God wants you to flourish

It is no secret that from within the general camp of what might be called Reformed Evangelicalism there are a number of people who view God as a stern master whose primary interest is to impose rules, expose sin, and generally fume about how bad the world is.

Make no mistake: humanity is deeply and profoundly impacted by our rejection of God and our fall from grace. Call it what you will, but no one has to work too hard to prove total depravity. Have a look at what’s happening in the UK right now and you’ll see what I mean. Thinking about all that, we recognise that God is serious about dealing with crime, wrong, injustice, and sin. His commitment to answering the ills of our world, however, is borne out of his greater commitment to good, right, justice, compassion and love.

The Cross of Jesus is an historical reality not simply because God had to punish human sin, but more so because he wanted to bring people a life and an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. It makes sense, then, that the cross is followed by the resurrection. The death of Jesus is the unexpected door to eternal life.

But here’s the point: what happened on calvary had its beginning, not only in the fall, but in creation itself. God’s core desire that his world should thrive. He causes life to abound. He wants you to flourish. I love the way Eugene Peterson’s ‘The Message’ interprets John 10:10: “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”.

‘I have came so they may have life and have it to the full’ – Jesus

Once you see this core desire of God in Scripture, it’s everywhere:

• God’s act in creation is the first great statement of what He wants to do: he is all about expending himself to cause his creation to thrive

• He draws Abram into his covenant, blessing him that all nations of the earth might be blessed through him

• He chose Israel so they would show the world around them his design for life, as expressed in the ten commandments

• Jesus came to reconcile people back to God, to remove the sin and rebellion that separates people from God, and to bring them into life that can never end. Is there a more poignant illustration of God who gives (of) himself to bring flourishing life to others than the cross and the rising again of Jesus?

• He pours his spirit into his church and into the lives of his people so they grow well into the life he has for them, bearing fruit that honours him and brings his plans to exression

• He sends his church into his world to carry his good news of life and hope to people in darkness, and that their death and fallenness can be overcome by his grace

• His people are called to live as salt and light, bringing to expression the sort of world that God delights in. At our very core, we will find ourselves longing for this world. And God wants that world to flourish.

• When Jesus returns, he will reunite heaven and earth, and bring to full and perfect expression the world God delights in. It will be wonderful, beautiful, full of life, and safe – more wonderful than anything we could ever hope for or imagine

Simply put: God wants you to flourish in him. This is not a narrow and selfish preoccupation with getting what you want. It is being consumed by striving for what God says our world needs.

Ultimately, this is not a human centred endeavour: our single minded focus is on the glory of Jesus and the honour of God who is bringing all this about.

God wants you to thrive in this kind of life, and being one who is redeemed and owned by Jesus, I cannot think of a more stimulating day to thank him.

Q: what is your primary mental picture of God? Does it bear any resemblance to the above?

Why you (still) need the church…

(Apologies that my posts have been a little irregular these last weeks. Leonie and I have visited a few churches, as well as ReCharge – The CRCA pastor’s conference, we have considered a few calls from churches, we’ve decided to accept a call to Gateway CRC, and this last week we’ve out our house on the market, and it appears to have sold. I am hoping that I can now maintain a little more regularity…)

It’s tough being church these days. You have to wonder how even hi-tech and well managed church ‘productions’ compete with easily accessible forms of entertainment. Or why people attend a local community when they can access Driscoll, or Piper, or Ortberg on their smartphone or computer. How can local church ‘Pastor Bob’ compete with all of that? With these choices so readily available, it seems more people are staying away from church, and managing their own spiritual development.

Do we still need the local church?

Ephesians 3:14-20 says we do. If we’re mapping out our own DIY spiritual growth, we are selling ourselves short, as well as dishonouring the community that Jesus gave his life for.

Your local church community can teach you things that the world’s best preachers and writers never can

Paul prays that we may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. He prays that we might know the full dimensions of Christ’s love. All its texture, every nuance, every subtlety and variation. The surprising thing is that this does not come from the world’s best preachers, or the Christian book of the year, or even the work of the world’s most erudite Christian scholars. Instead, it comes ‘together with all the Lord’s people’. It comes as the Christian community does new life together. That doesn’t mean preaching or scholarship is not required. It just means that when it comes to you growing into the full dimensions of Jesus’ love preaching, scholarship, and books have considerable limitations.

Your local church community can teach you things that the world’s best preachers and writers never can. Yes. Your church. That failed and fallen group of people, with all of their quirky and irritating aspects. These people are the very means by which God draws you into the full dimensions of his love.

How does that work? Here are a few suggestions:

• Only your church can love you with all of your faults and failings

• Only your church can express the forgiving grace of God when you fail

• Only your church can draw you into reconciliation and bring the grace of a receiving and welcoming God to full expression

• Only your church gives you a context to use your gifts and to serve others. Stay at home Christianity is basically self worship

• Only your church can express the hope of the New Heavens and the New Earth to the people of your neighbourhood

• Only your church can bring healing and restoration to the broken lives and the troubled families that live in your local community

All of this comes as a loving and sovereign God does his work in his people, through the power of his Spirit, to the glory of Jesus. Without him, we can do nothing, but as he works in us, his people express the truth that Jesus is the hope of our world.

Sure, it can be tough, and not church is perfect. But don’t give up n your local church: it’s God’s means, God’s personally selected context to bring you into the full dimensions of his love.

Q: How is God calling you to renew your love for the local church today?

A Straight Line with a Crooked Stick: How God works in broken people like us

Read Isaiah 45:1-11

The Old Testament tells us that certain special leaders were anointed with oil: prophets, priests, and kings. In addition to that sort of ‘anointing’ we read passages that refer to a coming ‘anointed one’, God’s promised Messiah (see Ps 72:8, Ps 18:44-48). This promised Messiah is the one whom the New Testament identifies as Jesus Christ (see Matthew 16:16).

What surprises me in Isaiah 45 is that this term is applied to Cyrus, a Persian ruler. Cyrus was a non-Jew. He was not a worshipper of the One True God. He was devoted to Marduk and other pagan deities. Had he ever presented himself to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship the Lord, he would not have been accepted as a worshipper with the people of Israel, and instead he would have been confined to the outer courts. So it’s pretty amazing that the Lord calls Cyrus ‘his anointed’. The Hebrew is even more challenging: the words ‘messiah’ is used.

History tells us that in the first year of his reign, Cyrus issued a decree which allowed all exiles to return to Jerusalem, worship the Lord, and rebuild the Temple (2 Chr 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–3; 6:2–5). So this pagan king was used by God to bring his promises to fulfilment. God used a crooked stick to draw a very straight line.

We are all crooked sticks, but God does his work through us

But then, was Cyrus so special in that regard? Sure he was, in the historical sense, and by reason of the fact that he’s the only pagan to be called a ‘messiah’ in the Bible.

On the other hand, doesn’t God use all of us to bring his purposes to completion? Even if we were to regard ourselves as mature Christians and devoted followers of Jesus, isn’t it true that we are all failed and fallen people? Crooked sticks, all of us? For sure. Still, God promises to work through us, and bring his will to completion as he works through people in his world. Even through people who would not identify themselves as ‘his people’.

When our culture is so driven by self interest and cynicism, it is overwhelming to know that we are not left at the mercy of random and naked forces. In some mysterious and incredibly comforting way, God is at work in our world. We are not on our own, not left to our own devices.

Today, this day, with all the stuff you have to deal with, this God has chosen you to do his will. He will work through you. He loves to do that, and he wants you to love him and honour him in return. Your commitment to delight in this is called ‘obedience’ – your glad response to his overwhelming love, grace and power.

Q: How does this truth help you survive in a world where there is so much evil? Does this truth help you worship God, or make it harder for you to do so?

Offended?

Read Ezekiel 34 (again)

The audacious message of grace is Jesus has offensive undercurrents. Not that God is offensive, but more that we might find his grace offensive.Think about it: Paul reminds us that the message of the cross is a stumbling block and foolishness to many (1 Cor 1:23). That puts it mildly. It was so offensive to Jews in his day that several times they sought to kill Paul. Stephen was put to death because the Gospel tripped the religious leaders up (Acts 7). Other NT church leaders were also put to death. Jesus himself dies on a torturous cross.

Why does the message of Jesus provoke such strong reactions? Maybe it’s because God himself becomes the shepherd, and take on a position of weakness and powerlessness. It does not sit right with our human categories of power, authority and leadership. But that is what God does. Jesus, true God, made himself nothing (Phil 2:7). On the cross, Jesus takes into himself the sin, guilt and punishment of those who hate him. As he does, we observe a heinous transfer where Jesus becomes becomes our sin. And why? So that you and I might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).

The offence, then, is how Jesus – God’s perfect Son – had to become our sin in order to set us free. The other angle is this: we could not, can not, and never will be able to bring ourselves to God, and find his life, without Jesus. Jesus is our only hope, because all we have to offer, even our very best, is stained with the fall’s ugly pollution.

I am broken and humbled by this Jesus, who just keeps loving me, and others, and he does not stop. This love is the measure of my own. And God’s own commitment to rescue and redeem through his servant hearted, sacrificial act in Jesus, is the measure of my own commitment to mission.

Q: What does this audacious grace of Jesus say to your inability and failing? How does it make a difference to what lies before you today?