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Nature and Nurture

Herewith a quick over-the-shoulder recap of the last four posts …

  • The church is the product of the New Covenant. Her very existence is only possible thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus. And because of its efficacy, she is spiritual, perfect and glorious. One with God, she transcends time and space.
  • Every local church is a limited temporal manifestation of a far greater eternal reality. Despite imperfections, local churches are always much more than they appear to be. They are defined by their source, not by their performance.
  • Conceived by Word and Spirit, local churches carry New Covenant DNA. They are genetically perfect and glorious. Lacking nothing, their essence cannot be improved upon.
  • Authentic Christian living is the fruit of Christ’s complete and perfect work. It is as much by Word and Spirit as the new birth itself. The Gospel is thus the essential forerunner to the local church. Believers who live true to their new natures congregate in local churches. These are contextually authentic, with a life-dynamic that is by grace and through faith.

These are all descriptions of the church’s essential nature. Clarity on this is all-important, for just as with the individual believer, her essence is what defines her, therefore defining each and every local church also. Yet there’s more to all of us than nature. We are also the product of nurture, by which we mean the sum total of the many influences that have formed and fashioned us, for good and for ill.

On a personal level many aspects of wholesome nurture are generic. They are the necessary components of maturity, irrespective of race, gender or context. “Mind your manners”. “Tidy your room”. But then there are those aspects of nurture that are tailored to situation and circumstance, gifts and callings. “It’s time for your piano lesson”. The greater the congruence between the latter and nature the better. We all have that friend, practical by orientation, who suffered through an education in academic mould. And what about the fellow stranded in the wrong job. Discrepancy between nature and nurture teaches us that design and destiny are hand to glove, and that the more time we spend doing what we’re created for, the better.

Similarly, every local church is a blend of nature and nurture. By nature, all local church are identical. All are of Christ, in Christ, for Christ, and by His Spirit. Their uniqueness stems not from nature, but from nurture. From the fashioning and forming, situation and circumstance. The most obvious variable in the mix is the people themselves. Each member is unique, and makes a unique contribution. Beyond this are innumerable further variables, each impacting on the congregation to greater or lesser degree. Alignment and association play their part, as do history and context. Even omission warrants inclusion in our thinking, because deprivation shapes things just as surely as what diligence and abundance does.

Many of the factors that shape and form a local church are beyond our control, but that should not lead us to conclude that the nurture of a local church is purely a random, haphazard affair. This is not so, for the New Covenant brings with it wisdom of grace. Jesus is building His church, in the universal and in the local sense. Understanding how He does this enables us to cooperate with Him.

Jesus is building His church

Jesus is building His church. In other words, God Himself is ultimately responsible for nature and nurture. He is the source of every good gift, no matter how convoluted its delivery system may seem. Only that which is of Christ and in Christ is eternal. Heaven’s union with earth may well be untidy in the moment, but this will not always be so. In the end, only that which is perfect will remain. Gold, silver and precious stones will endure. Wood, hay and stubble will perish. Humanity as we know it is transient. Humanity as in Christ Jesus is eternal.

Jesus builds by Word and Spirit. This is how Heaven comes to earth. Jesus embodied this, and the Gospel, which is the Good News about what Jesus accomplished, is Word and Spirit also. Blood and Water; Word and Spirit. By these we are born again, and by these we are nurtured. This is true of us as individual believers, and true of the local church. The implication is that nurture, like the new birth, is by grace alone and through faith alone. Believing is receiving, for it is Him at work, and not we ourselves.

Jesus builds bottom-up inside-out. Our transformation is by clear progression. The first thing Jesus changes is who we are. That happens when we believe and are born again. In that moment we are united with Him is His crucifixion, death and resurrection, and receive a new nature. Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. Next Jesus changes why we are. He gets to work in our hearts and minds, shaping our other innards into alignment with our new nature. The outworking of that is that He changes what we are. How we live. Our behaviour. Our thoughts, words and deeds.

The wonderful thing about all of this is that Heaven’s perfections are not compromised in any way by amalgamation with fallen humanity. This is one of the great distinctives of the New Covenant. Perfection Himself submitted to the virgin’s womb in humble condescension. Doing so did not render Him any the lesser. Our new natures are incorruptible. It is mortality which yields to immortality under the New Covenant, and not the other way around, for Christ conquered the grave. In Him we touch lepers, and in Him we embrace corpses with impunity. In Him, mercy has triumphed over judgement, making love the most powerful force in the universe.

All of that to give insight into how it is that Perfect Jesus is able to use imperfect people. Imperfect people just like us. Incorruptible new natures and a triumphant salvation make this possible. He remains the source of every good gift, even if the delivery system is convoluted. And so, while He remains the Somebody responsible for nurture, He has delegated the task to Everybody. Our life in Him includes all things pertaining to life and godliness. We access this sufficiency through faith. Not a passive faith, but an active faith, that has concomitant obedience. The New Covenant ecosystem thrives as our faith produces good works, many of which unfold within the communion of the saints. The diversity of our gifts and callings enrich in broad sweep as Christ takes on flesh once again, living through His body, by His Spirit. There He expresses Himself through words, ways, works and wonders. We all benefit, the Gospel is propagated, and His kingdom advances. Nothing could be simpler, sweeter, or more God glorifying.

Paradigm shift

It’s against this backdrop of an abundance of good fruit that the Lord Jesus appoints some to leadership and governance in the church. These men and women carry the authority, anointing and grace needed to exercise their gifts and fulfil their callings. To each is apportioned a sphere of influence, but their primary purpose remains the same – the nurture of a bride who is born of God, and who is perfect of nature.

The conventional view of church leadership and governance differs from this considerably. Rather than positioning leaders to undergird and facilitate, the conventional view positions leaders on top and out front. The result is top-down outside-in, rather than the bottom-up, inside-out of the kingdom.

This is the very thing that Jesus warned us about when correcting the ambitious sons of Zebedee in this regard. “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42–45).

Reject His inputs, and the sins pile up quickly.

Inherent in us doing things our own way is the denial of the efficacy of His work. This denial comes by way of regarding His bride as less than perfect. Which amounts to unbelief in its rawest form.

Deny the efficacy of His work, and the church presents as sub-standard. Instead of perfect, she is seen as in need of improvement and repair. Inculcating any such culture of shortcoming and lack is the antithesis of the New Covenant’s presumption of fullness and freedom. From here, an orphan spirit quickly develops, as opposed to the delights of the Spirit of sonship which the Gospel so generously bestows.

Set about to improve and repair, and Grace defaults to Law. The tools of this trade are stick and carrot, and all too soon the way the believers behave is managed by approval and disapproval. Instead of the beauty of self-governance in and by the Spirit, which is the New Covenant way, manipulation and control wait in the wings. So accustomed are we to leaders stick-and-carroting that most of us don’t even register a problem. We expect them to bring us under Law, and think it’s their job to manipulate and control as they tell us what to do. Could it be that we’ve completely lost sight of the fact that the ministry of the Law is one of death? This remains so no matter how well-meaning the people are administering it. Abuse can be ever so politely perpetrated, with teary-eyed sincerity, admirable passion, and more than a little self-sacrifice.

Adding insult to injury, it’s not possible to have top-down outside-in leadership without it giving rise to an ecclesiastical aristocracy. A few folk end up being much more important than everyone else. We even quite happily grant them special dress, title and privilege, all the while underscoring their being a cut above the rest, unhelpfully reinforcing the cycle.

Not too long and gone is any thought of the fullness and freedom of the New Covenant. Guilt and condemnation, manipulation and control proliferate. Personal responsibility and self-governance are supplanted by conformity. The leading of the Holy Spirit is replaced by flesh-and-blood leadership. Everyone is shortchanged at best, not least the leaders themselves.

Such are the dynamics of imprisonment by religion in the name of “Biblical order”, “responsible leadership” and “good governance”. Law by every other name!

Redress

The unifying factor of redemption history is Christ and His perfect work. This is the doctrinal monocle (perhaps telescope, or microscope, or both) through which all of Scripture should be understood, and all of history viewed.

So saying flies in the face of the popular notion that the kingdom of God is redemption’s unifying theme. We must be emphatic about this, for the kingdom issues from the King, and serves the purposes of the King, but it is He who is preeminent. Getting this wrong leads to an emphasis on the ways of God, rather than on His glorious salvific work. Christianity then devolves into living by kingdom principles, rather than by the leadership of the Spirit. These two always agree, but the latter is exclusively by grace through faith. Live by kingdom principles, and self effort beckons into recipes and formulae, steps and rules.

Thanks to Jesus’ perfect work, the church is not substandard at all. We Christians are New Covenant people. We are not under Law. The Law was fulfilled by Christ, and rendered obsolete by Him. We are under Grace. Fullness and freedom have been given us in Christ. Nothing lacking; nothing broken. The Holy Spirit is within us. He is our leader. Love, forgiveness and acceptance have replaced the stones Law insisted we throw. Condemnation and retribution are not in the equation. Our behaviour is shaped by our identity, and not managed by approval and disapproval. Gone is the stick and the carrot. We have embraced Christ. He received our punishment in full, and He is our reward. The kingdom of God is within us. Our new natures urge submission to God, as is befitting new creations. In His Name we must therefore demand that there be congruence between nature and nurture, design and destiny.

There is much more yet to be said about leadership and governance under the New Covenant. What concerns us at this point is not the nuts and bolts of it all, but the quantum leap in perspective necessary. Leadership is about nurture, nurture, nurture, nurture and nurture. Nurture congruent with essential nature. Nurture congruent with gift and callings. Nurture in agreement with the work of Christ. Authority used to undergird, not to dominate.

Jesus commanded it, modelled it and enabled it. Ours is to practice it.

He was once quizzed on matters of taxation. The motives behind the question were malicious, an attempt to set Him up against Rome. Jesus asked for a coin, and then asked whose image was on the coin. Caesar was the answer, and, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” His iconic answer. Herein lies a profound summation of the point we’re making. An emperor or monarch has their image imprinted on a coin through moulding or minting. Outside-in and top-down. In contrast, we are God’s by creation and Christ’s through redemption. He has worked to make us in His image, but by Word and Spirit, bottom-up and inside-out. Our leaders should be like Him, and not like Caesar. They should nurture by Word and Spirit, and not by moulding and minting. Mould and mint, and they’ll likely leave their own imprint on us, rather than the image of Christ.

Order without Law

The Bible teaches us that Law is the rightful response to lawlessness. Disciplinary actions still have a place. But this is not so in the cut and thrust of daily life, where the watchword is self-government, from within, and undergirded by the community of faith.

All the inspiration we need is to be found in the very first community of faith, the Trinity, in whose fellowship we have been included in Christ.

Perfect order prevails amongst them. Son submits to Father, and Spirit to Father and Son. Yet there is no Law here. No authoritarianism. In this first community of faith love and honour prevail, and mutual submission each to the others overshadows authority and submission as demonstrated by them fulfilling their respective roles.

Paul appealed to the church to live the same way. He stressed that mutual submission across the love-community is the essential precursor to order. Leaders in the church must submit to their followers before insisting that their followers submit to them. Husbands must submit to their wives in the Lord before insisting that their wives submit to them as a point of order in the marriage. He even extrapolated the principle into the wider context of civil society. The only exception, in all situations, is where lawlessness is prevalent. There, mutual submission in love yields to the rule of law for the preservation of good. But where love rules, no law is necessary.

Today we’re quick to applaud leaders who produce the desired outcomes. We don’t seem to mind if they do it in ways that decimate faith, love and self-governance. We’ve lost sight of the fact that the Law is not of faith. It never has been, and it never will be. It can only produce dead works, and these at best. It’s ministry is death, and it will always create environments conducive to manipulation, control and abuse.

It’s time for a revolution in leadership, producing the kind of leadership that can lead the necessary revolution. A revolution that is at once revival and reformation. The best is yet ahead.

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New Covenant church life

Water stewarded by the river’s banks brings life wherever it goes. But note that it’s the water itself determining the course of the river, carving its banks as it flows. This synergy provides us with perfect parable, for this is how God works.

We can get uncomfortable with the fluidity of His approach. Our fear is that any river left to chart its own course could create a swamp. Our comfort zone is greater control. Sterile canals are the result, and often dry canals at that. We then invest inordinate time and energy into praying for rain as our hearts yearn for life amidst the sterility of our own manufacture. Unfortunately, this is man’s way. There is nothing new about it. The prophet Jeremiah addressed it when he penned, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.“ (Jeremiah 2:13).

Description is not prescription

The Bible introduces us to a number of local churches. Paul’s letters contribute substantially. So do the opening chapters of the Revelation. Yet it is a cursory perusal of Acts that best serves our purposes here. There the unfolding story of the church unfolds around the founding of three significant congregations – Jerusalem, Antioch and Ephesus. We’ll take a peak at each, and in doing so underscore two crucial insights.

Firstly, our fears are unfounded. The Gospel river of Word and Spirit is well able to fashion its own boundaries. Wise leadership is always an asset, but to turn to another metaphor for a moment, we can have full confidence in the seed. There is no need for us to control matters. New Covenant DNA cannot be improved upon. What grows from the Gospel will always be better than what our best efforts can engineer.

Secondly, and the primary point of this post, is that the church in the New Testament emerged directly from the Gospel. The good things that marked church life were the Gospel’s fruit. Just as Jesus had promised – good fruit; abundant fruit; lasting fruit; God-glorifying fruit. Law’s fruit, on the other hand, is deadly. Condemnation, judgement, accusation, disqualification, striving, sin-consciousness, and every other kind of unbelief. But the Gospel produces the good fruit of the kingdom of heaven: righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. These are the makings of healthy local church, whatever the context.

Let’s use an example from Jerusalem in illustration. These generous and caring saints initiated a common purse. As a result, there were no needy among them. The Gospel’s love and generosity reproduced itself in the believers, and the common purse was a manifestation of the work of the Spirit in their hearts. It did not result from any strategic leadership other than that provided by the Holy Spirit from within the heart of the believing community. This distinction is all-important. New Testament descriptions of church life are just that – descriptions. Descriptions of what the Gospel’s fruit may well look like. These descriptive passages should never be brought to bear in prescriptive ways. Do that, and the spiritual barometer immediately swings from Grace to Law. The annals of church history are littered with attempts to engineer similar outcomes by similar means. But man’s way is top-down, outside-in, and the array of abuses attendant manipulation and control easily ensue.

We should expect good fruit in our local churches. Not because we envision and strategise for it, but because we preach the same Gospel the early apostolic band preached. The Biblical descriptions give us snapshots of what that good fruit could look like. But we must resist the tendency to scout out patterns or principles that become our formulae for success. Let’s rejoice in the fruit of the Gospel, whether we see it on the pages of our Bibles or in the other churches in our cities. And then, let’s trust God for good fruit in our own context, as we declare an uncompromised Gospel in the fullness of grace.

Jerusalem

The church in Jerusalem was born in the deluge of Life in the wake of the death and resurrection of Jesus. As kick-starts go, this one was exceptional. Membership increased to well over five thousand on day one. Further advantages in their context included a wealth of leadership (a room full of apostles), and a developed mono-culture (everyone thought the same way). These are helpful facilitators of community. The latter proved a huge hindrance to mission though, and it was only as persecution intensified that the Gospel spread. This teaches us that our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses.

The iconic description of life in the Jerusalem church reads, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42–47)

They devoted themselves to four things. Each was a direct response to the Gospel.

The first was to the apostles’ teaching. Not the teachings of Moses. Not even the teachings of Jesus. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, which was the Good News, the Gospel. It’s essence was that Jesus had lived the sinless life no sinner could live. He had then died the death every sinner deserved. Then He had risen from the dead. This was the apostles’ message, and this is the New Covenant. It is emphatically post-cross, post-resurrection and post-outpouring-of-the-Spirit. Paul’s ministry was marked by the same message, as should any other be ministry today.

They devoted themselves to the fellowship. The Greek word used here has nuance. Dependant on context, it can be equally well translated as community or partnership. The Jerusalem church embraced it as community. The Gospel had produced a whole new segment in society – the called out ones. Those who had believed into Christ Jesus. They were His community. A grace community; a faith community; a Holy Spirit community. They constituted a definite and distinctive component of the city. Judaism was structured around the Law of Moses. The church coagulated around the command of Jesus: “love one another”. Love one another as Jesus had loved them, that is. Sacrificially, unconditionally and practically.

They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. Jesus gave His church this beautiful means of grace. Communion is ongoing participation in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. The bread and the wine, received in faith, appropriates the benefits of the New Covenant tangibly and personally. The believers in Jerusalem broke bread often. Most often, is seems, while sharing a meal. Where the meals stopped and the communion started is not all that clear form the account, for as they gathered with family and friends for the sustenance of their bodies, they turned also to the bread and the wine for the nurture of their souls. This reminded them that they were first and foremost spiritual beings. God’s children. Brothers and sisters in Christ. Their context facilitated it all. Jesus had been crucified in Jerusalem, and the likes of continued Roman rule and Golgotha served as continual reminders. Their culture was already an hospitable one, with extended families already a part of daily life. The patterns that emerged did so quite naturally, then, and were a perfect fit for first-century Jerusalem.

Finally, they devoted themselves to prayer. This was a marked response to the New Covenant fitting in any historically religious context. These were people who were accustomed to mediation. Under Moses, only priests went to God. The people went to the priests. Now that these ordinary men and women had access to God, they made full use of the privilege. Simply imagine yourself into their shoes. You’ll quickly appreciate the vibrancy of prayer in the New Testament church. People who had not had anywhere to turn could now turn to God, and that for themselves. They had been made righteous by grace through faith. They were most welcome at His throne of grace. Mercy was freely and directly available. All they needed to do was ask. So they asked! May I suggest that prayer will also flourish in our churches when we rediscover the privilege of access to God.

Antioch

Church life in Antioch reflected its New Covenant DNA just as well. The context was different, and so the fruit showed itself a little differently also. Here multi-culturalism was the order of the day. Jew and Gentile fellowshipped together. Their sharing of daily routines seem less marked than Jerusalem, but partnership in the Gospel more so. This was a church where anyone was welcome, including Christian-killing ex-Pharisee Paul. Anyone was welcome, because of the Gospel, in the Gospel, and for the Gospel. Antioch was missional church at its best.

“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:1–3)

The believers were first called Christians in Antioch, revealing that they were also a distinct group, even if quite different to the community of faith in Jerusalem. Prayer was important to them also, as was the apostles’ teaching. Barnabas was a bulwark contributor in this regard, and the New Covenant the metronome to their thinking. Their most prominently featured means of grace seems to have been the laying on of hands. In the context of New Covenant, touch conveys acceptance, imparts spiritual life and gifts, or bestows authority. This is especially significant as we note that it was Jew and Gentile extending this touch one to the other.

Incidentally, the same generosity that marked the Jerusalem church marked the Antioch church also. Yet their giving was more missionally inclined, rather than slanted towards community-building. “So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11:29–30)

Ephesus

The church in Ephesus is yet another wonderful study of the Gospel at work. This was Paul’s way. He was no church planter; He was an apostolic Gospel-preacher. Where the Gospel is preached, it produces a people, and these people often become a local church. In Ephesus, these people were called the Way.

“And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptised?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptised with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all. And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” (Acts 19:1–12)

Paul preached the Gospel boldly. He preached it in the power of the Spirit. This is what he had been anointed and appointed to do. The result was salvation in all of its richness. Salvation of spirit, soul and body. Salvation gloriously made manifest in a pagan city. The account reveals the world-transforming power of the Gospel ever so clearly. Through the Gospel, Heaven colonises earth one life at a time. From there, upward and outward, it impacts cities and nations. Daily preaching and teaching in a single venue resulted in the entire Roman province of Asia hearing the word of the Lord.

Tremendous authority has been granted the people of God in Christ. Notice how demons fled, and how principalities and powers lost their grip. The church in Ephesus exercised tremendous territorial authority. (Reference the way in which the Philistines were held at bay outside of Israel’s borders throughout Samuel’s lifetime for more insight into these matters. Cf Samuel 7:13). Yet, notice also how little time was devoted to demon-chasing and other forms of spiritual warfare. These things happen as and when the Gospel is preached; no specialised ministry necessary.

Sadly, in later years the Ephesian church relinquished its high ground. They abandoned their first love. Instead of devotion to Christ, they came to rely on their own efforts (Cf Revelation 2:1-7). The result was the loss of their lampstand (authority; not salvation). The lesson is simple. Everything that any church has is by grace and through faith. It is not of ourselves.

Flow, river, flow

All of the churches of the New Testament are fountains of revelation regarding the Gospel and it’s fruit. The Galatians teach us that to return to Law is a fall from grace. This very lesson would’ve increased the longevity of the harvest in Ephesus, for it is into this trap which they fell. The Corinthians teach us that lawlessness is no more helpful than legalism. Both of these belief systems are defined by Law, the one for, the other against. The Gospel is something entirely different.

Those who are in Christ are not under law, but they are under Grace. And grace is many things, including a government. It is the government of God; the rule of His Christ. Changed lives come as the work of Christ is appropriated by the Holy Spirit. This happens through faith, and occurs bottom-up, inside-out. Living the Christian life is nothing other than the outworking of New Covenant DNA implanted by new birth. Church life is from the same source and works in the same way. This Spirit-indwelt Christ-life, the newness of those born again, manifests Heaven here on earth. It does so in time and space. As it grows and develops it establishes itself, transforming lives, families, cities and nations.

May our local churches be as much the fruit of the New Covenant as any glimpsed on the pages of our New Testament. Flow, river, flow! It is crucial that they be the works of God, not the strivings of men.

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New Covenant DNA

When men build, it usually happens top-down, outside-in.

In come the diggers and graders. When the dust settles the site has been cleared as man imposes his will on his environment. Once the clearing is done, the meticulous process of construction begins. Everything is by design, and the sequencing is precise. Careful coordination ensures that the trades make their contribution at just the right time. Hardhats huddle and machinery stands. Progress bows to head scratching and problem-solving as unanticipated challenges present themselves. Ingenuity and engineering spar with budgets and other constraints. By torturous toil, something rises out of nothing, or at least appears to do so. Elsewhere, quarries scar the landscape, having offered up their treasures to those who hold the purse strings.

The Lord goes about things a little differently. He works bottom-up and inside-out.

The entire oak is in the acorn. It germinates in soil enriched by the falling leaves of innumerable autumns. Not much to look at, that acorn. Or any other seed, for that matter. But the marvels of DNA ensure that what is embedded in the essential nature of the seed will manifest. What emerges is show-stopping jaw-dropping splendour, should the environment approximate the conducive.

Some would argue that to contrast things thus is to oversimplify. Perhaps. But even in His workings in and through our humanity, these principles can be observed. Remember Abraham and Sarah. The best they could do in their own strength was an Ishmael. God’s purposes unfolded through Isaac. A seed implanted in a barren womb, through whom all the nations of the earth were blessed. And remember when the Israelites left Egypt. Isn’t it amazing that a bunch of ex-slaves could build something as stunning as the tabernacle in that desolate wilderness? No hardware store to visit. No subcontractor to quote on the job. The tabernacle and all its trappings were in the nation’s DNA. All the necessary craftsmanship, as well as more than a little Egyptian loot. With the people living in tents, when God ordered His own, the oak was already nestled in the acorn.

The unfolding story of the church in Acts follows a similar sub-plot. Embedded in the apostolic DNA of the Twelve was all that was needed. The acorn in the upper room to become the oak of the church throughout the Roman Empire. A few chapters in and we have deacons in Jerusalem. A few chapters more and the prophets and teachers show themselves in Antioch. By the time we get to the end of the book the elders, shepherds and evangelists have shown themselves. Amidst a spectacular array of other gifts at that. Everything was in the seed, and Word and Spirit was at work to nurture and develop the unfolding growth. How genius is our God!

Raindrop to rain and acorn to oak is the local church to the bride of Christ. Believer and local church alike are in Christ, and Christ by His Spirit is in them. They are manifestations in the temporal of the glorious, spiritual eternal. This is how the kingdom of heaven colonises earth. New birth. New creations. New nature. New Covenant DNA. With the new then refreshing, renewing, reclaiming and restoring the face of the planet. Death yield to resurrection before this Life-flow.

Let carnal wisdom loose on the building site, and in comes the earth moving equipment. Seeds, saplings and trees alike are swept aside. Scripts are meticulously followed. Hardhats caucus and budgets determine the constraints. With all said and done, dust settled and backs slapped, our achievements can impress. Which is why it’s so ironic that as we stand on the deck drinking champagne, we’re admiring the majestic old oak on the vacant lot next door.

The single greatest problem with the church of our day is control. The unsatisfying result is a work of man, his will imposed. The single greatest facilitator of this control is confusion about the DNA of the New Covenant. Mix law and grace, and the social currencies traded are guilt and condemnation, manipulation, control and abuse. Stay in grace, and the community of faith is nurtured in a milieu of love, acceptance, freedom, encouragement and forgiveness. New Covenant DNA is sufficient to the extraordinary. It invites God’s will, and yields to Him in the outworking. All we need to do is serve it. Instead of lording it over the work of the Lord, perhaps the primary role of leadership is to applaud it. To recognise, celebrate, encourage, facilitate and release what He is doing. And everything that He does is always on the foundation of what He has already done. New Covenant living is never about who we are under, or even who we are with, but about who we are building on. And Jesus is the only foundation worth a mention.

The key ingredients of New Covenant DNA

Making these key components explicit is helpful. So doing underscores how scarce they’ve become in so much of the modern day church. These truths must become our defaults. They are Heaven’s defaults, and the brides defaults. They should therefore be our touchstones in all things at all times.

The New Covenant anchors in Good News about Good God. God is good, and His intentions towards His world are good. He is not looking to judge, but to save. The wages of our sin were visited upon Jesus. Because of this, the Lord can treat us with unmitigated loving-kindness and mercy. Rather than treat us as our sins deserve, He treats us as the father treated the prodigal. Love, acceptance, forgiveness and restoration are ours.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16–17)

The New Covenant is by grace alone through faith alone. We could do nothing to save ourselves. That is why Jesus, another Adam, lived the sinless life we could not live. He then died the death all sinners deserve. His resurrection proved His sacrificial death effective. He is risen, and lives evermore, our Mediator and our Intercessor. God, in Christ, has reconciled us to Himself. The first gift this amazing grace gives us is faith. As grace is revealed to us, so faith rises in us, and we believe. Believing, we receive, and in receiving, we in turn are reconciled to Him and are saved.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)

The New Covenant was cut between Father and Son. Our sin separated them for a moment; His obedience reunited them for eternity. When we believe, we are included in this union. We literally believe into Christ when we believe in Him. His story becomes our story. In a moment we are united with Jesus is his crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. The Holy Spirit does this for us. He baptises (immerses) us into Christ. We thereby transition through His death and resurrection into irrevocable union with God.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3–4)

The New Covenant imparts the gift of righteousness to all who believe. The self-righteousness of the inherently sinful can never produce right standing with God. It’s the righteousness of the Righteous One, Christ Jesus, that is imputed to us. Christians are in right standing before God with the actual right standing of Jesus. The moment of faith effects this great exchange. In that moment, all our sin is removed from us, and all Christ’s righteousness given us. Thus made righteous, no Christian can ever be unrighteous or unholy ever again.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21–26)

“For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14)

The New Covenant places us in Christ. The New Covenant also places Christ in us, by His Spirit. This is an action of re-creation. We are literally born again. The old has gone. The new has come. Christians no longer have the sinful nature they were originally born with. We have a new nature, born of the Spirit, and just like Jesus. It is much more than the Lord merely regarding us as righteous, or treating us as through we were in Christ. He has literally made us righteous, and placed us in Christ. The same is true of our re-creation. This is not just some sort of second chance or new beginning. It is a literal action of creation. In our essence – our spirit – we are made new.

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:16–21)

“By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in Him, and He in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement, because as He is so also are we in this world.” (I John 4:13–17)

Everything in the New Covenant is by the Spirit. We are with the Father. This is through and in Jesus. And it is all by the Spirit. It is the Spirit who grants us revelation of Christ and imparts to us the faith to believe. It is the Spirit who immerses us into Christ when we believe. It is the Spirit who recreates us anew. It is the Spirit who then indwells us, perfecting our union. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. All this is the Spirit’s doing. From then on, it is the Spirit who enlightens, leads, encourages and empowers. Access into life in Christ is by the Spirit, as is life in Christ from then on. This is definitive.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

An impressive supporting cast

The glorious New Covenant is set amidst a most impressive supporting cast. The written Word helps us. We help one another. God Himself harnesses every situation and circumstance for our good. Many things have their origins in sin and satan. The fallen-ness of our planet reflects this. Yet, no matter the author of the crisis or calamity, God uses it for good. Devil bad; God good. Very good, in fact!

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” (Romans 8:28–30)

Written on another day, this post might well have expressed the key components of New Covenant DNA differently. Other texts may have been used to substantiate the various aspects. Other attempts may have have listed six key components; others eight or more. No matter. The Scriptures are bursting with revelation and are rich in metaphor. What has been said could have been said in innumerable ways. Such is the length, depth, breadth and height of our glorious God and of His Christ. In whom the Spirit shares, and to which the Spirit bears witness through the Word.

Much more important than the packaging is the revelation itself. The New Covenant is altogether other, once-for-all. In the next chapter we’ll observe how every aspect of New Testament church life was a response to the New Covenant. The church made manifest her New Covenant DNA as she grew and developed. The Gospel was the seed planted; the church and all her good fruit the result.

This should come as no surprise, for, “We love because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19)

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Dealing with duality

Jesus is only twice recorded making mention of the church, and so illustrated its duality.

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Then He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.”(Matthew 16:13–20)

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:15–20)

The church is thus a two-sided coin. Heads is the glorious, universal, transcendent bride of Christ. Tails is the local church that meets on the corner of 7th and Main.

Duality a familiar notion

Believers are familiar with this duality in their own lives.

In the moment we come to faith we are swept into the once-for-all-ness of the New Covenant. Death gives way to Life as we were born from above by the Spirit. We are seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We have moved beyond the three dimensions of the natural realm. Ours are now the innumerable dimensions of the heavenly realm. Little wonder that we can get a little confused about our true identity on occasion.

The Scriptures speak to our new identity most emphatically. Having believed, we are no longer in Adam, but in Christ. The old has gone; the new has come. There are any number of ways of expressing this, and the implications are immense. We are no longer unrighteous, but righteous. We are no longer sinners, but saints. We are no longer dead, but alive; no longer separated from God, but irrevocably united with Him. On and on we could go. We have been united with Christ in His crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. We can never be the same again, for we are in essence new creations. We no longer have the sinful nature we were originally born with, for we have been born again by the Spirit of God. Just as Christ is, so are we in this world.

Being this clear on our identity is not a denial of our humanity. Our glorious, new, eternal life finds itself encased in an Adam-suit. An Adam-suit that still carries with it a good deal of the baggage of our pre-conversion lives. The Scriptures call this vestigial in-Adam-ness our flesh. Its dominion has been broken, and we no longer need to submit to it any more than we need to submit to sin and satan. But it having lost its dominion does not imply that it has ceased to exist or lost all of its influence. Just catch an inadvertent of glimpse your disheveled self in the mirror in the middle of the night. You could easily conclude that there is nothing glorious there at all. Nevertheless, the Scripture reassure us: Everything has changed. We are new creations. No matter how we appear, that is who we are. And the Spirit within bears witness.

Those familiar with these concepts often distinguish between the Christian’s position (who we are in Christ), and our condition (with Christ in us, but in our Adam-suits nonetheless). This is a helpful distinction: we have position and condition; status and state. There is who we are, and there is who we appear to be. At times, these stand in disturbing contradiction. The mystery of salvation, which is by grace alone and through faith alone, is that it defines us by the work of Christ alone. There is duality, but there is no place for duplicity. That can only result in religious schizophrenia. We are who Christ has made us to be. Our position, our status, our in-Christ-ness – that is the real us. That is who we are. We are new creations. Our condition, state, or vestigial in-Adam-ness is a secondary reality. This remaining oldness is best shed like an old skin, as the life within grows and matures.

Similar thinking is to be applied to, in and by local churches. Every local church is a significantly limited manifestation of an infinitely greater, glorious, spiritual, and eternal reality. All are limited by time and place, and by the inescapable humanity in the equation. But none are defined by their limitations or distinctives. All are defined by the work of Christ. Duality is a reality, but there is no room for duplicity. The Scriptures unequivocally reveal who the church is. She is the glorious bride of Christ; she in Him, and He in her. It is a perfect union and a perfect partnership. This is true, no matter how imperfect the local church may appear in the natural. Or even how much evidence can be presented to the contrary.

Up there, down here

This Bible puts this duality into an “up there, down here” framework. Up there is the glorious, eternal, transcendent and spiritual. Down here is the temporal, finite and tangible. We, who start out down here, are assured that, having believed into Jesus, are seated in heavenly places. We are therefore encouraged to fix our eyes on things above. We’re taught to pray that things down here might become just as they are in heaven. We could say that “up there” is our position; “down here” our condition.

The bride of Christ, i.e. the church universal, is “up there”. It is not of this world, and not of this age. Flesh and blood it is not. Glory and grace it is. The local church, on the other hand, is “down here”. It is in this world, but not of it. Flesh and blood it most certainly is. These are the opposite sides of the coin.

A common mistake is to trade “up there, down here” thinking a “now and not yet” paradigm. This relegates the present to the imperfect, and reserves perfection for the future. Churches and the Christians who populate them are therefore works in progress. They may not be who they once were (in Adam), but they are also not who they one day shall be (in Christ). Rather, they are an amorphous blend of the two. A little bit of both, with the ratios in the cocktail varying from day to day. This is a serious misbelief. It compromises the fundamentals of the Gospel, which is a salvation by grace alone through faith alone. The mystery and beauty of our salvation is that it is identity-driven. Transformation comes to Christians and churches as they discover their their identity in Christ.

It is true that who we are has not yet fully been made manifest. In that sense we are not yet who we one day shall be. Work is being done in us and on us by Word and Spirit. Circumstances play their part. Consequently, we are changing. We are maturing. We are progressively entering into the fullness and freedom that has already been given us. But there’s the key: already given us. We should never imply that we have been made anything less than perfect, nor granted anything less than consummate freedom and fullness. We must never allow ourselves to be defined by who we appear to be, for we are those who are in Christ. We are who He has made us to be. We are who we are, once and for all, forevermore.

From atop the podium

The Christian life is not a journey towards destination, but a journey from destination. In Christ we find ourselves on the top of the podium, the gold medal already around our necks. Our race is not towards victory, but from it. It is an adventure in ever-increasing glory, fruitfulness and maturity. Of course it is necessary for the image of Christ to be worked out in our lives. But Christlikeness in essence is already ours. We get to work out what God has already worked in. we have been co-crucified with Christ, and co-raised in Him. We can never be more righteous than what we are right now. Nor more holy. All of us could most certainly live more righteously. We can walk in greater holiness. But these are secondary matters that flow from identity. Our behaviour does not define us; Christ’s behaviour does.

The structure of Paul’s letters to the churches illustrate this magnificently. They begin in the indicative: who we are because of what God has done. They end in the imperative: instruction on appropriate responses to the grace of God. The same can be noted in Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery. He ensured that she was free from all condemnation before encouraging her to leave her life of sin.

Peter of old learnt these truths in dramatic fashion. On the rooftop at lunchtime one day, peckish and in prayer, he fell into a trance. A tablecloth crammed with unclean creepy-crawlies descended, and the Lord instructed him to kill and eat. His religious sensibilities were deeply offended. The Lord’s lesson for the day: never regard as unclean that which the Lord has declared clean. The issue at hand back then was the Gospel going to the Gentiles. At stake was the transformational power of our justification. It amounts to instantaneous sanctification. In Christ equals made holy. Every sinner is unclean. Every Christian is clean. God says so. Even of the creepy-crawly looking ones.

A simple analogy

The point is to align the way local churches think about themselves with Scripture. The Gospel is good news, and that good news is that the beneficiaries of the New Covenant are new creations. Our minds must be renewed and our paradigms and perspectives changed. Christ is the lens through which we view all things, including His bride. Our point of departure must always be His perfect work.

Something as simple as the rain helps us understand. Heads is the overcast sky and the rain pouring down. The earth and all in it rejoice at the life-giving refreshing and renewal downpours bring. Tails are the raindrops, hurtling downwards, blown hither and thither by the wind. Some splash into puddle. Others crash into paving, roofing, or foliage.

Is a raindrop rain? Of course it is. But is each raindrop the rain? Not really. The rain is even more than the sum of all the raindrops together.

Churches, and even individual believers, can learn valuable lessons from reflecting on the rain. It serves our purposes here to address ourselves to the former. To those local churches who undervalue, or even denigrate themselves, we must say: “Little raindrop, we know that your building is dated and your music group off key. You appear to be such a ramshackle bunch. Few among you are of notable stature or exemplary spirituality. But guess what? You are rain. You are as much rain as any other raindrop. Don’t stumble over yourself. Rather fixate on your big-picture greatness. The more you do, the more the ‘up there’ will show up in your ‘down here’”.

And to the big, successful raindrops, we must say: “We’re so glad you’re excelling in all you give yourself to. Yet we’re not particularly impressed by you, even if you make quite a very big splash in your little puddle. Truth is, no matter how big a splash you make, you’re still just a raindrop. The rain is much, much more. Just a raindrop like the rest of us, your bigger and better is rather inconsequential in the light of the rain. Your ‘down here’ will always be an insubstantial boast in the light of the glorious heavenly deluge”. A deluge that we’re all so privileged to be included in. Thanks to the rain, we’re all so much more than we could ever hope to be in our own right. But, also thanks to the rain, we’ll never amount to anything much in our own right.

It’s not about us, you see. It’s all about Him!

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Glimpsing the Bride

Imagine for a moment that the distant horizon is an enormous timeline.

Far left are the seven days of creation, beyond which things fade into eternity past. Far right is eternity future. Arranged between these extremes, left to right, is all of history. People, places and events are all there, chronologically and proportionally. Your imagination is the artist here. The detail is up to you.

Somewhere off to the right is today. Pencil that one in while you’re at it.

Now focus on the middle of the timeline. Straight ahead, centre stage, is the cross of Christ. It towers over the timeline as the centre-piece of history. It represents Jesus’ virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary death, and glorious resurrection. Right alongside it is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. These inseparable events together form the centre-piece of our theology: the New Covenant, blood and water, Word and Spirit.

Preeminent Jesus

Take a step back and survey the finished masterpiece. Take it all in. Notice how the cross is all-pervasive. Look left, and notice how it casts its shadow back across all that preceded it. See how its influence extends beyond the beginning of the timeline, right into eternity past, with the Scriptures revealing that the Lord had the cross in mind before the creation of the world. Its reflection is everywhere. In the tree of life, the centre-piece of Eden. Adam and Eve’s redemption after the fall reveal it again. They should have died, but didn’t. An animal died in their stead, yielding its skin to cover their nakedness. The more you look, the more you see. Timeline left, its reflection is in every feast and festival, sacrifice and offering. There it is in prophet, priest and king. In tabernacle and temple. In all God’s dealings with men. Timeline right, it shows up everywhere as well. History correctly understood is His story. Everything subsequent to the cross has unfolded in the light of its purpose and plan. Sometimes in acceptance. At other times in rejection. Either way, everything since has referenced the cross one way or another.

So say the Scriptures. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Col 1:15–20).

Defining Jesus

The cutting of the New Covenant was all-defining. It is the Bible’s interpretive master-key. It is the eternal mechanism of our salvation and the unwavering foundation of our faith. And as definitive goes, it is applicable to the people of God also. For while God has always had a people, Christ only had a bride in waiting before the cross, for she was only fully formed in the deluge of blood and water, Word and Spirit, that was the New Covenant being established.

Like the cross, she too dates back into eternity past, and can be glimpsed prophetically in the communities of faith of old. The first tiny nuclear family around Adam and Eve eventually expanded into many much larger extended families. A few generations later and Abraham could raise a small army from within his family. As the multiplication snowballed, families became clans, and clans nations. And while the church is family, clan and nation, she is much more besides. She is of Christ and in Christ, and Christ is in her by His Spirit. It is from their eternal union, reflected back through time to the beginning, that Biblical parameters for marriage stem: one man, one woman, for life.

Timeline left, and there’s the shadow. The Lord put Adam into a deep sleep. From his side, He took a rib, and fashioned Eve. Bone of Adam’s bone and flesh of his flesh. A perfect mate for perfect union. And the two became one. Straight ahead on the timeline is the substance from which that shadow derived. The Lord put Last-Adam Jesus into a death sleep. His side was pierced as temple curtain tore and heavens rend asunder. In the torrent of blood and water, by Word and Spirit, Christ’s bride was now revealed. Spirit of His Spirit and essence of His essence. Corporate Eve. A perfect mate for perfect union; Jesus and His bride are one. One Lord, one wife, forever.

Transcendent, Glorious Beauty

Now gaze timeline right, deep into promise territory. There she is, revealed in full glory!

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 21:9–22:5).

A New Covenant Girl to her core

Quite a bride Jesus has there!

First manifest in Jerusalem when the Spirit was poured out, her essence transcends time and space. Even if but a small group gathered in a school hall on a Sunday morning, that small group is much more than meets the eye, for they are His, and in Him. They are transcendent in splendour. His splendour. They are His, perfect in the fullness and freedom of the unmitigated glories of the New Covenant. They are His, the perfect mate, in perfect union with Him.

Some have distinguished between church (the local church) and Church (the church universal). Jesus Himself used the word in these contexts, sans capital letters. Yet here we must be careful, for while church is Church, Church is not church. The local church is a limited manifestation in time and space of the glorious, eternal, transcendent Church of our Lord. The universal church is thus at best poorly represented by even the best of local churches in their finest of hour. Yet no matter how unimpressive a local church may seem at any given time, we must remain emphatic about the her belonging to Christ and being part of His bride.

The implications are enormous. No local church is ordinary. No local church is less than a full beneficiary of the New Covenant. Every principle of leadership and governance instituted needs be thus derived from the New Covenant; never the Old.

Consider for a moment just how often we derive our approach to doing church from pre-cross shadows. How often we suggest to the local church tht she is less than righteous; less that qualified; less than made perfect forever in Him.

Recognising her exclusive New-Covenant-ness must also cast aspersions over Jethro-pyramid oversight structures, Elijah-Elisha succession plans, and David-esque leadership models. With reference to the latter, the New Covenant purports that we already have our Braveheart. His name is Jesus. We don’t need pastor or apostle trying their best to be another one. A final observation suffice to the moment is that the four Gospels are substantially pre-cross also. What if Jesus discipled the Twelve in the way in which He did because the Spirit had not yet been given. Could it be that we have no right cultivating devotees in the name of discipleship for fashioning in our own image? These, and many provocative questions besides, need be asked.

Makes one think, doesn’t it!

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Dusting off the blog

Dusting off a blog is a challenging endeavour.

Just facing up to the technical bits ‘n bobs is an obstacle. That’s because logging in to the back-end of a website for the first time in months is likely to unleash a deluge of notifications and warnings, amidst which the jetsam and flotsam of add-on updates and widget upgrades swirl and jostle, bobbing in a sea of spam. Only the most resolute of minds actual logs in.

And that’s the easy part. Thing is, whilst blog posts are written one at a time, effective blogging is about the cultivation of an audience. Sporadic fits and starts simply don’t cut the mustard. Just don’t do it if you don’t have something to say, they say, by which they mean something sustained and meaningful to say. And, of course, the time and energy to say it.

In this my heart and mind are sorely exercised.  It’s time! The Gospel, in a general sense, provides a limitless fount of meaningful things to say. But much more to the point, the Gospel, in a specific sense, is a limitless fount of meaningfulness to us today, in our situation. We live in urgent times. Defining times. Critical times. Difficult times. Everybody knows that something must be done. Many even know what others should do. Yet the question that cuts to the heart of the matter as does scalpel in surgeon’s hand is, “what should I/we do?” My thesis is that the Gospel, through the Scriptures, answers that question emphatically.

Such a claim is either delusion and/or arrogance, or revelation. If it’s revelation, it’s voice will echo and be echoed. The choir will grow, each contribution unique, but on key and in tune. Watch this space, and you decide. All I ask is that if you find your faith stirred, yield and obey. As the Psalmist has said in 110:3a (ESV), “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power”. If this be that day, may we be those people!

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In defense of new year’s resolutions

It’s easy to be disparaging about new year’s resolutions. So much talk; so little traction; such a poor track record.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to new year’s resolutions.  To be reflective as the calendar rolls around is to be human, and to resolve for the good expresses hope and self-awareness, fertile ground both for increased fruitfulness.

So … what are your goals for 2018? Do you have any resolutions, overt or covert? What would you like to see, and where would you like to be, as the sun sets on 2018. I’m not just talking about pie-in-the-sky dreaming, but steak-on-the-plate reality. What is in your mind for 2018 spiritually, socially and economically? Are there adjustments to be made in favour of your health? Dietary changes? Exercise? Sleep? Are there disciplines to be embraced? Is there study to be embarked on, or at the very least books to be read? Or written?

These are good questions all, and I write to encourage you to ask them. Challenge yourself as necessary. It’s 2018, and opportunity is pounding on the door. God is good! He has revealed His will for us in Christ Jesus, and it is to save and to bless. Embrace Him, and it, and make as many necessary adjustments as is practicable to make the most of the blessing on offer.

As was said in the days of our forefathers: “The year of our Lord, 2018.”

And why not?!

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Worthwhile reads

My friends have been busy.

Herewith an introduction to two new e-books, and links to both. Each are for download at no charge.


This book resolves the crisis of the HOW in Christian living. Many Christians live frustrated lives because they have tried ‘doing’ it for so long and nothing seems to change. They have prayed countless hours, they have fasted plenty meals and they have cried buckets of tears and yet, they can’t seem to live in the good of the abundant life Jesus promised. How do I do this? This book shows you.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/727641

 


The Gospel reveals a Jesus who is for us. In all situations and circumstances, He is for us, and never against.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/728917

 

 


Enjoy!

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My story, generically told

Life happens, and it’s happened enough to have messed me up a bit. Fortunately, I met Jesus. It was not finding faith or getting religion. I met Jesus. I knew that He was real, that He loved me, and that He cleansed people. I knew that I knew. Embracing His love and cleansing was amazing.

Being a Christian, I quite naturally hung out with other Christians. My biggest misunderstanding of my life came from them. They taught me that God was the God of the second chance. With Jesus having given me a second chance, they made it my responsibility to make good use of this new start. I didn’t. because I couldn’t. It resulted in my feeling an utter failure, and trying harder. And the harder I tried, the more I failed.

They were wrong in what they taught me. Jesus does exist, and He loves us, and cleanses us. But He loves us so much that He cleanses us by making us new. Christians are born again. We are new creations, righteous with His righteousness, and un-dirty-able.

I was on very young when I first met Jesus. I was on my way to fifty before I discovered that my new start was really a new life. All I have to do is believe it. When I do, He lives His life through me. This has radically transformed me. Instead of condemnation and failure, my life is now marked by gratitude and rest. My innards are healthy, and as time goes by, I’m definitely much less messed up. Amazingly, I also find myself reacting a little more like Jesus would from time to time, and its great.

My plan is to spend the rest of my days helping as many other people understand this as what I can. It’s really big deal. It’s the Gospel!

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Grace breaks the chains (by Gert Botha)

I don’t know where to start cause there’s so much that’s happened during my journey and in reality, I don’t actually want to talk about myself, I’d rather talk about elephants and addicts, so I guess its sufficient to say: I was born some time ago, a cute blue eyed bouncing baby with rosy cheeks and curly blonde hair. Hard to believe it but, I’ve got a photo to prove it, of course its yellow from age

My parents called me GERT PIETER. Can u imagine that? This cute little baby. I once asked my mother, “HOW COULD YOU DO IT?” I learnt that it was a family name; my Oupa had it, and his dad had it. Tradition? Don’t rock the boat. That’s how it always has been, no need to change it. It’s safe to stick to what you’ve done in the past.

That’s enough about me, OK! Now about elephants and addicts …

When I wore the clothes of a younger man I worked in the Wankie National Game Park (Zimbabwe), and saw animals do amazing and strange things. One of those incidents reminds me of how ‘once free’ creatures can be held prisoner in captivity, even by imaginary chains. One day we heard a call on our walkie talkie (a two way radio – there were no mobile phones in those days – can you imagine that?) that a rogue elephant had to be culled because he had gone on a rampage and destroyed a number of huts in the area, but fortunately no one was injured. Of course this was something exciting to see so we packed up our tools and took off in the Land Rover to witness the event. We arrive at the camp where the damage had been done and saw, to our amazement, a huge tree that the elephant had partially uprooted and pulled across the railway line, so we proceeded to help the game ranger to pull the tree off with the Land Rover, but without success. We radioed to the station to send an engine to do the job and some hours later the tree was removed. We proceeded to track the elephant, at a respectable distance behind the game ranger, and saw the bull elephant that only had one tusk and was well known to the locals as a mean old guy. The game ranger went down on one knee, took aim at the charging elephant, let off a shot and dropped the animal a few metres in front of him. The hole where his tusk once was burst open expelling a pile of maggots and the game ranger explained that the elephant went rogue because of the excruciating pain. We were amazed at the incredible power of the “old” elephant that pulled down a tree which we couldn’t move with a Land Rover and gained a new respect for free animals in the wild.

In contrast: Elephant trainers in a circus attach a chain which is a few metres long to one leg of a young elephant and peg the other end into the ground, and in time the animal realises that it can’t wander too far from the peg in the ground. When the elephant is older, the chain is removed but the peg is still driven into the ground so it won’t go further from the peg than the length of the ‘imaginary chain’. Like the elephant, we are inclined to follow the same patterns: it’s safe in the comfort zone, even if it holds you back; it’s safe to stick to what you’ve done in the past. The unknown is scary and threatening. It’s dangerous to challenge authority, our culture and programming. At every town where the circus performs, the trainer drives a stake into the ground and the elephant is controlled and stays in that space. The elephant has to be rehabilitated before he can really break free from that bondage, and that can take a life time, patience and care (unless a miracle happens).

Even when the prison gates are opened and we are set free, the invisible chains of religion and legalism won’t let us go beyond a certain comfortable or even painful point. It’s safe to stick to what you’ve done in the past.

When I first met Jesus, it was a gentle deep encounter and my introduction was beautiful. I joined a congregation and did all the churchy things. It was good and I learnt commitment, obedience and servanthood. That was all part of my journey. For many years we were flowing in the river of life and it was wonderful, and we were contented, and safe. But then one day, and suddenly, a side stream flowed into the river from behind us and it became a powerful force to the extent that we felt threatened and had to decide to either allow the rising water to take us out of our comfort zone and engulf us, or get out up on to the river bank where it’s safe, to avoid the flood. This was the beginning of the end; the end of life as I knew it; the end of yesterday; the death of my past.

This was the grace message. Was I ready for it? Did it make sense? Could I understand it? Could I get my head around it? Was my heart able to receive it? No, no, no, no and no. Up until this time, the message of the cross had always been the ‘Show Stopper’; the core of my belief. Nothing has changed since the flood but I have had a paradigm shift in my spirit, and sometimes my head and heart have to catch up. Life is a journey, which is inevitable, and the only sure thing that is constant is change, and it’s the thing we often resist the most for whatever reason. We fear the unknown. We feel safe in our comfort zone, even if it’s not that comfortable. And the big one, the fear of man’s opinion, and rejection if we admit that we were wrong. Especially so if it’s been like that for a lifetime, and for most of us these fears are giants in our lives. Now, since the flood, many of these fears have become secondary considerations for me, although sometimes they still raise their ugly heads.

There’s always been head knowledge, and even a heart acknowledgement, of what Jesus did on the cross at Calvary to save the world. He died for me; that’s true. Suffered and took the punishment for me. Looking back now, I realise that deep down inside my spirit, I actually felt guilty and even responsible for His death 2000 years ago, and felt that I had to do stuff to make up for it. It was the same feeling that we got when our parents said things like, “Is that the thanks I get after all I’ve done for you”.

So what has changed?

Pre-flood I knew that Jesus suffered and died a horrific death to set me free, but the reason why he was prepared to do that has deeply impacted my spirit since the flood. It’s moved from head and heart to spirit. He died for me because He loves me, and I don’t even have to say the word unconditionally, because that’s what real love is. I know I’ve heard this 1000 times before, but since the flood, my spirit leaps up every time I say or think it as if it’s the first time I’ve heard it. I can’t explain it.

Grace has enabled me to be at peace with myself and others (most of the time). The chains have been broken and I am free, although some stakes in the ground still exist, and like the elephant, I’m on the journey of rehabilitation. The end of yesterday has begun.

Then there’s the addict …

In the churchy world of rules and religion, it’s OK if an alcoholic belongs to another church, or if he or she is the unconverted spouse of a member of the congregation. We will pray for deliverance; doesn’t he know that his body is a temple? It’s a sin, and somewhere it is written that thou shalt not, etc. But if it’s a church member who has an addiction of any sort, the guilt and shame associated with not being perfect and having feet of clay is overwhelming and so it’s kept under wraps, behind closed doors. The fear of exposure and condemnation from fellow Christians is sometimes too much to bear, so the sinner leaves the church and no one knows why and he is labelled a back slider. He goes to AA for help, knowing full well that only 14% of addicts who try to quit actually make it, and he introduces himself to the group nervous and embarrassed. He stands up and says, “Hello, my name is Joe, and I’m an alcoholic”, and then slinks back to his seat and sits down.

Then there’s the addict that has had a paradigm shift in his spirit and no longer fears man’s opinions, because the grace of God and the amazing unconditional love of the king has set him free. He doesn’t feel unclean and condemned anymore. He has received in his spirit the fact that his worth is not determined by the value that others place on him or his past, but by the king’s value of him. He goes to AA and stands up to introduce himself, and says, “Hello, my name is Joe, I am an amazing artist and I can’t keep up with the demand for my work. I have two beautiful children and a wonderful wife who I care for and who love me intensely. I am always busy with DIY around the house, I love gardening, and I’m an alcoholic”, and then he crosses the room and shakes hands with everyone in the group. So what’s the difference. He still has an addiction but the chains of condemnation and the fear of man have been broken, and he knows that he is loved and forgiven, because Jesus says so.

In a word, it’s Grace, Grace, Amazing Grace! The idea that grace allows you to do anything is an attempt by the enemy to deceive us again. Don’t fall for it. Pre-grace, what happened in public was important, and what took place behind closed doors stayed behind closed doors. Since Grace, what happens when no one is watching does count, and that’s freedom.

So what have I been set free from? Here are a few things. For me, this is freedom. People who used to bug me appear different and I find myself wanting to hug them (crazy), so if I hug you then you know. Car guards used to bug me. No, I don’t hug them, but now I give silver, not brass . That’s freedom. Waiters tip? They need it more than me now. That’s freedom. ESKOM? Remembering that others have no electricity; that’s freedom. Apologise when wrong; keep quiet when right. That’s freedom. Surrender the TV remote. Now that’s freedom!

Some time after the flood, I wrote this note: “Free at Last, thank God, I’m free at last”. Way back in the day, I recall that one of the songs we sang in was, “My soul escaped, like a bird, out of the snare of the fowler”. At the time, to me it meant that I had escaped from the power and influence of sin and temptation in my life, and indeed this was true to a point. However, it wasn’t complete freedom because unbeknownst to me, although the snare had been broken, I was unable to escape and run free. There were still chains that prevented me from moving too far from that which had kept me bound, not unlike house arrest. My journey as a Christian had begun, I was told, and I was now able to “earn” my crown in heaven, and everything would be fine. I just had to follow the rules that God had made, and if I failed I could repent and go on. If I tithed 10%, He would multiply it, and if I attended church and looked holy, this was all to my benefit. My status in heaven would be enhanced. Terms like “bless you brother”, “hallelujah” and “praise the Lord” were special holy code words to gain acceptance from fellow Christians. The leaders of the church were my heroes, and I followed them faithfully, and defended them when non-members challenged their teachings.

I recall those 3 and 4 hour sessions on Sundays where we sat glued to our chairs learning under our guru. Then there were the 4.30 am prayer meetings for the men and the 30 day fasts, and I genuinely believed that these rituals were requirements to really be accepted by God. If one couldn’t reach those heights, you needed to work harder, and the guilt would creep in if you didn’t. My conscience was driven by performance and reward for achievement. In hindsight, this was all good character building and I learnt commitment, servanthood, obedience and faithfulness. These leaders were pivotal in my growth and they set the foundations on which to build, and I am forever grateful for them and their input. But something has happened. Because of grace my spirit has had a revelation, which, quite honestly, my head doesn’t always grasp. The most effective enemy is the one you can’t see, or the one you think doesn’t exist. That’s why we use camouflage in war. The enemy has deceived the church through religion and legalism for centuries, and at last the snare is indeed broken and I am truly escaped. Now, because of grace, I can recognise these in my life.

There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn my way in to heaven. I would love to be able to obey all the Ten Commandments all the time if that’s what’s required to get me there, but temptation will always be around. I know, you know, and He knows, that its impossible for me, and that’s why the only way is by His grace. Because of grace, my conscience has been reborn, so to speak, and I have become so sensitive to the truth of His unconditional love. This has me in a place where I don’t want to offend Him, and even ‘small sins’ like road rage raise a check in me immediately. I end up apologizing in the middle of the rage.

In the same vein, those dedicated men and woman who gave their all in establishing and laying down solid foundations in my life, I love and honour you. Thank God that you were obedient and willing to impart that which He had given you, which was right for that season. Now, please don’t take offence, but since the flood, He has reminded me that He is a jealous God, and that He is the only hero in my life. I’m sorry guys, you have been relieved of the title of hero, because I only have one hero to worship: King Jesus. and no other.

As for the 10% tithe, there was always the inner debate as to whether it’s before tax or not. Oh, what religious garbage that was. You can’t out give God so let’s stop the non-sense. Of course there always had to be the multiplication sermon on tithe day, just to rub in the law a little bit more. Well, now I find that giving has become a joy, and I find myself just increasing the ‘legal’ amount, just because.

HE BREAKS EVERY CHAIN! Fear, anger, unforgiveness, prejudices, negativity, addictions, religion, legalism.

Grace.

Free!

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