Looking for God to restore

We complain about the demise of the Church and ask God why He is not advancing the gospel. We do not realise that He is! He is returning us to reality! We live in a time of disgrace for the church of God. The cry of many is –

Restore us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:4-7NIV)

In times past, the hope of the church seemed to be the Evangelical Movement bringing Christ. At the time we were criticized for a shallow approach: “All you need is to receive Jesus, and God will do the rest.” What we failed to appreciate was the context of a culture striving but failing to live for God. In this context the simple message was good news.

Now our culture has little interest in seeking God. The old message is exposed as simplistic. Many have taken it literally and with their ticket to heaven secured they abandon God and give themselves to sensuality.

The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. (Psalm 85:12-13)

Are we ready for the Lord to do new things, preparing the way with His righteousness, bringing fruit as He understands fruitfulness?

Mantle of shame

What does it mean for a loved child of God to wear ‘the mantle of shame’? (Ps89:45) We live in a world that beats down our identity and threatens us. In our insecurity we accuse the world of doing this, but the Psalmist points to the Lord–

YOU have broken through all his walls and reduced his strongholds to ruins.’ (Ps89:40)

When we build up ‘Self Image’ we develop a destructive conceit the Lord challenges–

YOU put an end to his splendour and cast his throne to the ground’ (Ps89:44)

Do we have faith to acknowledge the reality God has us in- a church in disrepute where even leaders act in shameful ways? In past decades the Church presented itself as spotless. Now, when problems are evident, do we polish our image grasping for the once great splendour? Or can we embrace that the Lord has-

‘covered us with a mantle of shame’ (Ps89:45)

When the Lord gave me no ministry opportunities, it took courage and faith to answer the question, ‘What do you do?’ By saying, ‘Nothing beyond standing in God’s presence’.  I could state this because I know the Lord values me for who I am, not for any ministry I do. Similarly, we can acknowledge this shameful place the Lord has us in when we are ready to believe that our value to Him is as His loved children, rather than the exterior image of our witness. Which do we value, the world’s view of us or God’s view?

The original Bible Study can be found here – Mantle of Shame

What do we value?

Our culture has only one question to determine value – “Does it work?” Jesus takes a different view. After feeding the 5000 He leaves.  Most would have continued the ministry. When the people find Him, He challenges their motives –

  ‘… you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  (John 6:26)

What is the difference between eating bread that came as a miracle and seeing signs? The difference is in the focus. If I look for Jesus because I ate, then I am looking for myself and the focus is on me. If I look because I saw miraculous signs my focus is on Christ and I am looking to worship Him.

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’ (John 6:27)

This focus is seen in our relationship with God. If the focus of my spirituality is on what works, then it is subject to men’s evaluation which inevitably is temporary and ultimately spoils. The fruit Jesus is looking for is the fruit of lives changed by faith. Faith is proven through trust even when things don’t seem to be working –

‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (John 6:29)

Are we able to trust Jesus in how He directs rather than try to use Him to get what we want? This is food that endures to eternal life.

 

A fuller study

What counts?

How poorly I appreciate the unseen work of Christ. I recently organised a conference. There was a sense of God at work, one person even said it was the best conference they had ever been to. Yet looking back I experience frustration that only half the expected number turned up.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Looking for visible impact I slip away from Christ. In Portugal He spent six years showing me numbers were irrelevant. How easy to revert to type after returning to a culture fixated with measurables. This road leads to a pressure to justify cost effectiveness where the desire to impress, or merely justify, leads to abuse of those entrusted to me. It won’t be through circumcision, but elevating what is secondary and what is elevated becomes idolatrous and abusive. In Paul’s day it was all about bringing people into Judaism; he writes,

Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. (Galatians 6:12)

Such abuse is to no avail, for what counts is the transformation that only Christ sees.

15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

I live in a world where what is counted is supreme so, being human, I will struggle! However, I trust Jesus who promises –

16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God.

 

The background study can be found in ‘Circumcision for now

Controversies and faith

The arguments I hold in my mind expose secondary issues that have supplanted my Father as the one to be worshipped.

In Psalm 76 the Father restores perspective.

2 …  his dwelling-place [is] in Zion. 3 There he broke the … weapons of war.

Going to Zion, God’s dwelling, we find different priorities, there He breaks my weapons – my simplistic arguments.

5 The valiant lie plundered … not one of the warriors can lift his hands.

If I allow the Lord to speak His perspective then he exposes these discussions, as pointless. He challenges me with the fact that He is not interested.

7 It is you alone who are to be feared. … 8 From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet –

It is God alone who is to be valued. When I fix on something lesser it becomes my idol. I am shocked when the Lord pours scorn on this thing. Yet when I let Him, I experience a wave of peace.

9 when you, God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land.

These arguments have collateral damage. Hearts are poisoned when the arguments become the overriding issue of a Christian’s faith.

10 Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.

When I allow my Father to divert me from my petty arguments I become a survivor of His wrath and I am restrained. I find myself at peace again in His presence.

 

You can see the original Bible study here

Two forms of discipleship

Recently it has dawned on me that there are two approaches to discipleship in the Scriptures.

In the Navigators we use the apostolic form of Jesus. This approach focuses on someone willing to follow as an apprentice. In Jesus’ ministry this required leaving behind home comforts and responsibilities to follow. ‘Leaving’ creates space in life for learning.

Many churches use Ephesians 4, where the Lord gives gifts for building the Church. Gifts and people are brought into the Church for the sake of building it up. The focus is on developing the community.

These approaches come with strengths and weaknesses.

The Ephesians 4 approach gives opportunity for a range of gifts. The community stays together, looking after the weakest. It is naturally pastoral. Since it is building itself up it has difficulty releasing people to minister beyond its own scope. It has a hard time developing leadership since this focuses on individuals not the community.

Jesus’ apostolic approach goes to people so it is naturally outward looking. It takes ministry into the world beyond the community. It develops those willing to go with the apostle, valuing the apprentice who is faithful, available and teachable. This approach develops leaders but can leave people behind.

All groups apply a mix of these approaches. Pastoral ministries extend apostolically and apostolic ministries care pastorally. However, the opposite form is like a right handed person writing left handed. Most churches have to send people away for development, most Navigators struggle with care for the weakest.

The Lord’s Leadership

Can I trust God for my leaders? A while back I saw someone take a role I felt they were unsuited for. At that time I needed to trust God for His control. Then a situation arose that tested this godly person’s leadership with extreme circumstances.

I did not like the leadership given yet the Lord challenged me, reminding me that this leader was His anointed for His purposes. Humbled, I reflected on this. I began to see that the Lord had intervened in an amazing way. He had brought into play exactly the right people at the right time so that the overall outcome was good. Where there were weaknesses, others were brought in and the weak were kept from having to work in their weakness. Where there needed to be an intervention, a key leader was in place, who intervened in an appropriate way. Where a decision was needed, this leader rose to the occasion and made a good call.

So now, as I look back on this situation I am amazed at the Lord’s leadership and His shepherding of us. As Psalm 28:9 says, ‘Save your people and bless your inheritance, be their shepherd and carry them for ever.’ A significant part of my error was to think that the Lord’s leadership was focused on a person. In fact He works out His leadership through all involved. He is able to bring into play the right people at the right time for the outcome He is looking for.

Hope for the hopeless

My struggle with hope is an indication of how hard I find it to keep my focus on Jesus without being overwhelmed by our spiritual climate.

I look upon our situation in the Church and it seems to be without hope. Everywhere churches are closing and congregations shrinking. Yes there are notable exceptions, the mega churches that grow and grow, but these exceptions hide the big picture of the thousands of shrinking churches. However, there is hope. The only way we lose hope is when we fail to recognise that we are needy and must look to God and call out to Him for mercy. As Psalm 9 says,

“But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.” (Psalm 9v18),

God watches over us; Jesus is our eternal hope. He is ready to save from whatever mess we find ourselves in – often because of our own failure. This is a great hope.

Psalm 9 also gives me an encouragement.

“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9v10

My observation is that the Church is seeking Him. We may frequently be off beam in this search but there is a sincerity in our desire for Him. I find this encouraging. We may be harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd, but the Lord will never forsake those who seek Him.

We hope because Jesus is the One we hope in.

The original study – http://biblebase2adaringfaith.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/hope-for-the-hopeless-study/

Sacred Trust

Few realise that they have been entrusted with anything special. I hear Christians frustrated when others seem unable to grasp things that seem obvious to them. These Christians fail to realise that their understanding is a mystery entrusted to them. Paul identifies himself as a servant of Christ in 1 Corinthians 4:1 and most Christians would understand that, however he then continues to describe himself as ‘… one entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed’.

Those who grasp that they have been given a sacred trust to pass on often think only in terms of words. Paul, by contrast, sends his letter and Timothy, his loved and faithful son in the Lord. He sends his message by words and a life that people can imitate. (4v16-17).

If our message is with words only, then people struggle to accept the application to life. I see people look at their leaders and the extent to which they themselves live out their message, then they follow suit. On the other hand, if the message is only with life, people come to their own conclusions about why the messenger’s life is so different. They usually get it completely wrong. When I lived in the states people were convinced my life was different because I am English. Words are needed to explain the principles and power behind the lifestyle.

So, we need to live out, and be ready to explain what the Lord entrusts to us.

 

Spiritual Prostitution

One of the temptations of spiritual leadership is spiritual prostitution. Ezekiel 16:15-21 spells this out. He begins,

“15 But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.”

When Christ works in us he develops a spiritual beauty. This is seen both by those who are spiritual, and those who are searching. The beauty of Christ in us draws people to us. Since we feel esteem when people come to us, we are tempted to use what God has made us to draw people to ourselves even further.  So Ezekiel goes on,

“16 You lavished your favours on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.”

Those who use us in this way are clothed in us instead of being clothed in Christ. So, the followers become caricatures of their leader.

As we see people being drawn to the spirituality God has developed in us, we are tempted to shift focus from the giver to the gifts making idols of them. “17 You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. “

The final part of this process is tragic: “20 ‘“And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols.” Anything that we worship outside of Christ consumes us, so those who gather to this idolatrous ministry are sacrificed for the sake of the ministry.