06 November 2014

Simple Church (the book)

There's a new book ready for publication, pre-orders are now being accepted by Redeeming Press and Amazon. It's called Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity.

Front cover
Front cover
Why all the excitement? This is a book with a difference, it aims to show how we can be one even though we are many. Unity doesn't mean uniformity, it means togetherness despite the differences. Indeed, the differences between us should be seen as a great strength. There is balance in diversity; it's a wonderful guard against the propagation of errors.

I'm including a preview of the book cover (click the image for a larger view) and an extract from Chapter Four, A Church that follows the lead of The Holy Spirit in all things. I was delighted to have the opportunity to contribute this chapter to the book and grateful to the editor, Eric Carpenter, for entrusting it to me.

You can also read the blurb from the back cover (again, click the image to enlarge it).
Back cover blurb
Back cover blurb
The Holy Spirit teaches us to be more like Christ. His fruit builds in our lives over time. He equips us by pouring out His gifts as and when they are needed. He builds us in relationship. The Holy Spirit sends us out on mission. He want us to live in the world as a blessing and a challenge. He is always doing new things. When we meet, the Spirit meets with us. After all, Jesus lives in each one of us and the Holy Spirit fills us to overflowing. Usually that overflowing serves to inform our meetings, guide our thoughts, lift our hearts into the presence of the Most High and speak to us moment by moment in our lives.

What would church be like without the Spirit? It’s quite hard to imagine. I wonder if it could even be called ‘church’ at all! Church without the Spirit of Christ? I don’t think so!

01 November 2014

The stamping of the seal

This time I'd like to delve a bit deeper into the seal of Paul's apostolic gift. It's more accurate to say that Paul himself was a gift to the churches he worked amongst. Jesus is the gift-giver here, and he gives people with particular abilities to communities of believers as they have need.

We'll come back later to the idea that people are gifts to the church. For now I'll just make the statement without enlarging on it. But what of the 'seal'? We covered this yesterday, but we can draw more from 1 Corinthians 9:2.


A wax seal
A wax seal
When Paul looks at the Corinthian believers he sees an unmistakeable imprint upon them. They are far from perfect, they have been bickering with one another, living in careless ways that may hurt one another. They are still beginning their spiritual journeys; and they have a lot to learn. If these people are the seal of Paul's apostleship (and he says they are) we might think in terms of the material that a seal would be made of.

It would have to be a material that could be moulded so it could be stamped with a signet ring, and it would need to set hard so that the  pattern would not be lost in transit. Many materials have been used for this purpose. Hot wax can be stamped and sets hard when it cools. Clay can be stamped and sets when it dries. Bitumen was used in Roman times and hardens as it cools; good supplies were available from the Red Sea and elsewhere.

In what way were the believers in Corinth stamped with an image? They were stamped with the image of Christ. Jesus is the one who wears the signet ring. He is the one who marks us as authentic followers and as authentic communities, the ekklesia, the church. He stamps us by pouring his Spirit over us and into us and through us, and we become a little more like him.

Paul could see this growing evidence of their Christlikeness, and it was proof that he had laid the right foundation. It was, therefore, a seal of his apostleship. He had, we might say, 'apostled' well in Corinth and he continues this work in his letter.

Whose stamp do we see among those we have taught and counselled? Do we see our own stamp? Or do we see Jesus' stamp? It had better be the King's stamp, the stamp of King Jesus. If not, we have built in vain and our work will be destroyed in the fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

31 October 2014

The seal of apostleship

'Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.' - (Paul, writing from Ephesus to the church in Corinth about 20 to 25 years after the death of Jesus, 1 Corinthians 9:2)

What does Paul have in mind here? What does he mean by a 'seal' of his apostleship? First of all, what does he mean by his 'apostleship'?


Apostleship - An apostle is a gift to the body of Christ; people with an apostolic gift lay foundations, start things off, and keep them on track. Paul is one of the best examples we have. He didn't stay more than a few years in each place, often far less and sometimes only a few days. But in that time he worked to establish something that would prosper after he was gone. Christ is the foundation, and it's Christ that Paul always wanted to establish in the hearts and minds of the believers. Often, he came back later to check on what had been constructed on that foundation. And when he couldn't go in person, he sent others or wrote letters.

Seal - A seal is a mark of authenticity. An important document was sealed with wax pressed into a pattern with the sender's signet ring. It could only be opened by breaking the seal which was therefore a guarantee of both authorship and freedom from tampering. If a document was still sealed it could not have been altered or replaced by a third party.

The Corinthian believers - So when Paul writes that the Corinthian believers are the 'seal' of his apostleship, he means that they are the proof that the work he did among them is the genuine deal and has not been interfered with. How so?

Paul tells them plainly that he doesn't want anything from them, he was pleased to do his work free of charge and without support. He has various issues to raise with them, but he begins his letter with encouragement (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). And it's these gifts and qualities amongst the Corinthians that prove that Paul laid the foundations well. The seal of his apostleship is that he can see in them the grace of Christ, that they have been enriched in their words and their knowledge, they have every spiritual gift, that they are eager and are in fellowship with the Son.

Of course, he finds much to criticise too, but the fundamentals are there, the basis is right even if the acting out has been a bit misguided. And that is why he wrote this letter, to get them back on track. That, too, is part of being apostolic.

And today? - We so badly need to see the apostolic gift active in the church in our own day. We need to see foundation-layers active, rescuing people from the clutches of consumerism, addiction, lack of purpose, despair and confusion. We need to see them placing people on the one foundation who is Jesus, and encouraging them and guiding them to live kingdom lives together. We need to see them gathering the new believers into Jesus-following communities, and challenging them to go out and share the good news that Jesus lives!

And we need to see them walk away to repeat the same work in other places, allowing each new church to explore for themselves the richness that is theirs in Christ, in prayer, reaching the lost, encouraging one another in using every available gift, including the apostolic gift so that the process repeats itself and becomes like seed growing and spreading, growing and spreading to the ends of the earth.

And we need to see them checking back in person, by sending messengers, writing letters (or using today's communication systems) to keep the growing nodes on track, healthy and well networked.

And so it will be again as it was in the beginning. This is no pipedream. It is necessary and it depends on Jesus pouring his Holy Spirit into his people, and on us responding to his bidding.

The time is now! So go and make disciples of all nations.

Simplifying the blog

Journeys of heart and mind has grown in complexity over the years. I think it will be better if I simplify it - better for me because it will be easier to maintain and quicker to post articles - better for you because it will be clearer and less cluttered.

So expect to see some changes here. They won't come all at once, it'll be a tweak here and a streamlining there. Look out for shorter posts, fewer columns, and a fresh appearance.


Let me know what you think; your opinions are always welcome.




Chris Jefferies (Editor)

25 June 2014

Pray in faith, hope and love

How do faith, hope and love work together in prayer? Should our emphasis be on whisking up fervent faith? Or should we just hope for a good outcome? And where does love come in?


Prayer focussed on Jesus
Prayer focussed on Jesus
Paul writes that faith, hope and love remain, and he adds that the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). And when we think of these three great concepts in their own right we don't have too much trouble agreeing with Paul.

But when we begin to think about faith, hope and love in relation to prayer, we may have a little more difficulty. After all, the New Testament tells us very clearly that we must pray in faith.

James says that the prayer of faith will heal the sick (James 5:15). Jesus himself tells us that if we have faith, we may pray for anything and it will be done for us (Mark 11:24). And Paul tells us that righteousness and justification are through faith in the Messiah (Romans 5:1).

So what place do hope and love have in prayer? We might imagine they have no place whatsoever. But hold on a moment, Paul also tells us that if we have faith that can move mountains but lack love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). The presence of love in our hearts is worth much more than the most effective prayer imaginable. It's not that we should pray without faith, but we are to pray with faith and love. And the love is greater than the faith.

Have more faith - We are sometimes told that we should have more faith. People may urge us to pray in full expectation of healing or the receiving of whatever we ask. Yet this cannot always be right. Paul asks, 'Do all have the gift of healing?' (1 Corinthians 12:29-30) In context this question clearly implies that some do, but not all. Paul himself prayed repeatedly for his thorn in the flesh to be taken from him. But in the end he had to accept that it would remain (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).

Does this suggest that Paul somehow lacked faith or was unable to believe for healing? No! We desperately need to free one another from the false expectation laid upon us by this kind of thinking. It's true that amazing healings take place in answer to prayer, but they don't depend on a mindless frenzy whipped up by wild enthusiasm or false expectation.

A gift of healing - We should always pray in faith, and in hope - but especially in love. We should not always pray in expectation of a particular outcome, but in expectancy of an answer rooted in love. If we have (or receive) a special gift of healing we will have complete confidence, knowing that we are asking what is in line with Father's purpose. But it's not always like that.

Without that gift of knowledge and faith we may still bring the prayer of love and the prayer of trusting hope as well. So pray often, pray always when there is need. Pray in love to the King of Love for the needs and cares of those around you. Pray in hope of an amazing outcome. [Tweet it!] Pray in faith when that is granted to you as a gift. Pray in expectancy, and live in expectancy until the answer is seen.

Expectancy - Expectancy knows that the Mighty One will always answer out of his great love. Expectancy always decides in advance that the answer will be good and for the very best. Expectancy will receive every answer in gratitude and great joy.

And if you have a gift of faith, or receive special faith at a specific time for any need, pray with rejoicing that your asking is already fully aligned with the intentions and purposes of the Most High. But however you pray, remember that the focus is not on you, nor is it on the person you're praying for, the focus is always on the Father through Jesus.

Questions:

  • Most of us have experienced what seems to be both success and failure in answered prayer. Do you think success or failure depends on how you asked?
  • Or might it be that our expectations lead us to a distorted view of what is successful and what is not?
  • Do you see the difference between expectation and expectancy?
  • Will you be more expectant in prayer in future?

See also:

30 May 2014

Finding Carol

Sometimes Jesus just surprises us. Sometimes we surprise ourselves. Perhaps both of these things happen more often when we are open, and actively so. Something like this happened recently to a couple of friends and, although I came late to the action, I did get to play a small part.


At the Catalyst event
At the Catalyst event
Last Sunday I had driven from St Neots, where I live, with two friends from the group that meets at Caffé Nero (but that's another story). We were day visitors at the New Frontiers' Catalyst event at Stoneleigh in the Midlands.

It was almost time for the evening meeting when Dave Devenish would be speaking.

I'd agreed to meet Kevin and John in the restaurant area just outside the meeting venue, but found them at a picnic table outside chatting with a lady I didn't know.

Her name is Carol and she had seen them there and decided to speak to them. By the time I arrived they were talking about what it means to be a Christian and she was sounding a little anxious and confused. She is a very new follower of Jesus, just beginning her journey and we talked around that idea for a while.

Hearing the call - Jesus' twelve disciples were not Christians when he called them to follow him, yet they followed [Tweet it!]. Something about him was compelling or attractive or especially fascinating. Perhaps it was his simple, yet very stretching way of teaching, or just the fact that he was a rabbi and had invited them to follow him. As humble and unlearned fishermen, tax collectors and other ordinary folk, this offer was as promising as it was unexpected.

At first they followed in ignorance, but they began to learn right away. Not only did Jesus teach them, he also showed them healing and the throwing out of demons and the need to love above all else. And he sent them out to do this work on his behalf in the surrounding towns and villages.

They probably didn't fully believe until after Jesus' death and resurrection, perhaps when the Spirit fell on them in the upper room at Pentecost. But they followed him in partial understanding, and eventually they believed, and they carried on following him and growing in wisdom and grace and love.

How do I know I'm a Christian? - I wanted to explain this to Carol. I wanted her to know that it was OK for now to be just following Jesus without understanding everything. A time will come in her journey when she realises that she believes in him and that she is eternally safe in his hands. And afterwards she will continue to follow him but with a deep understanding of what that means. But it is a journey, a process, and Jesus is both the way and the destination.

He guides us and prepares the way for us - Our time at Catalyst was a good day on many levels, but the icing on the cake (Kevin's words) was meeting Carol and having that conversation with her. Kudos to Kevin and to John who were ready to seize the moment and help Carol through her uncertainty. And thanks be to Papa, who set the situation up. He's so good at that.

As a result, Kevin and John were in the right place at the right time. They meant to arrive earlier and wait for me inside. But they got lost on the way and had to retrace their steps. Being late brought them to the restaurant at the right time. Deciding at the last moment to sit outside put them in the right place. And Papa did what he had intended to do from the beginning!

Carol, wherever you are we bless you. He will guide your steps in the same way, every day of your life. You will follow and follow, and at the right time you will realise that you believe, and you will follow and follow some more. Enjoy your journey in the company of the King!

Questions:

  • Have you noticed how the Almighty prepares things in advance for us?
  • Why is this significant?
  • Can you think of some examples from your own experience?
  • How ready are you to seize the moment as Kevin and John did?

See also:

Copyright

Creative Commons Licence

© 2002-2017, Chris J Jefferies

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. A link to the relevant article on this site is sufficient attribution. If you print the material please include the URL. Thanks! Click through photos for larger versions. Images from Wikimedia Commons will then display the original copyright information.
Real Time Web Analytics