Here is the Feltham Evangelical Church Newsletter for March 2020. It contains an article on how we should pursue excellence in life and ministry.
I write this with the world facing up to the impact of the coronavirus. It seems that every part of the world has now been impacted by this virus to some extent. The infection appears to have originated in a “wet market” in Wuhan province in China which sold both living and dead animals, birds and fish. Over 110,000 people have been infected and over 3,800 have died so far around the world. There is presently no vaccine.
Shock, panic, fear and bewilderment have been some of the responses to this outbreak. These are fully understandable given the uncertainties that prevail at the present time concerning the impact of the virus.
I want to set the coronavirus outbreak in the context of the history of our human race and this planet, earth, which we call home. I want to assert that we should not be shocked by destructive occurrences such as the coronavirus. Rather we should be shocked by the many enjoyments that we are able to enjoy in our lives. Why do I say that?
We are a created race. We are created by the Lord God who made the heavens and the earth. He has determined that we are to dwell on this earth. Every arrangement of the planet was made, in the goodness of God, so as for us to enjoy and prosper our inhabiting this domain. Alas, we, in the form of our original parents rejected the way of our creator God. Worse that that we rejected God Himself. Rather than enjoy His friendship and fellowship we walked out on Him; we “kicked Him in the teeth”; we gave Him a V sign; we decided we would fare better without Him. Sin entered the world and it was calamitous. Consequent upon the fall into sin was the declaration of curse.
We, as the tenants of this planet, told God, the landlord, we that we hated Him and that we did not want His rule. And, as might be expected of any sensible landlord, God took steps to respond to such unruly tenants who would not only damage His property, but damage themselves by their refusal to stick to the terms of the tenancy.
Consequent upon our sin has came the judgement of God. God has come to properly reward us for our infidelity. The tranquillity of the Garden of Eden has been shattered. Now disruption death and calamity appropriately pertain.
In such a context the prevalence of calamities whether they be earthquakes, volcanoes, viruses, diseases, droughts, floods, terrorism, famine or genocide should not surprise us. We are in a fallen world which in under the curse of God.
It is rather that we should be overwhelmed by every mercy that we receive from God. Every bit of good health, every happy experience, every enjoyment of good food should lead us to be overwhelmingly thankful to the Lord for His beneficence to such disrespectful tenants as ourselves. In fact every breath we take should lead us to be thankful.
I do not know how the coronavirus outbreak might develop. But I do know that it is incredible that we have not seen more of the like of these occurrences over the years, given the tragic circumstances we exist in consequent upon the fall of mankind.
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.
There is only one party in Luke 15 and that is the party celebrating restored relationship. So we see in Luke 15:22-24 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
The dead and lost son was found and alive again and the father was alive with excitement about the thrill of being able to enjoy being with him again. The impression is that they partied so as to out-party all other parties. What a celebration!. Yet it is significant that this was the only party going on. There was no party for those who wanted to engage in religious observance; there was only one for restored relationship.
The son who had the privilege of always being with the Father had no sense of the privilege and joy of that relationship. He was more set upon the drudgery and misery saying to his father ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends (Luke 15:29). He should have spent those years enjoying being with the Father. He should have been thrilled that his brother was back so as to enjoy these privileges. But NO! The suspicion is that if only he had had the opportunity he would have preferred being with the prostitutes than with the father (see v30).
Oh how bad this is and yet we so easily go that way. We should be longing for all of our lost brothers to return and enter into the relationship we have with our Father. And when they return we join them in celebration. Alas, we so often have little wonder of our being with the Father and think that the prostitutes might be a happier place. This is a terrible thing.
But remember there is only one party in Luke 15 and that is one about restored relationship. If we do not want to be at that party we may well be more like the second son than we like to think. We may very well be religious, but not converted. The test is whether or not you want to be at the party celebrating restored relationship.
Martin Braithwaite signed for Barcelona from fellow La Liga club, Leganes on February 20th. He previously played, without a great deal of success, for Middlesborough. As he joined his new club he made the following observation about himself:
“I’m a technical player. Also physical – I’m fast, I’m strong. My best attribute is my intelligence. I move intelligently and study the game. I call myself a football student. I think the way we play here my movements will help the team a lot. Of course the main thing is I’m a goalscorer – I’m here to score goals.”
And I’m left thinking; really, is it sensible for him to have such an estimation of himself. Here he is signing for Barcelona, one of the most successful football clubs in the world, and saying, effectively that Barcelona should be glad that they have got him. A footballer who has achieved so little elevating himself to such grandeur. The man has surely lost his senses.
And yet that is true of so many churches. We start thinking far bigger of ourselves than we should. When the principles of grace and of wonder at being bound into a relationship with Christ are lost then we are a danger to ourselves and to all who come into contact with us.
The Ephesian church in Revelation 2:1-7 had so much going for them. They were hard working, doctrinally sound and faithfully continuing (see vv2-3 and v6). All these are right and proper, but the big danger in such a situation is pride. We start to preen ourselves as regards to our success. We set ourselves above other less fruitful and less faithful churches (as we deem them to be).
And yet the Ephesian church is threatened with extinction (see v5b). The Lord says that this is so because they have lost their first love. Their passion for Christ has ebbed away and their engagement with Him has faded. Religious activity has replaced relationship with the Lord. Such a development is fatal to sensible self-evaluation. Such churches and people are best removed because they can cause great harm.
The one bound to his first love, who properly esteems Jesus as Lord and understands his own worthlessness is in a healthy situation. Such people are humble in all their ways and therefore are of use and pleasure to their Lord. Such a person knows his Lord and exploits can flow out of His life which are pleasing to God. Such a person flows with a life of hard work, sound doctrine and faithful continuance in humility.
The one who has lost touch with the Lord is a Martin Braithwaite type character who can have a maliferous impact in all kinds of ways. And the warning of scripture is that Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov.16:18).
(Here are some thoughts based on the study of Luke 2:21-24)
- He who made the people of God, identified with the people of God.
- He who shed his blood to make the people of God, shed his blood to be part of the people of God.
- He who created the first man was named as the second man.
- He who was from eternity came into time.
- He who was pure was purified.
- He who gave the law kept the law.
- He who is the centre of all things came to Jerusalem; the centre of this world.
- He who is the Lord was dedicated to the Lord.
- He who was eternally holy, and the Lord of all, was declared holy to the Lord.
- He who always served was committed to serve.
- He who is the sacrifice for all others offered a sacrifice.
- He who brought salvation from sins through His sacrifice had a sacrifice made for His sins, although He had none.
- He who is rich beyond all measure lived in a poor home (see Leviticus 1; not the cattle nor the sheep / goat as the offering, but the birds of the poor).
- He who gave the law was born under the law.
And having considered all this we marvel and worship:
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 (2 Cor. 8:9)
What is our greatest need as humans beings? Our greatest need is to know God. Our Saviour taught His disciples“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:21-23)
Moreover, He said to His Father And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).
Being in a relationship with God is life. To not having a living relationship with the Lord is to be a worker of lawlessness and set for an eternity experiencing the rejection of Christ. The pain of that is beyond fathoming. It means an eternity of experiencing vanquished hope, total exclusion of from every blessing and blackness of darkness and helplessness forever. The eternal regret of what could have been will gnaw at the soul forever.
Religious activity, even of the grandest sort, does not supersede the necessity of relationship. Casting our demons and doing mighty works are pretty impressive. Alas the performers of such sensational activities are hell-bound without a relationship with Christ.
A critical purpose of the incarnation is so that we can be bound into the eternal life which the Father and the Son share. This is so gorgeous for us to contemplate.
So we need a relationship with God. We need it desperately. It cannot just happen though! Because of our sin we are excluded from God’s favourable presence. But the good news is that Christ came to save us from our sins. His cross is the place of our coming to know God. When we bind ourselves to him and Him alone by faith then we come to know God. Our sins are removed forever and our souls bound to Christ. That is life; that is relationship; that is blessing.
Oh what good news this is. Our life secured with God forever.