Promises, beloved!

]Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

2 Peter 1:1-4 (NAS)

Peter is telling us that God’s divine power – which gives us everything we need to live a godly life- is mediated to us through the promises scattered throughout Scripture.

For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,

“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty.

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

2 Corinthians 6:16-18, 7:1 (NAS)

Paul tells us of the greatest promises in Scripture: God Himself will be a Father to us. He also emphasizes that holiness is required to experience this.

Here are a couple of promises from Proverbs that have helped me this morning:

The fear of the Lord leads to life,
And he who has it will abide in satisfaction;
He will not be visited with evil.

Proverbs 19:23

The righteous man walks in his integrity;
His children are blessed after him.

Proverbs 20:7

Cleansing the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22

The Scripture is clear that, in the New Testament, the temple of God is no longer in Jerusalem but it is in the bodies of believers both individually and corporately:

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

1 Cor. 6:19

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

Matthew 24:1-2

Therefore it is also clear that Jesus intends the same purity for His spiritual temple, both corporately and individually, that He expressed for the earthly temple in the passage from John 2 quoted above (c.f. Mal. 3:1, Psalm 69:9). We should therefore not be surprised when we encounter various trials (James 1:2, 1 Peter 4:12) – God is cleansing His temple.

Don’t be surprised if everything is upset and in turmoil internally at times. There is a season for everything and this just might be that season for you. God might touch your hard secular work (represented by oxen), your Christian works (represented by sheep), your financial affairs (the money changers) and any other spirits that might be operating on you internally (represented by the doves).

It might have taken 46 years (more or less) to have got your internal state to the place it currently is. When Jesus comes in He could overturn it all in less than an hour and raise it up to something new in 3 days.

Enjoy!

Communion

Few Christian doctrines have caused as much trouble and confusion down the centuries as has the doctrine of communion. On the one side you have those who take a very literal interpretation of the words of Jesus when He said: “This is My body” and on the other you have those that take an allegorical sense of those same words.

As is always the case with any Christian controversy, a true understanding can only come about by combining an understanding given by the Holy Spirit to the words of the inspired Bible. It is that combination of the Spirit and the written word that leads us to the Word of God or Christ Himself in whom dwells all the riches of knowledge and understanding (see Colossians).

If we are ignorant of either one of these – either the Holy Spirit or the Bible – things can get quite confusing. Take as an example Proverbs 9: 1-6 and compare it with the same chapter verses 13-18. In the first section Wisdom calls out to the “Simple” and those “without understanding” and in the second section a foolish woman (Folly) does the same. Both have houses and both offer food and drink. Wisdom offers bread and wine and Folly offers bread and water. Wisdoms food and drink is her own. Folly’s is stolen from somewhere else.

We know from Proverbs 8 that Wisdom is personified by Jesus. It is His own body and blood He offers us – not something stolen from someone else. He paid a high price to give us the spiritual food we so badly desire.

However Folly gives us far more insipid fare. Proverbs 20:17 tells us that her food will turn to gravel in our mouths. Those who try to be satisfied with anything other than the body and blood of Jesus will be disappointed.

But have you seen what I did there? Here is a spiritual truth revealed through physical simple elements. The reality is not in the bread and wine or the water for that matter. The reality is in what they represent.

The Doctrine of the Crucified

18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside
.”

2Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Watch out if you are not foolish, base or despised! God is not likely to use you much or for long.

The following is not a statement from some obscure man from long ago. It is a command from God that we would do well to heed:

“I must decrease, He must increase.” (John 3:30)

When Paul was following Christ around Asia and being used by the Holy Spirit to plant churches he was particularly foolish. If you want to build anything in this world apart from Christ you don’t just go along to a place for a few weeks, appoint some obscure people as elders and then go off and abandon them. But Paul didn’t see things that way. He was just doing what the Spirit of Jesus was telling him to do and leaving the rest of it to Him. Sure, he prayed and wrote letters, all significant. But we don’t know who the elders are that he appointed in most of the churches. The emphasis wasn’t on the pastors or any individuals. The Holy Spirit was in control.

Conduits and Channels

I was watching a film on Netflix recently called “The Boy who Harnessed the Wind.” It tells the true story of 13-year-old William Kamkwamba who built a wind turbine to save his Malawian village from famine. From a combination of corporate exploitation and greed, Government corruption and a failed rainy season, the people of William’s village and surrounding areas were starving.

What was significant to me was that the village had a well which was not dry, there was enough water in it to supply all their needs. However, because there was no pump they could not draw enough of it quickly enough to irrigate their crops. And so they were starving.

Back in King Ahaz and Hezekiah’s time, Jerusalem faced a similar problem. There was an abundant supply of water in the Gihon spring but it was located outside the walls of Jerusalem. This meant that it had to be laboriously collected in buckets day by day. Its location also left the city vulnerable. If there was a besieging army it was easy for them to prevent the people getting to the spring.

King Ahaz lived around the time Isaiah was prophesying. He started to build a tunnel from the spring into the city and his son, King Hezekiah, probably completed it. You can read more about the inscription found in the 19th century and Isaiah’s softly flowing waters of Shiloah in my other blog on the subject.

This tunnel would have had a significant impact on the lives of the people of Jerusalem at the time. The water from the Gihon spring flowed through Hezekiah’s tunnel into the Pool of Siloam (Sent). Later on Jesus sent a blind man to that pool who returned seeing (John 9).

According to the understanding I have been given (hopefully by the Lord – I will let you be the judge of that) the following is what is represented by the spring, Hezekiah’s tunnel and the pool of Siloam (Sent):

  1. The Gihon spring represents the 5 fold ministries and gifts of the Body of Christ, His Church. Powerful and upwelling these gifts and ministries supply sustenance and support for any living church. Without them any church will die – or was never living in the first place.
  2. The tunnel represents a means of enabling the 5 fold ministries and spiritual gifts to function or be channelled into a church. I believe Paul has shown us how this is done using the model of church meetings he describes in 1 Cor. 14:26- 40.
  3. The Pool of Siloam is the healing place for the saints in the midst of the church. The 5 fold ministries and spiritual gifts are functioning in it and people are being healed, set free and delivered.

The literal tunnel in Jerusalem run for 500m under the wall of the city and the waters emerged, gently flowing, in the centre of Jerusalem. However the work required to build it took two teams of workers coming at it from both directions and meeting in the middle. They didn’t have tunnel boring machines so this was wielding pickaxes and sledgehammers, blow by blow at the rock that underlaid the city’s foundations. There was risk involved. No doubt many said at the time it was too dangerous. Perhaps some lives were lost. But the results made it all worthwhile.

It wasn’t long after the tunnel was built that the King of Assyria arrived with a horrific army and a reputation for flaying people alive. All he could do was lock Hezekiah and his inhabitants up inside the city. He knew the water supply and no doubt tried to block up the tunnel but who knows how much valuable time Jerusalem gained while the waters still flowed. In the end not even the spring could save them but God intervened.

Without Him we can do nothing.

But with Him anything is possible.

Greater Things

Paul said to some members of the church at Corinth that in effect “some of you are boasting as if you had power when you do not. The Kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” (1 Cor. 4:18-20).

It should be a matter of concern to us that our churches are so lacking in power.

Jesus wants us to be like He was on the earth. The church should collectively be out in the streets and public places speaking like Jesus and doing the things that he did: healing the sick (a lot), raising the dead (on at least a couple of occasions) and addressing the powers and authorities, especially religious ones, and calling out their hypocrisy. This needs to be done fearlessly but also in the Spirit of overwhelming, reckless love that Jesus passionately poured forth as our example.

Paul’s whole work was to establish local churches that could prepare and bring about this. It was his inspired answer to how to “make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt.28:20). It is a study in itself of how Paul understood this but just reading his letter to the Ephesians would give you enough to be excited about. In that letter Paul describes how the whole body is involved in church, each member doing its part in building it up until we all become like a mature Christ. He also describes there the role and authorities of what is commonly known as the five fold ministries, all of which should be operating: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. In 1 Corinthians 14: 26-40 he describes a format for a church meeting which enables these ministries to function in the church.

The goal of local churches should not be to reproduce themselves in some kind of pyramid scheme that in the end actually delivers nothing of any relevance to the nation they are in.

The goal of a church should be to ensure that Christ’s promise that “Greater things than these will you do.” (John 14:12) is fulfilled for all the disciples in their care.

(It is hard to imagine greater things than raising the dead but that only considers the word “greater” in the sense of “mightier”. I believe that at least one way Jesus intended the word “greater” to mean was in quantity and geographical spread. What Jesus did in Galilee and Judea, He wants His disciples to do all over the world.)

If all local churches produced disciples that were truly like Christ in every way (including with His power) then it is in this sense that “greater things” would be achieved. Being like Christ is to grow up in a local church and under its authority but eventually, at the right time, to be let loose on the world and behave like Christ did in the streets and villages of Galilee. This is not individuals being released one at a time to be devoured by the wolves of the world. This is flocks being released at once. This is sometimes called revival, or a move of God. In practice it should be an ongoing phenomenon.

And it is not as if this has not happened in the past. The Methodist movements of the late 18th century carried many of the signs of the church impacting the communities with Jesus manifest in all sorts of signs and wonders. The legacy was community changing and we feel its effects to this day. The reformation of the early 16th century showed similar Christ like people saying and doing similar things to Jesus in their communities. It arose spontaneously in at least 3 countries, affected thousands and changed the course of nations. The whole world is still benefitting from the reforms that the Spirit of God introduced at that time and under its influence through godly men and women into both churches and civil society. More recently Asian countries like Indonesia and China have seen Jesus move in power through His people. And those are only the ones we know about.

We are thinking in very small terms about our Almighty God if we think what we have seen in Ireland in the Evangelical / Pentecostal churches is all there is to being a disciple or to His Church “Awesome as an army with banners.” (Songs 6:4).

The best is yet to come.

The Gently Flowing Waters of Siloam

Isaiah compares the governance and work of the Lord in Jerusalem to the gently flowing waters of Shiloah in Isaiah 8.  Shiloah is generally recognised as being the same word that is translated Siloam or “Sent” in John 9. It is the place Jesus sent the man blind from birth to wash and come back seeing.

The gently flowing waters of Siloam refers to the ebb and flow of the waters that passed through a tunnel in the very centre of Jerusalem. This tunnel had been dug during Isaiah’s time.  An inscription has been found dating from the period which uses the same Hebrew word “ ” that Isaiah used to describe the waters flow.  The lengthy inscription explains that the tunnel was built from both ends at the same time.  One set of workmen started at the Gihon spring and the other started in the centre of Jerusalem.  The workmen met in the middle –  which wasn’t easy to do.

In the very heart of the City of God there flows a river that makes the Lord glad (Psalm 46:4).  It is a gently flowing river of healing and it needs to be directed and revealed by the work of godly men.

Our churches are places of  healing but it takes the work of godly men to reveal that.  The healing streams are there, we just need to dig and work hard together to meet in the middle so they can be revealed and everyone be refreshed.

Forgiveness of Sins

It is a tragedy to watch Ireland abandon centuries of Christian tradition to become a bastion of anti-christian sentiment, atheism and humanism.

I believe that the main reason that this has happened is that the majority of the people of Ireland have rightly turned with horror from the abuses of the Roman Catholic churches hierarchy which have been laid bare in these last few years like rarely before.

However, we are throwing out the divine Baby with the bathwater.  Ireland needs to return to Christ and the Word of God as it was preached by Patrick when he first arrived in this country in 430 AD and not to return to the paganism that predated him.  And for that we need to remind ourselves of some basics:

“A pope or a bishop has no more power than the humblest priest where the remission of fault is in question. And even where there is no priest, each Christian, were they a woman or a child, can do the same thing. For if a simple Christian says to you, ‘God pardons sin in the name of Jesus Christ,’ and you receive the saying with firm faith, as if God himself had spoken, you are acquitted. If you believe not that your sins are pardoned, you make your God a liar, and declare that you put greater confidence in your vain thoughts than in God and his word. Under the Old Testament neither priest, nor king, nor prophet, had power to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; but under the New Testament every believer has this power.”

(From Martin Luther @1518 AD quoted in Volume 1, Book 3, Chapter 10 of the HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION by J. H. MERLE D’AUBIGNÉ. http://www.DelmarvaPublications.com. Kindle Edition.)

The point Luther was making is that the truth that Jesus Christ was crucified so that we could know forgiveness of sins stands independently of the means by which it is delivered.  It only takes faith in the hearer of the truth itself for it to be effective – and, as Paul says in Ephesians 2, that faith is itself a gift of God.

Luther goes on to say (from the same source):

“Repent, and do all the works that you can do; but let the faith which you have in the pardon of Jesus Christ stand in the front rank, and have sole command on the field of battle.”

This is the faith Patrick taught when he first arrived in Ireland @430 AD.  It was hundreds of years later that St. Anselm and others brought the errors of the Roman churches teachings on forgiveness to Ireland and enforced them on the people by Norman arms.  It was for control then that the Pope and the Roman Catholic hierarchy abrogated the power to forgive sins to themselves and it is for control over naïve people that they continue to do so.

We need to stop being children in our thinking and become men in our understanding (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Following Jesus

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” John 12:24-26.

One of the noteworthy things about Jesus, as He is described in the synoptic gospels especially, is His indiscriminate healings of everyone who was sick around Him.  This was most obvious in the physical healings he did so often but Jesus also healed people from sin, guilt and shame.  He spoke words of healing that minister to us to this day and into eternity.

Healing ought to be a sign that He is in our churches also.  If Jesus is truly with us then one of the signs that this is so is that our church is a place of health and healing in all senses of that word.

Difficult Passages

Jesus is the most lovely person that ever lived but He sure said some difficult things at times.  Some of the more difficult are those things He said concerning those who will call Him “Lord, Lord” on the Judgment Day:

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ Matthew 7:21-23.

I don’t know about you but I can’t say I have seen many people who prophesied in Jesus’ name, cast out demons in His name and performed many miracles in His name.  It seems hard to imagine anyone doing those things and then going on to break God’s laws, never mind the many that Jesus says will.  But Jesus says there will be many who will do this.  I guess “many” is a vague term but it certainly is not a few.  It could be tens of people I suppose.  Maybe it is not that hard to imagine that of the billions of people that have ever lived that there could be tens, hundreds, thousands or even millions that fall into this category (don’t worry, everyone struggles, except God, when it comes to handling numbers this large).

But there is one category of people that you will never hear Jesus saying that they won’t make it.  Despite the fact that the way is narrow into the kingdom of Heaven and few find it (again “few” is a relative term, it could be millions) the poor are always welcome.  There are those among us who will be first and others will be last.  You may overlook them.  Jesus doesn’t.