Face to Face: Seeing the Invisible

face2face_websiteIsaiah 6:1-7; Psalm 110

We encounter unbelief in many forms: liberal Christianity, agnosticism, militant atheism, or man-made religions. 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

If we are going to see God’s power break out, it will not happen from any human initiative. What we desperately need, more than anything else, is to coming Face to Face with God.  We need to see Him as He really is – to have a true and accurate picture of God and to understand and appreciate His ways. All that is perverse, every degraded act that is committed, comes about because of the absence of absolute truth, because of wrong ideas in the mind of man, and particularly wrong ideas about God.

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…"

For Isaiah, the death of this earthly king meant that a superficial peace ended in his nation. But then he saw God on the throne and true purpose began in his life from that day onwards, Isaiah’s world fell apart but his life suddenly came together.  As believers, we experience a similar "falling apart" to that of Isaiah’s. If our lives are to have the kind of outcome that God desires for us, Isaiah’s experience must be duplicated in our lives. 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. (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..

God reveals Himself to us in an unusual way

Yet, into the midst of all this turmoil, Adonai speaks. “Adonai” a title not a name. (Ps 110, John 12.41, John 17.5). He is high and lifted up. Train fills the temple (Acts 17.2). This is God outside the box. But this is not about eyesight as much as our heart attitude.

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. 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".

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

Something else on “leavers”

I’ve been meaning to write something else on “leavers” for a while.  David Finch got me thinking about the positives: Even with leavers we are building the Kingdom. Turnover is to be expected, but it should not be dismissed. It’s the opportunity to be used to build God’s Kingdom:  http://behindthewillowtrees.org.uk/what-ive-read-recently/cultivating-the-kingdom/

I have a rather simplistic model of local church growth.  It is to gain and hold onto more people than are being lost.  That means stemming the flow of people going out the backdoor, whilst engaging in some effective mission.  People leave for many reasons, but not always for those that one might expect. And the problem doesn’t always lie with the leavers. Dr Alan Jamieson in A Churchless Faith argues from his research that leavers: 

  • Struggle with their decision over a prolonged period of time, often years.
  • Speak of no longer ‘fitting in’ at church
  • Have major faith, theology or church-based questions which church had not satisfied
  • Recall a dysfunctional, dictator-like leadership
  • Feel marginalised or mentally abused.
  • Identify a ‘final straw’ that cemented their decision
  • Are rarely asked why they left. Most are not phoned or visited.

Jamieson says he is “dazed” by leavers’ continued passion, both for their faith – and against the Church.

But how can we respond? Jamieson argues the core skill needed by church leaders is the ability to listen. It could mean the difference between a leaver’s faith flourishing or failing.  ‘As individuals begin to pull back, church leaders need to step toward them and hear their struggles, questions, suffering and doubts, because these are the building blocks of their emerging faith journey.’

Contrary to the myth, time does not heal all wounds well. Certainly not if the original problem was never fixed. Leavers go for a reason. And if that reason still exists, if the church has never even addressed it, they’re unlikely to return.

Michael Fanstone in The Sheep that Got Away, proposed ways to woo people back. For most former churchgoers, the issue is not coming back to faith, but a return to church – a church that was unable to meet their needs, and an place where some say left them ‘dying inside’. This view is supported by a newer book, Gone for Good? where Leslie Francis and Philip Richter concur that generally people are rejecting the institution rather than faith.

Jamieson says that when people ask him, "What can I do to help my husband, wife, son, daughter, neighbour, parent to come back to church?", he replies, "Don’t talk about church and don’t invite them to church."

‘Be honest about what you are experiencing – not believing, but experiencing – in your own faith, and listen to their experiences. Don’t try and change them, correct them or make them come back to church.  Talk with those on the margins of the church and those who have left. Listen to their faith realities. Listen. Don’t hurry to give answers but hear what it would be like to walk in their shoes.’

‘What you hear might change your understanding, and your response.’

Another challenge comes from John Drane.  He says:

‘There’s been a lot of messing around with new styles of music and shifting furniture. That’s not going to solve the issues. These people are leaving because of the Church we now have. So they’re not going to come back to the Church we now have. People need to feel valued. [Otherwise] they begin to think, "Why am I spending my life doing this?

Church Re-imagined: A church overcoming the world

Church re-imagined1. The problem of sin which leads to death

We have a duty in love to care for our brother or sister in spiritual need. If anyone sees his brother commit a sin, he cannot say ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ and do nothing. The way to deal with sin in the congregation is to pray. And God hears such prayer.

Not every everyone can be given life in answer to prayer, however. John draws a distinction between a sin that does not lead to death and a sin that leads to death. For those who commit the former the Christian will pray, and by prayer will give them life.

It is a sin, but once repented of, the person is given life in answer to prayer. This means that he is in fact dead, since he needs to be given life. This person is not a Christian yet. Christians have received life, and do not “fall into death when they fall into sin”.  The question remains: How can someone who is not a Christian be termed “a brother”? The only answer is that John must here be using the word in a broader sense either of a ‘neighbour’ or of a nominal Christian, a church member who professes to be a ‘brother’. 

What, then, is the sin that leads to death

1. A specific sin?  
2. Apostasy?
3. The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
4. The sin that leads to death to which John is referring here is the work of the false teachers. In John’s view they were not apostates; they were counterfeits. They were not true ‘brothers’ who had received eternal life and subsequently forfeited it. They were ‘antichrists’. Denying the Son, they did not possess the Father (2:22-23; 2 John 9). They were children of the devil, not children of God (3:10). True, they had once been members of the visible congregation and had then no doubt passed as ‘brothers’. But they went out, and by their withdrawal it was made evident that they ‘did not really belong to us’ (2:19). Since they rejected the Son, they forfeited life (5:12). Their sin did indeed lead to death.

For these people, John does not encourage prayer.  Nor does he explicitly forbid prayer, as God forbade Jeremiah to pray for the people of Judah (Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11; cf. 1 Sam. 2:25); but he does not advise it, for he clearly doubts its efficacy in this case.

2. How can people come to genuine faith in the divine-human Jesus?

Who Jesus is is bourn witness by water, blood and the spirit.

What does water and blood mean?  Luther and Calvin saw in them a reference to the two sacraments of the gospel. This is extremely doubtful! If water stands for baptism, blood would be an unprecedented symbol for the Lord’s Supper. Augustine links the passage with the spear thrust into Christ’s side, and the flow of blood and water (John 19:34-35). But in the gospel, if they are taken as bearing any witness, it is “only” to the reality of Christ’s death.

Here they they bear witness to Christ’s divine-human person – the Man who is God.

So the water refers to the baptism of Jesus, when he was commissioned and empowered for his work, and the blood to his death, in which his work was finished.

Countering error: Irenaeus challenged the heretical teaching of Cerinthus and his followers with the same understanding. They distinguished between ‘Jesus’ and ‘the Christ’. They held that Jesus was a mere man, born of Joseph and Mary in natural wedlock, upon whom the Christ descended at the baptism and from whom the Christ departed before the cross. According to this theory of the false teachers, Jesus was united with the Christ at the baptism, but became separated again before the cross.

It was to refute this fundamental error that John, knowing that Jesus was the Christ before and during the baptism and during and after the cross, described him as ‘the one who came through water and blood’.

And what does the Spirit testify to? John is referring to the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to see the truth as it is in Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3, etc.). The Spirit has been ‘given to us’ as an indwelling possession (3:24; 4:13),

These then are the kinds of testimony to who Jesus is: objective and subjective, historical and experiential, water and blood on the one hand and the Spirit on the other. ‘He it is who seals in our hearts the testimony of the water and the blood’ (Calvin).

So what?

The purpose is to bring us to faith in Christ (e.g. John 1:7; 20:31). The results of belief and disbelief are stark. The believer has a deep assurance by the inward testimony of the Spirit that he was right to trust in Christ, a striking example of the spiritual principle that ‘everyone who has will be given more’ (Matt. 25:29; Luke 19:26; cf. Mark 4:25).

Three important truths are taught in these verses about eternal life. First, it is not a prize which we have earned or could earn but an undeserved gift. Secondly, it is found in Christ, so that, in order to give us life, God both gave and gives us his Son. Thirdly, this gift of life in Christ is a present possession.

Our assurance: we overcome the world (5:13-17)

1. You have eternal life’ (neb).

It is common today to dismiss any claim to certainty as arrogance, that includes assurance of salvation.  But certainty and humility do not exclude one another. If God’s revealed purpose is not only that we should hear, believe and live, but also that we should know, arrogance lies in doubting his word, not in trusting it.

2. Boldness in approaching God.

Christian confidence belongs not just to the future, to the parousia (2:28) and the judgment day (4:17), but to the here and now. It describes the manner of our approach to God, free and bold (3:21). 

Cell outline

Read again 1 John 3:11-18

1. What are the common ways we exclude others and make them feel like outcasts?

2. What are the ways we can show love with our words, and how can we confirm these words with actions?

3. What is one need you are aware of that you can meet, thereby living out the love of Jesus Christ?

Read 1 John 5

4. John wants us to know the source and strength of our love. According to John, how do we develop a heart of love for others?

5. How do we develop a heart that is deeper In love with God?

6. What is the source of our power to overcome this world?

7. What are you doing in your life right now to develop and deepen your love for God?

The practice of godliness is an exercise or discipline that focuses upon God. From this Godward attitude arise the character and conduct that we usually think of as godliness. So often we try to develop Christian character and conduct without taking the time to develop God-centred devotion. We try to please God without taking the time to walk with Him and develop a relationship with Him. This is impossible to do….

Now it is obvious that such a God-centred lifestyle cannot be fully developed and maintained apart from the solid foundation of devotion to God. Only a strong personal relationship with the living God can keep such a commitment from becoming oppressive and legalistic. John writes that God’s commands are not burdensome; a godly life is not wearisome, but this is true only because a godly person is first of all devoted to God. —Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness

8. How does this reading help you become a more passionate lover of people?

9. What is one of God’s commands that you are struggling to obey?

10. How can your small group members pray for you as you seek to follow God’s command for you in that area of your life?

Happiness

imageThe New Economic Foundation identifies five factors that keep us happy.  Here they are:

Connect – Have good social relations

Be Active – Ensure physical well being

Take Notice – Engage with the world, be mindful of yourself and your own needs

Keep learning – not necessarily academically, but be curious…learn an instrument or learn how to cook a new dish

Give – Give away that which you have.

Church Re-imagined: A Church overflowing with love

Church re-imaginedHow can we love God’s way (1 John 4:7)?

Physical boundaries mark a visible property line – you know where it starts and ends.  You know what your responsibility is and what isn’t.  In the spiritual world, boundaries are just as real, but often harder to see. Understanding your spiritual boundaries will increase your love (v16) and save your life (v18). They help you to guard  and maintain the soul (Prov. 4:23).

God designed a world where we all live "within" ourselves; that is, we inhabit our own souls, and we are responsible for the things that make up "us."

The heart knows its own bitterness, and no one shares its joy (Prov. 14:10)

God and Love

God defines himself as a distinct, separate being, and he is responsible for himself. He defines and takes responsibility for his personality by telling us what he thinks, feels, plans, allows, will not allow, likes, and dislikes. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one, but at the same time they are distinct  persons with their own boundaries. Each one has his own person-hood and responsibilities, as well as a connection and love for one another (John 17:24).

He also defines himself as separate from his creation and from us. He differentiates himself from others. He tells us who he is and who he is not. For example, he says that he is love and that he is not darkness (1 John 4:16; 1:6). God also limits what he will allow. He confronts sin and allows consequences for behaviour. He guards his house and will not allow evil things to go on there. He invites people in who will love him, and he lets his love flow outward to them at the same time. The "gates" of his boundaries open and close appropriately.

In the same way he gave us his "likeness" (Gen. 1:26), he gave us personal responsibility within limits. He wants us to "rule and subdue" the earth and to be responsible stewards over the life he has given us. To do that, we need to develop love like God’s.

To and For: We are responsible to others and for ourselves.

"Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2

This verse shows our responsibility to one another.

The Greek word for burden means "excess burdens," or burdens that are so heavy that they weigh us down. These burdens are like boulders. They can crush us. We shouldn’t be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves! It would break our backs. We need help with the boulders—those times of crisis and tragedy in our lives.

Many times others have "burdens" that are too big to bear. They will not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; he saved us. This is being responsible "to."

"Each one should carry his own load." Galatians 6:5

This verse shows our responsibility for ourselves.

The Greek word for load means "cargo," or "the burden of daily toil." This word describes the everyday things we all need to do. These loads are like rucksacks. Rucksacks are possible to carry. We are expected to carry our own. We are expected to deal with our own feelings, attitudes, and behaviours, as well as the responsibilities God has given to each one of us, even though it takes effort.

Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular "load" that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. No one can do certain things for us. We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own "load."

Good In, Bad Out

Loving others requires that we "guard our heart with all diligence." We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside. Keep the good in and the bad out. Guard our treasures (Matt. 7:6) so that people will not steal them.

Sometimes, we have bad on the inside and good on the outside. In these instances, we need to let the good in and the bad out. For example, if I have some pain or sin within, I need to open up and communicate it to God and others, so that I can be healed. Confessing pain and sin helps to "get it out" so that it does not continue to poison me on the inside (1 John 1:9; lames 5:16; Mark 7:21-23).

And when the good is on the outside, we need to open our gates and "let it in." Jesus speaks of this phenomenon in "receiving" him and his truth (Rev. 3:20; John 1:12). Other people have good things to give us, and we need to "open up to them" (2 Cor. 6:11-13).

The Bible does not say that we are to be "walled off" from others; in fact, it says that we are to be "one" with them (John 17:11). We are to be in community with them. But in every community, all members have their own space and property.

Further reading: Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boundaries-When-Take-Control-Your/dp/0310247454/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1284626854&sr=8-1

Cell Outline:

Read 1 John 2:3-11

1. How has one of your relationships changed since you became a Christian?

2. Describe a relationship that still needs transformation as you learn to live more in God’s light.

3. What is one relationship where you have a hard time expressing love?

4. How can your small group members pray for you as you seek a tender heart and loving spirit toward this person?

5. What actions could you take that would begin to express love toward this person?

Read 1 John 2:12-14

Try to read verses 12-14 not as if they were written to three different age-groups, or maturity levels, but to apply to all Christians.

8. What does John say about us as Christians?

9. How does confidence of these truths empower you to be a person of love?

10. Describe how you are experiencing one of these truths in a deep and personal way in your life right now.

11. How would you like to grow deeper in your understanding of one of the truths?

Read 1 John 4:7-12

12. We all receive love in different ways. What is one way people can clearly show you that they love you with the love of God?

13. How does focusing on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for your sins help you grow in your ability to love others?

14. What is one act of love you could show to another person in the coming week?

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