Reflection on Colossians 3:1-11

Scripture

Think of the things of heaven, not the things of earth.

Observation

We have been raised to new life in Christ, so we should set our minds on things of heaven and not be consumed by worldly thoughts. We have died to this life and been raised to eternity in Christ.

We must put to death all the sinful and fleshly desires within us- immorality, impurity, greed, idolatry and so on.

We need to put on our new nature and be renewed as we learn to be like Christ.

Application

One of the biggest problems we have as christians is allowing God to transform us. Sin seems to cling to us despite our good intentions.

The problem is that we still live in the world and our thoughts are dominated by the world’s ways of thinking rather than by God’s ways.

We must see that our destiny is in heaven with Christ, and everything in our lives needs to be seen in that perspective.

The people of the world do not know God. All they see is this life. All their energy and thought go into the concerns of this world. They worry about work, possessions, sex, family and so on.

For we who are born again, our focus must always be on serving Christ. Our work is for His glory not ours. Our family is to serve Him not to live for its own purposes.

Thinking of heavenly things does not mean abandoning our responsibilities to live on a mystical plane unconcerned with earthly things.

We are to put Jesus first in everything and see the things that we do in the light of serving and worshipping Him.

When we look to God and live for Him, He deals with all the other things in our life, including sinful attitudes and wrong priorities.

We do not have to change the way we live, just where we place our affections. God will look after the rest.

Prayer

Lord please help me to seek you in every part of my life. I trust you to redirect my life and to change my thinking. Amen.

Ephesians 1:5

Here is my commentary on Ephesians 1:5. I am publishing these once or twice a week, but you can read all of the available articles at our web-site.

Ephesians 1:5

“He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.”

God’s adoption of us, His plan of salvation had nothing to do with chance. It was not in any sense a “Plan B” or a backup in case things went wrong. God knew from before creation that Adam and Eve, and all humanity with them, would sin and need salvation.

Paul says that God “destined us” “according to the purpose of his will”. This was all planned and accounted for- sin, suffering, death, sacrifices, Temple, Jesus, redemption, eternity.

When people, cultures and demons fight against God, raging with all their puny power, God already has that in hand. He has foreseen it and factored it all into His plan.

God has destined us. We are like pots in the hands of a potter. He determines the use that He has for us. Some of us are destined to what the world deems to be success, whole others are destined to a success seen only in eternity.

He has destined us to be sons, or into sonship. This is God’s great plan- to raise a family of sons and daughters tied to Him through the new birth. When we are born again, it is to a spiritual life. We come alive in ours spirits, and the spirit of sonship is born in us. This is the Holy Spirit who enables us to call God “Abba Father.”

Sonship is about three things:

– Relationship. We are called (or destined) to live in humble relationship with the Father. God does not want mere servants or slaves who obey Him from duty or fear. He wants sons who love Him.

– Family. Those who are in God’s family, the elect, all have one Father. Therefore we are related to one another and must love and respect one another.. Those who fail to love the brethren show they are nor truly sons of God.

– Inheritance. To be a son means that we have an inheritance. In Romans 8:17, Paul says that we are heirs of the Father and co-heirs with Christ. Everything that is the Father’s He willingly gives with us, if not in this life then in the life to come.

This sonship is our destiny. We were made for this! This is not our achievement, but the gift of the Father to us in Christ.

This is something we must always bear in mind. Everything we have, every blessing that we enjoy, every privilege that comes from being in God’s family, comes only as a gift from the Father. It comes to us through the death and resurrection of the Son, Jesus Christ,

We don’t deserve this favour. We aren’t clever enough to work this out for ourselves. It is all gift, purchased for us through the sacrifice of Christ.

God is not a remote being, playing us like pawns on some cosmic chessboard. He loves us. When He acts in our lives, it is love that motivates Him.

He loves us with a passionate intensity that holds nothing back. He has given us His Son; will He not give us all things?

In that sense the earlier analogy of a potter moulding his pots is inadequate. Nobody loves a pot. A father loves his children and wants the best for them. The moulding of our lives is done in love for us so that in Christ we may reach our highest destiny.

He loved us when He planned us. He loved us when we were conceived and then born. He loves us as we mature and grow in sonship to Him.

He grieves over sin and its destruction of life and distraction from destiny. Sin smashes the relationship between son and Father. It damages the image of God in those whom it hurts. It ensnare us and keeps us from our true calling as sons and daughters of the King.

For this reason, God will destroy sin and judge all who refuse to repent. He will cast out those who refuse His invitation to Sonship. This is all in love (agape)- love for us and love for His creation.

God does nothing in the absence of love. God is love. Even judgement is done in love. Those who love sin more than they love God will be judged to be beyond God’s love and therefore beyond God’s kingdom.

God is making a family “according to the purpose of His will.” He wants a family of sons and daughters who recognise His love and respond to it, even in the context of a sinful and broken world which both reflect and hides His love.

The purpose of our life is to discover the love of God. Why am I here? To love God and to enjoy His fellowship.

His will is that we should love Him. To make sure that our love is genuine and not forced or coerced, He gave us the freedom to will and to do what we like. Human will is the precondition for human love. To love like God loves, we must have the capacity to not love. God’s love for us gives us the capability of rejection of His love, that is, sin.

The purpose of God’s will is to bring into being a family of sons and daughters who freely love Him in the same way that He has first loved us.

Key points from this verse:

  • God destined us to be His sons and daughters.
  • Sonship is about relationship, family and inheritance
  • sonship is destiny but not compulsory We can choose to reject His plan for us
  • it is all about God’s love

Ephesians 1:4

Here is my commentary on Ephesians 1:4. I am publishing these once or twice a week, but you can read all of the available articles at our web-site.

Ephesians 1:4

“… even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

This runs on from the previous sentence: God has blessed us with very spiritual blessing in heavenly places even as he chose us …”

Again there is this verbal linking of the blessings of heaven with the world. It is vital that we do not put too much emphasis in our thinking on the separation of earth from heaven. Both are a part of God’s good creation.

There is a tendency in some religious circles to follow the error of the Gnostics, a religious cult that goes back to the time of Jesus. The Gnostics were a broad group of people who basically believed that there is a huge gap between heaven and earth and people are kept in bondage on the earth until they have the knowledge (Greek, gnosis) to allow their spirits to conquer the flesh. In their thinking everything that belonged to the spiritual was good while everything related to physical things was evil.

God made the world and declared that it was good. God made people and declared them to be “very good.” It is sin that separate us from God and disfigures the creation.

So God chose us before the foundation of the world to be a part of the redeemed, liberated kingdom.

“God chose us.”

There is a paradox at work and we must tread carefully lest we fall into error.

What does this mean? In what way did God choose us before the foundation of the world? Why did He choose some but not others? What part does my choice play in this?

So many questions in three words!

Some people from the Reformed, Presbyterian or Calvinist churches say that God’s choice is absolute. They stress the sovereignty of God. They would say God chose us and He did not choose others. They argue that Jesus only died for those He had chosen to save. Some go as far as to say that he predestined some to salvation and others he predestined to hell – this is an extreme Calvinist view.

This does not do justice to our freedom to act as choosing people. God created us with a capacity for love and that must give us the ability to choose not to love.

Our salvation requires two choices- God’s choosing of me and my choosing to respond to His love.

John 3:16 reminds us that God so loved the world- all people. His choice, His desire is that all people should be saved. Not everyone chooses to accept salvation; they reject His choice of them.

God chose us, but not in an exclusive way that says He didn’t choose others.

God knew before He created the world- before the foundation of the world, before the first day of creation- He knew us already and He chose us for His own.

Everything that has happened in my life worked to bring me to the place where I said “Yes” to Him.

God chose us “in Him.” The “him” is Christ (otherwise it would be “in himself”). The NLT helpfully adds this.

We are chosen in Christ. It was the will of the Father and the Son that we are chosen to eternal life. There is a determination of purpose and identity in that phrase. I am “in Christ”. My destiny is assured from the beginning “in Christ.” My assurance is that God chose me in Christ.

Before He created the world, God chose us. His plan was always to have a kingdom of people who would freely choose to love and serve Him. The devil has tried to thwart this kingdom, but God’s purposes prevail. Even temptation and testing provide opportunities for God’s grace to bring us closer to Him and for His choice of us to be vindicated.

We were chosen, a part of God’s master plan, His redeeming work. People may ask “Why did God let this thing happen?”, but His answer is always “I chose you for my own. Even this thing is a part of my eternal purpose for you.”

Before the so-called “Big Bang”, God was at work in my past. Geologists think they are clever to think in millions of years, but with God it is eternity to eternity- eternity before time and eternity beyond time.

We are chosen to be holy and blameless before Him.

Holy- I am set apart for God’s purpose. Before the world began Jesus chose me to be holy. This purpose of being called to serve God is more than a life-long journey. It started in eternity past and will be completed in eternity future. I am called to be a saint. A servant of God and that calling is an eternal calling.

Blameless- (in Greek amomos). We were chosen in order to be blameless- without charge or stain. We don’t force ourselves to be holy and blameless in order to be chosen. God has chosen us in order to make us that way.

It is not that God has in Christ chosen just to forgive us. He is making us blameless. There is an investigation going on. Satan is a prosecutor digging up our past, trying to trap us into sinning more. A case will be presented but God has already determined that we will be blameless. The evidence against us will be destroyed or ruled as inadmissible and the charges will be withdrawn. No case to answer.

Why? We are “in Christ” and therefore all accusations and judgements against us are nullified by His blood.

We shall be (and already are) holy and blameless before Him.

We dwell in the presence of God the Father. We stand before Him already. Having received life in Christ, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and we are “before the Father.”

The judgement is already made in eternity that we are blameless. So we stand before God forgiven and restored. We are in the same existential state as Adam and Eve before they sinned.

Yes we will continue to sin, but we have been declared blameless. Yes we will fall short of the glory intended for us, but we continue to dwell in the presence of God Almighty.

So our life consists of becoming what God says we already are.- holy and blameless. We have been chosen to become the holy and blameless people He has called into existence.

Key points from this verse:

  • God chose me before time began
  • God chose me, but I also chose Him.
  • I have a destiny and a purpose- to become holy and blameless in the presence of God.

 Bill Tenny-Brittian: The Future Of Your Church

The Future Of Your ChurchBy |July 24th, 2019|0 Comments

Is the future of your sitting in your pews?

Maybe

… but probably not.

The future of your church isn’t the legacy generation. Your seniors, whether Boomers or Builders, have largely brought your church to where it is – for better or worse. But they won’t be around in a few years, most haven’t invited anyone to join them for worship in months or years. Your legacy generations are definitively not the future of your church.

And as hard as it is to swallow, the future of your church isn’t the youth. We know that at best 60 percent of them will leave the church forever at the first possible opportunity for the them to quit. And the 40 percent who remain involved in the church will almost certainly be involved in some other church in some other city. The youth may be the future of somebody’s church, but they’re not the future of your church.

The same goes for your children … children turn into youth who largely turn away from the church.

That pretty much leaves your young adults. It’s true that young adults are the hope and the future of the church. They’re the ones who buy houses and invest in the community, including their church. But are they the future of your church?

Not if they’ve been there for more than a year.

Young adults who’ve been members of your congregation for twelve months or more are unlikely to invite anyone into the congregation on a consistent basis (or even at all). Most of them have already invited “everyone” they know and they’ve lost their zeal for inviting. Which is to say, young adults may be the future of the church, but not if they’re your longer term members.

All that’s to say that the future of your church, should you plan on your church being around a decade or so from now, is in the hands of those who aren’t there yet …

What are you doing to connect future members to your church?

Reflection on Colossians 2:6-19

Scripture

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.

Observation

Just as we received Christ, we are to continue to live in Him, strengthened in faith as we walk with Him.

Avoid all hollow and deceptive philosophy based on worldly or human principles, rather than on Christ. We have been given all the fullness of Christ. We are united with Christ in His death and resurrection.

We were dead in our sins, but Christ made us alive in Him. He forgave our sins, cancelled the Law (crucified it, in fact!), and disarmed the powers and principalities.

So we need to beware of any attempt to take us back to the Law, or to the worship of angels, or other deceptions.

Application

People who claim to be more spiritual than they really are can lead us into all kinds of deception.

People who claim to have had angelic visitations, and talk about them all the time, can seem to be more spiritual than the rest of us., but they can lead us to a place where we worship the angels and other created beings, leading us away from Christ.

We can celebrate with those who have genuine experiences that are out of the ordinary. In fact we are supposed to be aware constantly of the spiritual realm.

Deception comes in when all we want is the angelic experience. When meeting with angels is more important to us than meeting with Christ, there is a problem.

Paul talks about human philosophy and the Jewish law as well as worshipping angels. All of these tings may be interesting, but our focus must always be on worshipping and living in Christ.

If I focus my eyes on Jesus, then I may have amazing experiences of the power of the Holy Spirit or of angels. But if I focus on the experiences, I may quickly lose sight of Jesus.

Prayer

Lord, may you always be right in front of me. Let nothing else take my focus away from you. Amen.

Reflection on Hosea 1:1-10

Scripture

“But I will show love to the people of Judah. I will free them from their enemies– not with weapons and armies nor horses and charioteers, but by my power as the Lord their God.”

Observation

The Lord tells Hosea to go and marry a prostitute. This will illustrate Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord.

His wife Gomer bears three children named Jezreel, Lo-ruhana (“Not loved”), and Lo-ammi (“Not my people”).

God will not show love to Israel, but He will favour Judah. Yet, the time will come when He unites the two nations under one leader.

Application

While preaching a mixed message to God’s people, Hosea does offer God’s blessing on the people of Judah. The Lord will free them from their enemies, but not by military might. Instead, He will set them free under His own mighty power.

The Lord does not require the weapons and methods of the world to achieve His purposes. He does use political and military methods at times, but He does not have to rely on them.

The important thing is that we look to the Lord to rescue us and not to human strength. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “the weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the flesh.”

When we face spiritual battles, impossible battles, it is the Lord we trust, not merely our own limited resources.

When we try to make things happen out of our own abilities, then disaster will follow. When we commit our ways to the Lord, and trust Him to bring the victory, then we will see miracles happen.

Prayer

Lord I thank you for your great love. I thank you that when you fight for me using your strength, then the victory will come. Amen.

Jacinta Price: Power, inclusion and exclusion; my concerns about a ‘Voice’

Is the so-called “Voice” to Parliament a way to real Aboriginal reconciliation or is it just another good but wasteful idea? Were the people who came up with the idea representative of the general Aboriginal community?

Jacinta Price writes:

Power, inclusion and exclusion; my concerns about a ‘Voice’

Jacinta Nampijinpa Price

20 JULY 2019 | NITV SBS ONLINE

The Uluru Statement of the Heart proposes a ‘Voice’ representing Indigenous Australians be enshrined within the constitution, to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be formally consulted on legislation and policy affecting their communities.

Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt has suggested such a ‘Voice’ could be legislated rather than embedded within our constitution.

However, before we debate how, and in what form a ‘Voice’ might be implemented, we need to discuss some important aspects.

The first matter of concern, who was representing me when the all big decisions were being made?

Going back to 2017 when the First Nations National Constitutional Convention was held at Uluru, the representatives in attendance were invited by nominees of the Referendum Council; and not elected by Indigenous people.

Much of the media attention has ignored the fact that there were and still are dissenting – and unheard – Indigenous voices throughout the entire process of the development of the Uluru Statement of the Heart.

Secondly, for far too long Aboriginal people have been portrayed as being one homogenous group of people who all think the same; and the Uluru Statement has now further entrenched this idea. The reality is, this could not be further from the truth.

We don’t have one voice and we never have. This has been a construct that undermines us.

The Palawa of Tasmania have real, genuine problems that need to be addressed. At the other end of the country, the Tiwi also have real, genuine problems that need to be addressed. And in the middle there are the Warlpiri, with their own set of real problems. And many other group with their own problems as well.

To try to put them all in the one basket and to treat them as if they are all the same is a grotesque denial of their rights to see themselves as different and distinct linguistic and cultural groups, with their own distinct histories of contact with Europeans and experience of colonisation.

We would not want to send Tiwi and Warlpiri to Tasmania to sort out their problems for them and we wouldn’t expect Palawa to come to the NT to sort out the problems of remote communities. Each of these groups are the only ones who can solve their own problems in their own unique way.

And what of our non-Indigenous loved ones and relatives. A clear majority of those who identify as Indigenous now have children with those who don’t. In the southern cities of Sydney and Melbourne, over 80% of Indigenous  people are coupled with non-Indigenous partners and have children. Roughly the same percentage of their children identify as Indigenous.

Do our non-Indigenous loved ones have no say in the future of their own children and grandchildren?

Thirdly, as Indigenous people, we all know that those with powerful positions within our communities tend to have most of the resources and most of the control. Those who have managed to take advantage of the plentiful resources available in the Aboriginal industry have done so without effecting much change for the most vulnerable.

Do we imagine that a ‘Voice’ will empower the marginalised or will it entrench those who already maintain control of the resources that flow into Aboriginal disadvantage? While there are many community controlled organisations working tirelessly to stem disadvantage, we are acutely aware of those embedded within some Aboriginal organisations and institutions, who are there for their own personal and financial gains.

Will yet another bureaucracy such as a legislated ‘Voice’ simply give more power to those who haven’t yet demonstrated that they can solve the critical issues our marginalised Australians are faced with?

Truth telling is as much a responsibility we should put upon ourselves as it is for our entire nation in understanding our combined history. The real question — which did not appear in the Uluru Statement — is ‘what are we going to do for ourselves?’

In practical terms, stripping back bureaucracy to support grassroots decision-making from community to community suggests real empowerment — as opposed to an umbrella ‘Voice’ that we will never truly gain consensus on, because we are not simply one people.

These issues require robust debate so as not to push this process along blindly, and then suffer the consequences later.

Stephen McAlpine: Why Secular Church Started So Well, but Finished So Poorly (and Quickly)

A church without God, seems kind of pointless to me. Some people tried it anyway. It turns out you have to have a reason to belong, something bigger than yourself– like Jesus. Vague belief in nothing much at all won’t keep people engaged.

Why Secular Church Started So Well, but Finished So Poorly (and Quickly)

JULY 22, 2019STEPHENMCALPINE

Screen Shot 2019-07-22 at 12.29.14 pm

We’ve all heard over the past few years of the move among Nones to start something like church, with all the bells and whistles, talks and coffee, singing and platforms.  Something like church but with one small variable – no Jesus.

They began to meet in buildings across all the funky cities in the world and things blossomed quickly.  They gathered to hear inspiring talks and sing anthems such as “Livin’ on a Prayer” (no, seriously!), and fill the void that church once filled before things got seriously secular.

Proof if you need it that it’s not really the case that they love Jesus but hate the church, it’s more the other way around!

We’ve all heard how that worked out too.   Things declined quite quickly, despite only being a seven year project so far.  It’s as if these secular churches compressed the life cycle of an entire church movement, birth through to death, in a petri-dish experiment, even at the time that the Nones are increasing in number.

And now there’s a great article exploring the psychology behind what went wrong in the latest copy of The Atlantic.  You can read the whole piece by Faith Hill here.

It’s interesting that of the groups to survive, it’s those that were built around ex-religious people who replaced love for Jesus and the church with distrust/dislike of Jesus and the church, that have survived.  In other words, communities need to have a centre, even if it’s a negative one.  As it turns out the desire for community itself is not strong enough to hold the community together.

Which kinda reminds us as Christians that community is not the goal of the gospel, but the fruit of the gospel. As Hill states in the article:

If the sudden emergence of secular communities speaks to a desire for human connection and a deeper sense of meaning, their subsequent decline shows the difficulty of making people feel part of something bigger than themselves. One thing has become clear: The yearning for belonging is not enough, in itself, to create a sense of home.

And it’s not that the non-religious are any lazier than the average church attendee.  They did their fair share of chair-stacking, event organisation, roster-writing, and goodness knows what else goes in to creating a weekly meeting for the (un)faithful.  But at the core, that’s not enough, as Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research at Pew Research Center, observed:

 On what basis would you pull them together? Being uninterested in something is about the least effective social glue, the dullest possible mobilizing cry, the weakest affinity principle, that one can imagine.

But here’s what’s really interesting, and it’s a reminder to us as pastors and church leaders lest we forget; the key to church appears to be that it offers something transcendent.

Anthropologist Richard Sosis, who studies the history of religious communes is quoted in the article as saying that without it, transcendence, there is little meaningful reason to meet:

… there has to be a sense of transcendence … Transcendence is what gives the community a higher level of meaning than going to Johnny’s Little League game.

Okay, okay, Johnny’s Little League game may occasionally be more exciting than church can be, no argument there, but what it offers is an immanence that ultimately dissipates the moment one leaves the playing field.  As Hill observes:

It might mean that ideals they already espouse—such as helping others, or finding wonder in nature—get elevated to a sacred level. The irony is that to get away from religion, they may need to re-create it.

But we knew that already, didn’t we? Those of us who have read Charles Taylor.  We knew that the secular frame needs to have a story bigger than itself in order to sustain itself.  And we knew from listening ad infinitum to that David Foster Wallace talk, that there is no such thing as an atheist and that we all worship.

And it takes a lot of hard work, money, time, effort and emotional smoke and mirrors to make the non-transcendent even look vaguely transcendent. It’s a task that would tax the Wizard of Oz.  And then once you turn your back the whole thing can easily collapse into immanence again.  I mean, whose got the time and energy for that?  Not the Nones, if the evidence of their numerical collapse in a few short years is any indication.

Of course there’s more than just transcendence.  Or to put it another way, transcendence needs to look like something if a community is going to survive the biggest threat to its existence- its members.

Think about it.  Who are the biggest threat to the existence of your church community?  The community members themselves.  And that’s what we have in common with all communities.  And that’s just in the central meeting!  We do gatherings with each other the rest of the week with all sorts of diverse people from church.  How do we stop that tearing itself apart?

It’s at this point, however, the church of Jesus Christ has a distinct advantage over Jesus-less ekklesia.  When communities fall into strive and unforgiveness, how is that resolved?  When Christ’s church is unforgiving we read the command “Forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  How do Christless churches leverage forgiveness.  Where, or Who, is their lodestar?

And love?  Today love is love is love is love ad infinitum!  But how does that stack up with “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave His Son as a propitiation for our sins.”

And never mind inside a church meeting, what about the rest of the week?  What would compel us to bear someone else’s burdens better than the reality that in so doing we “fulfil the law of Christ”?

And the list goes on.  It turns out that the centre of the community has to be strong enough to keep it together, and healthy enough to keep it a safe place to be.  Jesus ticks all those boxes in the most transcendent way possible.

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, our eschatology and hope draws us, keeps us gathering.  Hebrews is instructive here: “Do not neglect meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”   It’s not simply that we’re gathering around something that will transcend, it’s that we’re meeting in anticipation of something – of Someone – who will descend!  Our hope is not otherworldly transcendence, but a this-worldly descending by King Jesus.

Faith Hill writes in The Atlantic:

Some leaders of Sunday Assembly and Oasis told me they’re trying to make those weekly meetings so interesting, so entertaining, so powerful that people will keep showing up.

To which I might say “Ouch, that sounds scarily familiar.”  Perhaps it’s better to offer our people the one thing that differentiates us – the one Person who, as Ephesians tells us, contains all of God’s unsearchable riches – Jesus himself.  I don’t think we’re good enough to do interesting, entertaining and powerful in such a way to draw people and make them stick.

The mystery product of God made known!  I know that there are many times I don’t want to gather in community with God’s people because the event itself is not particularly interesting, certainly not entertaining and definitely feels on the weaker side of powerful.  But because Jesus is there it changes everything and that makes it worth showing up.

Maybe the Secular Church will rise again as the number of Nones increases further.  Maybe not.  But without Jesus at the centre, it will struggle to last another decade, never mind two millennia.