Tag Archives: church

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.