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:

23 April 2014

Jesus in trouble

We take a look at hunger, thirst, loneliness, nakedness, bad health and imprisonment. Jesus suffered all these things, helps people with their specific problems, and expects us to do the same. He identifies with us and we really do need to identify with him and with one another.

At last night's Small Group meeting, Donna led from the introduction to Just Lyfe, a great resource from the Bible Society. We read Matthew 25:31-46 and I had a new insight that I'd like to share here on the blog.


Nothing to eat or drink
Nothing to eat or drink
In this section of Matthew, Jesus says, 'I was hungry... I was thirsty... I was a stranger... I was naked... I was sick... I was in prison...'. He strongly identifies with 'the least of these my brothers and sisters' (verses 40 and 45), so what I do for them I do for Jesus himself. Jesus came into the world because of his great love. He came to be with us and live this life as it was originally intended to be lived. And in coming he suffered these six issues himself and he also touched people troubled by these same six issues.

He identifies with us in the deepest possible way. And that should change us very profoundly.

I was hungry - One of the very first things Jesus did as he began his work was to go out into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-2). And he became hungry. He knows that life is not possible without food, and he explains that spiritual life is the same. Spiritual life demands spiritual food, the Word that comes from the Most High.

Jesus fed people when they were hungry (Matthew 14:15-21), demonstrating his understanding of our need for sustenance. And he himself is the spiritual nourishment we need (John 6:35). Don't starve yourself spiritually, but grow in stature and in energy by feeding on the Bread of Life.

It follows, if we are like Jesus, that we will provide physical and spiritual food to anyone who is hungry.

I was thirsty - Jesus was thirsty while he was dying on the cross (John 19:28-30). And he knows that just as we need spiritual food, so we also need spiritual drink to survive. He doesn't just provide a little, he gives us rivers of living water (John 7:37-39). Just as our food is Jesus (the Word sent by the Father), so our drink is the Holy Spirit (the Spirit sent by the Son).

In Hebrew thinking, the blood of an animal is its life. In the same way, Jesus' blood is our life and the Passover wine is a reminder of that (Luke 22:17-20). Jesus provided wine when it ran out (John 2:1-10). So receive spiritual refreshment every day, let the Holy Spirit flow abundantly from within you, pouring himself out through you into a very thirsty world.

I was a stranger - Jesus visited us here where we live. The Father sent him and he obediently came to live among us and to die among us and to show us that life is more than merely existing. His home is not here in the physical, he is a stranger to sin and wickedness. He came to redeem us and to redeem our world and bring us back into relationship with the Father.

And so often Jesus touched the lives of strangers, think of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26), Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), or the tax collector Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13). Let him touch you too. If you are not affected by him, do you even belong to him? If he is willing to touch you, how much more should you be willing to touch others? Invite people in, get to know them, don't hold back. How will they meet Jesus if you don't welcome them into his presence?

I was naked - This is a harder one for us to grasp. When was Jesus naked? He was naked on the cross; the soldiers divided his clothes (Matthew 27:35). Crucifixion was not only a painful death, it was intended to degrade and humiliate even as life ebbed away.

Sin also degrades and humiliates. Have you noticed how often Jesus said to people, 'Your sins are forgiven'? Have you ever really thought why? He came to restore us, to remove our shame, and to clothe us in robes of righteousness. His plan is that we, too, will begin to restore and rebuild. He wants us to re-make the world we live in, to restore and mend and redeem.

Learn the value of covering shame and humiliation for the people around you. Sometimes we do the opposite. But we need to learn to be more like the Master in this area too. Let your heart be filled with compassion and forgiveness and grace.

I was sick - When was Jesus ever sick? We don't know if he was affected by bacteria and viruses, and he wasn't in the world long enough for the effects of old age to set in. However, he died. He was fatally wounded by a sick and broken world, just as we are.

Jesus touched the sick and allowed them to touch him (Matthew 8:1-3, Matthew 14:36). Normally, the result of this was healing or wholeness. This is just another way in which Jesus redeems, reclaiming fullness of life from the damage that is everywhere around. We must follow him in this. We can pray for healing, apply medical knowledge, help the ill and the handicapped in practical ways and be generous with our time to comfort and befriend those who struggle with long term physical or mental conditions.

I was in prison - Jesus had a short spell in captivity, first at the hands of the Jewish authorities, and then with the Romans under Pilate. He knows what it's like to be a captive; he's felt harsh oppression and the crack of the barbed Roman lash. He knows what it means to be nailed to a piece of timber.

Jesus released people from all sorts of bondage - demonic possession (Matthew 8:28-32), judgement (John 8:2-11), grave wrappings (John 11:43-44). He came to set us free from the law of sin and death and he says to us, 'If the Son has set you free you are free indeed' (John 8:34-36). And Paul wrote, 'For freedom you have been set free'. In other words, Jesus truly wants us to live free. Like Lazarus, not only must we receive life, we must also respond to the call, 'Come out!'

Jesus did not release us from the shackles of sin without having a plan for our future lives. We are his ambassadors, those who know the difference between captivity and freedom. We are sent out to tell those around us, to share the good news of freedom with those who only know captivity and shame.

What now? - So the question that remains is, 'What now?' Jesus suffered these six severe hardships, he touched people who were struggling with each of them, and released them. He has released us from them too. He has done this with purpose and with authority. He has the right to say, 'Come out!' And he also has the right to say, 'Go in my name'.

Now it's up to you and me. Will we come out from the place of death or will we smile our 'thank you's and settle down comfortably in the grave?  Will we go and redeem the world around us as he leads us day by day, or will we stay sitting at his feet? [Tweet it!] Will we be obedient in our freedom? Like the men in the parable, will we make use of what we have been given so as to make more, or will we be afraid and bury it in the ground for safekeeping? Nothing is safe and nothing can be kept safe. We serve an unsafe Lord who expects something of us. He has given us a precious treasure - his own life. We can do so much with that gift. Dare we do nothing?

Questions:

  • What could you do today to help someone who is hungry or thirsty?
  • Plan to respond positively to every request for help and to every need you notice tomorrow. Jot down some notes on what happens. Did anything surprising happen? If so, what? Tell someone about it.
  • Find someone on their own (perhaps at a bus stop or coffee shop) and start a conversation. How did it go?

See also:

31 March 2014

The Black Swan Effect - A new book

Felicity Dale is a woman and a church leader; in some circles that combination would be a real no-no. As part of her busy life, Felicity is an active author and a blogger at Simply Church. Her latest book, 'The Black Swan Effect', examines the arguments around women and church leadership.

Felicity Dale
Felicity Dale
Here are some questions about the book, with great answers from Felicity.

The Black Swan Effect is an unusual title. Why did you choose it?
The title comes from a story in the introduction to the book. Back in 16th century London, people had never seen a black swan, and so the term came to mean something impossible, a bit like a unicorn. Then in 1696, a Dutch explorer discovered a whole species of black swans in Western Australia. So the meaning of the term changed. It symbolized something that once was thought impossible but is now known to be possible, even commonplace.

All it took was one black swan to change people’s minds forever. Similarly, all it takes is one Phoebe, one Junia, one Deborah, one Esther to prove that God uses women in his Kingdom in all kinds of roles, including leadership.

Who wrote the book?
There are 14 contributing authors, both men and women. They come from many different backgrounds and church traditions. Between us we have written more than 50 books. Each of us writes from his or her own passion and expertise into a specific area. The whole is woven together to form a single narrative.

What do you hope to achieve through the book?
For too long women have been held back because of church tradition and a few challenging Scriptures that stand against the general tenor and trend of the Bible as a whole. We long to see men and women working together, as equals, side by side, for the sake of the Kingdom [Tweet it!]. This will take men being willing to champion women as they boldly break through the barriers that have held them back. And it will take women daring to step out and follow the Holy Spirit as he leads them into roles where they’ve never gone before.

Who might be interested in a book such as this?
We think three different groups of people would have a specific interest in this book:

Many Christians—both men and women—have come to the conclusion that there is no better way to double the size of God’s missions workforce than to fully deploy women to use their spiritual gifts and God-given capacities.

Others are asking theological questions. They are investigating how the Bible portrays women, especially women leaders. Were the New Testament writers—in particular, the Apostle Paul—misogynists? Are there alternative interpretations for some of the really difficult passages of Scripture? 

Still others who enter this discussion are drawn to it because of issues related to justice and human dignity. They want to know why some religions undermine the worth of women, why many churches are not equal opportunity employers, and why Christians are not engaging more with issues such as sex trafficking and global female infanticide. As they study Scripture, they can’t even imagine a God who would discriminate against women.

What kind of questions does the book raise?
We are not afraid to ask the right questions with a right heart at the right time. That’s not the same as saying we come up with answers to all of them!

Here are a few of the questions we air:
  • Does God like men more than women?
  • Has God ever used a woman to change the course of history?
  • What about those troublesome verses?
  • Who leads better—men or women?
  • Are women ever their own worst enemy?
  • Why is gender such a big deal in many cultures?
How can people get hold of the book?
The book is due to be published on 5th April. You should be able to find it on Amazon and elsewhere from that date.


Questions:

  • What are your personal views on women and church leadership?
  • Have you read any of Felicity's earlier books?
  • Which of her answers above do you find most interesting - and why?

See also:

Copyright

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