Blessed 2x

Ephesians

Many months ago I began writing about the book of Ephiasians. You can find that post here – From an Apostle to the Saints.

For various reasons, I did not write more on the subject but I am very pleased to return to it today. I did promise you it might not be a series… and I make no further claims now!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”

Ephesians 1:3 (WEB)

After Paul’s introduction, he wastes no time and dives straight in! Blessed! Blessed be God! You can feel the power of his words leaping from the page as you read this. Before he says anything else on any other subject, he starts with praise.

It’s a great place to start a letter, and it’s a great place to start a prayer. In fact, it’s a great way to start anything really! Whatever you’re doing, be it work, washing up or watching TV, always start with a word of praise.

Praising God has many effects on us, which we can consider in a moment, but praise isn’t about us at all. It is about God Himself. We turn our attention off of ourselves and our own lives, and we focus as fully as possible on the One who made us. Worship is our reason for being, and on days when I feel I achieve little else, I want to be able to say I fulfilled my created purpose by praising the God of Heaven today.

Imagine the effect on us, if we uttered words of worship prior to any activity. Take the TV example above. How different might our TV viewing choices be if we were to spend a moment thanking and worshipping the Father before picking up the remote.

Paul identifies God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we rejoice in that. There’s also a nod towards the Trinity here, so see if you can spot the Holy Spirit’s presence also. If not, I’ll pick up on that in a moment.

The word “Blessed,” appears twice in this verse, although they are slightly different Greek words. The way we read it naturally in English is how it was intended. The first “blessed,” is referring to God being blessed, or praised, and the second, refers to the blessing of God or invocation of God’s blessings on people.

What Paul says next is astonishing to me. He says, “who has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Read that again before you continue.

God has blessed us, which is wonderful. To simply say we’ve been blessed though, is something of an understatement!

God has “blessed us,” and we must first notice the tense. This is not a blessing we will get in the future, but something we hold right now.

What have we been blessed with exactly? “Every spiritual blessing,” That word translated as “every,” is the Greek word – pas – and means “every,” “any,” and “all.” That’s every spiritual blessing! Not some of them, not half, not most, but all of them!

You might not be feeling all that blessed at the moment, in fact, you might be looking at a stack of bills or a doctor’s report feeling anything but blessed. This verse shouldn’t be interpreted as “God is going to give me whatever I want…” as I don’t think that’s true. We do the Word and God Himself a great disservice however, when we diminish a verse like this and explain it away not accepting what it says.

You are more than just your body, and your life is more than just your bank balance. We must not limit the blessings of God to the physical realm. The spiritual world is far more real than this physical one, and came first. There was “spirit” long before there was any earthly matter.

Paul calls it “spiritual blessing,” and some therefore limit this to refer to things of the spirit such as sanctification, justification, salvation etc. And of course, all these are included. But the blessings here are “spiritual”, I believe, not because they are spiritual in nature, but because they are given by the Spirit of God. Christmas gifts are given at Christmas, that’s what makes them Christmas gifts, not because the gift itself has anything to do with Christmas (although it certainly might do).

Thus in this one verse Paul has pointed us to God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

My point is that this blessing given by God is no small thing. It’s not limited to things of the spirit, although we would do well to focus on the eternal things more than the temporary.

So where is this blessing exactly? We find it in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. You might be thinking you’d rather have the blessing down here on Earth than locked away in heaven with Christ. Yet if the blessing is in Christ and Christ dwells in us then the blessing is not as far away as we might think.

We are too often guilty of thinking that blessing relates to money possessions or things this world holds so dear. Paul goes on to talk about many wonderful spiritual blessings in the next few verses and we will examine these another time.

The take home message today is really to think about what we mean by being blessed. If we ask God to bless us are we asking for something God has already done?

What we have as believers and adopted children of God is far greater than anything this world can offer. Our eternal hope is held securely in Christ and God can do no more than He already has to enable us to access heaven forever.

It is truly humbling to think about what God has done for us.

But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8 (WEB)

We in no way deserve “every spiritual blessing” but it is ours because of what Jesus did at the cross. That is grace. And I join with Paul in saying “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen!

TV Reality

Do you ever watch reality TV? It is really anything but reality, and if not entirely scripted, then it’s heavily edited to give a very narrow view of what actually happened.

Instead of reality TV though, today I want to discuss “TV Reality”.

I started thinking about this the other day at a party. A dad was playing with his children, and it was great to see them all having such fun. To be truthful though, I felt a little guilty and questioned my own meager attempts at parenting . They seemed to be having such a good time, and I couldn’t imagine them ever having a falling out or a cross word.

They didn’t seem to have a care in the world, and appeared the perfect family.

That’s not reality though.

It is so easy to look at others and not see the problems that they face. It is all too easy to think we are the only ones having problems, or the only one going through a difficult time.

We glimpse the “perfect” life of another, and think it’s their day-to-day reality. It’s no more real than reality TV – in fact, it’s TV reality. TV Reality (my own idea) is where we see the portrayed reality put out into the world and believe it, whereas behind the scenes real life is going on and isn’t as good as it seems.

Social media makes this all the more problematic. No one ever puts their real life on Facebook, but only selected highlights. if you are scrolling through your Twitter feed thinking, “They’re all having such a great time, and I’m struggling!” Then you are not seeing the truth.

It is important to remember this, because when things get tough, it can be all too easy to believe the grass is greener on the other side. How many marriages broke down when things got tough, because one or both partners believed life would be better on the other side?

The Bible tells us to consider ourselves with sober judgement.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Romans 12:3 (EVS)

To consider yourself with sober judgement means to be honest. It means we ought not to look on others, and believe all things are rosy for them, when it’s hard for us. Sober judgement means not being harder on ourselves than we should, or excusing our mistakes either. We beat ourselves up over our sin at times, and then at others gloss over it!

The big problem is comparison. We compare ourselves to each other (often on social media feeds) and no good can come of it. I’m not saying we can’t learn from each other, far from it. But comparing ourselves with each other only leads to disappointment.

The only true measure of our lives is against the Word of God. In His Word, God sets out the way He wants us to live. He tells us what to do and what not to do. More importantly, it points us to the only One whose opinion really matters – God Himself.

If we compare against another person, we either judge ourselves better or worse than them. Neither is a good place to be.

Don’t look to others’ TV realities and focus on everything that’s wrong in your life. Don’t waste your time and energy keeping up with the Jones’ or being jealous of others social media lives.

Look to God’s Word for reality, and when you do, you’ll realise you come up rather short. Don’t despair though, God knows we cannot meet His standards and that’s why He sent Jesus to meet them for us. Instead of pouring your precious energy into living up to false realities, pour it into your relationship with Jesus. It’s a whole lot more satisfying!

R. E. A. P.

I often read the Bible on the train, and so it is handy to have a number of tools to help study. A few days ago I encountered this little study technique and thought I would share it with you today.

It is called R. E. A. P. And stands for read, examine, apply and pray.

R is for Read – the first part of the technique is to read. You take a passage and read it. Simple right? Pay attention to the things that stand out to you . Always think about the context as this can affect the meaning. Ask yourself if the passage is poetic, historical, prophetic or another type of literature. Watch out for who is speaking, and to whom.

E is for Evaluate – Having read the passage thoroughly, we then move on to evaluate it. Here we go a little deeper and try to listen to the Holy Spirit and what He is saying to us through this part of the Bible. We consider the main themes of the passage and what it would have meant to those who first received it. Before we can apply it to our own lives, we need to understand how it would have applied to those originally hearing or reading it.

A is for Apply – At this stage, we start to think about how this passage applies to us. The Bible is timeless, but sometimes we need to think about the way that what we have read applies to our modern day lives. Does the passage require us to do anything? Is God asking us to give something up, or to start doing something positive? Do we learn something about God here, and if so, how does that affect the decisions we make today?

P is for Pray – Lastly, having read and applied the passage, we take it back to God. We pray about the passage at hand, and ask God to help us apply it and live for Him more. It may result in us praising God, and thanking Him for a particular blessing or worshipping an aspect of His character.  We may realise we need to pray for someone we know, or for ourselves, and it is great to be led by the Spirit in that respect.

 

So there you have it! It is not a perfect tool, nor should it replace dedicated study, but in certain situations, you may find it a helpful way of looking at a Bible passage.

Whatever you do, I pray that your Bible study time is fruitful this week.

Hears and Delivers

The righteous cry, and Yahweh hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.

Psalm 34:17 (WEB)

 

If you are like me, when you read this verse you ask yourself “Am I righteous?” Or rather, “Am I righteous enough?” You may even start to question whether God hears your prayers, thinking you don’t qualify for the help He promises in this verse.

Righteousness however, is not about our performance nor is it something we earn.

Righteousness simply means to be in “right standing with God.” That is, to be in a good place with Him or to have a good relationship with Him. This is not something we can earn, but something we are gifted through the work of Jesus at the cross.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says:

For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (WEB)

We are righteous not because of anything we have or haven’t done, but because we’ve put our faith in Jesus. He exchanged His own righteousness for our sin, and now we can approach God in freedom through His blood.

So, in short, you do qualify!

If you are a follower of Christ and in relationship with Him, then you are righteous and can be assured that God does indeed hear you when you cry out. This isn’t the only verse to make such a claim, and so you can be sure that your prayers are heard.

This verse also says God delivers us from our troubles. This is a great promise, and I have no wish to limit it. I think we do need to carefully interpret it however.

If you turn on Christian TV, you might find a preacher claiming that Christians should never have another problem or that God will wave His hand over your life and all your troubles will disappear. The really unscrupulous ones may even suggest you exchange your money for such a result.

To put it plainly, that’s not biblical!

So am I saying this verse is a lie then? Not at all!

God does indeed deliver us from trouble. But that does not necessarily mean He takes it all away. Often, God will give us the strength we need to endure through a problem. We may pray that God will take it away, but He would rather we pray for the strength to endure it with a good attitude.

I am not aware of any New Testament prayer that asks God to remove all obstacles out of our way. Rather, saints like Paul prayed for inner strength, power, knowledge, peace, and more, and all to the glory of God.

Don’t misunderstand though, I am not saying God is limited or unwilling, and cannot help. The Creator of the universe is still in control, and very much looks out for the good of His children. We forget sometimes though that god’s primary concern is not our comfort, but His glory.

Whatever you are facing right now, you can trust that God not only hears your prayers, but is ready and willing to deliver you. If you’re stuck in the valley, you might want a helicopter ride out, but be prepared to push on one step at a time. God is with you!

Do Not Be Deceived

But false prophets also arose among the people, as false teachers will also be among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction.

2 Peter 2:1 (WEB)


Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s Kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (WEB)


Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of these things, the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.

Ephesians 5:6 (WEB)

 

I’ve been thinking about deception lately. The Bible carries many warnings to the believer to not be deceived. But how do we do that?

The problem with deception is that when you are suffering from it, you don’t know. To be deceived means to be completely ignorant of a false belief. If we don’t know that our beliefs are false, then how we can we ever escape from deception’s grasp?

One of the most amazing benefits, and also biggest risks, of our modern world is our free access to information. Even within the church world, you can turn on a Christian TV channel or radio station 24 hours a day and access “bible teaching”. Likewise, you can dive into social media and follow all manner of Christian teachers.

I myself write a blog and have written and published a book. Anyone can. There is no body or organisation to check that the materials one can put out are correct and true.

With all of this access to information, and more specifically Bible-related teaching, how can you ever be sure that you are hearing the truth? One denomination teaches God sovereignly controls everything, and another that He does not. One teaches that the Gifts of the Spirit were for the early church only, and yet another that they are for the here and now. Some teach prosperity, while others poverty. Who is right?

Deception is like a mask we don’t know we are wearing. So how do we take it off?

A Firm Grasp of the Bible

The only way to avoid deception is to have a firm grasp of the Bible and its teachings. You will never be able to guard yourself against false teaching if you do not know what the Bible says. And you must know it for yourself – not merely based on what someone else has told you.

We are all sometimes guilty of not taking our faith seriously enough. Like anything, to become an expert, we must invest time and effort into it. We cannot hope to build a deep and strong knowledge of the Bible based on a short sermon once a week on a Sunday. Imagine a Cello player who only played for 25 minutes on a Sunday morning, and didn’t touch their instrument for the rest of the week. They would never be a master musician.

We must not only read the Bible, but study it on a regular basis.

The way we study is also very important. You may consider this blog, or a Christian book, or a sermon, as ways in which you can gain a better understanding of the Bible. That is true. And can certainly be a good thing, if the teaching is sound.

The issue comes when we look at passages of Scripture in isolation. The only way to properly interpret the Bible is in the light of other Scripture.

Too many of us, myself included at times, take a verse or passage, and don’t properly apply its context. What I mean is this – take Jesus’ encounter with the rich young rules. Jesus meets a man who claims to have followed all the commandments since his youth. Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. What lesson can we learn from this encounter?

Is Jesus teaching that all believers should sell all they have and give it to the poor? Is He saying that it is a sin to be rich and that we all ought to have nothing? If this was the only verse in the Bible which talked on the subject, then we might draw that conclusion. However, there are many verses in the Bible about material possessions and the dangers of wealth, but also many describing poverty as a curse.

We cannot take a single verse and make a doctrine out of it.

Continuing with the example of wealth and material possessions, you can likely turn on your TV today and find someone on a Christian TV channel preaching on prosperity and how it is God’s desire for His people. Is that right? They might quote Philippians 4:19 which says:

My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (WEB)

This is a wonderful promise, but is it a promise to you? You won’t know unless you understand who wrote it and to whom and any prerequisites such a promise might have. Here, it is written by Paul to a set of believers who were partnering with him in proclaiming the Gospel.

My point is that we must take a wide-angle view when studying the Bible. Further than that, we must take a systematic view. We cannot just snatch small chunks of the Word, take it out of context and then proclaim it as the full truth.

To avoid deception, we must have a thorough and systematic understanding of what the Bible teaches – as a whole. When we have that, we are far less at risk of falling for a false teaching.

Not everyone can go to Theological or Bible college, but we can all be “theologians” in our own right. I think it was Graeme Goldsworthy who said, “Every Christian should be a theologian.”

Don’t be put off by the term, it just means that each of us must be responsible for understanding the Bible. There are many tools available to help us do that.

Remember no one individual or denomination has 100% perfect theology. We are all growing and learning, and I can certainly say for myself that as I learn more about the Bible, I adapt my views. This is growth.

Remember also that not all false teaching is deliberately designed to steer you away from the truth, and it may simply be a gap in the teacher’s knowledge. Irrespective of this though, deception is dangerous and can lead us away from God.

Prayer and the Holy Spirit

Alongside having a thorough and systematic view of Scripture, we must also seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance through prayer. God can and does give us wisdom, and the Holy Spirit wants to lead us into all truth.

It would be dangerous to do this without a strong knowledge of the Bible, because you would not know if you were hearing from God through the Spirit, or another source such as our own mind or the enemy. As long as we have the framework of the Bible, then we can and should seek God’s guidance. We know that God will never contradict His Word.

Removing the mask of deception

To be rid of deception, we must be open and honest with ourselves. As we study the Bible, we will no doubt encounter truths that don’t align to our beliefs. When that happens, we must be honest and ask ourselves what we really believe.

It can be hard to face the truth. You may have read my blog posts last year about the Sovereignty of God. I had been taught that God does not control every single aspect of life, and that humanity is free to do what it wants. As I studied the Scriptures, it became clear to me that what I had believed was not really in line with what the Bible said. I had to adapt my views, and accept, no matter how uncomfortable it was, that I was wrong.

I see this as a good thing. I would rather go through the pain of changing my beliefs to more closely align to the Bible, than to stay under the mask of deception.

I pray for myself and all of you, that God will reveal all areas of our lives where we are deceived. And that through proper study of the Bible, we will all be able to guard ourselves against false teaching and deception in all its forms.

Conquering Fear (Audio)

Here is the audio from a sermon I gave a few weeks ago at a local women’s retreat. It is about Conquering Fear and comes from the passage in Mark 4 where Jesus calms the storm.

I’m sorry about the quality of the audio, and hope it doesn’t distract too much. My microphone seemed to pick up the traffic noise more than me for some reason! I also have my youngest daughter around to “help” me at times!

 

Feed My Sheep (Audio)

Here is a short talk Andy gave at the Morning Praise service in the Parish Church in St Osyth. It was on John 21:1-19 – text below.

 

After these things, Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I’m going fishing.”

They told him, “We are also coming with you.” They immediately went out, and entered into the boat. That night, they caught nothing. 4 But when day had already come, Jesus stood on the beach, yet the disciples didn’t know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus therefore said to them, “Children, have you anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

They cast it therefore, and now they weren’t able to draw it in for the multitude of fish. 7 That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around him (for he was naked), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits[a] away), dragging the net full of fish. 9 So when they got out on the land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of great fish, one hundred fifty-three; and even though there were so many, the net wasn’t torn.

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.”

None of the disciples dared inquire of him, “Who are you?” knowing that it was the Lord.

13 Then Jesus came and took the bread, gave it to them, and the fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus was revealed to his disciples, after he had risen from the dead. 15 So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.”

He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you have affection for me?”

Peter was grieved because he asked him the third time, “Do you have affection for me?” He said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I have affection for you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don’t want to go.”

19 Now he said this, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. When he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:1-19 (WEB)

How To Be A Welcoming Church

I happened to catch an episode of “Veggie Tales” the other morning while my children were watching it. If you are not familiar, it is a kids show starring Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. In this particular episode, Bob had taken on a job of Chief Greeter at a local shop. He started off enthusiastically and later grew more and more weary, growing hoarse from saying “Hi!” so often and his cheek muscles no longer able to hold his smile.

It got me thinking about the subject of this week’s post on how to be a welcoming church.

It is essential that every church be good at welcoming people. It is especially crucial for those visiting for the first time. I once heard it said that people have decided whether they are coming back long before they hear the sermon or the worship music, but based on the kind of welcome they receive.

What follows is not an exhaustive “how to” guide, but rather a few thoughts on how to improve the welcome people receive when coming to your church.

Churches are never as welcoming as they think they are.

I once went to a church where, without anyone saying a word, I knew I had taken somebody’s seat. I just felt that I had done something wrong, and that I had somehow happened upon a seat which had been sat in by the same person for a very long time. As I recall, no one came to sit beside me or to welcome me.

Unfortunately, this is not as uncommon as it should be. If you are outside of the church, then you probably wonder what is so wrong with sitting in someone’s seat – and you’d be quite right! If you’ve been in church for any length of time, then you know how such habitual seating patterns can occur!

If I asked representatives of your church if they thought it was welcoming, there is a good chance they will say yes. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who said that their church is not welcoming. Yet, so many come away feeling unwelcome or even unwanted.

This should not be!

Irrespective of how good your church is at welcoming people, there is always room for improvement.

It’s not all up to the welcome team

At a church where I was once an elder, we discussed at length whether we should recruit people into a “welcoming team”. We wanted to ensure that when someone came to our church, that they felt at home, knew what to do, knew where to take their children if they wished and other such things.

Welcoming can often suffer from the bystander effect. This sometimes happens when there has been an accident or emergency, so many people are standing watching, that no one does anything to help. If we stood alone, we would know it was up to us, but it’s very easy in a group to assume someone else will do it.

On the one hand, we thought a welcome team would be a good idea as it would ensure that there was always someone there, ready to welcome and who knew it was down to them.

The problem was that those who were not on the team no longer felt it was their responsibility. “I’ll leave that up to the welcome team…” they would think. Not so!

It is everyone’s responsibility to welcome people into the church. Whether you are the pastor/minister, or on the leadership team, or a church member – it is down to you!

Discernment

The most important thing when welcoming someone is discernment.

When we approach someone to welcome them to the church, we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and to discern what the person may need or want.

There are times when people come to church and want someone to sit beside them, hold their hand, or guide them through an unfamiliar service. They may want to be invited for coffee afterwards, or have someone to chat to before the service begins.

On the other hand, they may be a more timid person, or someone who has come because of loss or grief. In such cases, the person may simply want to slip in, sit on the back row, encounter God and then slip away before they are “cornered” by an over-friendly Christian!

While these are perhaps extremes, the point is that everyone who comes to church is different. They may want company, or they may want to be left alone to observe. Either way, when you welcome them, try to discern what is best. If you are not sure, you can simply ask! “Would you like any help?” “Would you like to sit with me?” “Can I show you where to get a service sheet or cup of coffee?”

The answers to such questions should give you a good idea of what the person is wanting. You just need to pay attention.

Everyone wants a friendly welcome, but beyond that we need to be a little sensitive at times.

It is not rocket science

Welcoming people really isn’t rocket science! If you see someone you don’t recognise, just go over and introduce yourself. Make them feel at ease like you would any guest to your home. You don’t have to pounce on them the second they come through the door, but don’t wait until they are putting on their coat to leave either.

We often overthink these things because we know that welcoming people is important, and we don’t want to make a mistake and “scare them off!” If you are a naturally shy person, then you might find it more difficult to go over and speak to a stranger. If you are – let’s say – socially overdeveloped, then you might find it harder to not talk their ears off!

I cannot say that a bad welcome is better than no welcome at all, as I’ve heard some pretty horrendous things about the kind of welcome people receive at times. However, if you are sincere, all you need do is be friendly.

Welcome Pack & Domestics

It is sometimes a good idea to have a welcome pack handy too offer to visitors. It might include information about service times, children’s activities, home groups, details of the pastor or leadership team etc. Some churches offer a small gift, such as a book, to those who visit. It can be a very helpful thing to someone who is not familiar with your church or how it does things.

Similarly, in our effort to welcome people, we can forget the obvious things. For example, offering a service sheet so people know when to respond to prompts (if your church has a particular liturgy) or directing someone to the toilets, creche or refreshments.

For some, it is a big step to walk into a church and it can be embarrassing to not know what to do or where to go. For many people, the children’s work is critical. Introducing parents to the children’s workers is important so that they have some confidence in leaving their children in a Sunday School or junior church setting.

Some even say that the quality of the coffee is important! If a visitor is used to Starbucks, then handing them a volcano-hot, watery cup of mud may not fit the bill! Is it important? Not compared to the church’s theology say, but for someone who’s never set foot in church before, I can assure you they are not really considering the kind of theology you practice. A bad cup of coffee won’t put someone off i’m sure, but why not aim for excellence in everything we do?

At what point do people stop being visitors?

Most of what I have said so far is probably more applicable to brand new visitors. But at what point does the visitor become another member of the congregation? After three visits, are they then “absorbed” and so no longer need to be welcomed?

I recall overhearing a conversation once where someone welcomed a visitor to the church. “How long have you been coming?” They asked, “I’ve not seen you here before?” The answer was unfortunate. “I’ve been coming for 18 months…”

While many churches are good at welcoming brand new people, they are rarely good at bringing people into the congregation. My wife visited a church once and on her first morning was asked to join the AV rota! On the other extreme, I know people who attended a church for several months and knew only a handful of names and faces. At what point does such a person give up and walk away feeling like they just couldn’t crack the shell?

It is not advisable to put someone into any position of authority or responsibility until you get to know them. But sadly too many people feel like they go to church and are just never integrated – for want of a better term! Our welcome should not be limited to those “new” to the church, but to everyone.

 

As I said up front, there is no church that cannot improve their welcome. Every single one of us has a responsibility in this area, and it is not up to the pastor, leadership team or welcome team. It is up to us!

Some refuse to welcome because they feel they are not good at it. However we will never get any better if we don’t practise!

As I have written this post, I appreciate it is a lot of practical things and sharing of experience rather than my usual biblical based teaching. I hope it has still been useful to you. Have a think and a pray about you and your own church this week. What can you do to improve the welcome your church offers? Perhaps you cannot get up and greet people, but maybe you can put together a pack or welcome leaflet to give to new faces.

The church is not a building, it is a group of believers. We are all part of it, and each of us can do something to help make the church a great place to be!

Come As You Are

I saw a pamphlet recently which gave me pause for thought. It was all about welcoming people into the church, and was specifically aimed at a particular group of people. The leaflet pointed out that God loves everyone, and so everyone is welcome into the church – irrespective of their lifestyle or background. It went on to quote Jesus, and told the reader that He welcomed one and all.

I take no issue at all with efforts by the church to be more welcoming. Churches are rarely as welcoming as they think they are, nor are there any that cannot be improved. The word “welcome” has a specific meaning though, and sometimes we think to be “welcoming” we must change everything that we believe and do, so that we do not offend. Wrong!

We think to be welcoming means to accept everyone who comes through the door, no matter what their lifestyle and never point out biblical truth to them. Take a practicing serial killer who refuses to give up their lifestyle of murder – how might we welcome them? Does welcoming them mean we also welcome their life of crime?

Next week, let’s look at what it means to be a welcoming church. For now though, I want to think more about what some seem to think welcoming means.

Quoting Scripture

One issue I had with the pamphlet is that it did not actually quote Jesus properly. In fact, it misquoted Him. I am all for quoting Scripture, but not for taking it out of its context and even editing it to make it say what we want it to.

In this case, Jesus was quoted as saying, “Come to me all of you and I will give you rest.” A nice message indeed, but not strictly what He said.

Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28 (WEB)

We see that actually Jesus did not say, “Come to me, all…” but “Come to me, all who labour and are heavily burdened…”

I know that some will think i’m splitting hairs here, but the danger is that we can take any Bible verse we like, tweak it slightly, apply it wrongly, and then make it say whatever we like.

Too many of us – and this can often apply to us “bloggers” – quote single verses here and there without giving sufficient thought to its wider context. We “google” a Bible verse which seems to support our point, and then paste it in. Sometimes that’s ok, but sometimes we take such verses out of their proper setting and imply a meaning that is not there.

Scripture must be interpreted by other Scripture. We must understand who is speaking and to whom, what the context of the chapter is, what the context of the book is, and finally how it fits into the whole of the Bible.

As I’ve written more lately, working on books, blogging, writing and recording sermons, I’ve felt the weight of responsibility. I do not want anyone to be misled who reads what I am teaching. No one has perfect understanding, and so we will all make mistakes along the way, but I hope and pray with fear, that God helps me to share only His truth.

Welcoming is not the same as approval

We believe in welcoming people to church, and preach the message “Come as you are!” Quite right too. No one needs to clean themselves up before they come to church! The church is full of people who know they need a Saviour! None of us is perfect, and if we were, we wouldn’t need Christ!

The problem is that many churches aren’t just saying “Come as you are,” they are adding on, “Stay as you are.”

“Come as you are” is welcoming, but “stay as you are” is not biblical.

Jesus welcomed everyone, but He taught them the right way to live. His message was not “Come as you are and stay as you are,” it was “Come as you are and repent!”

Let’s look at the woman caught in adultery from John 8.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman taken in adultery. Having set her in the middle, 4 they told him, “Teacher, we found this woman in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now in our law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What then do you say about her?” 6 They said this testing him, that they might have something to accuse him of.

But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground with his finger. 7 But when they continued asking him, he looked up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground.

9 They, when they heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning from the oldest, even to the last. Jesus was left alone with the woman where she was, in the middle. 10 Jesus, standing up, saw her and said, “Woman, where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.”

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more.”

John 8:3-11 (WEB)

The first thing we notice is that the scribes only brought the woman to Jesus. Last time I checked, it took two to commit adultery. Where was the man?

The scribes here are clearly not trying to exercise moral law, but rather thinking they can catch Jesus out. If He condemns her, then it ruins His reputation as a Man of the people, and yet if He lets her go free without punishment, He breaks the Jewish law.

Jesus is cornered – right?

He drops down and begins to write on the ground with His finger. Many are frustrated that they do not know what He was writing. This is a mark of authenticity for the Bible, because if this story was fictional, then the writer would not have put such an untidy detail in. It suggests that the eye witness simply could not see.

Many have speculated about what Jesus could have been writing. I personally favour the idea that He was writing out the Ten Commandments. The ground where he stooped was not sandy or muddy, like we might imagine, but stony. And so the finger of God wrote on stone… remind you of anything?

He gave to Moses, when he finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets, written with God’s finger.

Exodus 31:18 (WEB)

Assuming I am correct, then as the scribes began to read the Ten Commandments on the ground, they became acutely aware of their own sinfulness. And notice that the older ones left first. Perhaps the older we get, the more aware we are of our failings.

Jesus, fulfilling the Law, says essentially that she should be stoned for her sin – but let the one who is without sin cast the first stone. The only One who could do that was Jesus Himself, and He chose not to.

Acknowledging that no one had condemned her, Jesus tells her to be on her way. But He adds something very important. “Go and sin no more!”

Jesus welcomed this woman, despite her sinful behaviour. Praise God for this! However, He did not lower His standards in order to do so. Jesus was very clear that He did not want her to carry on living as she had.

When we welcome someone into church, we should absolutely meet them where they are. I am not at all suggesting we had them a list of rules as they come in, and expect them to abide by them from then on. However, at some point, we must share what we believe. If they want to go on and become a member of the church, then they must start living their lives in line with Christ’s teaching. Refusing to do so is a refusal to submit to Christ as Lord.

Where does the welcome end, and the teaching begin? That is not an easy question. As per my silly example at the start of this post, even if we could bring ourselves to welcome a practicing serial killer, they cannot continue this way and claim to be a follower of Christ.

Likewise, whatever sin we replace serial killing with, we too must give it up to follow Christ.

Being welcoming does not give any of us the excuse to accept sinfulness and not challenge it with God’s Word.

We will think about what it means to be a welcoming church next time. For now though, consider your own life. Are there sins you continue to hold on to, despite knowing what God thinks about them? Ask for His help to change, for you cannot do it in your own strength.

Get into the Word (PoW#23)

Pearl of Wisdom #23

If you get into the Word of God, then the Word of God will get into you!

You will never be a strong or successful Christian unless you get into the Word of God in the Bible. Consider the Bible as your spiritual food!

As you begin to study the Word of God and absorb it’s truths, those truths will begin to shape your life. As you get into the Word, it will begin to get into you as well.

This means that when you need it, the Holy Spirit can bring the Word to your memory. He can bring that Word to life in any situation. The Bible describes the Word of God as a “sword of the Spirit,” and the Spirit can put that “sword” in your hand when you need it.

As you read and study the Bible, the truths you learn will change your mind – how you think. It will shine light on areas you need God’s help with, and it will encourage and strengthen you.

Get into the Word this week, and let that Word shape your life!

The Christian Life

What should the Christian life look like?

There are many ways to answer that question, and I cannot tackle them all here. But I have been pondering some of the extremes of Christianity in recent days. This follows on from my thoughts on Christian Worship in last weeks post – Christ is… Enough?

To illustrate, here are two verses.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

Ephesians 1:3 (ESV)


I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (ESV)

If you were to flick through the typical Christian TV channels, then there’s a chance you will find someone extolling the blessings of God, promising healing, financial prosperity and success in every area. Alternatively, you might look to more traditional settings and learn that life is difficult, even with Christ, and you should just hang on tightly until you get to the other side.

Both can’t be true.

In a small way, the verses above demonstrate  how such extreme views can happen. The verse from Ephesians tells us we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing! And it’s my belief that “spiritual” is because it is a gift given by the Spirit, not that it is spiritual in nature. Christmas gifts are given at Christmas, not because the gifts themselves have anything in particular to do with the season.

Then, Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel tells us that we will certainly have trouble in the world.

My point is this; one extreme says we are blessed and should never have a problem in life. The other suggests that Christianity makes little difference to life on Earth aside from a free ticket to heaven one day.

So, which is true?

The reality is rather more complex, and the truth can be found between these two extremes.

I am adamant that God has indeed blessed His people beyond anything they can imagine, and stand firm on the promise offered by Ephesians 1:3. But I would be a fool indeed if I took that to mean I will never have another problem.

Similarly, I am very mistaken if I believe that my Christian faith is meant only for life after death. In fact, I cannot see how anyone who really knows God the Father would be able to live like everyone else in the world.

Deception can be found in the extremes.

Such an example can be seen when talking about finances and what is often called the “Prosperity Gospel.” Some Christians believe we ought not to be rich, while others follow the “Name it, claim it!” regime where they believe they can use their faith to obtain virtually any material blessing.

I have read the Bible many times, and really cannot see an instruction for believers to be “poor.” There are plenty of warnings against the dangers of being rich of course, but this does not equate to meaning all believers should have nothing.

Equally, while the Bible does talk about God meeting our needs and receiving blessings, I also do not see anywhere where it says we can use our faith to get whatever we want and wallow in luxury all of our days.

Again, deception lies in the extremes.

Poverty is not a good thing, but neither is it a sin. Very few of us living in the West can really claim poverty. To us, poverty might mean owning only one car or not being able to take foreign holidays. This is not what most of the world would describe as poverty.

Wealth has clear dangers. God must and should be the primary things in our lives, but wealth can become a “god” to us. Instead of relying on and trusting in Jesus, we can place our trust in our bank balance instead.

So, returning to our original question: what should the Christian life look like?

Being a follower of Christ must make a difference, both in this life and the one to come. If it does not, then we must ask if we really know the Lord. We cannot claim to follow Christ without actually following what He has told us to do.

Christians should have different priorities than those in the world. Our ultimate aim in life is not to make money and retire early, but to serve God in our communities. How that is done will differ for all of us.

Christians, I believe, ought to be more focused on eternal things than the things of the Earth. Now don’t get into the extremes, as I am not saying we should not engage with the world or have possessions or anything like that.

We must be led by the Holy Spirit. What He has planned for me is no doubt different to what He has in mind for you. A certain possession might draw me away from God, and so He does not allow me to have it. For you, such a possession might not affect your relationship with God at all, and so He can allow it in your life.

There is a great deal more to say about what a Christian life should look like – and I’m referring to general principles of course. What’s right for me, may be wrong for you and vice versa.

My thoughts turn to the narrow path that Jesus spoke of.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.

Matthew 7:13 (ESV)

Jesus wasn’t exactly addressing the same issue as I am today, but the picture is a helpful one.

When on a narrow path, you can stray off to one side or the other. Say there was a ditch running down either side, it would matter whether you went right or left of the road, you would end up falling.

Having Jesus is our lives is not just critical for the life after this one, but also for the every day here and now. Knowing Him and His surpassing greatness, cannot help but leave us changed forever.

It is helpful to think about what we believe from time to time and ask if we have wandered off of the narrow path.

Seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and He will lead you into all truth. Study God’s Word in the Bible and it will act as a mirror showing you what might be wrong. Renew your mind in the Scriptures and stop thinking as the world does.

What does your Christian life look like?


 

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