A Life Worthy of the Gospel

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – on Lord, One faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 4:1-7

                As I sit down to write a reflection on the first few verses of the fourth chapter of Ephesians I find myself wrestling with the richness of the doctrine which is contained here.  With the simple word “therefore” the apostle brings in the glorious things he has just been writing about in the first three chapters of the letter.  Those chapters focus upon the power of the Gospel which has taken us out of this world of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This new kingdom into which we have entered is in fact the Church, or the Body of Christ.  In Christ we have come to know a love that has completely transformed our lives.  On the foundation of this life changing Gospel Paul then calls us to live a life which is worthy, or suitable, or becoming of our calling.  In the rest of this letter we will read about just what such a worthy life is like.  We are told how we are to actively pursue this life as Paul begins to use a series of present participles to move his argument forward.  These participles describe earnest and continual activity of our part in response to the infinite and continuous action of the Spirit of God through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We must be submitting our lives to the powerful love of God which is being poured into us by the Holy Spirit.

In verses two and three we encounter these two participles, “to be enduring patiently with one another” and “to be making every effort”.  Both participles call us to constant activity.  Both push us along in a life that is truly Christ-centred.  This is in fact the foundation for our transformed lives.  The Lord Jesus Christ is the One who was crucified and raised for us.  In Him we have life if we pick up our cross and follow Him.

Each us faces a constant challenge to this type of Christ-centred living.  Our flesh does not die easily.  Naturally we live lives which are conformed to the pattern of this world.  Basically this means that we desire to put ourselves first in every situation.  To this Paul calls us to live with “humility, gentleness, enduring patiently with one another.”  We are to actively pursue this patience.  In essence we begin to live out the long suffering sacrificial love that we have received from the Lord.  How has He put up with us?  What has He done for us?  How far is He willing to go in order to redeem us?  It is here that we find ourselves challenged as we see the ways our flesh shrinks back from really following the Lord into this cross centred living.  We are not certain that we can pay the cost of such a life.  In fact we are certain that we cannot.  Before we move on to look at the resources that make us able to live in a way befitting the Gospel we need to look at the other participle in verse three.  Paul says that we are “to make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Again he calls us to constant and earnest pursuit of the unity of the Spirit.    Our ambition is to share together with others in the Body of Christ the common life that we have been called to.  Do we really catch the meaning of what Paul writes here?  Have we confronted its challenge?  Our flesh looks for ways to be self sufficient and separate from one another.  The Gospel calls us to participate in the life of Christ together.

To be sure there are times when we must separate ourselves from those who do not share in this life of Christ.  I question at times whether we do so too easily.  It is in answering this question that we find our flesh being crucified.  It is too easy for us to begin to build our own little self-centred kingdom.  Paul calls us to Christ-centred, Spirit directed following of the one who redeemed us through the Gospel of the cross.  As Paul describes it here in these chapters of Ephesians we find ourselves reflecting on something which is truly glorious because it is of God.

Who Is Jesus?

                ““I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”  “Who are you?” they asked.  “Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 8:24-25

                James T. Dennison Jr. Called my attention to a thought about the Gospel of John in his May 1992 article, The Structure of John’s Gospel The Present State of the Question (www.kerux.com/doc/0701A3.asp).  This was that the centre of John’s Gospel is found in the passage John 8:12 through 12:50 and that it is centred upon the LORD Jesus Christ.  I am with Dennison on the Christ Centred nature of John’s Gospel.  I am still exploring questions about the overall structure of the book.  His thesis is intriguing however and I find myself wanting to explore this question in future months.  For the purposes of this devotional today I want to simply focus on that which John, as an evangelist, makes so abundantly clear here.  He is demonstrating in his Gospel that Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the one who we find in the Scriptures as God with us.  Here in these central chapters in the Gospel John begins to appeal to a wide variety of evidence in order to make his case.  Between chapters six and fifteen John quotes Jesus making a series of seven “I Am” statements which point to Jesus as the fulfillment of the various types of Christ which we find in the Old Testament.  Interspersed among these seven powerful identity statements John also quotes Jesus as using the term “I Am” as a means of identifying Himself as the One whose name means “I Am”, that is God Himself.  In Exodus 3:14 we are given this Name for God, “God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am”.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I Am has sent me to you.””  Jesus makes use of that identification as He seeks to witness to the Pharisees and Scribes in John 8:24.  They will die in their sins unless they believe that I Am.

Jesus is calling these leaders into a state of believing that an astounding truth has been revealed right in their presence.  This truth calls them to a decision.  It is this decision, or point of division that is being confronted in this passage of Scripture.  Eternal forgiveness of sin is at stake.  The only way to receive that forgiveness is by believing that the man Jesus standing before them was in fact the Living God who has revealed Himself first to them through His Word, and now in person.  These leaders, as well as you and I are brought to this point of decision.  The question which John repeats from the lips of the leaders is this, “Who are You?”  This is the question which John forces us to ask Jesus as well.  If eternal life is dependent on Him then we need to know who He is.

Two things are brought to our attention here.  The first is that we are called to believe Him when He tells us that He is I Am.  John points to this fact in the first chapter of his Gospel when he writes concerning John the Baptist that, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him.  He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:7-13)  This is a faith which dramatically reorients every part of our lives.  It centres every part of the life we live upon the LORD Jesus Christ who is God with us, and who has come to redeem us through the cross.

The second thing that John points out to us here is that the answer that we give to this question will dramatically change us.  God has come to us, and given His life as a ransom for us on the cross.  Faith in Jesus as our redeemer gives us the forgiveness of sin.  Faith in Him become as radical and complete commitment to Him.  John calls it a receiving of Him in which we become born again.

The question is do you believe that Jesus is I Am?

Seeking Revival

                “When you pray, say “Father…”

                                                                                                                                                Luke 11:2

                Fred Sanders has written an extremely helpful book explaining the doctrine of the Trinity entitled The Deep Things of God, How the Trinity Changes Everything (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2010).  His book introduces the reader to a wide variety of other helpful material which expanded this readers understanding and appreciation of the place of the Biblical Doctrine in practical Christian living.  I introduce this blog entry with a reference to this book because Sanders concludes his book with a chapter on the impact of the Trinity on the prayer life of the believer.  Over the past several months I have been finding myself increasingly convicted regarding the need for believers to join together in prayer for a renewed outpouring of the Spirit of God in revival.  As I have been praying about this, and seeking to encourage others to join together in prayer for revival something interesting has been happening with me.  It is as if the Lord has enrolled me in School once again.  The course of study is the development of a life of Intercessory Prayer which is fully Biblical.  I have been finding myself thrust into situations where I have been forced to learn what it is to truly pray.

It is here that Fred Sanders has been so helpful because he introduces us to Biblical Triune Praying, which he calls praying with the grain.  I want to whet our appetites for this type of praying with an extended quotation from Sander’s chapter on prayer, pages 211-212.

“It is because of God’s triunity that we have communion with God in prayer.  Once we understand that the Christian life is constituted by the Trinity, we have an opportunity to pray in a way that is consistent with that constitution.  If the Spirit unites us to the Son and reconciles us to the Father, we have an invitation to pray accordingly: to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit.  This is not just the “theologically correct” way to pray but a way of praying that draws real spiritual power from being aliened with reality.  The reality is that Christian prayer is already tacitly Trinitarian, whether we recognize it or not.  Aligning with it means praying with the grain instead of against it.

                Wood has a grain to it.  The long fibers that make up a piece of wood all run in one direction, and a wise woodworker will always find the direction of the grain before starting to work.  He can work along the grain or cut across it, but he avoids planning or sanding against that grain because that is to invite a clash with the directionality built into the piece of wood.  Paper has a gain as well, which is why you can tear straight lines down the page but not across it.  Cat fur has a grain, and if you stroke a cat against that grain, the results are not good for felines or humans.  When you work with the grain of the wood, or the paper, or the cat, things go well.  When you go against the grain, either because you are oblivious to the structural forces involved or because you consider them negligible, things do not go as well.

                The act of prayer has, metaphorically speaking, a grain to it.  Prayer has an underlying structure built into it, complete with a directionality that is worth observing.  This grain is Trinitarian, running from the Spirit through the Son to the Father.  It is a built-in logic of meditation, designed that way by God for reasons deeper than we are likely to fathom.  But we do not need to understand it in order to benefit from its solid structural integrity.  Nor do we need to take special lessons in praying in a properly Trinitarian fashion.  The possibility of praying in a more Trinitarian way is all promise and no threat, all invitation and no danger.  Christian prayer is already thoroughly, pervasively, structurally Trinitarian whether you have been noticing it or not.  The only thing you have to add is your attention, to begin to taking notice of what’s Trinitarian about prayer.”

                What Sanders introduces here is the fact that prayer is an invitation to join with the Father, Son, and Spirit in their communion.  We have help as we seek this because God’s Word tells us that both the Son and The Spirit are interceding for us.  This is the thing I have been learning about prayer for revival.  It is at its heart a seeking to know God as He has revealed Himself to us.  Are we truly seeking to know and love Him?

Intercessory Praying

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a man just like us.  He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

                                                                                                                                                          James 5:16-18

                If you are like me you often find the examples of great Prayer Warriors to be somewhat intimidating. “Historic Pray-ers” are held up an example for us, but they often seem to be people whose commitment to the Lord is beyond that of us ordinary mortals.  Then there are the examples of people of prayer in the Bible and their example is even more intimidating.  People like Moses, or Abraham, David, Daniel, Elijah, the Apostles, or any of the host of New Testament characters seem almost to be from another Planet as they engage in Ministries of Intercession.

In looking carefully at these people of prayer though we make an encouraging discovery.  This is that they, like us, are mere sinful mortals.  James tells us that “Elijah was a man like us.”  What James means by this is that Elijah was a man who was subject to the same frailties and weaknesses as we are.  The reason we find him or others like him so difficult to follow is because we focus our attention upon ourselves rather than the God who hears and answers prayer.  Let’s take a look at what James tells us about Intercessory Prayer in these brief verses.  First, in verse 16 he calls us to intercessory prayer, with the confession of sin, for one another so that we will be healed.  This must be as natural a part of our life together as the Body of Christ as is breathing to our human lives.  There is a presupposition here however.  Intercessory praying requires that we be living in the will of God.  Do we really want the will of God to become increasingly our reality?  The power of prayer is not in the prayer itself it is in the God who we are praying to.  James tells us that the prayer of a righteous person is effective to accomplish its purpose.  James is pointing us to the will of God here.  The righteous person is one who is dependent upon the Lord in every way.  We are sinners redeemed through the merciful grace of Christ.  We are not, nor can we ever be righteous in ourselves.  Here is the precious truth here that James shouts at us.  Neither was Elijah, or Paul, or Peter, or any of the other Biblical people righteous in and of themselves.  None of those great historic people whose biographies we devour were righteous in themselves either.  All of them were sinners like us, subject to the same frailties and weaknesses as we are.

Why then was their intercessory praying so much more effective than ours.  I believe that James is telling us that they had learnt the secret of prayer.  It must be a dependant casting of ourselves upon the purpose of God which is being worked out in Christ.  Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes the righteous life of believers in Romans 12:1-2.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

                When you explore the passages in 1 Kings 17 & 18 regarding Elijah and prayer what is seen clearly is that this was a man who through prayerful meditation was seeking to understand and obey the Will of God.  His prayer of intercession then became conformed to the will of God.  This made the difference for him.  If we join our voices to the Intercessory praying of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, both of whom we are told are interceding for us according to the will of God the Father then our praying will have the same power as theirs, not because of us, but because of them.  Charles Hodge puts it this way in a quotation shared by Kurt Richardson.

“It cannot be supposed that God has subjected Himself in the government of the world, or in the dispensation of His gifts, to the short sighted wisdom of men, by promising, without condition, to do whatever they ask.  No rational man could wish that this was the case.  He then asserted that the condition expressed in 1 John 5:14 is everywhere else implied: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”” (Richardson, Kurt A., The New American Commentary on James, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1997, p. 238)

Fellowship With God

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savoir; my God will hear me.”

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 7:7

 

                The Scriptures have a lot to teach us about what it really means to live in fellowship with God.  The authors of Scripture enjoyed a rich relationship with God.  At times it is described as “crying out to God” or it is seen in the way a person will “draw near to God”.  Sometimes we discover this rich fellowship in the expectant hope and joy which characterized a person’s life.  Here in Micah 7 we discover his rich fellowship with God in the personal lament which he pens describing his distress at the broken state of the sinful society in which he lived.

Micah’s personal lament is a prayer in which this Godly gentleman cries out to the living God for relief from his distress over the sin which seems to characterize so much of the society in which he lived.  This is in many ways a true measure of the real state of our hearts.  Are we moved and distressed by those things which move and distress God?  In the Scriptures we find many of these types of Lament.  Could it be that this is what the Scriptures mean when they make reference to people who began to cry out to God?

In the book of Psalms alone we find these personal cries to God for deliverance. Psalms 5, 13, 22, 31, 55, and 71 are all examples of these personal laments.  In each of these the author cries out to God for deliverance.  As the cry is brought before God it contains within it a confession of sin and a deep awareness that help and hope can only ultimately come from God.  It is He and He alone who can redeem us.  It is He who can create within us that new life which is characterized by the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

The reality that we are led into here is that the only acceptable context for dealing with our distress is one of worship.  Each of these personal cries for help is in reality a song of worship or a statement of faith.  Our faith is most clearly seen in the ways we respond to the distresses of our lives.  In Genesis 47:31b we read that “Israel (Jacob) worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.”  This was as he was nearing the end of his life.  It was a time for worship.  This is the case with Micah’s time of distress.  It is a time for worship.

When we look carefully at Micah’s lament we see his worship in the context of the brokenness of the society in which he lived.  Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in family life.  Members of families were turning on one another in his world, just as they do in ours.  This always causes great anguish of heart.  Many solutions will be put forward to heal the family, but only one will work and that is the intervention of God.  What is needed is real prayer, crying out to God for help.  This was what in fact Micah did, expressing his expectation of the day in which God would intervene, and his hope and trust in God’s gracious intervention.  “As for me” is his cry.  This is always the believer’s cry.  Is it your cry?

Stubborn Unbelief

       “Later Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were eating;  He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.”                                                                                                                                                  Mark 16:14

                Several years ago I became engaged in a study of the Gospel of Mark, one of the things that was impressed upon my mind and heart was that this Gospel defined just what it meant to be real disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Mark does this by constantly painting a picture of how the disciples refused to really commit to Him on account of their hardness of heart, fear, or unbelief.  As Mark keeps pulling the curtain back to expose the real disciples with all of their failures he shows us the reality of their, and our, entrenched unbelief.   This unbelief causes them, and us, for we are really no different from the disciples, to consistently shrink back from following Jesus because of stubborn unbelief.  The whole Gospel makes this point clearly, and the final twelve verses in chapter sixteen reinforce it by constantly coming back to the theme.  No matter how many times the disciples hear the testimony of the resurrection they refuse to believe.  Mark presents the account of the resurrection as a test which the disciples initially fail.  How would you have done if you had been in their place?  They had the witness of Jesus, telling them all that was to come.  Would they believe Him?  They also had the testimony of the Scriptures which Jesus has repeatedly told them that He is fulfilling.  Would they believe this testimony?  Then there is the word of Mary Magdalene, and of two unnamed disciples who met Him on a journey.  Still they did not believe.  What stubborn unbelief we discover here.

How do we fare when we encounter all the testimony of our Lord’s resurrection?   We think that we would believe, but the question we must honestly ask ourselves is this, do we?  So often the entrenched unbelief we see in this text is revealed in our lives, because the causes of their failure exist in our lives as well.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a little study of the book of Habakkuk which he entitled From Fear to Faith in which he outlined our problem.  We live our lives in fear.  We fear death, failure, poverty, ridicule, loss of power, and could we say it insignificance.  All of this reveals that the focus of our lives is firmly upon ourselves.  Even as those who claim the name of Christian we find ourselves living self-centredly.   The consequence is that we never really begin to follow Jesus.

Mark points to at least four things that show this self-centredness in our lives.

1)      Fear is the first one.  We fear the consequences of really following Jesus.  If we really committed ourselves to living by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ what would it cost us?  We are not really certain that we can bear that cost so we shrink back from becoming a disciple.  There is more here however because we not only fear the cost we also fear the narrow road that Jesus will lead us on.  If we really follow Jesus where will He take us?  Mark makes it clear that the disciples are to follow the crucified one wherever He goes.

2)      Hardness of heart is second.  The disciples refuse to follow because they don’t really want to.  They are more comfortable holding on to their sin.  They have grown accustomed to it.  So have we.   Sin and all of the broken behaviours it has brought into our lives has become a comfortable old friend.  When Jesus convicts us of it we react almost as if He has attacked a beloved member of our family.  To follow Jesus requires of these disciples, and of us, that we die to our sin.  We must put it to death within us.

3)      The third is unbelief.  The disciples have not come to trust, and listen to, the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ through His word.  They have not come to the point where they see in the Word of God a personal, life transforming word that changes everything about them.  How often do you or I read the Word of God in a way that allows us to hold it at a distance?  We read it but we don’t let it speak to us.

4)      The fourth one points to the missionary calling that is at the heart of what it means for us to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.  At its heart this calling is for us to follow Christ crucified into all those places He is going.  The choice of the place is no longer our own, it is His.  Mark along which Paul uses a term that focuses our attention upon the fact that Jesus goes out into our world as the crucified one.  That is the one who bears the curse of God, but who has triumphed over that curse and the death that attends it.  He is the Lamb who was slain but who is alive.  He meets sinners in their misery, and redeems them because He has born their curse.  He meets us in all our brokenness and redeems us because He has born our curse.  Then He begins to walk away from us, looking over His shoulder He calls out for us to follow Him, and He goes right up to the weary, the broken, the vile, and the needy, and He gives them grace, all the while inviting us to come along with Him into these places of need.  Mark makes it clear that the disciple were not sure they wanted to go there with Him.  That is where real life is found however.

What changed for these disciples was what Luke tells us about the giving of the Spirit of God on the day of Pentecost.  Immediately the disciples began to follow courageously.  They became people of faith at that moment, so too will we be transformed by this gracious promise of God.

A Call To Secret Prayer

In recent weeks we have been reminded that we live in an increasingly dangerous world.  There are all kinds of reasons for us to become nervous.  We have conflict between nations, terrorism, riots, the treat financial instability, moral failures as well as the seemingly routine day to day bad news that inundates us.  We look ahead and think that things must get better someday.  However someday never seems to come.  For some the solution to our troubles seems to be to turn to God in Prayer and so we find ourselves organizing and attending great prayer rallies.  These can be wonderful things, but somehow we find ourselves thinking that something more is needed.  When we hear a call to prayer and find ourselves moved to participate we must make sure that we really do pray.  What is needed is secret and real prayer.  We are called to seek the face of God in genuine repentance.  I believe that it was this that W.C. Burns was writing about in his journal entry regarding the day of solemn fasting on March 1, 1840. (In God’s Polished Arrow: W.C. Burns Revival Preacher, by Dr. Michael McMullen, Christian Focus Publications, 2000)

“We had this day a solemn fast, kept by many I have no doubt very strictly, as far as the duty of abstinence is concerned.  We met at two o’clock P.M. and I spoke upon the exercises appropriate for this day:

1)       Self examination in order to the discovery of sin, of the heart and nature as well as of the tongue and life, by the law and the Spirit of Jehovah.

2)       Humbling the soul before God under sins discovered.

3)       Confession of sin, full and particular, free and filial.

4)       Penitent turning from all sin.

5)       Entering into the covenant of grace by the receiving of Emmanuel and the surrender of the soul to Him and to God through Him.

6)       Special prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon this city, and the other places united with us in this fast, the great end designed in its appointment.  There was great solemnity.”

The beginning of any great movement of prayer must always be found in individuals who genuinely begin to seek God for themselves.  This always requires heartfelt Gospel repentance.  Leonard Griffith once asked an assembly of believers who had gathered to consider some great cause whether “they really meant it”.  When we endeavour to share the love of Christ in a city such as ours, or in a world such as we find ourselves living we must always begin by asking ourselves whether we really mean it.  Are we serious about the love of God?  This means that we must personally examine ourselves to see whether we have received that Gospel love, and then, are we truly living in it.  For this is the starting point.  We must join with others to really pray for God’s blessing in revival.  This is a vital thing.  Before we join with others we must find ourselves on our knees in secret prayer.  This is the way forward.

Continuing The Reflection On the Cross

    “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Luke 6:40

In continuing to reflect upon Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain I am seeing more clearly that Jesus is calling His disciples to follow Him as He is making His way to the cross.  In Luke 9:23-24, Jesus states that “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will save it.” 

Such a life is lived out in a world that is hostile to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  How are disciples of Christ to respond to such a trying life?  Jesus calls His disciples to respond with Agape, which is the love of God towards us demonstrated in the cross of Christ.

Such Agape is lived out on account of the preciousness of the object loved.  It is not a response to our perception of what the object may be able to do for us.  It is defined as the love of God towards us.  God did not chose to love us on account of His belief that we might be able to do something for Him, but simply because we are precious to Him.  As Paul writes to the Romans,

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:5-8)

He loved us and chose to reconcile us to Himself through the cross of Christ simply because He deemed us to be precious.  We do not know why we are precious to Him, but we are and that fact brought the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross for us.  On account of Christ’s great love for us we love Him and His people.  We therefore exalt Him constantly in our lives.  We exalt, or worship Him truly, as we approach Him as the crucified one.  This is what it means for us to truly worship Him.  Norman Grubb on page 55 of “The Law of Faith” puts it this way.

“The biggest challenge to faith in our day doesn’t come from atheists denying God but from believes diminishing Him — treating him with cosy familiarity, praying to Him as though He were our Old Pal Upstairs or singing choruses which portray Him as a well-meaning simpleton.”

Real worship recognises that the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe has deemed us to be precious and therefore He reconciled us to Himself even though we are unworthy of such love.  He then calls us to love what He loves, even though the object loved is not worthy.  We simply love because God has declared that person to be precious enough for the Son of the Living God to go to the cross in order to reconcile them to Himself.  Such love is the fruit of the holy Spirit in us.  It becomes in us the expression of the Glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel.  It is this love that our broken world needs so desperately today.

Trusting Christ

“So He said to me, “This is the Word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.  What are you, o mighty mountain?  Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground.  Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it!  God bless it!’” 

                Then the Word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this Temple; his hands will also complete it.  Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.  Who despises the day of small things?  Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.  (These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the earth.)””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 4:6-10

                Over the past fifty or sixty years it seems as if the Christian Church here in the west has fallen on hard times.   By nearly every measure we use we seem to be in decline.  Fewer people are attending worship services, our influence is declining, and hostility to our beliefs is increasing.  For many, there is a growing longing for those glorious days of the past when things were so much better.  We pray for revival, which is a vital necessity at all times.  We engage in personal evangelism, trying to lead as many as possible to salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Still we find ourselves feeling increasingly out of step with the world around us.

The question we must confront in our present situation is whether our current struggles are really that unusual.  Recent research shows that we live in a time when there is an abundance of persecution directed against Christians.  We know that there have been other times in which there has been a lot of hostility directed against the faithful.  The Bible describes an abundance of times when believers have faced hostility for their faith.  One such time was the time described by the Old Testament books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah where the Temple was being rebuilt by those who had returned from the exile.  It was being rebuilt while the believers were facing an abundance of hostility.  For believers like Zerubbabel, the descendant of King David who was a leading figure in the Hebrew community it must have seemed to be a hopeless task.  What was he to do in such an environment?

It was here that God’s Word came to him reminding him that the task was not his, it was God’s.  “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord.”  There was only one way the task was going to be accomplished and this was through the gracious working of God’s Spirit.  This is not to say that Zerubbabel did not have tasks that he must carry out in faith.  He did in fact have many.  The assurance he was given however was that God was at work in this task to which he had been called.  God assured him of the ultimate success of his work.

As we examine the few verses that head this page we see that God’s promise is that the rebuilding of the Temple is an example of something truly significant that God is going to do in the future.  The Temple is a step along the way to an incredibly powerful event which was even then drawing close.  This was the building of the Kingdom of God through the coming ministry of the Messiah.  God’s promise to Zerubbabel points ahead to this great event.  The struggle that God’s people returning from the exile were facing was in fact the same conflict that the Son of Man would face when He came and which we are currently are facing in our time as we testify to His gracious gift to us.

In each case the solution to our dilemma is the same.  This is to put our faith in that thing which God is doing in the Christ.  At all times success is guaranteed because it is the Sovereign, All Powerful God who is doing the work.  Therefore we are called to prayerful obedience to God’s call to service.  He has called us to testify in every place that He puts us to the wonderful grace that has been given to us in Christ.   The question is this; do we truly believe that the Spirit of God is actively at work in us, through us, and around us, accomplishing God’s great purpose in Christ?  If we believe this truth will we follow Him into the difficult places He leads us, sharing the love of Christ with those whose lives are broken and corrupted by sin?  This has always been God’s plan of redemption.

Love Your Enemies

     “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on the cheek, turn the other also.  If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Luke 6:27-31

In continuing an examination of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain we are led into a reflection on just what it means to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The sermon is directed towards the disciples of Jesus.  They have been called to follow Jesus to the cross.  His teaching which is given to them here will point out just what it means to be a disciple.  They are to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Jesus.  All of their lives, their relationships, their purpose, will now be centred upon the person and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Ross Hastings in his book, “Missional God, Missional Church” writes,

“In sheer grace, again, when the risen Christ comes to them He does not do so with condemnation.  He comes instead with outstretched arms and words of shalom upon His lips.  How precious was the real presence of Jesus for those disciples–the same yet different Jesus.  There was a continuity of identity.  He was still fully divine and fully human, yet there was a discontinuity with respect to the nature of the humanity.  This picture is a strong encouragement for Christians in Churches that have lost their way missionally because they have lost their centre in Christ.  Instead of discussing the glories of the risen Christ, they now squabble over carpet colors and who’s in charge of what and how much money should be given to whom.” (Pages 123 – 124)

For Hastings a Church which has lost its focus upon the crucified and risen Christ has ceased to be a Church.  Jesus calls His disciples into a lifestyle of Agape love, which the Scriptures make clear can only be lived in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.  That is the way that our mission work is carried out.  That is the way that we truly live as the Church in this hostile world.  I will be reflecting more upon this in the coming weeks.