Being the Body

Following from my post yesterday about the importance of living in Community, I want to share that being part of that community, God requires us to be the body. A living, breathing, active member that contributes to increasing God’s Kingdom here on earth.

My inspiration and thoughts have come from a quite brilliant book that I highly recommend from American author and prison campaigner Charles Colson called ‘Being the Body.’ How does the Church (You and I) live out the Christian gospel message that makes an impact in the lives of people around us. Jesus informs us “All men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” Being the Body requires an unconditional love amongst all believers before we have a say in the world.

Martin Luther said this, “Apart from the Church salvation is impossible.” Strong words indeed, but the very important point is that the Church has to be the living, loving body that Jesus requires. Without this body each one of us is lost and not truly following Jesus. We need to realise that the very mixed bag of individuals that make up the body has been created by the ultimate designer, God himself.

The lonely, lost and broken hearted in our communities must not only hear about Jesus, but see Jesus lived out in the lives of believers. When we look at someone within our Body, do we have that deep, sacrificial and unconditional love that Jesus has for each one of us? Or if we are honest do we just tolerate people and take them for granted? Tolerance and love must be the natural endowment of true convictions.

The body of Christ should bear the image of Christ himself.

Conviction must always precede Conversion. Jesus does not want the Body to remain static, living and stuck in the life of past sin.  You cannot present the gospel truth until you have also presented the fact of sin. This is because if we truly believe the gospel, then there is no doubt that it transforms character. Each one of us has a responsibility on behalf of Jesus to ensure that the Body continues to change into the likeness of Christ, through our deeds and the way we live.

Every thought must be captive to the obedience of Christ

Father Jerzy a Catholic priest who helped the Polish nation escape from the prison of Communism gives us these powerful words about our responsibility. “A Christian is one who all his life chooses between good and evil, lies and truth, love and hatred, God and Satan. Today more than ever is a need for our light to shine, so that through us, through our deeds, through our choices, people can see the father who is in heaven.”

The body, the Church, the Community of believers must be the embodiment of Jesus Christ here on earth, here right now. Do we live our lives that reflects the love of Jesus to the world? The local Church must always be the hope of the world. Being the Body gives us the amazing privilege to carry out the mandate of God.

Being the Body: Are you up for the challenge?

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Everybody’s Weird

How important is it to live in community? What do we perceive as community? Can we live in community? The bible speaks about the importance of living life together in community. In Acts 2 we read about the believers coming together in prayer, worship and fellowship. However today we see a fragmented church, where people live isolated lives and afraid to share with people because they are different to themselves.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this about such people, “Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone. People who seek to live for themselves alone plunge into the bottomless pit of vanity, self infatuation and despair.”

Henri Nouwen (Dutch born Catholic Priest and writer) gives this provocative thought, “Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.”

We are all tempted to live under the illusion that somewhere out there are people who are normal. We look at other people and ask if only they were more like me then everything would be fine? What we don’t seem to realise is that people are asking the same question about us. The great theological truth for us to remember is this: Everybody’s Weird. The painful truth is that I am not normal but weird. We try to seperate the world into normal healthy people (like me) and difficult weird people.

The bible tells us that none of us are normal. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” All we sheep have gone astray.” As church we put up barriers on why we should not live in community; whether that is a discipleship group, Sunday fellowship or community living. God informs us that none of us are normal and the quicker you appreciate that you are weird, the better of your understanding of the importance of community.

Bonheoffer again gives us these words of wisdom, from his inspiring book ‘Life Together’ “Those who love the dream of a Christian Community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”

Remember it is so important to love your weird neighbour, because you and I are that neighbour.

The Connecting Church

Ever asked yourself what is the role of the Church today? It’s something I wrestle with all the time as I try my best with a humble spirit to carry out God’s will.  As I deepen my faith, listen to God and serve the community I believe the Church (all believers) should be a ‘Connecting Church.’ Once we have a connection with God, this should automatically connect us with our community and as a result connect us to those individuals who are suffering hardship, live in darkness and see no hope.

However this is not always the case. It can appear that the church lives in a Christian bubble unable or unwilling to connect with it’s community. There can be a sense of not knowing our neighbour or having real engagement with the poor. Whatever community we live in, we do  not have to travel far to see the pain of poverty. In the Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy makes this point very evident. Every seventh year (Sabbath Year) the community would assist the poor by cancelling their debts. There was a need to help the poor in a practical way.

Deuteronomy 15:10-11 (The Year of the Sabbath and the cancellation of debts). “Give generously to them and so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open hearted toward those of your people who are poor and needy in your land.” 

Jesus also makes the same point in Mark 14:7 “The poor you will always have with you.”

What do we make of these scriptures and what is God saying to us? I believe these are some of the points to understand.

  • The responsibility of the church is to identify the poor living in their community
  • If you don’t know the poor, it’s hard to serve them
  • The grudging heart is broken by a broken heart
  • God breaks your heart first before you are able to give of yourself generously
  • The blessings we receive is a deeper relationship with Jesus
  • We must have real engagement with the poor, which means connection through relationships
  • Generosity out of duty is never an option with God. Only from the heart does real relationship mean anything 

The Church is called to enter into the hurting lives of people around us. This takes courage, sacrifice and a broken heart. The gospel was never meant to be an easy option. Jesus is calling his people, the Church, to stand up and to take up the challenge with passion and to have real engagement with our community.

Prayer: Father thankyou that you loved us so much that you sent your only son, Jesus and whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Our mandate must be to save lost souls. Help your church to rise up in unity and to engage with our communities with purpose, relevance and to share the life transforming power of the gospel.  Break our hearts Lord, help us to sacrifice and equip us for this amazing privilege of serving you. Amen 

  

Copying God’s Love

How do we show the full extent of our love? This was the question that came to me when reading John 13:1  when it informs us that Jesus now showed the full extent of his love by washing his disciples feet. He then goes on to say that we should follow his example and wash each others feet. Do I humble myself to the extent of favouring no person, making no judgements and breaking my barriers of fear by giving people hope and love through my actions?

John 13:34-35 Love each other just as I have loved you. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Do we really love each other as Christ loves us? Jesus was a living example of God’s love, as we are to be living examples of Jesus’ love.

Do outsiders see that we are followers of Jesus by seeing our love for one another? This must be the starting point for understanding the gospel of love. We can have differences with people and sometimes take our loved ones for granted.

The unity and love between God’s people, his church, must happen before we think that we have the right to share God’s love to people who don’t know Christ yet.

The Gift of Hope

This week I have been teaching our ministry degree students on the effects of poverty in UK. The greatest impact however for them and ourselves is listening to someone first hand who has had to deal with hardship. There is power in someone’s story. So today I want to give you a brief outline of my friend’s journey from a dark hole to a light of hope. I hope you wil be inspired, moved but above all that the best gift that anyone could receive is the gift of hope.

His life was turned upside down about eight years ago, when he lost his job and became unemployed, which lasted for two years. During this time his wife and three children struggled to make ends meet. They struggled to pay the rent and other housing bills and before they knew it they began the spiralling descent into debt. As he put it himself this was the start of his six years in hell, trying to fight his battles on his own.

There was one particularly low point during this time, when the bailiffs turned up at his front door, demanding to take all his property. By this time he could not take much more and dragged the bailiff out onto the street threatening to do some serious harm. The police were called and he had the dilemma of being arrested or agreeing to the term of the bailiffs. He was not arrested, but he had to agree to pay the bailiffs over £800 within 24 hours or they would come back and seize his property.

My friend is a typical man in the sense he was unable to share how he was really feeling inside and instead put on a front that everything was rosy and fine. This veneer had lasted for six years, until the day after the bailiffs arrived. He broke down for the first time and it was in front of his boss of all people. Her heart broke for this strong but broken man before her. When our heart breaks for someone else we have to act. She did and the company paid off the debt to the bailiffs. The boss understood that my friend was a valuable member of the firm and they did not want to lose him.

It was at that point that he was given a leaflet about Christians Against Poverty. For six years he believed that he could not help himself. For six years he worried himself to illness  including depression. For six years he was alone and isolated not knowing where to turn and who to trust. It was six years of hell. He just needed the courage to ask for help. Sometimes that is the hardest thing we will ever have to do. He had the leaflet for a week and read it about 1000 times over and over, willing himself to pick up the phone and make the call.

That glimmer of hope is there in front of him; all he needs to do is open his eyes. Eventually he makes the call and is immediately met by a reassuring and compassionate voice. A voice that had such a calming effect on him, it was like tasting a hint of heaven.  Relieved that he made the call he then waited for a few days for the debt coach and support worker to attend his home. When the help arrived and they were explaining how CAP could help, my friend felt as though a big fork lift truck arrived in his living room and scooped up his burdens and frustrations over the last six years.  When the meeting was finished and the CAP team left, the whole family danced for joy, jumping up and down, thankful that some of the pressure had been lifted.

From that moment of asking for help my friend started to get his life back. It’s made him a stronger person. It’s made him a better and more loving husband. It’s made him a better father. Would he want to go through this time again? Of course not if he had a choice. However sometimes we need to go through very difficult circumstances to make us better people. My friend is now thankful that he went through what he did, because he now realises with such clarity what is important in his life.

There is so much to be thankful for. He is thankful to his family sticking by him when he wanted to give up. He is thankful for his employer for showing such compassion and love, as he stood before her, vulnerable and bearing his broken spirit. He is thankful to the caring and calming voice at the end of the telephone. He is thankful to his debt coach for not judging him and showing a practical love. He is thankful for the gift of hope that glimmers in every life. He is thankful for the day he opened his eyes and saw that gift of hope.

Tough Callings

I recently attended a Willow Creek conference in Bracknell, which was very inspirational and challenging.  God downloaded so much so I thought it  would be good to  share and encourage you with some of this stuff. Today I want to look at the topic of Tough Callings, through the life of the prophet of Jeremiah. Now if we expect that once we begin our Christian adventure it’s going to be full of successes and growth, we only have to look at the calling of Jeremiah. I am not suggesting that our calling will be the same, but we need a sense of reality of what is expected when we are prepared to follow Jesus and be his disciple.

Bill Hybels says this, “As leaders we are addicted to the narcotic of growth and success.” It is very easy to romanticise Christian living. However success measured by God involves obedience and faithfullness, regardless of opposition and personal cost. Let us look at Jeremiah’s calling from Chapter 1, verses 1-19.  His ministry as a prophet spanned for 40 years between 627 and 586BC. His mission from God, if he was prepared to accept it, was to inform the Israelites that they had to repent and stop committing the two sins of forsaking God and worshipping their own idols. This was not to make him popular at all and would incense the whole population including the religious leaders. On many occasions he would be beaten and left for dead, including being thrown in a deep pit.

In verse six it informs us that Jeremiah was called as a child and that he felt that he could not speak properly. To man Jeremiah would not have been the ideal candidate to be a prophet for God, however God sees us differently and will always use our gifts and abilities that are so often not seen by the world. Man looks at our weaknesses but God always looks at our strengths.

However God promises Jeremiah in verse 8 that he does not have to be afraid because he will always be with him. I think this is the statement that sold the job of being a prophet to Jeremiah.  Whatever tough calling we are prepared to undertake we must always accept this promise from God.

It also says in verse 8 that God will rescue Jeremiah. Now this is probably one of the most important sentences in this chapter. God is not saying to Jeremiah that he will never see trouble. In fact he is promising him that he will indeed experience trouble and suffering, but God will rescue him. God tells us all that as his prophets and followers we will undoubtedly experience hardship, but have the ultimate promise of his protection as long as we are obedient to his ways.

So Jeremiah excepts this tough calling. However as we know it is so tough that he often thought of giving up. Jeremiah 20:7  states that Jeremiah felt that God deceived him.  Surely my calling from God should have gone better than this. However after dusting himself down and spending time with God, Jeremiah realised that the most important thing he could ever do with his life was to be obedient to God.

Jeremiah realised that when we lead selfish lives and putting other idols before God, we begin to ignore the poor, orphans and widows and in God’s eyes this is mistreating the poor. The bible tells us who can be against us when God is for us. In vesre 19 we have this wonderful promise. “They will fight against you but will not overcome you. For I am with you and will rescue you.” Nothing will defeat us completely when we respond to God’s tough calling.

Prayer: God I pray that your people will stand up in courage and say I am ready for my tough calling. I am ready for the battle and I am ready to glorify your name in the life I lead. Compromise and giving up is never an option and even though I walk through the valley of death, your mercies are fresh and new every morning. Amen

Your Exceptional Exception

Once again we will look at the prophet Elisha from 2 Kings 4:1-7. He was such a cool dude going around the country seeing people in need, then asking them to have faith that miracles will happen. Here we see a mother who has lost her two sons into slavery because of debts she has suffered as a result of her husband dying. Then Elisha pops up and asks how he can help and particularly asking what the widow had in the house. She replies “Your servant has nothing there at all, except a little oil.” This is what we will be focusing on today that one little word called except.  That little bit of oil may have been inconsequential to the widow, but to God it would be an exceptional exception.

As we follow the story we see that Elisha asks the widow to go to her neighbours and ask for a large quantity of jars. She was then told to pour the oil into the jars and then the miracle happened as every jar was filled until there were no jars left. The widow was now in a position to sell the olive oil to pay off her debts.

There is so much in this scripture to help us. Asking for God’s help when we are in trouble, working with God to overcome the problems we face and receiving help from family members. God never wants us to do life on our own.  However let us now look at that little word called except. The widow could only focus on what she didn’t have. Elisha on the other hand, was only interested in her exception. It was her exception that became the vessel for a miracle.

We often excuse ourselves from the miraculous because we often believe that we don’t have a lot to work with or offer to God to work with. Maybe it’s a lack of so called skills, lack of resources or lack of certain experience. Whatever the reason, what we don’t often realise is that we always have so much more than we think for the power of God to flow through our lives. We must remember that God has a history of using what little we have to do great things only He can do.

  • God used a shepherd’s staff to part the Red Sea

  • He used five loaves and two fish to feed the five thousand

One of the greatest strategies of the enemy is to get us to focus on what you don’t have, what we used to have, or what someone else has. Instead what we must always ask is, “God, what can you do through what I have?”

Here is the truth that we all need to embrace today. All God needs to work miracles in your life is all you have. A God who created something out of nothing can also create something great out of little.

God can do exceptional things with your exception.