seen you.   Therefore I despise myself     and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6) When we truly realise we have met with God, we are humbled. When Peter encountered Jesus at the lakeside, and Luke gives us the fuller picture, a miracle ensues and Peter realises he is in the presence of someone who is much more than a mere man: “he fell at Jesus' knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” ( Lk 5:8) Encountering God, means I am changed. This might challenge us to ask, how often do we on a Sunday morning encounter God?


To Meet with God's people: The picture that comes from Paul's writings to the Corinthians is that when the Holy Spirit is present when we come together, He will flow through us, one to another. He longs to speak, He longs to convey His power and when He does that through one and another, we are blessed, we are challenged, we are envisioned, we are released, we are changed.


To be changed: Well there it is, we saw it twice in the two paragraphs above, the end result of meeting with God and meeting with His people is that I am changed. But where, you might ask, was obedience in all that? It is in the ‘end product' if I may put it like that. When I encounter God directly or through His people, the end result is that I am more aware of who He is, more aware of who I am, more aware of His love for me, more aware of His goodness and I am a more pliable, open disciple than I was before. I am changed and the end result is that I desire more to be obedient to all He says, because I have seen the wonder of who He is, and the wonder of His intentions towards me – and I want more and more of that. As that transformation takes place I realise even more clearly that blessing follows obedience because all He ask of me is for good.


The Process: May I take two of my favourite verses (and there are many others) and ponder on them in this context. First, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who [ i ] have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Here is the background for my life. God is working in my life to bring good – through everything that happens. But it is not a case of God waving a magic wand so that everything will turn out right. No, He will be working into the situation from outside of me, if I may put it like that, but He will also be working from inside me, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who seeks to guide me and lead me in right paths. And there it is again – so simple – He says, ‘follow me' and the blessing flows when I do. That is obedience.


The second verse is, “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) There it is so clear. God has got plans for my life, that He has “prepared in advance” or as the Living Bible puts it, “long ago” with the inference that fits what is said over half a dozen times in the New Testament, that this was planned before Creation. So what is happening now is that the Holy Spirit, living within me, seeks to guide me and inspire me into moving into those things that God Has got on His heart for me. The ‘good works' are simply the things He wants me to be doing, the things He knows I am suited to doing, equipped to be doing by His enabling. When I move in these things, that is obedience and I am blessed.


A Warning: Now I dare not finish this without warning against complacency. This teaching is not so that we can have a life that is utterly problem free; never be under the illusion that when we speak of God's intent to lead us into a place of His blessing, it means a life where we are lounging in a hammock in the sun with not a care in the world. It is clear from the Gospels and from Paul's testimony in the New Testament, that it is often far from that. The reality is that we live in a fallen, broken, dysfunctional world, a world where stuff goes wrong, and God does not sit idly by. Remember what He said to Moses: ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them “ (Ex 3:7,8) This shows a God who sees and who feels and is moved to action, but note what follows: I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (v.10) Moses won't be alone for God will be with him every step of the way. That's how it is with you and me. We aren't saved for our entertainment, we are saved for our transformation, our equipping and our sending. We were part of the world's problem; now we are part of its answer – in God's hands. As we, the church, step out in obedience to His word and His Spirit, He will use us to bring life, freedom, deliverance and transformation to the world round about us. That is what this is all about. Amen? Amen!




The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

52. Finale – the Church on God's heart


1 Cor 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Heb 10:5-7 when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,   but a body you prepared for me;   with burnt offerings and sin offerings   you were not pleased.   Then I said, “Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll –    I have come to do your will, my God.

1 Pet 2:9,10 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.   Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.


The End? I have pondered on continuing this series into a further part, all about the body of Christ, but I have done that in other series' and the feeling I have is that enough has been said here – more than a few times! In Part 1 we considered some of the ways the Church can fall short of God's heart for it. In Part 2 we considered why we are a different people and in Part 3 we went on to consider aspects of being a Christian believer. In Part 4 we considered the need to have a clear vision of who and what we are called to be. Then in Part 5 we went right back to square one and sought to think what are the very basics of ‘church'? In Part 6 we looked at the whole subject of local church leadership and the wider subject of ministries. In this part we have sought to look again at basic or fundamental ingredients of the church that make it unique – the vision we have, the power that has been imparted to us, faith being the very life-style, and obedience the key to being led and guided by God to become all that He has on His heart for us.


Who for? Could we say more? Of course we could but we have to stop somewhere and the more we say the more what we have already said will be diluted. May I simply invite you to go back over this series and ask the Lord to make the issues raised here really come alive for you. I am sure some might have thought, why is he saying all this? Surely this is for leaders not just the ordinary person in the church? Well no, we all need to be aware of what the Bible says about who we are supposed to be, and if we sense our expression of church falls short, then prayer is the first response, calling out to the Lord to touch the hearts of those who lead us, as well as the rest of the people in my part of what we call the local church? Perhaps there are things, maybe whole areas, where we as individuals need to seek the Lord.


Special People: So what we can we pick out to highlight and bring a final focus as we wind up this series? Let's consider Peter's declaration but we'll look at it in the Message version: you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God's instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.” Isn't that awesome! We're chosen, we're God special people; that's what we said in the earliest studies. We've got a job to do, not just filling up pews on a Sunday morning but acting as priests and you know what they did in the Old Testament period – stood between God and the people to introduce them to each other! They were holy, special, utterly different, His instruments to speak out for Him, introduce others to Him in the right way, to be a testimony to His life-transforming goodness. Once I was a nobody, now I am a somebody, once I was far off from Him, separated by my sin, but now I am forgiven, cleansed and brought near, adopted as a child of God. So much there to meditate further on and to praise God for! But it's all about identity and purpose.


God's will – the Kingdom: But when we try to look at the big picture, the whole of the Bible from beginning to end we see, behind this fallen world, God's plan of redemption, a plan brought to its half-way climax by the death and resurrection of His Son. But it is only half way (all right, please don't be pedantic, I am not being precise, just figurative). There was the beginning – even before Creation – when the Godhead determined this plan of salvation, a necessity if Creation was to eventually function as it could with human beings with free will being brought back to the original possibility – a relationship with God Himself, in complete peace and harmony with Him. Then there was the end – eternity stretching away beyond our understanding where man and God exist for ever in perfect harmony. But in between the beginning and the end, there would be the Fall, the establishing of a new way for man and woman to live outside the presence of God and yet still able to call upon Him. That was how it continued for hundreds of years through the period of the Patriarchs, the period of Israel – through the Exodus and the Exile and eventual domination by the power of Rome. Into this environment stepped the Son of God to reveal the glory of God and die in our place, thus satisfying justice. And out of this – came the church! The Church, all the believers in Christ down through what has been so far two thousand years, testifying to the love and goodness of God and all the while exercising the will of God otherwise known as the kingdom or rule of God.


The Purpose of ‘the Kingdom': To what aim, all of this? To speak into each and every generation down through the ages to turn the eyes of self-centred and godless mankind to God, to see the plan and purpose of God and realise and experience the love of God. Sadly down through the ages we haven't done very well have we? Every now and then God has injected life through the means of revivals around the world, through the outpouring of His Spirit again at Azusa Street last century, later through the Pentecostal Churches in general, then through the Charismatic renewal and various other outpourings of His love and power. Without doubt this last century has seen the outpouring of God's Spirit in a measure never seen in such quality in the previous eighteen hundred years. And the recipient of all this blessing? The Church. And why? Surely to empower the Church to cope with the horrors shown in Revelation of the Last Days. And how are we doing? Not very well. In the West numbers decline and although there are signs of occasional new life through new groups, overall the end result is not good. The world continues to become more and more ungodly and even though there are some strong voices, they tend to be relatively few and far between and our impact in our individual cultures appears very little.


And Jesus? Jesus remains unchanged. He is still the Son of God seated at his Father's right hand, continuing to rule in the midst of his enemies on the earth, moving ever nearer that time when , “when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (1 Cor 15:24) And when he comes – “will he find faith on the earth ?” (Lk 18:8) Where will he be looking for it? In the Church. Will he find it? That is down to you and me. Will all these reflections be just theoretical or theological ponderings, or will we let the Spirit of God move us to bring our lives back to the Lord, with open hearts that are crying out for Him to take us and use us? The End! Or the Beginning?




The Wonder of the Church: Part 8 – Counter Attack

53. Awareness


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

1 Pet 2:9,10 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.   Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.


More? I thought we had finished this series, at the end of the last Part, but woke one morning with such clarity of something more, so we have to go on at least one more Part which is all about NOT being a passive, ineffectual bunch of religious people who are increasingly marginalised in this modern world. No this is about standing up and saying, “Enough! It is time to become who we were called to become.”


It starts with this verse from Matt 16 that the gates of Hades (or Hell) will not overcome the church. In such context the phrase “the gates of Hades” can be taken to mean Satan and all his forces, as one commentator puts it, “storming out of the hell's gates in order to attack and destroy the church.” Now as C.S.Lewis sought to show in his “Screwtape Letters”, he seeks to do that in various ways and they are clearly observable today. Thus our starting point in this final Part must be to identify the ways the enemy works to seek to undermine and bring down the Church. Sometimes that is by big, all-embracing strategies that affect many at a time (usually the weak of faith) and sometimes it is by personal and individual attack. His end objective is to weaken, disarm, disable and dismantle the Church and to eventually destroy it. As we will see, a hopeless task!


The Ways of the Enemy: In a variety of ways, Satan strategizes to undermine and bring down the Church. First , on one hand, he seeks to encourage the atheistic crusaders of the twenty-first century who sought to rubbish the truth of the Bible, successfully in those who were weak in faith, but unsuccessfully for others as the Lord raised up His intellectual warriors to show the folly of the attacks. (This is the ‘roaring lion' attack – see 1 Pet 5:8).


Second , he seeks to encourage what is often referred to as the liberal wing of the church who downplay the veracity of the Bible and unwittingly undermine faith. This is the approach of ‘reasonableness' and ‘logic' which demeans the divinely supernatural and denies the truth that God speaks and acts into His world. (The is the ‘angel of light' attack – 2 Cor 11:14).


Third , he seeks to make The Faith seem outdated and irrelevant in the face of the tidal waves of knowledge and science and technology. Fourth , in another deceptive strategy, he seeks to suggest that the modern world is so civilised and wise and all-knowing, that we no longer need these ‘outdated and superstitious folk tales from the past'. Unfortunately for him, the Bible truth still remains, “A man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7) and so the fruit of this folly is observable in every area of life where men and women abandon God's ways and God's laws, and this is clearly visible for those who have eyes to see.


Fifth , especially in affluent Western societies, he seeks to make people so comfortable and secure in their affluence and tells them that they have been successful and so, again, don't need these outdates rituals or beliefs. They can get by quite happily without them. He fails to remind them of Jesus' parable of the two house builders in Matt 7 where we are reminded that temporary security is illusory without Christ, so when the crises of life hit – and they will – downfall will follow.


Futility of his efforts: History, ancient and modern shows that even though persecution comes, His Church remains strong and even thrives. The history of the church in China in the past hundred years is a classic example of that. While numbers in the church in the West decline, numbers of the church in China have spiralled making it greater in number than the Communist Party of that country. In the West, leaders are qualified by education; in China they are qualified by having been in prison! Scripturally Jesus taught that God's kingdom would grow and grow and grow and be the largest of all the ‘plants' (Mt 13:32, Mk 4:32). In the West, while traditional denominations decline ‘new shoots' thrive and increase in numbers. In that sense it is difficult to discern the exact truth of what is happening to the church.


Assessing the Reality: We have maintained throughout these studies that whatever the numbers, the overall signs are of a Church that a) so often is more concerned to maintain the status quo rather than constantly be pushing to expand the boundaries of the kingdom, b) so often is more concerned with managing buildings and institutions than putting much effort in reaching the lost, c) so often retreats into social work to appease a guilty conscience rather than train and send disciples to go out preaching the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, d) so often is more concerned with comfort and ease and constantly seeking personal wellbeing rather than sacrificially living out lives that reveal the wonder of the Servant-King, e) so often are more concerned with speaking carefully crafted words rather than moving in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit so that, f) so often there is little fruitfulness in the reality of transformed lives that now reveal the light and the life of their risen Lord and move on in service in the power of the Spirit. .


And Yet: Yes, this is the truth, God still looks to us to play our part. Yes, Scripture does appear to show that the powers of darkness may yet have a field-day but despite that we are called to display the resurrected Christ in and through the life of the Church. If there is any truth in these assessments of the place and the state of the Church in these different places, the end call has to be the same. Are those right who suggest that the picture of the church at Laodicea in Rev 3 applies to this time? Are we lukewarm, neither hot nor cold? (3:15,16) Are we deceived into believing we are rich while all the time (spiritually at least) we are “ wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”? Is Jesus writing off the Church in the West? Will the Church in China, or from other severely persecuted countries, be the light that the Lord will use to shine to the rest of the world in the end-time darkness?


A word of hope. One thing I notice about Jesus with his disciples, is that he often chided his disciples for their little faith (e.g. Mt 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20) but he never wrote them off. When Jesus scolded the disciples for having ‘little faith', it was not to put them down but to challenge them to rise up in it – he continued giving them opportunities to minister and become more and more like him. May that be true of us in these days, and that I will be examining in the remaining studies.



The Wonder of the Church: Part 8 – Counter Attack

54. A Time to Regain Identity


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

1 Pet 2:9,10 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.   Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.


I wonder? I have wondered if the average church member ‘sees' themselves in any way different from anyone else? Very early on in this series I considered a number of ways the Christian – and subsequently the Church – is different from their non-believing neighbours. So yes, being a ‘ believer' is perhaps the starting place, but is that all you see?


Why? Now you may be thinking, why is he taking us back over this ground if we have covered it so thoroughly in the past studies? Well, it is simply because when I meet with other believers, that is the sense, and only that – that we are ‘believers' - that ever seems to get communicated, and because I believe that is so, I think it is one of the reasons that Christians are so often backward in coming forward, or so deferential when it comes to standing up and declaring how needy the world is and how wonderful the answer that we have is. Mostly I detect we are on the defence.


A Positive Faith: One of our failures of recent decades is that of not communicating the positive aspects of Christianity – which are only found in Christianity – which can help this sick and ailing world. Of course part of that has been our ongoing failure to coherently and graciously communicate why the ways of the present world of the West are failing. It seems it is only the occasional columnist of one of the big ‘broadsheet' newspapers who shouts, “This is not working!”


The appearance – and forgive me if I am wrong – is that in the UK where there is a ‘state church', the Church of England, it is too tied in to the establishment to be regularly prophetic and thus it fails to prepare itself and its leading bishops to be voices of hope and change in a dark world. In the USA, although there is no state church, church and politics appear entwined so often but this seems to haver resulted in specific limited battles being fought – the abortion battle being the most obvious but there have been others – but without conveying, “Hey this Christian thing is the best thing going!” and so there has been a failure to collectively convey the positive nature of the Christian faith that should be life changing, and if given a chance, also community-changing and nation-changing.


My Identity: So if someone asks you who you are, do you reply, “I am a believer in Jesus Christ,” or “I am a Christian,” because as excellent as those testimonies are, they only take us a short way along the path of identifying who we are. A shorthand answer along this path is, “Well, the Bible says I am a child of God,” and that opens up a whole new area of discussion. But perhaps the more important issue is not so much what I have to declare as what I feel about myself. Knowing who I am, enables me to speak or act as I do.


For example, a number of times, either in this series or other series, I have reminded us that a) Jesus is seated at his Father's right hand in heaven, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Eph 1:20) and then, b) that we are told that we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). Now this is quite remarkable if we believe it (understatement of the year!) because it means we are linked to Almighty God and because of that there is a sense where we should see ourselves as ‘above' the world, having an overview of it that provides a more accurate view than anyone else. which means learning with Christ how to live with that.


Part of a Strategy: But this also reminds us of a verse we have considered many times in the past: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.   For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”    (1 Cor 15:24,25) Now this requires us to realise and recognise how Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2, Heb 1:13, 10:13, Mt 22:44) - even though the world seems to be doing its own thing – but also for us to realise that we are part of his ruling, we are with him in working to bring down these enemies (which include such things as unbelief, unrighteousness, ungodliness, anger, bitterness, hostility, wars, fighting, etc. etc. as well as the more obvious evils, such as slavery, still as prevalent today as in the past). We have a privileged position, privileged power and a privileged calling within the strategy of Christ in his calling to bring in the kingdom of God.


Inferior or Special? So let's be honest, how do we really feel about ourselves before the onlooking world? Have we let Satan demean us, do we feel inferior? Now if this was a church meeting and I was one of those preachers who hype up the congregation, asking those things in an ever louder voice, we might expect the temptation might be the shout back, “No, we're superior!” but that is not Christlike, it is not what the apostle Paul taught, or any of the other apostles. The word we are looking for is ‘special'.


I have a friend who dislikes us saying to anyone, “you are special,” because, he says, you can't say to everyone, “You are special.” Yes you can. First of all we can say it to us as a group of people in the world. At Mount Sinai, God said to Moses to say to the people, if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Ex 19:5) Don't tell me that “treasured possession” doesn't mean special! Perhaps it was with this in mind that the apostle Peter wrote to the church (see 1 Pet 1:1,2) those words at the top of this study: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.   Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet 2:9,10) Here I have highlighted words that say we are special.


Uniqueness: So dare we say, “I am special to God,” or “We as a local church are special to God,” so that marks us out from the rest of the world? We are special because we have responded to Him and we have been adopted into His family so that we can say we are children of God, even sons and daughters of God. If that doesn't make us feel good, perhaps we need to pray and ask the Lord to open our eyes to see the reality of these things, rather like the apostle Paul prayed, “ I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,   and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19) All this comes only by revelation. We need today the fresh revelation of who we are, the wonder of who we are, the wonder of what we are, the wonder of our destiny, and when we get that afresh, perhaps we will stand up in the midst of the world and cry fearlessly with the apostle Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes,” (Rom 1:16) and then go on and demonstrate that power – which leads us on to the next studies about going into battle. Stick with me.




The Wonder of the Church: Part 8 – Counter Attack

55. A Time to go on the Offensive


1 Sam 17:10,11 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.


Hostile Neighbours? Israel in history, especially in the Old Testament, can be seen to be a demonstration of various things. We could focus, negatively, on the fact of their apparently continual habit of getting it wrong, of rejecting or rebelling against God, and when we do I also remind us that in that they were merely demonstrating what we as a human race are like. They were not especially bad; they just reveal the reality of sin that is true of all of us. But for this present exercise, Israel reveal to us what it meant to be a special people, God's people because, as far as their neighbours were concerned, they were enemies.


Now I am not sure if I can find anywhere where the Scriptures say it was specifically because they were God worshippers, and it may be that in those primitive times, one expression of the Sin of mankind simply meant that one nation beat up another nation. Having said that, it seems more than a coincidence that Israel had more than their fair share of getting beaten up. (We should remember in passing that Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword ,” [Mt 10:34] which opens up the whole are of division between believer and non-believer).


But this all goes to show something, perhaps, of what was behind the passage that we are going to examine in this and the next two studies, found in 1 Sam 17 when Israel are being opposed by their old enemy, the Philistines. (It is clear from the Old Testament that the Lord used the Philistines to discipline or chastise Israel when Israel had turned away from Him. They were part of His oft-used method of bringing disciplinary judgment that was designed to drive them back into His arms.)


The Battlefield statistics: The beginning of chapter 17 shows us the Philistines lined up against Israel: “The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.” (v.3), shown to be in the foothills to the west of Bethlehem, on the border of Israel. There is in a sense, a picture here of the divide between the Church and the rest of the world. On one hillside are the atheistic crusaders shouting their derogatory abuses about the folly of belief. With them, in much larger numbers, are the unbelievers of the world. In the UK where the real believing church is said to be only between 5 and 7% of the population, and the USA where more recent figures suggest it is only about 30% of the population who are really believers, the appearance is that we are outnumbered and the church numbers so often appear to be declining.


Outnumbered and talked down to: There is an amazing little picture found in 1 Kings at one point: “The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.” (1 Kings 20:27). What an amazing picture of little Israel facing the might of the Arameans. No contest! Well, yes, actually it was, because the Lord was with Israel and they utterly defeated the enemy. A lesson not to be forgotten. But here we are in this world today and lined up against us are atheists who bring derisory words spoken the Bible, derisory words about the nature of God, and derisory words about faith and being a Christian. Note that: so often the enemy's attack starts with words. The classic example of that was when Sennacherib's field commander stood outside Jerusalem before attacking it (a tough task with high and thick walls and strong gates) and demeaned their trust in God (e.g. Isa 36:4-10 and then v.12-20). It was pure propaganda designed to bring down the morale of Israel.


Challenging Questions: So today the Battle is joined and the voices of the enemy shout out, “You can't trust the Bible, it is full of errors and tales of a harsh God,” or “Creation in seven days? What are you lot on about? Everyone knows it took hundreds of millions of years of evolution to bring about what we are today!” or “How can you believe in a God who has women and children put to death in genocide?” The trouble is there are good answers to this untruths or even half-truths at times, but so often we do not prepare ourselves because we have never thought to read the great apologists of the kingdom who have got good answers to these questions, and our minister is too busy doing verse by verse exposition of passages we have all heard before, to teach the answers to the questions that the world has.


Occult Spiritual Warfare: Thus very often I find that, if we are honest, many of God's people are “dismayed and terrified” just like Israel were, because we haven't trained them and there is little hunger to search out the truth and become warriors who can combat the lies and mis-truths and half-truths of the enemy. I didn't mention it in the previous study but there is another whole area of deception that the enemy uses to undermine the faith of God's people and it is that of the occult. How often I have heard people casually say, “Oh yes, I played with a Ouija board when I was a teenager but it was only a bit of harmless fun.” Think again. Or the other common one is “My husband has been invited to become a Freemason.” Really, watch out for trouble in your spiritual life because any honest Freemason will acknowledge that there is a spiritual dimension to what they do, even though many would prefer to ignore it.


Ignorance of spiritual warfare and a failure of the Church to teach on it, means that many have lives that are blighted without them realising it, having failed to repent of past dealings with the enemy and thus allowing themselves to be open and vulnerable to him. There are a number of really good ministries that help people be set free from their past, but the trouble is that most of us either don't realise there is a spiritual battle going on or don't realise they are walking wounded because of it. There is a strong case to be made for either in-house counselling or invited-in counselling. If we think this is all exaggerated talk, that is a sign that we have been subject to one of the enemy's attacks I spoke of two studies back and have been lulled into a place of unbelief and placid acceptance of his deceptions. Ask Him to open the eyes of your understanding, and touch and challenge your heart


Remove the Graveclothes: What I have just been advocating is the equivalent of Jesus words at the tomb of Lazarus: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (Jn 11:44) You and I, if we are truly Christian believers, are not dead – we have died with Christ but we have also been raised with him (see Rom 6). Grave clothes are anything which hinders our present movement as resurrected children of God, anything that thwarts the will of God, preventing us living and working as the body of Christ today. ‘Grave clothes' are unbelief, complacency, indifference, ignorance, self-concern, lack of concern for the glory and honour of the Lord, cynicism, pessimism, anything that stops us living according to His word and at the prompting of His Spirit. If you struggle with these things, talk to your leaders or mature trusted Christian friends and ask them to help get them off you. Don't be part of the problem of this world, start being part of the answer to it.



The Wonder of the Church: Part 8 – Counter Attack

56. Are we ready to fight?


1 Sam 17:38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.


Two men: Several decades ago, a raspy voiced American, Ern Baxter, caused waves in the UK when he spoke at a Dales Bible Week with a week-long series, entitled, “The King and his Army” and in that series contrasted Saul and David. Saul, he typified as ‘head and shoulders' church government (Saul was a “head taller than any of the others” 1 Sam 9:2) Saul was tall and broad and good looking, a potential fighter-leader which is what the people wanted, someone who looked good, and he relied on human wisdom and human strength. David, he typified, as a ‘heart man', a man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:14) Those two descriptions have probably stayed with all of us who heard those talks back then, and they are as applicable today as back then.


The Contrasts: When we come to fight to regain our Christian heritage in the West, we have to ask ourselves, will be rely on the Church looking good with its pomp and ceremony, its rites and rituals, or will we be the people who are moved by God's heart and God's Spirit, to reveal the life, love, power and authority of the ‘body of Christ'? When David turned up at the battlefield full of faith and was directed to Saul, Saul was still in ‘human-thinking-mode'. You want to fight a battle? You need armour. You have no armour. Take mine. Except David doesn't fight in armour, he has no need of it.


The armour the world uses is the media, politics, ‘handling people'. The armour we use is truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, our salvation and the word of God itself. (see Eph 6) But then consider Jesus' advice to his disciples: “be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” (Mt 10:16 JBP) or “Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.” (Msg) I expect we can go along with the ‘wisdom' bit, but how about appearing as harmless or inoffensive? Is that a description seen in some Christian activists? I suspect not, in which case there is room for change!


Waging Christian War: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 210:3-5) The J.B.Phillips paraphrase version is enlightening: The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God's warfare for the destruction of the enemy's strongholds. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defence that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.” Yes, our battle is not physical, it is spiritual and the moment we recognise that we realise that to fight spiritually means prayer. The ‘enemy's strongholds' are simply set ways of wrong thinking. People get locked into ways of thinking, or attitudes which in the cold light of day – or perhaps seen from a decade looking back – leave you gasping.


Aspects of the Present War: In both the United States and the United Kingdom, in the past three years, events have unfurled that I believe will leave historians in ten years gasping. Let me try and identify some key features of the present battles without taking sides:

•  The Opposition party is our ‘enemy' and we hate them. In the last two years enmity has grown up, a hostility, that is worse than seen before.

•  Truth is being challenged and social media being used as never before to express scenarios that are factually false, i.e. Fake news has become the currency of political warfare.

•  Fake news means lies and lies mean unrighteousness. Unrighteousness is being used in order to obtain what otherwise might sometimes be laudable goals.

•  The combination of these things means a loss of integrity, seen in the way there has become an openly declared mentality that says, “If we don't like the results of the last election or referendum, let's work to reverse it.” Nothing like this has been seen or heard previously in my lifetime.

•  The barrage of opposition that is then seen in the way this is worked out includes postulating fearful outcomes, making dubious forecasts (which are often proved to be false), making false statements about others in order to bring them down.

Whatever our political outlook, honesty demands that we see these last few years as having expressions of unrighteousness that seems unparalleled in our times. Where they will lead us only time will tell. By-products of all this on both sides of the Atlantic are, according to the polls, fear, anxiety and uncertainty, world-weariness and a desire to just give up in many.


Opportunities: In the spiritual world, whenever the world takes a nose-dive emotionally with a loss of confidence, this is an opportunity for the Gospel to be heard and received. Historically at such times, it has been shown that the world opens up so that God seems freer to bring revival. Prophecies have suggested that we may be moving towards such a time. One prophecy circulating around the world in Christian circles, brought just at the end of 2018, indicated a need for us in our warfare to do three things:

•  Learn to listen to God as we never have before – we need His guidance, His strategy.

•  Be aware of the world's ways and reject them

•  Learn to use divine authority and learn to receive divine provision.

Now even if these hadn't come from a credible prophet, I would suggest they are three good guidelines to be followed in our spiritual activities, as I have said in these and previous studies numerous times.


   Key Points Recap? Let's summarise and then examine the key points:

•  There IS a battle and it is a battle involving truth and righteousness (righteousness is all about living God's way) and it is spiritual.

•  We fight by holding to the truth as revealed in the Bible, seeking God for wisdom and maintaining the fruit of the Spirit – and leaving the rest to God!


Searching for Truth: When it comes to truth, in whatever the subject under debate, our starting point is to say, “Hold on a minute, what actually is the truth here?” We need to challenge the truth or otherwise of what others are saying, not in any hostile confrontational way but in a gracious way that seeks to avoid hostility. I have sought to do this in the past in the series “Reaching into Redemption” and study no.36 ‘Islands of Belief' and the studies that follow where I have sought this approach with a range of contentious subjects.


Considering Righteousness: Righteousness is the other area I mentioned above, over which the battle wages. It is simply living according to the way God has designed. There are two simple approaches to be thought through here:

•  What IS God's design for mankind revealed in the Bible – and why? i.e. what are the practical reasons for this design? In order to see why this is the best approach to live, we need to carefully think through the second, following question.

•  What is the way of the world today that goes against that, and what fruit is being observed in life in the West because of that, i.e. what harm is being done in the lives of individuals because of that modern way of living? With this second one it is legitimate to ask, is this lifestyle one you could say is a good example to be followed and one you could advise young people to follow, and if not, why not?

If we can provoke honesty to see the weaknesses and failures of modern lifestyles, we will be part way towards possibly helping people face the truth, seeing an alternative to what they have that will be better, and then their need of help to be set free from the old to a new life. There is nothing magical or super-spiritual about this approach but is simply one that calls for honesty and integrity in facing the truth about life.




The Wonder of the Church: Part 8 – Counter Attack

57. About ‘attitude'


1 Sam 17:36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.


Attitude? We sometimes talk about young people with ‘attitude'. Attitude means a strong or belligerent spirit, almost a youthful arrogance. David had ‘attitude' but it was based entirely in his knowledge and experience of the Lord. He is the supreme example for us of a warrior. He is a man after God's own heart, we've already noted, he's been chosen by God to eventually replace Saul as king, but in the meantime he is a humble shepherd boy, doing his father's bidding, living out on the hillside looking after his father's sheep or, as now, taking provisions to the other brothers at the battle front. And it is when he arrives here he finds this terrible situation – Israel brought to a fearful halt before the taunts of this pagan giant. Everyone else is in a state of fear, and fear immobilises, and so there appears a stalemate. Nothing is happening – except the giant comes out day by day with his taunts and his challenges.


And the Church? In this day of confusion and chaos, that we have already considered, there is a word-weariness. How does the church appear to deal with this? Apparently by minding their own business and just carrying on as normal holding services. In the UK, where for well over a year, there has been Parliamentary shambles over Brexit, the church has been silent. Where are the voices of leadership at the top of all the main denominations that should be crying out, “Stop bickering, stop manoeuvring for your own ends, work together for the good of the country, seek wisdom to come to a collective agreement, care for the country not your own petty kingdoms!” In the USA, where for the last two years the integrity of the office of the President has been torn down in the eyes of the watching world, where are the big church voices that should be crying, “Mr. President, some of your goals are worthy but please work for them without tantrums, without abusing people, without lies and apparently constantly changing your mind in a war of words, please regain credibility for the office.” Where are the voices of the church? They are silent. We gaze across the valley at the enemy (of lies and unrighteousness) and we stand silently immobilised by fear. Where are the Davids?


David's Testimony: David first testifies to what he knows God has done for him in the past. Remember Isaiah cried out, “To the law and the testimony,” (Isa 8:20) and at the end, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11) In the Old Testament it was to rely on the Law and what God had done previously delivering Israel out of Egypt; in the New Testament it is the work of Christ on the Cross and the testimony of what Jesus has done for us. How much of a testimony do we have today? The psalmist wrote, “The righteous …. will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green,   proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) The elderly righteous have an important part to play in this battle – they have a testimony, years of experiences with the Lord to be declared aloud, things to encourage the following on generations. Where are the voices of testimony in your church or does the church, in attitude at least, push aside the elderly generation as “past it!”?


And me? I can have ‘attitude' because of my knowledge of the word of the Lord, because of the work of Christ, and because of the years of blessing that I have known. Each of these things should act as fuel for a fire that should burn bright in each of us, that brings boldness, brings courage. And you? Who are there around you in your ‘bubble'? Family, friends, people at college or in the workplace? What have they learned about me that gives credibility to my voice? Do we stand out as trustworthy, hard and conscientious workers, reliable, gracious, loving, kind, gentle, caring, wise? Are these things part of our testimony, or has the enemy silenced us with a sense of failure? It's never too late to start again, never to late to start reaching out with God's servant-hearted love to those around you.


Trust & Relationship & Process: David trusts the Lord to turn up for him, to enable him to do what is necessary to bring down this pagan giant. He knows the relationship that he has with the Lord and knows that Goliath is an enemy of God: Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26) The fact that this giant keeps on demeaning Israel is an insult to God. We are God's people! Don't we believe the many scriptures where He promises to look after us? Is being a Christian, is being a part of the church, just about turning up on Sunday mornings to work through an hour or so of ritual? Isn't the calling of Jesus to build up the body (teaching it to do what he did) and take it out into the world to wage war on lies, deceptions, untruth, unrighteousness. Those are some of the things Jesus is warring against: “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:25) Is this understanding part of our ‘attitude'? Jesus IS reigning in the midst of this fallen world, he IS working for the good of his people (Rom 8:28) and he IS working for the glory of his Father (Jn 17:1), he IS working to extend the kingdom and rule of God on the earth, so that love and goodness and light are extended into the darkness, and he WILL continue to do this until he has achieved it, with all these negatives brought down. Now part of this process is surely taking place today and he uses whoever will be available and will respond to him with their unique gifting to be used in their unique ways, and part of it must be when he returns again in sovereign triumph (see Rev 19)


Your unique part: Because we are just a part of the body of Christ, the church, we should not let the enemy taunt us with, “So you are going to challenge Parliament or the President! Just who do you think you are?” Well, some of us may have that role, may have positions where we can be voices to the inner sanctum, but that is not true for most of us. So what about us? Are all the words of this study just hot air? No, there are specific things we CAN do. Let me give some starting pointers:

•  We can and must ‘stand' (see Eph 6:13,14), holding faithfully to Christ and who he calls us to be, be clear about our identity and holding on to it.

•  We can and must pray as he guides us (see Eph 6:18, 1 Tim 2:1,2) for our nation and those who lead it. Never belittle your power to pray.

•  We can ask the Lord to put specific people and local situations upon our hearts to pray for, and as he opens up understanding ask him for wisdom to know what to do, or what to say, so that you may have the opportunity to be salt and light (see Mt 5). This may include people who are in our family, or friends, neighbours etc. Don't just pray for them but ask the Lord what part He wants you to play in bringing His love to them.

•  In your church context, ask the Lord to use you to build up, encourage and build faith in others so the body will be strengthened and become more available to go to battle.

•  Learn something of spiritual warfare – there are books out there, and I have written elsewhere on this site about this – and gather others around you who will be like minded, and make yourself available to the Lord, to pray, to intercede, to act to bring life and light to others.

•  Daily maintain your relationship with Him for it will only be out of this that all these things will come about into reality.

•  Pray for the Lord to draw you close, fill you with His Spirit, use you, and enlarge faith in you. Resist a mentality of settling for ease and comfort, declare you will be a kingdom bringer!

Amen? May it be so.



The Wonder of the Church: Part 8 – Counter Attack

58. Finally, regain Perspective


1 Sam 17:45 I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty,


Perspective? In some ways this entire series has been about regaining perspective of who and what the Church is. In these recent studies I have been suggesting it is time for a counter-attack against those voices of atheism, of indifference, of complacency, over everything that resists the presence and work of God. Sometimes it is important to examine single verses or paragraphs in gaining understanding of who God is, who we are and what he has called us to, but sometimes it is wise to step back and try and grasp the big picture to gain an overview of where it has all come from and where it is going to.


Key Background Issues: Let's try and make this simple and so just lay out some of the basics of what we know about the world in which we live:

•  It is fallen because of Sin and so is broken, and often dysfunctional, not working right.

•  Because of the presence of Sin, Satan has been given opportunity to reign over the lives of men and women who reject God (see 1 Jn 5:19)

•  None of this is a surprise to God who foresaw this from before the Creation, because of the necessity for humans to have free will. Indeed He planned to send Jesus at the right time in history to reveal His love and His means of redemption through the Cross, to draw whoever would come back to Himself.

•  Jesus, demonstrating His love, brought healing and deliverance and proclaimed the day of the Lord's favour (Mt 11:5, Lk 4:18,19) and instructed his followers to do the same (see Mt 28:19,20, Jn 14:12).

•  Our role today – negatively – is to resist the devil (Jas 4:7), overcoming his wiles and deceptions and temptations, and overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).

•  Our role today – positively – is to take the Gospel to whoever will receive it, using prayer, the fruit of the Spirit to melt hearts, and the power and gifts of the Spirit to overcome strongholds of the enemy, seeking to overcome lies and deceptions and wrong beliefs, bring healing to those wounded by the world and the enemy, and bring freedom to captives, those held by anything that hinders them coming to Christ and enjoying all the goodness he has for them.

•  We are living in the realm of the kingdom of God which is only partially here, and that state will continue until Jesus returns and puts all his enemies beneath his feet (1 Cor 15:25).

•  That ‘partial' aspect of the kingdom has certain aspects that suggest we are in an ongoing battle (that this last Part has been about) and has consequences that we would do well to confront as we conclude this series.

Consequences of the Partial: The truth is that in this era, people can still resist God, people can still reject the Gospel when we bring it to them. Some people will turn and be saved. Brilliant, never lose sight of that. Sometimes we will pray and pray and not seem to see answers; that's part of the battle (see how Daniel experienced that Dan 10:12-14) but sometimes we pray and get immediate answers. Brilliant, never lose sight of that. Sometimes we pray for healing and often don't see it – but sometimes DO! Brilliant, hold on to those times and keep praying.

Resistance: All around us in this fallen world, we see people saying and doing wrong things. Some repent, some don't; it's the way of these times. In the book of Revelation we see God bringing judgments that are meant to bring mankind to its senses and back to God, and yet we read, “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts. ” (Rev 9:20,21) and later, “They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.” (Rev 16:9) In the Old Testament we saw this folly in the mind of Pharaoh as he resisted Moses. In the day in which we live and possibly the years to come, we see this same resistance.


Resistance is Futile: This chant from various sci-fi films applies well here. The world resists -and God graciously allows them to do so – but there will come a time when He says, “Enough!” and Jesus will return as a conquering king and that will be it! There will come a time when all will stand before the Last Judgment, and that will be it! The enemy would seek to distract us, make us forget these truths, get us caught up in materialism or the worries of this world, and so it is important that we hold firmly on to these truth of the big picture and never lose sight of them.


And Us? Our call as the people of God is to remain faithful: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Our call is not to be successful (although the Lord does promise that) but to be obedient. That we have seen in detail in an earlier study, together with the other ‘unique ingredients' that make the church what it is supposed to be. If we get knocked down, He is there to pick us up. If we fail Him, He is there to forgive us, cleanse us and set us on the path again, when we repent. When we lack wisdom, He is there to give it to us when we ask. When we lack energy or resources generally, He is there to provide as we wait on Him. Yes, it is all about Him; everything we are and have comes from Him. David knew it: “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty,” as he came against his enemy. That is to be our stance as well. May that be what is seen in us, the Church, and may He be glorified in and through us. Amen. Enough! Let's be it!