Church with a limp

In the Bible people seem to match their names.  It struck me that if we were to name our church for what people would see that ‘Church with a limp’ might be quite apt.  And that would be biblically well founded.

In the Bible it’s not just Jacob who learns about God through suffering and has the permanent reminder of God’s grace through his limp.  It’s Job, who though he is blessed still carries his grief as well as the things he has learnt about God.  It’s Moses who’s learned through suffering as he has led the stubborn, stiff-necked, Israel.  It’s Mary who learns what it means for the sword to pierce her own soul as well as the joy of being chosen by grace to bear the Son of God.  It’s Peter who still bears the scars of his denial, it’s Paul who carries the guilt of the persecution years as well as the physical scars of his ministry for his Saviour.

In the Bible God teaches his people through suffering.  No experience in wasted in the man_legs_walking_cane-1024x576economy of God.  God refines his people through suffering and that means so many of us come to church, we gather together, limping.  Limping because of mental health struggles, long term chronic illness, guilt, abuse, ageing, divorce, grief, loss of work, disappointment, childlessness, fears and anxieties about our families and friends and so many more.  It is a joy to see God at work both through and in the limping.  We come poor in Spirit, we come thirty for righteousness, we come hungry for what only Jesus can provide.

So next time you go to church don’t try to hide the limp, don’t wallow in it and adopt a victim mentality either.  But be honest with others about what God is teaching you as you limp on in following him.  It’s not a badge of shame or of honour.  But it is something God will use to teach us, to refine us, to drive us to him as our rock and redeemer, and if we allow him to encourage others as we limp to glory together.

Pointless preaching?

I spent yesterday studying Titus and preparing a series of 5 bible studies for our Gospel Group to start in June. As I studied I couldn’t but notice Paul’s emphasis that Titus teach sound doctrine and refute the false doctrine so that the Christians were careful to devote themselves to doing good.  He then spends considerable ink showing what that looks like for different groups of people within the church.  I couldn’t help but contrast that with something that is one of my bug bears about so much of the preaching I hear, and often my own.

Instead of applying something from the text we waft around a few implicationsBible – the text says this so we must do this.  That is an implication from the text but not an application of it.  And application gets 5 minutes of a 25 minute sermon, and often tacked on the end.

Look closely at Titus, Paul goes into detail about how each group of people must apply the text to their own situation as older men, younger men, older women, young women, as slaves.  He even explicitly states that part of the application to Titus is the way he lives as an example to the younger men and what that looks like.  Paul’s application is detailed, it is why he writes his letter to see change.  That is the point.

Titus is a letter heavy on application but too often when we preach it is light on application.  Our preaching is pointless – we don’t aim at change.  We need to work harder on ‘exegeting’ our people and their lives, the situations they face, so that we know how to apply the Bible to them and not be afraid to do so.  Not in a legalistic way, but helping people see what godliness looks like.

At Grace a lot of our younger Christians have not grown up in Christian homes, they have come to faith in their teens, twenties, and thirties.  They have not seen godly living from parents.  They have imbibed the ways of the world, it’s limp definitions of the good life not Jesus revolutionary way of living as his follower.  They need application so they know how to live.  They need a passage to end with more than the ‘so let us pray we can live like this’.  And they need it in every area of life the Bible speaks about because Jesus claims lordship of all of their life.

They need to see the radical call of the gospel in detail and, as Paul does in Titus, the power the gospel of grace gives us to live transformed lives as we apply the Bible.

Daily warfare

Spiritual warfare is something we ignore at our peril.  The Bible shows us every one of our forefathers in the faith fighting spiritual battles against Satan and his kingdom.  And yet we often seem to live life as if it is an occasional thing distant from our everyday experience.  But as I prepared and preached through Matthew 6 on Sunday I was struck again by the every day nature of our need to pray for God’s protection from the evil one.

Jesus knew what it was to be tempted, he was tempted in every way we were, which means he didn’t just experience temptation in the wilderness and then in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He knew the daily ongoing battle for spiritual warfare, and he gives us a model prayer that alerts us to the same thing too.

And yet, we find it hard to live as if today we will be on the frontline of another skirmish in that cosmic war until Christ returns and his victory is finally realised.  We will fight it in a hundred little decisions, that like a series of paper cuts are often unfelt at the time.  Read my bible or catch up on my twitter feed?  Lovingly help the person who needs it or put my head down and plough on so it looks like I haven’t seen.  Speak the gospel or stay silent.  Challenge my colleagues false words about all religions being the same or not?  Find my worth in Christ or in my career, family, [fill in your blank].  Have ‘me’ time or serve others.  And on and on it goes.  Every decision a battle and yet so many of them pass unfought because I don’t recognise their true significance.

Yes there are the big battles, the huge life changing moments when we see something new, repent and resolve to change.  But they are not the only battles in the war.  Most of our spiritual course in plotted in the thousands of everyday decisions we make.  How would seeing your day as spiritual warfare change the way you prepared for it?

Witnessing is the natural overflow of a growing love for Jesus

Overflowing-CupI have a confession to make.  I get frustrated at people not sharing the good news of Jesus.  That frustration has shown itself sometimes in an over focus in applying sermons to that end – get out, witness, share the gospel, tell your friends, you are the missionary to your office, street, neighbourhood and so on…  It’s easily done.  We can manipulate statistics to show the need, especially if we live in the North.  We can preach on passages that vividly picture the plight of the lost.  Evangelism is a biblical imperative.  But guilt is a horrible, inadequate and temporary motivator.  And such motives will skew the way we share the gospel.

I’ve been struck this Lent as I’ve been praying through our 40 Day challenge that actually what we need as a church is to be filled to overflowing with an awareness of the wonder of the gospel.  To taste and see over and over and over again the goodness of Jesus.  To be aware of my sin and how far short I fall and how Jesus makes up for all of that and so much more and that it is all a totally undeserved freely given gift of grace!  It is only as I am filled to overflowing with that truth, as it captures my heart, that I will love others and share the gospel as overflow.

We are all natural evangelists.  We talk about what we are excited about.  Just think about this last week, what have you most passionately shared with others?  Your teams promotion, your grandkids performance, your teachers unfair punishment of you, your future plans for this or that.  We are all natural evangelists for what we believe in and what we love.  What fills our hearts flows out of our mouths.  And that is true of the gospel too.  So I need to do less hectoring and nagging about evangelism and more lifting up Jesus.  Less ‘here’s an evangelistic course bring your friends’, more isn’t Jesus wonderful come taste and see.  Less evangelism as an application and more adoration of our Saviour that leads to an overflow out of the heart.

Don’t starve yourself to feed others

Ministry is busy.  There’s preparation to do, visits to make, evangelism to prepare, dusty-bibleleaders to lead, potential leaders to mentor, strategy to strategise, new books to read, oh yeah and squeeze preaching in somewhere, and I nearly forgot prayer (Wow!  Remembered just in time, to pray for my ministry.  Saved myself some guilt there).  That’s the way many pastors operate.  But what’s missing?

Too many pastors starve themselves to feed others.  We can’t share with others what we don’t have ourselves.  Too often the temptation is to minister to others at the expense of ourselves.  So we study the Bible to prepare for others, rarely do we get alone with God and his word and ask what are you saying to me?  Who are you?  What should I learn and love about you today that I didn’t know or had forgotten in the press of yesterday?

Too often we pray for others and spend little time praying for ourselves, weighing our hearts, motives, treasures, loves, passions and priorities.  Too little time simply enjoying God and responding to him in praise – yes sometimes joyfully, nosily and exuberantly (that’s why I hate the term quiet time!!!! – wrestles to put soap box away without standing on it).

And where does that lead?  That leads to burn out, eventually.  But first and perhaps more insidiously it leads to a loveless ministry.  Ministry becomes what I do rather than the overflow of the privilege of serving the God I love and am getting to love more.  And I think that shows in the way we minister, in the subtle shift to manipulation instead of worship, guilt as motivation instead of grace, ministry as to do rather than grateful overflow.

Pastor a simple plea: don’t starve yourself to feed others.  Fight yourself and others for time with God when you are his child wanting to know him not his minister wanting to fulfil your calling.

Churches a simple question to ask your pastor: how can we help you thrive in your relationship with and enjoyment of God?  He’ll probably try to avoid the issue, maybe he hasn’t even thought about it.  So, here’s what you do.  Ask the question then ask him to pray about it and think about it and take him for coffee, or ask the elders to ask him and take him for a meal to discuss the answer.