Living in a Pagan World.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty “.

“In your view you are in danger of seeing Me in My holiness as totally separated from you. Far above everything – pure – so pure I am unapproachable. But the reality is that although I am that holy – I am totally other and separated from you – totally pure in my motives, thoughts, love and faithfulness – never able to lie or be unfaithful. Although that describes Me – I have made a way through Jesus to also be the one who is intimately close to you – who can draw next to you and comfort you and be your friend – who takes you by the hand and leads you – who pours love into you continually. My holiness does not preclude this – in fact it is what is the motive behind this love relationship I have with you. So, sing ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty’, with full gusto and understand that because I am totally other and different – I can be all things -great and awesome – yet a close friend to you. “

I recently had a conversation with a mature Christian friend about the enigma of apparently mature Christians who unexpectedly fall away completely from the faith. I have always held the view that once we are saved, we are sealed “in Christ” and nothing can tear us from His grasp. This seems to be the main focus of ch 10 of 1 Cor. Look at vs 12. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall…”

You see what Paul is addressing? The sense of complacency that comes from experiencing the new-found “freedom in Christ”, without understanding the responsibilities that go with it. He starts with showing how the Israelites had experienced all the benefits of salvation on being taken out of Egypt. They subsequently, despite all these, all fell away because of disobedience. Remember that the Corinthians were living in a society whose social life was focused on the temples. That is where they went to eat out and socialize with their friends. The meat in the market butcheries was mostly meat which had been offered at some time as sacrifices to the demons.

Now there seemed to be a number of Corinthian Christians who felt that they had been set free from slavery to demons and therefore could still go and join their friends. So, Paul brings this strong warning that they are flirting with idols. There is only one way to treat idols and that is to “Flee from them”. v 14. They should not think that they cannot fall vs 12. Everyone is tempted and we are not tempted where we are strong. We are tempted in our weakest places and moments.

His warning is that they were thinking that they were stronger than God. By doing that they were actually tempting Him .vs 22. Towards the end of the chapter, he draws a parallel between these temple feasts and the celebration of holy communion, which he will address in greater detail later.

So how do we apply this to ourselves? There are no longer temple feasts and meat offered to idols. So, what about today? Well, I don’t need to remind you that we live in a world every bit as pagan as the Corinthian’s was. The types of temptation and idols have changed over the years, but they are just as plentiful now as they were then. I have found myself from time to time thinking that there is no way a certain temptation will catch me. That is when I am at my most vulnerable. We are all involved in a mighty spiritual battle which is fought to a large degree in our minds. It is exactly in the area where we are least expecting it that Satan will introduce an idol or reawaken an old one.

It seems the only way to protect ourselves is to remain supremely conscious of this battle and to be sure that we stand firm, aware of what may be coming. Most important is to remember that we should not face Satan in our own strength. We need the full armour of God and with continual prayer and watchfulness. Not for nothing did Jesus have in the Lord’s prayer “Lead us not into temptation”. God is faithful, though and will help us in our times of temptation if we turn to Him.

In this passage there is also the strong undercurrent of the Church’s role in the believer’s life. We are there to help each other to stand and we should be very careful that we are not the very means that Satan uses to cause a brother or sister to fall. Not for nothing that the warning is that we cannot live as true Christians without the family of believers in a local church.

The safest way to gauge whether your activities are “safe”, is to follow the instruction Paul gives in vs 31. Ask yourself regularly whether you are happy to say that what you are doing or eating or drinking, or your relationships are to His glory. If you are in doubt flee.

Billy Graham was once asked what he thought his first emotion would be when he entered heaven. He replied, “relief”. We should never rest on our laurels; the battle will only be over when we are finally at home with Him. But at the same time His power is supreme and if we continue to walk with Him, we will be held securely in His love till the end in this world. Romans 8:31 – 38

Knowing God and being Known by Him.

Singing, “All my ways are known to you “, brings me in line with what Jesus was saying to me yesterday.

“I want to revisit what I showed you yesterday. The hordes of Israelites fleeing from Egypt through the Red Sea and into the desert. I tested them with no water or food and very soon they were grumbling and complaining. Even when I gave them manna for food, they were not satisfied. So I sent quail. I gave them water, miraculously made sweet and fresh – yet they continued to grumble and long for their life in bondage in Egypt. The journey through the desert was only going to be accomplished if they trusted Me. If they recognized that the manna – represented Me and the spiritual food I would give – the pillar of Fire at night – represented Me as the light of the world – their Light leading them on. Now take this on board – there in the desert was exactly where I wanted them to be. So where you are now is exactly where I want you to be. Although you are in the desert – you have Me – I am you Bread, I am your Light, I am your Health – don’t be like the Israelites and long back for another life.

Now we proceed in 1 Cor to ch 8 and 9. Firstly Paul brings up the subject of knowledge. He is going to deal with this later as part of his discussion on the spiritual gifts in greater detail. These people, Greeks, prided themselves on their (gift of) knowledge. Paul puts that in perspective as he will again later. Love is more important than knowledge. Love builds up, while knowledge puffs up. The most important knowledge is that God should know each one of us. In John 17:3, Jesus makes this statement, “Now this is eternal life: that they (the disciples) may know you”. This bilateral statement of knowledge is extremely important. It recognizes and emphasizes the nature of our relationship with Jesus and the Father. Bilateral knowledge of each other, intimate, loving knowledge. God who knows every thought and motive in our hearts and from us a desire to draw closer and closer to God Himself..

On top of that, Paul makes another amazing, earth-shattering statement in 8:6. Just look what He is saying: “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all thigs came and through whom we live.” Do you understand the impact of that? Jesus and God are one and the same. The first time I realized that it was an amazing, life-changing revelation to me. Jesus is really God, come in human flesh! Wow! Understanding that in your heart of hearts actually changes everything.

Paul’s concern thereafter is about food sacrificed to Idols and the way one should handle that –in love. Suffice is to say that the principle remains true that if we cause a brother/ sister to sin, then we are sinning against Jesus. We have a huge responsibility towards others in our church family. Food for thought?

In ch 9 Paul spends some time in defence of his apostleship. This is repeated in much greater detail in 2 Corinthians his second letter to them. We probably never get around to doubting his apostleship since he wrote a large part of the New Testament. It is good to remind ourselves, nevertheless of the authenticity of his Apostleship and therefore his writing, since that lends credence that it comes from God Himsel and carries His authority.

What did strike me, personally was his drive and determination to share the gospel at all costs. My own heart has been aflame for the gospel for many years and I ask myself, “Is that flame still burning just as brightly?” Am I prepared to become all things to all people so that just one may be won to the Lord and saved. In fact, am I still running the race to receive the crown which awaits me?

Keep in the race, dear friends. Keep your eyes on the crown of glory which awaits each one of us and the desert scene around us will become strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

Married to Jesus.

My heart is on fire as I sing and imagine the words expressing Gods closeness and power – “Hold me close, let my arms surround you and you will fly like an Eagle – in the power of my love”.

“All these words are from Me to you today and those who follow your blog. My closeness through My Spirit in you is what makes all the difference – as you abide in Me I can abide in you – as you open your eyes and believe and trust, I am there in that power – The power of My love to help you to fly with wings like an Eagle – but that flying is not always spectacular – it is often very mundane, in the moments of frustration and disappointment, where the tasks I give you start to feel onerous – you need to keep trusting, To keep believing and in that moment I lift you from the mundane, from suffering, even boredom and you can fly with me – soaring on My power. That is what abiding in Me is like and my promise is if you abide in me so I will continue to abide in you.

We come now to a chapter in 1 Corinthians (ch 7), which deals with marriage. Now the circumstances of most of our readers are that much of what is said here may appear to be irrelevant to us at the present time in our lives. Yet the whole bible is written for us and there is always some relevance, so let’s see what we can hear Jesus saying to us from this chapter rather than just skipping through it.

Firstly we need to take into account the cultural circumstances prevailing there in that society. A society which was living focused on temple worship as their main source of “entertainment”. Part of that involved sexual practices and orgies. As Paul writes he is answering questions put to him, which have arisen in the new church. Presumably there was a reaction by some as they were saved, to abstain from sex and marriage as a demonstration of their new spirituality.

So Paul addresses those who are struggling with the whole question of singleness. If we stand back and allow the Lord to give the bigger picture to us on singleness we can learn a few things he is trying to express. Firstly, while some may be called to be single, to be able to serve the Lord, as he classes himself, there is no special merit in keeping oneself single. We have the example of the RC church who expect many to remain single if they wanted to serve the Lord. Clearly if one is not called to be single and gifted for it the door is open for all sorts of malpractices.

On the other hand if one finds oneself to be single there is also nothing wrong with it. Those who are single are equally loved by the Lord as those who are married. Widows also have the choice of marrying again or remaining single.

From this section and other parts of the word, marriage is a very important building block in God’s kingdom and therefore is often the focus of Satan’s attacks. The practical advice that Paul gives to spouses who are saved and their unbelieving partners is extremely valuable. Many a promising Christian life has been diverted by an unbelieving partner.

The passage in Ephesians 5 which draws the comparison of marriage to the relationship of the church with Jesus is extremely important. It shows how God has drawn a man and a woman together in a relationship which is especially intimate and points to the intimacy of their relationship with Jesus Himself. This is why a good marriage is actually such a strong witness to the power and love intimacy Jesus desires with His people.

But what about those who find themselves to be single for whatever reason? Do they miss out? I believe this is the absolute beauty of the gospel. Those who have no intimate partner have the most loving, most intimate partner in Jesus Himself. Throughout the OT you will remember how God called Himself the “Husband” of Israel and therefore felt the huge rejection very deeply when they turned away from Him to worship other gods.

In a similar vein, since God/ Jesus is not present physically here among us at the moment, when there are single people in our congregation, we are all called to be their physical comfort for them and for each other. I have experienced this in some most tender ways and praise the Lord that I can be part of His family with Him as the head and my brothers and sisters as my closest family.

I have to remind myself that while God is interested in having a deep personal relationship with me, He is nevertheless busy with a far greater program at he same time. Building a kingdom which will glorify Him. He wants us to to be growing in the micro-sphere of intimacy with Him as well as the macro-sphere of this glorious kingdom. The one flows into the other.

So I will continue to “abide in Him and trust His promise that He is abiding in me so that through the power of His love I can soar with wings as an eagle.

Real Church.

I have this picture while I am singing of Jesus inviting me to step onto the water with Him.

“Yes Ian I am inviting you to give up trusting in all the “certainties” of this world. Those things which make you feel secure and to step into the unknown, onto water which has no stability in it – which is impossible to do without the miraculous intervention of the One who created it. As you relinquish your hold on the things you rely on you will start to experience the freedom of a relationship with Me where I provide all your stability. Water has so many connotations – it is life-giving and essential for us – yet at the same time it carries the danger of storms and floods and damage and death. But I am the controller of water and walking with Me is the safest place you can ever be. So once again on a daily basis – made that decision to step out of the boat and onto the water with Me.”

As we proceed with 1 Cor from 5:5 we are faced with a few seemingly unrelated matters of questionable behaviour in this church. As I was reading this section it occurred to me that although these particular “offences” were probably unlikely to happen in our church, there were nevertheless some lessons to be learned.

Firstly the classic view of the church is that there are only two types of people one will find in church. Those who have been saved and are part of the kingdom and those who have not yet been saved. Jesus warned His disciples of this and said it was not up to them to separate the wheat from the tares. Yet as I read this section I was again aware that there are often people in the church who one is not sure about. So while it is not up to us to judge we nevertheless need to take heed.

Paul makes no bones about the seriousness of sin and in the section from 5:6 ff he instructs the elders of the church to apply the strictest discipline to a member who is openly sinning. “Expel the offender”. Turning a blind eye to blatant sin in the church will open the door for sin to spread and contaminate the whole church. A little yeast can cause the whole batch to go off. Some who are sinning in the church can divert the whole purpose and power of the Chrurch.

Small quarrels can later lead to great dissension and even ultimately a split. Satan loves this and we have examples all over now and historically of this happening.

Paul comes to the point where he warns the members to avoid contact with others who “call themselves brothers” (5:11) yet behave in a way where their fruit shows that they are actually not saved at all. Now the thought occurred to me, in an ordinary church how do you distinguish the one who is borderline, claiming to be a brother yet living in a way which does not bring glory to Christ, from the one who is saved yet very immature also not producing fruit which honours Christ?

So in a way, the Corinthian church was very similar to our average church. There is obviously a huge time and cultural difference. Yet the way forward is the same for us today. Discipline those who are openly sininig and seek to help those who are weak, to grow. Paul once again uses the reminder in 6:11 of the huge legacy we have as Christians. “washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God”. And further on 6:19 “Do you not know you are a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price”. It is this continual reminder which we should preach to ourselves as we struggle with the wiles of the devil and our own inner thoughts dragging us away from Jesus to prevent ourselves from slipping away.

Finally there is a huge warning in 6:12, “Everything is permissible for me” – but not everything is beneficial ……….etc. Paul is obviously repeating sayings going through the church with these comments. They were seemingly claiming the Gnostic teaching that what we do with our body does not affect our soul. But this highlights an attitude by many Christians who try and walk as close to the edge without stepping over it, as they can. The attitude that our sin is forgiven and therefore we may behave in a certain way. It is a hugely perilous place to be, because the chance of slipping over the edge is always there.

It is far better to be in the position where we are secure in Christ. Where we are keeping our relationship with Him dynamic. Where we can freely produce the fruit of the Spirit because we are walking the gospel road with Him. Flirting with sin has caused the downfall of many brothers and sisters in the past.

Does this only affect others, I asked myself? Then I decided that I should take heed of this warning myself. I was also reminded again of the importance of the “Body of Christ” functioning as a unit to God’s glory. Encourage those who are struggling and preaching the gospel to those who have not yet entered the kingdom and joined the mighty throng who will one day be worshipping Christ and singing His praises.

Let us all get a new vision of the importance of the Church where we are part of God’s family and vitally interact with each other’s for benefit and the glory of God.