Showing posts with label Yahshua. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yahshua. Show all posts

21 June 2013

Back to front truth

Leaders in the church, Part 11
< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

Jesus gets away from the crowds and begins to teach his closest followers. There are strong hints here, and more than hints, that leading is going to be costly. It will require great humility and self sacrifice, hard labour, unpopularity and persecution, and (not least) righteousness.

Galilee with hills on the horizon
Galilee with hills on the horizon
Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew's Gospel show us Jesus teaching his close followers. It is his apprentices that he speaks to here, his disciples, not the crowd. Matthew 5:1 explicitly says that when he saw the crowds he went up on the mountain and while he was sitting there his disciples came to him.

In terms of leadership there are several things to pay attention to here. Yahshua has been travelling throughout Galilee speaking about the good news and showing it in action by healing the sick. As a result he is now being pursued by large crowds, he has become famous.

Heading out - Leaving these crowds deliberately, he goes to a remote spot involving a steep scramble that many of the sick would not have been able to tackle. He sits down on a hillside far above the lake and away from the towns and villages. Only the most determined would have followed him there. He wants to train those who will continue the work of the kingdom after he has returned to the Father.

Leaders all need to do this, at least some of the time. It's essential to reach the crowds, that is the purpose of the mission. But it's every bit as important to pass on the method and the foundational truths to the core followers. What is unique about Yahshua is not that he teaches his followers; all Jewish rabbis did that. He is different because he also goes direct to the crowds. The Pharisees and Sadducees taught their disciples in great detail, but they didn't touch the lives of ordinary people very much.

So here, in Matthew 5:1-20, Jesus comes away from the crowds and does some standard rabbinic teaching. As you read it, remember that he's speaking to leaders, those he will soon be sending out on their own. He needs them to understand some basic truths. And these truths are all back to front. Did the Pharisees think the weak would be blessed?

The beatitudes - These famous sayings of Jesus are very intriguing. Most people are puzzled by them at some level and it's likely the disciples were too. One way to get to the bottom of what seems to be a conundrum is to reverse the individual statements. I outlined this idea a couple of years ago and I have just revisited it in more detail in another post.

But the thing to notice right now is that these statements would have made the disciples think. They would have understood that this Jesus was not motivated by power or wealth, but by humility and compassion. And they would begin to realise that he wanted them to have the same approach to life. This is the underlying philosophy that all church leaders need to have. If not, church becomes an oppressive and hurtful place instead of the place of peace and welcome that Jesus intended.

Trouble, salt and light - In verse 11 Jesus makes it very clear that leaders can expect to suffer in a variety of ways because of him. Why because of him? Simply because anyone who says what Jesus says and does what he does will attract the anger of those holding worldly authority. The scribes, law teachers and Pharisees handed Jesus over for execution. The prophets suffered in the same way. The newly arrested John the Baptist was a very fresh example if one was needed!

And he explained that leaders are responsible for providing flavour and illumination. Those who do not provide these things are of little or no value as leaders in the kingdom. We often read these chapters as if they are written to all believers - and to some degree they are. But specifically they are for the disciples, then and now. Of course, we are all disciples and we are all called to lead and show one another the way. Also, we are all called to the mission of going and making disciples and teaching them everything Jesus taught us. Disciples follow and lead others so that they in turn will become disciples.

And what of the Law? - Jesus explains how his coming affects the Law. Again, it's all about leaders. Those who are obedient and teach others the same will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Do you want to be called great? You will need to become more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees (who attempted to obey the Law in minute detail). How can any man or woman become righteous? It's only possible by believing Jesus, and if we believe we'll teach others to do the same.

Clearly, the standard for leaders in the church is very high indeed. Not in terms of paper qualifications or head knowledge (the Pharisees had all the learning and theology anyone could wish for). Not in terms of appointed authority (the High Priest had that in spades). But in terms of Christ-likeness.

If you aspire to lead, begin by reading Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Then consider what it means to 'follow Jesus up the mountain'. It is hard and dangerous work but very rewarding.

Questions:

  • Are you a leader? What do you think defines a leader?
  • Are you following Jesus? If so you are a disciple, doesn't that make you a leader?
  • Why do you suppose Jesus wanted to spend so much time with his disciples (rather than the crowds)? Surely the more people he could reach the better.
  • Is it better to go wide or deep? Jesus went wide with the crowd and deep with the disciples.

See also:


< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

20 June 2013

Jesus makes a start

Leaders in the church, Part 10
< Jesus is tempted | Index | Back to front truth >

Matthew tells us how Jesus began his ministry by moving to a new town. Like him, we need to find the right time and the right place to proclaim the good news. Like him it's essential that we demonstrate good news as well as speaking about it as widely as possible.

Walking on the shore of Galilee
Walking on the shore of Galilee
Jesus leaves Judaea following John's arrest and returns to the region of Galilee.

He moves away from his home in Nazareth and goes to live in Capernaum instead, then he begins to preach his message about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4:12-25).

Isn't it striking that until this time he has done nothing but construction work for thirty years?

Often described as a carpenter, it's likely his work included more than that. He was a constructor and a repairer; if you think about it those were very appropriate tasks for someone who would later construct and repair relationships between the Creator and his creation.

A time and place for everything - At the right time and in the right place he begins his work as a leader. And what a leader! Here is the King of Kings beginning to speak into the world and reveal the redemptive purpose of Yahweh in an altogether new and more dynamic way.

How often do we speak and work in the wrong place and at the wrong time? Usually we will speak whenever and wherever we have the chance. But if we are truly going to be like Christ we must learn to be much more cautious, listening to the Spirit for guidance and doing and saying what he shows us at the time and place of his choosing.

But there's more here for us as leaders. How is it that in verse 16 the 'people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light'? Like Jesus, we must live among the people. It's difficult to reach people who are strangers to us. Jesus goes, moves to a new town, and lives there. If we are going to lead we need to first get in amongst the people we need to reach and allow our light to shine there.

Missional and incarnational - Alan Hirsch considers we need a missional impulse (going out from where we are), and an incarnational impulse (living amongst those we are sent to reach). Only when these are in place can we expect to reach the hearts of the people in meaningful ways that they can accept. Isn't this exactly how Jesus began his service, in Galilee, after John's arrest? He came with a mission and he came to live among us to do it.

And in living there and walking by the sea he sees Simon (known as 'Rocky') and Andrew and comments on what they are doing in such a way that they accept his invitation to follow. He collects James and John in the same way. Now they are a band of five.

And at this point he begins to travel throughout the region, teaching in the synagogues, sharing the gospel, healing the sick, and becoming famous. His ministry is under way! Notice how he has gone out from his home locality (Nazareth) responding to a missional impulse and then settles in Capernaum (responding to an incarnational impulse).

Perhaps he lived there for a period of time, we don't know how long. He might even have taken on construction and renovation work. So Simon, Andrew, James and John were not strangers when he called them to follow him, they lived in Capernaum and would have seen him and spoken with him before, perhaps often.

Speak and act in ways that bless - Matthew 4:23-25 fills in the detail on what Jesus did as he travelled around Galilee. He taught, proclaimed, and healed the sick and the oppressed. People came from miles around, from Judaea, and the Ten Towns and from beyond the Jordan too.

Just as Jesus made disciples out of the people around him, so can we. Potential disciples surround us, all the time. But we must speak to them. And, just like Jesus, we need to bring good news, not only talk about it. Jesus brought good news in the form of healing, freedom and grace. He blessed people. He was kind.

If you aspire to lead, follow his example!

Questions:

  • Are there people in your area with needs? (eg Elderly, sick, struggling to manage, poor)
  • Can you think of ways you might bring something good to such people?
  • Who is more likely to listen, someone who knows and likes you, or a stranger?
  • Jesus hung out with people, where could you go to do that?

See also:


< Jesus is tempted | Index | Back to front truth >

17 May 2013

Jesus is tempted

Leaders in the church, Part 9
< John the Baptist | Index | Jesus makes a start >

Jesus was cast out into the Judaean wilderness (an arid semi-desert). As an example of a good leader he was tempted and passed the test with flying colours. We need to be like him in that respect. Whether we are dealing with material things, the miraculous or worship, we'd better get it right.

The Judaean wilderness
After he was baptised, the Holy Spirit led Yahshua (Jesus) away to be tempted.

Because Yahshua is our King, teacher, master and Lord he is the prime example of a leader. He's a perfect example in every way. Therefore, in this study of leadership in the church, there is no better approach than to pay attention to what Jesus said and did.

All of us are tempted, and it follows that all leaders are tempted, and because Jesus lived among us as a human being he was tempted too. So what can we draw out from Matthew 4:1-11?

Spirit led - The prayer Jesus taught his apprentices includes the words 'Don't lead us into temptation but release us from evil'. So it may seem surprising that here in Matthew 4:1 we read that the Holy Spirit led him into a barren place to be tempted.

All leaders suffer particular forms of temptation when they are in a barren place, so let's bear that in mind as we work through these verses. But let's also bear in mind that it's not necessarily wrong to be in a barren place. The Spirit himself may choose to lead us into and through such places in our lives, if necessary repeatedly.

Something to eat - Jesus has come to the uninhabited, semi-desert country where there's little or nothing to eat, he's fasted for forty days and nights. And Matthew 4:2 states the obvious - he was hungry!

In our places of greatest lack and when things are at their most desperate we may be tempted to take shortcuts. For Jesus, bread from loaf-shaped rocks would have been cheating, removing the temptation by means of a shortcut. But we don't grow by taking shortcuts; we don't feed just on bread, we feed on what Yahweh says. We must feed on his words of life. The first temptation is to be more concerned with bodily needs than with spiritual needs.

Something marvellous to see - What could be more of a draw than a man jumping from the top of a high and significant building in the heart of a city and landing unharmed? This time the evil one actually quotes from the Old Testament to make his point! This is about impressing people.

We are all tempted to do whatever it takes to get people's attention. For leaders this is always going to be a potential issue. Nobody is listening... OK then - watch this! Maybe I'm not going to jump off a building, but I might try loud, professional music or fancy artwork or special promotional offers.

But once again we must resist. Jesus shows us the way to handle the issue, the evil one is capable of quoting from the Bible but he is always looking for a way to trap us. He made a double mistake; he tried to test the Son by getting him to test the Father.

He may encourage you and me to test both the Father and the Son, but since that first Pentecost, we also carry in our hearts the same Spirit that is in the Father and the Son. If we are hearing from the Holy Spirit we will be just as hard to trick as the Son himself. We have a real advantage over the enemy.

An offer to receive power - The enemy has dominion over the world and offers to give it to Jesus. But the price is far too high. Jesus will never worship anyone but the Father and neither should we. I almost feel sorry for the destroyer, he is already defeated and nothing he offers is of any real worth. He must be desperate to try a ploy like this!

I will only accept what Jesus offers. I will worship him as he worships his Father. They and their Spirit are one and I will worship only the One.

An issue for leaders - There's a serious consideration here for anyone who aspires to lead. It's bad to go astray. But to lead others astray is far, far worse. If I serve anyone or anything other than the Lord and others follow me, I am leading them into peril. If I worship anyone or anything other than the Lord and others copy me, I am leading them to worship false gods.

We have here three examples, right attitudes to material things (bread), right attitudes to the miraculous (falling without being hurt) and right attitudes in worship (due only to the Almighty). These three stand for a host of other similar things - the stuff of life (daily needs, hobbies, worldly goods) - testing Papa ('look at me' in healing, prophecy, working of wonders) - worshipping false gods (money, power, fame).

Who is worthy to lead? Who will rightly feed the sheep and guide them?  If you set an example the sheep will follow, so make sure your example is a sound one!

Questions:

  • Jesus was tempted in body, mind and spirit. Can you think of examples from your own life?
  • What clues does Jesus' example offer concerning good strategies to avoid sin?
  • How long do you think you could survive in the desert?
  • We all lead and we are all followed. How can you be sure to set good examples in your life? 

See also:


< John the Baptist | Index | Jesus makes a start >

13 March 2013

If there's a Creator...

If there's a Creator, why is suffering permitted? Perhaps we are looking at life in the wrong way, it's not about ease and safety. It's about living a more free and abundant life, about loving one another, about knowing the Creator intimately. Life is not supposed to be me-centred, it's other-centred.

A royal doll's house
Haven't we all heard this question? 'If there's a Creator, why does he allow suffering in the world?'

Or it might be, 'Why did he let my wife/husband/child/parent/friend die?', or ,'Why didn't he stop a terrorist incident?'.

Why are there earthquakes, why is there disease?

It's a question that comes from a great missing of the point. Our Father didn't promise us lives without trouble. Indeed, Yahshua specifically told his followers that they would face severe trouble in the world.

He himself faced ridicule, scourging, and a ghastly death. Why would we expect to suffer any less? And if we who have trusted in him and follow him face hardship, danger and loss, why would those who have not trusted and followed expect a better deal?

The fact is, he did not necessarily come to bring us health and happiness and security in this life, he came to set us free and pour into us the essence of a new life - a life that will never end. We begin to live the new Kingdom life now even while we still struggle daily in our old, temporary lives.

We rarely think about the alternative to a universe in which suffering is allowed. The alternative would be no free will, no self determination. Only chaos (in the mathematical sense) makes life possible.

Why is this so hard to grasp, so hard to come to terms with?

Perhaps it all depends where we are standing as we review the situation.

The view from this world - Looking at it from the perspective of this life alone it is natural for people to want comfort and security. If we expect to die and pass into an empty obscurity, why would we search for anything else but benefit now? More money, more fun, better health, more happiness, more time, less work, more to eat but a slimmer body, less working out but better fitness, less effort but more achievement. Are these reasonable goals? No!

As long as we think of heaven as a place of lazy happiness and easy joy we are trying to find the wrong reward. And if the truth be known, we are still wanting to enjoy that reward in this life.

The view from the kingdom of heaven - But Christ did not come to reward us. We did not (and cannot) earn a reward. We are too often like children opening a wrapped gift and saying, 'But I didn't want a key, I wanted a doll's house. This comes from a failure to understand from a grown-up perspective. Which is best for us, a doll's house now or the key to our Father's house so we can freely come and go?

We need to learn to live our lives from this new perspective. It's not healing now, or food now, or safety now that truly matters. By comparison with receiving the heavenly and eternal healing, food and safety and having them in the here and now are of little value.


Heaven invades the world - And if this is all true, why do we see people healed when we pray for them? Why did Yahshua tell his followers, 'Ask anything in my name and it will done for you by my Father in Heaven'?

One of the greatest joys and privileges we have as believers is the gift of being able to come to the Father in the name of the Son. It is one of the means by which the kingdom of heaven invades this physical universe in which we live. Other ways include direct communication through the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, through dreams and visions, in prophecy and teaching, words of comfort and wisdom, and above all the growing knowledge believers have of the Father's heart and nature.

Some will say, 'But it doesn't always work!' This is true, sometimes we pray for healing and there is no perceived change. It might be due to lack of faith in the heart of the one who asks or of the one who is prayed for. But it might also be because we have not clearly heard the Father's will and purpose. It may be because we give up instead of persisting in prayer. And sometimes it may even be because the hard experience is essential for our eternal well-being or for someone else's.

We need to become like Yahshua who said, 'If it's possible, let this cup pass from me. But even so, Father, let your will be done here, not mine.'

Isn't this what Paul had in mind when he wrote, 'Let your bodies be made spiritual sacrifices'? We must lay down our lives daily. Lay them down and not take them up again. Lay them down and leave them for Papa to use and bless in his own way and at a time of his choosing.

And while we are here, in this world, it is our responsibility to help other people whenever we have the means to do so. We must pray for the sick and feed the hungry. We are the hands and feet of Jesus.

Questions:

  • What does it mean to you, personally, to 'let your body be made a spiritual sacrifice'?
  • How do you answer someone who says that unanswered prayer shows you lack faith?
  • Has anyone ever said that to you or someone you know?

See also:

09 March 2013

Leading, Matthew 1:1-17

Leaders in the church, Part 4
< A joy, not a burden | Index | Miriam and Yoseph >

The basis for all church leadership is not in what we do, but in who we are. Jesus himself is of the royal line of David, he is king because of his family connection and he is King of kings because of his even stronger family connection as one person in the triune nature of the Most High.

A decorated family tree
Matthew 1:1-17 - 'This is the genealogy of Yahshua'...

Right at the beginning of the New Testament is a statement that should make us sit up and think about leadership. It's not about what Jesus would do during his three years of ministry, fundamentally it's all about who he is. And the same is surely true for us.

The foundation for any kind of church leader is who they are, not what they do. Jesus' claim to be the promised, anointed One is based on his inheritance. He is of the line of kingship, descended from David, not depending on conquest or appointment or influence through political manoeuvring. And he is descended from the father of the race, Abraham.

A greater line - As will become clear later during his three years of travelling and sharing the good news of the kingdom, he has a third line of relationship - with the Father and the Spirit. So he is of the kingly line through David,  of the chosen nation through Abraham, and has an inseparable presence as part of the triune nature of the Almighty. He could not come with a greater recommendation or from a higher source.

But take note of some of the other characters in the genealogy. Abraham we've already noted, there is Isaac who prefigures the Son to be offered up by a loving heavenly Father, and he is of the line of Judah from which Judaea takes its name.

There is Rahab, a non-Jewish prostitute and her son Boaz who redeemed Ruth, and Solomon, the one who was wise enough to ask for wisdom. And last of all there is Joseph who was not Yahshua's father but who turned out to be a mere building contractor yet a great stepfather. No man was his ancestor except through a woman, Mary.

Let me repeat that. No man was Jesus' ancestor except through a woman. The entire male genealogy consists of nothing more than step-ancestors!

Not a matter of ancestry - If this tells us nothing else it should tell us that following Yahshua depends not on our inadequate human ancestry but on our relationship with the Almighty. It depends only on a willingness to turn back to the Father and receive the gift of being hidden in Christ. This is not a matter of leadership as the world sees it. Instead it's a matter of humility and acceptance and love. If a man or a woman is to lead it can only be because Jesus himself has chosen and equipped them.

These first seventeen verses of the New Testament therefore set the scene for leaders and leadership. They are foundational. Leaders are to be humble, chosen by the King alone, not necessarily of high birth. There is no inherited leadership. No hierarchical leadership. There are just people willing to play their part whatever the cost. Just like Jesus!

If you want to follow Jesus don't ask, 'What did he do?' Ask, 'Who is he?'  If you want to be a leader don't ask, 'What have I done?' Ask 'Who am I?' If you want to follow a leader don't ask, 'What have they done?' Ask, 'Who are they?'

Jesus said, 'Apart from me you can do nothing'. (John 15:5)

Questions:
  • What have you done and achieved in your life? What does it amount to?
  • Who are you? (Who are you in yourself, in Christ, in your heart?)
  • Are you a good model for those around you? Are you following Jesus?
  • If people follow you will they end up in a good place?

See also:



< A joy, not a burden | Index | Miriam and Yoseph >

30 January 2013

Psalms 22 and 23

Psalms 22 and 23 seem to be inextricably linked, death on the one hand and life on the other. Jesus received one, we receive the other. This post digs a little deeper as it examines these two psalms and those around them.

New life springing upA few weeks ago I was reading Psalm 22 which is full of references to the coming Messiah.

There are passages here that Jesus quoted about himself and there are descriptions of him in his bodily suffering and emotional torment. We'll come back to some of those things in a moment.

But what struck me quite suddenly and forcefully was how this psalm is followed by Psalm 23, a firm favourite for so many people.

Psalm 22 is about Jesus' suffering and where it will finally lead, Psalm 23 is about our inheritance as our Father's children. These two psalms are like mirror images of one another. Psalm 22 describes what we deserve but Jesus received. Psalm 23 describes what Jesus deserves but we receive.

Illuminating our hearts and minds - These two psalms would not have been seen that way when they were written, of course. But from the days of the early church right down to our own time they have had the potential to illuminate our hearts and minds in a new way by what they proclaim. And Yahshua himself clearly saw them in this way during his life and particularly as he was hanging on the cross.

I dare say it's been pointed out many times, but I was really excited to have seen the link between these two psalms. Isn't it amazing how he reveals truth while we read and consider his written word? This, of course, is just one of the avenues the Holy Spirit uses to illuminate our hearts and minds.

I wondered if this idea might be taken further.

Psalms 1 to 21 are full of references to Old Testament themes. There are references to creation, the  tabernacle and the temple, and so much more. But Psalm 24 describes the kingdom of heaven. And Psalm 25 and following unpack some of the details of this new kingdom life and inheritance.

But let's return to Psalms 22 and 23. Some of the words and imagery are very familiar to us.

Death in Psalm 22 - Take, for example, Psalm 22:1 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' It's worth mentioning that the Hebrew word translated 'God' is 'Eli' which is related to 'Eloh' and the plural 'Elohim'. The word simply means 'Mighty One' or 'Powerful One'. It is in fact the same word as 'Allah' in Arabic which also means 'Mighty One'. A good translation in English is simply 'Almighty'.

When Jesus quoted this verse from the cross they thought he was calling Elijah because the sound is similar. (Elijah means 'Yah[weh] is the Mighty One'.)

The onlookers shouting at him while he was hanging there unwittingly fulfilled Psalm 22:7-8. Psalm 22:14-18 is a very clear reference to the crucifixion. From verse 22 onwards the psalm turns from his death to what was achieved by it.

Life in Psalm 23 - But Psalm 23 deals with the personal benefits we receive individually in Christ. If we are not in him we have no part in these things although they're available to all who will come to him and believe on his name for rescue. Just as words from Psalm 22 were on Yahshua's lips as he hung dying, so words from Psalm 23 should be on our lips as we live this more abundant life that he gives us.

All these things in Psalm 23 were his, but now they can be ours because he longs to share them with us. He will be our Shepherd, leading us to safe places to eat and drink. A Shepherd makes all the difference, the sheep can safely feed even with a prowling lion in the area. He pours his Spirit over us like oil and we can live with him, not only 'all the days of [our] life' but 'for ever'.

Jesus is new Life springing up in a cold, dark world. Thank you, Lord! HalleluYah!

Questions:

  • What, for you personally, is the most meaningful thought in Psalm 22?
  • And what, for you personally, is the most meaningful thought in Psalm 23?
  • Apart from the snowdrop, what other examples of new life can you identify in the natural world?

See also:

24 September 2012

Seven times?

How many times must I forgive a person who wrongs me? We take a look at forgiveness in terms of Cain's murder of Abel, Israel's history, and the teaching of Jesus. There's a pattern, a thread running through all these themes. We see how forgiveness is protective and comes without limits.

Forgiveness at its source
When Yahshua told Peter he should forgive not just seven times, but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22), he was clearly making the point that forgiveness is something that should be seen as having no limits.

But this is not the first time these words are found in the Bible.

All wise and all knowing as he is, Jesus would have been very familiar with the earlier texts in Genesis 4:15 and Genesis 4:24. He intended Peter (and us) to get the deeper message. So what is that deeper message?

Cain - Read Genesis 4:8-26. In verse 8 we see how Cain attacks his brother and kills him. Which is the greater sin, attacking my brother or killing him? Most of us would agree that murder is worse than injury. But is it? We'll come back to that.

Cain's punishment is more than he can bear, he understands he is to become an exile, hidden from Yahweh's presence, and a restless wanderer at risk of death. Even so, Yahweh protects him by placing a mark upon him and decreeing seven-fold vengeance on anyone who dares kill him.

Cain goes into exile but raises a family and builds a city. His descendent Lamech also commits a murder and claims seventy times seven-fold vengeance. Notice in verse 26 that it was after these events that people began to call on the name of Yahweh.

Israel - We can see much in the history of Israel that mirrors these events. The life of Cain is, in a sense, prophetic. Joseph's brothers were jealous, they sold him to Egyptian traders and told their father that he was dead. For all they knew it was true.

The nation passed into slavery in Egypt, hidden from Yahweh's presence. When they were released from Egypt they became restless wanderers at risk of death, but they carried the mark of circumsision and were protected from destruction at the hands of the Egyptians and other nations.

They began to call on the name of Yahweh and worshipped him - first in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.

Forgiveness - Let's move on again, to the conversation between Peter and Yahshua. Peter wanted to offer the protection of Cain to his brother, but Jesus requires the protection of Lamech. What is really going on here?

Peter's forgiveness is just like the forgiveness of the Father. It is the thing that protects from vengeance. Peter either forgives his brother, the fault is forgotten and the relationship restored, or he does not. And he needs to treat every repeat offence as if it's the first. And like Peter, we too are called to forgive without limit, without counting. It's what the Father and the Son have done for us, forgiven without limit. How can I do less for my brother, my sister?

It is the word of the Father that he will demand life from anyone who harms us. We have only one enemy - the evil one - and he cannot stand against our Father.

The pattern set by Cain and Lamech (pre covenant) comes down via Israel (Old Covenant) to the church (New Covenant). Cain was offered a mark and a seven-fold protection. Lamech claimed a seventy times seven-fold protection.

Israel (before the Messiah) was given the mark of circumcision and protection through repeated but temporary ritual sacrifice.

In Yahshua we (with Israel) are given the mark of the Holy Spirit and protection through ongoing and indefinite forgiveness. But like Lamech we must claim that protection. In our case we can only do so by believing and confessing Jesus as Lord.

Oh yes... Murder or injury, which is worse? Jesus pretty much equated anger and murder - don't murder, don't injure, and don't even be angry. Anger is the source of murder in my heart just as it was for Cain.

Read Matthew 5:21-22, 1 John 3 and 1 Corinthians 6 for more on this topic.

Did you know? There's a 'Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance' that was formed to promote forgiveness in all situations. The organisation declares that 'Forgiveness is the greatest healer of them all' and 'Without forgiveness there is no future'. They have some great stories about forgiveness.

I'd say that Jesus is the greatest healer and without him there is no future. But Jesus came to open the way to forgiveness, healing, and eternity.

17 September 2012

Organic leadership?

I thought it would be good to repost this from April 2010 as we've been thinking about leadership recently. This old article is a good reminder that it doesn't really depend on us, it depends on Yahshua. He is the one who builds the church!

Oak leaves and acorns
Brian Hofmeister has tried organic church and found it difficult. He writes about his experiences in a report in Christianity Today - Leadership. Brian's conclusion is that leading organic church was just too onerous, and was not achievable without some degree of professional input.

However, this has not been my experience, nor that of many others. And I don't believe it was the experience of the early church either. There's little evidence of paid leadership in the New Testament.

So what went wrong for Brian and the people he met with? To answer that we need to go right back to define what is and is not organic church. The word 'organic' implies an organism, whereas much of our experience of church comes from organisations. An organisation usually has a top-down management structure and a hierarchical authority structure. Something which is organic begins from a seed and grows until it reaches maturity and produces more seeds which grow in their turn.

In this way, one tiny seed may produce not just a tree, but an entire forest. It takes a certain amount of time, but it speeds up dramatically with each generation and will eventually fill the space available. Trees and forests can be managed, but they don't have to be. There were very successful forests in many parts of the world before human explorers arrrived to manage them!

I think that Brian simply tried too hard to manage and guide and educate and persuade. But that's not organic. The seed that germinates and grows amongst a small group of people is the expectation that Yahshua himself will do the managing, guiding, educating, and persuading. He said, 'I will build my church.' And he really meant it! He is the only one who truly knows how to do it.

Church is a community of people who love one another because Christ has first loved them. When we come together to meet it's just the tip of a giant, hidden core of fellowship and community. When we meet, Yahshua is there at the centre. He is with us because we are his and he loves to bless us and guide us. But he's also with us day by day as we live our lives, he is with us in defeat and in victory, in sorrow and in joy.

A group of new believers, if they focus on Jesus, will help one another along the road to maturity. The wiser and more mature will look out for the others. There will be problems, but rather than training programmes and theological studies the believers need to discover how to be disciples. They need to be walking with the Lord, listening to what he says and watching what he does. Reading the Bible together will provide a lot of useful guidance. Eating together when possible, helping one another with practical things, and having good, family fun together will help too. Encouraging one another, praying for one another, all these things help to build community.

But the key is listening to the Lord and doing what he says. Out of this will come mission, church growth, and all the rest.

Brian tried an alternative model of church and found it wanting. But it wasn't really organic church. My advice to him would be try again but to do a whole lot less while expecting Yahshua to do a whole lot more!

For some related ideas, click the 'Links' button at the top of the page, some of the links will lead to other useful material - books, mp3s, DVDs, videos and more. But above all pray and ask Jesus himself to guide you, he won't let you down.

19 August 2012

Is the church alive?

Jesus says we are his body here in the world. He is alive so his body is also alive. We are to do the things he did (and even greater things). We are to say the things he said. We are alive, not just as individuals but as his body expressing his love, his wisdom, his authority.

Biological processes
We are not just able to express love, wisdom and authority individually, but communally. It is not enough that you and I express our own love. It is not even enough that we individually express Christ's love.

The mystery is that the church herself, the Bride of Christ, is also able in her own right to express Christ's love. We are not a bunch of loosely associated individuals, we are Christ's Bride.

I am deeply troubled that the Bride is fragmented and damaged. So many different forms of church management and government compete for our loyalty. Differences in doctrine, in faith, and in tradition are everywhere.

So let's take one of the many ways of understanding church and see if we can usefully extend it.

Church Multiplication Associates considers that church life, like biological life, depends on its DNA. The idea is that her DNA determines the nature of church, in particular how she is structured, functions and expresses herself. See Neil Cole's article 'What is at the heart of the organic church movement?'

Controlling DNA - Taking this a little further we might recognise that a living organism is more than the product of its DNA. There are subtle factors at work controlling how and when that DNA is expressed. For example these factors are responsible for the fact that babies in the womb do not develop ears on their legs. Every cell in the body contains the full set of instructions, but cells only act on a subset of the DNA.

It's the same in the church, we all have the same DNA which is the nature of Christ, and we all partake of that one nature. Yet we are not, as Paul points out, all ears. Why not?

The Holy Spirit - One factor I can identify immediately is the prompting of the Holy Spirit in the moment. How I behave is controlled, not simply by the DNA, but also by what I am hearing at this present moment. The DNA is not diffused throughout the entire body. Every cell, whatever its function, has a full set of DNA while only using a subset.

Perhaps we should not expect every member of Christ to express all of the DNA. Or, even more significantly, perhaps we should not expect any member of Christ to express all of the DNA!

Instead, perhaps we should expect that particular parts of the DNA will be expressed by particular individuals at particular times for particular purposes, and that each individual will do so based on constant communication with the Holy Spirit.

The environment - Another important factor in living systems is the environment. The expression of DNA is affected by the environment. For a simple example consider the effect of sunshine on human skin. Too much sun causes damage - burning in the short term and perhaps skin cancer in the longer term. Melanocyte cells in the lower epidermis respond to exposure by creating increased amounts of a dark pigment called melanin. The DNA contains the instructions for making melanin, but the environment determines when and how much it is expressed by skin cells.

In the church, one such factor of the environment is persecution. The persecuted church is different from the unpersecuted church.

Prompting by the Spirit and environment both affect the appearance and behaviour of the church. We should not overlook these factors.

Can you think of other factors that might control the expression of the the church's DNA?

04 August 2012

Renewing the temple

Two visions at a recent meeting have some encouraging things to say about the future of the church. Both of them speak of something that has been destroyed, both of them speak of recovery and renewal.

Broken masonry
Donna and I and some friends visited Faith Camp at the Peterborough showground on Wednesday 1st of August.

Colin Urquhart was speaking that night, a veteran from the old days of the Charismatic renewal in the 1960s and 70s. He's still as good as he ever was! He spoke about the seven 'I AM's in John.

During a time of individual reflection and prayer and focussing on holiness and love, the Spirit gave me two pictures. I'd like to share them here, they are about holiness and love and the future of the body of Christ which is the church.

A broken plant - I saw a plant with the leaves cut off at ground level, as if it had been carelessly run over by the lawnmower. There appeared to be nothing left, no hope of recovery, a total loss.

But then I saw that there was a deep root and a tuber that were intact and I knew that stems and leaves and flowers would spring up fresh and new. And the Spirit showed me that it needed only a little time (patience) and a little rain (refreshment).

The broken temple - A little later I saw the ruins of a stone building. Just some broken, low walls remained, and some scattered stones. I had no idea what it represented.

While I was looking at these and wondering what they meant, the Son of Man came and sat on the stonework, and somehow I knew that this was the Temple and he was sitting exactly where a throne had been. (Yes, I know, the temple in Jerusalem did not contain a throne. But this is what I saw. However, there was the mercy seat, the Ark of the Covenant. Remember, Yahshua is our King as well as our great High Priest as well as being the Son, one aspect of the Mighty One whose name is I AM.)

And as I watched the ruins were transformed into a complete building. Stone fitted against stone, timbers appeared, and the entire structure was covered in gold and fine jewels. Jesus continued to sit there throughout this process. Indeed, I realised that the transformation came about because he was sitting there.

A song - And then the words of an old song came into my mind...

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his glorious face.
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.

The meaning - I am convinced that the Spirit is saying that a time of revival and renewal is coming to the church, because Jesus is coming to the church in a fresh and extraordinary way.

I believe he is also saying that we will need to be patient, that the refreshing living water is a necessary resource first. Jesus needs to be sitting in his proper place amongst the ruins before any restructuring and renewing can begin.

He is already among us. He is going to sit amongst us in new ways. The church is not dead but it has been badly damaged. He is going to do a new thing (he always does a new thing).

The roots of the damaged plant are still there below the surface as are the foundations of the damaged temple as is the foundation stone of the church which is Christ.

So rejoice, be patient, and be full of expectation! This is a time for experiencing the Messiah's holiness and love. It is also a time for all of us - individually and together - to allow his holiness and love to pour out through us as a great flood. This flood from Jesus needs to flow between us one to another, and it will also flow out into the world.

Our response - Whether I have understood all this correctly and fully or not (probably not), it would be good to hear what others think.

What do these two pictures say to you? What have I missed or distorted? Have you or those you know had similar revelations and expectations? What do you think the Lord will do next amongst us? Do you see evidence for these changes in the world around you? In church life? In your own life?

See also: Another wave rolls in - from Felicity Dale's blog 'Simply Church'

30 July 2012

Walking on water

Part 5 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< The crowds are fed | Index | The blind man sees >

Strange events take place at night on a dark and stormy Sea of Galilee. The disciples and the crowd lose track of Jesus but he later reappears on the lake. We can learn more about him and about ourselves by reading John's account of these events.

2000-year-old Galilean fishing boat
For the background to the signs in John and links to the other articles in the series, please read the index page.

Jesus and his close followers were very familiar with the Sea of Galilee. It was on the shores of this large lake that he called the fishermen Peter and Andrew, James and John.

As fishermen's kids they had known boats and fishing and the conditions of the lake since they were children.

Travelling by boat would have provided a good short-cut to walking around the circumference of this nearly circular expanse of water. This is something they must have done many times before. And it would have been a good way of escaping from the crowds.

Here's the passage from John, then we'll ask ourselves the usual four questions.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It's me - don’t be afraid!’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realised that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ (John 6:16-25)

Here are the four questions suggested by Neil Cole with some pointers for finding the answers in the material quoted above.

What does this story tell us about people? - We'll list all the people who are mentioned.

First, there are the disciples. Why did they leave without Jesus? (Hint: check back in verses 14 and 15.) There was a strong wind, so why were they rowing? How do you think they felt, in the dark, with a storm brewing and the waves getting bigger?

Next is the crowd. What do they do when they realise Jesus and the disciples are missing? Why?

What does it tell us about Jesus? - Why do you think Jesus had stayed away until late evening? (Check verse 15.) What was he doing? He was walking on the water, that's a little - unusual! What does it tell us about him. Was he trying to impress or was he just being practical? What was the result of him speaking to the scared disciples? What was the result of having him in the boat?

What does it tell me about myself? - Are you like the disciples or are you like the crowd? Maybe, in some ways, you are like both. Which do you identify with most? Which do you identify with least? Might you have thought and behaved differently? How do you explain what Jesus did?

Who else needs to hear this? - Who do you know who might benefit or be challenged or encouraged by hearing this sign of John?

Additional points - Galilean fishing boats were quite small and storms on the lake can be sudden and fierce. A boat could easily be swamped and it might have been safer to row than to sail. If the wind was in the wrong direction rowing would have been the only solution.

Wikipedia has further images of the 2000-year-old boat and information about its discovery and preservation.

< The crowds are fed | Index | The blind man sees >

28 July 2012

Jesus in Zechariah

We look at chapter six of Zechariah, investigate the meanings of some names, discover Jesus hidden in this Old Testament passage, and see that following in his footsteps we are truly a royal priesthood.

A crown for the KingSean and I have been working our way through Zechariah for a few weeks, and we've been finding a whole lot to ponder on.

Last time we read chapter six, and the section from verse nine to the end seemed rich with meaning (Zechariah 6:9-15). It's all about Jesus!

Zechariah is called to accept gold and silver from three returning exiles. Their name are Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah. These names are not accidental.

The meanings of the names - Curiously, Heldai can be translated 'mole' or 'worldly' or 'rustiness'. Moles dig underground, and rust reverses the hard work of smelting iron, converting it back to dust. So the name seems to suggest the world and its influence.

Tobijah on the other hand means 'Yahweh is good', and Jedaiah means 'Yahweh's friend'.

The silver and gold is to be made into a crown and set on the head of the high priest whose name is Joshua (ie Jeshua or Yahshua or 'Yahweh saves'). New Testament English translations render this name 'Jesus'. And Jesus of course is, indeed, our Great High Priest.

Let's ponder this a little before we move on. The corruptible world, the goodness of the Most High, and his friend bring silver and gold. And they bring it from the place of captivity, the place of exile.

Heldai represents you and me. We are worldliness. Every believer in Jesus, every one of us, has been rescued from a place of exile. But now we have come out from captivity and from death. We have come to the throne of glory, we are covered by grace, we have come to new life in Christ.

Tobijah represents the Almighty who is pure and good in every way. He is Emmanuel, the Most High with us, he came (as Jesus) into the place of captivity to find us and he travels out from exile with us.

Jedaiah represents the friendship between Heldai and Tobijah. Through Christ we have now become Yahweh's friends, not by our own merit but solely through his. Yahshua said, 'I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.' (John 15;15)

The crown - The gifts of silver and gold are things that will last, things that are worthy of being forged into a crown fit for the King. They're the gold and silver and costly stones that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, things that will remain after the fire. The crown is the church, the bride, the thing that complements and completes the King upon his throne. We, his people, are the lasting gifts brought out from captivity and exile and wrought into a holy crown. To us he gave his glory, the glory that the Father has given him. We are his crowning glory, the work of his own hands (I will build my church). This is a mystery revealed to those who have eyes to see. It is an eternal work. It will never fade or fail.

And all of this is laid out by Zechariah, hundreds of years before Jesus of Nazareth called the fishermen from Galilee and brought the vision to ultimate fulfilment in his own life and death and resurrection.

The Father speaks to the Son - In verses 12-15 we read a message from Yahweh Elohim to Joshua the High Priest - or if you like, a message from the Father to the Son. We read about the man whose name is 'The Branch', he is also mentioned in Isaiah and Jeremiah, he is clearly Jesus. He is the one who builds the Temple, he is the one who is clothed in majesty and rules on his throne. He will be a priest on his throne, and there will be harmony between the two. In other words there will be harmony between kingship and priesthood.

This was unheard of in Israel, but in Christ kingship and priesthood are combined. We inherit this harmony through him, hence we are a 'royal priesthood'. (But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. - 1 Peter 2:9)

I'd like to leave you with a question. If Jesus is the High Priest and we are priests, what does Jesus being the King make us? Does this affect the way we see ourselves and live our lives?

21 July 2012

Security in a button?

I received a message about a button from my friend Ash. The Spirit gave him a picture of the button and then showed him how it represents security. I like what he shared and I think it deserves to be more widely circulated.

A button on denim jeans
Ashley sent me a message about a button and wondered if I might use it on the blog.

The answer was 'Yes, definitely!' So here it is.

Read it first, then I'll comment on it, and finally you can comment too if you wish.

I hope we do have a conversation in the comments. It could be rather useful.

Put on your thinking-cap and start stroking that keyboard or tablet.

Secure in Jesus...

I belong to a small home group which meets on a weekly basis. This week we met as usual and we were encouraged to discuss, and then try sitting quietly and listening to God. As the group compromises of Christians young and mature, we shared how to go about getting to listening and hearing.

It is something I have learnt to do and had some good experiences from over the years. God talks to me via pictures a lot and also through other people. Today when I was preparing my spirit for my quiet time God quickly gave me a picture of a button. I sat in his presence for not very long when I had back that the significance of this picture was about being secure.

A pair of trousers, like life is no good unless they are secure. Trousers with no button could have you holding them up manually, maybe with one hand so you are not as effective as you could be in what you do on a daily basis with two hands. If you stopped trying to hold them up, they would fall down around your ankles and could cause you to fall over them. Life holds no security for us as anything is temporary. We are all at anytime able to lose a job or a loved one for example. Total security is only available in a relationship with Jesus.

Everybody at some stage in life will wear trousers and want them to be secure, just like at some stage in life we will want Jesus to help us to be secure. Jesus does not want this at some stage approach. He wants us to be in a lifelong relationship with him, trusting in him and getting to know him.

Thanks for sharing, Ash.

I love the idea of a button providing security. A button is a small thing, almost an insignificant thing, yet for lack of one we might be seriously embarrassed and inconvenienced.

In what ways might we be embarrassed and inconvenienced without a relationship with Jesus? How might our security be affected?

There is the obvious answer of eternal life, but there are also several less obvious ways in which he gives us security. Anyone care to comment?

Does the Holy Spirit speak to you? If so, how? Do you have any particular advice to help others learn to listen or listen more attentively?

20 July 2012

So - who is my neighbour?

Henri Nouwen looks at the parable of the good Samaritan in a slightly different way. So who is my neighbour? Have I always misunderstood the main thrust of this story, or does Nouwen have it wrong. Or am I missing the point?

Henri Nouwen and the good SamaritanHenri Nouwen wrote some great books, full of depth and character resulting from a lifetime of learning and growing in Christ. He was a gentle, careful, caring person. He was an encourager and a calming influence. He had substance - not in himself but in Christ.

I've been reading the daily meditations from the Henri Nouwen Society (highly recommended, by the way). This is today's extract.
'Love your neighbour as yourself' the Gospel says (Matthew 22:38). But who is my neighbour?

We often respond to that question by saying: 'My neighbours are all the people I am living with on this earth, especially the sick, the hungry, the dying, and all who are in need.' But this is not what Jesus says.

When Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37) to answer the question 'Who is my neighbour?' he ends the by asking: 'Which, ... do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the bandits' hands?'

The neighbour, Jesus makes clear, is not the poor man laying on the side of the street, stripped, beaten, and half dead, but the Samaritan who crossed the road, 'bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, ... lifted him onto his own mount and took him to an inn and looked after him.' My neighbour is the one who crosses the road for me!

What do you think of this idea? Is Nouwen right? Has he seen 'beneath the surface' as it were, and recognised a deeper spiritual truth?

To me it seems more fitting that we should love those that need our love rather than those that help us. So is this one of those rare occasions when Nouwen got it wrong? Although the text supports his conclusion if we take it literally, is this what it really means? Is this what Yahshua intended as he spoke to the lawyer? (See the entire passage - Luke 10:25-37)

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

23 February 2012

Oneness and reconciliation

< The centrality of Christ | Index | New and old in church life >

This time we focus on oneness with Christ and reconciliation with one another. In the previous post we considered oneness in the church. Reconciliation underlies and leads to this, without it the church will remain disjointed.

I and the Father are oneContinuing the series based on revelation at Coventry, this week we look at the second topic - 'Oneness with Jesus and in church life, reconciliation'.

As we saw last time, Jesus really is building his church. We need to seize this as a source of supreme hope and comfort at a time when men and women (more often men) have been inclined to take control.

Last time we considered the centrality of Christ. We also took a look at the requirement for unity in the church which his centrality demands.

This time we will look at unity again, but this time unity with Christ rather than unity with one another. Both are essential, of course.

Oneness with Christ - Along the east interior of the new cathedral at Coventry is a series of Bible texts carved on large, stone tablets. One of them is shown in the photo above; it reads, 'I and the Father are one. He that hath seen me hath seen the Father'.

These words from John's gospel (John 10:30, John 14:9) spoke powerfully to me. Our oneness with Christ depends utterly on his oneness with the Father. How so? Read the whole of John 10 and then consider these points.
  • In verse 7, Jesus makes it clear that he alone is the way in and out.
  • Verse 8, others who had made this claim were thieves and robbers.
  • To be saved we must enter through Jesus. There's no other way (verse 9).
  • Verse 11, he lays down his life for the sheep.
  • Verse 15, he and the Father know one another. (They are one, verse 30). We know him and he knows us in the same way (verses 14 and 15).
  • And then John 17:20-23 - arguably the most amazing few verses in the entire Bible. 
'I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.'

Let's be clear. Yahshua says that the glorious Father (the Most High) is in him (Yahshua, Jesus, Isa) and has given the glory to him. He further says that he (Yahshua) is in us and that he (Yahshua) has given the glory to us.

In other words the Most High is in us and we have been given the glory. It's all the same oneness, we are included in their oneness.

If that doesn't blow you away, nothing will!

Reconciliation in church life - In the ruins of the old cathedral is a statue entitled 'Reconciliation'. It represents reconciliation between nations that had been at war, a war that caused the destruction of the cathedral and many other beautiful buildings all over Europe. Millions of lives were lost.

But this sculpture also spoke to me powerfully about reconciliation in the church. Like the sculpture we are surrounded by the wreckage of a broken and fractured building. We need to be reconciled to one another.

We saw in the previous part that Yahshua wants us to be one, just as he and the Father are one. The Father, Son and Spirit are three representations of the One. They are three manifestations of the Almighty.

ReconciliationIn the same way we are to be one. We are all to be representations or manifestations of church. Each one of us is to be representative of the love of Christ, our head. Unlike the Father, Son and Spirit we can be seen as many disconnected individuals, or many sub-groups within the church. But this is not how we are meant to be. Instead we are supposed to be one body to which Christ will be attached as our one head.

That's why Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 'I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.' (1 Corinthians 1:10)

And it's why in Ephesians 4:4-6 he wrote, 'There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.'

So you see why reconciliation is so important. Yahshua came to reconcile us with the Almighty, but he also came to reconcile us to one another. That is why the fruit of the Spirit is a reconciling fruit. Think about it! What are the characteristics of this fruit? They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It's the fruit of Jesus in our lives, it's the fruit of the Father. We are grafted in to the Son. Our Father, the gardener, did that work. Read John 15.

It's time to recognise our need for reconciliation to one another, and we will have to recognise it in our hearts, not merely as an intellectual exercise in our minds. It goes without saying that we should have the mind of Christ in this, but we also need his heart towards one another.

Every tiny, little step you can take towards reconciliation with a brother or sister or with a denomination or group (every little step) is a step towards oneness and the fulfilment of Jesus' mission. Every angry word, lack of patience, every unkindness is a step away from that supreme goal. I have been guilty of that so often.

It is impossible to have oneness without reconciliation. So hold nothing back in your striving for reconciliation! Ask Father to give you more and more of the reconciling fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life. It's the only fruit that has the flavour and aroma of the Father's love, made manifest in Christ our Lord and King.

< The centrality of Christ | Index | New and old in church life >

UK Fellowship Friday Blog Hop - This blog hop is for Christians who live in the UK to link to a post you have recently written that might encourage other Christians. Started by Rhoda, please visit her original article.

17 February 2012

The centrality of Christ

< Hearing from the Spirit in Coventry | Index | Oneness and reconciliation >

This article returns to the results of visiting Coventry Cathedral late last year and considers some aspects of  what it means for Jesus to be central in our lives. It's all about him.

The tapestry of Christ at CoventryBack in December I posted some reflections on my visit to Coventry Cathedral. I always intended to revisit those thoughts and now I'm beginning to see how it all fits into the bigger picture.

Jesus really is building his church, just as he promised he would. I'm seeing it now much more clearly.

I'm seeing it in what is happening in my own life and I'm seeing it in what others are writing, saying and doing. This is so exciting!

Here are the topics from the previous post in this series. I'm going to expand on the first one this time.

  • The centrality of Christ, his majesty and glory.
  • Oneness with Jesus and in church life, reconciliation.
  • New and old in terms of church. They are connected. We need to remember the old but live in the new.
  • The old was brought down by intense fire.
  • The new is a different kind of structure.
  • Jesus expresses himself through the new.
  • The new touches the world and should transform it.

At Coventry - There was so much about Christ in the two cathedrals.

The enormous tapestry at the northern end of the new building is very striking. It is so large (it weighs more than a ton) that it dominates that end of the building and is clearly visible from every part of the nave.

One thought that was sparked by looking around the new cathedral was this - 'The view is very different depending whether you are looking towards me or away from me.' And that is so true of our view of Christ. He can only appear to have a central place if we are looking towards him. If we look away from him we will not see him at all!

There is also a strong theme of reconciliation in both old and new, and reconciliation is essential if we are to be one.

The centrality of Christ - It's just not possible to overstate the importance of this. If Jesus is not central in my life, who is in control? Often we fail to see what it means to have him central in our lives, or we begin to see but shudder and quickly move on to an easier topic.

What does it mean?

He said, 'Pick up your cross and follow me'. He said, 'I will build my church'. He said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life'. And he said, 'Nobody comes to the Father except through me'.

Some negatives - I must lose any ambition I have, and cease any attempt to make my life 'safe'. I have to give up what I regard as mine and see that it is all his - and always was. I have to die to self and I have to let go. I have been called to a new life and a new way of life. I have to see that if I lose my life while honouring Jesus that will be better for me than keeping my life. I have to understand that just as the world was implacably against him, so it will be against me too. I have to appreciate that with Jesus in charge my life may at times be very hard and unpleasant.

It's taken me a long, long time to discover that I am no good at managing my own life.

The positives - But if some of this sounds very negative, it's because I'm relating it from my point of view. What will we find if we view it from Christ's point of view? In John 17, just before he went out to be arrested in the olive grove, we are allowed a glimpse of Yahshua at prayer. We get to hear him setting out his deepest heart's desire before the Father.

In verses 1-19 he prays for his disciples, and there are one or two principles we should consider carefully.

  • In verse one, Jesus asks the Father to glorify him (the Son) so that he can give glory back to the Father. He cannot give what he does not have. Make a mental note of that. It's true for all of us, isn't it? We cannot give something we do not have. Remember that.
  • In verse two he makes it clear that he has authority over everyone.
  • In verse three he says that eternal life is to know the Father and the Son.

But from verse 20 to 24 he prays for you and me. He prays for everyone who believes in him because of his followers' words. In the light of the three principles listed above, we need to understand these next five verses in the deepest places of our hearts and minds. Here is where we find the positive set out for us!

  • He prays that we will all be one, just as he and the Father are one. Just as he is about to give himself into the hands of those who will kill him, his thought and prayer is for our unity. Do we attach as much value to unity as he does? We should! It is the first thing he asks for us at this terrible time. He puts it ahead of everything else - and so should we. Jesus is our unity! We are one in him, he is central. That is the only basis for our oneness. If we are not one in him, we are not one at all.
  • There is a purpose for our oneness. We are to be one so that the world may believe that the Father sent the Son.
  • And now hear his words in verse 22. These words will change your life forever if you allow them into your heart. 'I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.' Hang on a minute... The Father has given his glory to the Son. And now the Son is giving it to you? Why would he do that? 'So that they may be one as we are one.' If you stop reading at this point and just reflect on this single verse for the rest of the day, that is OK by me.

In the last two verses of this amazing chapter Jesus prays again for his followers.

What Jesus wants - Now ask yourself, what does Jesus want from us? The answer has to be unity with one another, doesn't it? And remember that first principle - we cannot give what we do not have. We cannot give Jesus what he wants from us unless we have unity with one another.

So if Jesus is to be central in our lives the implication and the requirement is that we are one people, one church.

He has given us the glory that the Father gave to him so that we may be one. Our unity is worth everything to him.

Remember the other two principles - he has authority over everyone - eternal life is to know the Father and the Son. That authority and that life are also ours if we are in Christ. Truly Christ is central.

He is majestic - His majesty arises from all of these things. That majesty cannot be separated from the glory that he receives and bestows, from the oneness we have in him, from his authority over all, or from his life that lasts forever.

'The Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.' (John 5:19)

'Apart from me', Jesus said, 'you can do nothing' (John 15:5).

< Hearing from the Spirit in Coventry | Index | Oneness and reconciliation >

01 December 2011

Western wall not built by Herod

Recent archaeological work suggests the Jerusalem Temple's Western Wall was built at least twenty years after the death of Herod the Great.

Large blocks of stone thrown down by the Romans
Two Roman coins dated to 17 AD were found in a mikveh (a ritual bath) underneath the bottom row of stone blocks of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Herod died 21 years earlier than this, so he cannot have been responsible for building the outer wall.

If this is right, then when the disciples discussed the Temple with Yahshua, the outer compound wall was only about ten years old; very possibly still under construction.

In some ways it makes the conversation even more striking. The Second Temple was the latest wonder, a fantastic piece of engineering, in some ways more than the equal of the Greek Parthenon or any of the buildings in Rome. Something to be proud of, a statement of the power of the Most High in the minds of all the people of Judea.

Yahshua left the Temple and was walking away when his awestruck, enthusiastic disciples came over to call his attention to its buildings. "Look, Master. See these huge blocks of stone, so new and beautifully fitted together! Just look at the amazing carvings and the expensive, donated ornament glorifying the Most High."

"Yes, just look at it all", he said. "In all seriousness I'm telling you that not one stone will be left standing on another, the whole lot will be thrown down". (Based on Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2, Luke 21:5-6)

And that is exactly what happened. In 70 AD, less than 40 years later; the Roman army under Titus captured the city, tore down the Temple, and threw the stones over the wall where some of them lie to this day.

See also: Old coins force re-think on Jerusalem's Western Wall, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Not Completed by King Herod

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