Monthly Archives: April 2019

Where to start …

This is the third in a series of letters to our local church. The first two were A City on a Hill and The New Covenant Ecosystem.

Dear Highway

The prophet Habakkuk was encouraged by the Lord to billboard the vision. A clever double entendre, say the scholars – make it so plain that he who runs can read it, and so plain that he who reads it will run with it. Great wordplay. Great administration of vision. Let’s take a leaf from Habakkuk’s book and read the words of Jesus yet again.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).

No local church will ever perfectly represent the one, glorious, transcendent, eternal church that Jesus is building. But then again, neither does any individual believer perfectly represent Christ. We’re all witnesses to Him, but the treasure will always be in jars of clay, individually and corporately. That’s the way it all works because that’s the way He set things up. It makes His grace the hero, rather than our efforts.

Once we can see that city on a hill in the Spirit, faith for it arises in our hearts. And as with any vision that grip our hearts, the question is “where do we start?”

The answer to that question in terms of our individual witness is self-evident. We do who we are, living for Jesus from the heart. Authenticity is what gives the whole exercise credibility. Our lights then shine through words, works, ways and wonders, as we go about our daily lives, rubbing shoulders with family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. We trust Holy Spirit to lead us, and when He does, we do what He tells us to do. It’s not in the least bit complicated. Even little children understand it.

It’s no less complicated for a local church. We are the “ekklessia”. The called out ones. The Greek carries nuance, and the word is as accurately translated “assembly” as “church”, depending on context. We witness to Christ by doing who we are. We are the church, and as such we gather in His Name. There is perfect congruence here. Christians are those who have taken Christ’s Name, and as the church, we congregate in it.

Of course the local church is a much more profound mystery than just a meeting. It is all at once body, building, army, vine, family, household, and more besides. Each and every local church is all of these things in measure, if none in fullness. Our completeness awaits in the age to come. But it does all start in the simplicity of gathering. In Him, to Him, with Him and for Him. Nothing complicated. No strings attached.

Ever since I can remember there has been talk about recapturing the glories of the early church. These conversations somehow seem to focus on God’s part of the deal – the awe, the great grace, the salvations, the miracles, the sacrificial living. Revisit the text and you’ll discover that our part is really simple. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Really simple Jesus-centered stuff, that requires little beyond showing up with open faith-filled hearts. What was the apostles teaching, if not the Gospel? What was the fellowship, if not those in Christ, gathering in partnership in His Name? The breaking of bread is a celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and prayer is overt dependence on Him in all things. Hardly the makings of elite spirituality. When the early church gathered, it was all about Him!

Is it not amazing how much controversy surrounds church attendance? Could it be that much of the debate and baggage is there to distract and detract from simple fundamentals: I am in Christ. We are the church. Not either/or, but both/and.

It’s that little boy all over again. We show up, five loaves and two fish in hand. None of us has much to offer. Jesus is the one who shows up with the power and the plan. And it’s the Twelve all over again. We get to participate in His plan and benefit from His power. Loaves and fish multiply in our hands, and we get to gather up the leftovers. Through it all, He is glorified, we are edified, and the world is impacted. Along the way bricks become a building, soldiers an army, and bits and bobs of flesh and bone a body. He forges the partnerships, vertical and horizontal. We show up in with intent, hearts full of faith, and He does the rest. “A city on a hill cannot be hidden”.

Just imagine what yet shall be.

Yours in Christ Jesus.

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The New Covenant Ecosystem

This is the second in a series of letters written to our local church. They build upon one another, line upon line, precept upon precept. To read the first letter, click here – City on a Hill

Dear Highway

I’m so grateful for the power of the pen, which allows me to communicate across the congregation amidst the pressing demands of modern living.

Jesus said of us, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).

It is vital for each and every believer to take their place amongst God’s people in a tangible and practical way. Being a city on a hill is not pie in the sky stuff; it’s steak on the plate stuff. Jesus was not describing an ethereal, invisible or conceptual city, but a dynamic reality. The local church is God’s light shining into the darkness of our actual world. We are Him on display. We shine in words, works, ways and wonders. Jesus in our midst imbues our gathering with Presence and glory. People can see it, point to it, visit it, experience it and join it. It turns out, brothers and sisters, that we should all “go to church” after all!

The whole exercise is a multi-dimensional partnership. As we choose to muck our lot into our local church in partnership with other believers, a wonderful thing happens – Heaven partners with earth also. The result is a breathtaking win-win every which way. God is glorified, we are edified, and the world is impacted. We benefit even as we give ourselves away, and find ourselves immeasurably enriched.

I’m not proposing some petty cause-and-effect, self-enhancement formula here. This is not tit-for-tat and give-to-get. Teach it that way and you’ll shipwreck people. The truth is that we don’t usually need our local church in any urgent, day-to-day sort of way. We might serve it with that kind of immediacy, but it serves us in a far more big-picture sort of way. Solomon understood when he wrote, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Eccl 11:1). This sowing and reaping is a dynamic which the Lord has embedded in creation. Even those who are not Christians recognise it. They call it karma – what goes around comes around. This is why losing one’s life for Christ and His Gospel ultimately saves it. This immutable principle is plastered across Scripture. Examples abound. “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38).

The local church is an ecosystem. Relationships are symbiotic, with every organism benefiting as the entire ecosystem thrives. Belonging to it is not an optional extra either, but a facet of our very identity in Christ. We are all temples of the Holy Spirit, but only together are we the church. We are all children of God in our own right, but only together are we His family. There my Father is “our Father in heaven”, as Jesus said.

In making the point, our own children spring to mind. I’m so grateful that Estelle and I have raised our family within the local church. It’s not always been easy, what with leading, and with two church splits in a four year period some while ago. Nonetheless, I rejoice that my children have had the basics of the faith instilled in them. They have a grounding in the Scriptures. All three know the Lord. They’ve been baptised as believers. They’ve been baptised in the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. They’ve been persuaded of His faithfulness through a myriad of testimonies of all imaginable kinds over the years. They know how to pray. They know what it means to lift their hands in worship in the congregation of the saints. They are no strangers to the Lord’s manifest Presence. They’ve witnessed miracles, signs and wonders. Of course we’ve played our part, but the local church has been indispensable in the journey.

Our need for the benefits of this symbiosis intensifies all the more when the days are dark. Jesus said, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24:12). We would be hard pressed to better describe our day and age. The imminent threat is not the lawlessness itself, nor a loss of salvation, but the life-extinguishing impact which sustained trouble has on our inner man. Dreams fade and visions die as hope is suffocated. Stretched to the limit, tank empty, the besieged heart unwittingly moves into survival mode. The walls go up as the core temperature goes down, leaving the inner man curled up in a foetal position. The experience is not unique to the Christian, but for those of us who are in Christ, it numbs our faith, sending it into hibernation. Instead of living, we exist, forfeiting the abundantly fruitful “reigning in life” Jesus promised (Rom 5:17).

How exquisite the wisdom of this New Covenant ecosystem is. We keep our eyes glued on Jesus and yield our hearts in service alongside our brothers and sisters. As we do, we are encouraged, nourished, edified, renewed, refreshed and sustained. We who ensure the city on the hill remains ablaze find our own hearts warmed again and again. Our lamps have oil, as it were. Grace abounds, faith grows, the kingdom comes, life flows, and fruit abounds.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that the church should be the center of our Christianity. Jesus is that! But the local church is a God-given means of grace. She facilitates the touch of Heaven on earth in ways we cannot routinely access on our own. She was never designed to tower over our lives in Christ, but to undergird them. As such, she should always be keel-heavy and superstructure-light, with Christ and His Gospel her foundation, and Christ in His glory her crown.

The starting point is in gathering. Nothing complicated or onerous. Just the willingness and expectancy of faith. Me thinking we, and responding accordingly.

Every blessing!

Gavin

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A City on a Hill

I’ve recently begun writing a series of letters to our local church.

These arose from of an extended encounter with the Lord. The first letter was firing from the hip, as it were, and not suitable as a blog post. That first letter will therefore appear here in redacted form, and as the first two letters in the series.

Herewith then the first of those …

Dear Highway

Midweek greetings to you and yours.

Please read this letter carefully and prayerfully. It is the first in a series of letters to the congregation. Follow along with me as the theme develops and the revelation unfolds. This is part of the sense of the dawning of a new day in our church, and the letters will help us as we journey together into the future the Lord is beckoning us into.

Jesus put it this way: “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14a).

That “you” is plural, and Jesus is describing His church. Us. Of course His church is much, much bigger than just us. It’s transcendent and eternal, including all believers over all time. But that’s not what Jesus was getting at here. He is describing a church that is tangible. One that can be seen and heard, touched and tasted. One that can be pointed to, or visited. Take in the context and that much becomes obvious.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).

Notice the both/and. Each of us is a lamp bringing light into our own personal situation and circumstance, and brightly may we shine there. But each of us also have a part to play in something far bigger than ourselves. It’s the Lord’s heart and mind that together we become much more than we could every be on our own. Together we illuminate the nations!

See the synergy pulsating through the metaphor. The same idea is plastered across the Scriptures using other metaphors. The same way in which a building is much more than a pile of bricks, a body more than a collection of limbs, and an army more than a single soldier, so a city on a hill is much more than a collection of individual lamps on the same mountaintop. As we gather in His Name, Jesus the master-builder gets to work, forging that synergy that is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

In recent years our local church has placed a great deal of emphasis on the life in Christ of the individual believer. It’s been so good to embrace the truth that each and every one of us are Christ’s workmanship, carefully crafted, with good works prepared in advance by Him for us to walk in. And ever-so-brightly may we shine as we continue to walk in them. But now there is a new chapter opening up before us. A new chapter that is not either/or, but both/and. It is once again time for us to allow the Spirit to broaden our thinking, and to allow Him to form and fashion us corporately in a fresh way.

My job is to roll up my sleeves and round up the troops. It’s time to build the house. Promise is over her and destiny awaits her. I’ve heard the Lord, and so I’m setting out to do so in faith and with great liberty. Everyone’s invited.

Let me be explicit in what I’m asking for. Not a lot, to be honest. I’m asking for you to show up on Sunday mornings more often than not, and on time at that. It makes a huge difference to the traction and momentum of the meeting when you do so. You might not have any sense of missing anything when you’re not there, but your absence or tardiness costs the rest of us dearly.

I’m asking you to come to the gatherings with intent to engage. Come to lift your voice, to raise your hands, and to hug a neighbour. Bring a friend. Drop something in the offering plate. Come to find someone to encourage. Pray a prayer; break bread; help someone, somewhere, with something. Do whatever your hand finds to do, and obey the Spirit as He prompts. This is not rocket-science. And on your bad days? Come anyway!

On the other hand, we all know that I’m asking for quite a lot. I’m asking you to awaken your heart and to give yourself away in a fresh way. Bums on seats won’t cut it. This is heart-stuff, and I’m asking you to help create the very thing that your heart longs to share in.

See you Sunday!

Gavin

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The Great New Covenant Proposition

We have a new identity in Christ. This “new-creation-ness” is thanks to the once-for-all perfect-making work of Jesus on the cross, and is reflected innumerably throughout Scripture. Digest it with joy! If you are in Christ, then this is who you are!

Not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but of the tree of life
Not of Hagar but of Sarah
Not Ishmael but Isaac
Not of Moses but of Abraham
Not of the fig tree but of the olive tree
Not in Adam but in Christ
Not of the will of man but by the will of God
Not of perishable seed but of imperishable
Not fragile but indestructible
Not a work of human effort but a work of God
Not from below but of above
Not temporal but eternal
Not of earth but of heaven
Not of this age but of the age to come
Not defined by the past but defined by the future
Not according to facts but according to truth
Not aligned with things seen but aligned with things unseen
Not old but new
Not dead but alive
Not entombed but exalted
Not darkness but light
Not separated from God but reconciled to Him
Not far away but those brought near
Not condemned but justified
Not guilty but made innocent
Not unclean but clean
Not sinful but made holy
Not of old nature but having a new nature
Not held to ransom but redeemed
Not God’s enemy but God’s friend
No longer a sinner but now a saint
Not neglected but attended
Not bound but free
Not of random happenstance but predestined and chosen
Not lost but found
Not disqualified but qualified
Not disowned but affirmed
Not a slave but a son
Not under law but under grace
Not cursed but blessed
Not to be pitied but to be envied
Not hopeless but hope-filled
Not sick but healed
Not oppressed but delivered
Not poor but rich
Not rejected but accepted
Not shamed but glorified
Not in scarcity and lack but in abundance and amply supplied
Not orphaned but adopted
Not fearing men but fearing God
Not weak but strong
Not powerless but empowered
Not barren but fruitful
Not alone but in community
Not disenfranchised but belonging
Not useless but useful
Not the tail but the head
Not beneath but above
Not purposeless but having good works prepared in advance for us to do
Not cast aside but incorporated
Not by accident but on purpose
Not confused but clear
Not blind but seeing
Not deaf but hearing
Not lame but leaping like a deer
Not broken but made whole
Not inadequate but adequate
Not anxious but confident
Not complaining but rejoicing
Not down but up
Not inconsolable but comforted
Not ashes but beauty
Not variable but constant
Not temporary but permanent
Not of works but of faith
Not of striving and human effort but of rest
Not mourning but gladness
Not disgraced but dignified
Not accused but vindicated
Not defeated but defended
Not under the dominion of satan but under the government of God
Not out of this world but not of it
Not anticipating judgement but rendered unpunishable
Never deserving, but awash in mercy
Not fearful but bold
Not for victory but from victory
Not anxious but confident
Not burdened but light of yoke
Not unlovable but lovely
Not ugly but beautiful
Not unrighteous but righteous
Not in turmoil but at peace
Not irrational but of sound mind (in fact, we have the mind of Christ)
Not disinherited but the heir of the double portion
Not in the flesh but in the Spirit
Not fading away but from glory to glory
Not inept but enabled (the Helper dwells within us!)

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