To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

It’s All About Relationship

Let’s have a look at the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7.

  • The main problem with the church was a relationship problem (see vv4-5a). They had abandoned their first love. He who should have been close was distant. There was estrangement.
  • As a result there is the threat of the church being removed (see v5b).
  • The church was a faithful and zealous church. In vv2-3 and v6 you can discern how they were hard working, doctrinally sound and faithfully continuing. And yet, if the relationship with the Lord was not sorted out, it would have been removed.
  • Repentance would lead to a restoration of relationship. It would lead to a participating in the tree of life in the paradise of God (see v7). This reminds us of the perfect conditions which prevailed for Adam and Eve before the fall. Alas on account of their sin, they were banished from this privileged environment (see Gen. 2:22-24). This banishment was consequent upon the severed relationship with God.
  • In Genesis 3:8, immediately after the fall, we see the Lord walking in the garden. This was with a view to enjoying fellowship with Adam and Eve. Alas sin meant that Adam and Eve distanced themselves and could not share it with him. This has many reverberations as regard to what was happening with the Ephesian church.
  • In Revelation 2:1 the Lord is walking in the midst of the candlesticks which are understood to be churches (see Rev. 1:20). We normally assume that he was walking in order to observe the churches and analyse their condition. However, I suggest He was walking, as per Genesis 3, to seek relationship with the churches. He desires fellowship with His professing people.
  • The stars are in the right hand of the one who is walking in the midst of the churches. The stars are the messengers of the churches (see Rev. 1:20); most likely referring to the one(s) with the primary responsibility for bringing the Word into the church.
  • This means that the preachers / pastors are always in the hand of the one who is walking among the churches in order to seek relationship with them. Hence, our message should be relentlessly a message formed around that of relationship. We must be grace in Christ through His cross, preachers.

The Bible Is Shocking

A common response to encountering the material of the Bible is to resent, even be outraged, by the judgement passages. The accounts about peoples and nations being wiped out (see the book of Joshua for example) and how God uses His people to fight and war against other nations and vice versa are shocking to people. As a result, people say that they do not want the God of the Bible because of what they perceive to be this shocking material.

The “judgement” parts of the Bible tend to cause this aversion whereas those passages on love are welcomed and appreciated. Is this a reasonable response? I suggest that it is not. It is the love passages that should shock us and not the judgement passages!

If we properly appreciate what happened in Genesis 1-3 we will start to have a different appreciation of these things. Genesis 1 and 2 is about how the God of perfect harmony and unity worked to create that which was beautiful so as to display and share this harmony and unity, which was and is eternally His. Most specially mankind was created so that he (Adam), being in the image of God, could enter into a glorious experience of knowing and living with His God and creator.

Adam had around him palpable evidence of the goodness of the Lord. Yet in Genesis chapter 3 we see how man chose to rebel against the God who had done nothing but good for him. Adam walked out on God giving him a V sign and so much more. This was defiance and rebellion of the highest order.

Given these facts, judgement should be seem as normal and catastrophe, war and misery should be anticipated as the disastrous judgemental outcomes of such a rebellious stance by mankind. For it to be otherwise would be for God to give the impression that life is better without Him, which it never is.

The outrageous thing in this context is that God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). It is absolutely breathtaking that God should take such an initiative to bring people bask into His fullness of life. It is shocking that God could be so generous that in Jesus He could work  so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26b).

The problem we have in grasping this understanding hinges on the issue of how we appreciate our humans condition. Our deceitful hearts, and the propaganda of the world, all cultivate the idea that we are pretty decent people and, if there is a God, He really should be nice to us.

This is a gross misrepresentation of the reality, which is that we, as the descendants of Adam, are those who have acted heinously. When we get this truth into our heads and are honest about what we have done to God, then we start to see things properly. And the outcome is that we have no difficulty with the understanding the judgement passages, it is the grace passages which shock us and we feel unable to get our heads around!

Oh praise Him for his grace; truly amazing grace.

Moved By The Heart

2 Corinthians 8 and 9 provides us with a remarkable piece of literature. In this passage Paul is seeking to bring forward the Corinthian Christians in their giving. They had been excited at first to contribute to relieving the needy saints at Jerusalem. However, over time their fervour had sagged and the coffers for the offering remained sparsely filled.

Into such a situation Paul writes to get the Corinthians giving again. It is such a wonderful piece of literature because Paul dose not merely command obedience by forcing their wills. Rather, he is using all of his writing artistry to get the hearts of the Corinthians moving so that their hearts are the prime-movers in their beings.

Accordingly, the key statement in this passage is so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction (2 Cor. 9:5b). And the key theme in this passage is grace. He wants grace to so impact them that they will naturally respond with giving to the Lord.

In such a context we have the marvellous incarnation revelation of our Lord Jesus in 2 Corinthians 8:9. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. This presents the Corinthians, and us, with the ultimate display of grace. As we see that grace we should be propelled to be grace-filled people ourselves.

It is so important that we take heed to Paul’s approach. Parents in particular need to make sure that their children have hearts which are won to the Lord. Wills which are forced to bring lifestyle conformity will ultimately lead to a child being resentful and there being no glory to the Lord. Hearts that are drawn into the Lord’s purpose in our children will lead to children who move for God and that will be for the glory of God.

Preachers and church leaders need similarly to take heed. Above all we need to be relentlessly representing the glories of God and the grace of our God so that hearts are given appropriate juices to respond delightedly and lives are thereby propelled into into the Lord’s way. Such leads to the Lord being pleased. Whipped Christians are generally legalistic and miserable Christians. Grace-filled Christians are generally willing and happy Christians.

The Lord’s Supper Frames The Church

One of the key inputs that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper has in the life of a church is that it frames the church around our Lord Jesus Christ and the rich grace of God that is in and through Him.

When we come together to partake of the bread and cup we are making certain declarations about what we believe and are committed to. The two which are key to our understanding of God’s ways for us as churches are the centrality of Christ and the necessity of grace. Let us read this paragraph which gives Paul’s understanding of the meanings and implications of the Lord’s Supper

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26)

From this we discern that the Lord Jesus is centre stage in the Lord’s Supper. He is the One who we remember, and most particularly we focus on remembering His death.  And we do all this whilst awaiting His return. When the table is set and the bread and cup partaken of, Jesus Christ our Lord is portrayed before our spiritual eyes as the all glorious One who is returning for His church. History is defined by Christ and the church is similarly to be defined by Him. Moreover, the church is to formed into the likeness of Christ who died and rose and is coming again.

Furthermore, we are declaring that we owe all to Him. Christianity is not a joint-undertaking where we do our part and Jesus comes and does His part. Rather it is deal whereby our God in Christ by the Holy Spirit does everything. We can as much save ourselves as jump to the moon; it is impossible. We need God to come to rescue us from ourselves and from our sin. This is grace; God’s grace.

But we must go a stage further. When we come to the Lord’s Supper we have the  instruction by Paul: Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup (1 Cor. 11:27-28). In the examination we discern two main things; we owe all to Christ and we are sinful. We are not just neutral people that God reaches out to, we are, rather, sinful people who are rejectors of God. With such thoughts in our minds the sweet fragrance of grace is intensified in the church. 

To be a church celebrating the Lord’s Supper and be failing to be gracious is a complete contradiction. And similarly we will not be able to focus on ourselves and our desires, but on Christ our Lord and His desires when we fully grasp the communion feast.

Two Gospels

There is a great message here by Rupert Bentley-Taylor. In it he refers to two gospels

Gospel of Performance

This is based on what I do and what I achieve. It is based on me recommending myself to God so that He will be pleased with what I have done. It is ultimately a false gospel. It is flawed because of the frailty of humanity waylaid by sin and rebellion against God. Everything about it is false because this is true We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away (Is. 64:6).

So the gospel of performance is no gospel at all.

Gospel of Grace

This is based on a salvation which God has achieved. He has done everything and He kindly bestows His saving goodness on all who believe. In this gospel I am declared wrecked in my sin and an offence at a holy God. In such a condition He reaches down to rescue me. Historically He reached down in the sending of His Son to bring salvation through His cross. There in His dying he was undertaking the wrath exhausting work of salvation by His cross. Experiencially, I received this grace when, by the Holy Spirit, I believed in the blood shedding, risen Saviour.

Oh this is true gospel.

 

Which gospel are you believing? There are only two; performance or grace.

 

 

Discipline and Other Churches.

When someone is “put out of fellowship” is that just a matter That relates to the church responsible for disciplining or does it involve other churches? I would strongly contend that it involves all other churches. To substantiate that assertion I would make the following points:-

  • Unity.

As churches we stand together. We are all churches of one Master. When Paul wrote to the church at Colosse he said After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea (Col. 4:16). The implication here is that there is one truth for all churches. Accordingly when offence has been caused against one church there is a sense it is against all the Lord’s people; against all true churches. There is unity.

  • Grace.

The whole purpose of a person being disfellowshipped is that they will come to repentance. When Paul says in 1 Cor 5:5a to hand this man over to Satan he is saying that the man who has engaged in gross sin should be placed in Satan’s place, the world. In such a place they feel the lack of fellowship with God and His people. Such a miserable experience should lead to repentance and restoration. If they can just go to another church then this gracious design of the Lord is enfeebled. The mechanism for bringing restoration is stopped.

  • Fellowship.

Churches share together in the grace of God. Whatever our denominational label if a church is a true Bible church seeking to declare the gospel and honour Jesus as Lord then we are in fellowship with them. This means we share in the Lord’s goodness and grace grace together. Accordingly, if a sinning, unrepentant, excommunicated person is accepted by another church then that is a “slap-in-the-face” for the first church. It is indicating that we disagree with you.

  • Wisdom.

If someone is just allowed to drift off to another church and become part of that church without any communication between the churches then trouble is being stored up for the future. This is because at some point it is likely that word will come to either or both churches of what has happened and there will be some messy unravelling that has to take place. It is best that right from the beginning, as much as is possible, there is communication between the churches.

 

You Have Got to Say “No”!

In Titus 2:11-12 we read For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” This is a key verse for Christian living for all Christians. But I can’t help thinking that for young Christians it is particularly essential reading and implementing.

There is so much pressure when young to follow the crowd and conform to the ways of friends at school, work, university and college. Peer pressure is immense and all kinds of negative responses can come if you don’t flow with the crowd. Having a deep and settled conviction that yo going to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions is essential therefore.

There is an important pre-requisite here though and that is of having an awareness of the salvation we have in Christ. The great gospel of forgiveness of sins through the Saviour who once appeared to put away sin forever is the great testimony of the loving favour of God. When that message reaches and changes us then we will be different. But we can slip back and be slack if we lose vital acquaintance with these themes. Upon a captivation with these themes though, there is the propulsion to godliness. There is the inclination to reject the bad and destructive and embrace the good and godly.

The gospel transforms, and it is only the gospel transforms. All other ways leave young people vulnerable to the tendancy to “give-in” to the pressure to conform to the immoral pressure of this world. Young Christian you must be persuaded on these things or you are vulnerable to a multitude of salacious traps. You will only be protected if you have the juices of gospel grace pulsating in your being.

Spiritual Dependency.

Who do we depend on for the source of our spiritual life? The Lord says this to the crowd and His disciples But you are not to be called “Rabbi”, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father”, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. (Matt. 23:8-11). The issue here I suggest is not the use of titles for people. It is rather what is implied and understood by the use of those titles. 

The Lord establishes the fundamentals of spiritual relationship when He says that we have “one teacher and you are all brothers.” The source of our spiritual life is the one teacher and we all share in the same spiritual life in the family of God as brothers. Using the terms “Rabbi”, “father” and “instructors” indicates the operation of a religious system where certain people have supplanted the “one teacher”. The Rabbis etc. have become the source of spiritual life. So we look to what they say, to their insights and we conceive what they say as the final statement on any matter.

This system is mutually indulged in by the teacher and the taught. The teacher loves the adulation and the fact that others are dependent upon him. The taught love the fact that they have someone tangible who gives them their spiritual strength and support. A destructive symbiotic relationship has henceforth developed. Everybody is happy, but everybody is being spiritually destroyed as a result.

What has gone wrong is that men have taken the place of God. This can happen very subtly. We can start to have our favorite preachers online and we can start to be dependent on them. We can always go to a certain teacher when we have a query and we always take their view as the final Word. Further, someone who has blessed us richly can become the key provider of spiritual nutrition as we feel that we owe them so much.

In saying all this we should not go to the opposite extreme and reject those who God has provided to help us in our spiritual development. Teachers and preachers, spiritual mentors and fellow members of the church can all be helpers in bringing us to know the Master, grow in Him and be spiritually sustained in Him. These intermediaries are only that, though, they are not the ultimate source of blessing.

And those who are in a situation of bringing nurture to others must always watch against this tendency for others to become dependent upon them. I have written about “named ministries” here and do feel that they can contribute to the problem. As an elder in a church I need always to be remembering that I am pointing people to Christ and leading them to depend upon Him.

Preaching With Passion.

The message we have been given by God to preach is a wonderful message. It tells of how God has come to us in Christ to rescue from our sins and our disastrous position. It is a message that surely should be preached with passion.

I heard recently of how someone was attracted to a church because the preacher preached the truth which is in Christ passionately. And surely, that is good. However, there is a danger in this for the preacher. The preacher then thinks: “Well, if my passionate preaching is attractive, I must show passion in preaching.” So in the preaching, he delivers the appropriate passion. And yet therein is the problem.

The problem is that the passion has been manufactured. It has been manufactured to show an effect, but it is really just a flashy display. How easily we deceive ourselves in these things.

We need to be reminded that our passion is only truly authentic when it falls in tune with the great message of God. It comes when we are familiar with being in the presence of God delighting in His grace. It comes from messengers who are in the message. It is something that originates in the holy place; in that place where we are alone with God savouring His grace towards us.

Oh LORD, make us passionate, but make us authentic in our passion.

(Originally published at Venabling on 3rd December 2013).

The Church Is Full Of Goody-Goodies.

I believe this is one of the lies that Satan uses to keep many away from church. He tells people, that they will never be up to the standards of those people who go to church, and thereby they should not get involved in this “christianity thing”.

What people think is that christianity is about being a good person. It is about keeping to the appropriate standards. This is a lie. christianity is rather about God being gracious to those who are wrecks and making them into good people. It is all about grace. People need to know that the church is NOT filled with goody-goodies – it is filled with wrecks. It is filled with those who have been mauled by sin, but such have received the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Once we have received this grace and received the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit; then God begins to make us into new people. He is in the business of reconstructing messes so that we might, in some measure, approximate to the image of His Son. But this is all God’s work.

The question comes then; are we, as Christians or as churches, providing material to substantiate the conclusion that christianity is for goody-goodies? Are we, through our attitudes and lifestyles, conveying the impression that we are trying to do our best to earn favour with God? Or are we people who just simply and relentlessly tell of grace?

We were wrecks and in a sense still are wrecks, but through God’s grace we are being changed. May this be what resounds out of our lives and churches.

(Originally published at Venabling on 20th August 2013).

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