2009-11-03 – “Theological Imperative”
We’ve completed our series on Ruth and you can download the whole series from the Emmanuel Website – just go to http://www.emmanuel.org.za and click on menu entries for resources and then eDevotions.
We start a new series today and it is in line with the “Big Idea” that we are running at church – focussing every aspect of our teaching towards the idea of the Church as Community. Hope you enjoy it!
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis1:27)
One of the fundamental theological principles of the faith is our belief in the Trinity – that the Godhead is a perfectly loving community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
If we are created in God’s image, then we reflect God’s nature, even though our reflections are tainted by the blight of sin. We reflect His creativity, the ability to appreciate beauty, and His capacity to share love with each other.
The bottom-line is this: If God is a perfectly loving community then we who are created in His image are created to move toward loving community. We are not created to be individual lone-ranger Christians but to express our faith in and through community.
Some would argue that our sinfulness as a result of the fall has made community impossible – they would say that immediately after eating the fruit, Adam was blaming Eve, and Eve was blaming the serpent (who didn’t have leg to stand on! )
Cain tried to use this line of thinking in Gen4:9
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Cain’s answer implies that he does not feel the need for community, whereas God’s question implies that close and caring community is a given. This implication is echoed throughout Scripture.
Community is a creation-imbedded reality of our existence. The stain of sin results in us rejecting or deforming the idea of loving community, but this does not allow us to avoid the issue.
We are created for God-honouring loving community and we should pursue it.
2009-11-04 – “The Cure for Cain’s Callousness.”
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1John1:7)
There is a problem with making community happen and we saw it yesterday in our reference to the story of Cain and Abel. Cain does not believe that he is his brother’s keeper and this a community show-stopper.
But Cain is not alone. Our sinful human nature puts us on the throne and causes us to deny the community imperative. We are divided and alienated from each other by sinful self-importance, pride and hard-heartedness.
The good news is that Jesus did something about this sad state of affairs. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains that Jesus’ death on the cross tore down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, and by implication between you and me. (Eph2:14)
This is what John is driving at.
When we are in spiritual darkness, we are also alienated from our fellow human beings. It is as we walk in the light of Christ that we are able to experience a new kind of community.
However, we should bear in mind that John is writing to the church and so the implication is clear: It is not simply that giving my heart to Jesus means that I will get on with people – it is on-going walking in the light that opens the doors of community.
When we see a church that is deeply divided by division and gossip, you can be sure that there is a point where the various factions stopped walking in the light.
Our community is based on the sacrificial love of Christ and the basis of our unity is the Grace by which we have been saved. When we keep our eyes on Christ’s sacrifice for us and when we see others as people for whom Jesus died, then community becomes possible. Conflict is inevitable but when we walk in the light it can be resolved. When terminal conflict arises then we are not in the light anymore.
2009-11-05 – “Proverbs on Community: A Definition”
The book of Proverbs is a collection tried and tested sayings that offer wise guidance on a number of practical life-oriented topics. We’ll look at a couple of proverbs to do with community.
A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs17:17)
“Some people are like tea-bags – we experience their full flavour in hot water.”
Proverbs makes the distinction between fair-weather friends and those who will go through a storm with us. In the next chapter we find another proverb:
“A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”(Proverbs18:24)
The book Ecclesiastes is another collection of wisdom sayings and there we read this: “If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecc4:10)
True community is revealed in adversity. True friends are the ones who help us get through the storm. We do, however, need to make a careful distinction: there are many people who rush to our hospital beds or come to tea when there is a bereavement – but showing face (or, even worse, satisfying curiosity) is not true community.
True friendship in adversity is also not pouring out endless advice or telling a hurting friend how _I_ coped when _I_ went through something similar (and selfishly re-living my own pain).
True community is when our loving, serving, encouraging, praying, humble presence is like a balm of calm where a troubled soul finds strength, peace and inspiration.
As you might be guessing by now, friendship-in-adversity is most successful when we are intimately led and filled by the Holy Spirit.
Paul puts it best: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2Corinthians1:3)
2009-11-06 – “Proverbs on Community: Sharper!”
Sorry this is so late! I completely forgot to _send_ it!
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs27:17)
Community is the workshop where theoretical faith becomes skillful life. Community is where we learn to love each other, forgive each other, serve each other, lean on each other and learn from each other.
The Apostle John was flabbergasted by those who claimed that they didn’t need to get on with people. Look at what he wrote:
‘If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother,
he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother,
whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen!
21 And he has given us this command:
Whoever loves God must also love his brother.’
In as much as community reveals the rough edges in other people’s lives, it also reveals my rough edges. When I am in good community, I am accepted “warts and all” and this acceptance teaches me about God’s Grace. When I am in community and I find impatience and intolerance rising up in me then I realise that I still have some growing to do.
Church Community is not a showcase of shining perfect saints, but a hospital for broken people. It is a place where folk can come for healing and, as soon as they are starting to heal, they are given bandages and medicines so that they can help the next people who come through the door…
As we rub against each other there is pressure and friction. Sometimes there is even heat. Sharpening by rubbing is not painless, but the outcome is that we are sharper and better equipped.
Being in community has challenged me as I have realised how proud and intolerant I can be. It has humbled me as I have learned some valuable life-lessons from unexpected people. I have been inspired by the example of some amazing courageous people. I have had some kinks in me straightened out by people who have loved me enough to challenge me. I have been encouraged by the words of efforts of people who have taken the time and energy to care about me.
Community means rubbing, friction, messy iron-filings, and sometimes even a bit of heat when my ego has been in the way, but I have been sharpened and I am very very grateful.
2009-11-10 – “Proverbs on Community: Offended?”
He who covers over an offense promotes love,
but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. (Proverbs17:9)
One of the realities of community is that it is inevitable that, at some point, we will bump into each other’s brokenness. For, as hard as we might try to be perfect people, our selfish sinfulness gets the better of us and we do things that hurt, betray, disappoint and offend others.
The “collision” is exacerbated by the insecure over-sensitivity of the one being “bumped” because, in our brokenness we are horribly insecure and we take any failure of another human being _very_ personally.
This collision of broken crash-ers with insecure crash-ees is a recipe that can spell the quick death of community. We’ve all seen and experienced this kind of pain.
Scripture makes it clear: There has to be another way! And that way is the route of _forgiveness._ Proverbs makes the stakes very clear. When someone, in their broken sinfulness bumps into us, we have a choice to make: Cover over it or publicise it.
One of the best illustrations of covering over sin is when Noah gets himself so drunk that he collapses naked in his tent where his youngest son finds him and _repeats_ the matter to his older brothers. The older brothers take a blanket, and walking into the tent backwards drape it over their father thus _covering_ over his indiscretion.
One might argue that Noah’s indecency wasn’t directly hurtful to his sons, but the principle holds true. When people slip up, we have a choice to cover over the event or become vicious gossips (for that’s what we are if we repeat the matter unnecessarily – even if only once.)
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Just a final comment: Cover-over is not the same as cover-up. Cover-up is about avoiding justice or pretending it never happened. Cover-over is about acknowledging the crash, but doing whatever can be done to repair it as painlessly as possible. Cover-up lacks integrity while cover-over has plenty of integrity.
2009-11-12 – “Proverbs on Community: Picking fights”
Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out. (Proverbs17:14)
There’s a scene in the movie “Braveheart” where William Wallace needs to make the English army so angry that they will charge into his trap. As he rides off into no-man’s land to go and parley with the English, his friend asks him – “What are ye goin’ ta doo?” and Wallace answers “I’m goin’ ta pick a fight.”
Unfortunately community is often marred by fight picking. Sometimes things happen in community that genuinely hurt or upset us, sometimes they dent our ego’s, maybe they threaten our “turf” or challenge the idealogical sand-castles that we have built. When these things happen, it is way too easy to “go and pick a fight.”
This happens because we are locked into a win-lose mindset. Conflict is inevitable, but we tend to operate with a paradigm that requires that someone is right and someone is wrong. Instead of playing the “ball” of the conflict, we play the player and then someone wins and someone loses and the problem remains unsolved. And in community, others get swept along in the pain.
The Proverb writer warns us – starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam.
We were once on Margate beach where the little river inlet into the sea had been dammed up. Two municipal workers dug a very narrow trench from the sea to the dam. When they breached the dam, the water began to flow through, and very quickly the water sped up and started carrying sand with it and the trench deepened and widened. Within 60 seconds of breaching, it would have been impossible to stop the flow. In a matter of minutes it was a water-flow so strong that you couldn’t stand up in it and the trench was six foot wide and about four feet deep.
There are times when we have to confront evil, but there is a fine line between breaching a dam and firming up the wall. Go figure!
2009-11-13 – “Proverbs on Community: Lone ranger?”
Make plans by seeking advice;
if you wage war, obtain guidance. (Proverbs20:18)
Most of us understand the need to grow from dependence to independence, but very few people understand that the next step toward full maturity is to learn to be _interdependent._
Being teachable is one of the most desirable qualities of a life that God can use. Being teachable means that we realise that we do not have the sole-mandate to wisdom, truth and innovation. There are others who we can learn from.
Proverbs repeatedly promotes the idea of obtaining guidance, being counselled by the wise and testing our ideas with trusted advisers. Elsewhere in Scripture we have Moses receiving advice from his father-in-law, Jethro – which resulted in great blessing. We also have Rehoboam ignoring the advice of Solomon’s advisers and listening to his buddies instead – with disastrous consequences.
While grey hair is not the only qualification for wisdom, many today are quick to dismiss the wisdom of those who don’t understand email and google. On the other hand, while it is true that wisdom is often found in “the school of hard knocks,” there are young people who through quiet contemplation and the gifting of the Spirit have great wisdom.
The community implication of seeking guidance is that we realise that we are not islands and we don’t have to “go it alone.”
One of the heartaches I have in ministry is that people often tell me of a “dark night of the soul” that they and/or their family went through without reaching out for help. Very often their burdens could have been shared or lightened if they had reached out for help.
2009-11-17 – “Road Rubber Practicality”
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4 is the great chapter on the church. Paul describes the awesome theological truths: (cf Eph.4:12-16)
* The church is gifted with apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers
* The church is the place where we grow into maturity “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”
* The church keeps us from being “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching…”
* Speaking the truth in love we grow up into Christ who is the head of the body.
* As parts in the body we build ourselves up as each part does its work…
Paul then gives some spiritual and relational advice, including some great gems like “in your anger do not sin” and “do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
But he ends with this very practical conclusion (the verse quoted at the top.) Community will only succeed if we get two things right:
1. We have to be aware of how much we have been forgiven. We cannot enter community being “holier than thou.” We cannot offer forgiveness to others when we don’t really understand what it is. When I offer forgiveness on my own terms, it is often forgiveness that is conditional and “withdrawable” if you tick me off again. When I understand Christ’s complete and utter forgiveness to me, I’m in a better place for community.
2. Then I have to make a conscious mindset decision to be kind and compassionate. Chew over those words… Does someone irritate you? Talk too much? Give too much advice? Be kind… Has someone failed you or hurt you? Be compassionate. The issue is not whether they deserve it….
Did you deserve God’s forgiveness?
This is where the rubber hits the road.
2009-11-18 – “Valuable People”
28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts20:28)
Many people say that church fights are the worst fights of all. The old adage that you don’t get into arguments about “religion and politics” comes from hard experience. Unfortunately, throughout history churches have been marred by ugly arguments and unfortunately many of these arguments have been about silly things like the colour of the carpets and kind of music to play.
The words of our text passage are being spoken by Paul to the elders of the church in Ephesus. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem and he knows that this is the last time he will ever see these folk and so his words have an urgency about them.
Paul’s words contain an important principle: The members of the flock are valuable: so valuable that Jesus died for them.
So, when someone is on the other end of a debate, or when someone drops the ball and lets us down, when someone hurts us consciously or unconsciously – let us look at them through blood-coloured lenses. The blood of Jesus was shed for them. How dare I hate, reject, discard or defame someone when Jesus regarded them as valuable enough to die for?
Living this truth takes a lot of work and I know that I still have a long way to go. I’m like a rugby player who has the choice of playing the player or the ball. Unfortunately my sinful nature and my pride has me playing the player instead of the ball. I’m guilty of being tempted to be disdainful, dismissive and hateful toward those who disagree with me and unfortunately I succumb from time to time.
At a farmers meeting where he was doing devotions, Glen Craig was once introduced as “the aspiring farmer who did a BSc Agric and honours and then took the easy way out into the ministry.” Glen very graciously responded to the good-natured jibe with this comment “Hmmm I don’t know… When you farmers have a difficult sheep, you can slaughter it…”
You and I have to choose to see others as people for whom Jesus died.
2009-11-19 – “Value Diversity”
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. (1Corinthians12:14-15)
We’re not good at dealing with people who are different from us. But having everyone the same actually weakens us. It means that there is overlap in the strengths (and the power-struggles that go with it) and we have overlaps in the weaknesses (which leaves great holes.)
A well-rounded team is what is needed for the long haul and we need to grasp the necessity of diversity.
The problem is that while we acknowledge the theoretical need for diversity, the practical outworking is more challenging! Hands and feet don’t speak the same language. Eyes and ears don’t have the same needs. Elbows and kidneys often bump and one gets hurt more than the other!
Community with diversity is a big challenge. But we stand to grow the most and be more robust when we get it right. It is very tempting to gravitate to those who are just “like us.” We are tempted to go to people of the same age, same race, same gender, same temperament, same style (charismatic/traditional), same side of the tracks, etc. but we will be poorer for it.
The starting point is to choose to value diversity and then take a conscious decision to plunge into it with the heart of a learner.
Stand by to grow and be strengthened.
2009-11-20 – “Team Scream”
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. (1Corinthians12:26)
Atherstone House at Rhodes University is home to over 100 female students. During exam times tensions run very high and the post-grads who weren’t writing and those who were finished writing were often blamed for being insensitive to the pressures on those who were still writing.
Many years ago one of their wardens had a great idea: From time to time during exams she would announce a “team scream.” Then at precisely 8pm all 100 room windows would open and the girls would hang out of their window and scream non-stop for two whole minutes! You could hear them for miles!
This relieved tension, put everyone on the same page and brought an effective end to the sniping, backbiting and quarrelling tension that filled the residence.
The warden was simply applying a core-community truth articulated by Paul: As a community, the body of Christ, we do well when we connect to each others’ needs and joys.
Today we’ve become very good at “crossing by on the other side.” The scary thing is that Jesus’ parable on the Good Samaritan indicts the priest and the Levite for being insensitive to the needs of a _stranger_, but we are often guilty of ignoring the needs of those we know!
We argue that we don’t want to poke our noses where they don’t belong, but there comes a time that we have be like the Good Samaritan and get alongside those who hurt. Even if it’s just to help them scream!
2009-11-24 – “A Community Fundamental”
This one took a little longer to put together – I apologise for its lateness!
14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts1:14)
In the book of Acts…
What did the disciples do after Jesus ascension? (1:14)
What did the early church do when persecuted? (4:21-24; 7:59; 16:25)
What did they do when many new people joined the church? (2:42)
What did the church do when Peter was arrested? (12:15)
What did the early Christians do as a habit? (3:1)
What did they do when appointed leaders? (1:24; 6:4-6; 13:3; 14:23)
Answer: They prayed – and they did it together!
Prayer is the life-expression of real and living faith. When we pray we move from belief-system to relationship. When we pray, our head-knowledge becomes personal relationship. When we pray, we reach out to almighty God and recognise His eternity in our temporality.
Praying in private is vital and we should learn to live life as a prayerful conversation and we should have moments in the day during which we move from on-the-run communion with God to some valuable face-to-face talking to God.
But there is another facet to prayer and that is the privilege of praying together.
Tomorrow I will unpack some of the advantages and benefits of corporate prayer, but for today I want to settle on a basic truth:
The Early Church prayed together and throughout the ages, whenever there has been revival, there has also been an increase in corporate prayer.
Corporate prayer has three facets to master and “step up” to.
1. Participating heartily in the prayers in worship services.
2. Praying for others by name
3. Praying with others.
We’ll talk about these through the week.
Here’s the thought for today: If prayer is an expression of relationship with a loving God – why do I pray so little?
2009-11-25 – “Why pray together?”
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts4:31)
When the religious leaders of the day forbade the disciples from preaching in the name of Jesus the early church didn’t protest or toi-toi – they did something much more powerful: They prayed.
I have included the whole of their prayer below… If you get a chance, read it – it’s a powerful, invigorating and inspiring reach of faith.
Why do we pray together? Here are just _some_ of the reasons (not in order of importance)
1. God calls us to pray together. God has chosen to bless community and corporate prayer with His special presence and His power: Matt.18:19-20 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
2. People who are learning to pray can learn from the prayers of those who have been praying for a long time.
3. When my faith is low, I can be inspired by the faith of those around me.
4. There’s an accountability and discipline about being part of a regular prayer meeting.
5. We experience the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I love it when someone “steals” the prayer I was about to pray. When someone begins praying about the very thing that I was about to pray about then I know that we’re starting to get into the “wavelength” of the Holy Spirit – it means that my own agenda is fading into the background and I’m open to God’s promptings.
6. We can hear about answered prayers from each other and this can inspire us.
7. Throughout history revivals have been marked by an increase in corporate prayer. (“After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken…”)
These are just some of the good reasons to pray together – can you think of any others?
Acts4:23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
” `Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord
and against his Anointed One. ‘
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
2009-11-26 – “Participate”
6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
On Tuesday we said:
“Corporate prayer has three facets to master and ‘step up’ to.
1. Participating heartily in the prayers in worship services.
2. Praying for others by name
3. Praying with others.”
Today we look at the first of these:
Ezra is leading God’s people in the public reading of Scripture. It is a profound moment – Israel had returned from exile and Nehemiah had helped them rebuild the wall around the city and they were regaining their identity as the people of God.
The word Amen means “so be it” or more colloquially “I heartily agree” or “let it be so.”
As the Israelites prepare their hearts for hearing God’s Word, Ezra leads them in prayers of praise and they respond heartily in three ways:
1) the lifting of hands which indicates that God is higher than we are, it can also indicate surrender (“hands up!”) It is a physical action that opens us to God.
2) the spoken “amen” which shows their mental engagement with what has been said: They have heard, processed and agreed.
3) bowing in worship which is a conscious and deliberate act of humility – “You are God and I am not!”
Now in more conservative church settings people don’t lift their hands or say “Amen!” a lot (although Anglicans do kneel in prayer.) We can, however, begin to adopt the attitudes that underlie the actions.
Imagine what would happen if you began to engage in the public prayers and praises with the heart-attitudes that these actions express.
And then maybe lifting your hands and heartily saying “amen” or bowing down won’t be so weird when your heart is right!
2009-11-27 – “Praying earnestly for others”
12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. (Colossians4:12)
Today we come to the second of our three challenges with regard to community and prayer. Here the challenges are again:
1. Participating heartily in the prayers in worship services.
2. Praying for others by name
3. Praying with others.
Epaphras was a member of the church in Colosse. He was with Paul and yet deeply concerned about his community – so he prayed. But his prayers weren’t a generalised “Lord please bless my church”, but passionate and focussed. He wrestled!
I imagine Epaphras pictured the folk he was praying for and imagined them in their setting. He prayed diligently and fervently because:
1. He loved his fellow Christians.
2. He knew the stakes were high.
When we begin to pray for each other, it draws us closer and closer together because God softens our hearts and unleashes compassion and concern in us. When we look beyond ourselves to pray for others, God works in us giving us sensitivity and insight and there is an amazing thing that happens: we begin to love the ones we diligently pray for.
For most of us, praying for others doesn’t come naturally. We are distracted and busy. But it is a good thing to do and there are many ways to get started. Here are one or two suggestions:
* Keep a pack of PostIt notes in your Bible. If you hear of or see a need for someone in the church, write their name(s) on a PostIt and stick it to the dashboard of your car. Pray for them through the week.
* Draw up a list of people in the congregation that you pray for on a regular basis in your Quiet Time. Pray for your minister(s) (they need prayer!!!) Pray for your elder, the Sunday School teachers and maybe people you know of who are going through a tough time.
* Join your the church’s prayer team – most churches have a prayer chain or prayer letter. At Emmanuel you can get a prayer letter once every two weeks detailing the needs and answered prayers. There’s also the sms prayer chain for those who are good at sending up arrow prayers in times of crisis.
Wrestling for each other in prayer develops faith and compassion muscles – God blesses this kind of community expression!
2009-12-01 – “Praying with others”
24 When they heard this, they raised their voices _together_ in prayer to God… (Emphasis mine) (Acts4:24)
We’re on part three of the step-ups in corporate prayer:
1. Participating heartily in the prayers in worship services.
2. Praying for others by name
3. Praying with others.
Last week I gave some reasons for praying together. Rex le Roux always says: “An argument, by repetition, doesn’t get any better.” So I’m not going to offer the reasons as to _why_ we pray together again, but rather emphasise that this is something that Scripture _models_ and that we are _instructed_ to do.
The next questions after the “why?” is the “who?, what?, how?, when? and where?”
These are challenging questions in our current society where we are so busy and people don’t want to drive around at night. We’re also very self-conscious and shy and aren’t all that comfortable praying out loud – especially in front of others. We have all sorts of performance anxieties because we’re worried about “making mistakes.” Also, our trust levels in our fellow human beings are quite low and so we’re not sure that we want to lower our defences and be vulnerable.
I can’t, in the space of a short eDev, answer all of these questions and actually I don’t think that I should be trying to answer all of them anyway! How do we grow unless we face up to and solve the challenges?
Here are just a few points:
* There is always a stretch when we make our faith more public by praying with others. Without making the stretch we won’t grow.
* It will involve a time commitment – but it may be one of the highest-yield investments you ever make!
* Try to be smart and innovative – If you already belong to a fellowship group, simply add 15 minutes to your meeting time for prayer together. If you have some Christians at your office, invite them to a meeting over lunch for 15 minutes once a week and use the time to pray. If you meet with a Christian friend for tea, end that visit with 5 minutes of prayer together.
* When you’re praying in the group, make an agreement that everyone prays short one or two sentence prayers. No long prayers – we’re talking to God and not trying to impress anyone. Also allow folk to pray silently and don’t force anyone to pray. Also be comfortable with silences.
At Emmanuel and Grace we will be setting up some initiatives for corporate prayer (probably early in the new year), but in the meantime, you can start some initiatives of your own.
I pray that you will experience great growth as you take the risk to pray for and with others.
2009-12-02 – “A Skipping Habit…”
(This is a “reprint” of a dev I sent out in 2003…)
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews10:24-25)
The Christians who first read the letter to the Hebrews suffered greatly for their faith. They expected that Jesus would return very very soon, and the extent of their suffering certainly heightened their expectation. Because they believed that `the end was nigh` they narrowed their focus to the things that were really really important.
It is significant that getting together with other Christians was considered to be one of these important issues.The purpose of getting together was encouragement.
When we were in Grahamstown, I visited a lady who was going through a very rough time. She had this to say: `There are times that I am so low when I come to church, that the hymns, the sermon, and the prayers all mean nothing to me. What keeps me going is to look around at the other 200 people who have come: The young, old, healthy or frail who have taken the trouble to get up on an ice-cold morning to sit on a hard pew, sing ancient old hymns and listen to words from a 2000 year old book. Then I know that it is real and I am encouraged!`
But the encouragement does not only come from everyone’s presence: It is the kind word over tea, the thoughtful enquiry to one’s well-being, the timely offer of assistance, the hearing of the preached Word, and so many other possibilities.
Fellowship is not confined to Church on Sundays. Ideally we should all be part of a midweek fellowship group that gives us the faith top-up we need. Someone once said: `Coming to church is like coming to the big gathering of the extended family with all the aunts, uncles, babies, grandparents, and all the rest – It’s good and it’s fun. But coming to a fellowship group is like coming home to one’s immediate family.`
Skipping church is a _bad_ _habit_. Giving Sunday morning worship a miss is something we should do with great hesitance and only with very good reason. And when we go, we should not only go to be encouraged or ministered to. Maybe there is someone you can say a kind or thoughtful word to. We’re to go to `spur each other on` not only to be `spurred on.`
2009-12-03 – “God’s power in our togetherness”
Again I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew18:19-20)
This passage takes some work in understanding – especially because we firmly believe in God’s omnipresence. He is always and everywhere present.
Throughout the New Testament Jesus promises that He will be with us: `I will never leave you or forsake you.` (Hebrews13:5) `I will be with you always`(Matt.28:20) So why should He give us a conditional promise here? Why do we suddenly have to be two or three before He is with us?
The answer to this question lies in the Old Testament understanding that God lives within the praises of His people and that He is therefore _especially_ present when His children gather specifically in honour of His name.
It is _not_ that He is not present during the rest of the time, but that He is _especially_ present when we gather as His Church and in His name.
What is most probably the case is that it is not God who is more present, but us who are more able and open understand and experience His (omni)presence when we are together for worship.
This has profound implications: The always present God is even more present when we honour Him in our gatherings. This means that we can expect to be more aware of His holiness and more open to His unfailing love when we gather in His name. It means that we can expect to encounter the living God in the context of Christian fellowship even more than anywhere else in the world.
God is especially close to and deeply experienced by those who meet together in His name. Why on earth would I want to miss out on that???
2009-12-04 – “Conclusion: Open up the door”
If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! (Ecclesiastes4:10)
It was the Beatles who sang:
“When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
Now that I’m older and I’m not so self-secure
It’s time to change my mind and open up the door.
Help me if you can I feeling down
And I do appreciate your being around
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me – help me.”
Community is a place where we give and receive help, but this is not something we are good at! We are very slow to ask for help: We’re too proud to admit weakness, too stubborn to acknowledge need, too selfish to be “beholden” to someone, too insecure to trust others and often too superficial in our relationships to have the relationship-depth that’s needed before we can ask for help.
All too often we try too hard to be independent, thinking that leaning on others is weakness. We are rocks and islands and, like the Paul Simon song says, we think that “a rock feels no pain and an island never cries,” but the truth is that there are moments when life knocks us off our feet. The Ecclesiastes author says: “Pity the man who has no-one to pick him up!”
Church Community is built on a solid foundation – the foundation of Christ. The ground at the foot of the cross is level – we all need a Saviour. The help we offer one another is not help that we offer because we are better or stronger. We help one another with the grace that the Risen Christ unleashes in our lives. This places church communities in a unique space where they are able to make a huge difference in the lives of others.
Maybe its time to “change your mind and open up the door.”
Increase the relationship depth around you – you never know when you will be needed to help a friend or when you will be in need of a friend.
(Adapted from an eDev in the relationship series)