Tag Archives: church

Let us Pray

Through our faith in the redeeming work of the cross; the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, do we have authority in creation, together with the Father, Son and Spirit? Is this the mystery of prayer: from the beginning, not only did we have dominion through technology and culture, we had dominion in the spiritual realm? Is our prayer of faith an exercise of the original authority given to us at creation? Is our prayer preparation for heavenly authority in the age to come? Is the outworking of God’s loving kindness that he only works through prayer? Are all prayers answered by God through the glorification of love and the defeat of principalities and powers through the way of love?

Foundations

Love is defined by scripture as sacrificial, non-coercive and enemy loving. Love doesn’t hold a record of wrongs and does not insist on its way.

Matthew 5:43-46 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?

Matthew 22:37-40 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.

God is beyond anything we might understand. God’s love extends beyond what is revealed in these scriptures; beyond our conception. God is good, he is loving, and he is steadfast, in ways we cannot limit by what we may comprehend. God is faithful and has made a space for creation in which he may be glorified and pour out love. God cannot become more loving, he is complete love and in creation love is perfected. Love is freely given and freely received. This is what is essential, God has formed creation so that love is perfected. Love can be no less than what God says it is in the scriptures.

God is One, Father, Son and Spirit and is love. All creation is in God. God creates a space for love to be poured out and to draw in humanity. Humanity is made in the image of God, but we are not gods. God prepares humanity to love and be loved, to hear his voice and to choose to follow the narrow way of love. Christ, the eternal Son, is made flesh, in the form of the man Jesus. Through Jesus’ life and death and resurrection humanity is perfected in love. Christ came fully human so that we may be restored to our full humanity and original blessing. This event in time is for all time true, the eternal sacrifice revealed to us.

Mystery

We are privileged to see and know this mystery. God shows us in Christ the dominion we have through faith and teaches us to ask. Christ forms our hearts so that he is in us, lives within us, and the words we hear are the words we speak. Our hearts are sanctified, trained in holiness, as we confess with our lips that Jesus is LORD.

The mystery of prayer is that God promises to work as we pray. Where people pray, the rule of God formed in people’s hearts, releases God’s blessing power in love. God does not force himself on creation but gifts humanity with dominion in the heavenly realm and on the Earth. This authority is the authority Jesus, who is fully human, exercises. We are called to exercise authority through prayer. God is alive and active and willing to exercise power, through the prayers of the faithful. This is the mystery of prayer, that we are to subdue creation through prayer.

The way the world is, is because of prayer and the neglect of prayer. We are called to labour in prayer as much as we are called to rule the creation and subdue it. Prayer is the power of the work of our hands and prayer defeats the work of the evil one, putting him to flight. Deliver us from evil, Jesus teaches us to pray.

Blessing

Prayer begins with praise and worship; Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name! Your kingdom come your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven! Prayer continues, formed in the knowledge of the Holy.

In naming the One who brings blessing and the blessings he brings, our prayer gains content. We need to rest in the still small voice that speaks; in the thunder that proclaims. Each moment has purpose, and, in each moment, we are invited to choose life. Our purpose is to be gathered to God in the fulness of time. Where there is opposition we go deeper; where there is pain we experience pain and pray the more. This is the battle.

Sacrifice

The battle is won on the cross. From the beginning, the Word, the lamb who is slain is slaughtered. In creation, there is forgiveness. From the beginning, this forgiveness is found in sacrifice, the victim is the life of the one seeking atonement; more than a substitute.

Genesis 22:11-13 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”  He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”  And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

Hebrews 11:17-20 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Notice how Abraham chooses to sacrifice the ram to fulfil the command of God. It was not a command of God to sacrifice the ram. The sacrifice of the ram fulfilled the command of God to sacrifice Isaac. The ram was more than a substitute it was the life of Isaac. Figuratively, Isaac experienced resurrection.

The ritual of the sacrifice of an innocent victim in the place of the sinner covered sin through perfect love and the sabbath sacrifice brought peace. This ritual expressed the revelation of the Word, made sin for our healing. Satan perverts this ritual to include human sacrifice to include child sacrifice which is the work of the destroyer. Satan contorts the image away from the forgiveness at its centre, the reality in the heavenlies.

God says from the beginning,

Genesis 9:4-5 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning…

From the beginning, humanity is without sin, flesh is not eaten and able to choose life or choose death. Humanity chooses death and surrenders dominion to Satan. This is our story; we fall short of the glory prepared for us and we sin, becoming slaves to Satan.

Forgiveness

In the fulness of time, forgiveness is revealed in Jesus. Jesus is fully human and Christ. Jesus is fully God. Only God is good and in Jesus’ life this goodness was perfected. Humanity through sin gives up its dominion but, in Jesus, humanity is redeemed and exerts its dominion. All hell breaks out to bring Jesus down. His life is a battle, as he draws all sin to himself, but he is without sin. He resists temptation. The fury of hell brings Jesus to the cross. The penalty of sin is death. Jesus has not sinned. All sin is put upon him and the wrath of God, his incandescent anger for the victims of sin and the perpetrators of evil and iniquity; those who sully the glory that is humanity. Wrath is poured out on Jesus by the Father as in Jesus God bears the sin of the world. Jesus the innocent victim is more than a substitute for all humanity and he becomes sin. God suffers the anguish of sin, the separation of sin and the wrath of the Father, as Satan seeks the downfall of Jesus and Jesus is slaughtered. Jesus is innocent of sin to the last and Satan who holds the keys of death and hell, slaughters the innocent lamb of God.

In this one act Satan is vanquished- death is the penalty of sin. Jesus did not sin.

Victory

In taking the life blood of Jesus, death is sanctified, and death no longer has dominion; the penalty is annulled. The keys of death and hell are relinquished and revealed to be in the hands of Christ from the beginning. All forgiveness is found in him. The truth is revealed that God takes upon himself our sin so that we might walk free. Love is perfected in Christ, in whom all sacrifice ends. Christ, the fulness of God, in whom we live and breathe and have our being, frees us from sin by grace through faith. The ground of humanity’s faith is the goodness of God revealed in the victory of the cross.

In death, Jesus regains dominion for all humanity in all time.  The resurrection restores humanity and is the first fruits of what is to come. In Jesus’ sacrifice we gain our life, a life without end. We are new creations in Christ, a bride being prepared for the Son, filled with the Spirit. Let us pray in the knowledge of the victory of Christ our Saviour who restores all authority in Heaven and on Earth to humanity for the praise of his glorious name.

Inspiration

https://prayercourse.org/session/why-pray/

Did a prayer meeting really bring down the Berlin Wall and end the Cold War? http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/24661333

World Prayer News https://www.globalconnections.org.uk/prayer

Psalm 45:10-11

10 Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house,
11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. http://esv.to/Ps45.10-11

If indeed we can accommodate this psalm to be a song to Christ and us his bride, the church at the marriage feast, then apart from the imagery here is the wisdom we need.

We are made beautiful as we hear and listen to the voice of Jesus. This is what Jesus delights in from the beginning- our personal and intimate hearing of his voice. Jesus calls us away to be with him and turn from all other loves, family and position, standing and tradition; to embrace him fully, new creations held in his all consuming love. And held so, we can love as he loves.

Incarnation?

The Nicene Creed, a touchstone of Christian orthodoxy states of Jesus,

For us men and for our salvation,

he came down from heaven:

by the power of the Holy Spirit

he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

Having a science background, this has been an article of faith for me and I have written of my position elsewhere[1]. But recently I have become aware that some recite this creed but believe that the Virgin Mary is an historical title, a tradition, not a fact about Mary of Nazareth[2].

This in mind, I decided to buy a book that would let me understand the full argument and was from a perspective I would not hold to be true. The book I chose was a recent publication by Kyle Roberts which he has summarised through the blog post, Virgin Birth or Incarnation? Why You Can’t Have Both (December 23, 2017)[3].

I found the book very informative. I realised that yes, historically we have a problem with philosophy invading our faith, with extra scriptural traditions based on pagan thought, and an inability to accept the humanity of Jesus. I understand the reason for Greg Boyd’s podcast which recommends us to think more of Jesus,

…from the perspective of “God as Human” rather than “God and Human.”[4]Do we struggle with Jesus eating and defecating, vomiting, feeling ill, experiencing sexual attraction and basically being human? Do we hold true to the Gospel of Jesus?

… we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it. (Hebrews 4, GNB)[5]If we do, then we are at that point where we too join with the Fathers and Mothers of the church who created traditions to cover up the subversive nature of the historical birth of Christ.

We might build ideas that include the perpetual virginity of Mary who was not only a virgin at conception, was also preserved as a virgin through the birth of Christ and remained a virgin after the birth of Christ. The Virgin Mary’s birth canal becomes so important to some, Mary is believed to have been impregnated by the Holy Spirit through her ear[6]. Some have decided it is best to side-line Mary all together and avoid the questions.[7]

I have looked at all of this and, despite all, I still hold that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Surprisingly what I wrote at Easter 2017, I still hold to.

[1]https://memlynhumphries.me.uk/2017/05/03/easter-2017/

[2]https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/24/story-virgin-birth-christianity-mary-sex-femininity

[3]http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unsystematictheology/2017/12/virgin-birth-incarnation-cant/

[4]http://reknew.org/2017/12/podcast-jesus-god-human/

[5]https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/explore-the-bible/read/eng/GNB/Heb/4/

[6]https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/22-december/comment/columnists/angela-tilby-letting-the-virgin-birth-mystery-be

[7]http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2017/12/22/protestants-dont-know-mary/

Idolatry

Idolatry is a powerful and divisive force in the world – it is evil as it is the outworking and instigator of sin, taking away from the worship that is rightly only given to God, capturing the hearts of men which is the abiding place of God.

Jesus teaches that the way to glory is narrow and found by few while the way to destruction is wide. The narrow way is Christ, knowing no other and trusting no other. Few find it while many follow the crowd.

Idolatry and violence are the wide way; trusting in ways, powers and gifts, leads to disaster. We see this time and time gain – movements fail, nations falter and leaders bring disgrace – the poor and needy are trampled into the dust and kept from feeding on the truth because the truth is muddied by false teachers.

Followers of Christ inherit the promise of Abraham. We are a people of faith, adopted into the family of those who are children of God. We are a blessing to all and the healing of neighbourhoods and nations. We draw strength from God and God alone, drinking from the flowing water of the Spirit. In this knowledge, we read the scriptures, the times and the world around us. Each knows the voice of God by virtue of being in Christ. Any one who tries to take away that gift is an imposter.

In Genesis 1, the sun and moon are mere lights in the sky put in their place by God to govern times and seasons. They are not to be worshipped. In Exodus 20 the foundation of the commandments is love for God and no other gods and the forbidding of worship given to idols, the work of our hands. Our relationship with God is to be immediate. Proverbs 17:17-18 calls us to a narrow way naming pride as contrary to the true way. The letters of Paul tell us idols are not real and echo the prophets in a strong warning against the power of idolatry. Reading these scriptures in the light of the message of Jesus we see why; I am the way, the truth and the life he says – he sees that true worship is not to be confined by places, traditions and peoples but to be in Spirit and truth. The realisation of this truth is the revelation of Christ.

We must guard our hearts and test the spirits. We need to allow the light to discover the darkness in our hearts; the obscuring beam in or own eye.

I can be in the presence of great natural beauty; be struck by the awesomeness of the heavens, the sky by day and the sky by night. I can wonder at the power and beauty of creatures and maybe fear their potential to do me harm or maybe good, giving food or even companionship. I can wonder at the potency of cycle of nature and its life-giving efficiency. I can glory in the beauty and intellectual depth of music, art and poetry – the works of great craftsmen. I can revere great men, their legacy and memorials. There may be places and stones of significance that evoke a connection with their greatness. There may be possessions; a guitar or a handbag, that have come to represent the persona of celebrity and are valued.

To ascribe any of these feelings with spiritual value is wrong if we begin to think that by relating to them we can begin to absorb the essence of the owner. It’s an abomination to think we can come to God through such things. The only way to the Father is Jesus, every other way is pure fantasy, not real and evil.

Our hearts cry foul when we hear of the exchange of great sums of money for handbags, guitars and pieces of the cross, or bishops seated on relics to enhance their authority. Believing relics are powerful is an abhorrence and lie; the idea that their presence exudes holiness is anathema. We are ashamed when people claim vials of blood liquefy and candles burn perpetually, statues rock and virgins walk. We are not those who recognise power in springs and wells and hang out scraps of cloth for luck; we run from charms, symbols and incantations; horoscopes, Spiritism and divination. We are suspicious of the idea of thin places and that the merit of a place is anything but an imaginative engagement with a story. The power is not in the pilgrimage, periods of detachment or maze, it is in taking time to engage and reflect. A song is a song and a prayer is a means not an end. All things are good but not all things are helpful to everyone.

The human heart is a deep well of feelings and emotions, and knowledge of this should be a warning. The heart not bathed in the Spirit of God and washed clean, can easily be moulded by celebrity, fame and renown and be fickle in the midst of strong opinions and crowds – tossed and turned with every wave of excitement – hungry for a new thing, a new phenomenon, a fresh spectacle.

Even the scriptures can substitute for God, written in either words or pictures. Devotion to scripture or icons can easily slip into worship of the form and so become idolatry. We see this when people hang on to old translations, pictures, traditions and places. The consequences are obvious; wars, brawls and gossip. The way to destruction is wide and many find it. You are in a crushing crowd.

We are safe if we stick to the pure message of Jesus. Keep clear of thin places, grave soaking and supposed manifestations of glory in case your good character is ruined. Be more than sceptical, deny their power and in prayer speak to your heart and come fresh to the immediate presence of Christ.

Continue to meet in twos and threes with those whose lives match their words. Be wary of those who would control and shame and deny you liberty insisting that Christ is more present in larger gatherings. You will recognise them as they try to mould your thinking by attrition rather than encourage you to pray and reflect; they reveal themselves by insisting on their interpretation and aggressively deny you your understanding – by their actions they do not trust the power of God as much as their power of persuasion. They demand unity on their terms and lack accountability denying the authority of the gathering of the saints insisting on their own rights. People who stand against them are shamed and undermined, removed to the outside and excluded.

Detach yourselves from those whose thoughts are revealed as being impure in the words they choose and jokes they make. If someone invades your personal space and insists on secrecy or secret knowledge or denies your freedom, they are not of God. If your heart is troubled it is the voice of God. Listen to it. No one in Christ is bound to the power of another – Christianity is not established by compulsion or violence to the individual.

The kingdom of heaven is won by those who are prepared to aggressively stand up for right and by those who are prepared to stand firm in Christ alone,  by the Spirit and the whole of Scripture and endure for this cause. True followers won’t be popular but meek and winsome.

You have no need of a mediator as in Christ alone there is salvation, sanctification and glorification: the knowledge of the Holy is found in Christ.

The Church: a Life Together

The life of the church is the witness of our life together. God is to be made known by the love there is between us. In locating the meaning of Church in a tradition, we are in danger of separating it from its very mission, to bless the world and bring peace through Christ. Together, we are called to proclaim Christ, disciple and baptise. We need to find what that means today where these religious words themselves can be a barrier. Starting from love, where do we go from here? How is this called out life to be lived so that discipleship and baptism are given a contemporary meaning.

 

We understand that where Christ is found, that is the Church. History recognises the Church as a gathering where believers share bread and wine, preach Christ through teaching, prayer, art and song, and initiate membership through a form of washing called baptism. They see leaders, those gathered and buildings which proclaim an order: a tradition. All this may be necessary, but can hide the truth and loyalty to the tradition leave us worse off than if we had never known it? The Truth is, the Church is in the life of the people: the love, not the structure. God’s gifts to the church are people not structures.

God’s gifts are given in the unity of the Holy Spirit, who is above all and in all. We are to explore how to preach the Cross of Jesus Christ, how to remember him in a common meal and how to make the gifts of God available to all. The pattern we are called to is orderliness and a culture of honour in which all we do points away from us to God.

People need to see there is integrity in our life together. They need to see that all we do is for God’s glory not to gather support to our club, our taste or our vision. Our agenda should be plain to those who come across us: we are here to show you God’s love through our life together so that you too may know peace and become givers of this love.

Discipleship is a call to walk in the shadow of the one we follow, living their life, breathing their air and becoming covered in their dust. It is intimate fellowship. As we draw others into a knowledge of God, the life we live together is the place where we encounter God. In being accepted by one another we know that we were first accepted by God. We come to know the ever present God we cannot see through the gift of the Church we can see. The meaning of making disciples is bringing people into a life together for the glory of God.

Do we need to humble ourselves and look for people to become the body of Christ with? Do we need to invest in a life together with some people in a real way? A life together will grow into a rule, a commitment, a body. The Church is made up of groups who disciple, baptise and gather round a meal together in diverse forms, in my understanding. Out of this life comes a rule which allows God’s gifts to be ministered freely for the blessing of the world. In our practice of being together, we come to know God who has always been there. Indeed, our knowing God may be breathed through our life together. We are born again.

Life together is worship when there are times of arresting adoration and quiet realisation. Our rule may include regular prayer, study of the Bible, works of service and hospitality. In this, worship is in spirit and truth and reveals God, like the breath of the wind. It stops us in our tracks and we recognised the Holy in a breeze and sometimes a mighty gust. You can’t formalise it. It is essentially a work in the heart, often experienced together in unity of heart, a breathing of the same air.

The rule is not the worship, but worship is found in the rule as God chooses. We damage one another and dishonour God when we seek to control and confine God’s breath.

The desire to capture the breath of God in our traditions leads to death. We may experience worship in gathering to hear the preaching of the Cross of Christ, in gathering to celebrate reconciliation and share bread and wine. It may include public ministry in the Holy Spirit with prayers of intercession, prophecy and healing. But it’s the substance not the form that counts and the truth is without the substance, without Christ, the form brings death.

So let’s build our life together carefully through faith for faith.

John 3:5-8
New Living Translation (NLT)

Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

John 4:23-24
New Living Translation (NLT)

 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

John 13:31-35
New Living Translation (NLT)

 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

http://www.benandhannahdunnett.com/shop/notecards/the-lord-is-my-strength-and-give-thanks-to-the-lord/

 

1 Corinthians 13

13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

The Church: Obedience

0114e7e9f3d2e10e4b0116d19ed122351f02947aa7Sunday 7th August 2016

Leviticus 19:1-18

Matthew 13:24-43

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

 

When we say that faith is a hope in something not yet seen, it is a hook, I believe, into something that makes the scriptures come alive. It helps us see the true nature of the Bible’s progressive revelation and the trajectory of this revelation: where it’s going, and invites us to obey.

I am beginning to be able to articulate this, but still struggling. Faith, I am coming to see, as hugely important in our walk together with God. And why? It starts with our creation in his image. God created us to be in relationship with him. Our purpose is to know him and glorify him and worship him in spirit and truth, flowing for ever and ever.

When we read that God told… God said… God showed… then we are hearing the stories of men and women like us who heard God and acted in faith on what they heard. What is God saying? He is saying here I am! He is speaking of his nature. He is the Word that is in all and upholds all and at the centre of his creation is us, you and me, made in God’s image, able to relate to him in our spirits. God brings life to our spirits and we hear him. We hear him in our spirits, in our hearts, in the seat of our being. He shepherds us and we know his voice- this is the promise given to us followers of Christ. Our faith leads us to act on what we hear so that we come to know the One who speaks. As we act we learn to recognise and relate to God speaking. Faith hears and acts in obedience.

I believe God’s desire is that he is glorified in our obedience. What I am beginning to understand is that God speaks and we in hearing make real choices that transform us. These choices come from who we are: God wants us to be transformed by our choices into an ever closer knowing of him.

When the biblical heroes of the faith hear and obey it looks messy. The unchanging voice of God is made flesh in who they are. God becomes present in their choices and transforms them. Into their obedience he speaks visions, dreams, angels and appearances of Glory- he transforms their step of faith through an encounter with his presence. The event of his appearing brings something more precious out of their obedience. But these events leave each free to choose. Faith brings the will of man to a place where God is able to reveal his perfect, sovereign will and this faith is counted as righteousness.

We need to look carefully when we read the stories in the Bible. We know that all righteousness is found in Christ. Christ is the express Image of God – in him we see God. God speaks redemption and we hear repent. God strengthens the broken hearted and the contrite. In our spirits, our faith is that in Christ God is able to forgive and in the Cross we are made righteous. In Jesus we know our faith is perfected: our step of faith is made perfect in the revelation of our salvation through the life giving blood of Christ. In this knowledge we read the scriptures.

The heroes of the faith show us that whenever people approach God with broken and contrite hearts in faith, they are made righteous. In Christ the mystery of how is revealed. God is unchanging; he is faithful to forgive in all time. Our highest calling is to faith and the revelation of saving grace in our actions transforms us. Our sure foundation is revealed.

Our faith deepens so that we are not deflected from the good works God has called us to. As a body who believe in the appearing of Christ, our faith makes us co-workers with him and heirs of the promise in Abraham. All people are to be blessed through our faith in Christ. The promise to Abraham is for a nation; the promise in Christ is transformed to be for the whole world.

So when the faith of the heroes of the Bible looks messy, we can be encouraged not confused. We can take encouragement that faith looks messy. The reason for this is because we and they are messed up by sin. God deals with us where we are at and where faith hears God, it is heard in spirit and truth so that our way and life are transformed. The transformation comes in obeying.

It is so precious when we step out in faith and have a conviction and a purpose. It is so precious we must cultivate faith for each other that God is fully able to make himself present through his gifts to the church so that each of us is transformed and built up in our faith to become more like Christ. This is so precious, we need to be attentive in the church and know God’s voice in our being together.

Our life together needs to be alive with God’s voice so that faith is perfected. We must not rush in, but allow God to work- we must trust that we are messed up- all have sinned- but we are all moving to a deeper revelation. In admonishing one another, in our encouraging, in our setting out rules of conduct and agreeing boundaries for the lawless, our faith is that we are all free in Christ. He is the Lord. We are called to freedom in Christ.

We can expect and trust that God will speak to bring order and peace. God will speak and we must weigh up through scripture and wider teaching how we are to obey. We have the Holy Spirit and the tyranny of the crowd or the oppression of sinful leadership is disarmed by the Cross. We are commanded to judge a tree by its fruits and to abide in Christ. Don’t let anyone kid you that the lack of evidence in their hot air is because of your unbelief.

Honouring our leaders, we follow the way of peace and humility so that we are brought to that place of faith so that in our brokenness we can claim, I have no need of a teacher: the Lord is my teacher. Our purpose in the church is to deepen the faith of our brothers and sisters so that all peoples are blessed and see Jesus in our life together. In the assurance of the saving Cross of Jesus, we bring life to those around us. We are in the world but not of the world, because we know a higher calling to faith in God the author of our salvation. In our knowing of Christ, our being together, our service and our reading of scripture, there is the revelation of the Holy Spirit- faith. Faith brings us to the place of walking with God- communion; to know God and become his presence in creation. This is a high calling, a deep principal, a mystery revealed in Christ.

Christ within is the hope of glory. There is no higher principle. Faith comes by hearing and we together must speak out the word of salvation. This is our purpose. This is our calling.

So, in our messed up lives, in our circumstances, in our suffering and disappointments; when we have come to the point of despair and mental fragility, we must share the glimmer of hope- the place of faith. We must speak out of our circumstances words of healing for ourselves and for others. People need to hear God’s word speaking out of our weakness and struggle. We may wrestle our whole lives and be hobbled by our struggle but in it we need to allow our faith to find life in God – even such a tiny seed of faith- safe in the knowledge that the world to be blessed. This faith will grow into a tree to shelter others who need sheltering and those around will find a perch to settle on.

We are perfected in Christ and made righteous by faith; let us not convince ourselves this is the work of our own hands. Grasp grace and treasure faith: it is God who waters the seed of faith and nurtures the growth- rest and know peace- be still and know God. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Let the teaching of Christ- his voice speaking to us, deepen our foundations so that we may stand firm in the days of trial. Be the ones who take and receive more, who through faithfulness in obedience are ready. You have a purpose- the church has a purpose- God can take our meagre fragments of faith and feed the thousands.

Leave the weeding to the Angles. Do not be deceived, our purpose is not to gather enough people to ourselves so that we can say, Here we are, and exclude those who are not us. They might carry the very breath of God.

 

 

The Church: Voice

 Sunday 31st July 2016

Jeremiah 31:27-37 (NLT)

 …   33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbours, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”…

John 10:14-30 (NLT)

  27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (NLT)

 So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit….

 

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Our religion is to do good, to act in wisdom, humility and faith but above all to love. The church is a revelation of the heart of God- a community of forgiveness and welcome – a community where, together, God is known and loved. And we are to listen to God; God speaks his word to us and we are to obey it.

God’s word is not something we can grasp at and possess, it is a revelation that brings life in us. The word speaks in each of us to bring healing, to bring faith. God speaks his word in our midst to make his presence known in us, as individuals, and through us, as a community. The fruit of God’s presence is unity and peace.

God has placed his image in us; he has set his Spirit within us so that hearing God’s word we can act in faith. God speaks into who we are to redeem us and redeem the world through faith in his voice. This is no different to what we see in the heroes of the faith in the scriptures. Through their failings and lack of grace, those who heard God acted in faith. When God speaks, he pours himself into broken vessels, jars of clay, filled with precious water that overflows for the refreshing of the world.

However flawed we are, he is pleased to pour his message into us. God spoke to Abraham and he heard God tell him to sacrifice his only son, the son of promise. To sacrifice a human life is strictly forbidden to us but Abraham heard God call his name and speak. He was faithful to the voice he heard. Abraham was not different to how we are- he did not mishear, he heard and was obedient and acted in faith. God spoke through an angel and Isaac was spared. Abraham’s faith pleased God and it was counted as righteousness.

Abraham sacrificed a lamb, and the dishonour of human sacrifice was transformed by God speaking through an angel and Abraham choosing a lamb to sacrifice as a substitute. For Moses the blood of the lamb was a sign of deliverance from oppression and death. What God spoke through the angel transformed Abraham’s heart and the faith of Abraham was credited to him as righteousness.

So precious is God speaking to each of us; it is more precious than the voice of God brought by the angel. Jesus says we will know his voice and the prophet brings us forward in the knowledge that we have no need of a teacher. Paul calls us to love and to trust the voice of God, causing us to speak even in tongues we do not understand, but always acting as the angel of God for the building of the church.

Our building of our church needs to have no walls that cause division or ceilings that limit God’s voice speaking even in the brokenness of people’s lives. We are to be angels of the Lord speaking to transform vessels of dishonour so that they carry a message of honour.

The church is to be prophetic in our culture, speaking up for the weak and downtrodden. We need to speak words of healing into places of conflict. We must honour truthfulness and transparency and act for the good of the powerless and poor. Our gatherings must be united in diversity, our leadership being inclusive and representative- showing a heart of service. This is the legacy being the church will give to our localities and our nations.

What of us who know salvation, made alive by knowledge of the holy, perfected by grace? What of us who in the gathering discern the presence of Christ? What of us elect in Christ amongst the people- we, the humble and contrite of heart? What is our life together in the world?

In our twos and threes , we are to baptise and make disciples. We are to remember Christ, fully human, fully God, in the sharing of a simple cup and bread, gathered to a table. This is our life together in faith: baptism, discipleship and the sharing of Jesus through the feast that recalls the sacrifice of Jesus. Our sacrifice is one of praise; a life together through reading scripture, prayer and the sharing of the Lord ’s Supper. We are to do good and bless the world, redeeming our culture to creation’s values.

In our discussion, again we heard the picture brought of our mission being to be those who adopt into a family, embodying the message that God adopts us into his family through Jesus. We are to carry the message of abiding in God. We also heard in our discussion of the work of the deep brokenness of culture and how the voice of God with the scriptures and life together changes things, “not in swarms” but one by one.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Church: Salvation

Sunday 24th July 2016

Psalm 95

Matthew 19:13-26

1 Timothy 4

1 Timothy 4:10
(ESVUK)

10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.

As the church we are the heirs of God’s promise to Abraham, that through his family the world would be blessed .

Genesis 12:3 (ESVUK)

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This was the purpose of the faith of Israel and the foundation of all the other promises. We inherit this promise to show God’s glory. In Christ, the source of all blessing, we are made perfect in our lives; in our childlikeness and in our wealth, because by him our hearts are made right. We are part of Abraham’s family of blessing. Through persecution and suffering in our bodies and through our compassion we are a light to the world. As the church we bless the world by being the bearers of truth, in word and in what we do. We are lovers of peace and those who do good works. We are made perfect in Christ to bear witness to him who reveals the Father. In him we are called to a life together, part of Abraham’s family.

There will be those who form the structure and keep the traditions of the family. There will be those who oversee, who serve and those who teach and preach. There will be those called out to minister. But Jesus teaches that true worship isn’t confined to a place, a mountain, a certain city, a temple but amongst those who worship in spirit and truth. Jesus identifies himself not a system as the way, the truth and the life and it is in his person that we know the Father.

As the church, those elected by God to be a blessing in Christ, we need to be aware that if we locate Jesus in a place or amongst a particular gathering we run the risk of placing him on the periphery of our lives. If we locate him in a building or system he is no longer in the world he came to bless. Jesus teaches us to be as he is, in the world but not of the world. The church as the body of Christ is the blessing of Christ in the world. We are called to be in the world but not of the world.

The church, the elect chosen in Christ, is to be the light to the world. We are found in the dark places of the world, not separate from them. In our buildings and structures we can become separated from our calling. We are gathered in truth to do good works prepared for us. Our buildings are to serve the community and if they are in the wrong place we should leave them or find a purpose for them that serves the community around them.

If we see the church as our leaders and our holy places, we are actually a beacon of hopelessness, separate and useless. Our hierarchies and venues carry the message and should serve the truth and good works, teaching the good news of salvation in Christ. We as his people are to redeem the time and have a ready answer to share the source of our hope so that it is clear we are in the world but not of the world, drawn into its futility. The Spirit will reveal what this looks like, but how often we fall into futility and allow our system of being to give us license to be of the world. Do we embrace the system in our backbiting and hunger for influence, where leaders and members demand honours like the rulers and leaders of the world, sitting in honoured places with special privileges? The church of our own making is an idol, our doctrines are idols and our gatherings are idols if we think that through them we know God.

The true church is people working towards peace with one another and working for peace with their neighbours, blessing those around in Christ. It looks like people standing for truth that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is reconciliation. It will be amongst those who honour people called out to serve, to lead, to preach, teach, evangelise and who gather and care for people. This will not be confined to a time and a place or a person and always, always point away from itself to the Father so it is truly called the church of God.

So to the text 1 Timothy 4:10. It teaches us that we as believers are assured of salvation and Jesus is the saviour of all people. Our reading of Matthew shows us that Christ is sovereign in salvation not us. We do not get to choose through our doctrines or traditions who is saved or not saved; salvation is by faith. Our place is to pray that all may be reconciled to God in Christ without distinction and to serve all- to teach and admonish, provide for, pastor and serve even if there is no love returned and even more so when people appear to be enemies. Jesus shows the way on the cross, asking that even those who killed him would be forgiven; where is our faith here?

In our meeting and discussing we learned that perfection is not an end point but a state of being in Christ realised through our lives, a matter of the heart and, quite powerfully, we were reminded of the image of the family:

When we welcome people into our families they are welcomed on the basis of a shared life. We are saying; you are part of the love that is amongst us and we will extend to you the same care as we extend to the whole family. When you come to our home or to our table, you come on the basis that you are family and as family you will come to know and respect our ways of being, our traditions and enjoy them with us. But first you are family.

We also shared that we are called to a life together, not meeting together, and us meeting cannot substitute for life. The church meeting is our sitting down together and should not be neglected, but we are calling people, with Christ, to a life together not to a meeting. We want those who join us to be joined to our life together not the home and traditions we live in. Coming into our home is because we are family and Jesus teaches to those whose security is their home:

Luke 9:57-58 (ESVUK)

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

 

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Footnotes: Or by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves

 

 

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

 

The Bound Lamb: Violence

01b555eb613f0f3ee24d6d5c99a34e26c23254d399Do we see the sacrifice of Jesus as an act of violence on the part of God? To describe Christ as being a sacrifice, to our sensibilities is offensive. We do not live in the West in a culture where blood sacrifice is part of our mental framework. We are, for example, removed from the daily animal slaughter made on our behalf so that we can enjoy a Burger. We would not see the taking of these lives as of religious significance though we do care about cruelty.

What did the people hear in the time of the early church when Jesus was described as a blood sacrifice? Their mental framework included, whether Jew or Gentile, animal slaughter as a religious act. For the Jews they had been taught that they were to bring an offering to the Temple to give thanks and atone for their wrong doing. For those with means it would be the best of their flocks or the first fruits of the harvest. For others it would have meant the lives of turtle doves or bringing a couple of cakes. All had the same value and each was a sacrifice signalling to God their need and their obedience to God. They had a need for forgiveness to be at one with God and they had gratitude for God’s provision.

We need forgiveness as the condition of our hearts is that we are wilful and proud. Before God we are broken and poor in spirit. Each day brings troubles. Each day we infringe God’s blessing and other’s freedom. We know suffering in ourselves and compassion draws us out and we feel the suffering of others. We are subject to change and chance and we know pain and guilt. It is so clear that we live under a cloud of self-inflicted harm in what we do and what we don’t do; the way we treat our planet and the people around us. This is our context- we miss the target of the good we know. The prevailing wind in our times is helplessness and anger. We spend our energy on trying to control and effect our own happiness as nations and as individuals. In so doing, as often as not, we do harm and violence.

In our hearts we know the measure of our actions and reverence law and pursue duty. We try our best. But to be happy and to become our best selves we need to be at one with the reality of our sin and can’t brush it under the carpet. We also know that in our struggles we have much to be grateful for. But we need peace. The peace we seek needs to go beyond our everyday experience; beyond our understanding, as the issues are so complex.

The state of goodness- to know peace- is at our hearts. It is our wills in harmony with God’s will. All is well. It is this peace that Christ gives. It is this peace that Christ breathes into us through the Holy Spirit. It has always been so.

The violent sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross achieves this peace. This is the mystery at the heart of Christianity. Jesus is fully human; fully submitted to the will of the Father. Grace teaches that what he has achieved has been achieved for us. The sacrifice of his life on the Cross brings us peace. Jesus giving his life up willingly on the Cross is the offering brought by Jesus on our behalves to God. In Jesus, God himself offers himself as an atoning sacrifice for humanity; being fully human he transforms the violence of the principalities and powers against his body into a sacrifice that reveals God and brings peace to the creation. Through his submission and death, all wrath is stilled and calmed and peace is victorious. The silence of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, in the face of death silences the Law: the goodness that is God’s alone brings peace so that the Law is fulfilled and brought to its end, perfected, in Christ’s obedience to the Father.

The Law and the consequences of the Law- the wrath of God- were visited on Jesus by the principalities and powers. They met pure goodness. A fully human will, at one with the will of God, endured forsakenness and death, the sting of the Law. Such love! A love that knows and trusts the faithfulness of God and embraces God’s will, triumphs in God’s wrath and brings peace where there is violence.

The wrath of God is his justice and mercy, brought to its fullness in the sacrifice of Jesus. To take a human life is pure evil. The judgement on the murderer is death. The taking of life demands the loss of life. This is the wrath of God. Through the agency of creation the wrath of God against all un-holiness is worked out.

Jesus did not deserve the wrath of God- he was sinless. Even though he was fully God he did not grasp at equality but, fully human, was born, suffered and died a cruel death, a death because of our wilfulness we deserve. Being fully God the mystery is that he bore the fullness of God’s wrath as, in his humanity, at the hands of the principalities and powers, he was slaughtered. The mystery is that in Jesus, God grafts humanity into himself and the power of Jesus’ actual death is that it pays the price of all God’s wrath for all sin. Death is the price of the just and merciful wrath of God against all sin.

The mystery is that Jesus defeated death and rose to new life, the first fruits of all humanity who by faith, receive forgiveness for their sins because of the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus Christ’s victory is made our victory by faith! We are given new life in him and, through the Holy Spirit, a taste of eternity’s blessing; peace and reconciliation to God.

As the Church we are the elect, chosen to bring the blessing of the peace of Christ to the world. The church stands as a lamp that cannot be hidden; a city on a hill. We are the salt that brings savour to the creation. This is our privilege, the treasure found in heaven- the seed sown in eternity. We are those who follow Christ, a harvest, the first fruits of which is Christ. We make our election sure as we bring Christ’s blessing in to the world. We are to bless those around us, a remnant of the blessing that was for all humanity. Restored to this blessing and forgiven we know new life and become the life that blesses the world. Elect for God’s purpose- in Christ we are redeemed to that original blessing God purposes in his creating. We are those who bring peace even in persecution, even in our own suffering and death. We are those who persevere in love in the face of continuing wrath, safe in the victory over wrath won on the Cross of Christ.

Yes, Christ is the fulfilment of the sacrificial system- God offering himself to himself so that in Christ we can offer an acceptable sacrifice of praise. His goodness becomes our goodness. Truly the pure in heart see God and know his tender mercies. The wrath of God is turned away and transformed to peace in Christ. The Lord is good to all! In this life and in the next, Christ has the victory. His mercies never end and great is our reward in his presence. There is no condemnation in him and he will not abandon us to the gates of hell. Nothing can separate us from the love of God- wrath will not prevail. We are blessed. We are blessed. We are blessed.

All nations will bow the knee as Christ comes again in victory- some will suffer loss but Christ has set a limit to the suffering for the sake of the elect we are told. This is God’s heart revealed in this world. When heaven and earth are made one, there will be no pain or hurt, all tears will be wiped away, as all creation is redeemed in Christ it is written. Will all people be saved?

God has the power to save all people and on the Cross all sin is dealt with. His love has no end, but there is a lake of fire for the final destruction of the principalities and powers. Will those conformed to the principalities and powers follow them to destruction? The truth is that in our wilfulness this is where we start and we need to offer a sacrifice of praise for the provision for forgiveness in Christ and, through faith in his having made the final sacrifice for sin, we can offer our lives as a sacrifice to God.

We cry, your will be done oh Father! You turn mourning into dancing.