Tag Archives: New Covenant

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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A broad multi-laned highway

i-80_eastshore_fwyThis is the fifth and final in a series of posts documenting the paradigm-altering revelation that has fashioned my understanding of the local church, and of the Gospel that shapes her. All five revelations came as one-liners from the Lord. Read about the first four here: Open the windows and doorsPreach the New CovenantDon’t fence the waterholeNo flags.

The fifth one-liner came in ways just as dramatic as the other four. Having settled in my spirit over a period, a visiting ministry sounded it out by giving it to me word for word over dinner, having received it for us as a word from God: “The Lord is building a broad multi-laned highway here”.

Bear in mind that at this time we were going through some significant challenges as a local church. Before all was said and done our list of trials maxresdefaultwould include two church splits, with the second precipitated by relationship-ending ultimatums from the family of churches of which we had always been a part. We were numerically and financially devastated, disorientated and displaced, and focused on little more than survival. With all respect to New Yorkers, we referred to the meltdown as “our 9/11”, and thought about rebuilding as from “ground zero up”. All we had was the foundation of the New Covenant, which is indeed all you need.

Traditional wisdom in that kind of situation was to get back to basics. A metaphor gleaned from the corporate world expresses it well: “Get the right people on the bus”, and “get the right people in the right seats”. In other words, get the vision clear and build your team accurately, playing to strengths. This is sound leadership advice for any performance-orientated environment: Do it, and everyone will know where you’re going, who is who in the zoo, and what needs to be done, by whom, and why. This was how we had done things in the past, and the only way in which we knew how to operate as a leadership. The only problem was that it was not a good fit with our freshly adopted New Covenant paradigm, which was not performance orientated. We’d been through an extreme makeover, and our Christianity was simply no longer about what we needed to do, but about what Jesus had already done!

How profound then is a “broad multi-laned highway”. What this one-liner did was change leadership’s role from vision generating and casting to facilitating vision. From then on the “vision” for the church no longer lived in the hearts and minds of the leaders, but in the hearts and minds of the people. Everyone was to be encouraged to do the good works prepared by God for them to do. Nothing more; nothing less. These were the vehicles that would populate the highway.

32093299-tropical-fruit-mix-stock-photo-fruit-fruits-vegetablesThis has all been an extraordinary game-changer. We’re as supportive as we know how, and have watched as the Lord thrust our congregation into service. Some have changed jobs. Others have adopted children. A few have started NGOs. A number have volunteered for service in these NGOs, and in other organisations like them. Folk are reaching out to others. They’re caring for immediate and extended family in new ways. There are those that are approaching their jobs, businesses, recreation and art with new eyes. It doesn’t matter what the good work is; the important thing is that it is God-given and done in faith.

This “doing the good works prepared for you to do” is the only significant point of accountability amongst us, and presupposes necessary accountability in character underpinning the outworking. Momentum is gathering all the time, even though we as a leadership have done little to create or sustain it. Congregants are treated as responsible for their own lives, well able to hear God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and appointed for good works in Him. Treating them in this way has made the Gospel to be the self-fulfilling prophecy the Lord crafted it to be. It saves, transforms, enables and deploys.

tmbspnbfClarity about this has simplified church life no end. The preaching encourages folk in the fullness and freedom that is theirs in Christ. They then hear the Lord and get on with it, following the Spirit, with us providing pastoral support, coaching and mentoring as appropriate. “In the church” the children’s ministry runs itself. So does the worship team. There are also some small groups that are by and for the congregation, but these are few. Most of the activity is “out there”.

From a church leadership point of view this “broad multi-laned highway” is something of a two-edged sword. The great positive is that as a leadership you’re living the dream. Congregants take responsibility for their own lives, have their hands full of kingdom business, and are fulfilled in life, call and destiny. The down side is that their time, energy, gifts and resources are directed to the coalface of their endeavors, and there is little left for doing church in traditional ways. On any given Sunday morning (not to mention midweek) a number of the congregation are “out there” doing the good works prepared in advance for them to do, which means that they are not “in here” making church better. The net result is a very fruitful local church that masquerades as a loose and disorganised affair that is not very successful at all. Unless you know what to look for, that is!

13781279-transportation-icons-set-stock-vector-vehicles-icon-truckAnd so it is that a broad multi-laned highway continues to form. On it are vehicles of all descriptions, driven by congregants of all ilks. Some are very committed to us as a local church. Others are pretty much passing through. Some are small single-seater ventures; others veritable buses that need “the right people on the bus” and “the right people in the right seats on the bus” in order to get where they’re going. Each is legitimate in its own right.

It might be helpful, in conclusion, to mention a few of the essential adjustments necessary in our leadership paradigms in order to migrate from “bus” to “highway” thinking.  1. You have to get over your insecurities. Leaders are no longer in control, and personal loyalties no longer factor in the equation. Some members will even get serving in other churches while still considering yours their home. Deal with it. 2. If you want people to be healthy and productive, you have to place a high value on rest. If folk have families and are shouldering careers and ministries, they’re stretched. They are going to take Sundays off quite regularly in order to stay healthy. Get used to it. Attendance measures nothing useful in this environment. 3. As David taught us, those who stay with the bags get the same reward as those on the front lines (I Sam 30:21-25). Sometimes all people can do in life is hang on, and this can be so for an extended period. During these times they appear to contribute nothing. A New Covenant environment does not penalize or prejudice them in any way for a lack of performance. It’s Holy Spirit’s job to get God’s children fruitful. Make peace with it. All of that to say this: Fruit is fruit. In preaching the Gospel we after week, you pay attention to the root. The fruit comes, and is His business, not ours. The Father, not the elders, is the vinedresser.

jesus-walking-on-waterA final thought, and as a friend puts it: This New Covenant is an extraordinary and remarkable thing. It’s like being out of the boat and on the water. It feels insubstantial and transient, fragile and unpredictable. It’s easy to yield to fear and insecurity. Yet no surer foundation can be found, for we stand on the work of Jesus and the promises of God, all of which are infallible. And Jesus is quick to rescue us when our faith fails us. This is not about us. It is all about Him!

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Preach the New Covenant

“Preach the New Covenant”, said Jesus. This one-liner reverberated through my being with absolute authority and audible-voice clarity, answering what had been the cry of my heart for many months.

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It was a one-liner I didn’t see coming. I knew that I had to open the windows and doors of the church to the many, but what I didn’t know was that I was in for Extreme Makeover: Belief System Edition. (For the backstory in more detail, click here).

What followed was as extended period under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit in a special and unusual way. It sounds arrogant to claim as Paul did that I received the Gospel from the Lord, but that’s exactly what happened. Amidst very difficult times in ministry and local church, the Spirit opened the Scriptures to me in a fresh way, and it was as if I was “born again” again. The parallel discovery was the degree to which my belief system had been a mixture of Old and New Covenants, of Law and Grace.

1345804-inlineMy Extreme Makeover: Belief System Edition can be likened to a theological world tour, with numerous significant stopovers. I spent time in Romans 8:1, discovering that every aspect of my life was condemnation-ridden. My self-speak, my marriage, parenting, relationships, preaching and ministry all oozed condemnation, disqualification, and the demand for increased effort. From there it was across to Hebrews 4 and the discovery that salvation is rest from one’s own work and complete reliance on the work of another. This was quite a revelation for a permanently exhausted individual living and laboring in a burnout-conducive culture. Then came the visit to Security, where I discovered that most of us Christians are desperately and unnecessarily insecure. There were also notable stopovers in Peace and Joy, which are gifts accompanying salvation. Time was also well spent in New Nature (just like Jesus), in Holy Spirit (an indwelling Helper who will never leave us, and is an enabler in righteousness), and in Bible (an account of seven covenants, only one of which applies). Through it all I discovered that Jesus is God’s message (and perfect theology), that God is Good (and only good), and that God has made up His mind about us in Christ. If I had to identify a single highlight, it would have to be what I now regard as my favourite passage of Scripture: “For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV). Our justification is absolute, and we who are in Christ are therefore irrevocably righteous!

the-gospel-changes-everythingYears on, I continue to grow in the revelation and application of the New Covenant, but it is no exaggeration to say that everything has changed: My understanding of the Lord, salvation, myself, others, our world and His church. Every Sunday, I now enjoy the privilege of proclaiming a salvation that is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. This puts salvation within reach of everyone, and recognises that the grace that saves is the grace that sustains, empowers, and sanctifies. What was a Churchianity has become Christianity. It really is all about Him after all!

Following on has been progressively unfolding revelation of what it means to serve, lead and govern the local church from within New Covenant paradigms. Again, the Gospel has changed everything. What was at times a manipulative, controlling, stressful and exhausting environment has become one of peace, joy, freedom and fullness. The New Covenant is literally so much Good News as to be out of this world. Day by day we enter into greater measures of the benefits of this New Covenant, in which we have been included in Christ Jesus. And to top it all, no one is excluded. The windows and doors of the house are open, and the beauty of the local church accessible to all. The Gospel is for the whosoever will, and so it is with His church. What grace. What mercy. What goodness. What kindness. What love. Praise be to our God!

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Open the windows and doors

This is the first of a series of posts documenting the paradigm-altering revelation that has fashioned my understanding of the local church, and of the Gospel that shapes her. We are a very long way from where we once were, and the story is certainly worth the telling.

s-l400In fact, I write for three reasons. Firstly, to remember. Recall and reflection are helpful in keeping the main thing as the main thing. Secondly, to reiterate. Telling of the Lord’s dealings will help those connected to us in some way to understand where we’re coming from. And thirdly, I write to record. To provide a backstory for those who do and will benefit from our pioneering. So, here goes.

The most profound of all the paradigm-shifters was a God-encounter a decade or so ago. It took place during a time of corporate worship. In a moment I was caught up into an open vision. The experience was dramatic to say the least. I have no idea how long it lasted, but understand how Paul could be unsure as to whether he remained in his body or not. The vision was all-consuming, and not conscious of any other reality as it unfolded.

In the vision I was putting the finishing touches to the housework in a typical domestic home. The Lord was present, and it was unmistakably clear that the home I was tending represented the local church. The Lord commended me on the way in which I had kept His house. I felt so proud. After all, my labour in ministry was for Him, and this was a “well done, good and faithful servant” moment.

He followed up with a simple question, “Why are the curtains closed?” As happens in encounter, I knew, and responded accordingly. “Lord, the windows and curtains are closed because of where your house is built.” I moved to a window and opened the curtain, revealing that His house was built on a rubbish dump. The windows and curtains were kept closed because of the rotten smell and to hide repulsive view. Point made, I let the curtain fall back into place.

The Lord’s response was gentle. “Gavin, the problem is not with where my house is built; the problem is with your perspective. Open the curtain.” I drew the curtain aside and was overwhelmed by what I saw. Gone was the rubbish dump, replaced by a dense sea of people. People of all races, cultures, ages, shapes and sizes – an innumerable multitude incomprehensibly vast!  As I attempted to absorb what I saw, the Lord said, “Gavin, I want you to open the windows and doors of my house. My house is for them also!”

I was completely undone by the implications of it all. In a moment the Lord had adjusted my perspective of humanity to align with His, and had set into motion what would become a total rebuilding of my now-shattered belief system. I wept and wept and wept. Just as suddenly as it had begun, so the encounter ended, and I found myself on the floor, sobbing my heart out. The repentance precipitated within was overwhelming, and it rendered me so raw that many months passed before I could talk about it without dissolving in tears.

The encounter bestowed a fresh mandate: Open the windows and doors of the church! Not knowing why they were closed meant having no clue as to where to begin in remedying the situation. All I knew was that they were indeed closed, and that something was profoundly amiss as this was so. Unwittingly, instantaneously, I’d gone from being zealously committed to Christianity as I knew it, to being deeply challenged to the core. It compelled me to question anything and everything. Those around me could see that I’d been with the Lord, and all agreed that opening the windows and the doors was a great idea (after all, we all want more church members), but few seemed willing or able to grasp that there was something fundamentally wrong. What I later came to understand is that open windows and doors have nothing to do with church membership, but everything to do with the very foundations of our faith and practice. My fresh mandate would call for shifts of seismic proportions, and a great shaking was at hand.

What followed at first was many, many months of unsettled vagary. I sought to pursue my mandate by encouraging evangelism and nudging things towards seeker-sensitivity and community involvement. Yet I knew, even as I did so, that I was completely missing the point. Then, suddenly, another encounter. This one was nothing like the previous one. This time it was a single sentence that reverberated through my being with such clarity that had anyone been with me, I’m sure they would have heard it also. It was the definitive answer to my persistent “how, Lord?” “Preach the New Covenant”, said Jesus.

 

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