May 302013
 

Grace and conscienceHave you ever wondered why Christians can be so different from each other? We all use the same manual but the way we live and the way we do things can often be worlds apart. We differ in many ways but none more so than by the way we ‘do’ church. Some people insist on going to church in a 3 piece suit, while others are happy in a pair of shorts and a vest top. Some think that you should only sing along to an organ while others are happy to worship to heavy rock, rap, hip-hop etc.

So which is right? Should we all be “formal and respectful” or should we be ‘free’ and do whatever we like (as long it’s not spoken against specifically in the bible).

This is not a new dilemma; in fact Paul addresses a very similar issue in the bible. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul talks about people who were happy to eat meat used in idol sacrifice, condemning (or at least looking down on) those whose conscience wouldn’t allow them to do so. The people who ate the meat would say “now we are under grace we can do whatever we like, our consciences are totally clear!”

The trouble was, the people who didn’t want to eat that same meat did not have the same clear conscience.

Paul didn’t say to those with a weak conscience “come on now, don’t listen to your conscience; you are free now, here, have a steak!” No, he actually tells them to be careful how they exercise their freedom.

This was obviously something that Paul felt strongly about because he also raises the same subject in Romans 14:

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:1-6)

A key verse comes later in the chapter:  “So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” (Romans 12:12)

What I love about God’s kingdom is its enormous diversity. Every culture does things differently and God deals with us in unique ways. The key thing is to follow your conscience. God gives us a conscience for a purpose and it is absolutely vital that we keep it intact; if we ‘sear’ our consciences we can get into real trouble.

“…..holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:19)

The first question to ask yourself is, “is my conscience clear in all that I do?” If the answer is yes, then the next questions that follow close behind are “am I looking down on people because I consider myself freer than they are?”, or “am I judging someone because they live out their Christianity in a different way to me?”. If the answer to either of these two questions is ‘yes’ then you are tending towards pride.

There are of course certain fundamentals to the Christian faith that we should hold onto tightly, even confronting people (lovingly) who are obviously sinning. But there are many grey areas that Christians can disagree on and it is very dangerous to think that we have all the answers.

Let’s have an open heart to learn from all our brothers and sisters who live out their Christianity differently to us. God seems to love having lots of different flavours and colours to make up His glorious church and His plan is that whatever we do, we do it all with love.

 May 30, 2013  Posted by at 3:23 pm God's family, Grace, The Church No Responses »
Mar 072013
 

Large Group of Happy People standing together.In last week’s blog I talked about the fact that as Christians we have been adopted into God’s family. I started listing some of the benefits of being adopted into His family.

 

The benefits we looked at last week were:

(1) We are able to speak to God

(2) He takes care of our needs

(3) He gives many good gifts

If you missed it or want to read it again, click on the link here.

This week we will look at another 3 benefits:

(4) He gives compassion, care and protection

God cares and provides for us, not just physically but also emotionally. God provides in every area where a father should provide for his children. He provides completely where earthly fathers never can.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

You, Lord, will keep the needy safe and will protect us forever from the wicked, (Psalm 12:7)

The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. (Lamentations 3:31-32)

(5) God disciplines His children

Hang on a minute, what’s that doing in this list? Even though discipline is painful at the time, God disciplines us because He loves us. It is for our good, so that we can grow in righteousness and holiness.

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)

(6) Inheritance & ‘sonship’

We have an everlasting inheritance.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

Another interesting term from the bible is the word “sonship”. This is a term relevant to men and women. “Sonship” as used in the bible is a legal term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture. This is the inheritance we gain as ‘Sons of God’.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:4-7)

Meditate on these truths and verses over the coming week and let them change your whole outlook on life. As a child of God you have an amazing position which should affect how you relate to God and others.

 March 7, 2013  Posted by at 9:37 pm Community, God's family, The Church No Responses »
Feb 282013
 

gods familyOver the last three weeks we have been looking into our Identity in Jesus. We have seen that we are now new creations, no longer sinners but saints. Last week we looked into the victory that Jesus won for us on the cross and the implications of that.

This week and next we are going to look at the fact that we are in Gods family and what that means.

Adoption

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

When we become Christians we are adopted into His family and called God’s children. We now relate to one another as family members, like brothers and sisters.

We are now able to call God ‘Abba Father’. Abba translates into English as ‘dad’, being even more informal than ‘father’.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:4-7)

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)

I have listed a few of the blessings of adoption below and will add to this list next week:

(1) We are able to speak to God

The Lords prayer starts “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Two important points to take out of this are;

(a) we can come to Him anytime

(b) we can come to Him boldly.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–20, 22)

(2) He takes care of our needs

As His children God will provide everything that we need. He tells us not to be anxious and to trust Him.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? …….. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:25-33)

(3) He gives many good gifts

 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)

He gifts us good gifts, not just to bless us personally, but so that we can be a blessing to the rest of our family (the church) and then be a blessing to the rest of the world. Everything we have is a blessing and a gift from God, but there are other gifts that we can use to bless others. I explored these gifts in much more detail in a previous post here, they include such things as pastors and teachers, prophets, gifts of healing, service etc.

Most of all He gives us the gift of His wonderful Holy Spirit who draws alongside us, to help us and to fill us with His power.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

(I have gone into great detail about being filled with The Holy Spirit in a previous post here.)

Next week I will look at another 3 blessings of being adopted into Gods family. Until then brothers and sisters, enjoy the wonderful truth that God has brought you into His family and if you are not in it yet, why not join the family?

 February 28, 2013  Posted by at 10:42 pm Community, God's family, Grace, Holy Spirit, The Church 2 Responses »
Sep 212012
 

Join a church 2In my last blog we took a brief look at the big picture of God choosing to have a people for Himself. Now we shall look at the following question:

Why should we join a local church?

In the book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost we see 120 cowering followers of Jesus waiting fearfully in an upper room, not even quite sure what they are waiting for. Suddenly the Holy Spirit comes and fills them with power, Peter preaches and 3,000 people are added to their number. The word “added” is important here-it is evidence that a local church was organised and had actual members. We see later in Acts how elders are established and how home groups spring up as people fellowship together and practice their new found spiritual gifts. (Incidentally ‘lone ranger’ is not listed in the bible as a spiritual gift!!).

We see further through the book of Acts how churches are planted and established and how leadership in each congregation is developed. None of this would have happened without organisational and membership structures. Have you ever tried to organise and motivate people into a team who are not committed to each other or to you as a leader? If you haven’t I’m sure you can imagine what it would be like.

Leadership

Most of the letters that Paul and the other apostles wrote were to specific churches, for example the churches at Ephesus and Corinth. Much of the content of these letters included how Christians should be and act with one another and how they should submit to leadership. A lot of this would not make sense if people were not committed members of these congregations. A good example of this is found in 1 Corinthians 5: a member of the church is found to be immoral and Paul urges them to put this man out of fellowship. How could they have put him ‘out’ of fellowship if he was not ‘in’ in the first place?

This leads me to the role of leadership and specifically Elders. Elders are exhorted to look after those under their care. In Acts 20 v 28 it says “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Again in 1Peter 5 v 2-3 it says “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock”. On the other hand the members of the church are instructed to “have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” (Hebrews 13 v 17). None of this makes sense unless a person is submitted to a leader through church membership. A leader cannot perform his shepherding care if no-one is submitted to Him.

Analogy of the body

Paul uses a very good analogy of what the church should be like in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

This for me is one of the strongest arguments for having church membership. God has put us together to rely on one another and be part of each other. If you are an errant body part you need to get back into the body. How strange a body would be if an eye was over here and a hand over there etc… It wouldn’t be an effective body at all.

There is something unnatural about a Christian attaching himself to a body of believers and not being a member of the body”. John Piper (sermon, July 13, 2008)

Gifts

Another reason for being a member in a local church is so that we can use our gifts in a safe environment, whether they be spiritual gifts or practical ones. In the local church we can prophesy knowing that our contribution will be ‘weighed’; we can practice hospitality; teach and encourage. We can also exercise our gifts of serving or helps; we can be part of a programme that ministers to the poor. We can find a myriad number of ways to serve in the context of membership within a local church.

Discipleship

In a local church there will always be somebody who can disciple you in whatever area you need it. You may be a new parent and you can look to couples who have successfully brought up children; you may feel you don’t pray very successfully and you can get alongside real prayer warriors and learn from their passion. Of course, your own contribution is vital as you in turn disciple others and play your part in the growth of your church.

Conclusion

Just because membership of a local church is not highlighted in a specific verse, the concept of being a member is implied countless times in the New Testament. It’s not necessary to keep looking for the ‘perfect’ church because it doesn’t exist and if you did find it and joined, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore! Until we get to glory, every Christian has imperfections and we will all have difficulties with each other from time to time. But God in His wisdom has chosen this imperfect group to be His people, bought with His own blood, to declare His glory to the rest of creation. We are His people and His delight and He has chosen us to be built together in Him. If you are still not quite convinced, go through the New Testament again and see the skill with which God builds his church together and then consider getting stuck in where you are. You have a part to play.

 September 21, 2012  Posted by at 12:00 am Community, The Church No Responses »
Sep 132012
 

Why join a churchI did it MY way

We live in a  very ‘me’ centred culture. The prevailing questions we ask ourselves are; “what do I want?” or “what is good for me?” Everything is geared towards being individualistic and considering others is way down our list of priorities

This can influence our decisions concerning our commitment to the church we attend. We may be of the opinion that if we have been going somewhere for a while and it now doesn’t  suit my needs, it’s ok to move on and look elsewhere. This is commitment only when it suits us.

This is not exclusively a 20th century viewpoint of course. In our humanness our natural inclination is to be selfish and “look after number 1”. In fact we may find that the vast majority of people wouldn’t consider this to be a selfish viewpoint at all.

However when we become Christians this all changes, as we hand over control of our lives to Jesus Christ and submit ourselves to His authority. Our mindset now is to please Him. We also become part of His body ‘the church’.

Membership is vital

Some would argue that when you become a Christian you do become part of Christ’s ‘universal’ church, which of course is true. They would also say that nowhere in the bible does it command that you should join a church, which is also true. But to then make the assumption that it is not necessary to join a local church is like adding 2 plus 2 and making 5.

In the rest of this post and in the next one, I want to argue from the bible why joining a local church is not only necessary but absolutely vital, not just for you but also for the other members of the church you are joining. Pay special attention to this post if you are in the following 2 categories:

  • You stay at home for ‘Church’, subscribing to God TV or listening to preaching podcasts and worship services online. You are well fed but you are accountable to no-one as your contact with other Christians is minimal.
  • You attend a local church but have never committed to whatever joining process is required. You may be well acquainted with a few people but for whatever reason you have not fully signed up.

For everyone else, I hope to show you what a great decision you made by joining your local church and hopefully inspire you to get even more involved. My hope is also to help enable you to engage in discussion with people in the above two categories. If you are not a Christian, please read my previous post on ‘the gospel’ – discover the God who loves you and join a local church!

God’s chosen people

Looking at the ‘big picture’ of the bible we see throughout that God has chosen a special people to have a relationship with in order to demonstrate how great He is to the whole world. This is of course a very special relationship. There is very little in the bible about God’s relationship with individuals, it is almost always in the context of His people. When God does relate with an individual, it is usually so they can pass on a message to His people.

In the Old Testament we see the formation of the nation of Israel (God’s people) and his interaction with them, how he blesses them and disciplines them and shows them great patience, wooing them back to Himself as they turn away from Him again and again. When we proceed into the New Testament we see the development of the church no longer made up solely of the Israelites, but now through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection to include Gentiles and in fact anyone who trusts in the finished work of Christ to save them. This ‘Church’ is God’s possession, also called Jesus’ bride and will be made up of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. This ‘universal’ church is now made up of many local churches that you and I are to be a part of. The New Testament closes with the glorious wedding supper of Christ and His church as they prepare to spend eternity together in the new heavens and earth. If you are a Christian, however hard life may be now, this is the wonderful future we have to look forward to.

Next time I will look at the reasons (and benefits) as to why we should join a local church.

 September 13, 2012  Posted by at 10:51 pm Community, The Church No Responses »