Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Church Unity

The anointing of oil in the Old Testament can be seen as a forerunner to the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the New; therefore it is not an unlikely assumption that church unity has a bearing on the presence or anointing of the Holy Spirit within a congregation.

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This commandment was given by Jesus to His followers. Love for each other would be their witness for Him to the world. Not eloquent teaching, or stirring worship or impressive buildings or programs or the texts on our walls or the crosses around our necks, although some of these things may display that love.

Paul reemphasizes this point in his famous passage:

 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

How do we display love amongst the fellowship of believers?

“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12,13)

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31, 32)

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8)

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:19-23)

Make no mistake, church hurt is a deliberate device of Satan, who is always at work in Christian communities to disrupt and divide. He attacks all relationships that should be effective witnesses for Christ- marriages, families, ministries and Christian organisations. The results are weakening of relationships, offence, the loss to the Christian community of disillusioned pastors and lay persons and the pointing finger of those in the world ready to accuse the church of hypocrisy.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Matthew 6:27).

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14)

My personal recommendation for those who are finding it difficult to know how to pray for those who have hurt them in a church congregation is to confess your own feelings honestly to God and to ask for His grace to enable You to do His will in relation to the people who have caused the hurt. A reasonable request to make of God is to ask Him to help the other/s concerned to have a greater understanding of God’s ways, so they will grow more deeply in their faith and relationship with Him. This, after all is something that we should desire for all our fellow Christians as well as ourselves.

We should also pray that we ourselves do not become someone who will cause divisions or disruptions in the body and hinder church unity. We need to ask God to reveal to us our own attitudes and behaviours which can do this.

“Provoke not the holy, blessed Spirit of God to withdraw His presence and His gracious influences. The body will be redeemed from the power of the grave at the resurrection day. Wherever that blessed Spirit dwells as a Sanctifier, He is the earnest of all the joys and glories of that redemption day; and we should be undone, should God take away His Holy Spirit from us.” (Matthew Henry’s Concise Bible Commentary, notes on Ephesians 4:29-32)

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Proverbs 31 Woman

One of the silliest advertisements I ever saw was in a Christian women’s magazine. I don’t recall what it was advertising, but the catchline read something like “There’s far more to the modern woman than Proverbs 31”. Now I don’t know if the person who composed the advert had ever given Proverbs 31 more than a cursory read, but my immediate thought was, “Go and have another look at the passage!”

What are we to make of the Proverbs 31 woman? If the passage was written by Solomon, he certainly had the opportunity to observe a variety of women, being  the husband of many. So what are the characteristics to be prized – a beautiful face, youth and an attractive body? Today’s media would certainly have us think so.

Given that we believe that all scripture is authored by God, what do we learn from Him through this passage about the traits of a desirable woman? For starters, this lady who is to be prized above precious jewels is described as capable, intelligent and virtuous (31:10). The opening verse of this passage concentrates not on her looks, but her character. The subsequent verses outline her character attributes more fully:

  • She’s morally trustworthy within her marriage. She comforts and helps her husband and encourages him to work honestly. He is able to take his place in society without fear of scandal.

  • She’s a hard worker, providing what is needed for her household, both in a material and spiritual sense.

  • She considers opportunities for honest gain, increase and fruitfulness. (v16) This may be in a business sense, or the verse may also be symbolic of growth and fruitfulness in more personal areas.

  • She has strength and courage because of her dependency on God. She knows He will equip her to face whatever trials life may bring.

  • She is generous to the poor and needy.

  • “her lamp goes not out.” (v18). Like the wise virgins in the parable of Matthew 25, she is prepared for what may happen in the future, because she has worked hard physically and is in right relationship with God spiritually. In fact verse 25 states that she “rejoices over the future”. She knows who holds the future in His hands.

  • When she speaks, it’s with kindness, wisdom and counsel, without gossiping or complaining.

  • She loves and reverences God. Although this attribute appears almost at the end of the chapter, it is arguably the most important attribute anyone, man or woman can have. From love and reverence for God we love and serve others, and He enables us to develop to our best.

The Proverbs 31 woman is a special kind of gal. Someone I’d like to emulate. A woman for all time. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Spiritual Disciplines 1: Observing the Sabbath

During my childhood years in England in the 1960s, many families went to church on Sundays. Shops were closed. Sporting fixtures were never held. Some of my friends were not allowed to visit on a Sunday. There was a universal solemnity and large baked dinners with Yorkshire pudding.  

I don’t necessarily agree with a legalistic view of what you can and can’t do on a Sunday, but I do believe that observing Sunday or every seventh day is a principle which honours God and is beneficial to humans.
Genesis tells us that God created the world and everything in it in six days. He saw that it was all good. Then, on the seventh day, He rested. “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (Genesis 2:2).
This principle of resting on the seventh day was enshrined by God in the fourth of the ten commandments : “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 5:12)
This is perhaps the only one of the ten commandments which is currently disputed as to whether it still applies. Paul does tell us in Colossians 2:16 “Then never let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink, or about observance of annual festivals, New Moons or Sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what was coming: the reality is the body of Christ.”
Jesus, in His earthy ministry placed a different perspective on the Sabbath, decrying the religious dos and don’ts of the Pharisees. He healed on the Sabbath. Jesus however states that "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27). By these words I infer that observance of the Sabbath is not an onerous duty but a blessing. The writer of Hebrews refers to the principle of entering God’s rest- a state of comfort and ease as we depend upon God, even if our earthly circumstances are extremely trying. Observing the Sabbath in this case is almost an outward sign of this: “There must still be, therefore, a seventh-day rest reserved for God's people, since to enter the place of rest is to rest after your work, as God did after His” (Heb 4:9-10).
Sunday is the day of the week in which Christians meet together to share fellowship in our church congregations. I personally have found that by setting aside one day in which I rest, attend church, have time for social activities with friends or time for gardening, reading, walking or other things that I enjoy provides great renewal for the week ahead. Throughout my college years I did not study or do assignments on Sundays, with no ill effects. I think our society has lost much by permitting Sunday trading, and I personally try not to shop on a Sunday. I find that because I don’t do household chores- cleaning, washing and ironing etc. on Sundays, I’m far more disciplined to do these things earlier in the week and have them completed on Saturday, so I’m more responsible with time management and actually create leisure time for myself. It becomes an established pattern to work hard, and then rest and enjoy.
My I encourage you, if you find that life is increasingly non-stop work and stress, to try the pattern of observing the Sabbath. Take time out one day in seven to rejoice in God and all His wonderful works and blessings, rest, refresh and be renewed.

A love gift for Jesus

In February some folks find themselves buying romantic cards, or chocolates or flowers and sending overt or covert messages of undying love to their sweethearts.  This may well be just another marketing ploy in a culture which seems determined to keep us focused on consuming, but at the same time perhaps as Christians we can transform our popular culture into something a little more meaningful.

Who do you love most of all? Self? Significant other? Children? Pets? Family? Friends?

Ask a Christian and the answer should be God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Three in one. The Trinity. For some, one or other members of the Trinity are of foremost association : God as Father, or Jesus Christ as Saviour. Often the Holy Spirit is the most shadowy and difficult to envisage entity of the three.

God’s love is such a tangible, palpable thing, one that is given freely and daily to us. He gave us the best gift imaginable, that of our ransom from the consequences of our human fallenness and sin. He gave us his Son, Jesus Christ, to live as a man, teaching us of the things of God, and dying on the cross so that in repentance and faith in Jesus we could be back in right relationship with God.

As Valentine’s day approaches, and I am by no means endorsing the celebration of the day for it’s own sake, perhaps we can think of a love gift that we can give to God to display our love for Him.

We do so many things often as Christians out of a sense of duty. Church attendance, quiet time, Bible reading, prayer- sometimes these are done because we know we should do so. I pray sometimes for God to fill my spirit with the joy of doing these things because I love God, not because I know I should.

I’ve already decided what my February gift to God will be. It’s to give up something which has become a habit. By giving this up, I create a space in my life. God will use that space for something else- maybe more prayer time, or time for reflection or simply time to get a better night’s sleep. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 that all things are permitted, but not everything is beneficial. Whilst the verses may be specifically referring to Jewish dietary laws, there is a wider implication here that we are to carefully consider, as Christians, how we are using our resources of time, effort and money.

Your gift to Jesus may not be to give up something. It may be a specific love offering to someone else for God's purposes. It might be to decisively act in some area where you have felt God’s prompting or leading. It might be to begin to seriously become disciplined in the area of Bible reading or prayer or giving. Not because you feel duty bound to, but because you would love to.

May God bless you as you show your love to Him this February. 

Aptly named Zephyranthes or Storm lilies, which have flowered since last weekend's cyclonic rains.