Being fruitful.

I am currently reading A Public Faith, How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good by Croatian author Miroslav Volf and finding it stimulating.

At one point he describes why for many their faith does not produce fruit. He describes it as idle faith. It is well worth reflecting on and seeing if it applies to us.

Idleness……… is one major malfunction of faith. Instead of setting goals and propelling a person toward them, idle faith spins in one place, like a tire stuck in an icy hole. I suggested that there are at least three reasons for faith’s idling. The first concerns the character of believers; for some people, the faith they embrace demands too much, so they pick and choose, as in a cafeteria, filling up their tray with sweets but leaving aside the broccoli and fish. Second, believers find themselves constrained by large and small systems in which they live and work; to thrive, or even to survive, they feel that they must obey the logic of those systems, not the demands of faith they embrace. The third reason for faith’s idleness concerns the faith itself; the faith either is not applied to new circumstances or does not seem relevant to contemporary issues—from nuclear power to neuroscientific discoveries. With these three reasons for faith’s idleness combined, no wonder people misconceive faith and treat it as a performance-enhancing drug or a soothing balm rather than as a resource to orient their life in the world.

Actions we can take as individuals to combat racism

I have recently found several blogs from my friend Adrian Warnock very encouraging; he has walked a similar path to myself. I have shared some on my own personal Facebook page. His recent blog on racism, explaining the guilt we share and then outlining some tentative steps towards repentance is especially helpful.

The full article can be accessed below, which also will give access to more of his blogs.

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2020/09/our-racism-deadly-as-covid19/?fbclid=IwAR3UnhdMUJKV6gpBY5c1Eoq1qis4eMFXhrx5L0jUF854zinh_g8RG6DsQcE

His headlines on what repentance might look like are worth reflecting on. I have put my own experience below each of them.

Repentance is not mere words but includes action.

  1. Intentionally meet and befriend people different to yourself

Whilst this has been true over the years, from my early days I refused to just have friends within the church, it is in the last few years that I have enjoyed friendship with a wider group of people than ever before. People from different socio-economic backgrounds and racial backgrounds. Whilst initially challenging I have found spending time and building friendships with Muslims especially rewarding.

  1. Try to understand and enter the experience of rejection many feel

This seems to be the experience of so many in our society, however it takes time and trust to fully grasp it. However, hearing of the impact of racism and islamophobia on people I have got to know within and without the church has been so helpful and I would say even lifechanging.

  1. Find a wise tutor from a different racial group to yourself

It is so helpful having a small number of people who can explain things you don’t understand. What is culturally expected in different circumstances.

  1. Forge deep life-long friendships that allow real honesty and openness

This has been a real joy and so important. The weekend after the death of George Floyd one of my friends told me how shocked they were that I had not alluded to it on the Sunday. They were clearly upset and helped me see how I had missed how important what had happened was. I needed someone to show me my blindness, thank God I have friends who will.

  1. Build multicultural churches lead by multicultural teams

Moving to Luton this was my plan, however it has taken many years to even get close. It has taken many people to make the costly decision to be part of a predominantly white church, pioneers who made great sacrifices which others have benefited from. I would not want to be part of any other sort of church, however we have still so much to learn about building diverse teams. As the culture gap between those in the church and those outside the church grows, unless we can relate and work with people different than ourselves, we will become increasingly irrelevant. We desperately need multicultural churches lead by multicultural teams. It must be a priority.

  1. Learn everything you can from leaders from different church groups to your own. Refuse to remain in your echo chamber

Most books are written by white British or American authors, it makes is exceedingly difficult to get a different perspective. I have started to go out of my way to find and read books by authors from other backgrounds. I have also found it enriching to work with Black Majority Church leaders and those from more traditional backgrounds to my own.

  1. Actively campaign for societal justice and take steps to lead real change

As I have sought to do this, sharing articles and thoughts on social media, being engaged with those in power locally I have received criticism. In doing so I am challenging the concept of privatised religion. That a church leader should just be involved in caring for his flock and reaching the lost. I have concluded that I as a white educated man have power that others do not have due to our system. It is crucial and Biblical that I use the privilege I have to help others, to seek to create a fairer system.

Go to the deepest waters

posted in: Filipe Almeida 0

By Filipe Almeida

 

In July last year I was able to go for a weekend at the beach. It was winter, but the temperatures were like summer in Brazil. I remember spending one morning watching the sea. I love to see the sea, especially when I find sea turtles and a sailboat in the background.

 

There were several attempts to obtain good pictures of the sea turtles that dived several times and then returned to the surface, but I managed to take some in the end.

 

This landscape reminded me of something so special that it spoke to my heart and mind in a very sincere and impactful way in a similar way to when I heard the song of several birds in mid-February last year. I was in another country, different from Brazil and even though it was sunny, it was a cold day.

 

Anyway, the Word was to go to the deepest waters!

I had just finished reading the biblical passage from Luke 5, when Jesus calls the first disciples. In verses 1-11, we find it difficult for the disciples to catch fish all night and find no fish. But in verse 4 we see that Jesus said to Simon: “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon replied that even though he was unable to catch any fish, he would do so because it was Jesus who was asking and for this reason he threw down the nets.

 

After an abundant time fishing, the Lord Jesus called them to be fishers of men and in verse 11 we find: So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

 

That question echoed in my mind as I listened to birdsong in a cold country and then saw sea turtles in a tropical country. And this past week, it has echoed in my mind in the face of all the changes that we have been experiencing due to Covid-19.

 

As a disciple I must go to the deepest waters!

What does this imply? Certainly good things, but great challenges that require detachment.

 

Going to the deepest waters means trusting without knowing very well what will happen, believing that it will happen!

Wonderful fishing can happen! To go to the deepest waters is to throw the nets, after an important call, and leave them madly on the beach. And follow the art of life and the art of celebration to the Father.

 

Going to the deepest waters is to continue learning from successes and mistakes. Keep learning with lessons about my qualities and victories. Keep learning from my problems and defeats. Keep reframing!

 

Going to the deepest waters is also going against xenophobia, structural machismo, racism and not agreeing with other types of social phobias.

 

Going to the deepest waters is learning about love, learning more about signaling hope and peace!

 

To go to the deepest waters is to be transformed day after day with my limitations and to have the privilege and commitment to be used fully as a cooperator in the transformation of lives.

 

Going to the deepest waters is my heart’s desire, transforming me, helping me to reframe and keep the focus on the truth that frees us from all evil!

 

To go to the deepest waters is to find sea turtles, boats at the bottom of a beautiful landscape and continue to listen to the birds that are cared for every day by the Author of all creation.

 

My prayer is that in this time of pandemic and in the very scattered post pandemic, we can go to the deepest waters. In a natural way to find the beauties of everyday life and to get closer to the Father and to go deeper into His ways and His will.

What was the gospel that Jesus preached? Part 5 Our response continued

posted in: Bible 0

By Rob Lampard

General Introduction

This is the fifth and last paper in this series.  In the fourth, we looked at the response to the gospel that Jesus looks for in us.  Earlier, we saw that those who do respond gain entry into the kingdom of God and a present experience of eternal life, which is literally ‘the life of the age to come’.

 

Finally, we’re going to look at a couple of further ways in which God blesses those who respond to Jesus’s gospel.

Assurance of Sonship

Jesus’s ministry was immediately preceded and introduced by that of John the Baptist.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all record this.  John the Baptist preached ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 1:4).  He also spoke of a greater baptism to come:

 

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12)

 

On a practical level, most religious people in the world, non-Christian as well as Christian, understand Christian baptism to involve the convert being immersed in water as an initiation into their new faith.  This is in line with the original secular meaning of the word.  ‘To baptise, was used among Greeks to signify the dyeing of a garment, or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another.’[1]  Such a meaning led early Christians to understand baptism as symbolic of a person’s dying to their life of sin and self-centeredness and then being raised to new life in Jesus (Romans 6:1-4, cf 2Corinthians 5:17).

 

However, Vine goes on to list a secondary meaning for the Greek word ‘baptise’: ‘Plato, metaphorically, uses it of being overwhelmed with questions.’[2]  This meaning, we suggest, better helps us to understand what might be meant by being baptised with the Holy Spirit.  We are not so much dipped in him as overwhelmed by him.[3]

 

Just as we saw with the matter of baptism in water, Jesus makes no statements about baptism with the Holy Spirit until immediately before his ascension.  Before that, what he does is to give us a personal demonstration of what it means.

 

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  (Matthew 3:16-17)

 

There are relatively few Christians throughout history who have experienced the Holy Spirit descending on them in visible form, or of hearing as Jesus did an audible voice from heaven at their baptism.  But what all share with Jesus as a result of being baptised with the Holy Spirit is a new and overwhelming assurance of sonship.  It is common in our day for the people of the world to strongly assert their ‘human rights’.  In contrast, Christians, having freely yielded themselves to be slaves of God,[4] have given up their rights to him.  Wonder of wonders, to such people Jesus freely grants a new right:

 

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)

 

Here indeed is good news.[5]

Baptism with Fire

Meanwhile, we should explore a little the meaning of the second element in John the Baptist’s prophecy about Jesus (see Matthew 3:11-12 above).  What might it mean to be baptised with, immersed in, or overwhelmed with fire?  Again, Jesus’s personal experience guides our understanding.

 

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
(Luke 4:1-2)

 

The context here suggests this meaning: to be baptised with fire means to be refined, to be set apart, to be tested, to be proved true, to be prepared for ministry.  The latter point is proved by the flow of Luke’s presentation:

 

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him (ie Jesus) until an opportune time. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. (Luke 4:11-12)

 

In our case, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the process might also be one of cleansing and of purifying (see Mark 9:49).  This is certainly a way in which one of Jesus’s companions understood it. (1Peter 1:7).  Our comments here doubtless don’t exhaust the meaning of the phrase in question.

Power for Ministry

Jesus’s brief teaching on the subject of baptism in the Holy Spirit is recorded in Acts chapter 1.

 

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 1:4-5)

 

He goes on to explain that this will result in his followers receiving power to be his witnesses (1:8).  Throughout the remainder of Acts, Luke (who authored this book as well as the one bearing his name) documents repeated examples to demonstrate that those baptised with the Holy Spirit are empowered to make spontaneous, godly, verbal utterances.  Hence its obvious connection with being witnesses.  Examples are: speaking in new languages (2:4, 10:46, 19:6), declaring the wonders of God (2:11, 7:55-56, 10:46), preaching (2:14-36; 4:8-12), prayer (4:24-30), prophecy (13:2, 19:6).  Here is present power: power to do that which the baptised person could not previously do; power to boldly testify to the death and resurrection of Jesus; power to bring blessing and conviction to non-believers (John 16:7-8); power to bring glory to Jesus (John 16:14-15).  Which of us would want power like this?

[1] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1981, pp 97.

[2] Vine, p97.

[3] See for example, Peter’s assertion in Acts 2:33.

[4] See many New Testament verses, e.g. Romans 6:15-22, 1Corinthians 7:22;1Peter 2:16.

[5] Some might find the New Testament teaching in this area contradictory in that in some places it asserts that believers are slaves of God and Christ (see footnote 4 above).  But then it also asserts that we are no longer slaves but sons (Galatians 4:7).  Clearly then there must be points of view from which both sentiments are true and both should have their proper place in the believers mindset.  Further exploration of all this will need to be reserved for a future blog.

What was the gospel Jesus preached? Part 4 Our response

posted in: Uncategorised 0

By Rob Lampard

General Introduction

This is the fourth paper in this series.  The first, The Gospel of the Kingdom, focuses on the answer we find in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The second, Eternal Life, does the same for the book of John.  And the third shows how these messages about the Kingdom and Eternal Life hang together as a cohesive whole.

 

So how might we access these good things?  We’ve already seen one angle on this in Jesus’s answer to the man known as ‘the rich young ruler’ (Mark 10:17-30).  Does he give us any more detail?

Repentance and Belief

Right from the outset of his ministry, Jesus gives us this invitation.

 

“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

 

So what do ‘repentance’ and ‘believing’ mean?

 

In the original Greek, ‘repent’ is ‘metanoeo’, which means ‘to change one’s mind or purpose. It always in the New Testament involves a change for the better, an amendment. And except in Luke 17:3-4 (where its object is the offence caused to another person) it is always used of sin towards God.’[1]

 

For more on repentance, refer to John Piper’s explanations which are reproduced in a recent Hope Church Luton blog.[2]  Meanwhile, more on belief later in this paper.

Repentance and Baptism

Interestingly, Mark places the statement above immediately after his summary of the ministry of John the Baptist. This John[3] also emphasised repentance, along with baptism:

 

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)

 

The response of the people was that ‘confessing their sins, they were baptised.’ (1:5)  Jesus himself, though uniquely having no sin to confess or repent of (see John 8:46) also submitted to baptism by John.  He did this as he was about to begin his public ministry.  We see in this a consecration to God of himself and of the ministry he was about to undertake.  There are a variety of inferences in his action.  A quote from the Quran springs to mind:  ‘In this there are signs for men of understanding.’[4]

 

Most of the references to baptism in water in Matthew-John are about John the Baptist.  Jesus doesn’t mention such baptism at all in his teaching until immediately before his ascension:

 

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them” (Matthew 28:19)

 

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”  (Mark 16:16)

Belief and Baptism

Interestingly again, these things often seem to be mentioned in pairs.  First we had ‘repent and believe’, then ‘a baptism of repentance’, now ‘believe and be baptised’.  We conclude that, according to Jesus’s teaching and his companions’ summary of it, repentance, belief and baptism all form part of the response which we are to make to Jesus’s preaching of the good news.  So what of belief?

 

The Greek word ‘pisteuo’ means ‘to believe, also to be persuaded of, and hence, to place confidence in, to trust. It signifies in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence. … Matthew uses the word ten times, Mark ten, Luke nine, John ninety-nine!’[5]  It’s clearly one of John’s favourite words.  It helps capture the urgent and dynamic response Jesus’s message demands of us.  This is why he frequently combines the verb ‘believe’ with the preposition ‘eis’, meaning ‘into’.[6]

 

As John records it, Jesus is at pains to convey that he requires of us the sort of active personal response as the tight-rope-walker Charles Blondin[7] once supposedly asked of his audience.  The story goes that, as he was about to undertake one of his many crossings of Niagara falls, this time pushing a wheelbarrow, he suddenly asked the spectators, “Do you believe I can do it?”

“Yes,” replied a man.

“Right,” said Blondin, “Get in the wheelbarrow.”

 

Whether or not this story is true is beside the point for our present purposes.  Regardless, it pointedly illustrates the type of belief in him which Jesus requires of all his followers: not just an acknowledgement that he was a prophet and a great moral teacher; not just an intellectual assent that he was and is the Messiah; but rather a complete commitment of the whole person’s whole life to him and his cause.  This is what he called ‘the rich young ruler’ to:

 

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

 

Jesus expands on this at considerable length in John, chapter 6:

 

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

He goes on:

 

48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

 

Herein he makes multiple allusions and connections.  At a minimum he declares himself to be unique, from heaven whereas we are from the earth (cf John 8:23), the true fulfilment of the provision God made for the people during the time of Moses.  There’s also in the final sentence a clear allusion to his execution to come.  And astonishingly, he insists we must ‘eat his flesh’.  If you think this is hard teaching which you cannot accept, you’re not alone (see vs 52 and 60)!

[1] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1981, pp 280.

[2] http://www.hopechurch.co.uk/reflections-on-coronavirus-and-christ-part-5/

[3] A different person from, and not to be confused with, the writer of the New Testament book called John.

[4] A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Quran: Translation and Commentary, 23:30

[5] W. E. Vine, p116.

[6] See https://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/joh3.pdf, verses 16 and 36 – and many others throughout John.

[7] For general information on whom see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Blondin

5 Reasons Why We May Struggle To Exit Lockdown and How The Church Can Respond

posted in: Uncategorised 2

By John Greenall

 

Whilst many seem to think lockdown is over, many others are still at home not venturing out. Fear is palpable. On my neighbourhood WhatsApp group Jim at Number 28 shares a post saying that ambulances are scarce, and children are dying in large numbers.

 

Am I the only one who thinks that many will struggle to exit lockdown? After all, many are speaking of not emerging until ‘all risks are eliminated’. Why is this the case when the same people have driven a car, smoked cigarettes and visited unwell relatives in hospital before now? Why are we evaluating risk the way we do? Why does rationality often go out of the window at times like these?

 

Here’s five possible reasons and how the church might consider responding to them.

 

  1. Uncertainty

There’s no doubt the coronavirus is more virulent than common flu but it is still an unknown quantity. We are used to knowing (or at least thinking we do) somewhat predictable risks for various activities. Equally we often feel we can control our exposure to such risks. Coronavirus is, at least for now, a different beast.

 

As Christians however this isn’t new. We should know that we are not and never have been in control of our lives. Voices of Christians in the two-third world have been telling us that for generations. We are to point to the sovereignty of God who works all things together for good for those who love him.

 

  1. Fear

‘Stay At Home, Stay Safe’. While the words in that slogan convey comfort to my anxious soul, why is it that I also find them ever so slightly insidious? Perhaps because I know that emotional tactics are powerful and effective, but also often unwieldly and they may come at a cost.

 

And yet employing fear to coerce behaviour is not always a bad thing. People take their medicine when they fear the consequences of not taking it. When a parent I speak with understands that their child could get seriously unwell without their inhaler, they are more likely to administer the correct dose at the correct time

 

In church I wonder whether in our gospel presentation we have forgotten the positive power of fear. Do we go straight to the prescription of Jesus’ saving love or do we adequately portray the risks of our sin and rebellion? Unless we take the time to do this often-uncomfortable work, people will have no idea what they need to be saved from. A fear of God’s holiness and the consequences of sin are integral to scripture and a vital part of our message. Let’s preach the whole gospel and not shy away from an appropriate fear of God.

 

  1. Social conformity

In our narcissistic culture we always need to be seen to do the right thing. People fear stepping out of line and being tutted by neighbours or socially distanced on Facebook more than the reward of freedom.

 

Again, in our living out the gospel we need to acknowledge the healthy elements of conformity. Habit and group behaviour are helpful in leading us to God and training our hearts. And yet we must teach and live out the truth that God’s verdict on us is more important than the verdict of man. We must resist the pride and comparison that makes it all about us rather than all about God.

 

  1. Safetyism

Our culture is the ideal breeding ground for a generation who are told that ‘being safe’ is the ultimate value in life. And yet a truism of real life is that it can’t be safe. We can’t be 100% sure schools or workplaces or supermarkets are safe. We never have been anyway.

 

As Christians we need to boldly and compassionately spell out that true safety is an illusion. As Christians we are safe both in life and in death. This is good news! Secularism in its immanent frame has no answer to compete so let’s be confident in declaring this antidote to fear.

 

  1. A love of captivity

History tells how whole populations have run to big government to shield them from external menace and accepted horrendous consequences in return. The comfort and predictability of what ‘is’ can outweigh the unknown of what ‘could be’. We are primed – spiritually I believe – to run to captivity rather than freedom.

 

In our churches we need to preach the whole gospel. We were created by God free to love and obey him. And yet in the fall we choose captivity in the name of freedom because we prefer to be the God of our own lives whatever the cost. True freedom is found in trusting in the perfect life Jesus lived for us and the punishment he took on our behalf in his death.

 

In conclusion, the Christian faith equips us for uncertain times. We should respect those who are genuinely at high risk. We should love our neighbours by not exposing them to unnecessary risk. We must value every life as precious and vigorously protect and advocate for the vulnerable. And as a church we should have the confidence to confront the idols of our culture and proclaim the true freedom we have in Christ.

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