Lone Rangers to Power Rangers…thinking about spiritual gifts.

It’s common today, especially within charismatic churches, to point out how young children instinctively view themselves as superheroes or princesses in their playacting and that Jesus commanded us to be like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. There’s an excellent point here that we’re made for adventure. The Christian life is far more than living under a rule book, it’s being empowered by the Spirit living in us to be on adventure with Jesus. Afterall, Holy Spirit doesn’t only produce in us character (Galatians 5 fruits of the Spirit…which is a miracle in itself!), but works in us gifts (1 Cor. 13; Romans 12) and calls us into ministries (Ephesians 4). Praise the Lord!

But here’s a question when we’re thinking about things like Spiritual Gifts….what kind of superheroes are we?

http://therecruitinglab.com/the-lone-ranger-the-rainmaker-or-the-firm-owner-which-business-model-is-right-for-you Sometimes we can act like a Lone Ranger. We live in a society where the individual is king; increasingly we’re wanting products that are customized and personalized for us; we’re wanting to find our ‘dream job’, to only do what fits ‘the real me’…and so we’re first seeking to understand and establish who ‘I am’ before we begin to even think about how we engage with others. There’s something crucial about knowing our identity in Jesus, but things become squiffy if we think finding this identity means focusing on me over and against (or simply without reference to) any other people. Spiritual Gifts become about finding my gift, my place, my ministry…it’s good to know all of these things, but not if this is where we’ll find our identity or if this means we will only serve or relate to churches or ministries where I fit

http://www.ew.com/article/2015/08/06/fantastic-four-original-movies-vaguely-defendedSo it seems common sense to try for something more like the Fantastic Four. We know afterall that there are things we can’t do on our own, that we are called to be part of a team, that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts when we all work together. Excellent and true, and definitely there is some resonance here with St Paul’s image of the Body of Christ – we’re all one body and individually members of it…we need each other…but I think Paul’s getting at far more than the need for team work… What is so supernatural about that anyway? You don’t need the Holy Spirit to tell you it’s good to be part of a team…
http://movieweb.com/power-rangers-movie-art-zords/

Maybe the superheroes God is forming are more like Power Rangers…remember them? Certainly these awesome foursome had individual gifts and talents, and they did pretty well beating off individual little baddies. But there came a point in every episode where the enemy would suddenly be super-sized to immense proportions and at that stage it wasn’t even enough just to work together…at that stage “it’s morphing time”….they had to actually merge together to become a superhero far larger than they could ever be on their own. They weren’t a group of individuals coordinating efforts…they became a super-sized individual with different parts…one body, many members.

I believe this is an (undoubtedly limited!) analogy for thinking right about the church. We can so emphasize individual salvation, calling, ministry, gifting that the church becomes a voluntary collection of individuals we make important by emphasizing that life is simply better together…

http://movieweb.com/power-rangers-movie-art-zords/…but the truth is far more radical, far more awesome than that. The church is the Body of Christ, made of many members to be sure, but one body united to Christ our head. No member is complete on our own just as no hand is complete without the arm, shoulder, etc, etc…We are one body only together. Reading through 1 Cor 13, Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and many other passage dealing with the body of Christ, I can’t get away from realizing that God deals with the body first and individuals as members of it. In other words, when the Spirit gives gifts He gives them to the body and does so by giving them to individuals… This subtly but significantly shifts our focus. The question isn’t: what gifts have you given me God? It becomes: what gifts are you giving this body and how do you want to use me within it? Suddenly we don’t get jealous when someone has a gift I don’t have or get defensive trying to establish ‘my place’…rather we celebrate that we have this gift and we are firm in our call to this community, this body.

We begin to ask: what are you calling us to as a body…? We discover the adventure is far bigger than we thought…the enemy’s we can fight are far larger than we dreamed…

There’s so much more to say on this and please do say it by leaving a comment below. But at the very least I hope I’ve given you here a thought to ponder – when you think of church membership, of spiritual gifts, of ministry…what superhero are you? We’re saved to be part of a something so much bigger than ourselves… ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ bringing light into darkness, life into dead places…as we celebrate this Christmas let’s remember He’s among us still through His body the church. What an adventure to be part of!

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Keeping Time with Jesus: Chronos, Kairos and the Second Coming – Part 6

http://theworldofmore.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/world-of-more-time.jpegIf the primary way of being ready for Jesus is to be known by Him, what does that mean for all the commands to work for the Kingdom, to do good things for God?

All of these flow from relationship.  They are not hurdles to jump through before God will love us.  They are an overflow of being loved, a natural response to knowing who God really is.  This is what we see in the second story from Matthew 25 – the story of the talents.

Again, in order to teach his disciples how to be ready for His return, Jesus told them a story about a master and three servants.  The master went away, but before he did he gave one servant 5 talents, another 2 talents, and another 1 talent.  A talent was a large sum of money and the master asked them to look after this for Him until He returned.

http://jeramiesweet.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Buried-Talents.jpgNow, the first two servants both invested their money and put it to use, and doubled it.  The servant with only one talent hid his in the ground.  When the master returned he called his servants to account.  The first two he was incredibly pleased with.  He said to them ‘Well done good and faithful servant!’ and he gave them 10 cities and 4 cities to look after in return.  The last servant told him that he hid the money and did nothing with it because he knew that his master was a harsh man who ‘reaped where he did not sow’.  The master was angry and threw this servant out giving his talent to the servant who had 10.

What is this all about?

At first glance it can seem that the master really is harsh.  He didn’t give equal amounts to the servants and he gave them different rewards, not to mention throwing the one who had the least out!

Yet a closer look, and understanding the parable of the bridesmaids before, tells us the real issue.  The excuse of the final servant points us to the critical issue the master was looking for.  The value of the servants’ actions wasn’t in how much money they made, but on whether they reflected a right understanding of who He was.  Did His servants know Him?

The servant who hid everything did so because he saw his master as harsh, unjust, not to be trusted.  His one desire was to not upset him.  He took no risks thinking that any mistake would earn punishment, as if that is all the master was interested in.

Truth be told we can often view God like that.  He is the headmaster and waiting for the second coming is like sitting outside his office not knowing when we’ll be called in.  If only we can keep our noses clean and our socks pulled up then we’ll be alright.  If I can think good thoughts and be a nice person without messing up too much, then I’ll be fine.  We completely miss His true character and in doing so we miss who we were really made to be.

Yet the truth is so much better.  Those other servants understood who their master was.  He was a Giver of good gifts, generous, willing to trust, and possessing abundant resources.  If he could spare that kind of money for them to deal with as they pleased, how much more must he have had?

For them to take such great risks of investing everything the master had given them, holding nothing back, they must have known something about his character.  They must have had confidence that, no matter what mistakes they made or how much they lost, He would still love them, trust them, and be able to provide for them.  Knowing this, they gave everything they had.

Our God is not a harsh master looking for a reason to punish us.  He is a bridegroom who loves us and is coming to marry us, to bring us into a feast, to bring us into unbroken relationship with Him.  He calls us ‘good and faithful’.  That is all He longs for from us: that we would recognise His goodness, abundance and love enough to entrust all of ourselves to Him.  Like those talents, everything we have, our very lives, are gifts from Him.  He has more than enough, His heart is to reward our simple faithfulness extravagantly (a city for every talent!), all He wants to see is: do we know Him?  If we do, then we’ll live like it.

Our life right now is often one of chronos.  We’re called to work and to wait.  We get glimpses of encounters with God and seeing Him move.  Every time we do it reminds us of who He is, of His character, His goodness, His love.  It prepares us, excites us, reminds us to be ready for when He finally comes again.  We get ready by keeping our lamps filled with oil.  Even our chronos – our work time – is spent in relationship with Him through the Spirit – our work is to keep connected to Him – to be with Him every moment.  When we know Him we see the gifts He’s given us and we’ll throw our whole selves into living for Him.  In that place we’ll live the lives He’s made us for – lives of working and waiting yes, but also lives of abundance, of expectation, of seeing Him move, of knowing Him.

Take heart my friends.  We’re not called to achieve for God but to be faithful to Him; not to earn His love, but to receive it and live from that place of relationship. 

The ultimate kairos moment is coming: our lover is coming back – our we ready? Do we know Him?

Keeping Time with Jesus: Chronos, Kairos and the Second Coming – Part 2

http://theworldofmore.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/world-of-more-time.jpegChronos and kairos.  Tick tock and catching the wave.  If you missed the last post have a look now.  If you read it, then think again about your answers to the last questions:  have you ever had a kairos moment?  Was the working and waiting worth it?

I said we’d have a look at the point of understanding chronos and kairos today.  The first point is this: understanding kairos let’s us maintain hope in the chronos.

It isn’t always easy being a Christian.  Sometimes it can feel like we are doing all the right things but not seeing the results we expect.  We hear from others and read in scripture the promises of what God wants to do through us, how He loves and wants to move in the world to free, heal and redeem, how He has already filled us with the power of His Spirit and how we can expect to see all of this happen if we simply step out.  Then we finally pluck up the courage, step out, and….nothing…or worse….we’re misunderstood, demeaned, rejected, kicked out…we find trouble.

What’s going on?

If you resonate with that sentiment, whatever it may look like for you, then take heart.  You’re not forgotten, failing, getting it wrong, or unlucky.  You’re living the normal Christian life, but….you may have taken your eyes off the wave.

As Christians we’re called to live in the chronos with out eyes on the kairos.  We’re called to work and to wait, it is the shape of our lives, but with eyes fixed on the extraordinary intervention of God – His presence in the midst of us.  When we understand how Jesus tells time we can work and wait without stopping hoping.

Danielle tells how part of her role is to visit massage parlours in her local town.  These are not innocent places, more goes on here than massage, but they visit taking cakes simply wanting to show God’s love and build relationship.  She described knocking on the door of one parlour and being greeted by the manageress.  She only just managed to introduce herself when she was told, ‘We don’t want you here’ and the door was slammed in her face.  She managed to blurt out ‘See you next week!’ as the door closed.

Next week she visited and the same happened again: ‘We don’t want you here!’…slam!  The next week was the same, and the next, and the next.  Six times she visited, six times she was told to leave, six times the door slammed shut….

The seventh week she went again, cakes in hand, and knocked on the door.  This time the door opened wide, the manageress cried out ‘Thank God you’re here!’ and led her straight away into the back room.  A young girl was there obviously distressed.  The manageress told the girl to say to Danielle exactly what she’d just said to her.  The girl cried out, ‘I need forgiveness, I need to be healed, I need to be free!’  Danielle introduced her to Jesus and right then and there she gave her life to him.

Danielle caught the wave.  6 weeks of working and waiting.  6 weeks of rejection, slammed doors, seeming pointlessness, obstruction, no way through.  6 weeks of chronos.  The one moment of kairos.  She couldn’t predict it or make it happen.  She didn’t do it – only God could.  All she did was kept on paddling to where the wave must break and waiting, ready to catch whatever wave came passed.

When that wave broke, do you think she counted up the weeks before to work out whether it was worth trying again?  No way.  She just experienced kairos, God moving and breaking in, a young girl’s ilfe being changed, her self-worth returned, a young girl discovering that she’s not a failure or messed up, but is loved and valued by the One who made everything.  Danielle went straight back out hunting waves.

God is always faithful.  He is always moving.  The wave is going to break.  The biggest danger we have is that we become the surfer who gave up and went home.  The wave may not always be exactly what we expected.  We don’t control it, we don’t make it happen, we simply put ourselves in its path, wait and get ready to surf.  If you are working and waiting based on what you’ve heard God say and promises he’s made, then be encouraged – he is always faithful, his timing is impeccable…but he won’t ask our permission.  Let’s not get discouraged but encourage one another to keep our eyes on him, remembering what he has already done, and trusting for what he has promised is to come.

This is how we live in present moment.  It’s a reflection of another time to come, a kairos moment to not only invade but to end all chronos, a wave that will not stop flowing.  This is what we’ll talk about next post.  For now, be encouraged, God is always moving.

Death – a poem

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Zv3AyaO7DNc/UTt-aeaowaI/AAAAAAAAWEI/PZdtVjHmo7w/s1600/doorway.jpg

A doorway, or a thief?

Pain or relief?

At last.Farewell.

Above, beneath.

See you later,

Finality.

Gratitude.

Grief.

Endless descriptions, yet one truth is needed:

That oppressive sovereignty, once firm, has been ceded.

For when Jesus Christ rose, death was defeated.

Our hearts feel the pain of this temporary separation,

but Spirit brings comfort of guaranteed celebration.

For those who know him, by Christ are well known,

and presented to Father at the glorious throne.

Death is defeated, life is assured,

Love won the victory,

‘Welcome’ the final word.

Is Jesus Enough?

http://dobbse.net/thinair/2004/05/finger-pointing.gifThe challenge of preaching is that your preaching is challenging.  They say that when you point the finger there are four pointing back at you (or at least 3 fingers and a thumb!).  When you stand with a microphone and the responsibility to voice what God is wanting to say to that group of people on that evening through that particular passage – then every word you utter resonates straight back in your heart too.  At least I hope and pray that it will never be otherwise!

On Sunday I preached a message that hit me with a challenge that will resonate for some time to come.  This isn’t a comment on the quality of the preach, but rather the significance of the word God gave me to speak.  You can listen to it here, but this is the crux….Is Jesus enough?  Just Him, not what He brings, gives or is able to do, but simply Him?  Whether we understand or not, even when the way he seems to act (or fail to do so) offends our sense of what he should do…is he still enough?

My text was John 6:25-40 – a conversation including Jesus’ famous declaration that “I am the bread of life!”  But what struck me is how this conversation is Jesus returning to the crowd he withdrew from at the start of the chapter in order to give them another chance to invite him in.

http://www.beliefnet.com/Prayables/Scripture/Loaves-and-Fishes.aspxYou see, the chapter starts with the feeding of the 5,000.  There is a crowd of thousands in a remote place and hungry.  So Jesus feeds them with a little boy’s packed lunch.  Jesus isn’t just generous and offers to buy everyone dinner, he does something totally beyond, something utterly unexpected.  Jesus doesn’t play by the rules we play by, he doesn’t even bend them slightly, rather it’s like he’s playing a totally different game.

Yet the crowd miss the point.  Confronted with a miracle that’s meant to be a sign, to be evidence of who Jesus is, they miss the invitation to receive Jesus and they simply see the free lunch.  They search around for some concept within their understanding of life with which to label Jesus.  They call him the ‘Prophet’ they’re expecting – not God himself come in human form – and then they try to control.  We read that they wanted to sieze Jesus and make him King.  So Jesus withdrew.

You see Jesus didn’t come to help us play the game of life better, to live a better life.  He came to give us a new life, to bring us into a new game, to enable us to live by different rules – where God himself is with us, our Father, our faithful provider.  Yet so often when we experience something of God’s power or an answer to prayer, we focus on the gift not the Giver, we seek to maintain life as we know it and simply add God on top.  We tame God with a label we understand and seek to control.  Jesus withdraws.

http://revbickers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/e100-bible-reading-challenge-miracles_3.htmlThe very next event is another miracle.  The disciples are in a boat in the middle of the lake and a storm has arisen.  Jesus doesn’t just swim out like a hero to help them, he walks on the water towards them.  He plays by different rules.  The disciples are terrified, but all they need is Jesus to say ‘It is I’ and they invite him into the boat.  They don’t wait for a deeper explanation, to understand fully, to know what to do.  All they need is to know it is Jesus and they invite him in.  We’re told that immediately they reached the other side.  By inviting Jesus in they find themselves playing the other game, His game, with different rules.

The conversation Jesus has is him giving the crowd another opportunity.  He challenges them to lift their eyes from ‘food that spoils’ and to see the ‘food that lasts to eternal life’ right in front of them.  He explains that the only work they do is to believe in and receive Jesus.  To let Jesus in.  When they ask for a sign his message is simple – you’ve seen enough already – I’m here.  God himself has come in human form and stands in front of you – you’ve seen enough to know I’m good – all that remains is to invite me in.

I’m challenged.  How many times have I seen God move, experienced incredible provision, seen physical healing, known emotional change in my own heart?  And yet I’ve quickly focused on that provision not the Provider.  I’ve wanted Jesus so long as he continues to do what he has always done.  I’ve gained some understanding of how God works and I’m happy for Him to do so within those boundaries…but I don’t want anything that disrupts my grasp on how life works, on how God works.

Sometimes when it seems that God has stopped doing what He once did the issue is that we’ve started to control, to focus on that particular provision, to limit what God is allowed to do in our lives.  We’ve focussed on gift not Giver and so the Giver withdraws.  The incredible news is that He’ll always give us another chance – but are we open to the conversation?  To the challenge of our understanding and priorities that centers on the one simple question: is Jesus enough?  If we had nothing else, if He ceased to do all that we’ve known Him do before, if He gave us only himself – is Jesus enough?

The disciples amaze me.  After many have left because the conversation was so offensive, Jesus asks if they are leaving too.  They reply: ‘To whom would we go?”  These men left everything before they saw a single miracle, simply at the invitation to ‘come follow me’.  They’ve gone so far that it doesn’t matter if they understand or not, if they like it or not, they have nowhere else to go but where Jesus is.  I want to be in that place, to say ‘Jesus, you are enough, more than enough, no matter what – all I want is you.’

How about you?

Leadership Journies 1 – Rest and Confidence

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-FkX3Cvglwgw/UO96WHj16qI/AAAAAAAAM7c/BGq8dvvLXKY/s1600/L+plate.jpgOne piece of advice I’ve heard from almost every leader I’ve come across is this: never stop learning.  It doesn’t matter how many years of experience you have or how many letters come after your name – there is always more to learn.

I’m at the start of my ministry.  And I’m in this for the long haul.  So I want to learn.  I’ve had the privilege of growing up under the leadership of some great men and women.  Everyone learns from mistakes and experiences, but there is little point repeating mistakes of those who have gone before if we can avoid it by conversation!  So I’ve started to meet up with as many of these leaders as are willing to simply to learn whatever they can teach me.

The first man I met with was my old youth leader and a huge influence in my teenage years – Steve Delves.

Steve was the first person to release me into positions of leadership and got me to preach.  I’ve met few people as comfortable in who they are and as able to draw others out into the people they’re made to be.  Yet the main things we spoke about were rest and confidence.

http://feministing.com/files/2013/02/work-life-balance-sign-post.jpgHow do you balance work and rest?  When you’re role has no clear time boundaries, you can feel always on call, you’re in a vocation rather than a career….how do you not overwork?

Steve took me back to the beginning, back to Genesis.  On the 6th day God created man and woman – right at the pinnacle of the creation, the final act.  On the 7th day he rested.  So what was humanity’s first day?  It was rest.

Often we think we have to work before we can rest, that we have to get everything done and dusted before we can even think about stopping.  Yet the first day of man was to rest.  We work from rest, not rest from work.

Steve found this insight in Mike Breen’s book Lifeshapes, but it’s something that has influenced him greatly. Rest is the source of our work, not the reward for it.  Right at the heart of this blog is the understanding that we are called to be faithful, not effective.  This faithfulness is itself the most powerful course, because as we walk hand in hand with God, he moves through us.  It is His strength that achieves His purposes through us.  We rest in Him and allow Him to work.  In a sense, our biggest job is to give up control, which takes incredible trust, which takes a deep awareness of the love of God.

No wonder Steve went on to say we have to be really careful to make sure our plumb line in deciding how well we are doing is what God is saying, rather than what people are asking.  Yes, we care and love those around us, but we are called first to respond to God’s lead rather than the demands and felt needs of those around us. Father God cares even more than we do for every person in our minds, He will not neglect or leave anyone stranded.  Responding to God is in itself the best way to respond to the people around us.

We’re called to be faithful and faithfulness comes from rest.

If you could give any advice to your younger self when you began leadership, what would it be?

You know more than you think you do.

Steve explained that most of the angst and stress he felt during leadership came from insecurity in himself or God.  Confidence in what he was thinking, decisions he made, ways that he led would have settled him far more.  It’s not that he would have done anything different, but he would have enjoyed it far more – been more at peace – worked from rest.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-ent-FNvEbyM/USOCpWwIScI/AAAAAAAAAvs/VLluVWvb72o/s1600/How_Confidence_Can_Improve_Your_Life_and_Fitness_Goals_From_Empower_Your_Body.jpgWe are always learning, we are never the finished article, there may well be better ways that we could do the things that we do, but we’re not called to be the best.  We are called to be faithful.  To fix our eyes on God, give up control, and allow Him to do whatever He wants to do through us.  When we focus on walking in that relationship with Him, on being the people God has made us to be, we can have far more confidence in who we are because our confidence is in the One who made us.  Don’t second guess as if it all depends on you.  Keep right with God and trust as if it all depends on Him.  Here we find peace.  Here we find rest.  Here we see God move.

Where the greenhouse used to be

I was surprised, not so long ago,

In the garden of all places,

Where the greenhouse used to be.

Small patch of land, soil and some paving slabs,

I grabbed my spade and began to dig.

I’m not sure why I did.

Boredom perhaps, curiosity.

I’d done the rest: Flowers, shrubs, ponds and plants,

Every inch of garden, Carefully crafted and nurtured into growth.

Except this patch.

I don’t know why I waited.

The rest had taken time alright,

Year after year of dedicated time,

But perhaps I waited because I knew what I would find

In that corner.

Vague memories of what used to be,

Or just a sense of something new that would change the way things are.

Still, one day, I dug.

Crack.

Spade blade on something hard.

A rock? Too wide.

I dug a little wider.

To my surprise I found,

A chest.

I pulled it out and set it down,

In the corner, where the greenhouse used to be.

Muddy chest, once new, now locked and rusted shut,

Through years of being almost disappeared under layer and layer,

Of life.

Soil and weeds, over years, months and weeks,

Gradually covering,

As people, places, things I used to know,

Priorities so important once, now forgotten,

Disappointments and unmet expectations,

Dreams dreamed and not quite reached,

Or altogether ripped apart,

Like passing minutes and grains of earth

Layer upon layer covered that chest

Until it lay forgotten.

Now found.

I opened it.

It wasn’t easy.

Through lock and rust I had to thrust.

I hesitated, I didn’t want to break it,

Didn’t even know if what I’d find was good or bad, or nothing.

But something told me I had to do it now,

To wait another moment was to risk another burial.

It had to be done. So done it was.

You’ll never guess what I found inside.

Not medieval coins or ancient crockery,

But a beating heart.

Fragile, weak and small,

But still alive.

Protected in this shrine of grubby memories of earth and time.

And the strangest thing, to my surprise,

I knew this heart was mine.

Distant memories echoed in my mind of a time

This heart beat in me.

A time before it sunk beneath the years,

And days of people, things and places,

Shattered dreams and broken promises,

Wasted time and mundane mediocrity

The simple stuff of life allowed to gather,

And to cover what should have been it’s source,

Not half-forgotten, hidden, buried deep,

Where the greenhouse used to be.

I heard a voice.  Still, calm, it whispered:

“Pick it up.

Pick it up and put it in.

It’s never too late for new life to begin.

Your heart is beating still,

Kept alive through time by mine,

The source of life even when unseen,

But now you have a chance to start afresh,

To know your heart and know mine too,

To dream again with hope and expectation,

Based on me and not on you.

The new begins today.

Pick it up.”

Pick it up.

Did I?

Will you?

A faith buried through years of life, distractions, hurts and joys,

Is still a faith that beats with life never too late to be awakened.

Things will change when we let Him in,

Re-discover dreams, allow ourselves to feel again,

But change brings life, and life in all it’s fullness,

When it’s nurtured by the gardener,

Not buried in the corner

Where the greenhouse used to be.

Pick it up.

Colours on the Horizon – viewing the future from the Father’s table

There is a new season coming for the church.  A season characterised by creativity and community.  As a friend and I were praying and talking yesterday we were struck afresh by how true this is, how we can see signs of it already bubbling up, but how we have no idea what it will look like.  Like colours on the horizon we can see signs of it, but can only walk to it step by step, doing what God says each moment.  This isn’t a set model that we can develop a tried and tested strategy to reach. We feel like we have been given an opportunity to explore what it might look like in one particular church gathering that we’re part of.  Exploring by simply doing what God says to do each step.  First we began eating together, now we want to encourage, demonstrate and release creativity and expression towards God.  That is what has inspired this poem.  It’s not meant to be polished or amazing, it is the beginning of an expression of praise through creativity, of me finding a voice I didn’t think I had, in the hope that others might find theirs.  (Click on the image below to read the poem.)

Background Image from http://lloydbleekcollection.cs.uct.ac.za/images/bleek_nb_lowres/BC_151_A1_4_015/A1_4_15_01494.JPG

Dwelling: The Christian Life Part 3

From: http://dailyjesusnow.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/dwelling-in-gods-secret-place.htmlFaithfulness is the center of the Christian life, perseverance is how we respond to opposition, dwelling in God is where the two come together.

Psalm 91 is considered by a number of scholars to be a psalm describing spiritual warfare.  (Why not read it now?)  The references to ‘the fowler’s snare’, ‘deadly pestilence’ and ‘the terror of night’ for instance, are probably references to demons and gods of the nations at the time.  In other words, this psalm is talking about how we find safety in the battle that we enter as Christians.

So how do we find safety?  The answer in this psalm comes in the very first verse:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)

When it comes to opposition and spiritual warfare we are called to dwell in God.  There is huge similarity to the call to perseverance we find in Nehemiah.  Again it is John Wimber who helped me see this incredible truth that, no matter what the enemy may throw at us, nothing can harm us when we dwell in God.

Wimber describes how, during the second world war, numerous bomb shelters were being built near his home in America.  One day there was an accident by one of these shelters and a house was blown up.  Wimber remembers hearing a man say, “What a shame the house wasn’t in the shelter rather than near it!”From: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/homefront/shel/shel2.html

God is our shelter, the one in whom we are safe.  It is not enough to live near God – to have right doctrine or remember a particular experience from time ago – we need to live in Him today and every day.

Dwelling in God is a journey.  It is a journey of intimacy.  And it is this intimacy that links perseverance and faithfulness together.

Jesus said “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.  The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21).

Dwelling in God is to remain in love with Him.  As we love Jesus we are loved by the Father – this is the place of safety – the place where no opposition can harm us.

Yet this love and dwelling comes from obeying God’s commands.  Does this mean that God does want us to achieve for him, to fulfill his tasks before he will love us?  Only if we misunderstand the commands of Jesus.  The greatest command is to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbour.  The command Jesus wants us to obey is the command to love Him, to live with Him, to be His children – the command to be faithful.

Let me conclude like this: the three words of these three posts are different angles on the same theme.  Faithfulness. Perseverance. Dwelling.  There is a mission for the church, callings for every Christian, a purpose for which we are made.  These are important and worthy of all that we have.  But these are not the essence of the Christian life, they are not tasks God expects us to fulfill or goals we are meant to achieve.  We could do nothing to save ourselves before Jesus saved us and we can do nothing by ourselves to achieve the purpose Jesus saved us for.  We were saved when God brought us into relationship with Him and now the focus of our lives is to keep in that relationship.

Faithfulness means walking with God; perseverance means not getting distracted; dwelling in God means trusting we are safe when we simply stay with Him.  The Christian life is about faithfully persevering in dwelling with God.

Perseverance: The Christian Life Part 2

From: http://www.gembapantarei.com/2008/11/7_leadership_lessons_from_a_mountain_goat.htmlThe purpose of the Christian life is to be faithful – to live with God as the kind of person He has made us to be.  This is what we are called to focus on and put our effort into.  This is the essence of the last post.  But there is more.

There are callings that God places on our lives, things that He is wanting to do through us.  Ephesians 2:10 describes the Christian as God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works prepared in advance for us to do.  We are called to put our effort into being the person God has made us to be, but there is also a purpose he has made us for.  This purpose is something that God will work through us as we focus on living faithful to Him.

Yet I wonder how many of you have, like me, experienced the reality that when we put our face to the work God has given we begin to face opposition?  When we hear the call of God and decide to walk with Him, things often get difficult.  The fact remains that we are in a battle and this battle is real.  But how do we fight it?

Here the book of Nehemiah reveals a simple yet profound truth.  Our secret weapon in spiritual warfare is Perseverance.

Nehemiah is a book in the Old Testament that described the work of Nehemiah in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  A number of years after God’s people had been exiled and Jerusalem destroyed, the Persian King gave Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.  What we read both describes the historical situation and offers an example of how the Enemy brings opposition to God’s work and how we respond.

Opposition to the work comes mainly from Sanballat, the leader of the neighbouring people who did not want Jerusalem rebuilt.  Throughout the book we see numerous attempts from him to obstruct Nehemiah.  First he mocks and ridicules the very idea of rebuilding the wall.  Next he begins to threaten.  Later he calls Nehemiah to have a conversation giving a false sense of security, but then begins to spread lies that Nehemiah is seeking to revolt.

Mockery, accusation, distraction, and lies.  Ring any bells?  Anyone who begins to follow a clear call of God, no matter how great the experience that led to that call, will experience some or all of this issues.  Having moved cities or started a new role or stepped out in a particular way we’ll face ridicule that we’re being stupid, accusation that we’re doing the wrong thing, distraction that we should be busy with something else, and potentially even lies accusing us of things that have no basis in truth.  We may even find, like Nehemiah, that close friends of ours begin to speak the same things to us – even when well meaning.  It was one of Nehemiah’s friends who tried to convince him to hide in the temple due to fear that Sanballat was sending people to kill him.

What was Nehemiah’s response?

From: http://dwellingintheword.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/654-nehemiah-4/

This is what I find particularly interesting.  Nehemiah fought this opposition by simply keeping on keeping on.  He persevered with what God had said.

Too often we can slip into thinking, as soon as opposition raises it’s head, that we need to stop, turn aside and ‘deal with the opposition’ before we carry on with the work.  The assumption is that we must first make this opposition stop before we can continue with what God has called us to

John Wimber, whose teaching brought this to my attention, puts this wonderfully: ‘Nehemiah didn’t stop building the wall in order to fight the opposition. Rather, he fought the opposition by building the wall.’

Now, Nehemiah didn’t simply ignore opposition.  He took some precautions by arming some of the workers and setting people as watchmen.  He also brought every issue to God and we repeatedly read that, when accusation or threat came, he went straight to God in prayer and asked for help.  But he kept on building.

The Christian life is a call to faithfulness and the response to opposition is perseverance.  Why?  Because ultimately it is God who works through us to do what He has planned to do.  Our job is to keep in step with Him – to be the people He has called us to be in order that He can do through us what He has purposed to do.  There is no opposition that can stand in the way of that and there is nothing that can harm us when we dwell in Him.  And that is the topic of the next post.