THE BEAMING OF HIS BEAUTY (GUIDELINES FOR TRUE WORSHIPERS – PT. 4)

WE CONTINUE WITH THE BLESSINGS AND SPIN-OFF’S OF TRUE WORSHIP…

(4) Worship enthuses our spiritual disciplines.

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Classic Christian disciplines include Bible reading, prayer, meditation, simplicity, frugality, etc [If you want to get to know more about these, I would highly recommend the writings of Dallas Willard, especially his ‘The Divine Conspiracy’ ]. Now, it’s one thing to know these disciplines and even to attempt them, but to do so with enthusiasm and joy is a different matter! The renowned French Christian mystic, Madame Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717) indicated that when ‘fervour and desire for God’ are present in our hearts, obedience becomes so much easier. Someone leading our weekly house church gathering recently reinforced this by quoting Ps. 119:32/KJV: ‘I will run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart!’ (KJV). Struggling with regular Bible reading and prayer, and the other disciplines?? Ask our good Father, not so much for his blessings, as his person and presence in your innermost being! Ask until it begins to happen. Ask others in the body to pray with you in this regard.

(5) Worship creates true fellowship. I have elsewhere mentioned A.W. Tozer’s comment on 1000 pianos: when tuned to a single tuning work, they are automatically tuned to each other (1). I’ve seen this principle worked out in reality again and again in Christ-centred gatherings, of whatever kind, and there’s just nothing like it. You see, God is a fellowship within himself. He exists in a loving, self-giving community made up of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because he is community, he creates community wherever he is received (Jn. 1:12). When we love the triune God, we spontaneously begin to experience loving koinoinia, and the world is forced to take note. This is why Jesus prayed, and continues to pray, that his followers ‘may all be one. As you Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’ (Jn. 17:21/NRSV). I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Jesus’ prayers have always tended/still tend to be answered! (2 & 3)

(6) Worship sustains us in our hardest trials. The Apostle Paul, amid his and Silas’ persecution by the Roman authorities and imprisonment in Philippi, are pictured in Acts 16:23-35 as singing hymns at midnight, albeit with battered bodies and hoarse voices! Their praises (and prayers) became earthshaking both physically and spiritually, bringing their miraculous release and the evangelization of the jailer and his extended family! The Apostle Peter, writing to the scattered and persecuted assemblies of Asia Minor, reminded them that amid their greatest sufferings, as a result of the Good News, ‘you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith … may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed…’ (1 Pet. 1:6ff/NRSV). Even today, the hotter the fires of persecution around the globe, the deeper believers’ worship and inexplicable joy! [Some years ago in several visits to China twice, I witnessed this personally among ‘underground’ communities]

(7) Worship carries us to heaven and makes us like Jesus. Paul writes about this so beautifully in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, as he outlines their call to ‘new covenant worship’: The Government of Death, its constitution chiseled on stone tablets’ (3:7ff/MSG) can’t establish true worship and make us like Jesus, because those under the Old Covenant are still ‘veiled’ in their minds and hearts. ‘Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it… Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil… They suddenly realize that God is a living, personal presence… And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually become brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him!’ (v. 15-18/ MSG). The Apostle John wraps up this glorious thought: ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is’ (1 Jn. 3:2-3). What a statement, what a hope! (4)

In conclusion, do we really believe that, by sheer grace and obedience, all the above is possible for us, even before we enter God’s new heaven on earth? Let’s ask Paul: ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit!’ (1 Cor. 3:17-18/NRSV). [One of our house church teachers pointed out how the final verse of Charles Wesley’s hymn ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’ reads, ‘Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place; Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love and praise!’ ] It’s not only possible but desirable! My reader, do you really believe this? Do you (personally) know anything of this?? It’s not for the special few, but any and every believer, according to the promise of God!

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Please take a look at Tobie v.d. Westhuizen’s outstanding post, ‘GOD’S LITTLE PEOPLE!‘ He blogs under naturalchurch.

(2) Douglas Banister, American theologian and author, has concluded in his book ‘God On Earth’ (and I heartily agree): ‘Likewise, the church is most like God when it abandons hierarchy, power, and rank and emerges as a parallel community ordered by mutual submission, self-giving, sacrifice and love… It means we should not structure our communities according to a corporate business model or a military chain-of-command model…’ [Ironically, as I write this, our city churches are once more promoting a well-known Global Christian Leadership Conference… I believe these conferences (I attended many, with my church leadership) have largely misunderstood the NT Ekklesia and promoted a corporate-business model, often with disappointing moral and spiritual results]

(3) Concerning the trinity, Banister summarizes (cf. 4th century Gregory the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil the Great) as follows, ‘while Christ submitted himself for a season to the Father for the purpose of his work on earth, this was not an eternal submission. There is no hierarchy in the trinity; there is partnership, interdependence, and mutual submission.’ He also cites the 4th century Athanasian Creed proclaiming that all persons of the trinity are ‘co-equal,’ ‘none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another.’

(4) Having observed the institutional Church from the inside and outside for half a century, I honestly believe that many church-attenders (in my country at least) try to worship and serve God from an Old Covenant perspective only. I could name denominations (I have family members in them) – many of their members openly say they’re ‘trying’ to be Christians and appear totally lacking in that ‘blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!’ Even their faces say so. Somehow they seem blind to the superiority of Christ’s new covenant and the Spirit’s joy and gladness! (Heb. 8: built on Jer. 31 and Ezek. 36).

‘Send your Spirit, Lord, breathe on us all, let your fire fall!’

‘THE BEAMING OF HIS BEAUTY!’ (GUIDELINES FOR TRUE WORSHIPERS – PART 3)

Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) was born to very poor peasant parents in Lorraine, France. To escape poverty he joined the French army. One day he noticed a barren tree in mid-winter, stripped of all leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. He recognized in that image his own life. The sight kindled within him a love for God that never ceased to burn! He volunteered to serve as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. A big, awkward fellow serving as a cook in the kitchen, he discovered the secret to holiness as ‘practicing the presence of God in the ordinary business of life.’ A classic booklet bearing that title was published after his death. The story goes that when he was dying a brother asked him what he was doing: he replied that he was doing what he had been doing the past 40 years, viz. worshiping God! You see, for brother Lawrence, worship was primary and death secondary. Incidentally, it came to me that the best way to deal with our worldliness of heart at this moment is to likewise focus on worshiping our beautiful God, amid the ordinary business of life, including the trials of life and whatever our enemy throws at us (e.g. the isolation of Covid, loneliness, despair, depression, weariness in well-doing, etc), then self-crucifixion becomes just a tad easier!

We come now to some of the spiritual spin-off’s and practical implications of a life of true worship:

(1) Worship precedes work. We are worshipers before we are workers. Many Christian leaders have made the fatal mistake of reversing the biblical order. One thinks of the prophet Isaiah’s encounter with God preceding his call to ministry (Is. 6:1-8). One thinks of the great awakenings in 18th century England, marked by the devotion, worship and music of the Wesley’s. In my personal experience I find that any depressed mood on my part is almost immediately lifted by listening and worshiping along to one of Charles’ many revival-inspired hymns of praise! ‘And can it be…’

(2) Worship impels/propels our ministry: the apostle Paul wrote of this in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, concerning our all-important ministry of reconciliation: ‘For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them’ (2 Cor. 5:14-15/NRSV). Reconciliation is very hard work (1), and in our personal and corporate endeavours we shall need the propelling power of Christ’s love to succeed in the Church and in our torn-apart world. When I grow weary in this ministry of reconciliation, I often fall back on the words of Helen Keller (deaf and blind American author and activist, 1880-1968), ‘I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.’ God’s love will empower us in whatever he lays on our heart to do, whether big or small. ‘He aint heavy, he’s my brother!’

(3) Worship is ‘key’ to overturning any kind of idolatry. One of the earlier Minor Prophets, Hosea, sketches a picture of Israel’s continued infidelity to God despite his repeated expressions of divine goodness and love to the nation: “When Ephraim spoke, there was excitement; he was praised in Israel; but he became guilty through Baal and died. And now they keep on sinning; they have made metal images, idols of silver, as a result of their skill‘sacrifice to these,’ they say… Yet I have been the LORD your God ever since the land of Egypt… there is no savior besides me… When I fed them they became satisfied; and their hearts became proud; therefore, they forget me…’ (Hos. 6:13:1-6/CEB). Ch.14 describes God’s plea to return to him, with a promise of gracious healing: ‘I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely… I will be like the dew to Israelthey will again live beneath my shadow, they will flourish like a garden; they will blossom like the vine… Ephraim, what do idols have to do with me? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like a green cyprus tree; your fruit comes from me’ (14:1-8). At this point, think of some of the idols found in our world and even among God’s people today… search your own heart as to any signs of idolatry, conscious or unconscious.

What can break these shackles? Certainly not the ‘gospel of trying harder,’ nor more discipline, rules or ceremonies. Only ‘The Sight of Peerless Worth!’ (Ora Rowen):

‘Idols once they won thee, charmed thee

Lovely things of time and sense;

Gilded, thus does sin disarm thee,

Honeyed lest thou turn thee thence.

Not the crushing of those idols,

With its bitter void and smart,

But the beaming of his beauty,

The unveiling of His heart…

‘Tis that look that melted Peter,

‘Tis that face that Stephen saw,

‘Tis that heart that wept with Mary,

Can alone from idols draw –

Draw, and win, and fill completely,

Till the cup o’erflow the brim;

What have we to do with idols,

Who have companied with Him?’ (2)

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Dr. Michael Cassidy’s ‘Footprints in the African Sand’ makes a wonderful read as to reconciliation through prayer and the Cross. His organization African Enterprise was mightily used of God over decades to save the South African nation from a bloodbath in 1994. Further north, in Rwanda, the toll was almost 1 million lives in the genocide of the Tutsi tribe. Sometimes I think that the work of reconciliation in SA has hardly begun. Sadly in a way, sport (SA are the current Rugby world cup champions) has been an amazing uni-fier and has in many ways outstripped the Church in recent years. The Church needs the fullness of Christ’s love to empower us to complete the task. PS, you can find watch the amazing story of ‘The Threatened Miracle of South Africa’s Democracy’ at https://youtu.be/QtGrymp/EpTs

(2) Through Alcoholics Anonymous, world-wide, many a shattered life and family has been restored through the application of this ‘new attachment’ principle.‘At the end of your tether, there is God!’

WHY NOT COME BACK IN A WEEK OR TWO FOR PART 4, SO THAT YOU MAY PROCESS THE ABOVE IN MIND, HEART AND LIFE!?

‘THE BEAMING OF HIS BEAUTY!’ (GUIDELINES FOR TRUE WORSHIPERS – PART 2)

True worshipers learn to focus on the beauty of the Lord. A few years ago, American pastor-author Brian Zahnd wrote an excellent book, ‘Beauty Will Save the World,’ subtitled ‘Rediscovering the Allure and Mystery of Christianity.’

Brian Zahnd | Facebook

He rightly sees as ‘key’ to Christian witness the Church’s practice of the Beatitudes (Mt. 5). Let me add, how beautiful must be the author of the Beatitudes! (1)

There are many ‘photographs’ of God’s beauty in both the OT and NT:

  • ‘God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, his purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks.’ (A David Psalm, Ps. 36/MSG) (2)
  • Referring to Jesus, the author of Hebrews writes to messianic believing groups considering retreating to Judaism in order to escape persecution from the Romans: ‘Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days (i.e. Pentecost onwards) he has spoken to us by a (or the) Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…’ (1:1-3/NRSV). Wow! He goes on to warn against ‘neglecting so great a salvation’ and Saviour! (2:3)
  • The apostle Paul commends Christ’s humility and glory to his readers: ‘He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a self-less, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth – even those long ago dead and buried – will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.’ (Phil. 2:6-11/MSG) Small wonder the early Church put these words in hymn form!
  • The evangelist Matthew pictures Jesus and his Kingly reign not only as a ‘hidden treasure in a field’ (13:44) but also as ‘The Pearl of Great Price:’ ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it!’ (13:45-46) My friend, if necessary, in our materialistic world (and Church), sell all you have to possess this unique pearl of inestimable value!
  • The apostle John has ‘the last word’ in the last book of the Bible in his vision of the magnificent, crowned Lamb of God: ‘“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice ‘”Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ … And the four living creatures said ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.’ (Rev. 5:11-14/NRSV).
  • As the poet Ora Rowen (1834-1879) wrote long ago: Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him? Is not thine a captured heart? Chief among ten thousand own Him, Joyful choose the better part!’ We’ll come back to the rest of this poem in Part 3…

To be a true worshiper, even with the sight of such divine beauty in view, remains difficult today because of at least two things: the ‘worldliness’ of our world and the worldliness of our hearts. Idolatrous self-love has exploded in our time and remains a colossal threat to our world and even the Church. It is certainly the problem of society at large today, this ugly enthronement of ego instead of the Peerless One. So pervasive is this spirit, that the apostle Paul warned of its seduction 2000 years ago already: he wrote to Timothy and the churches ‘Don’t be naive… As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.’ (2 Tim. 3:1-5/MSG). French mystic Francois Fenelon gave sage advice to the believer and the Church amid such ugliness: die to yourself (i.e. sinful self: Mk. 8:34; Gal. 2:20), separate yourself from the unnecessary and restless thoughts which grow out of self-love, accept the Cross and you’ll find peace even in the middle of turmoil. Whatever you do, he says, volunteer for your own death and do not push it away! (3) Centuries later the great George Muller of Bristol put it like this,‘There was a day when George Muller died, utterly died to his own opinions, performances, tastes and will, died to the world, its approval or censure, died to the approval of my brethren and friends, and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.’ Small wonder he lived as he lived and accomplished what he did! Maybe you and I have fallen far short in these critical matters, yet I am encouraged that God knows the intent of our hearts.

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PART 3 coming up in the next few weeks, d.v.

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Zahnd argues, ‘To a generation suspicious of truth claims and unconvinced by moral assertions, beauty has a surprising allure. And everything about Jesus Christ is beautiful! His life, his miracles, his teaching – even his death and certainly his resurrection – are all inimitably beautiful. A Christianity that is deeply enchanted by Christ’s beauty and thus formed and fashioned by this beauty has the opportunity to present to a skeptical and jaded world an aspect of the gospel that has been rare for far too long. Where truth and goodness fail to win an audience, beauty may once captivate and draw those it enchants into the kingdom of saving grace… the story of Jesus Christ is breathtakingly beautiful.’ (p. xv)

(2) David has a sense of humour too – see his ref. to the ‘mouse.’ I recall pioneering house churches in slum shanties built with rusted corrugated iron sheets. In one such, while gathering with the family and children at dusk, mice would run over your feet with no-one freaking out! Once in a while the candle in the tiny room would blow out due to the wind-leaks in the iron sheeting walls. But nothing could interrupt the sweet fellowship around the message of Jesus!

(3) Cf. Fenelon’s ‘The Seeking Heart.’ How I have personally struggled, and continue to do so, with these deeply soul-searching issues the past months… I must say they’re a little easier to contemplate as I approach the last lap of my life! My younger readers, don’t waste as much time as I have in this vital matter…

‘THE BEAMING OF HIS BEAUTY!’ [GUIDELINES FOR TRUE WORSHIPERS – PART 1]

Coincidence? Respected fellow-blogger David Bolton (‘Christ-Centred Christianity’) has just commenced a teaching series on ‘Worship,’ simultaneous to our unpacking this vital subject in our local house church. He kindly referred me to T. Austin-Sparks’ (the British evangelist and author, 1888-1971) who stated that ‘Worship is the Critical Issue of the Universe!’ Austin-Sparks refers us to the Bible’s fascinating ‘final utterance’ on worship penned by the Apostle John in the Revelation 21:22 (‘The New Jerusalem’), ‘I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb’ (NRSV). The implications for our/the universe’s worship of God, our ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church) and eschatology (doctrine of ‘The Last Things’) are earth-shaking: Christ is our temple on earth and in heaven, and his people, indwelt by his Spirit, are his ‘portable temples’ (Gr. naos = ‘shrine’) in the present world, individually and corporately (1 Cor. 3:16-17 & 6:19). Breath-taking!

(1) AN ESSENTIAL TRUTH FOR ALL TRUE WORSHIPERS…

Our chief calling in life is to worship the only true God! Matthew makes this abundantly clear in his record of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ question regarding the greatest commandment: ‘”‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This the greatest and first commandment…'” (Mt. 22:37-38). The godly A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) once remarked, ‘My ambition is to love God more than any of my generation!’ By the way, he defined worship thus: ‘to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that majesty which philosophers call the First Cause but which we call Our Father Which Art in Heaven.’ Even in his day Tozer was appalled by the superficial corporate ‘worship’ taking place in many churches – how much more we in this day of mega-churches and smaller versions in our egoistic ‘all about ME’ society!

Worship simply must become the focus of our life. We’re all aware of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy (!) him forever.’ The Church Father Augustine wrote, ‘Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.’ In the ‘Good News According to Paul,’ i.e. his Roman Letter, the Apostle commences with mankind’s innate need to worship someone or something (Rom. 1:18-32). In a nutshell, God has made himself known to every human being: via his creation, humanity’s conscience and supremely through the revelation of his Son born into the world. However, down the ages, humankind has chosen not to honour God or give him thanks, exchanging the splendour of the immortal God for images of humans, birds, animals or reptiles… they have exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is to be praised forever!

Today still, people will exchange the liberty of Christ in worship for the bondage of religion and religious acts. It has been pointed out that one of the biggest problems facing the Church in the past and today is the externalizing of worship (cf. David Bolton’s latest blog), i.e. relegating worship to a particular time, place, ritual (e.g. the eating of/abstinence of certain foods), etc. In the 1960’s a genuine spiritual revival broke out in Kwazulu-Natal Province. There were conversions aplenty, healings, exorcisms, etc. I visited the Mission a number of times in its earlier years. But gradually, over the years, a hierarchical and legalistic structure overtook the life of Christ, even to the extent of persecuting those who left the group and sadly, reported instances of sexual abuse. I believe that another deception in our time has come via the Hebrew Roots Movement, obsessed with the Torah, Jewish ceremonies and diet, etc – I’ve mentioned this life-sapping heresy a number of times in recent years. Now we are not saying we can’t make use of Christian symbols, such as the Cross, in our worship. We are simply saying that worship is essentially an inward thing, a matter of mind and heart. If anybody made this abundantly clear it was Jesus himself in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, as recorded in Jn. 4:19-24: “The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.'” Madame Guyon (1648-1717) (dismissed by the Roman Catholic Church for ‘heresy’ and imprisoned by the King of France in her latter years) defined worship as essentially being about God’s holy and delightful presence: she wrote of this in a little poem, Content:

‘My Lord, how full of sweet content,

I pass my years of banishment!

Whe’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee,

In heav’n, in earth, or on the sea;

Whe’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee,

In heav’n, in earth, or on the sea!’

In all this, let’s not neglect to appreciate how much our Almighty Father longs for our worship! ‘The Father seeks such to worship him…’ (see Jn. 4 above). Contemplating this, my mind went the Parable of the Prodigal Son (I prefer to call it ‘The Story of the Waiting Father’), in Lk. 15:11ff: “So he (the lost son) set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him…” (v. 20). In our retirement village, two doors away, there is an elderly lady always on the look-out for her visiting daughter. I park my ancient SUV under a car-park tree in front of her cottage. Often, on hearing the sound of its rather noisy diesel engine, she’ll peep through her door or bedroom curtains – could it perhaps be her daughter’s car?? Coming back to the lost son, I can imagine the Father looking out for me and thinking to himself, ‘I wonder if Erroll’s coming to visit today? I wonder if he’ll make time today, just for me??’ And so he looks for your intimacy as well, on a daily basis, no matter where or what time or under what circumstances! Know that however faltering, it’s infinitely valued and enjoyed by our God and Father!

Until next time, d.v, for PART 2…









THE ROAD TO RESTFULNESS

[Matthew’s Sermon On The Mount Venue Today – Overlooking the Sea of Galilee]

PROPOSAL: THE ROAD TO RESTFULNESS LIES VIA MEEKNESS

We surely all desire true restfulness in these days of great restlessness, right?? Please patiently track with me as I unpack this biblical principle and its implementation…

(1) Our first key-scripture is Mt. 5:5/NRSV, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ This forms part of Jesus’ radical ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ more particularly his ‘Beatitudes.’

Perhaps we did not realize that these words first occur in the OT and in David’s Ps. 37:11, ‘But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.’ It’s worth reading the preceding verses as they constitute a build-up to this conclusion. Someone has suggested that ‘meekness’ in this psalm may be summarized as ‘humble dependence on God the Father with nil arrogance toward our neighbour’ – I like that…

The Beatitudes capture and express the essential kingdom-life of Jesus, which we are called to ingest and digest and display on our earthly journey, by the empowering of his life within. They proceed from the fullness of the Godhead, were perfectly embodied in Jesus’ person and actions, and are are now urged upon all Jesus’s followers. In Mt. 5 Jesus’ teachings are aimed at Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, while in Lk. 6 they seem aimed at kingdom ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders,’ i.e. anyone who would follow him. On this it is interesting to read Dallas Willard’s ‘take’ on the Beatitudes, and his definition of a disciple as an ‘apprentice’ [1] – no matter how long we’ve been serving Jesus, we shall always remain apprentices/learners, even to the end! Also, bear in mind that when the Bible speaks of ‘meekness’ it does not imply ‘weakness’ (‘remember the children’s hymn, ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’??), in fact it requires the utmost strength and self-control under the mighty power of Christ, indwelling his people!

Matthew’s and Luke’s ‘meek’ is like a many-faceted diamond, waiting to be studied from different angles. It has been variously translated, often substituting ‘humble’ for ‘meek’ (e.g. the NLT). ‘Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth’ (CEB). ‘The meek and lowly are fortunate! For the the whole wide world belongs to them!’ (LB) ‘You’re blessed when you’re content with who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that cannot be bought!’ (MSG paraphrase). It’s worthwhile pointing out that ‘blessed’ means more than ‘happy’ (makarios): in Luke 6 it can even be rendered ‘lucky’ in the sense of being fortunate. We all know that happiness can vary according to our mood and circumstances – ‘blessed’ really refers to the believer’s ultimate well-being, to that distinctive spiritual enjoyment shared only by those who share God’s life in Christ.

(2) Our second key-scripture is Mt. 11:28-30/KJV, ‘Come to Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.’ These words follow on Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving to the Father in Mt. 11:25ff.

Mt. 11 beautifully clarifies that it is meekness that leads to restfulness! We see these twin-graces amply manifested, throughout the NT, in the person and attitudes and actions of Jesus. Here Matthew is addressing Jesus’ disciples who were struggling with the yoke of the Pharisees’ legalistic teaching (cf. E. Peterson’s paraphrase in his ‘The Message’) or burdened under the yoke of hardships of different kinds. Matthew promises that all who come to Jesus will find in him both a personal relationship and relief from burdens that would ultimately crush them. Henceforth any follower of Jesus is not called to do and perform in order to find acceptance and rest in Christ, but fully rest in him and his unfailing companionship. What an unspeakable blessing, as many saints and hymn writers have testified over the ages!

Note also, for the apprentice of Jesus, it’s not a matter of caring about ‘greatness’ in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. Meekness means not being fooled by ourselves and not worrying about what the ‘world’ thinks/says of us – as long as the Lord himself is pleased with us. No longer do we have to defend ourselves, but rest happily in God’s defence of us (cf. Rom. 12:14-21): note, any un-forgiveness or anger or bitterness toward others stirs up restlessness rather than restfulness! Meekness means no more pretence, artificiality and hyprocisy. Every believer and every Christian leader needs to seriously grapple with these issues – authenticity (a rare gem in today’s ecclesia) will always come to our rescue and bring us peace in the midst of the battle.

(3) Finally, some personal application…

a) Meekness means becoming like trusting ‘little children.’ The spiritual and ethical standards are so high that to live them out meekly in Christ’s kingdom at present is well-nigh impossible, except by the very Christ-life within us!

b) Meekness demands ‘moment by moment’ surrender to Jesus our Saviour and Lord. You may recall Dr. Andrew Murray’s favourite convention song, ‘Moment by moment I’m kept in his love, Moment by moment I’ve life from above, Moment by moment till glory doth shine, Moment by moment, O Lord I am Thine!’

c) Meekness demands a radical faith in Christ’s gracious acceptance of our surrender. He shelters us under the wings of his love. I believe it was Wayne Jacobsen who related the story of a fireman damping down smouldering stumps after a ravaging fire. He saw a black lump before him, kicked at it with his boot, only to reveal a mother-hen burnt to death but from under her wings her little chicks appeared, safe and sound!! That’s a picture of Calvary, of Calvary atonement and love. That doesn’t imply licence on our part to live as we please, but inspires us to a life of eternal gratitude to Jesus and trust in his sovereign love!

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Cf. Dallas Willard’s classic, ‘The Divine Conspiracy.’

[2] I found Allan Halton’s blog on Mt. 11:28ff, ‘The Easy Yoke,’ insightful. Well worth a visit: he blogs under ‘The Mending Feast.’

FOLLOWING HARD AFTER GOD

[In these days of religious pluralism, let me say that by ‘GOD’ I mean the unique, Triune One who has revealed himself uniquely in the Bible and Person of Jesus Christ: see my critique of universalism in my Archives, dated 25/07/20]

man in black crew neck t-shirt standing on street during daytime

In our House Church we recently unpacked the phrase ‘FOLLOWING AFTER GOD’ [A. W. Tozer] from James 4:1-10 and Psalm 63:1-8…

(1) Let’s start with the JAMES 4 PASSAGE. In the light thereof, too many followers of Jesus in today’s world are ‘following hard after their own desires!’ (of course, it was so in James’s time also). In v. 1ff and 4ff James rebukes his readers’ selling-out of their hard-won faith and surrendering to a thoroughly ‘worldly’ spirit: ‘What is the source of conflict among you? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? You long for something you don’t have… You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?’ (CEB). He lists their self-sins: covetousness, jealousy, selfish prayers, pride, self-aggrandizement, etc. He points out these inevitably end in conflict! He mentions their spiritual adultery with the world whose spirit is anti-Christ. It struck me how across the world today so many Christians have bought into the same sense of ‘entitlement’ found in a largely GOD-LESS world (‘I have my rights!’), without a corresponding sense of responsibility toward our neighbour. We’re very good at grabbing things but not so good at sharing them. James calls his readers to single-mindedness amid the many inevitable trials that come our way. God’s blessings are certainly not for the spineless and double-minded, as is made clear in 1:2-8, ‘Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways.’ (1) Many believers, in life and prayer and witness, are like intermittent car indicator-lights!

The apostle calls his readers to habitually come close to God, in the words of our blog-title to ‘follow hard after God!’ ‘Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? But he gives us more graceCome near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts you double-minded . Cry out in sorrow, mourn and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up’ (v. 5b-10) (2). This coming to God and following hard after him is a serious business! I love watching track-athletes and seeing the runners being stretched to the limit by the pace-setter. They try to stick to him/her as closely as they can. When the pace-setter peels off to the right, the participants push as hard as they can for the finish line to take the prize. That’s a parable for us. We strive for perfection (Mt. 5:48), even if we don’t always attain it – it’s the intention that’s all-important.

(2) Let’s go to the PSALTER PASSAGE IN PS. 63. It’s a David Song, composed while pursued (with his motley crew) by King Saul and Israel’s army, right into the heart of the Judean desert, where the poet and his men hide in caves, in danger of their very life.

The southern Judean desert area near the Dead Sea and Masada is not named Jeshimon, i.e.’desolation,’ for nothing – some years ago my wife and I were privileged to visit there. My South African followers will know of Graaff Reinet’s towering rocky cliffs overlooking the ‘Valley of Desolation.’ Imagine the Judean desert’s summer heat, bare rocks everywhere, with caves the only shelter. In one little valley the desolation is broken by a thin green ribbon of vegetation downstream of the fountain of Engedi, with its cool stream and beautiful little waterfall in which visitors splash and keep cool, children especially. Back to David and his parched, frightened men as described in Ps. 63:1ff and climaxing in v. 8. He cries out ‘God! My God! It’s you – I search for you! My whole being thirsts for you! My body desires you in a dry and tired land, no water anywhere… My lips praise you because your faithful love is better than life itself! So I will bless you as long as I’m alive… I’m fully satisfied – as with a rich dinner… you’ve been a help to me and I shout for joy in the protection of your wings. My whole being clings to you; your strong hand upholds me…’ (CEB). In the KJV and ASV v. 8 translates, ‘My soul followeth hard after Thee…’ In the Afrikaans Bible, ‘Ek bly altyd naby U!’ NRSV, ‘My soul cleaves to you.’ MSG, ‘I hold on to you for dear life…’ Btw, in Ps. 73:28 Asaph determines, ‘It’s good for me to be near God.’ I.o.w. ‘satisfying fullness’ is found in God and in him alone! Can you testify of that, my reader? Can I??

Download A.A Tozer Books [PDF] - Free Download (Aiden Wilson Tozer) |  JustGospel

A.W. Tozer wrote brilliantly concerning this topic in his‘The Pursuit of God,’ ‘I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.’

As an example of this ‘holy desire’ Tozer quotes one of F.W. Faber’s hymns…

‘Only to sit and think of God,

O what a joy it is!

To think the thought, to breathe the Name;

Earth has no higher bliss.

Father of Jesus, love’s reward!

What rapture will it be,

Prostrate before Thy throne to lie

And gaze and gaze on Thee!’

According to Tozer, Faber’s ‘love for the Person of Christ was so intense that it threatened to consume him; it burned within him as a sweet and holy madness and flowed from his lips like molten gold.’

HOW DO WE IMPLEMENT this ‘FOLLOWING HARD AFTER GOD??’ I would suggest three things…

By grace-led obedience. The essence of sin is unbelief and disobedience – what we need to strive after are faith and obedience (cf. The Letters of James and Hebrews).

By full consecration. So many believers today are happy simply to be on the gravy-train to ‘heaven.’ If you’ve never responded to the call of Christ, I plead with you to do so today, entrusting yourself to him in child-like faith. Back-slidden believer, will following Jesus cost you? Of course, it cost Christ everything! Jam. 4:7 reminds us,‘Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you…’ Our enemy will fight us every step of the way, even to our death-bed – but with Christ within, we shall overcome! (cf. Eph. 6:10ff)

By child-like reliance. The pursuit of God is incredibly hard, yet delightfully easy! How come?? I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Mt. 11:28-30 where, having spoken of his intimate relationship with the Father and how his wisdom is hidden from the wise and intelligent but revealed to ‘babies,’ he says ‘Come to Me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light!’ (Mt. 11:28-30/CEB).

We made a call in our House Church for folk to wholeheartedly pursue God. The result was heart-felt prayer and tears on the part of quite a few. I suggested they write the date of this new consecration in their Bibles, a constant reminder of their intent. Since then we’ve noticed a definite difference! If so moved by the Spirit of God, won’t you join us and many across the globe in this demanding but happy and satisfying pursuit of God?? If you so wish (no pressure), you may want to indicate your consecration under comments.

[PS. My geriatric computer needs to be replaced. This will involve a process. If I don’t respond to any comments immediately, I trust you’ll understand why. Thank you]

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Danish philosopher/theologian Soren Kierkegaard’s ‘Purity of Heart’ is well worth a read on this point of single-mindedness.

(2) Can you imagine a sermon from these verses (the weeping and penitence ones) preached from our pulpits today!? Some post-modern Western Christian teachers claim that believers only have to repent once. Cf. Andrew Farley’s ‘The Naked Gospel.’ Cf. Mt. 6:12, 1 Jn. 1, Psalm 51, etc. Small wonder the Church at large, particularly in the Western World, is so weak and ineffective in so many ways!

Pursuing God by Margaret Feinberg | Streaming Video Bible Study | Study  Gateway

IS THERE STILL ANY HOPE? THE BIG PICTURE [Part 3]

“But we must avoid the common fault of pushing the ‘other world’ into the future. It is not future, but present. It parallels our familiar physical world, and the doors between the two worlds are open.” A.W. Tozer

[One of our house church members drew my attention to these words from A.W. Tozer (‘The Pursuit of God’) based on Heb. 12:18-24: God’s people have ALREADY come to Mt. Zion and the Heavenly Jerusalem. We sing (with good intentions)‘We’re Marching to Zion,’ when we’re already there!]

Future Hope Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Sociologist and preacher Tony Campolo in a message entitled ‘The Gospel of Hope for a Weary People,’ mentioned how some of his students felt really depressed after their study of TS Eliot over a period of time, especially the prospect of ‘going out’ not with a bang but with a ‘whimper’ – Campolo’s reaction? If we are to go out, let it be with the ‘bang’ of the‘Hallelujah Chorus!!’ (Handel)

Everybody got in the act, including the conductors, at the Nati at the National Choral Council's Annual Messiah Sing-In at Boettcher Concert Hall...

Having dealt with hope founded in the past, coming alive in the present, we now consider the present-future aspect of the Christian hope.

Peter’s promise of hope holds true for the ‘present-future.’ 1 Pet. 1:4-5, ‘You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish – an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded (a military term, present continuous tense) by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time’ (CEB). And what an inheritance it is, because it’s fulfilled in and guaranteed by Jesus Christ, who is himself absolutely pure, enduring and imperishable!

a) In OT times, the term ‘inheritance’ described the apportioned lot to be possessed in Canaan by Israel. In 1 Peter the Greek word ‘kleronomia’ includes the idea of a fully realized possession of the inheritance, rather than just the title. And, unlike any inheritance in this world (e.g. Canaan could be dispossessed, her inhabitants’ possessions waste away, etc), the inheritance of believers is ‘kept safe’ in heaven for their permanent enjoyment. At its highest, this inheritance is the Lord himself – as the Shorter Catechism puts it, ‘The chief end of man is… to enjoy Him for ever!’ What a permanent and beautiful treasure! Can you and I truly say that we enjoy God for who he is, not just for the good gifts he gives us? If not, we have a mission on our hands…

b) Not only is this heavenly inheritance prepared for our enjoyment, but we, for whom it is divinely intended, are being consciously and continually ‘guarded’ until that ‘final day’ by God’s mighty power (our part in the process is to simply keep believing and persevering in Christ).

c) All this affords believers an ‘indescribable and glorious joy’ (1 Pet. 1:8-9/NRSV) amid our present trials. Almost unbelievable. Any video clip on the suffering underground church in China or Iran will vividly demonstrate this!

By way of practical implementation, N.T. Wright in his ‘Surprised by Hope’ reminds us that, in building for the kingdom in this age, we are building permanently and magnificently! He uses the image of building a cathedral over a long period of time, with many stonemasons and artists each doing their bit.

The architect, who has the whole plan in mind, has passed on his instructions to the masons and workers, each focusing on some part of the great building according to their particular skills. Some may not even live to see the final product, but they know that their time and effort will not be wasted – in fact, they labour in the knowledge that the end-product will surpass their wildest expectations and imaginations, as each one faithfully does his/her part in the grand scheme of things.

Hence our present kingdom work connects with the ultimate future-life in which God will gather all things together and ‘making all things new’ in Christ. Wright adds,‘”What we do in the Lord is ‘not in vain;‘ and that is the mandate we need for every act of justice and mercy, every programme of ecology, every effort to reflect God’s wise stewardly image into his creation…The resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfill that mandate at last… Applied to the mission of the church, this means we must work in the present for the advance signs of that eventual state of affairs when God is ‘all in all,’ when his kingdom has come and his will is done ‘on earth as it is in heaven.'” Wow! Imagine how this changes the way we think, live, work, play, relate to God and neighbour, preach/gossip the Good News, disciple the nations, plant ‘churches’ made up of ‘ordinary people’ (particularly the poor) and serve humankind – until at last we fully realize the one great family of God!

But how will we sustain our hope and labours in the meanwhile? Normally my wife and I dream dreams that are totally nonsensical. However Melanie shared a dream (03/04/21) with me recently, and I immediately asked her to write it down because I saw some significance in it. She dreamed that, all of a sudden, there was no bread to be had anywhere in the world. Every shop she visited had no bread. She visited a home for the elderly – they were having lunch but complained that there wasn’t any bread (even yesterday’s bread) on the table. Next Melanie was teaching a classroom of pre-school children who had nothing to eat – frantically she went looking everywhere to find something substantial to eat, if only she could get hold of just a few loaves of bread. Nothing else she gave the children seemed to satisfy their hunger. The dream ended with her feeling totally helpless and despondent. My mind immediately turned to that profound passage in Jn. 6, where Jesus presented himself as ‘bread’ to the crowd, the disciples (including Simon Peter!) and the unbelieving clergy/Jews.

Homemade Bread (The Easiest!) - Gimme That Flavor

‘I am the bread of life… He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty… I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day'” (the latter phrase occurs 3 times in Jn. 6) (excerpts from Jn. 6:32-59/NIV). Here’s the thing: every believer, every Christian community, needs to feast daily ‘in their hearts by faith’ on Christ, i.e. his person, promises, presence and life. Unless we get into this on-going spiritual discipline and practice, I don’t think we’ll be able to stay the course until that very final day (one can hardly serve and work when on a hunger-strike). But if we DO, how many will we feed (besides ourselves), and how many will be raised from the dead, now and ‘at the last day!’ For now, it’s not a case of how worthy I am to eat of the bread, but how hungry! ‘This is what God’s Kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich and worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more’ (Rachel Held Evans, 1981-2019) (1)

[As a matter of interest, check out the lyrics of some classic hymns on the theme of Zion and feeding on the Bread of Heaven: e.g. John Newton’s ‘Glorious things of Thee are spoken’ and William Williams’‘Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah’ ]

FOOTNOTE:

(1) This top-selling American writer had some wonderful things to say in her short journey on earth. I believe she was right to question popular American evangelicalism and cultural Christianity – however, imho, like so many ‘progressives’/’inclusivists,’ she at times went beyond a scholarly and balanced view of Scripture. Sadly some sincere believers don’t seem to get beyond ‘de-constructing’ their faith to ‘re-constructing’ their faith, based on ‘the faith delivered once and for all’ (Jude v. 3/CEB). A lifetime of walking with the Lord has taught me that we too often throw out the baby with the bathwater! [For my blog-series on Universalism, cf my Archives July 24, 2020]

IS THERE STILL ANY HOPE? THE BIG PICTURE [Part 2]

How hope can keep you healthier and happier

We’re addressing the question, ‘IS THERE STILL HOPE?’ (see Part 1). Here in South Africa NEWS 24 announced a few weeks ago that as a result of the Covid-19 lock-down, even children are showing signs of neurological damage as a side-effect of the pandemic – I guess that’s global. When all seems hopeless in our world and we feel hope-less, even as Christians, where do we turn? As Part 1 revealed, the only ultimate solution must lie in the person of the resurrected Christ who straddles time and eternity.

Returning to our text-passage in 1 Peter 1:3ff, we notice that our Christian hope is not only anchored in the past but realized in the PRESENT. ‘On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’ (v. 3/CEB). Why a ‘living hope?’ (briefly)

a) It is based, as we noted in Part 1, on the intervention of the unique, living, trinitarian God in this world (v.2).

b) It is based, as we have noted in detail in Part 1, on the historical, resurrected Jesus (v.3).

c) It is based on the ever-living Christ, who ‘is the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (Heb. 13:7-8). It’s a hope that is alive and well as Christ is alive and well. We’re all familiar with the saying,‘where there’s life there’s hope’ – for Jesus-followers it works both ways: where there is hope, there’s life! This ‘life,’ as the apostle John points out, is a relational and qualitative life, that of another dimension and kingdom, as we commune with Jesus every day.

d) It is based on a supernatural experience of the risen Christ, realized in mind, heart and life by the life-giving Wind of God! (Jn. 3:1-8) I.o.w. our hope is felt, it’s experiential.‘You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!’

Moving on, I believe we should not only regularly remind ourselves of the above, but learn to think more biblically about Christ and his kingdom message no matter how long we’ve been in the faith! Here I want to make a few references to NT scholar Dr. N.T. Wright and particularly his very enlightening ‘Surprised by Hope’:

Surprised by Hope (N.T. Wright) - MasterLectures

1) By recognizing that in Jewish thought, only a very thin ‘curtain’ separated God’s space from human space – in the NT a ‘paper-thin’ divide separates our earthly life from Christ’s kingdom life! We need to expect God, as we journey with him in meditation and prayer, to surprise us at any moment by ‘breaking through’ into our own lives and in the lives of those we touch day by day. Do we really believe that eternity breaks into our time and space whenever the Good News establishes justice and peace among humankind, bringing healing and wholeness to broken people and restoring relationship, both vertical and horizontal??

2) By realizing that ‘heaven’ is not up there in the sky somewhere. No, ‘heaven’ is God’s ‘control room’ for earth, and his Son Jesus is the new CEO! Wright submits that basically, heaven and earth, in biblical cosmology, are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter. They are simply two dimensions of God’s good creation. ‘All authority is given to me,’ said Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, ‘in heaven and on earth.’ (Mt. 28:18)

3) Jesus’ Messiah-ship was never intended just for Israel per se but for his kingdom worldwide (I have argued this exhaustively in previous blog posts: Israel exists for Christ, not vice versa). E.g. the historian-evangelist Luke insists that, since Jesus really was raised from the dead, the ancient Scriptures of Israel must be read as a story reaching its climax in Jesus and will then produce its proper fruit not only in Israel but in Jesus’ followers everywhere and, through them, in all the world. Thus our/the Church’s mission ‘is nothing more nor less than the outworking, in the power of the Spirit, of Jesus’ bodily resurrection,and thus the anticipation of the time when God will fill the earth with his glory, transform the old heavens and earth into the new, and raise his children from the dead to populate and rule over the redeemed world he has made’ (Wright). To be totally practical, this could involve us (in a Good News context/Lk. 4:18-19) in running playgroups for children of single-parent working mums, running a drug-rehab home, facilitating a soup-kitchen among the poor, building bridges of peace cross-culturally, etc. Some years ago an English-South African young couple intentionally planted a house church in the notorious (for gangs, drug-running, violence) Cape Flats area to help young people find a new beginning, bravely using their home as a house church focusing on ministry to the needy in the community. They awaken and go to sleep with the sound of gun fire. Yet they persist because they believe God is active in healing broken people in a broken community. They believe that in the midst of despair, there is always hope in Christ (cf. Footnotes 1 & 2).

Another way to keep present hope alive is by ‘Keeping Christianity Christian’ (de Gruchy), i.e. by displaying Jesus to the world. Peter’s compatriot records how some Greeks came to worship in the Jerusalem temple (Jn. 12:20-26). They had heard about this Jesus of Nazareth who had raised his good friend Lazarus from the dead; they had seen him in the distance, but they really wanted to meet him firsthand and get to know him. So they came to a disciple of Jesus’ and humbly said, ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus!’ (v.21/CEB) So the disciples in turn introduced them to Jesus, who then told them about the meaning of what was happening to him and what it would mean to follow him. This cameo really describes the task of the Church! How often, unfortunately, Church institutionalism and traditionalism have hidden the real Jesus from sight (D. Bonhoeffer). Jesus is lost in the institution and Church constitutions and dogma, so instead of of the world seeing Christ at work through the life of his followers, he is hidden from view – that’s why I left denominationalism 14 years ago. My dear reader, what steps will you take to change this all too common negative image of the Church??

Peter concludes in our text-passage, that, whether we’re talking about hope past, present or future, we can never be sure of anything until it has been thoroughly tested. For this reason our faith and hope will pass through testings/trials, which can be very painful. Paul assures us that we’ll never be over-tested (1 Cor. 10:13), but we need to make peace with trial and testing until our final day on this earth (3). ‘You now rejoice in this hope, even if it is necessary for you to be distressed (deeply-felt, mental and emotional distress) for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though itself is tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed!’ (v. 6-7/CEB). The ultimate and very encouraging outcome of our sufferings is that we know that our faith is not something we have produced but given us by the living God. That’s why our faith is ‘valuable’ even in God’s sight, bringing the Almighty praise, glory and honour! (v.7)

In our third/final article on HOPE we plan to engage with its present-future implications for those trusting in God. (See FOOTNOTES)

✓ Biblical Images, Pictures and Free Stock Photos

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Cf. J. de Gruchy’s ‘Without Apology.’ Respectfully, I don’t go with all of his theology, but he does write from wide experience of the Church over a long and fruitful lifetime.

(2) Having planted a few house churches over the past 14 years in our metro, some among the very poor, I can testify of the hope the Good News brings in the most hope-less of situations. There are many books available on ‘organic house churches’ and how they function, by various authors, should you be interested: e.g. Wolfgang Simson (‘Houses That Change the World‘), Frank Viola (‘Finding Organic Church,’ ‘Reimagining Church,’ etc), Robert & Julia Banks (‘The Church Comes Home’), etc. Cf. Luke’s photograph of the Early Church reflected in Acts 2:42-47: of course we have to contextualize this in the 21st century.

(3) Western ‘Christian media’ often lives in total denial of this truth in their pursuance of a popular, comfortable ‘gospel’ which is in fact no gospel at all! I have to counter this worldly, power-driven heresy often in my oversight of house churches in our city.

IS THERE STILL ANY HOPE? THE BIG PICTURE [PART 1]

Some years ago I attempted to keep fit by attending an aerobics class, in which we exercised ad nauseum to a high-volume song ‘Give Me Hope, Jo’anna.’ I imagined it referred to a young man and his lover-friend named Joanna, only to discover recently, to my total embarassment, that it arose from the 1980’s struggle years in Johannesburg, expressing the pain of Soweto’s citizens under the jackboot of the Apartheid military machine and the death of many innocent victims. Listen to the rendering of the song below (the sound and lyrics, poor at first, improve)…

For Some Older Adults, a Pandemic of Loneliness - UConn Today

Our question is one psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrestled with amid the horrific suffering of innocent Jews in the notorious Auschwitz death-camp: his ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ records the story of many fellow-prisoners who died almost immediately on losing hope of survival. Following the terrorist mass murders in Madrid in March of 2004, the killers proclaimed ‘You love life, we love death!’ A friend of mine in China tells of that massive nation’s soaring divorce rate: older folk, with financial support in mind, pressurize the younger set to marry early – but these same younger people grew up in 1-child households where they were the sole focus of their parents, their self-centredness definitely not making for healthy marriages! Jurgen Moltmann in his very recent ‘Hope In These Troubled Times’ mentions how humans cannot exist without the ecology and that God breathed his Spirit not only into humans but into all of his creatures (Ps. 104:24-30) – yet we are busy destroying these at an alarming rate. In my country SADAG reports that (no doubt accelerated by Covid isolation) 1 in 6 South Africans suffer from depression, anxiety or substance abuse: a family doctor in a small Western Cape farming community recently mentioned that approx. 80% of his patients are being treated for psycho-somatic illnesses. So, is there still any hope for our world, the Church, and you and me??

To tackle this really tough question, I invite you to travel back with me some 2,000 years to the life and times of the apostle Peter as he writes (startlingly) from Rome, under severe (documented) persecution from the notorious Nero: ‘May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance which cannot perish – an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time. You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed!’ (1 Pet. 1:3-7/CEB). Is the man crazy, or has he got hold of something unique here??

The apostle Peter, impulsive bully turned self-effacing servant of Jesus the Christ (1), sent this powerful encouragement via his amanuensis Silas (Peter’s written Greek was poor) to the mainly Gentile diaspora-groups scattered throughout northern and western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Maybe Silas had interested Peter in this area because they had not been touched by the apostle Paul’s church-planting journeys. These new believers were struggling to make sense of their faith amid their persecution and relative isolation. [Interestingly, Peter writes about their ‘salvation’ from a trinitarian perspective: these Gentiles were ‘chosen by the Father, made holy by the Holy Spirit, because of the faithful obedience and sacrifice of Jesus Christ’ (1:2/CEB)]

Peter’s promise of hope is founded in the historical PAST. ‘God made this Jesus to be Lord and Christ when he raised him from the dead,’ Peter proclaimed in Jerusalem (Acts 2:36). Sadly, much of postmodern Christianity, as a result of lop-sided existentialist teachers going back to scholars like Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann, and in more recent times the top-selling American mystic Fr. Richard Rohr, have subtly prised biblical spirituality from Christianity’s classic, historical resurrection-roots (2). The highly rated English NT scholar, Prof. N.T. Wright of St. Andrews University, writing of the early Christian hope in its historical setting, states ‘Take away the stories of Jesus’ birth, and all you lose is two chapters of Matthew and two of Luke. Take away the resurrection and you lose the entire New Testament, and most of the second-century fathers as well’ (3). Back to our text, ‘May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’ (v. 3/CEB). In other words, Christ’s resurrection-life produced a similar life in Peter and his readers! Furthermore, this ‘new life’ was not based on a human philosophy or a teaching but on a person, the risen Christ. Turning to Peter’s fellow-apostle, Paul, we can’t imagine Paul’s message without the resurrection: “I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins… he was buried, and he rose again on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the 12… then to more than 500 brothers and sisters at once – most of them are still alive… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I was born at the wrong time…. So if the message that is preached says that Christ has been raised from the dead, then how can some of you say, ‘There’s no resurrection from the dead?’ If there’s no resurrection from the dead, then Christ hasn’t been raised either…. then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless… you are still in your sins, and what’s more those who have died in Christ are gone forever… But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead… Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too’ (excerpts from 1 Cor. 15/ CEB). The empty tomb was equally foundational in the writings of the early Church Fathers: Clement and Ignatius, Justin and Irenaeus, to name a few. It was one of the key-beliefs which infuriated the pagans in Lyon in AD 177 and drove them to butcher several Christians including their bishop. On a more contemporary note, the absolutely meticulous German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg has written concerning the resurrection, ‘The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believed it happened, you have to change the way you live!’ As followers of Christ we don’t take some ‘leap into the dark’ but in fact a ‘leap into the light!

Peter’s promise of hope is realized in the PRESENT. (v. 3/CEB). It also holds true for the FUTURE (v. 4-5) More about these in Parts 2 and 3.

In concluding part 1 (so much could be said on this subject!), let me say that the conviction of serious Jesus-followers around the world is clear: we believe the only real hope for the Church and the world at large, lies in the historic Good News declared by Peter and his compatriots of the first centuries AD. I hope this conviction grows on my readers as we proceed. As one who has traveled widely, I have seen, over a life-time, it’s practical outworking in faithful little Christian assemblies around the globe, in the lives of the poorest of the poor, and among the most unlikely ethnic groups of the world.

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Cf. at least 3 cataclysmic events in the life of Simon Peter dramatically shaped him for his future apostleship: his inspired confession of the Christ (Mt. 16:13-20), his personal discovery of the empty tomb (Jn. 20:1-9) and the Spirit’s empowering at Pentecost (Acts 2). If able, take time to read these carefully, yet imaginatively.

(2) I’ve been following a South African academic presently lecturing in the UK, Dr. Frederik Mulder (same surname and clan), challenging the Dutch Reformed Church in SA whose senior seminary professors, without exception, deny the historical/bodily resurrection of Jesus. They have so bought into the existentialism of Bultmann and others that for them the empty tomb is no longer vital to faith. This departure from the historical faith is producing sad results in the DRC seminaries, pulpits and congregations.

(3) Cf. Tom Wright’s thoroughly researched and thought-through ‘Surprised by Hope,’ p. 54.

GOD’S ‘LITTLE CHRIST’S!’

FreeBibleimages :: Jesus appears to the Disciples :: The disciples are in a  room with the door locked when Jesus appears to them (Luke 24:36-49, John  20:19-23)

John 20:19-23

“It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities.Then Jesus came and stood among them.’Peace be with you,’ he said. After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive people their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven…'” (NIV)

Following Jesus’ enigmatic death, the first disciples, uncertain and fearful, did one good thing: they gathered together in a convenient room to process this unexpected turn of events. They were beginning to discover the rich experience of koinonia (so rare in institutional Christianity). This became their habitual practice following Jesus’ resurrection and the gift of the Spirit:‘They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the communion meal, and the prayers,’ with dramatic ripple-effects. (Acts 2:42, 43ff/MSG) (1)

On this particular occasion, the disciples gathered behind locked doors ‘for fear of the Jewish leaders,’ i.e. the temple police (they’re still around) [in a small way I can identify with the disciples: I’ve been under secret police surveillance twice in my life, the first time in Malawi during President Banda’s clampdown on the Church and the second time in communist Central China while meeting with some underground church leaders].The Gospels and Acts repeatedly reveal the spiritual blindness of the law-driven temple clergy: cf. Jn. 9 & 10’s contrast of false shepherds and the true Shepherd. (2)

The living Jesus burst into the room to ‘surprise them with joy!‘ Twice he greeted them, ‘Peace!’ He showed them his hands and side, bringing recognition and relief. [any reader currently ‘locked-in’ by personal pain or overwhelming fear, believe me I’ve been there – why not allow the tender Jesus to unlock your room and gradually restore the joy of your salvation?]

Together with re-assurance of Jesus living-ness, came Jesus’ clear commission: ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…’

  • Make no mistake, God is in himself a dynamic God. The late Dr. Ralph Christensen, my missions mentor, used to ask his students ‘Where is God?’ We could never quite get the answer right: ‘He’s going into his world!’ Brilliant South African missiologist, Prof. David Bosch, made it clear that ‘missiology’ is ‘the mother of all theology.’ Note how all the Gospel-accounts record the Great Commission: Mt. 28; Mk. 16; Lk. 24 (& Acts 1ff); Jn. 20. This is one of the primary reasons for Christ’s gift of the Spirit: the purpose of the Spirit supersedes, in a way, even his gifts (William Temple). John tells us how Jesus“breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” Earlier in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus had already promised the energizing gift of the Spirit to all who would ‘believe’ (7:37-30), a promise fully realized at Pentecost and forever thereafter (Acts 2ff).
  • Such was the authority given to these primitive non-clergy disciples that Jesus could add,‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ Ah the beauty and practicality of ‘the priesthood of all believers!’ (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9ff). And the privilege of consorting with what my brother-blogger Tobie v.d. Westhuizen once so aptly called ‘God’s little people’ (cf. his blog ‘Natural Church’). That was in fact the vision of Bohemian reformer Jan Hus, long before Luther and Calvin – sadly it cost him his life at the hands of the official church on 6th of July 1415 when burned at the stake for daring to speak truth to power.
  • It is critically important for us to note that this commission was fundamentally incarnational! [PS, this fact inspired my MTh dissertation‘Toward the Re-Incarnation of the Church in the 21st Century’ some years ago]. Jesus came into the world fully divine and fully human: Jn. 1; Phil. 2:5ff; etc. As was Jesus, so must we be in the world, conveyors of his divine life (2 Pet. 1:3ff) in a human way. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, disillusioned with the irrelevance of the German Church under Hitler, called Christians to drop their ‘religiosity’ in order to become truly ‘human.’ This was the life he lived among his fellow-inmates, even in Flossenburg Prison while awaiting execution by order of Hitler himself. His whole life and teaching was a call to radical Christianity, as outlined in his classic,‘The Cost of Discipleship.’
  • Our text also marks us out as ‘a community of the forgiven and the forgiving.’ How the Master looked past his first disciples’ many sins, weaknesses and blunders. Think of Peter and Judas. Today we live in a horrendously angry and unforgiving world: consider the division of the American Church and society by party-politics, the boiling racism in every part of the world, etc. (Cf. my blog-series “‘I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins’ – Really?” Archives 19/10/2020, part 2)
  • This commission is only possible via an imparted life, the very life of Christ within us ‘by faith,’ a life lived out, a life for Christ and others. Salvation is not pie in the sky when we die but a current commitment to a gardener and the fuller establishment of God’s paradise on earth. The process started in Eden, continued through his remnant in Israel (rebellious Israel as a whole failed to be God’s vineyard giving messianic life to the nations), Jesus came as the true Israelite and the true Vine, and the Church by his indwelling life is committed to growing that garden until the day of its full fruition in God’s new heaven on earth (Rev. 21). (3)
  • What does such a Christ-life really look like? If we were looking at Matthew’s Gospel, I would suggest the Beatitudes of Mt. 5. In the Johannine context, I would refer my readers to John’s first Letter, which is essentially about knowing, experiencing and living out God’s love for us in Christ in a hostile world. To some extent the cliche applies: it’s not so much about how much we ‘know’ but how much we ‘care’ that impacts people – i.o.w. a little bit of ‘tlc’ goes a long, long way! Thus early Christianity pervaded and transformed much of the Middle East, North Africa, Asia Minor, Europe and beyond.
THE MORAVIAN REVIVAL OF 1727 - BEAUTIFUL FEETBEAUTIFUL FEET
Section Two: The Beginning of the Modern Missionary Movement Lesson Three:  The Moravians Introduction: - Count Zinzendorf and Herrnhut 1. Revival at  Herrnhut. - ppt download

Here let me mention two more modern illustrations of Jn. 20. I refer firstly to the 18th century Moravians of Herrnhutt. Motivated by the ‘crucified Lamb who had conquered,’ they set up a dynamic community on a piece of land made available by German Count von Zinzendorf. They worked hard on loving God and one another. Out of this communitas and a 24/7 prayer watch, there emerged a unique lay missions movement which impacted many nations across the globe, including my native South Africa. With my family we spent a day at Genadendal and Elim Mission in the W. Cape, where the witness continues to this day. On my bookshelf I have Bernhard Kruger’s ‘The Pear Tree Blossoms,’ the history of the Moravian Church in SA 1737-1869.

A second example. In the 1990’s I was privileged to visit Antioch Mission in Sao Paulo, Brazil, established in 1980 somewhat along the lines of the Moravian vision. In the late 1960’s, amid a charismatic renewal in the state of Parana, two young Presbyterian pastors founded a Bible School for training in preaching, prayer, healing and holistic ministry. Initially resistant to global missions, American missionary Barbara Burns persuaded them otherwise. As the community began to pray for the world, the first missionaries were sent out in the mid-70’s to Portuguese-speaking Mozambique. By 2010 the mission had sent out 92 Brazilians into 19 nations, a good proportion serving in ‘closed’ Arab countries in the Middle East. I will never forget that visit: the training facilities were so basic, the sense of Christian unity was wonderful, and central to it all was a prayer chapel with a huge world map and prayer booths set up for one-hour cycles of prayer by volunteers. This agency went on to specialize in training for evangelism, discipleship, church-planting, children’s ministry (80% of the world is poor and young), community development and sports ministry.

A concluding challenge. Brennan Manning once preached a powerful message entitled ‘Settlers or Pioneers?’ The implication was that we are called as Christians to be ‘pioneers’ rather than ‘settlers.’ Of course there is a case for being ‘settled’ in Christ, from which all fruitful service flows. But ultimately, every community and believer is called to be a pioneer for Jesus. We can never afford to settle into spiritual complacency like the Asian churches of Philadelphia or Laodicea: the exalted Lord remonstrated with those early churches, “‘Now see what I’ve done. I’ve opened a door before you that no one can slam shut… Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.'”… “‘You’re not cold, you’re not hot… You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit…’… ‘The people I love, I call to account – prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!’… ‘Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.'” (Rev. 3:8ff, 15ff/MSG).

As “GOD’S ‘LITTLE CHRIST’S'” it behoves us to listen well to Jesus, think on him well, and, indwelt by him, serve him as did the first believers with childlike hilarity even amid trouble and opposition!

boy sitting on bench while holding a book

FOOTNOTES:

(1) As I’ve done many times before, I commend Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little gem,‘The Life Together.’ I promise you, you’ll never look at ‘fellowship’ quite the same way again! [Cf. YouTube ‘Agent of Grace’ for Bonhoeffer’s costly witness during WW2]

(2) Cf. my twin-blogs on ‘Crazy Christians.’ The way back to sanity? – reading Galatians each day for at least a week if not a month.

(3) ‘Christ who is our life…’ As John’s Gospel clearly indicates, Christ’s service sprang from his life and identity in the Father. We too can only truly minister once we’ve grasped our gracious identity in Christ. It is the overflow of his life, to all and sundry. Cf. Jn. 15 and my archives for ‘Apostles of Abiding Love,’ publ. 19/02/2020.