Monthly Archives: March 2016

Only churches that can’t, will

images (1)The church of our Lord Jesus Christ is that glorious ensemble of all saints from throughout the ages. The party is open-ended, and His invitation to the whosoever will stands. Every day men and women all over the globe join God’s eternal family as they come to faith, for inclusion is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.

Our Lord’s church is a transcendent eternal reality that is essentially spiritual in nature. It is superlative to our temporal, finite world, and could never be contained by it. Yet it does manifest in our see-hear-smell-taste-touch world in localised communities we call churches. These local churches can be disturbingly conflicted expressions of life, for our fallen world cannot even begin to contain the glories of God. The Bible tells us that it will take a new heaven and earth to do that. Instead, churches are all too human, and as such are a blend of the glorious (God) and the grotesque (broken humanity).

Implicit in this dilemma is a question, and the harder we try to answer that question, the worse we fare. This is so because loving community cannot be administrated. It is a work of the Spirit and not the product of our own efforts. How often have we been captivated and provoked by the descriptions of the New Testament church – an empowered, praying, devoted, growing, sacrificial and serving community, cloaked in grace and pulsating with life. Yet, try as we might, our efforts can do nought but shipwreck on the rocky shoreline of legalism, control and idealism.
Alongside the Charismatic Renewal of the 1960’s and 70’s was secondary action of the Lord, which birthed Christian communities. He did so in extraordinary ways and in unlikely places. These communities burgeoned all over the globe, independently of one another, but simultaneously, and typically shared a handful of key characteristics, although there were exceptions. They shared a theology (they were Charismatic), a philosophy of church (the people of God should live in community), and a few key practices (most significantly frequent gathering, extended households and a common purse).

images (1)A survey reveals that these communities fell loosely into five categories. Some were expat communities: their people also held nationality and language in common, and so they coagulated on cultural as well as spiritual grounds as these exiles found one another. Others were parish communities: mainline denominations that functioned along strict parish lines lent themselves to a spirit-infused community arising in the midst of the dead institutionalism of the parish church, as the Holy Spirit brought new life in a particular geographical area. Still others were missional communities: these gathered around the vision of evangelising clearly defined segments of society, and some survive to date having evolved into mission organisations. The Seaman’s Mission is an example. Yet others were church communities: believers left existing churches, with which they had become disenchanted, in order to form communities that were new expressions of and alternatives to those existing local churches. The final category were even more idealistic than the others, and formed around a covenant of sorts, legislating their new and superior life together right from the start. Note that in the untidiness of the living, many of these communities could be regarded as being in more than one of the five categories describes above, all depending on how they were perceived.

The overwhelming observation to be made, however, is that it is now a generation later, and there is little evidence of their existence. It also appears axiomatic that the more legalistic, zealous and idealistic they were, the less admirable their longer-term fruit. This is the lesson of the day and the point of this post. The harder we try, the worse we do! Christianity is not an endeavour fueled by human effort. On the contrary, it is thanks to the work of God alone. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the history of the church, which has consistently been one of over-promising and under-delivering. The example of community from the 60’s and 70’s is simply a case-study drawn from a wider context that shares its flaws. The history of the church is also a history that seems totally committed to repeating itself. Has your church finally got it all figured out? Run! God gives grace to the humble, but immutably opposes the proud!

churchAgainst this background, the Scriptures that so richly describe Christian community continue to beckon. The opening chapters of Acts read as they always have, no matter how disbelieving or cynical the eyes reading the text. They do so, not in prescription, but in description. They drive us to our knees, and they keep us salivating for a life together that glorifies the Lord and meets our need for communion. We know, in the depth of our being, that the Lord shall have His way. It shall be so by the Spirit, and the local church, at the end, shall be far more glorious than the local church ever was at the beginning. The fullness of the New Covenant guarantees this. But just like everything else that is our inheritance in Christ, it shall be by grace alone, through faith alone, and because of Christ alone. It shall be done to us and for us, and we shall participate and benefit, amazed.

To illustrate, permit me to reduce legalism, control and idealism to the microcosm of the interpersonal. It troubles me deeply (as it should) when saints inform me that they love me because Jesus said they must. Not only do their words declare me unlovely, but in so saying they reveal that they have reduced the commands of our Christ to the law of their living, thereby ensuring that they will not obey Him. Loving one another as Jesus does is only within reach of the heart that admits that it cannot do so. Grasp this and you’ll understand the mystery of grace and its promise of a bright future: only those who can’t can, and only churches that can’t will. When it comes to our life together, this is that. So it is, for so the Lord has engineered it to be.

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Truth triumphs over all!

2828490066_0654f447d3_bTruth triumphs over all!

So saying is not some sort of call to honesty. Neither is it an appeal for the facts of a matter to be carefully verified. Rather, it has to do with reality, and two critical applications immediately spring to mind.

Truth (spiritual realities) triumph over temporal realities …

When Jesus said that “it” was finished, it looked as though He was finished. But truth trumped temporal realities. His tomb is empty, and redemption has been secured. It really was finished, and successfully so. When Paul and Silas worshiped in stocks, deep in that Philippian dungeon, their truth was freedom in Christ, and soon their temporal realities yielded to the superiority of the spirit-realm. The earth shook, and they walked free.

This is how all faith works. Faith taps into spiritual, eternal truth, and appropriates its facts into temporal situation and circumstance. Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell yield to “God says”, and wisdom, freedom, provision and healing manifest in our lives. Resurrection is nothing other than the grave yielding to Life. Nothing too extraordinary at all. The same applies to the new birth and to breathtaking creative miracles. All that happens when these things take place is that truth is triumphing over our inferior, temporal reality. This was what happened when God said, “Let there be light”, and is what has happened every other time the proclamations of God have been appropriated ever since. “God says” and “in Jesus’ Name” move mountains, part seas, and bring forth out of nothing. Truth triumphs over all!

Truth (Jesus) triumphs over all other spiritual realities …

The spirit-realm harbours power beyond anything in the natural. That is why those who move in its occultic dimensions are the controlled, not the controllers. They are the manipulated and the used, no matter how much their demonic masters masquerade as servants. Principalities and powers have their clear agenda, and any man or woman who invokes their bidding soon becomes their pawn.

But in this arena of spiritual realities, light and darkness, truth (Jesus) trumps all also. He reigns supreme. All authority on heaven and earth has been given Him. The Biblical record bears witness. Every time there came a showdown between the Spirit of God and a contrary spirit, Holy Spirit prevailed without question, no contest. The same holds true today, and always will. Truth triumphs over all!

Binding and loosing …

Christians are in union with Christ. As such, they walk in tremendous authority. On occasion, their particular gifts and callings usher them into the midst of the conflicts raging in the heavenlies. There they are used to disrupt Destruction and facilitate Salvation. These moments of militancy have their place, but are rare for most.

Far more common is our partnership with the Lord in bringing Heaven to earth. Much of our binding and loosing, locking and unlocking, forbidding and permitting, happens in the most unconscious of ways. All we’re doing at the time is loving our wives, showing kindness to our neighbours, sharing the Gospel as opportunity presents, or praying as the Spirit prompts – the simplest of things in a life in the Lord; no significant spiritual warfare orientation required. The battle is His, and the victory is His. It is simply our living with hearts malleable to His touch and ears inclined to His voice that make us ferocious in battle. For it is, you see, that we are far less warriors in His army than arrows in His bow.

Herein lies a great secret. We have not been called to war, but to peace. We have not been called to anger and hatred, but to loving obedience. The battle is His and the victory is His. Ours is to believe and obey. His is to rule until all things in heaven and on earth are manifestly subject to Him. Truth triumphs over all. God says so!

Think for a moment of our armour, and Truth’s triumph becomes all the more self-evident. Our helmet is salvation. Our breastplate is righteousness, which comes to us as a gift. Truth guards our loins, faith is our shield, and the sword of the Spirit which we wield is His word. Right down to our footwear, our armour derives from the Gospel. It is of His efforts, not our own. Ours is to stand, and ours is to pray. Truly, truth triumphs over all!

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Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!

Di Wilson - NC Gospel hi-res
The Gospel is the good news about who Jesus is, what He did, and why He did it. What He did was so extraordinary, and its impact so enormous, that it will effect everything for all time. This book describes the richness of the Gospel, and outlines what the Gospel does when believed, for the Gospel believed is the power of God unleashed in one’s life.

Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever! explores exactly what the Gospel is – what is meant by this Good News. It then goes on to explore what the Gospel does, for in his introduction to the book of Romans, Paul the apostle tells us that, “the Gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes”. As you read you’ll discover why the Gospel is timelessly and universally applicable, how it saves, and what the innumerable benefits of that salvation are. The Gospel’s greatness lies in the simple fact that it is the continuous application of that which the Lord accomplished through the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. “Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever!” takes time to celebrate the rich, multi-faceted, eternal beauty of who Jesus is, and of what He has done!

This book is currently available from …
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In control, but not controlling

God is the least controlling Person I know. That’s quite something, given that He is also the One most able to control things. Sovereign, non-controlling God – that’s who He is.

Refusing to control people has done His reputation endless damage. All over the globe, multitudes seethe. If there is a God, they reason, He must be infinitely despicable if He is able to intervene, yet refrains from doing so.

The reason such a conclusion is deeply flawed is because He has intervened. The cross is the ultimate expression of love and justice, and the basis of any and every other intervention He will ever make. Creation in His image granted mankind volition and delegated authority. With is came responsibility. He is not to blame for the mess we’re in. Satan is. Sin is. And we are!

Let’s imagine for a moment that God had opted to be an interfering, manipulating, controlling Sovereign. Let’s imagine that He not only mediated for good, but actually enforced it. Do we really think that we would have appreciated His dictatorship? Every indication is that we would’ve resented Him for it, for we resent those who infringe upon our free moral agency. Fact is, we are ultimately all the rebellious teen who deeply despises parental control, and who will behave outrageously in order to stake claim on our independence in ways so convoluted that they invite unthinkable pain and horrific consequences. Were God controlling, we would “show Him”, of that we can be sure.

Fortunately our God is not insecure. He is in control of all things, and supremely confident in His ability to save. We might be out of control, and our world might be out of control, but He isn’t, and neither is His world. That which is redeemable will be redeemed. He has engineered it so. That is how a perfect loving Heavenly Father can have so many children in pigpens of all kinds at any given time. The hairs on our head are numbered, and His arm will never be too short to save.

Get this, and you’ll hate rebellion, shun sin, love what is good, and be submissive of heart. “All we like sheep have gone astray”, says Isaiah, and not much good has it done us, that’s for sure. Fortunately the thought doesn’t end there. “And the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquities of us all”. Therein lies every good thing. Sovereign God is not controlling, but He does save. He has saved us from sin, and if we’ll let Him, He’ll save us from ourselves.

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Bang for your buck

downloadI recently encountered an intriguing thought process on the subject of church funding, budgets and expenditure. The point made was that the best measure for evaluating where things are at money-wise is cost per head of the Sunday gathering. In other words, if a congregation with an average attendance of one hundred has a monthly budget of forty thousand, and the average month has four Sundays, then the cost per head per service is one hundred (whatever currency applies).

Churches do a heck of a lot more than host a Sunday service – anything from counselling, small groups and youth ministry through church planting and TV ministry – and unless these are separate cost centers, these costs will inflated the cost per person per service number, because they’ll be wrongly included there. That said, the number arrived at is accurate when it comes to giving required per head per service, because that is precisely how much the church needs on the incoming end in order to meet budget.

Once you’ve done the maths for your church, here are some factors worth considering as you think things through. In random order, then, and with the stated intent of provoking thought – 1. Church as we know it is a very expensive endeavour. Spiritual food, it seems, comes at restaurant prices. 2. Staff and facilities are typically the biggest expenses, and when we break our number down into what goes where, we’re likely discover that much more is going into making Sunday mornings happen than what we would’ve initially thought. And 3. The bigger the church gets, the higher the number is likely to be. Large churches seem to attracted a better-heeled membership and can appear awash in money, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to an economy of scale, because bigger demands better in our day and age, and better doesn’t come cheap. Bigger churches being more expensive to run per member than what smaller ones are seems counterintuitive.

These same dynamics are all-the-more evident when we consider how the church spends its human capital, which is far more precious than cash. Innumerable volunteers spend endless hours making Sundays happen. The bigger the ship and the more its sails, the bigger the crew. Except that in this department tiny churches are probably the most demanding, because it’s an all-hands-on-deck affair. Could it be that inordinately high levels of demand are because churches set out to provide a forum for people to come to be baptised and discipled, when what Jesus explicitly commanded us to do was to go out, baptising and discipling as we did so?

Throwing stones is always unhelpful, and running the numbers for the church I love and lead simply exposes me as another noisy fella with a megaphone who is standing in a glass menagerie. The truth is that the measuring any local church’s effectiveness and efficiency is less than straightforward. For me and mine, we are not where we once were on these matters, but neither are we yet where we want to be. There is also no desire whatsoever to entrench any form of poverty mentality; the Bank of Heaven is certainly not cash-strapped. That said, I am convinced that a significant key to taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth is a radical rethink about what we’re doing with what we already have. How much bang for the buck we’re getting is an integral part of that. What do you think?

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