Hand, foot and eye

At a time when the disciples are well aware of Jesus’ glory, power, transcendence, and authority, they ask, ‘Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’

I was reading Matthew 18 this morning, and thought that there are depths in this chapter that can only be grasped when we see things from a kingdom perspective.

In chapter 17, Yahshua reveals his glory to Peter, James and John; deals with the disciples’ lack of faith; speaks of his death and resurrection; and explains that he and his followers are not subject to the demands of religion because they are already part of his holy kingdom. The scene is set, Jesus has demonstrated that he has all the glory, all the power, transcends death, and is subject to no human authority. These factors are all relevant to our understanding of chapter 18, which begins with the words ‘At that time’.

A three-year-old child (Wikipedia)

So, at a time when the disciples are well aware of Jesus’ glory, power, transcendence, and authority, they ask, ‘Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ As he often does, Jesus answers indirectly. He calls over a small child to place amongst them, and tells them clearly that they need to be childlike or they won’t make it into the kingdom of heaven at all. Only the humblest adult can be great in the kingdom, and welcoming such a person is, in reality, welcoming Christ himself.

Furthermore, even being drowned is better for me than putting obstacles in the way of a humble believer; Yahshua isn’t saying I must be put to death, he’s saying I’m already worse than dead! If I cause such stumbling I’m not really one of his followers at all. In verses 8 and 9 Yahshua describes how my hand, my foot, or my eye might cause me to stumble. So it’s what I choose to do, where I decide to go, and what I pay attention to that puts me at risk. There’s a challenge here for all of us: don’t do, go or look at anything that might cause us to fall. Avoid actions, circumstances and sights that are unhelpful. Stay humble, remain in his presence, and we will share in his glory, power, life and authority. Now that’s good news!

Life together

A fluid environment, the individuals free to move in every dimension, yet always aware of one another and responding to one another.

This morning, swilling out the cafetiere, watching the dark coffee grounds fan out and spiral down the drain, a word popped into my mind – ‘murmuration’. This word is used for a flock of birds flying together, swirling hither and thither, flying together as one yet moving independently and in smaller groups within that one flock. Starlings are particularly known for this behaviour as they go to roost in the evening light, and the dark specks of coffee reminded me of a murmuration of these birds.

Take a look at this video of a starling murmuration. It’s stunning!

Murmuration

But looking at those coffee grounds made it very clear to me that only living things can form a murmuration. Not only that, the individuals must all be alive with the same kind of life, don’t expect to see seagulls and starlings together in the same formation. The living entities must also be in a fluid environment (air or water, large shoals of fish can exhibit the same phenomenon). And they must be aware of one another and able to respond rapidly to one another’s movements.

So it should be with the church. A formation of individuals all alive with the same life, the life of Christ, all filled with his Spirit. Church should be a fluid environment, the individuals free to move in every dimension, yet always aware of one another and responding to one another.

When the church flows like a murmuration, individually alive with Christ, individually free to move yet mutually aware, responding to one another’s presence and movement, unconstrained except in obedience to Christ, then, my friends, we will see her transcendent glory revealed and the whole world will gasp. People will say, ‘Oh wow, how can this collection of individuals flow together with such transcendent beauty and grace?’

If not, we are little better than coffee grounds swirling into the drain. Not alive at all, merely acted on by random currents as gravity draws us ever downwards. Paul expressed this when he wrote to the church in Ephesus,

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Gentleness takes courage and strength

You are precious to me, every single one of you. So live as if you believe that you are precious! Stand tall in the world. The things I want to see grow in you are not hard or complicated.

RiverOuse
River Ouse, St Neots

Last Sunday morning I was sitting in a lobby area in the community centre in Eaton Ford, part of the market town of St Neots between Bedford and Cambridge. River Church meets here and I was visiting, staying with a friend who plays in the church’s worship band. The band was setting up and getting themselves ready for the meeting, so I had half an hour to spare before people would be arriving. I sat, stilled my mind, and spent some time listening to what the Holy Spirit might say to me.

And this is what I received:

Speak out, but look up. Look out and speak up. See with your eyes, hear with your ears, speak with your mouth, but always let the Spirit live in your heart.

Welcome my Spirit and bear fruit in your lives; are you not my people? Let my love, joy and peace rise up. Don’t follow one another, but follow me. Don’t follow convention, but follow Truth. Don’t follow directions but follow the Way. You are precious to me, every single one of you. So live as if you believe that you are precious! Stand tall in the world. The things I want to see grow in you are not hard or complicated, they are the simplest of things – gentleness towards the people in your lives – peace in your hearts – gracious and loving attitudes – a deep hope rooted in my presence, not in your circumstances – a humbleness that shuns position and fame – joyful hearts dancing freely in my presence – relentless patience – kindness that looks for no reward – innocent hearts.

Become empty of what you are and do and I will inhabit you. Haven’t you heard me knocking? I don’t want your abilities – I want you!

Thinking about this afterwards, I was intrigued that what had started out feeling like a word to me alone had, very quickly, become something spoken to others too. I wondered if these were words I should share during the meeting. I have many friends at River Church and some of them might need to hear this message. And as people began to arrive for the meeting and greet one another and find their seats I carried that idea with me as I joined them. But though I was ready and willing to share, and there were opportunities, it didn’t seem the right time.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that these words are for all my friends, near and far. That I should share them here and those that need to see them will  be guided to read them. So that’s what I’m doing.

If these words bless you in some way that would be great. But I think there is also a challenge in the words. I believe Papa is calling me to move ever more gently through this world; and perhaps he’s calling you to do that too. Don’t be misled into thinking that gentle is the same as weak: it is not! Sometimes it takes enormous courage and strength to be gentle. Sometimes the only way to reach a person is through gentleness, humility, and patience.

But if you have read as far as this, please ask yourself how you should respond. Is the Spirit speaking to you also through the words he gave me?

Watch the video below to see how Jorge Pina ‘operates from a place of rest’ in meeting people. There’s real wisdom here.

The work of the Spirit

the Holy Spirit … runs deep in [the] forgotten ways. He is … the Spirit of Christ and he was sent specifically to enable us to continue the work of Jesus.

What follows is an extract from JDMC, the first section on the Holy Spirit (page 37).

Cover-tinyThe work of the Holy Spirit is mentioned briefly in the previous part of JDMC, ‘Six – More than community’ (p 33). It is not explicitly presented in The Forgotten Ways, but it is certainly implied on every page. In the first edition of JDMC I closely followed the structure of Alan Hirsch’s work, but in this revision I have decided to add extra sections including this one about the Spirit.

I want to guard against any suggestion that JDMC is merely presenting an organisational mechanism for rapid missional spread. It’s much more than a worldly method or a management technique. Instead it is the pattern set by Christ himself, and therefore the Spirit of Christ is present throughout and waiting for us to hear his guidance and encouragement as we do the work the Master has entrusted to us. To depend on human technique alone won’t cut the mustard – far from it! One of the forgotten ways is keeping Jesus central, following only him, adding nothing in addition. This utter dependence on Christ surely implies and demands a dependence on his Spirit – how could it possibly be otherwise?

We need to recognise that this new life we live is not just about what we do, nor is it entirely about receiving from the Spirit. Jesus wants our co-operation. If there was no need for the work of the Spirit, why would Paul warn us not to quench him? (1 Thessalonians 5:19) And if there was no need for human effort and will, why would he tell us to strive? (1 Thessalonians 5:15, 1 Timothy 4:10)

So in this additional part of JDMC I want to highlight some of the ways we can recognise and value the Holy Spirit’s activity as we attempt to remember and activate the six forgotten ways. I also offer some advice on spiritual listening at the end.

To be clear, this section should not be seen as an additional ‘forgotten way’. It isn’t that at all. But the work of the Holy Spirit surely runs deep in each of those six forgotten ways. He is, as already mentioned, the Spirit of Christ and he was sent specifically to enable us to continue the work of Jesus. If we are the body and Jesus is our head, then the Spirit is like a nervous system – fundamentally centred in the head but with sensory and motor connections to every part of the body. When we resist him and are disobedient, part of the body is effectively paralysed. And if the body acts without the Holy Spirit it is sleepwalking and ineffective.

If all of this sounds hard – it is. We have to learn to die so that we can begin to live in Christ. It’s not that we have to work hard to be more like Jesus; rather we have to let go of all our own goals and desires and effort and planning and let Jesus live his life in us. He will tell us and show us what to do, when to do it, and how. The Holy Spirit is no less than the Spirit of Christ, he is our guide and walks with us in every situation. He is the heart and mind of the Messiah expressing himself through his people.

Talk together about the ways the Holy Spirit has interacted with you in your lives as you follow Jesus. Are there some encouraging stories you can share?

– o0o –

In 2015 I released the second version of JDMC, a discussion guide for Alan Hirsch’s ‘The Forgotten Ways’ in which he analyses the basis of movements throughout church history and identifies the essential ingredients for such movements to start and to be sustained.

(You can download JDMC in full, there’s no charge.)

Water and the Spirit

Do we live every day, still dripping with Holy Spiritness, touching a broken world with Christ’s love and grace?

In Acts 1:5 we read Jesus’ words to his followers, ‘John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit’.

The photo shows a man who has just been baptised by full immersion in water; maybe you have experienced this too, or maybe not. As you will know (or can imagine) this experience affects people in a variety of ways.

Baptism

Before baptism you are dry, afterwards you are drenched from head to toe. Being plunged into water takes your breath away, it makes you screw up your eyes. It’s exciting, a significant change in your life, you’ll remember it for as long as you live, and it’s a sign of the fact that your life has changed. Baptism is an outward expression that you’ve decided to follow Jesus in every way you can, and that, like him, you have been buried and returned to a new and fuller life.

The entire process speaks of this other kind of baptism, baptism in the Holy Spirit. and this, too, has a major effect. But unlike water baptism with its temporary impact, baptism in the Spirit is permament.

So what are the effects, the impact, of baptism in the Holy Spirit? As with water, you are plunged into a strikingly different element – not water this time, but the Spirit of Christ. You will be fundamentally drenched in his character and his power, you will be a citizen of his kingdom as it impacts this broken world. Baptism in the Spirit should take your breath away – utterly. It will cause you to screw up your spiritual senses through complete overload! There is an exciting and significant change in your spiritual life, you will always remember it and you will never be the same again. It’s a sign of the fact that your life has changed, you are redeemed, made new, and empowered because it is now Christ who lives in you and you are expressing his heart and his purposes. It’s evidence of a new life.

And how do we measure up? Do we remain permanently affected by the presence within us of Christ’s Spirit? Or do we treat spiritual baptism like water baptism? Is it something that happened in the past but no longer has any direct effect in the here and now? Is it something we remember, but have stopped experiencing?

Do we live every day, still dripping with Holy Spiritness, touching a broken world with Christ’s love and grace, sharing the good news of the peace and joy now available to all? I only needed to be baptised once, but the effects of this spiritual baptism are meant to last forever.

Adoption as an heir

As heirs of the kingdom of heaven we not only have great privilege but we also have duties to perform.

If you are following Jesus and understand what he taught, you will probably already see yourself as set free and adopted as an heir in his kingdom. Paul makes this clear in his letters to the churches. For example, in Galatians 4:7 he writes, ‘You are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.’ But sometimes, although we know we are heirs and inherit life in all its fullness, we forget that there are also duties attached to adoption. This becomes much clearer when we think about adoption as it was practised in the Roman world 2000 years ago.

The kind of adoption that would have been familiar to Paul was unlike adoption today. The Romans didn’t make a habit of adopting orphans. Unwanted babies were often left in the countryside to die, this was regarded as a normal way of disposing of inconvenient infants. It’s a shocking thought today, but 2000 years ago it was normal.

The Wikipedia article Adoption in ancient Rome explains, ‘Adoption of boys was a fairly common procedure, particularly in the upper senatorial class … Adoption served to cement ties between families, thus fostering and reinforcing alliances. In the Imperial period, the system also acted as a mechanism for ensuring a smooth succession, the emperor taking his chosen successor as his adopted son.’ The photo below is part of a statue of Octavius who was adopted by Julius Caesar and became the Emperor Augustus.

Augustus
Image from Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Statue-Augustus.jpg

This is why we can call the Almighty ‘Father’, or even ‘Daddy’. Jesus came to reveal the Father to us, he told his disciples, ‘If you have seen me you have seen the father’. We have the joy and privilege of becoming the adopted children of the Mighty One, and we have his power and his authority. But we need to understand that as heirs of the kingdom of heaven (co-heirs with Christ), we not only have great privilege but we also have duties to perform. It’s our function to carry on our Father’s work. What is that?

Think about Roman inheritance again for a moment. When the Emperor (or any high ranking official, army officer, wealthy business man etc) wanted to ensure his work would be continued, he would adopt an heir, not an infant, but someone already old enough to show the necessary aptitude and inclination for the work. The heir was adopted expressly to continue his new father’s work.

We know we are adopted, and we know we are heirs to the kingdom, to the power and also to the glory. We share these things in and with Christ. But sometimes we forget that it is our role and purpose as heirs to continue our Father’s work in this world. We are to be redeemers of the lost and broken, lovers of those around us (even our enemies), forgivers of wrongdoers, even justifiers of the guilty, providers of good things. What does it mean for us to redeem, love, forgive, justify and provide? Think about it in terms of things as well as people. If it’s broken, fix it; if it’s missing, replace it; if it’s overgrown with weeds, dig it and plant flowers. If you need permission to do some of these things, have the necessary conversations. If people are lonely, spend time with them; if they’re hungry, feed them. Speak words of life, be motivated by love, bless others abundantly, be the message, speak the truth. Be ‘good news’.

Eat together

We enjoy the flavours and the aromas

Part 5 of a series – Eat together

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Most churches in western society have some form of communion service, based on the Bible’s accounts of the final meal that Jesus ate with his disciples. This usually takes the form of a well defined ritual involving bread and wine or fruit juice. But that is not the way Jesus and his followers would have eaten.

EatingTogether2
Eating together (image from Schnucks website)

That final meal was a Jewish Passover and has special significance, but Jesus typically ate with friends in a home, in fields, or on a journey.

Reading about church life in the book of Acts, it’s clear that the norm for the early church was that when they met (usually in someone’s home) a normal meal was part of the process. OpenBible has a list of references about eating together. Bear in mind that ‘breaking bread together’ was a normal way of saying ‘eating together’. The people would have remembered Jesus as they ate bread and drank wine as part of normal life.

Victor Choudhrie’s 5th step for transforming the church is quoted below:

Dispense with wafer-and-sip Holy Communion and promote breaking of bread with simple Agape meals (love feasts) from house to house, that believers take with glad hearts, ‘and the Lord added to His numbers daily’. The Lord served roast lamb, bitter herbs, bread and wine ‘in a house’ for the Last Supper. Father God had lunch with Abraham under a tree and discussed Sarah’s pregnancy, Sodom’s ruin and Lot’s rescue plan. Acts 2:46-47; 1 Cor.11:20-23; Gen Chap 18

So – why does this matter?

When we eat a meal together everyone contributes to the conversation. We serve one another (‘Would you pass the potato please? Thanks.’) We smile and laugh, we become informal, we enjoy the flavours and the aromas. It’s a fun occasion and everybody, even the youngest, plays an active part. This is a time of bonding, especially when we regularly eat with the same group of people.

If your church has Small Groups, consider eating a meal together when you meet. Simple is good, bring and share, visit everyone’s home in turn, don’t make this into a complex or arduous task for anyone. If there are no small groups just get together regularly as friends. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in this as in everything. Be flexible, don’t make rules, keep it really simple and easy. Meet as often as you can, invite friends who are not yet following Jesus, invite people who have nowhere to go or are lonely or short of money to buy food. Be the good news in the neighbourhood.

Questions:

  • What is preventing you from sharing a meal with others?
  • Who are you going to invite to join you?
  • Church is a family; will eating together make you more or less like a family?

See also:

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