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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

If Revival is Being Withheld...

Jonathan GoforthIf revival is being withheld from us it is because some idol remains still enthroned; because we still insist in placing our reliance in human schemes; because we still refuse to face the unchangeable truth that 'It is not by might, but by My Spirit.'

Jonathan Goforth (1859-1936)

Missionary to China

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Avoiding Corruption

waves-cliffPure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means ... refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27

It is actually very difficult not to be corrupted by the world. We are surrounded daily by actions, sounds and images which are far from pure. In a crowded world we rub up against people who's morality and culture are contrary to the gospel and we are constantly being told that our beliefs are outdated or even bigoted.

This frequent repetition can wear away at our core values like waves of the sea against the shoreline, gradually undermining the rock on which we stand.

We begin to think it's OK to borrow a pen from our workplace, to under-represent our income on our tax return or to watch a film with a scene of explicit sexual imagery. We no longer are offended by the misuse of the name of God and even begin to do the same ourselves. We follow the fashion rather than dressing modestly. We judge, criticise and gossip. Instead of running from sin we tiptoe close to the edge and then wonder why we find our foot slipping as the ground gives way beneath us.

The gospel of Christ is a gospel of repentance, which literally means turning through 180 degrees and going in the opposite direction. This is a choice we have to make - to build our lives on the rock which is the teaching of Jesus (Matt 7:24-25). In order to do this we must be constantly measuring our lives against the word of God, bringing our sins to Him, asking for forgiveness and for the Holy Spirit to empower us to live a godly life.

We cannot avoid being in the world but we do not have to let the world be in us.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

We Are Family

FamilyEpaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. Col 4:12

Colossians chapter 4 is one of those passages which it is easy to skim over without much thought. At first sight it's just a list of people Paul knows and has no relevance to us.

But think about this: they were all part of a close-knit fellowship. They are mentioned because they are real people who lived out their Christian lives with one another.

Now consider your own group of Christian friends, those members of your church or home group who meet together regularly and enjoy one another's company. These are the people you share your joys and sorrows with, the ones who pray for you and for whom you pray. They are as close, perhaps closer, than some of your blood ties. They are part of your family in Christ.

You may not be particularly overt in your expression of it, but you love these people.

This little collection of people in Colossians 4 were like that. Yet they were certainly even closer because of what they had been through. Don't forget, Paul was in prison as he wrote, along with Aristarchus. That kind of experience draws people together. Paul also mentions his traveling companion, Luke. We know from Acts that they had been through many joys and trials together.

But I want to draw our attention to Epaphras. This is what Paul says about him in the first part of the letter:

our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. (Col 1:7-8)

Clearly Paul held him in great affection, respected his ministry and valued him as an envoy. Epaphras had gone to Rome and taken news to Paul of the state of the Colossian church. But Epaphras' heart was still in Colossae. Perhaps he was in leadership there and was concerned about his people while he was absent. It wasn't as though he could pick up the phone and check how things were going.

Epaphras' prayer life was something to aspire to:

He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you. (Col 4:12-13)

That word wrestling challenges me. It reminds me of Jacob in Genesis 32 and Abraham in Genesis 18. It makes me ask, "Do I put that much effort into praying for those I care about?"

And there doesn't seem to have been a particularly pressing need. Perhaps we might pray like that if a loved one was seriously ill or in other desperate circumstances. But do we pray with passion that our Christian friends will grow into full maturity in Christ? Do we recognise, as Paul did, that this kind of prayer is work, and that it genuinely matters and makes a difference?

How encouraging it must have been to the people back home to hear that their friend, even though he was 1200 miles away, was doing all he could for them to keep them strong in the faith.

Will you be an Epaphras to your Christian family?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Be Quiet!

man under bridgeMake it your ambition to lead a quiet life. 1 Thes 4:11

The apostle Paul is well known for telling women to be quiet and has received rather a lot of opprobrium from people who have taken his words out of their original context, by which I mean both the context of Scripture and the context of the culture in which he was pastoring.

But it shouldn't be surprising that Paul was a fan of quietness. We only have to read 2 Corinthians 11 to realise he had, what the British might call, a bit of a trying time. Not many of us can claim to have been shipwrecked three times, let alone flogged five times or stoned and left for dead.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that Paul might say to the Thessalonians, "try to lead a quiet life."

But what he says is actually much stronger than that.

Ambition is what motivates us to do something. Human beings can generally only cope with one ambition at a time, so we ask someone, "What is your ambition?" We expect someone with ambition to be single-minded, focused on the path ahead and undistracted.

It is sometimes frowned upon for Christians to express any kind of ambition but we know that there are preachers with the ambition to build large congregations, worship leaders who want recording deals, and evangelists who collect converts like notches on their belts. We're uncomfortable with that. We're perhaps also uncomfortable with Christians having ambitions within their careers. On the other hand, if we can find a spiritual way of reformulating what we want, we can perhaps get away with it. Is it OK to want to be a millionaire if it means I can give money to mission?

Paul was an ambitious man. He told the Romans, "It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation," (Rom 15:20). And yet, every other time he mentions ambition in his letters he qualifies it with the word, "selfish". The only exception is in this verse in 1 Thessalonians.

Ambition and quietness almost seem to be at opposite ends of a spectrum. Ambition is associated with drive while quietness is linked with stillness; ambition strives, quietness rests; ambition presses forwards as quietness retreats.

Paul urges his Christian readers to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life but this does not imply an unproductive life. God Himself says, "In quietness and trust is your strength," (Is 30:15) and, "Be still and know that I am God," (Ps 46:10). All of our ambition will change nothing of value if we are not in step with the Holy Spirit, and that will only happen as we are quiet enough to hear His direction.

So make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and let God do miracles with it.