Growth and Transformation

Why is the Christian Church a growth movement? Why do we want to get people in?

Derelict_barn

There was a property programme on TV where a man was going to renovate a barn. The presenter was skeptical as the man showed him round the derelict barn and said, ‘This is the kitchen, with units along this wall, an island in the centre with copper pots hanging above, and the Aga over there. There is the window where we can enjoy the wonderful view.’ It was the same all over the barn. The faith of the owner, as if the work was already done. When the programme cut to many months later, there was the barn transformed into a beautiful house, with everything just as he had said it.

A_sculptor's_yard_with_sculptors_working_on_statues

It’s like a sculptor with a block of marble, who chips away at the stone, just revealing to other people what he can already see.  Paul spoke in his letter to the Romans of ‘the God who calls things that are not as if they were.’ (Romans 4:17) God can see what will be, and more importantly for us, can see what we will be if we allow him to transform us.

In Romans chapter 4 Paul makes the connection between people of faith and righteousness, using the story of Abraham as an example. God promised him a son when he was one hundred years old and his wife Sarah was long past childbearing, but he believed, and it happened. 

1. Faith is the means by which we appropriate righteousness.

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3)

Abraham_falls_on_his_knees_before_the_three_angels

In the same way if we believe in Christ, his righteousness is credited to us. It’s not something we can work for.

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness— for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:23-25)

If we had to work for it, who would succeed? Since Adam and Eve in the Garden, mankind has been beset by sin – weakness before temptation. None of us can be perfect on our own.

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed… (Romans 4:16)

2. Faith allows us to enter into God’s reality he has for us

Hook film poster

The film Hook tells the story of grown-up Peter Pan (played by Robin Williams), who has left Neverland and forgotten that he was ever Peter Pan. The Lost Boys kidnap him to come and save them, but he doesn’t believe. There is a scene where they all sit down to a feast and lots of covered dishes are brought to the table, but when they are uncovered they are all empty. The boys scoop from the dishes onto their plates and set to eating, but Peter goes to bed hungry because there is really no food. Later in the story there is another feast. Peter is beginning to see the truth of Neverland. The dishes still look empty, but Peter takes a spoonful and flicks it at one of the boys – who is splatted with food! Peter looks at the table and it’s covered with all kinds of food. This time he does believe.

We too need to see what God sees. The God who calls things that are not as if they were.

We are part of a meta narrative – an overarching story of God’s Kingdom. The whole of history is His story. In the beginning, God created the world and walked in the Garden with mankind. When mankind broke that relationship with sin, God tried throughout history to repair it, but man always fell away again. Eventually God came himself to put things right. Jesus lived and died and rose, God incarnate, and we have God’s presence in the Holy Spirit now, but that is only a glimpse of what God wants – to walk with us again. It started in a Garden, it ends in a City.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev 21:1-3)

The good news is that God isn’t done with this world yet. God’s Kingdom is expanding, always advancing. Like the barn, as we believe, not only are we transformed but we transform the world around us. 

That’s why we’re a growth movement, that’s why you should be telling everyone you meet, so they don’t miss out on this wonderful future.

[based on a sermon by John Rogers at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more on www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Satan’s Priorities and God’s Priorities

When Christ was tempted in the wilderness the order in which Satan levelled his temptations was thus – bread, trust, worship.

Bread

This is typical of Satan’s approach to the human heart – I will give you bread if you give me your trust and then your worship. This is the exact opposite to the order in which these three texts appear in the Scriptures in Deuteronomy – 8:3; 6:16 and 6:13. God’s order is there laid down as, first worship, secondly trust, and thirdly bread. God says, “Give me your worship, and your trust, and then bread will follow.” Put in another form it would read, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

[from How to live the Christian Life by Selwyn Hughes, p.124]

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The Perfect Gift of Right Now

Extract from an article by Eddie Larkman, The Briefing, December 2007.

If we live, we will suffer. But how we suffer, as Eddie Larkman points out, depends entirely on us.

Carpe Diem

I’d like to share with you something of how God has been teaching me through my personal circumstances. Your circumstances will be different, and they may include many things you would like to change, but we all have to follow Christ where we are…

[He describes his wife and their plans together, and her illness and death]

… We all face joys and sorrows of one kind or another. There will be things in your life that are not as you would wish. Some of your difficulties may be long-term, and some, perhaps, are breaking your heart. Maybe you are single and wish you were married. Perhaps, God forbid, you are married, and wish you were not. You may be struggling to cope with your children, your parents or your health. There may be something in your life that, for you, is an almost unbearable sorrow.

And where is God in all of this? In the midst of whatever circumstances we face, what does it mean to follow Jesus? That is the most important question. During Sue’s final illness and during the time after her death, I often felt trapped – unable to lead the life I wanted, unable to serve as a pastor in quite the way that I had hoped – hemmed in at every turn by my domestic situation. However, I came to see that, in fact, there was nothing in my circumstances preventing me from attempting to keep the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love my neighbour. The trouble was, I wanted to serve God in all sorts of ways other than the ones he had prescribed for me. I would look longingly at opportunities I was ‘missing’, and think, “Lord, if only I could do that for you.” But we love God most and serve God best by doing the thing he asks of us rather than constantly wishing we could do something else instead…

When we find ourselves in circumstances we don’t like, we need to ask what God may be wanting to give us through those circumstances. Sometimes we are so busy resenting our circumstances, we are incapable of paying attention to God’s lessons through them. Yet presumably God is seeking to give himself to us all the time, and our circumstances are one of the vehicles of his self-giving. But, sinner that I am, I don’t always want to know this, or I don’t always want to receive what God is trying to give. Self-pity and sulking seem more attractive options, however destructive they prove to be in the long term.

Sometimes we spend so long looking at the thing we can’t do, we fail to do the thing that we could – the task that lies at hand. On a shelf in my study sits a piece of calligraphy – a quotation from Helen Keller which Sue copied out for me some years ago: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.” Self-pity makes us blind. Many times since Sue’s death I have prayed this prayer: “Forgive me, Lord. You gave me the perfect gift of right now, and I threw it away hoping for a better gift later.”

The great lesson that I am constantly having to learn is that my circumstances, far from being the enemy of my soul, are its friend, its teacher. They set the agenda, mark the course, underline the lessons I most need to learn, and persist in dragging me back to those lessons when I want to wander off into something more appealing but less beneficial. This is not a cruelty to me, but God’s kindness. He has eternity in mind, whereas we are so short-sighted. He knows what it takes to make each of us like Jesus – to make us rich in our character and fruitful in his service.

In January 1996, two months before Sue died, I wrote some reflections on my circumstances in a devotional journal. I noted that:

The lessons God wants me to learn include:
1 That God’s agenda, not mine, is the one that matters.
2 That it is always possible to do the will of God.
3 To live contentedly, without envy or resentment.
4 Humility.
5 To serve (and live) joyfully in every situation.
6 Trust must replace anxiety. God knows what he is doing and will supply every need.

Looking back now, I am struck by the fact that my circumstances were the perfect setting to learn those lessons. May God forgive me for not having learned them more successfully, but it was not the circumstances that were at fault. God knows what he is doing.

And so I want to say to you that there are no perfect circumstances in which to learn to follow Christ except those you are in today. That is why he has you there. I do not want to speak lightly of the difficulties some of you may be facing; I acknowledge that you may be living with desperately painful circumstances. Believe me, I know what tears; I have shed buckets-full. But Jesus will meet you in your circumstances and make you the person a loving heavenly Father wants you to be – for his glory and for your good.

… I close with a line from John Greenleaf Whittier, who wrote,

“The cross, if rightly borne, shall be no burden, but support to thee.”*

Whatever form that cross takes in your life, if you bear it rightly, it will turn out to be not a heavy lump of wood that crushes you, but a stick you lean on as you journey to heaven. Bear the cross with faith and humility, in utter dependence on God. Far from breaking you, it will be the making of you. You will become like Jesus.

* John Greenleaf Whittier, ‘The Cross’, The Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Ward, Lock & Co, London, 1911, p.340. Whittier attributes the thought to Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ.

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Motherhood is a Calling

This article was posted in July 2011 by Rachel Jankovic.

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A few years ago, when I just had four children and when the oldest was still three, I loaded them all up to go on a walk. After the final sippy cup had found a place and we were ready to go, my two-year-old turned to me and said, “Wow! You have your hands full!”

She could have just as well said, “Don’t you know what causes that?” or “Are they all yours?!”

Everywhere you go, people want to talk about your children. Why you shouldn’t have had them, how you could have prevented them, and why they would never do what you have done. They want to make sure you know that you won’t be smiling anymore when they are teenagers. All this at the grocery store, in line, while your children listen.

A Rock-Bottom Job?

The truth is that years ago, before this generation of mothers was even born, our society decided where children rank in the list of important things. When abortion was legalized, we wrote it into law.

Children rank way below college. Below world travel for sure. Below the ability to go out at night at your leisure. Below honing your body at the gym. Below any job you may have or hope to get. In fact, children rate below your desire to sit around and pick your toes, if that is what you want to do. Below everything. Children are the last thing you should ever spend your time doing.

If you grew up in this culture, it is very hard to get a biblical perspective on motherhood, to think like a free Christian woman about your life, your children. How much have we listened to partial truths and half lies? Do we believe that we want children because there is some biological urge, or the phantom “baby itch”? Are we really in this because of cute little clothes and photo opportunities? Is motherhood a rock-bottom job for those who can’t do more, or those who are satisfied with drudgery? If so, what were we thinking?

It’s Not a Hobby

Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps. It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for.

Christian mothers carry their children in hostile territory. When you are in public with them, you are standing with, and defending, the objects of cultural dislike. You are publicly testifying that you value what God values, and that you refuse to value what the world values. You stand with the defenseless and in front of the needy. You represent everything that our culture hates, because you represent laying down your life for another—and laying down your life for another represents the gospel.

Our culture is simply afraid of death. Laying down your own life, in any way, is terrifying. Strangely, it is that fear that drives the abortion industry: fear that your dreams will die, that your future will die, that your freedom will die—and trying to escape that death by running into the arms of death.

Run to the Cross

But a Christian should have a different paradigm. We should run to to the cross. To death. So lay down your hopes. Lay down your future. Lay down your petty annoyances. Lay down your desire to be recognized. Lay down your fussiness at your children. Lay down your perfectly clean house. Lay down your grievances about the life you are living. Lay down the imaginary life you could have had by yourself. Let it go.

Death to yourself is not the end of the story. We, of all people, ought to know what follows death. The Christian life is resurrection life, life that cannot be contained by death, the kind of life that is only possible when you have been to the cross and back.

The Bible is clear about the value of children. Jesus loved them, and we are commanded to love them, to bring them up in the nurture of the Lord. We are to imitate God and take pleasure in our children.

The Question Is How

The question here is not whether you are representing the gospel, it is how you are representing it. Have you given your life to your children resentfully? Do you tally every thing you do for them like a loan shark tallies debts? Or do you give them life the way God gave it to us—freely?

It isn’t enough to pretend. You might fool a few people. That person in line at the store might believe you when you plaster on a fake smile, but your children won’t. They know exactly where they stand with you. They know the things that you rate above them. They know everything you resent and hold against them. They know that you faked a cheerful answer to that lady, only to whisper threats or bark at them in the car.

Children know the difference between a mother who is saving face to a stranger and a mother who defends their life and their worth with her smile, her love, and her absolute loyalty.

Hands Full of Good Things

When my little girl told me, “Your hands are full!” I was so thankful that she already knew what my answer would be. It was the same one that I always gave: “Yes they are—full of good things!”

Live the gospel in the things that no one sees. Sacrifice for your children in places that only they will know about. Put their value ahead of yours. Grow them up in the clean air of gospel living. Your testimony to the gospel in the little details of your life is more valuable to them than you can imagine. If you tell them the gospel, but live to yourself, they will never believe it. Give your life for theirs every day, joyfully. Lay down pettiness. Lay down fussiness. Lay down resentment about the dishes, about the laundry, about how no one knows how hard you work.

Stop clinging to yourself and cling to the cross. There is more joy and more life and more laughter on the other side of death than you can possibly carry alone.

Rachel Jankovic is a wife, homemaker, and mother. She is the author of “Loving the Little Years” and blogs at Femina. Her husband is Luke, and they have five children: Evangeline, Daphne, Chloe, Titus, and Blaire.

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Consequences, Causes & Correction of Conflict

The book of James is a letter written to Christians about practical Christian living. In chapter 3 James talks about the tongue, which is so small but so powerful. Taming the tongue is almost impossible, and he likens it to a spark that starts a forest fire.

Forest Fire

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (James 3:5-6)

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The Crossroads

This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Jeremiah 6:16)

Signpost

There is an ancient Greek word kairos, which means ‘a propitious moment for decision or action’, often translated as ‘opportunity’. There are times in our lives when we feel we have reached a moment for decision, when we have the opportunity to change direction.

Sometimes these are forced on us by circumstances, sometimes a new opportunity arises and we have to decide whether or not to take it. But sometimes we have to create these moments for ourselves.

Frustration and vision can be two sides of the same coin. If you’re frustrated, look for what God might be saying. In a kairos moment, God speaks, and there is a chance to stop and hear God, repent and believe God, and set your life on a different path. 

The prophet Jeremiah was sent to see a visual aid for God’s message:
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message. So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. (Jer 18:1-4)

Potters wheel

The message was about God’s supremacy over the nations, but it can be applied to us too. Notice that when the pot went wrong, the potter didn’t throw away the clay, he reshaped it into something new. Maybe if you are frustrated, discouraged or repentant, you should ask God to reshape you, to show you a new way.

Jesus had great plans for Peter, but he made some big mistakes. When Jesus was arrested and tried, Peter was afraid and denied three times that he had anything to do with Jesus. After Jesus’ death some of the disciples went back to fishing. One morning they met Jesus on the shore. Later he had a private conversation with Peter:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, Feed my sheep.’ (John 21:15-17)

Jesus gently restored and remolded Peter after his denial, to become the leader of the early church. We see his behaviour change from scared and confused to brave and bold. 

Are you frustrated?
Are you discouraged?
Are you sorry for the way your life has gone?
Seek God for your kairos moment at the crossroads.

[adapted from a talk by Rhodri Walters at Hebron Hall]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more on http://www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Look Intently and Remember

James chapter 1 says, ‘There’s going to be trouble, but don’t blame God, draw close to him. In fact, trouble can do you good if you think about it.’

Mirror

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:23-25)

A young man who went on a first date and didn’t notice his tee shirt was on backwards. He hadn’t look in the mirror closely enough before he went out. He made assumptions and later felt foolish. Gaze intently into scripture and ask questions. Allow scripture to look intently into you and change your thinking and actions. 

Exercise_machines

In some gyms the mirrors have pictures of fit people to compare your reflection with, to spur you on. 

 

 

In Matthew 19:16-22 we find the story of the rich young man, who asked Jesus how to gain eternal life. What he heard in reply was truth about himself reflected back from Jesus. In the same way, we should be a reflection of Jesus and provoke a reaction in others. 

Do you look intently into the mirror of God’s word? Do you remember who you really are? Does your presence in the world change it? 

[based on a sermon by John Rogers at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]

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