Mission without church

David Fitch make an interesting comment about ignoring the role of “church” in mission.  He says that whilst the concept of Missio Dei has achieved a profound reshaping of the church’s identity there are two potential pitfalls:

1.  A tendency to “backload” the missio into the sending of the Son, and/or

2. “frontload” the missio into the Spirit’s work in the world.

The role of the church then can become either a) the following of a “personal Jesus” as individuals into mission, and the church simply becomes a retrospective construct, or b) the joining of individuals with justice movements in the world, where the church is dispersed into the world’s struggle for justice.

In either case, Fitch argues, there is the possibility that the church gets dispersed out of existence. This is less of a problem as long as there is already a church from which to recruit individuals for this missional involvement! As long as there is a church, individuals will go forth into mission.

But as the church diminishes however in the West, the problem becomes more acute: Where will these individuals/or groups come from that go into the world without the church which shapes these individuals into the “church as mission”?

This is a similar concern addressed by Stuart Murray in response to John Drane’s stakeholder model of church

John Drane’s proposal was mentioned in Post-Christendom: a ‘stakeholder model, in which there could and would be a place for diverse groups of people, who might be at different stages in their journey of faith, but who would be bound together by their commitment to one another and to the reality of the spiritual search, rather than by inherited definitions of institutional membership.’

Murray-Williams argues:

But [emerging] churches need custodians of their story and values. Inclusivity and open-ended belonging without core maintenance is unsustainable and dangerous, as membership-averse emerging churches are discovering. Other emerging churches are reconfiguring monastic patterns that establish a core community and allow for various stages of commitment to their core values.

The reality is that, at present, Fitch’s anxiety is right; we still need strong Christendom-style congregations, in order to release and resource emergent congregations. 

When God gets close

face2faceLink to previous week

1. We are what we speak 
In the presence of the pure holiness of God Isaiah acknowledged immediately that most of what came out of his mouth was not clean.  Would we be prepared to acknowledge the same?

This calls for honesty. The words we use are symptomatic of the state of our hearts. (Jam 3:5-6) A.W. Tozer said:

"I believe that there is little sense of sin among the saved and that the average Christian lives a life so worldly and careless that it is difficult to distinguish him from the unconverted."

2. When we say “woe”
There is a tenderness that comes into the heart of a man or a woman who has been in the presence of God and has been compelled to say, "Woe to me!" 

"Woe", for the prophets of the Old Testament, was a potent weapon in their arsenal of words. It always preceded the most serious of announcements of judgement. That’s true in Jesus’ ministry to (Matthew 5:8-9; 23:13). Entire cities and even whole nations had the words "woe to you" pronounced over them, as well us smaller groups of people (Num 21:29; Jer 13:27; Ez 13:3; Hos 7:13; 9:12; Amos 5:18; 6:1).

For Isaiah this was his moment was the truth (Jer 9:23). The same kind of experience has been true for all of the great men and women whom God has mightily used throughout Church history. Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, C.H. Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Billy Graham, Gladys Aylward, Jackie Pullinger, Anne Graham Lotz, and many more. At some point they came under the overwhelming conviction of the reality and corruption of their own lives through the all-pervasive presence of sin. Then, when they had truly encountered God, he gave their ministry a burning focus. 

For example, in the 1830s in Dundee, Robert Murray McCheyne, a young pastor, saw an amazing move of God in his church and local parish. Hundreds of people were converted to faith in Christ in the space of a few weeks and the church congregation swelled in size. Later, someone asked him, "What is the greatest need of this church?" He could have answered, "Better facilities … more finances … better programmes … excellent music…" – a whole host of factors that we count important today in relationship to church growth. Instead he replied, "My personal holiness", by which he meant the life-changing result of an awesome encounter with God in his life.

3. The disintegration factor
Isaiah saw God, he felt like a leper! He was more the "carrier" than the "cure" of their diseases (Lk 4:23). R.C. Sproul, once wrote:

"For the first time in his life Isaiah really understood who God was. At the same instant, for the first time Isaiah really understood who Isaiah was … In the flash of the moment Isaiah had a new and radical understanding of sin. He saw that it was pervasive, in himself and everyone else."

Isaiah’s experience is sometimes called the "the disintegration factor". Integrity means "wholeness", so dis-integrity or disintegration means "to be broken into pieces". Isaiah had to be broken before God before he could be put back together. He was literally "shattered" by this experience, and humanly speaking there seemed to be no way that he could possibly get his life together again.

It is a good thing to be pulled apart if God is doing the pulling. It is the road to saving faith. It is also the precursor to an achieving faith that accomplishes mighty things for God and His kingdom. In effect, you become a dead man or woman and then you are resurrected and finally get to truly live!  C.S. Lewis said:

"God is the only comfort.  He is also the supreme terror; the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from.  If you think meeting God face to face will be fun, you need to think again.  You are still only playing with religion."

In the Christian life we discover that the best place to start serving God is on our faces. We start from the bottom and work up (1 Peter 5:5-6).  There is a breath taking freedom released of coming clean about hidden sin? We need to bring things out into the open, confess our sins before him, bringing them under the blood of Christ and then ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to be free of them.

We need to stop trying to defend the indefensible and stop making excuses for the inexcusable. The cross is the only remedy for sin. Have you been there recently?

Face to Face with God: How do you plead?

face2face_websiteIs 3:1-3, 8-12; 5:8-25

Throughout Is 3-5 God identifies several groups of people at which he launches a strong, emotive expression of his sadness, disgust and sorrow over their choice of lifestyle. The result does not make for pleasant easy-listening. It is the context for Is 6:5 “I live among a people of unclean lips”.

1.Sexual deviance

In Isaiah 3:9 the Lord identifies the deep sexual deviance and sensual recklessness of the nation. The emotional inner lives of a whole generation have collapsed and it has resulted in a lifestyle that the Lord can only liken to the doomed inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abraham (Genesis 19). In their minds there were few, if any, detrimental consequences for such permissive lifestyles (Rom 1:18-27).

2. The absence of mature leadership and the abdication of men

There is a dearth of mature, wise political and spiritual leadership and the absence of men of principles (Is 3:12).  To me, Isaiah’s point is that there is simply an absence of strong men, rather than making a comment about the role of women. Men have abdicated their responsibilities. Men have retreated into a preoccupation with distracting and trivial pursuits and forsaken their families, their jobs, and in some cases, their nation. 

Today, millions of unwanted pregnancies, countless broken marriages, hundreds of thousands of single parent homes, fatherless children, serial relationships, more abuse of women and escalating harm to children than ever before, along with abortion on demand.

Add to this the crime on our streets, mostly committed by children under seventeen years of age who emerge from loveless homes that have never seen a father, and what a legacy we’ve inherited! We have sown to the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

3. Rampant capitalism

God curses greedy land grabbers who are focused only on building their own little empires by property acquisition and points out what will be the end result of their greed (Isaiah 5:8-10). When nations turn to greedy land and property acquisition in economically unstable times God says that they will not live to enjoy their wealth nor do any good with it. In fact, they are headed for an economic crash of unspeakable proportions.

4. Clubbing and partying culture

God warns the binge drinkers, clubbers and partygoers, those who, like their descendants in our society today, spend their whole time planning their "big night out" at the weekend and give no thought to God whatsoever (Isaiah 5:11-12).  Isaiah is describing what is going on in every bar and night-club across our nation.

We have allowed a culture to develop that has an escapist mentality which says, "Yes, I’ll try to hold down a nine- to-five job during the week, but at the weekend I’m going to go crazy!"

5. The arrogance of wealth

The next target is those who think that their wealth gives them all the security they need. (Isaiah 5:15-19) The fate of those who have accumulated vast personal fortunes and private estates, but who have no regard for God, is spelled out.

6. Secular morality

We have changed the price tags in our nation. We have traded God for bargain basement perversion. We have turned godly principles on their head and we celebrate that which is despicable and lamentable (Isaiah 5:20).  As a character in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov argued, ‘If God does not exist then everything is permissible”.

7. The priority  of self

There are many in prominent positions today – philosophers, scientists, secular humanists, politicians, atheists – who are wise in their own eyes and have much to say, much to teach us, but who do not espouse the wisdom of God (Is 5:21).

This is the context today of Spiritual Warfare.

Our task then, as the people of God, is not to make the Bible more relevant to society. God’s wisdom is infinite and unchanging. Jesus said, "My words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35). It is time we lined up with reality as God’s Word timelessly describes it to be, and began, as the people of God, to get angry about the things that God himself is angry about. Angry with our own compromise and sin, and angry with the sins of our declining cities, as our wickedness rises like a great smell before God.

The good news is that there is a river running through the Body of Christ in the heart of our nation today, and it can clean up a city and a nation if we will cooperate with what God is doing and bring people to the only source of health, renewal and change – the Lord Jesus Christ.

But first we have to see the problem, because only then will we hear the call. It is only men and women who have stood in the presence of God and said, "I am a man or woman of unclean lips … I live among a people of unclean lips … and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of glory", who will ever make that radical difference.

Face to Face with God: The Living God

face2face_websiteOnce we have had even a glimpse of God’s glory, we are ruined. We can no longer "play" at having a relationship with God. He is burning with holiness. Jesus wants "red hot" disciples who are willing to impact the world because they have seen His glory.

The Lord was sitting on a throne

He is the Eternal One. He does not age, is not senile, has no weaknesses, no handicaps and cannot die. He occupies the throne of the whole universe. He always will. He is Lord over all things, visible and invisible, terrestrial and extra-terrestrial. No angel or demon can effectively threaten those who belong to Him. No man or woman can arbitrarily harm us because there is a King on the throne and we belong to him.  God is in total control and he knows what has to be done.

One of the early Church Fathers wrote,

"I believe Christ died for me because it is incredible and I believe that He rose again bodily from the dead because it is impossible."

Our God is an awesome God! The incredible becomes credible with Him, and the impossible becomes possible. It is time for us to believe in both the incredible and the impossible again, because we follow the God of the incredible and the God of the impossible! It’s time we let God be God.

Isaiah looked up

Isaiah looked up and saw God. He gazed in awe and wonder at this incredible being. What he saw overwhelmed him. The point is simple: unless we have also "looked up" and been held in awe and holy fear by a revelation of God, we are likely to spend our time looking around and becoming fearful of the unholy culture and hostile, evil forces that surround us.

When Isaiah looked up he saw not only God, but awe-inspiring, incredible angelic beings circling His throne. Here we read of another order of beings akin to them: the very powerful seraphim – the servants of God dwelling in His very presence. These angels presumably have a fiery appearance because they are sometimes referred to as "the burning ones".

The fact that they covered their faces is an action that speaks powerfully of the seraphim’s reverence for God. They were demonstrating the fact that no creature may safely or casually look upon the direct glory of God impertinently or without invitation to do so.

The covering of the face perhaps also conveyed an element of conscious "unworthiness" within these angelic beings, despite their un-fallen, untainted holiness.

The covering of the angels’ feet speaks to me of their submission and willing surrender to the service of God. We have to remember that God has commissioned angelic beings to serve his people on Earth as well as serving Him directly in Heaven.

God is not just holy, He is three times holy.

Isaiah noticed that the angels were crying out, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God Almighty!" What was apparent was that they were calling this back and forth to one another so that God could hear their sublime, out-of-this world harmonies. Things and people are not made holy as if by magic, but by being set apart and dedicated to God. This is the point of Isaiah’s encounter. Everything about it confronts Isaiah with the holiness of God. In turn he will be made holy himself.

The three-fold repetition carries a double significance.

First, in Hebrew, repetition underlines and emphasises the reality stated, so that the hearer takes special note of it. To assert a description twice indicates a superlative display of that quality. To say it three times denotes a super-superlative.

Second, the three-fold emphasis draws implicit attention to the unique being of the God of the Bible. He is the triune God. God is a Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and has eternally been so

This is the very heart and centre of Isaiah’s vision. They focus instead on the one attribute of God that sets Him apart from all of His creation – His holiness. his completely sinless nature.

We worship and are related to a God who is utterly free from any impurity whatsoever! God is completely without sin. Everything begins with a sight of the magnificent reality of God’s holiness. It helps us to place everything else in its true perspective.

Face to Face: Seeing the Invisible

face2face_websiteIsaiah 6:1-7; Psalm 110

Isaiah’s predictable world falls apart

Isaiah 6:1 states two facts: "In the year that King Uzziah died” and “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted…"

From archaeological and historical records we know that King Uzziah died around 740 bc. Uzziah’s reign must have reminded Israel of the heyday of the reigns of King David and King Solomon because he remained in power for a long time – fifty-two years in all. Tremendous stability for Israel had resulted from Uzziah’s reign and great prosperity had come to the nation. Trade alliances had been made with surrounding nations and there was an exchange of goods across national borders that was unprecedented in their history. Israel’s economy was booming, trade was soaring and commercial prospects and forecasts were completely optimistic for the most part.

On the surface it seemed that everything was peaceful and idyllic, but in realty, the truth behind this facade was much more ominous. Danger was looming in the Middle East. This is why the king’s death meant that the world as Isaiah knew it was about to collapse.

For Isaiah, the death of this earthly king meant that a superficial peace ended in his nation.

As believers, we experience a similar "falling apart" to that of Isaiah’s. It’s the testimony of almost everyone achieves great things for God. There is a moment.

If our lives are to have the kind of outcome that God desires for us. Our predictable world must fall apart before it can come together under God’s hand.

The end of superficial peace

Uzziah became puffed up with pride over his political achievements.

But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in. They confronted him and said, "It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honoured by the LORD God."

Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD’s temple, leprosy [a] broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the LORD had afflicted him.

King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house — leprous, and excluded from the temple of the LORD. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land. 2 Chronicles 26:16-21

Uzziah tried to play God by mixing the roles of priest and king without permission from God. His death meant that the world as Isaiah knew it was about to collapse. As it was in Isaiah’s day, so it is for us. Our security cannot rest on what world leaders and politicians are saying and doing: It never did.

"Uzziah" may be dead, but the Living God is still very much alive. Very little changes through the ages. We live in a world so similar to that of Isaiah’s. Unbelief abounds..

We encounter unbelief in many forms: liberal Christianity, agnosticism, militant atheism, or man-made religions. (10-10-10 Russell Grant)

What we can say of each of them is this: they are all attempt to suppress the truth about God. Romans 1:20 gives us a profound sight of what happens when a community looses faith in an almighty God:

"For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being under-stood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse….. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen" Romans 1:20, 25

God reveals Himself to us in an unusual way

Abraham – deep sleep

Yet, into the midst of all this turmoil, Adonai speaks. “Adonai” a title not a name. (Ps 110, John 12.41, John 17.5).

The LORD says to my lord:

"Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."

He is high and lifted up. Train fills the temple. This is God outside the box. But this is not about eyesight as much as our heart attitude.

A.W. Tozer once commented, "I cannot recall in all of my reading a single incidence of a prophet who applied for the job." Nor can I. No true prophet of God ever compiled a CV and sent it into Divine Headquarters asking to be considered for the role. Like Isaiah, prophets are head-hunted by God. They don’t volunteer, they are arrested! He wants people who have been gripped and transfixed by His glory so that He can commission them for works of service. Prophets cannot be appointed by men and women, they are selected by the hand of God and God has direct dealings with them. Only such a calling could explain Isaiah’s sixty years of astonishing, world-shaking ministry that is still rattling cages to this day. Long after his time on earth has ended, the prophet is still speaking.

Because God is behind the call to any kind of prophetic ministry, it cannot safely be refused. Men like Moses, Jeremiah and Jonah all attempted to turn down the job of prophet. In Jeremiah’s case, God reminded him that he had been chosen and consecrated for the role of a prophet since his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:1-5). God starts working very early in our lives, way back in our past. CHILDRENS MINISTRY

We may take a while to wake up to what is going on, as God chases us down the years and gives us hints of His pursuit and His willingness to grasp hold of us and use us, but we can’t stay on the run indefinitely. God knows what’s going on even if we don’t and God has known all along what He has in mind for us. Jeremiah tried to hand in his

God steps forward to reveal himself to his people and to remind them, "I am still on the throne." For Christians, the Lord Jesus is seated on the heavenly throne, and is enthroned in our lives.

He has blinded their eyes
       and hardened their hearts,
       so they can neither see with their eyes,
       nor understand with their hearts,
       nor turn—and I would heal them."

Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. (John 12.41)

Isaiah was the one who was chosen to see the Lord and to become God’s mouthpiece to the nation; Isaiah, a man who lived to honour God’s holiness as a priest in his temple, but who also needed a touch from God. Eventually, in his encounter with the Lord, he became cleansed of his personal "leprosy".

Yet, the great need of the hour is for thousands of men and women in this generation to encounter God in the way that Isaiah did and be overwhelmed with God’s glory as a result. Only this will result in the kind of Church we all long to see and only this will produce the kind of joy, lasting happiness and peace that the world so craves but is never able to manufacture. Real joy – the God kind – doesn’t come in a bottle, can’t be swallowed in pill form, can’t be injected, and won’t be found in any thrill-seeking endeavour anywhere in the world. Pure joy is only found in the presence of God.

The question is, "How expectant are you that God wants to meet with you in such a way?"

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