Friday, 14 April 2017
Monday, 5 October 2015
In the Christian world we place emphasis on the word "call" in terms of whether God has called us to do something or other, but ironically I've heard on numerous occasions those who would probably own up to little faith or none say "it's very clear that that was their calling." Stated of course with a lack of clarity as to who or what is precisely doing the calling, to what and to whom.
In The Christian world call is at the very heart of our faith. We believe God calls specific people to specific tasks. Let me just clarify how I re-wrote that sentence: I started by typing "....call used to be at the ..." and then decided to scratch that. Because in the days that we live in it doesn't always feel that way. It almost seems like "everyone did as he saw fit" (Judges 21 vs 25), and also as if in these days "the word of the Lord is rare, there were not many visions." (1 Samuel 3 vs 1). In actual fact, it seems that we live in days where there is at times a total relucatance by many to anything at all, let alone anything sacrifical , unless there is a spin off for the individual, a bonus or some kind of profit. Essentially, we live in days it seems where getting anybody to do anything that costs is darned right hard work. As someone once amusingly stated, it seems like the same players on the sports field are again and again asked to do the same tasks 24/7 and they are already exhausted. And of course, the days we live in display the vast quantity of the population to be simply too busy, too tired, overdrawn, too stressed, even though we seem to find hours and hours to surf the internet, play on our smartphones or watch TV. These, if they are true, are quite damming charges.
So where has call gone? Where has it vanished to? What are the ingredients of call?
It seems to me that our response to these questions can be varied, and it does depend on how we see God's guidance. Yet if we are to read the signs of the times, call seems to have largely vanished and the word of the Lord does seem to be for some, quite rare! Has call, or our sense of hearing call vanished? Let's jump straight back and say that on the basis of scripture and it's principles, and the still vast mission field, God cannot be silent, but still issuing calls to his people.
Take for example Isaiah 6 vs 1-10. A classic gobbet of scrpture on call. vs 8 and 9 are the call verses in a section that is built up to on the holiness of God. Maybe this is a theophany - probably. But what is clear is that there isn't much of a carry on! This is straight in with the question from God: "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And the reply is instant: "Here am I. send me!"
What fascinates me about this text is that the call is given, and there is a speedy response. What is unclear here is that we don't know whether the call is general - ie to anyone, or whether it is specific, ie to Isaiah. What we do know is that Isaiah is in a place of worship and prayer, which leads him to a place of vision from God. The descriptive language is detailed. But if we look closely at the question from God, the "Whom" it gives the strong sense that this call could be for anyone, and indeed they will take anyone who offers! So if that is the case, Isaiah speedily puts himself forward in obedience. We don't know if there are others around him in the same room, or even if there are whether they are experiencing the same vision. But Isaiah doesn't hesitate. There is a divine call and need and it must be responded to. Short of Isaiah's sinfulness, which has been dealt with in vs 6 and 7, there is nothing to stop him saying "here I am." And if we measure Isaiah's response to our modern day processes what we can say is that there is a divine need and Isaiah sees and hears the need and just responds. No checking of his work load, his diary, or family circumstances. Just a simple heart response.
We can potentially draw some conclusions from this: God shows a need, he requires someone to go to fulfill that need, he issues a summons to any who will hear his call. His people hear that call and respond in obedience. This we could conclude is call. As someone once said on this subject during my studies at Spurgeons, call is about "can I do a work here". In other words, this is less about flashing lights and more about the simple response of our hearts to always be ready and obedient to go!
Another example is found in Acts 16. The scripture is far more specific here and the work of the Holy Spirit quite distinct, as of course you would expect in the book of Acts. Paul and the vision from the man of Macedonia is a well known section. It is notable because vs 6 starts with the immediate sense of the Spirit keeping them from preaching in Asia. How this was made clear, we are not told. Verse 7 reveals more, stating that they tried to enter Bithynia, but "the Spirit of Jesus would not allow." Again, how, we are not told. Then we move to the vision (again) and during the night Paul is given the vision of a man from Macedonia begging him to cover and help them." We don't know whether Paul had options here, in other words whether he could have said "no". But what are shown is Paul's rapid preparation and re-deployment, and the vs 10b makes clear Paul's thinking "concluding that God had called us to to preach the Gospel to them."
We are only told the key points in this account, and not told "the what-ifs". Yet we can observe what seems to be the Spirit bringing about circumstances to provide call to Paul. Paul is not detached from this. He is not an individual who is invited to stop thinking. Actually, quite the opposite, he does use his brain. But what he sees yet again is his immediate response to need, and this is obedience to go!
Again, if we were to draw some principles from this, we could say that Paul the great teacher and church planter is open to God's leading. It's clear that "Paul had his plans", but the Spirit led otherwise. What is clear is that Paul changed his plans to comply with the Spirit's call, and was obedient. In Paul's case the call was quite specific - to preach the Gospel and plant churches.
Can it be then that we have either removed call from our spirituality today? Are we more concerned with what we want to do? We will go wherever we please, do whatever we want, but not listen well to the Spirit, let alone respond in simple obedience?
So often in church life need is made abundantly clear, but few respond. Good reasons are given, but when we compare our responses to the above biblical ones, it seems somewhat that the drivers of "me-church" and our own consumer needs are what takes priority to the Spirit's call.
Or perhaps we have become too entrenched in simply forgetting the old biblical principles, and now we simply choose using modern secular methods of choice and guidance. Where in these scoring methods does the voice of God get listened to?
For Isaiah, there was simply a need, and this was responded to.
For Paul, the Spirit distinctly guided.
In both cases the priority was God, and his Kingdom needs, not our own comforts.
Thursday, 17 September 2015
But more centrally I want to ask in this blog a number of key questions which I think need answering:
1. What comes first for you, your Christian faith or your politics? I think this is a really important question. Some would immediately jump up and say neither, they are entirely meshed. After all, the sermon on the mount etc etc and all that gives me a mandate to engage politically as a Christian. My political views are an outoworking of my Christian faith. And yes, I get that completely. I would say the same.
But be careful. The latter must never come before the former! The New Testament makes it clear that only full and undivided whole hearted committment to Jesus Christ is acceptable, and nothing must get in the way of our walk as a disciple. Yes, even politics. Then we must also take into consideration the classic 1 Corinthians 8 text, often known as "The weaker brother" text. The key verse is 1 Corinthians 9 vs 9 "Be careful, however that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." This is a key text that it is often forgotten in our 2015 world. The exogesis is very straightforward! If what you are doing, even though the scriptures do not command against, is causing your brother or sister in the Christian faith to be held back, fall away or pushed away or weakened in the faith, because they are not as mature as you, then you must stop what you are doing for their sake and the sake of the Gospel and the Kingdom. Fairly black and white, unarguable text! Applied to our political views and what we post, then we should all be careful about what we put up! But someone will say "I'm just trying to make people think!" Yes, I get that too, but again the scripture is clear - our freedom should not be abused, lest it become a stumbling block. And primarily do we present Christ, or do we present our politics? 2 Corinthians 2 vs 16 is also worth pondering in this context: "to the one we are the smell of death, to the other the fragrance of life." What precisely are we presenting as an aroma as we make our posts? It's a very fine line, and Paul says therefore be very careful! Paul in the weaker brother scripture of 1 Corinthians 8 vs 12, says that when we sin against our brother by abusing our freedoms, then we sin against Christ.
2. Let's be clear, there is no one political party for Christians! Oliver Cromwell tried this in his puritan wisdom (or lack?) and the whole thing major backfired. His attempt as Lord Protector to cancel Christmas and to essentially attempt to recreate the Kingdom of God in the kingdom of England went big time wrong. In that sense Cromwell failed to factor in the freedom of conscience of all, most especially those who disagreed with him, let alone those who did not believe the same thing as he or the Puritans. But why be reminded of this piece of English history? Simply this - Christians of sincere and true faith exist in all different political parties, and exist on either side of the debating chamber, whether it be Westminster, or your local county or town council. We may scratch our head and attempt to make judgement on them (which would be wrong), but they have sincerely before God made their choice, and read the same scriptures and worship the same God. Yes, by all means make clear your own political views, but be careful not to judge another believer in this respect. And cromwellism is still seen in our churches today as if there is a preset Christian political view that must be adhered to or if you don't accept the same, then you are amongst the reprobate or deemed a false prophet. Again, be very careful! Freedom of conscience must be given to interpret differently and hold different views, and still be a committed Christian, and yes a brother or sister in Christ. I ask the question again - what is primary? Our Christian faith or our political views? Scripture I believe would support the former not the latter.
3. There's nothing wrong with thinking outside the box, and being made to think about difficult issues. As I've said to our kids time and time again as they have engaged at secondary school level with their essays - "Remember, there are no black and white issues, even as a Christian!" I simply want us to avoid the trap that there is a single right view for the Christian to have and hold on every single tricky ethical issue that there is. Oh I know we like to think as Evangelicals that there are set views, and we even reach for our traditional text books on the shelves to read what it says and then in the worse case repeat them back. But thats the stuff of cults which generally say "this is what we believe in this group, and therefore this is what you are to believe as a follower!" And basically if you don't believe their teaching then you are cast out. Christianity has never been so badly misrepresented if such views are held. No, God has given us a brain and freedom to think, and we should carefully study and read, ponder and reflect and then listen to others, before reaching a conclusion of our own. And even then, remain open to change your views as time goes on. Nothing is ever black and white!
So we should be careful how we express our views, careful what we put first as primary! Faith or politics? Careful what we post, and careful not to judge! And deep, studious and open to the views of others, as we ponder our ethical and political view points!
Saturday, 25 July 2015
Saturday, 6 June 2015
But it got me thinking the other day about the short sentence in Ephesians 4 v16, in the Bible: "as each part does it's work." The chapter has been about encouraging spiritual gifts in the church family and showing that different people have different gifts, and the thrust of the message from St Paul is to paint the image of the local church family as a body, wherein each part of the body is dependent upon the other. A veritable "gear box" indeed!
So it is necessary for the gearbox of cogs to be functioning, and essentially working well, together! There is a noticeable reliance upon each of the other cogs to function and work as designed. When an engineer builds a gearbox, the intention is to then to hold it all in place within a housing, just so the springs and nuts don't escape. There is no space for independence or prima donna cogs. The gears have to work, and they have to work together. And the truth is that if one part of the working mechanism breaks down, chooses to not function or break, then the mechanism is in real trouble.
So too the church of God's people. In this seemingly volunteer environment, this is a big ask and a huge expectation. It seems no one can be contained by a housing? Truth is if important components don't function properly or break, and in our "oh so polite" world of church we so easily say "that's fine, don't worry", but the effort required soon falls on others if one or some choose to not fulfil their tasks. And soon, other cogs are overloaded and will more easily ware out. Each part does need to do it's work. If it doesn't, then we are soon in trouble. Nothing causes more frustration and upset when a cog doesn't work!
Its worth thinking about.