Tag Archives: Faith

Self transcendence

Sanneh-What-If-Boxing-Were-Run-Like-MMA1-1200The world’s stage has become a boxing ring demanding comment. Perhaps it’s more of a cage fight or a backstreet brawl, but I’m sure you take my point. On one hand we have the liberal left, on the other the fundamentalist right.

The left’s iron fist is in a satin glove. The talk is tolerance and dignity for all, and these are good things. What is flawed is the underlying philosophy of self-actualisation and lawlessness. This is as intolerant as the right as it proffers rights without responsibilities. I buy into the dignity for all, and I think we should make a great deal of space for one another, but I’m against boundary-less-ness, and I don’t want any sinful, demonised fellow becoming the best manifestation of his sinful demonised self possible. Wrong will never be right, and no matter how fine the satin glove, the iron fist it clothes bodes deadly for our future.

The right is no better. The horseshoe strapped across its knuckles is Law – eye for eye and tooth for tooth. That sounds good until we remind ourselves that all are sinners, not unlike that sinful, demonised fellow. The right is as self-obsessed as the left as well, except self-denial replaces self-actualisation. I’m all in favour of the rule of law, but not of legalism, which carves a hard road into the future, littered with judgementalism, condemnation, pride, self-righteousness, idealism, exclusivity, elitism and prejudice.

Cage+Fighting+Held+Wembley+Arena+2Gf3OFQ5HVOlAs we watch these two worldviews slug it out on the world’s stage, the battle reeling from political to economic to religious arenas and back again, let’s remind ourselves of three important facts. Firstly, these opposing worldviews are the best that human wisdom have to offer. Secondly, no matter who wins, nobody wins. And thirdly, the Gospel is divine wisdom and the alternative to both. There we find news of sins forgiven, and of deliverance from the dominion of the same. There we find self-government anchored in God and re-creation, and actioned by the transformational leadership of the indwelling Spirit. There we find hope beyond self-actualisation and self-denial, neither of which have a track record worth perpetuating. For there we find the transcendence of self. Co-crucified with Christ and co-raised with Him, we are in Christ and Christ is in us. In the Gospel we find fullness and freedom within the absolute of the Altogether Good. There we find grace. There we find faith. There we find life. There we find hope. There we find God, who has already done everything necessary to find us.

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Created for Good Works

cropped-Tab-Logo.pngThis author’s pen has been scribbling furiously, and there is a book well under way. Herewith a short excerpt from the first draft addressing a critical aspect of the New Covenant. Enjoy!

Just as there are only two categories of people, in Adam and in Christ, there are similarly only two categories of works. The difference between them is enormous, even if they appear indistinguishable to the natural eye at times.

repentence-from-dead-worksDead works are not always bad things in any obvious way. What they are is those things done in self-reliance. The rebel’s defiant disobedience is therefore most obviously a dead work. But so are the best efforts of the self-righteous. It’s as simple as this – whatever is not of faith is sin. In other words, do it in your own wisdom or your own strength, and it’s a dead work. It’s sin. No matter how many pats of the back you get for doing a remarkable job, if it was not in faith, it was a dead work and it was sin. What that means is that a great deal of prayer, fasting and church attendance are dead works, as is every tithe given in fear, and every act of mercy done for men to see.

Good works are the antithesis of dead works. They are works done depending on God. That’s the defining factor. Whatever does not come from faith is sin. Remember the little old lady who put the two copper coins in the offering plate, and Jesus said that she had given more than everyone else? There she was, doing her good work surrounded by folk whose righteousness didn’t impress Jesus at all much.

Faith-and-Good-WorksThis is such a great example of the way in which the Gospel rearranges our paradigms. We tend to think that the opposite of a good work is a bad one. But deep down inside we all know that there is much more at stake in life than just good and bad behaviour. We’ve all dealt with self-righteous church goers whose attitudes disturb us deeply, even though their behaviour consistently appears impeccable. And we’ve also all met that no-good low-life whose behaviour is typically appalling, but whose heart attitudes have at times stopped us in our tracks as they’ve challenged us to the core of our beings. These anomalies are evidence that we intuitively know that the Lord does not define sin as superficially as it’s convenient to think. His is not just a framework of right and wrong, because He fully understands that good and evil cannot be defined by norms, standards, rules, regulations, patterns and principles, but that it involves the heart. Reduce matters to law and the result is a superficial righteousness, but one which falls far short of the perfections of the Lord in their profound simplicity, depth, richness and beauty.

God’s definition of sin in far more penetrating than transgression. The many words used to describe sin in the Bible bear witness to this. Included are brokenness, distortion, mediocrity, rebellion, insincerity, estrangement, misdirection and indebtedness, to moot just a few. These are not always easily quantified, but they are substantial enough to implode relationships, destroy lives, and even start wars. These are weighty issues, but they are in way complicated, for all sin has its essence in unbelief. Walk, work, say and do in God-reliance, and you’ll please Him. Faith pleases Him. Walk, work, say and do in self-reliance, and you’ll be nothing but a doer of dead works. Pastor, pastry chef, poet or policeman, this remains true.

In fact, nothing could be simpler. Even a little child can understand. Everything we do is either a good work or a dead work. Get the Gospel clear and it all hangs together without quandary or contradiction. There were two trees in the garden. Adam and Eve could have chosen to feast off the tree of life. To have done so would have been to trust God, pleasing Him in faith. Instead, they chose to feed off the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, trusting themselves, and in so doing rendered themselves arrogant unbelieving sinners who were the doers of dead works. There were also two Adams. Stark are they in contrast. First Adam, who did what was right in his own eyes, and Last Adam, who did what was right in His Father’s eyes. We too live either by faith or by sight, just as they did. Either by God’s words or by our own wisdom; relying on Him, or relying on ourselves.

Christians do dead works all the time of course. Some are in rebellious licentiousness, others in religious self-righteousness, but lawless or legalistic, they are dead works all the same. Other folk, not yet Christians, but moving towards faith as the Lord draws them, find themselves doing good works before they fully understand what these are. It could be they show up in a church meeting, drop some money in the offering plate, forgive an enemy, or sign up to serve in a soup kitchen. What is done is from the heart, and although their theology might still be a catastrophe, and their good works unable to save them, they are responding to God as best they’re able. Of these it can be said that they are not far from the kingdom, as was the scribe of old who Jesus commended for answering wisely. That goes to show that “getting it” can be a valuable step on the way to “got it” when it comes to the righteousness that is by faith alone.

hdr-created-for-good-worksThe Good News then is that we Christians, made good by God in the moment we believed, have been re-created for good works. Dead works are an option, but good works are our inheritance. We fit our mission and our mission fits us, and our salvation comes to us fully equipped with ready-fitted good works that have been meticulously prepared just for us. This is good news indeed.

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Where are the nine?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn His way to Jerusalem, somewhere between Samaria and Galilee, Jesus encountered ten lepers on the outskirts of a village. News of who Jesus was had reached these unfortunate souls, and so, staying at a distance as was their lot as outcasts, they cried out to Him for mercy. In response, He instructed them to go and show themselves to the priests. As they did so, all ten of them were healed. How kind is our God, loving indiscriminately, and curing the incurable.

The incident is recorded in a way that uses words economically, yet it is richly nuanced for those with enough background to read between the lines. The only fellow who made the effort to thank Jesus was a Samaritan, and the way in which Luke phrases things strongly implies that the other nine were all Jews. Jews and Gentiles were reluctant bedfellows, but these men had found community in their leprosy. Therein is a parable, for all men regardless are united in their sinfulness, and sin is nothing other than leprosy of the soul.

The ethnic divide in the group infers different priests and different temples – the Samaritan to Samaria; the Jews to Jerusalem. Does this not again speak to the modern church in penetrating ways. We, who were united in our lost-ness, are often divided in our found-ness, as church affiliations define us in polarising ways. This is so disturbing given that our very lives rest in a common salvation. A further noteworthy nuance is the way in which this incident blends into the broader story. Jesus was often rejected by Jews, yet received by the Samaritans and other Gentiles. Self-righteousness is indeed the enemy of faith, and Law is a ministry of death. It is so to those it disqualifies, and in another way it is also so to those who deceive themselves and permit their religiosity to craft and nurture pride within. Nothing quite carries the stench of death like fetid self-righteous arrogance, don’t you think?

10-lepers-slide2But Jesus healed them all! He healed the half-breed Samaritan who flung himself at the feet of Jesus in gratitude. He healed His Jewish brothers, whose testimony remained within the confines of the religious community in Jerusalem; the same community that campaigned vociferously for Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans. How ironic. Nevertheless, Jesus healed them all. Is this not an essential lesson for all who love to bless and minister to others? Love them all, no matter how leprous or self righteous they are. Love the grateful and the ingratiate equally. This is grace.

I’m not suggesting that loving and expecting nothing in return is easy. The only way to travel down that path, albeit with stumbling steps, is with the help of the Spirit, and in the recognition of that being the way in which God loves us. Perhaps those who struggle the most with this are church and ministry leaders, for the success of our churches and ministries depends on others being willing to sacrifice alongside of us. For us, giving and giving without substantial return on investment spells vocational disaster, and so we – the professional lovers – are somewhat surprisingly the most likely to resent the “other nine”. When Jesus drew attention to these other nine (the account is in Luke 17:11-19), He was shaping our personal responses to grace. His philosophy of ministry remained unchanged – He healed them all. And so should we. But let’s you and I be like the one, responding to grace in faith and gratitude, and allowing these to move us. In doing so, we will be those who give praise to God in all things.

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Only churches that can’t, will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Truth triumphs over all!

2828490066_0654f447d3_bTruth triumphs over all!

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

Truth (spiritual realities) triumph over temporal realities …

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

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

Truth (Jesus) triumphs over all other spiritual realities …

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

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

Binding and loosing …

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

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

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

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

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All things are possible

A Christian can never be powerless. That very thought is a contradiction in terms. Christians are righteous. They are in Christ and Christ is in them. Anyone in right-standing with God, and in right-standing with the right-standing of Jesus at that, qualifies for and has access to all of the resources of heaven. Powerless? Never!

Christians might acknowledge their utter weakness apart from Christ. They might point to their absolute dependence on Christ, in all things, and for all things. They may even subject themselves under God’s hand to injustices of all kinds. Paul encouraged being wronged above seeking vindication (I Cor 6:1-8) and elsewhere are described those who suffered mocking, flogging, chains and imprisonment, who were stoned, sawn in two or killed by the sword, and who were destitute, mistreated and afflicted (Hebrews 11:36-40). Such things may well have the appearance of weakness, but they are in fact examples of strength harnessed for the unity of the bretheren, or for perseverance in times of persecution.

Jesus harnessed His strength and in humility laid down His life. He chose when to die, where to die, and how to die. His life was not taken from Him. His was a life given. In the same way, His followers may well lay down their lives in any number of ways, submitting themselves to the unenviable for He bids them so do. This is not weakness. This is extraordinary strength.

Let us be clear. A Christian can never be powerless. Apart from Christ we are hopeless and helpless, but in Him we can do all things, because these things are accomplished by His strength at work in and through us (Phil 4:13).

Nothing is impossible with Him!

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