The Call to Growth: Business Method or God’s Desire?

Is the call growth a selling out to secular business method?

When discussions revolve around encouraging growth in Christians, or setting goals around church health, or setting any goals at all, some people will suggest the bible has been exchanged for the methods of Harvard Business School. I have never been convinced by those criticisms.

Leadership writer Ken Blanchard become a follower of Jesus following a career as a top level management expert. Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager has sold over 13 million copies since its release in 1982. The interesting thing is that after Blanchard become a Christian, he was surprised to find many of the basic principles he had written about were found in the Scriptures. That doesn’t mean the bible is a textbook on management or leadership. It probably just means that there is not much new under the sun. It might also mean that thinking about leadership and goal setting is not a bad thing after all. 

In reality, Scripture calls us to growth, and to be purposeful about it. On the night before he went to the Cross, Jesus had this prayer for his followers: 

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:25–26, NIV)

Did you know that? Even Jesus prayed that the love between the Father and himself would be fully expressed in his people. No doubt, Jesus’ heavenly prayer ministry (see Heb 7:25) also focuses on drawing us deeper into his life and likeness. It is hard to imagine Jesus’ prayers not flowing out of his divine desire to save us completely. 

In Paul’s writings, however, our understanding of the purposeful nature of God moves to an entirely different level. In almost every letter Paul wrote he expresses his desire for people to grow, and keep growing. Christians believe the Scriptures are more than Paul’s words. They are God-breathed, so when we hear Paul speaking, we hear God speaking. So Paul’s prayers reveal the heart of God for his people.

Here are some examples:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17, NIV) 

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious richese he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Eph 3:14-19)

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight… (Philippians 1:9, NIV) 

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12, NIV) 

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,… (Colossians 1:9–10, NIV) 

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:28–29, NIV)

The big question is whether the things that matter to God matter to us

See how these prayers reveal Paul’s strategy? His deepest desire was for Christians to grow to maturity. He agonised over the growth of the churches he pastored. This was not just because he was a passionate apostle. It was because the Spirit of Jesus drove his heart and mind into the very heart of God for the the church. 

It mattered to Paul that churches would grow. It mattered to Jesus that he would be fully revealed in his followers. It matters to God that Jesus’ followers grew to full maturity in his Son. The big question is whether the things that matter to God matter to us. If God is purposeful about his work in us, we better be purposeful in the work we do for him. 

The more we reflect Christ’s purposes and the more churches move toward the kind of maturity Jesus desires for them, the more healthy this churches will be. They will be places of grace, love, forgiveness, joy, restored community, deepening relationships, and loving, compassionate, transformational mission. 

A powerful, motivating, stimulating vision isn’t it?

I love Jesus, but do I have to be radical?

My opening post reminded us that growth is natural and normal. It also openened up the thought that health is desirable. Whether we are talking about growing vegetables, human beings, organisations, or the church – it is a normal expectation to want them to be healthy.

As we worked through these concepts at Gateway, we began to think that God actually wants us to be radical followers of Jesus. But we knew the word using ‘radical’ would be a little risky. We hear how people become extremists by being taken in by a militant leader and radicalised over a period of time. Normally, the consequences of such actions are terrible.

At other times, when we hear the word ‘radical’ we think of those rent-a-crowd protesters we see on TV. People who don’t wash their hair, don’t eat meat, and don’t use deodorant. A caricature, I know, but you get the drift.

‘Radical’ may have some negative overtones in our culture, so we need to understand the word well. To be ‘radical’ is to go right to the core, right to the heart, right to the root. So, when we’re talking about being ‘radical disciples’ we’re talking about people who not only accept the teaching of their Master Jesus, who not only accept Jesus at an intellectual level. We are really talking about people who take his transforming grace right to the core of their lives, right to the heart of their values, right to the root of everything they seek to do and to become. To be a ‘radical disciple’ is to be as totally transformed by the grace of the Gospel as we possibly can be.

when we’re talking about being ‘radical disciples’ we’re talking about people who take his transforming grace right to the core of their lives

If this is what being a radical disciple is, then it is hard to imagine anything better than everyone being exactly that: a radical follower of Jesus.

Here’s the challenge: the call to be radical disciples pushes us away form some of the negative expressions of the church and Christians today.

Radical disciples are not people who keep their Christianity for Sunday, and who forget about Jesus’ claim on their lives as leave their palace of worship.

Radical disciples are not people who have an occasional thought about Jesus, or who restrict their ‘time with Jesus’ to 10 or 20 minutes every day. They don’t divide their time into ‘time for God’ and whatever the rest is: time without God? Who knows.

They are not people who worship every now and then. They don’t just put in an appearance at weekly gatherings, or who tilt at doing a ‘church job’ every now and then.

Here’s what radical disciples are: They want their entire life, everything they do, everything they think, to be an expression of the new life they have received in Jesus.

Every hour of every day they want to breathe the new heavens and the new earth, to be living, walking, talking, loving expressions of life the way God created it to be.

Radical disciples live in the profound privilege of bringing Jesus’ new creation to expression.

More and more they live and breathe this desire to honour God in everything: their family, their work, their sex life, their relationships, their leisure choices, their spending habits. Everything.

Radical disciples display something similar to my overzealous gardening habits: they check themselves out regularly to see whether they are growing. They know that growth is normal, growth is natural, and health is desirable.

Q: Do you think the call to be radical is helpful? Do you think we can make it a positive value in today’s cultural climate?

Next: Is the focus on growth something God calls us to in His word?

Is your life about getting treasure, or being treasure?

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Returning to our discussion of money and wealth…

We recall that Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, God’s special possession (see Exodus 19 and my previous posts “God & Treasure” and “What is your Treasure?“).

That was then. What about now? Does that call still apply to us? If so, how should we respond? What bearing does it have on how we live, on how we view treasure, or possessions, or wealth?

The truth is that the call to be an alternate society, a contrast community, comes just as powerfully to us today as it did to Israel then. Right at the start of his ministry, Jesus made it clear that he was restoring what his Father had intended, and what Israel had failed to achieve. This had implications for all who followed Jesus. Their first priority was not to seek treasure and wealth. Their treasure was to live out God’s rule and be treasure.

Jesus says, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31–33, NIV) God was promising to bless them, provide for them, and bring his Kingdom to light through them.

Jesus addressed the matter of treasure directly in Matt 6:19-24. This passage has often troubled readers. People wonder what ‘treasures in heaven’ are, and whether they are working for the right stuff.

The nature of ‘treasure on earth’ is reasonably clear. By talking about ‘earth’ Jesus refers to the human domain and dimension. We seek earthly treasure when we build our lives and aspirations around the things that represent fallen humanity. In the context of Jesus’ metaphor, ‘earth’ is a place of decay, an impermanent existence where everything disappoints. The things we strive for: success, beauty, reputation, influence, possessions, the sense of security that our relative wealth brings – none of these things will last. None of these will deliver the life we aspire to, or the peace we long for. This is what it means to be ‘of the earth’. To store up ‘treasure on earth’, then, is to make these impermanent and ultimately unsatisfying things the focus of your life.

 

seeking ‘treasure in heaven’ is to build our life around the things of God

If earth is the impermanent dimension of humanity, then heaven is God’s dimension. Heaven is the place where his will is done perfectly. Where there is grace, beauty, justice, relationships of perfect love and integrity. These are things that will last. This is where life is perfectly centred in Jesus, expressing the full perfection of God’s original design.

So, seeking ‘treasure in heaven’ is to build our life around the things of God. To centre our lives and aspirations around the things that matter to him and the things that reveal his true intention for life and his world. Heaven is where God’s will is done. Heaven is where Jesus’ new life and his better way come to perfect expression. Grace, humility, justice, compassion, beauty, faithfulness – eloquently revealed in relationship with him.

When Jesus enters peoples lives, his rule comes to expression as they stop living to gain treasure, and instead start to live as treasure bringing love, forgiveness, care and mercy into every part of their lives.

Q: What one thing is God calling you to change? How would your life be different if you started to live this way every day? How would your church be different?

What is your treasure?

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Enough… Treasure

Read: Exodus 19:1-8

Last week Leonie and I watched The Hobbit. The story starts with the dwarfs losing all their treasure, and ends with them mountain an expedition to win it back from the wiles of the dragon. In the midst of it all we are introduced to Golum, and to Bilbo Baggins who manages to take Golum’s personal treasure, which he has named ‘My Precious’.

Great movie. Wonderful fantasy. And yet expresses a profound truth: The quest for treasure does not leave us. The thought that somewhere there is something that will make work unnecessary, or give us beauty, or deliver success, or make life easy – or better still – eternal, is deliciously captivating.

Truth is: We are all seeking some kind of treasure.

This desire lies at the core of the human heart. And we direct our lives to pursuing it.
Here’s an email I received while I was writing this sermon:

EBay

Look at how this ad is positioned: it tasks about what you love; it panders to your interests, passions and preferences; it’s addressed to your needs, and asks you to follow. It’s a profound example of how our culture works.

Advertising tells us a lot about ourselves, and what we think is important. They say that kids in the USA are exposed to something like 40,000 ads per year. A study in Queensland found that because of the use of children in advertising, by the age of 7yrs, 71% of girls want to be slimmer.

Advertising knows the truth of the human heart: that we all treasure something.

Broadly speaking, our economy is build around the laws of supply and demand. Around the belief that healthy markets and economies should always expand. And markets expand by producing things that people want. You’ve got to be competitive, so companies look to reduce costs: labour, utilities, plant & equipment, human resources.

When I was a kid, cheap stuff was made in Japan. As conditions improved in Japan, the cheap labour market labour shifted to Taiwan, and then to China. Then on to Vietnam, and now? Bangladesh. Recently, 1200 people died in a building collapse in Bangladesh. The pressure to keep costs down led to shortcuts in safety and building standards. These workers endured terrible conditions to produce fashion items predominantly for our shops.
It happened because the manufacturers and retailers place more value on profit and production than on people. [You can view an excellent report on this terrible tragedy on ABC Australia’s “Four Corners” via iView]

It is an unpleasant thought, but this is actually part of our culture’s history. English colonists simply settled in Australia, believing it to be Terra Nullius – owned by no one. No one considered the rights of the people who were already here. Efforts were made to settle peacefully, but when resistance came, it was met with terrible and disproportionate force.

The Dutch did no better in Batavia (present day Indonesia). The Dutch East India Company’s Captain Coen wiped out whole settlements of natives so he could build the colony and the walled defences of the Citadel for the Governor.

Batavia

How did these world powers justify their actions? Because lucrative spices, resources, and a colony was more important than people.

“…we cannot carry on trade without war, nor war without trade” [Capt Jan Pieterszoon Coen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, 1618]

Those words make me squirm. They should give us pause when today the harsh treatment of people is justified in the name of national interest. And they give us pause because we realise that western society – our society – has for hundreds of years been built by seeing the lives of some people as expendable. We treasure things, and dispose of people.

The point of this hard truth is not that we send ourselves on an eternal guilt trip, but that we repent of the tendency to devalue people in preference to possessions. I don’t know exactly how that should be done, but we can start by considering where, and how, the goods we purchase are manufactured. We can do it by persisting with questioning retailers, and realising that there is some power in the dollars we spend in their establishments.

Grace and peace

– Dave

Enough… Money & Wealth

Enough

Over the weeks of June I completed a short four week series at Gateway called “Enough… Money & Wealth”. The idea for the series title came from Compassion Australia “The opposite to poverty is not wealth… it is enough.” What does “Enough” mean? And would we be really satisfied if we had “Enough”? I find these troubling questions.

So, the series looked at how wealth and possessions shape our lives, the formation of our values, and consequently, the expression of our faith and the witness of our church.

I found this series challenging to preach. It’s always a challenge to preach, of course. But this series nailed me a little more than normal. More than other times I was aware that my own life was out of step with what God called his people to in his word. So, to keep myself honest, to let this conviction settle into action, I decided to serialise this series in some blog posts. As I rework them, I am praying that God will drive me to live them more determinedly.

I’d be really happy to have your interactions with these posts, and to engage in discussion via the comments. Let’s see if we can deepen our individual and corporate witness through this series.

I hope you find them as challenging as I did, and it’s my prayer that God will change us all through his word. May he depend our desire to follow him radically, and may his name be praised as we live to his glory.

Grace and peace,

– Dave

PS: It may be that occasional posts finish a little abruptly. This will be because I am trying to follow the basic text of my messages, where each point followed the other, instead of being punctuated by several days. So, I’ll try and make the transitions work as best I can for the blog format.

Theology According to Penfolds Grange

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As we walked around the bottle shop at The Blue Cattle Dog, he asked, “if you knew Jesus was coming again wouldn’t you want to buy a bottle of Penfolds Grange just to see what it was like?”

I thought for a few seconds, and said ‘No mate, I probably would not. I think the wine in the new heavens and the new earth is going to be way better that anything that Penfolds – or anyone else – can offer.”

He looked puzzled. “Why would we have wine in heaven?”

“Well, why wouldn’t we?” I responded. “What makes you think there won’t be great wine in heaven? And food better than anything we can imagine?”

This seemed to confuse him even more. He said he knew we would still have bodies, but wondered whether they would be the kind that will have need for food or drink, or any other kind of sustenance.

 

Will we eat in heaven? Live in homes? … Will there be a structured society? Or will it be a case of some kind of bodied existence will little or no relation to the world around us?

 

And then I started wondering about this little exchange, and why I thought an eternal physical reality, with joys like eating and drinking was such an obvious thing to expect, and why he thought it was so abnormal…

What do you think? Will we eat in heaven? Live in homes? Walk in national parks? Or grow vegetables in the backyard? Will there be a structured society? Or will it be a case of some kind of bodied existence will little or no relation to the world around us?

These are not just academic questions, the answers to which we’ll only know when Christ returns. My belief is that the picture you have of where you have come from (Eden) and the picture you have of where you’re going (eternity) will determine the shape of your spirituality and your mission in the present.

So, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that my friend would probably have most of the Christians in Australia on his side, and that maybe I was a minority.

 

How you see where you have come from (Eden) and where you’re going (eternity) will determine the shape of your spirituality and your mission in the present.

 

After all, haven’t we always been told that the heaven is a spiritual place? And doesn’t that mean there will be nothing physical or material there? Isn’t it true that this earth will pass away, and be burned up and there’ll be nothing left of it?

This is the tension I want to wrestle with. In future posts I want to draw on some of the biblical themes relevant to these questions.

For now, why not let me know what your thoughts are?

Grace and peace,

Dave

God is with you – whatever is happening

A middle aged man grieves the loss of his father. Confused and confronted by some family reactions, he prays for peace among his siblings so they can honour their father’s life.

Two young people are prepare to marry. Their ‘right now’ a juggle of plans for a wedding breakfast, settling a guest list, a honeymoon, and their day to day lives.

A middle aged man sits in the morning traffic, mind blank with the yawning sameness of his daily commute. His mind flickers between being free from the grind, the financial reality of a mortgage, the boss’s expectations, and uncomfortable relational realities at home.

A young woman plans a community event, desktop stacked with schedules, memos, invoices. Under pressure. Phone rings. Plans change. Again.

Another walks home, weary from an early start. Thinks about her lack of love, and ponders shallow friendships. She doesn’t like to think about it, or where her life is headed. Or whether.

Some people say that God is only with us when we’re doing the right thing, when our lives are heading in the right direction, when we’re honouring him with right living and acceptable behaviour.

Others will say that God is really only present when were doing spiritual stuff. When we in ‘quiet time’. We read our Bible regularly, we use the right version, we pray in a humble spirit, we worship in spirit and truth, witness regularly.

Ask them, and they won’t have an answer for the people in the grind of life, except that faith is probably not strong enough, and that it’s no surprise they are doing it so tough.

The God of grace is not impressed with the musings of the comfortable, who believe their responses somehow make him present. Scripture reveals a God who is present and who is there, whatever is happening.

When the people of Israel gathered on the promised land’s fenceline, the Lord reminded them that if they were faithful to him they would be blessed in the field. He would protect them fro the enemy. Their sons and daughters would be strong, healthy. Their harvests plentiful.

Best of all: The Lord will dwell with them. He would be with them. He would be their God, and they would be his people.

Scripture reveals a God who is present and who is there, whatever is happening.

Later, when the Lord points out the implications of any future disobedience – and they are awful, horrible things – he never says ‘and I will not be with you, I will forsake you and leave you alone forever.’ Whatever happens, and whatever path his people would tread, whether faithful or rebellious, God would still be with them. Yes, he would despise their behaviour and hate its outcomes. But he would still be with them because of his covenant. His promise to be their God would never fail, because he is faithful, even when they were faithless.

Whatever is happening in your life today: whether it brings a cheer, or whether you are overcome with pain and grief, God is with you.

He knows your life is broken. And he gently whispers that his plan is to heal, and mend, and make right. He is with you. Trust him.

Following and Sacrifice

At first thought, following Jesus seems easy. It seems a matter of changing your mind about who Jesus is, recognising and accepting him as Saviour, and acknowledging him as King and Ruler. I suppose it is easy, relatively speaking, to see ‘following Jesus’ as a ‘decision’. Western Christianity often focuses on people making ‘decisions’ to follow Jesus, or to accept him as Saviour. In some places, these decisions are pretty much the only thing that matters. So, evangelism strategies and even services are focussed around getting people to make those decisions.

Many people who operate from an atheist or agnostic point of view will sometimes ‘the decision’ as the major battleground: with the focus being on the intellectual arguments as to why someone should follow Jesus, or whether there is a God, or an afterlife, or whatever. This makes some sense, because the primary battleground is the inner realities of human life: the heart, the mind, the will, the soul. People do need to assess who Jesus is with their mind, they do need to yield their will and bow before Jesus’ supreme and majestic authority. People do need to offer themselves – to give their heart – to this King as worshipful subjects.

Even so, if all I give is my inner realities, as significant as that may be, I don’t think I have begun to follow Jesus the way he intends me to follow. The inner realities are the starting point, sure, but those realities are connected to my behaviour and my attitudes. Here’s the rub: Jesus wants the change in your inner reality to come to concrete, consistent, continual expression in a changed life. Behaviour. Values. Attitudes. Talk. Generosity. Relationships. Business ethic. Lifestyle. Eating habits. Sexuality. Yep, pretty much everything.

This is why yesterday’s thought was so challenging: ‘think of those areas where you are not obeying Jesus, and start changing them now.’

See, friends, it is easy to ignore the call to changed behaviour and attitudes, and just concentrate on the ‘inner life’. We’re OK with change, as long as we can ‘spiritualise’ it, and restrict that change to comfortable areas like ‘growing in knowledge’, or ‘having a stronger faith’. Stressing ‘inner change’ while neglecting behaviour change is like paying attention to the safety features of your car, but still driving like a maniac. It makes no sense. It endangers to your life and the life of others. James the Apostle reminds us that the Devil has excellent knowledge of God, and that inner faith without outward expression is nothing but death.

So, God is calling you and me to change. Real change. Change that will be difficult. Jesus, in Luke 9, says that following him is like losing your life (9:24).

Are you up for that?

Are you prepared to change those things in your behaviour and in your attitudes that you know really do need to change? Are you prepared to put to death your love of wealth? Or your proclivity to gossip? Or your thirst for influence? Are you prepared to step into the compassionate lifestyle God calls you to have? Are you prepared to reduce your personal comfort to maximise your engagement with God’s mission? Are you committed to loving the people as an expression of the love for God in you?

Jesus gave his life for you on that terrible torturous cross. He counted his heavenly glory as nothing. But is following him actually costing you anything?

True. There are burdens that come as a consequence of truly following Jesus. They are felt when you start working out what God has worked in you (Philippians 2:12-13). And while it’s not a popular thing to say to comfortable western Christians, these burdens hurt and they chafe and they are weighty. This is what Jesus calls your cross (Luke 9:23).

You want to follow? Then take up your cross. Take it up daily. And, knowing he has called you, this cross, his cross on your shoulders, becomes easy, and light.

One last thing: Jesus never calls you to do this work on your own. Through his Spirit, he is present with you. He will give strength and endurance. He will give you all you need to follow, to change, to carry his cross.

So, about that change: what will it be for you? Make a commitment now: write it down, share your change with a friend, and ask them to keep you accountable.

Follow Me!

Reading Matthew 4 this morning I was again struck by how this very simple passage communicates such profound and (possibly) unnerving truths about Jesus.

Jesus shows up at the Sea of Galilee, and proceeds to call his first disciples. There is no promotional tour, no bus with a banner, no advertising campaign. Jesus just shows up, and says ‘Follow me”. Two words. Two little words. But they contain a universe of meaning.

Surprising

Jesus words are surprising in their simplicity. Simon, Andrew, James and John had no idea who this Jesus was. And we do not know what compelled them to leave their livelihoods, their trade, and follow. But they did. It is a surprising outcome.

Uncompromising

Jesus words are uncompromising. Very un-politically correct. There is no ‘please consider’ or ‘if you wouldn’t mind’ or even an ‘excuse me, but…’. They are a bold, bare imperative. A command. “Come, follow me”. Amazingly, the four men left their nets and followed him immediately.

All of us have behaviour and attitudes in our day to day lives which are destructive and which have to stop. Or things which are disobedient to God, which work against the world he desires. Or the sort of pure and simple indifference where we couldn’t give a toss. Jesus uncompromising call comes to us today and says, “follow me.”

George MacDonald, quoted in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, says “It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not do anything he tells you … but you can begin at once to be a disciple of the Living One, by obeying him in the first thing you can think of in which you are not obeying him. We must learn to obey him in everything, and so must begin somewhere.”

It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not do anything he tells you

So: think of those areas where you are not obeying Jesus, and follow his uncompromising call. Why wait? Do it now.

Audacious

It’s an audacious claim, isn’t it? Whether it is Jesus’ words to the four followers, or his word to you, the implication is that Jesus’ rule over people is both universal and absolute. The audacity is that Jesus’ claim is presented as simply true. True, whether you accept this reality or not.

Jesus’ call to the four men, and their surprising and equally uncompromising decision to follow – and therefore obey – shows us not only that Jesus is true ruler. His claim also shows us that his rule starts in the hearts and lives of those who follow him. With people. Jesus’ followers are, in a sense, under new management. Jesus is directing their lives, and the impact is seen very clearly. In a sense, every follow says ‘Jesus is in charge, and this is what it looks like.’

Q: what would be the first things to change in your life if you were to follow Jesus and obey him in those areas where you currently are not obeying him?

PS. If you are intrigued by the phrase “Jesus is in charge, and this is what it looks like”, and you’d like to know more about Jesus (without all the religious clutter) I encourage you to get a copy of NT Wright’s new book, “Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters” . Wright’s book opens our eyes to deeply scriptural emphases and to the life changing reality of Jesus. Koorong still notes the book as ‘not yet printed’ but you can definitely get it on line at Amazon and The Book Depository (and the latter does not charge freight!!). If you have a Kindle, iPad, or other eReader, you can access a copy right now.

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?