At Carnmoney we’ve been considering our identity as SENT people. The church is always being sent. We are the body of Christ always, it’s the identity we carry with us into every building not just the one set aside for worship. The quote below is from Matt Chandler’s book Explicit Gospel and our Pastorates are engaging with it this week.
“I have been uniquely wired and drawn toward certain things so that people might know God, hear from God .. So when I go to my house after I’m done at the office, it is my understanding that I am not in that neighbourhood by mistake. My neighbours on the left, on the right, and directly across the street are there by the design of God in order that his gospel might be heralded by me to them. I want to see the gym that way; I want to see the coffee shop that way; I want to see the parents in the stands watching my son’s football games that way; I want to see my daughter’s dance recitals that way. I want to see the entire world through the lens of how God has wired me and where he has placed me for his glory.”
Turn right at the traffic lights and follow the road until you reach the petrol station on your right hand side. Once you see the signs for the primary school take the next left and we’re beside the house with the red door. As we pass each landmark on the journey to a new place we are encouraged that we’re on the right track. There’s something very reassuring about seeing the petrol station, the primary school or the red door that we’ve been told about before hand. While we haven’t arrived, these markers help us to keep going. To not give up or assume that we’re lost. Jesus prepares His disciples for their journey to His Father’s house and highlights some things to look out for on the way.
I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves … men will deliver you over to courts and flog you in the synagogues .. Brother will deliver brother over to death .. When they persecute you in one town flee to another. [Matthew 10:16ff]
When people are critical of us or when trouble strikes our lives, we quickly assume that we’ve gone off track. That it should not be this way. We default to ‘entitlement mode’ and get angry at God, He’s let us down. We deserve better. Alternatively, we tie ourselves in knots of guilt assuming that God is punishing us for something. ‘If I was more holy than I am right now then maybe I wouldn’t have to put up with this horrible situation in my life?’
The liberating truth is that every trouble, hard time and persecution we face as Christians is a marker that we are on the right path and a reminder that God is faithful. The Bible repeatedly reveals God’s people enduring opposition. Doing the right thing and getting the wrong result is a feature of life for the people God. Moses went to Pharaoh and ended up being pursued by the Egyptians, Daniel prayed and ended up in a lions den, Joseph ran from sexual temptation and ended up in jail. These characters hint at the only truly Innocent One who suffered on the cross even though He was without sin. Jesus says to His disciples “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” [Matthew 10:24] In our eagerness to ‘be the hands and feet of Jesus’ we’ve got to remember what happened to those hands and feet!
When God seems to be killing us, He’s actually saving us. [Tim Keller – Counterfeit Gods]
It’s incredibly freeing to understand that Jesus never promised His disciples their ‘best life now.’ The only way that life on earth will be your best life is, if you never experience the perfection of heaven. He said we are sheep among wolves! In the book of Acts, we get the name of a place that we need to journey through before we reach this best life..
continue in the faith, … through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. [Acts 14:22]
You haven’t arrived – keep going!
A few years ago when we went to Boston we repeatedly checked out the Trip Advisor reviews of the place we were going to. I was able to pour over photos of the room and see where the hotel was situated in the city. I like to know where I’m going and have at least a rough idea of what is waiting for me there. The Genesis 12 account of Abram leaving his home town is the opposite of our trip to Boston. Abram had no idea where he was going. The Lord said to Abram..
Go from your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. [Genesis 12:1]
It’s really impressive that Abram goes. He obeys. He walks away from everything in order to walk with God. That’s often how our Christian life begins. With enthusiasm, adventure and trusting Him completely. The problem comes as we walk a bit and things start to get unpleasant. Abram encounters a famine and the prospect of entering Egypt with an attractive wife fills him with fear. He decides it’s time to take control of the situation back from God and tell a lie to save himself from harm.
say you are my sister that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake. [Genesis 12:13]
Abram’s trust wobbles and he thinks that he’d do a better job than God at saving himself. This is always our problem. We think we know best and are in a better position than God to look after ourselves. The good news of this story (and the entire Bible) is that even though Abram is unfaithful to God, God remains faithful to him. God’s promise to bless Abram is not tied up in how Abram performs. Abram becomes Abraham. His elderly wife becomes Sarah and they are ‘blessed’ with a son. As his family tree unfolds there is another unlikely birth many years later as Mary (a virgin) becomes pregnant! Her Son also left His Father’s house and stepped out in obedience to God. Unlike Abram though, Jesus remained faithful. He proceeded where Abram wavered. Rather than grabbing hold of the steering wheel himself, Jesus surrendered completely to God’s way.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:8]
I need to trust in Jesus ability to spare my life. His obedience at The Cross has guaranteed my future home and so I no longer need to manipulate the people around me in order to get the life I need. I’m free to bless them rather than bully them. I constantly feel the temptation to ‘save’ myself. To cover up my real identity in order to spare myself discomfort or embarrassment. We’re masters at self protection. Control freak kings. It’s why we filter our photos before posting them online, it’s why we love Sky+ and it’s what Build A Bear Workshop is promoting among kids. You can be in control. Save yourself from anything you don’t like.
Christian identity is about leaving home. Departure from every attempt to protect myself, save myself and create an identity for myself. Only by finding our home in Jesus will we be free from the need to control or manipulate the people (or situations) around us. We can bless people rather than bully them because in Jesus – we have everything we need.
‘Who says?’ is a popular way to respond to an instruction or a new piece of information. It is everyday practice. We want to know whether or not to take the instruction or information under our notice. French Philosopher, Michael Foucault wrote a famous essay that began with this inquiry “What does it matter who is speaking?’ He thought authors were irrelevant because everyone has the right to interpret what is before them in whatever way they like. The reader is king. Which sounds great – until you try to lodge a cheque. Then you want the author to be king. There’s some things we don’t want left to interpretation!
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. [John 16:13]
Jesus promises His followers that the Holy Spirit will teach them the truth. He will grant them eyes to see how things really are. The Scriptures, their lives and the world around them are not subject to anyone else’s interpretation. God defines reality for them and us. This is good news! I am no longer at the mercy of other’s assessment of my life. My value and worth comes not from what you say about me but about what God says about me. The difficult circumstances I face can now be viewed from a radically different perspective. Scripture reminds us..
our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory in eternity that far outweighs them all. [2 Corinthians 4:17]
Discipleship is all about surrendering to God’s perspective on everything. Mary wasn’t sure how a virgin could be with child but she surrenders to God’s revelation by saying ‘let it be to be according to your word.’ [Luke 1:38] The Holy Spirit fuels our faith to believe what our eyes cannot see. He grants us the eyes of Jesus. Christian maturity occurs when we acknowledge God’s perspective on life. We don’t get to interpret our circumstances any way we choose. God doesn’t make the same guarantee as Starbucks. Life doesn’t turn out ‘just the way you like it.’ Even in these times the Holy Spirit can awaken us to the truth. His role is to give ‘airplay to a different version of events’ in our lives and the world around us. To alert us to The Author’s interpretation of everything so that we can have hope and faith in the face of every challenge.
Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. [1 Cor 2:12-13]
God is speaking and it matters.
Most Saturday evenings I’m given a warning. Told about what’s going to happen immanently and given the opportunity to escape. It goes like this “Match of The Day will follow this news bulletin, if you don’t want to know the scores from today’s games please look away now.” (Man Utd fans may find some scenes upsetting). The difficulty is for all of us that looking away isn’t always an option. The problems and pain arrive in our world and we do not have the option to look away. We recoil instinctively from suffering – it’s why we pull our hand back when the plate is too hot in the restaurant! We’re made in the image of a perfect God and all imperfection, pain and brokenness brings frustration and disappointment into view. UK Band, James had a hit single with the song ‘Sit Down’ which contained these lyrics
It’s hard to carry on
When you feel all alone
Now I’ve swung back down again
It’s worse than it was before
If I hadn’t seen such riches
I could live with being poor
Because we’ve been made in the image of God, we too have seen riches that make the poverty of our broken world unbearable to live with. All of us have within us a longing for eternal life and the perfection of heaven. We want distance between ourselves and pain. We want to look away. No, more than that – we want it to go away! The good news of the gospel is that God does not cover His eyes from the upsetting scenes of our lives. He enters them.
even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
Jesus meets our death with His life, our sin with His salvation and our rebellion with His rescue! It’s good news for the world experiencing pain, suffering and brokenness. There is a Redeemer! When the diagnosis of our spiritual condition is at its very worst, God’s deliverance is given. When our spiritual monitor is flatlining God makes us alive with Jesus.
‘grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return.’
People often say ‘when you feel far from God, guess who’s moved?’ The implication to this statement is that you really need to take a few steps in a certain direction if you want to feel close to God again. But this is not the message of the Gospel. It’s not good news! The good news is that when we were farthest away, when we were dead, the missionary God came for us! He didn’t look away because the scene was too upsetting.
grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.
love this quote from Martin Luther
When I preach I don’t look to the doctors and magistrates of whom there are about forty in this church. I have an eye to the many young people, children and servants of whom there are more than two thousand. I preach to these, addressing myself to their needs. If other people don’t want to listen to this approach then they can always walk out! An upright, godly and true preacher should direct his preaching to the poor, simple sort of people … when preachers talk to me they can show off their learning – they will be well put to their trumps! But to sprinkle Hebrew, Greek and Latin in their public sermons, suggests they are merely showing off.
Keep the big words for your nerdy friends!
I enjoy seeing my loyalty card in Caffe Nero fill up with those little red Ns. I can measure my progress and see how close I am getting to that free coffee. Once the card is full I am entitled to a free drink. In Matthew 18 Jesus reveals to the disciples that their entitlement to the privileges of the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with their loyalty and everything to do with His loyalty for them. Where the Kingdom of God is concerned they have no loyalty stamps to bargain with. The disciples were still not getting it and they were wondering who was the greatest? They wanted Jesus to show them what they were entitled to as a result of the lives they lived. Jesus invites a child into the middle of this discussion as a visual aid of what they were entitled to. Children had no rights in this culture. They were totally at the mercy of adults and in the next chapter there was an attempt to keep children away from Jesus. He responded to those who were getting in the way by saying about children ‘the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.’ You don’t enter the kingdom because you’ve been around a while longer than others. Age or experience carry no points.
Regular Bible Reading = 0 points
Volunteer in Youth Ministry = 0 points
Summer Team Member = 0 points
Church Leader = 0 points
Events you attended = 0 points
Jesus wants the disciples (past and present) to know that it’s only on the basis of His loyalty not ours that we can enter the Kingdom of God. We have no right to it because of what we have done. This liberates us from the crushing weight of trying to look good. Our motivation for serving (and our ability to say no to requests to serve) is empowered by the good news that it’s Jesus service for us that entitles us to be welcome in the Kingdom of God. When we forget this we become jealous of others who seem to be out-serving us or proud and judgmental because those around us are not measuring up to our standard. We default to the pecking order of this world and end up in a silly game of Paper Rock Scissors. Self pity is what often arises in our hearts when we ignore what Jesus has achieved for us. We look to our own serving and think ‘I deserve better’ or we see others doing great things and feel sorry for ourselves because we’ve not been able to accomplish what they have accomplished.
Tullian Tchvidjian says “Sometimes God puts us in a position where our only comfort comes not from what others think about us but from what God thinks about us in Christ.” If you want to enter the kingdom of God, you need to depend on Jesus. His loyalty to God, not yours. His obedience to God not yours. His service to God, not yours. His sacrifice, not yours. His greatness, not yours.
I hear the Saviour say
thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness watch and pray
find in me thine all in all ‘Jesus Paid It All’
I’m off for a hazelnut cappuccino.