Category Archives: responsibility

A prickly character….?

Now we ask you brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you , brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

(1 Thessalonians 5.12-15)

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

(Romans 12.18)

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of  no advantage to you.

(Hebrew 13.17)

One of the most amazing signs of God’s love and grace is the continued existence of his church in the world. Think about it for a moment..Within a few short years of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the gospel had spread across the known world – all very good and encouraging – BUT the infant church was riddled with divisions, hostility and false teaching. The letters to the young churches in the New Testament address a depressingly familiar set of problems, and Paul, Peter and John must have wondered what on earth the future could possibly hold for the church as a whole!

Although I have referred to the problems as ‘depressingly familiar’, there is also a sense in which we can be profoundly encouraged..Why? because in spite of the chronic weakness and persistent failures of believers from the very beginning, the church still exists! God has preserved the witness of his people, has extended the reach of the gospel and continues to transform lives around the world through the power of the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross.

I have been struck afresh recently by just how very hard it must be for our leaders to maintain their energy, hope and vision for the work to which God has called them. Consider the gulf between the ideal church, as described in the extracts above, and the gruesome reality.

Instead of being respected, leaders are taken for granted, put upon and made to suffer unrealistic expectations. Instead of being a people on fire for the gospel, with hearts full of love and practical ways of reaching out, we are largely lukewarm, nominally committed, preoccupied with other parts of life, and indifferent to the call to pray and dig into the word that we might grow and share our faith. Instead of regarding ourselves as fellow labourers, we sit back and criticise when our favourite hymns are not sung, or a visit is not made, or someone sits in our seat. Instead of seeking to live lovingly and peaceably, we indulge our grudges and become touchy, prickly, hard to work with and dangerous to cross.

We are not a beautiful sight, we sheep of the great shepherd. We are lazy, ignorant, easily distracted and selfish. These are not pleasant words, but if we consider our own lives and look around us, we can see their truth. If all the people who – on paper – are members of our churches were living as the apostles describe, and living with a passion to see God glorified in their lives and communities, what a difference there would be. How our pastors and teachers would rejoice when they came to meet with their flocks, seeing the eagerness to learn, to praise, to seek God’s will and power at work in this world. How their labours would be lightened as they humbly wrestled with the word, preparing to share it with the people that we might all learn and grow.

Yes, of course, this side of heaven the church will always be full of sinners who have been saved, and who are being transformed – but is that an excuse for not trying to engage more enthusiastically with God as he seeks to change us? Does the love of God in Christ not call forth a stronger response in us than dutiful attendance, and occasional participation?

I don’t want to be a burden on my pastor, a drain on his enthusiasm, a quenching of his God-given vision for the work. I want to be one of those who encourages him, whose attitude and presence gives him hope that God is working and can make a difference, one in whom he can trust and find sympathy and love.

May God find me eager to submit to his transforming work in my life, so that I might be good for his church, good for my leaders, good for my community, and above all, might bring glory to him!

Advertisements

Doing what comes…. naturally?

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

(Hebrews 13.20&21)

How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will fulfil my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

(Psalm 116.12-14)

This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.

(Jeremiah 31.33)

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men..For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died..that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again..if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

(2 Corinthians 5.11,14&15,17)

My parents made promises before God and their fellow christians when they brought me to be baptised as an infant, promises which bound them among other things to “teach the truths and duties of the Christian faith” to me, their child. I was blessed by their keeping of those promises, and grew up in a home where life revolved around the priorities of worship and service, primarily in their local congregation. It was entirely normal that the weekend should be dominated by the Saturday prayer meeting, and then two services on Sunday, usually with generous hospitality shown over a meal to visitors.

The sense of ‘duty’ extended beyond mere attendance, to personal devotion, professional integrity, sacrificial giving, opening their home and hearts to hundreds of people over the years, in addition to the hard work of parenting, discipline and patient forbearance with three children! They kept their promises, as far as they were able, and clearly demonstrated what Christian duty looked like.

That word ‘duty’ has come to bear a less than positive aspect, bringing with it a burden and a weariness which makes people avoid any sort of responsibility for fear they will be shackled to an unbearable weight! But is this how I should think as a Christian? Surely not!

My ‘duties’ as a follower of Jesus are an expression of my sense of indebtedness to him, recognising that his sacrificial love for me has placed me forever in his debt and that nothing I can do to serve and glorify him is too much to give! It is this which the psalmist puts so clearly in Ps116 above, as he boasts not in his ability to fulfill his vows, but in the greatness and worth of the God to whom those vows are made.

Those same ‘duties’ are also my privileged and appointed tasks, commanded by my King and Lord, who has the right to direct and spend my life according to his perfect pleasure and will. He has told me that these things are what he desires of me, that they are for my blessing, and will bring him glory – should I not be all eagerness to fulfill them?! What reasons could I give for rejecting his command, for denying myself the privilege of serving such a Master?

Our daily grief as believers is, that in spite of our best aspirations, and deepest sense of sweet obligation, we find it so hard to do our duty, to live according to the pattern which Christ commends to us. We are disappointed in ourselves and tempted to give up, to resent that God asks so much, instead of asking for his help.  Because the wonderful truth is that help is readily available, and we already have the basic provision that we need.

The bible makes it clear that as those who call on Jesus as ‘Lord’, we have been transformed, given a fresh start, made ‘new’ as Paul says in 2 Corinthians. Our nature has been renewed by the indwelling Spirit, and it is as though God had written his desires upon our hearts, so that our natural inclinations are now a mirror image of his own – although still badly clouded by the deceptive remnant of rebellion that haunts us!

That deep desire to honour God through fulfilling my duties as a believer – that is my new nature at work; those little victories over old bad habits and selfishness – that is my new nature, growing stronger under the influence of the Spirit; the increased ease with which I reach out in love to serve, and the joy which it brings – are the fruits of God’s gracious equipping of me with all that I need to do his will.

Instead of despairing over my failures, let me promptly bring them to God in repentance, and then set off in joy and renewed trust to try again, confident that his power and provision for me, the new nature he is nurturing in me, will bear good fruit. In doing my duties as a Christian, I express my debt to my Lord, and serve him with delight, exulting in the privilege of such a position and resting in his understanding love.

May God continue to give us daily the things we need, and strengthen his likeness in us, so that we may serve naturally and gladly, bringing glory to him and blessing to others.

Making holes in the dark…

In the beginning was the Word..In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said,”I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

(John 1.1,4&5; 8.12)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, ” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

(2 Corinthians 4.6)

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

(Matthew 5.14-16)

By choosing to celebrate Christmas at the darkest time of the year (for dwellers in the northern hemisphere), the church has been able to explore so many ways in which the description of Christ as the “Light of the World” is a powerful and transforming one. When one lives for weeks with less than 7 hours of daylight, and much of that heavily shrouded in clouds and rain, the presence of light is a precious gift, and one for which we are profoundly thankful. Truly, it takes the darkness to make us appreciate light fully, and in particular to see how every pinprick shows up clearly – think of the old children’s hymn which speak of that bright distinctiveness – Jesus bids us shine, with a pure clear light, like a little candle burning in the night. No one is disqualified from their part in the witness of the church to the source of all brightness, Jesus himself, the light of the world.

We are called not to reflect the light – like mirrors, which have no power within them – but to shine with light, like torches, lanterns, or candles. So the light must dwell within us first! Jesus calls us to be the light of the world, even as he has taken that title upon himself – is that not amazing?! Paul in his letter to the Corinthians tries to explain what the light is – the knowledge of the glory of God, which was so full and complete in Christ, that he could say to his disciples, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father”.

It is as we learn to know God, to worship and appreciate him in all his glory, that we will shine more and more brightly in the world – making things visible, illuminating what is true and real, showing the need for salvation and the loving God who offers it freely in Christ. The sanctifying, transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives scrubs away those things which obscure the light and prevent it from shining – the selfishness, the fear, the grudging and bitter resentments which can build up. And it is God himself who gives us the light, as well as making us fit to shine for him! It is not by good deeds that we obtain light, rather that one of the ways in which the light is seen is by the godly things we are prompted to do and be in our world.

Here is the challenge for us; are we shining like this? Are we so afraid of the reaction of our dark world that we try to hide the light of Christ dwelling within us, and let it out only when we are in a safe Christian environment? We don’t need candles or torches when we are bathed in sunlight, but when night has fallen, when there are no windows in the room, when the trees crowd so thick overhead that light is blotted out.

We are to shine with Christ-light in those places, where there is darkness, so that the prisoners can see, so that freedom can be obtained by those who are in despair… As we have received, so let us give – freely, abundantly, joyfully.

What a gift we have to celebrate this Christmas time – light not only for our own lives, but for all who need it! May God in his great mercy continue to make us more like Christ, so that we might bear that light of the knowledge of his glory into the world which needs it so badly…

Misplaced loyalty?

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven..

(Matthew 6.9)

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place…You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world. to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(John 18.36&37)

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

(Philippians 3.20&21)

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

(Revelation 11.15)

Who is really in charge? Who truly wields power in the world today? On one level, the answers are obvious – money is power, our multinational corporations are virtually a law unto themselves; military might gives power, the threat of destruction creates domination and control; ideology drives men and women to act in ways which create power, they terrorise and destroy in order to realise their vision.. The ballot box, in a democratic society, is power surrendered to the people, but it depends on their intelligent approach to the use of their votes, on their willingness to vote, and on the integrity of those who are elected to represent them..

I am thankful to live in a society where military might is not abused, where ideology is still restrained from creating chaos, and where legal systems to hold money to account, to prevent the multinational corporations from getting away with any and every form of exploitation. But am I in danger of forgetting that all these are only by the providence of God? Am I at risk of putting my faith in the ballot box, in education and information as hope for the future of my children and neighbours? Our secular society would have us believe that all we have is the result of our own labours, and that we can, with the right tools and time, sort all the problems that remain.

The bible tells me differently, and I think that many would agree on a second look at the state of the world today. Humanity is improving the lot of millions, through technological advances, through education and development. BUT we continue to destroy our planet in our greed; to destroy one another in our selfishness, prejudice, and refusal to love and forgive. The scale of human suffering today is unimaginable, in spite of all the tools available to us to create prosperity, health and stability. Why? Because the problem lies in the heart of humanity, and no system, no power that ever existed can change the heart of man – only God in heaven, its creator, has addressed that brokenness and until we accept his diagnosis and his offer of saving, transforming life through faith in Jesus, we are ultimately hopeless.

I have a duty, as a citizen of my country, to vote, to act responsibly according to the laws of the land and to seek the good of my people as far as it lies with me to realise it. I have a responsibility to pray for those who are willing to shoulder the burden of elected representation – a thankless task, one which brings much frustration and can damage those who undertake it. These people need my support, and encouragment as they(broken and weak human beings) seek to do their best, in a situation where much is outwith their control.

But my ultimate loyalty is not to the nation of my birth, but the kingdom of which I am a member by faith in Jesus. It is the eternal security of that realm which gives me hope for the future, in spite of the growing darkness and unease of the world in which we live today. I believe in a God who is just and good, and who will never leave his people unaided.

Let me not allow political uncertainty, and the abuse of power – of any kind – to undermine my confidence in the absolute security which I have in Christ, my place in the kingdom of God, an eternal inheritance of which I have already received the guarantee. Because of him, in this world of fear, hostility and inequality, I can have peace as the flag flying high over the castle of my heart!

Therefore go!

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

(Matthew 28.18-20)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle..for the gospel of God..regarding his Son who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace..to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

(Romans 1. 1-5 & 16-18)

An imperative, a command with no exceptions – the risen, glorified Lord commands his disciples to ‘GO’. His death and resurrection has ushered in a new era, has opened the door of heaven to broken and lost humanity, that they might come home; finding fullness and joy such as they have never known.

It is good news for the weary and grieving; for the proud and lonely; for the driven and unsatisfied – and a challenge to the self-satisfied, all those who rely upon their own righteousness and achievements. It is good news, because it addresses the deepest needs of humankind – whether they recognise and acknowledge those needs or not – and is the only guarantee of obtaining the security in this life, and hope for the next which we pursue in so many different shapes and forms apart from God.

This is the command which sends men and women across the oceans to serve as missionaries in lands where they are aliens; learning strange languages and submitting to challenging climatic and living conditions – all that their beloved Lord might be made known to people who have never heard of him. It is not personal glory that they pursue, but his glory and the growth of his kingdom; it is with Christ’s sacrificial love that they go, for the sake of those walking in darkness, knowing nothing of the beauty of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

This is the command which draws men and women into full-time and professional ministry in their homelands – that they might reach their neighbours with the good news of a saviour; might make disciples of young believers, seeing them grow in strength and understanding, persevering through trials and testifying to God’s power in their lives. It is not institutional glory they are pursuing, but the rescuing of as many as may respond from a bleak, black, hopeless future without Christ.

This same command is given to me, a housewife, with no formal theological training to undertake, no foreign mission field to go to, no difficult languages to learn or challenging climate to deal with. I am tasked with sharing the good news of Jesus with my natural neighbours, in my own tongue, from the comfort of a good home and with a strong support network of believing friends to help me… What possible excuse can I make for failing to do it?

None.. and I know that the desire of my heart is indeed to see those around me come to faith. I see how their lives are distorted and blighted by the lack of peace, the sense of worthlessness, the anxiety and fear which all stem from ignorance of God’s accepting and forgiving love. And yet it seems so hard to speak of that love in a way which will they will hear, and how I dread alienating them by a word spoken out of turn..

It is not that my words must be powerful in themselves, nor clever and persuasive like those of a clever lawyer or spin doctor; no, I believe that God can use simple and even clumsy speech to do his work. And this is perhaps the key which I need to grasp more fully – to pray that he will be at work by his Spirit in the lives of those around me; that I will discern that work, and then discern how to speak to them. All the labour of drawing a soul to saving faith is God’s labour, and my task is to be a willing agent in his plan.

May I walk more and more in step with him, so that I recognise his hand at work and know his prompting to speak – or not speak but act – so that the power of God which is the gospel of Jesus Christ might be revealed in the lives of those around me. May I be blessed by seeing men and women come alive in Christ in my community – perhaps through some labour of my own, but ultimately all through God’s gracious power and to his glory!

But that’s not my job Lord…is it?

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel..

(Eph 6.19)

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

(Col 4.2-4)

Finally brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you.

(2 Thess 3.1)

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden for that would be of no advantage to you.

(Heb.13.17)

I make no apology for the number and length of bible passages quoted this week, because they illustrate the theme which is very strong in my mind, namely our role as church members in supporting our leaders.

I was at a meeting recently where the speaker gave some insight into the ministry of CH Spurgeon, a great teacher of the early 20th, whose sermons and writings continue to bless the church today. He once told his congregation that the day they stopped praying for him, would be the day he hoped to die, since it was only in the power of God, released by prayer, that his ministry had any worth and effect. I was challenged, disturbed, wondering how many of those who bear the burden of leadership in our churches know that they are faithfully supported by the prayers of their people.

Have we any idea how lonely it must be for them? Week after week, disciplining themselves under the word; by study and meditation, wrestling to receive the message which God reveals to them for their people. How much do we take for granted the preaching and teaching which we receive week by week, the knowledge which is required to inform and instruct us in our faith? When did we last take time to talk to our teachers, to share the ways that God in his grace has used them to heal us, to correct us, to encourage and inspire us? They are human too, and while the satisfaction of obedience to their calling is their ultimate reward, they will thrill to know that God is using them. Sometimes it can be what seems a disastrous sermon to the preacher which turns out to be the greatest blessing to the people – but how much better if the preacher knows than if he or she goes home despondent and unaware!

But more than speaking even, is the real responsibility we have, to PRAY for our leaders. And Paul spells out what to pray for them – that they may preach fearlessly and clearly, that the gospel might go out with power, without restraint, and that the end result would be honour to God. When did we last pray, like that?

The point of Spurgeon’s comment was to emphasise that without prayer for the word of God to speak to hearts and transform lives in Christ, there was no point in his preaching. Sometimes the word will be a rebuke, it will hit hard and bring distress – that is why Paul asks us to pray that preachers might be fearless. They must be so submitted to the word that they are willing to deliver hard messages – think of the prophets in the Old Testament who brought dreadful warnings to their hearers! But if a preacher fears the reaction of his hearers, he will be tempted to soften the message, to avoid the hard things, and that will lead him to disobedience and his work will indeed become a burden to him. So let us pray for fearlessness for our preachers.

Clarity – how can we learn if we cannot understand? What a crucial prayer this is, that people might see and know exactly what the good news of Jesus is, that they might be saved and transformed into his likeness. Unrestrained power – praying that the devil will not hinder, distract or dilute the message by hindering the preacher! A pulpit or platform is a battlefield when God’s word is being faithfully proclaimed and we as a congregation can claim victory on behalf of our teachers, so that they are free to preach what they have prepared.

I hope that I will be able to take this challenge to heart in the years ahead, that I might commit to the discipline of praying for my preacher: – fearlessness; clarity; unrestrained proclamation, and above all, that God in his power will speak through the word to transform lives and bring glory and honour to Jesus Christ, our Lord and the focus of all that is said in his name.

 

Whose job is it anyway?

I may have done the planting and Apollos the watering but it was God who made the seed grow! The planter and the waterer are nothing compared with him who gives life to the seed. Planter and waterer are alike insignificant, though each shall be rewarded according to his particular work.

In this work, we work with God..

(1 Corinthians 3.6-9, JB Phillips translation)

This blossom is on the apple tree in our garden, borne by a carefully trained branch, on a well pruned tree which only last year gave its first real harvest of delicious eating apples. There is some relationship between the care given by the gardener, and the fruit of the tree, but ultimately, we recognise the truth of what Paul is saying in this extract from his letter to the Corinthians: it is God alone who brings forth the life and fruit of the plant in due season, and to him alone belongs the credit!

As I prepare to lay down my responsibilities in order to move to our new place of ministry, I find that I have fallen into the trap of thinking that the work which I am leaving is somehow ‘my work’. I find myself unhappy about leaving a less-than-perfect arrangement behind me, or not finding people to take over my particular role before I leave. And as I consider why I am so upset, I find some very unattractive things going on.

I am behaving as though my worth and value depend upon the work I do instead of upon the identity I have as a child of God.

I am assuming that I will be judged upon the work I do, and if it is found wanting, then I am afraid of the condemnation of other people – instead of entrusting myself to God as my sole judge.

I am resenting the fact that other people are not willing to step up and take on jobs which can be demanding and time-consuming; when I know that I sometimes resent those same demands! I am being unloving, lacking compassion, and above all, not trusting God to provide for the work which he wants to do in his own way.

It is a painful grace when God shows us what is really going on in our hearts and minds, because we are ashamed of the reality – the ugliness and depth of pride which are revealed. But it is still grace, because he is giving us the chance to repent, to learn, and to move forward into a new way of living.

As I considered this, I thought of the great apostle Paul, who was required so many times in his ministry to pack up and leave – sometimes after very short periods – and who must have learnt very quickly how to handle this experience of relinquishment. In these verses from the first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul lays out very clearly his understanding of his role in God’s work – he describes himself as ‘insignificant’ and ‘nothing’. Now we know that in other places Paul describes his labours on behalf of the churches in great detail, and encourages them to follow his example of service and sacrifice. So he is not claiming to do nothing, but rather that in comparison to God, his role is ‘as nothing’.

God has chosen to give us, his children, the privilege of serving him, of working with him as he prepares for the return of Christ and the coming of the new creation. This is our great purpose in life, and one which we can be rightly proud of. But, we are not responsible for its completion. In fact, we only ever play a passing role, and must always be ready to be moved on and let God deal with what we leave behind. So it comes back to trust again..

Am I willing to trust God for the jobs I used to do? Am I willing to let things get messy, or even stop altogether and still believe that he is in charge and that I have not failed him? Am I willing to put to death the pride which longs to hear the praise of people for the ‘successful’ things I have done?

As I begin to see how deeply my pride is dragging me down into anxiety, frustration and resentment, I long to be free of it, and gladly confess that I need to be changed.

May God who honoured me by allowing me to serve him give me grace to let go and not fret, but recognise that obedience is what I am called to. May I be content to rest in his approval alone, and not look for affirmation anywhere else. May he continue to expose the roots of pride which disguise themselves so effectively, and cause me to stumble.

To him be the glory, in all things, for ever and ever, Amen!