According to a recent BBC report, the mystery of why so many birds fly in a V formation may have been solved. Scientists from the Royal Veterinary College fitted data loggers to a flock of rare birds that were being trained to migrate by following a microlight. This revealed that the birds flew in the optimal position – gaining lift from the bird in front by remaining close to its wingtip. The study also showed that the birds timed their wing beats. A previous experiment with pelicans showed that when flying in V formation, their heart beat rates actually went down! Further findings indicate that birds flying together often change their position and alter the timing of their wing beats to give them an aerodynamic advantage, making the most of the upward-moving air of the bird in front (as the air squeezes around the outside of the wings, it creates upwash at their wing tips) – this can sometimes give a bit of a ‘free ride’ for the bird that’s following. Notice the importance of the lead bird and the relationships in this flight process – intriguing stuff!
Which kind of reminded me of ‘living in Christ,’ i.e. by faith in him, and benefitting from the up-lift of his life, substitutionary death and resurrection. He is the one who goes before us, brings us into union with himself, lives within us, and empowers us for life and service. We have been baptised into Christ, his death and his life, resulting in a multitude of blessings from his hand. It’s a matter of living from a personal and intimate relationship, rather than from a set of rules.
Now lets change the metaphor from birds and modern aerodynamics to ancient yoke-bearing oxen. I have often revelled in Jesus’ self-revelation as he engaged the well-intentioned but very religious and hopelessly legalistic Pharisees who laid a heavy yoke on themselves and any would-be disciples. In turn Jesus introduces the gift of simplicity and rest, freely offered to all who would listen to him. Here’s E. Peterson’s marevellous paraphrase of Mt. 11:25-30, “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of the Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen. Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.“
Why do I touch on this issue once more? Because every week I watch Christians and Christian leaders around me, sincere and well-meaning, but frenetically busy, swamped by yet another seminar or program or more meetings to attend, operating under guilt rather than grace, succumbing to the Galatian deception Paul so eloquently addressed in Gal. 3 viz that the Galatians, having begun the Christian life by faith, then return for its continuance to self-effort and performance.
Just days ago a faithful church member of an institutional church confided in me as to how she hardly has time to share with her family and husband who does shift work. She tries to attend ‘Services’ as faithfully as she can but when she does she is often made to feel guilty because of her failure to attend all the meetings considered by the pastor to be vital for individual and church growth. Poor pastor, poor member. It’s all so far removed from the NT and Jesus’ invitation in Mt. 11. [In order to maintain some kind of relationship with pastor-friends of many years, I attend a number of ‘fraternals’ where I try to learn from my brothers and sisters and at the same time try to give input to any who might actually listen. I see how pressured they are, how driven – by themselves and by their flocks. It’s largely due to the clergy-laity heresy of course. Something the Reformation never brought about, though loudly trumpeting it, was ‘the priesthood of all believers,’ both vertical and horizontal. Small wonder pastors are bailing the church system by the thousands each year and around the world – read some of Frank Viola’s most recent blogs on this matter regarding the scenario in the USA.
So much has been written recently on this matter of ‘living by grace,’ that perhaps I can leave with you a few pointers from my own recent inter-action with the subject:
- I commend Steve McVey’s ‘Grace Walk,’ because it springs from his own personal journey as a pastor from legalism to liberty. ‘You were married to the law before you were a Christian. But when you died with Christ, the marriage was dissolved. Then you were born a second time. In this new life you have a different husband. It’s Mr. Grace Himself, Jesus! Mr. Law was a demanding husband who was never satisfied, regardless of how many right things you did. He didn’t just claim to be perfect; he actually was perfect and he demanded the same from you. He wouldn’t help you to do anything right, but was quick to point out when you did wrong. Mr. Grace is very different. Whatever he wants done, He just does Himself. Any burden He asks you to carry is light. In fact, whenever he asks you to pick up a burden and carry it, He carries you! He’s such a gracious Husband. You might say He is always full of grace and truth.’
- I commend Luther to you, particularly his commentary on Galatians. We had such fun with him in a recent house church gathering when talking about law and grace. Luther reminds us that being dead to the Law means to be free from the Law, so what right then has the Law to accuse us? [look around you and see the many guilt-ridden and shame-ridden believers, when all the time Christ died to deal with both – my comment]. Says Luther, ‘”Blessed is the person who knows how to use this truth in times of distress… He can say: ‘Mr. Law, go ahead and accuse me as much as you like. I know I have committed many sins, and I continue to sin daily. But that does not bother me. You have got to shout louder, Mr. Law. I am deaf, you know. Talk as much as you like, I am dead to you. If you want to talk to me about my sins, go and talk to my flesh. Belabor that, but don’t talk to my conscience. My conscience is a lady and a queen, and has nothing to do with the likes of you, because my conscience lives to Christ under another law, a new and better law, the law of grace.'”
- For years I have read Andrew Murray (1828-1917), that godly South African pastor, example, writer, moderator, educationalist, apostle, missions mobiliser and much more. I have researched his life and, together with my family, explored the places in the Eastern and Western Cape where he ministered and experienced genuine spiritual revival – a revival that initiated a powerful missionary movement into Africa that continues to this day. I lectured from his books for years to Missions School students in my city. I have served with Bless the Nations East Cape from its beginnings over 20 years ago – it is a fellowship of mission-minded believers, churches and groups that continue Murray’s legacy of prayer, revival and missions. At present I am re-reading his ‘Waiting on God,’ this time with new eyes! I no longer focus only on our obligations as believers to fulfill the Great Commandment (Mt. 22) and the Great Commission (Mt. 28), but now as a result of my journey outside of the institutional church (for the last 7 years) I recognise that if you miss CHRIST himself in it all, you miss everything and obedience becomes a burden and well-nigh impossible. In everything we operate from Christ and his divine life within us: he is the Vine and we are the branches and the life-giving and energising and fruit-bearing ‘sap’ flows only as we surrender to the Vine, as we ‘abide/remain’ in the Vine (Jn. 15). I hope to re-read some of Murray’s classics again, but now with a new mindset and perspective, and so be refreshed and challenged all the way.
- Never under-estimate the transforming power of talking about these things face-to-face in your faith community (preferably a small one – I prefer house groups) and sharing your experiences with one another in an honest way. It can be exhilarating to one and all (Acts 2:42-47; Heb. 10:24-25).
For a change then, let’s listen to Jesus and ‘learn to live lightly’ from the Master himself!