Monthly Archives: May 2019

Building in the Spirit

Dear Highway

Paul writes: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that He had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:1–16).

From a human perspective, it’s but a bunch of religious folk doing life together. It’s about gathering; about music; about children’s ministry. There’s preaching, and singing, and the breaking of bread, and prayer. All good things, but nothing exceptional. But look at her from a spiritual perspective, and a very different picture emerges. She is a heaven-and-earth collaborative, with heaven unsurprisingly weighing in as dominant partner. In the passage above Paul describes that collaborative as the body of Christ – Jesus the head, us His body. He could have used any number of metaphors, and still made the same point. The local church is primarily spiritual, with the Lord Himself the jewel in the setting, whatever the word-picture in play.

The local church is truly extraordinary!

Getting to grips with the fact that the church is spiritual, and that she occupies a place and functions in the spiritual realm, is essential. If we don’t, church will be all about us, what we put in, and what we get out. It starts by recognizing that Biblical metaphor often moves beyond mere literary tool. For example: Christians are not like children of God; they literally are His children. He is not just like a father to us; He is Our Heavenly Father. In the same way, the church is not just like a family, a bride, an army, a body or a vine. We are these things. In actual fact, these spiritual realities are far richer than their reflections in the natural, but these reflections enable all of us to grasp in measure that which is infinite and beyond us.

This in turn means that our primary contribution in being and doing church is in the spiritual realm. The natural things – locking and unlocking, music, child care – these facilitate the real work, and as such are part of it. But these are not the main event. The main event is our collaboration with heaven. Together, we build in the spirit-realm. We use our voices, and we use music, and we use the communion table, but the engine room is the exercise is our faith, responding to grace, and worked out in love. Sometimes gatherings are decidedly militant (army); others are tender and intimate (bride). Some involve a great deal of ministry one to another (family); others are almost entirely consumed with ministry to the Lord and His world (priesthood). The Spirit leads; we follow.

Building the house is first and foremost a spiritual endeavor. Doing it well should lead to more people in the gatherings, a greater range of spiritual gifts in operation, fruit of every description in greater abundance, and increasing effectiveness in the work of the Gospel. It all starts in the Spirit, which is why we can so confidently assert that everyone has a contribution to make, and an indispensable contribution at that. The singing, clapping, dancing and giving is but a means to an end. The real issue is what is achieved in the spiritual realm. Ironically, it is the folk in the pews who are best positioned to contribute, because they are not distracted by serving in some way or another.

Revisit the passage and notice what Paul had to say about it: It’s a calling. The grace that we’ve received belongs to that calling. Our gifts belong to that calling. His injunction is that we should walk worthy of that calling. This is so because the church only builds herself up to the degree that each of us walk in that calling, playing our part. For the local church to thrive, the collaboration has to run every which way, between heaven and earth, and between all of us. As we do, what started out as the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3), a given in the Lord, becomes “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).

Vision will always be the poster-boy of progress, and what a vision we’ve been given – the fullness of Christ in every way! How we respond in our hearts to this great calling is make-or-break for the church. Gathering matters. Even more important is our attitudes when gathering. Apathy, lethargy and unbelief undermine. But so does legalism. Getting everyone jumping through the hoops in obligation will disembowel life. Faithfulness is required, but its the faithfulness of faith that will get the job done, not a faithfulness born of guilt and condemnation. This great safeguard ensures that doing church can never be onerous. Only faith and love will get us where we’re going, and these fuel us, rather than deplete us. Healthy and vibrant local churches will always give as good as they get, and the people who make the greatest sacrifices for her will be the ones who find them the most meaningful.

The fruit of building in the spirit is spiritual first, temporal second. Local church in full flight is the grace of God on display, reconciling the irreconcilable, and triumphing over sin, flesh, devil and grave! These victories spill over into the natural in blessings and breakthroughs of all kinds. Only a small percentage of these ever make it to testimony or praise report, and are but the tip of the iceberg of what the Lord is doing in and through His people.

A thought in conclusion. We’ll never build in the Spirit in any significant way if we cannot get people through the doors when we gather. In fact, getting them through the doors is the very first step in building. Yet so infra dig has church attendance become, that it is being mooted as one of the most important spiritual disciplines to nurtured in the twenty-first century. The Lord is intent on reversing the trend, and will be re-gathering His people once again. Let’s move with Him swiftly and surely, hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches, and respond in joy and faith. The future is upon us, and the best is yet ahead!

Yours in Christ Jesus.

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His Presence

Dear Highway

This is the sixth in a series of letters to you, our local church.

We’ve reminded ourselves of the many Biblical metaphors for the church. She is a city on a hill. She is a family, a household, a body, and a fruitful vine. She is an olive tree. She is a temple and a tabernacle, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. She is a bride and a flock, she is a field, and she is an army.

No matter the metaphor, there is an overriding constant: She is His. And as such, she has been granted the greatest gift of all: His Presence!

What is true of the individual believer is true of the church: Christ within!

The texts assuring us of this are many. Let’s quote two of the more familiar. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18:20). And to the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “In Him you (Jews and Gentiles) also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:22).

Imagine for a moment that you are one of those who walked with the incarnate Christ, e.g. Peter, James and John. You personally received His reassurance, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He promised that He would not leave you as an orphan, but that another who is just like Him, the Holy Spirit, would come. He would not only be with you, but within you, never to depart. You were present on Pentecost when the Spirit fell, and you received. Now imagine gathering post-Pentecost with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and suddenly being overtaken by the notion that God Himself is not present. And I’m not talking about God being present in the sense of His omnipresence, but tangibly so. Such a notion – God’s absence or remoteness – would’ve been absolutely unthinkable! His Presence was a given. A gift, and a defining gift at that.

The Presence of God is fundamental to the New Covenant. When God gave is salvation, He gave us Himself. Jesus closed the gap between holy Heaven and sinful earth, without for a moment relinquishing His holiness. Whosoever believes in Him receives Him, His holiness, and His Heaven. The loss of Presence equates to the loss of salvation!

Every believer knows the awful experience of a disconnection in fellowship with the Lord. We’ve all been so carnal (fleshly) in our focus, for whatever reason, that God feels a million miles away. The same thing happens in marriage – a loss of intimacy; diminished fellowship; reduced communication; remoteness rather than closeness. These feelings are factual, but when it comes to the Lord, they are not founded in the overarching truth of our salvation, but in the experience of the moment. And the way back to intimacy with Him is a return to faith. A return to acknowledging Him, His Person, His Presence, and His rightful place. We call that return to faith repentance; a re-alignment of our hearts and minds with Him.

In the same way, churches might lose the Presence. It’s not that God is absent, but that there has been a disconnection in fellowship. A carnality has crept in, and the Lord has lost His rightful place in the corporate heart. Repentance is necessary. But that repentance does not address separation (even though it might feel like it), but orientation. Under the Old Covenant, the Lord might well have withdrawn to the top of a fenced mountain, or retreated behind heavens turned to brass, but not so under the New Covenant. Christ forever rend the heavens, and the tabernacle of God is now with men.

The irony is that those who most fervently set out to seek the Lord run the risk of steeping themselves in unbelief. The harder we search for Him, the more we can undermine the glorious foundation of our faith, which reveals the God who sought and found us! Let us contend for intimacy by all means, seeking the Lord as a wife might seek her husband and vice-versa, but let us make sure that we never assume separation. The unbeliever is yet to be reconciled to God, but the Christian has been reconciled already.

Let’s return for a moment to the many metaphors describing the church. Let’s be careful in how we apply them. The church is not a house being built so that God can move in; it is a house being built around a God who has already moved in! She is not a bride-to-be awaiting her wedding day; she is a bride enjoying her husband, Jesus. The age to come promises a fullness, now tasted, but not yet fully possessed. Yet Christ has blurred the lines, and the age to come has broken into this age as surely as Heaven has come to earth, leaving us with the perpetual promise of more.

The Presence of God is the jewel, the gathering of the saints the setting. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing. To assume the Presence is not to be presumptuous, but to believe! Let us be careful to welcome Him whenever we gather, but not from afar. He is the ultimate guest of honour who has condescended to be ever-present when we gather, for which we will be ever-grateful.

Much love!

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Many Metaphors

This is the fifth in a series of letters to our local church. I’ve been mandated by the Lord to gather the congregation in a fresh way, and I write to provide the what and the why. The aim is to see many more of the saints present on Sunday mornings (and on time if possible, please), ready to be and to do in accordance with the Lord – His word, His will and His ways. This letter is effectively His invitation to you to join us on the journey!


Dear Highway

Jesus, the Living Word, said that we, His church, are a city on a hill: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt 5:14).

Our Bibles, the written Word, provide us with a host of other metaphors that also describe His church. These are given us to enrich our understanding, even while revealing just how gloriously multi-faceted the church that Jesus is building is. Amongst other things, she is a family, a household, a body, and a fruitful vine. She is an olive tree. She is a temple and a tabernacle, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. She is a bride and a flock, she is a field, and she is an army.

What is so clear from Scripture is less evident on the ground. The statistics reflect that in the average local church, ten to twenty percent of the congregation are workers, and the other eighty to ninety percent attendees. In other words, a congregation of two hundred will have somewhere between twenty and forty people on staff and in volunteer teams, doing everything necessary to keep the wheels turning – music, sound, children’s ministry, small group leadership, and the like. Take the church up to two thousand, and the staff and volunteers complement will be up around the two hundred mark. Twenty thousand, and you’ll need two thousand.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. How many preachers can we have on a Sunday, or worship leaders, or ushers? The teams that enable the church to function when gathered are to be lauded and applauded. Their gifts and callings are a blessing, and we value their contributions greatly! But the question remains, what about the rest?

As an aside, the equation changes dramatically when the gathering is much smaller. Plant a church of twenty people and everyone is a contributor. A cell group or house church is the same. The caution in these environments is that with everyone indispensable, obligations easily undermine freedoms, to no good end. Also bear in mind that the first congregation in Jerusalem grew to many thousands very quickly, as did the churches in Antioch and Ephesus in the same era. Small is therefore not necessarily the goal when doing church.

But let’s stay with the eighty percent. The so-called “go to church” people. According to Jesus, they are the light of the world. Monday through Saturday, they are lamps on stands, but together they illuminate nations. Obviously we can’t shoe-horn everything that it means to be and do church into ninety minutes on a Sunday morning, but the point remains. From Jesus’ perspective, the eighty percent are bricks, soldiers, branches and body parts. We must therefore grapple with what that looks like when it’s working as He ordained it to.

As we gather, we should reflect what Jesus declared His church to be. For surely when the church gathers a city on a hill gathers, as does an army, a body, a building, a family and a fruitful vine? Surely this should be self-evident? Unable to conceptualize these things, we’ve traded true contribution for mere participation. Sing. Dance. Clap. Give. Do these, under-girded by supportive virtues like faithfulness, generosity and willing service, and you’re everything the average leadership could hope for. But where in that is the sense of being indispensable. Bricks hardly attend a building any more than arms and legs attend a body. Long may we continue to sing, dance, clap and give, but there has to be much more to it all than that!

Herewith a vital key: In our individual lives as Christians, we do who we are (identity fuels life). As we think in our hearts, so are we. We live right because He has made us righteous. We conduct ourselves as children of God because that is who we are. The same principle applies corporately: congregations will only be who they are in their understanding. Think of the people in the seats as extras on the set on Sunday mornings, and they will never step into their actual role so integral to the plot. People will only brick and branch to the degree to which they are bricks and branches in their own hearts and minds.

Bricks and soldiers, arms and legs – all are indispensable. Simply “getting it” is what starts to change everything. Learning to brick and to soldier together is the easy part, because we can’t but figure that out once the penny has dropped. A renewal of our minds beckons and is pivotal to transformation. As we glimpse a better way, we start the change by first recognising that our thinking needs to shift. That recognition is the beginning of the seismic shift the Bible calls repentance. As the revelation intensifies, we receive the fresh truth, embracing it, taking it to ourselves, and making it our own. And as we do that, we begin to respond accordingly, appropriating and applying it to ourselves and to those around us. Almost before we know it, we find ourselves living in what we’ve seen, doing who we are.

Every gathered congregation is already a city on a hill, potentially ablaze. The other metaphors apply in the same way. Destiny calls. The longing for more is already a-stir in the hearts of the saints. Let that which is asleep awaken and that which is sedentary arise!

Every blessing!

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The Rugby Match

The fourth is a series of letters to a local church …

Dear Highway

These letters are at heart an appeal to a congregation to gather. To get to the Sunday meetings more often than not. To get there on time, and with as open and as expectant a heart as possible. It’s time to build the house! Each letter will speak to why and how we should do so. Please read each one carefully and prayerfully.

“You are the light of the world.
A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt 5:14).

Someone described the typical local church as a rugby match – a crowd of people badly in need of exercise urging on a handful of exhausted folk desperately in need of a rest! The analogy always brings a smile as folk recognise the truth of it.

But what if the whole idea is a red herring? Truth is, there’s not much space on the playing field for the crowd. It’s all very well to challenge the folk in the seats to get some skin in the game, but what we’re often aiming for is more bums on more seats more often. And of course we need them to keep chipping in their gate money to fund the whole thing while they’re at it. Preach your heart out on subjects like commitment and involvement, and it might well end up in more people in prayer meetings, mens and womens events, small groups, Bible college, and conferences. But that doesn’t equate to a significant increase in the number of players on the field. The club may seem far more successful, even fielding a second or third team in the league. They might move up in the rankings and put some silverware on display. But when all is said and done, you still have a crowd needing exercise watching the few who could really use a rest, just on a grander scale.

Others shift the debate by viewing the church meetings as opportunities for the specialist few to equip the many in the business of Christian living. For them, the church gathered is somewhere between a hospital for the sick and a boot camp for training the army. To return to the analogy of the rugby game, the real stuff takes place out there in the real world during the week. Sunday is all-important locker-room time. The injured get their cuts and scrapes attended. Fresh kit is thrown onto tired bodies. Everyone gets something to eat and drink. The limited time available is put to good use by the experts giving the players a pep talk. Then it’s back out onto the pitch for real-life match-time once again.

This doesn’t align with what Jesus had to say either. Just as His city on a hill cannot possibly be a star-studded stage with an adoring crowd, neither can it be a behind-the-scenes ops center, working to ensure that individual lamps are kept shining brightly on their individual stands in homes during the week. A quantum leap in thinking is necessary.

Let’s stay with the rugby match analogy. Imagine the same stadium that we started with, match underway, with a significant crowd in attendance. But now, imagine that the really important stuff is emanating from the crowd. What they are doing is the main event, and everything going on down on the pitch is geared towards encouraging their contribution. The actual game is being played in the stands. Animate the bleachers in your mind’s eye. They’re pulsating with life. There’s nothing passive about these people. They’re doing the stuff. They’re not spectators, or fans, or consumers. They’re contributors. They are locked in, fully engaged. They know why they’ve gathered, and they know what they’re doing. On purpose, and in purpose. They know that the important stuff they’re doing is only possible en masse, and the more the merrier. Apart, they are individual lamps on stands. Together, they are a city on a hill, giving light to the nations.

I’d be interested to know what it was you visualised them doing? What is the “stuff”? No metaphor is complete in and of itself, and I’m not trying to stretch things to the point of incredulity, but please take my point. I’m also not minimizing the giving and serving that keeps the wheels turning on a Sunday morning, but these are things we all know intuitively if we’re honest. Something is not quite right with the way we’ve thought about church gatherings. Something is missing!

But what if any gathered congregation is potentially much, much more than we’ve thought? The Scriptures teach that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). What if some of the most important good works are to be walked in together as a congregation when we gather? What if we’ve been walking right past significant breakthroughs, blinded by our preconditioning?

Ask yourself the question (in the context of the church gathered): What is it that anyone can contribute, and that everyone should contribute, in order for the church to be the city on a hill Jesus is raising up?

Our challenge is to answer that question well. To see, understand, enable and release what is already in the house every Sunday, sitting right there in the pews. If we can do that, then gathering will once again become one of the most important things that any Christian can do!

Every blessing as we discover more together.

See you Sunday!

This was the fourth in a series of letters to our local church. Here are the links to the first three …

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