The Cross of Christ has been made many things, but ultimately it is only one thing.
To most, it is a finely crafted adornment on a chain, to be hung around our necks; it is romanticised.
It has become a symbol of Christianity and its founder – Jesus Christ.
It is found on flags – many European countries have it embedded on their national flags.
And it is now illegal to wear in places of employment in France, due to its aggressively secularized vision of the state.
The Cross is many things.
But what it actually is, is something quite different.
The cross was a brutal form of torture and subjugation employed by Rome to let its vassals know who was in charge.
Thousands of Jews were crucified by zealous Rome policy. Pax Romana was all very well if you towed the line, otherwise peace was the last thing you could expect. It was ignominious to be crucified. You were considered criminal, and publicly shamed as naked you hung, probably already viciously beaten, until you drowned in the fluid collecting in your lungs. Nothing romantic, nothing merciful, nothing but extreme pain and degradation. This was how Jesus died – just another poor wretch that crossed Rome’s power – so it seemed.
The cross was a great defeat, it appeared.
The most wonderful person to grace this earth was dispatched by the powers, without much more than a thought. And yet, what is weakness and shame to man was the display of God’s power and wisdom. In the cross, in the pain and shame, was the defeat of the dark powers that subjugate humankind – it was the crucifixion of sin and death. In the cross is a wisdom that beggars the greatest of philosophers.
This victory of God is not a once off historical act; it is re-enacted and embodied (incarnated, if you like) every time love is optioned, every time forgiveness is extended, every time God’s people don’t revel in and rely on man’s power to resolve matters.
Our celebration of military power is siding alongside the same sort of power/s that killed the prince of life.
The cross is not just something that happened, in the sense we look back on it – it is the pattern of the way of the Messiah. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was largely about their worldly perceptions of wisdom, patronage and privilege. He was at pains to show in his own life the cruciform lifestyle of a genuine apostle. He preached Christ crucified – he lived Christ crucified. He took the form of a servant. The cross was his impetus, his vision, his grid, his burden.
The cross subverts everything common to and preferred by humans. Like the apostle Peter, who died upside down, we are to live upside down – in leadership, in life, in teaching and in example. What was despised by man is hailed by heaven.
The cross is life, power and wisdom to us, death, weakness and folly to others.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
People are facing off about masks. Every man and his dog (I saw a dog sporting a mask recently) has an opinion. To wear or not to wear, that is the question? Naturally, every opinion is scientifically validated, they all insist on contradiction to one another.
In the community of faith, this divergence of opinion loses no energy – it may actually gain energy because of our beliefs about freedom, and freedom, rightly, means a lot to us.
Anecdotal evidence to hand is that some people won’t go back to physical church gatherings because people aren’t wearing masks, and equally other people refuse to re-engage with their church community because some people are wearing masks. Churches are splitting over this; it has all the hallmarks of Corinthian divisiveness.
Those that do mask up are likely to be considered the weak, the fearful, maybe the unwitting victims of so-called political oppressiveness. Those that don’t mask up see themselves as bastions of freedom, refusing to be the pawns of so-called scientific dogma, and Government legislation. They are the unafraid, or maybe the just plain careless.
Two thoughts for us to consider:
Firstly, we may find ourselves redefining freedom – which was paradoxically always about freedom from something to be being the slave of another thing, in our case, the servants of Christ.
Freedom isn’t a political agenda in the writings of Paul. Rather, it is the freedom to love and serve, and not having to exercise your freedoms. In the inimitable words of Bob Dylan – “you gotta serve someone.” A truly free person isn’t a captive of their freedom. They are, rather, a captive of love, which makes them a slave.
If freedom is to be defined by not wearing a mask, we have likely, even if inadvertently, judged the person who does wear one. We see them as weak, fearful, and no way are we going to succumb to that old devil. No way, we are making a stand!
Secondly, making a stand is about as far away as you can get from the apostle Paul’s teaching and lifestyle.
His glory was never in his freedoms, but in his imitation of the crucified Christ – who is our example (crucifixion) and not just our benefactor (resurrection). He went to great lengths when writing to the church in Rome to help untangle the issue of the weak and the strong. The weak were fearful, no question, the weak didn’t see the cosmic implications of Christ’s Lordship, no doubt, but the weak were as loved, accepted and celebrated by God the Father as the strong, and it wasn’t demanded of the weak that they change the condition of their, in most cases, cultural heritage. The Lord was their defender. The strong were the ones who had to change. This wasn’t by denying them the truth of their liberty. Not for a minute, and there were occasions when Paul refused to be hindered by the censorial attitude of others trying to rob him of his freedoms.
But Paul’s goal was to conform to the image of Christ crucified, and in so doing he would become all things to all people – to win as many as possible, Christian, Jew and Gentile. Paul became as the weak to win the weak. Gordon Fee has this to say, “The apostle’s actions, which appear (to some) to be inconsistent, have integrity at a much higher level. Whereas he is intransigent on matters that affect the gospel itself, whether theological or behavioural, that same concern for the saving power of the gospel is what causes him to become all things to all people in matters that don’t count.” Masks don’t count.
Which is all a long way of saying that Paul would wear a mask – and – Paul would not wear a mask.
He would be guided according to the need, the conscience, of the community he was with, not his freedom. The mask is nothing – people are everything. If not wearing a mask defines your freedom (your freedom thereby being supposedly supressed) – you guessed it, you are not free.
I hate wearing the flipping things. My glasses constantly fog up. So what? My concern for others is more important than the proclamation of my freedom (if you could call this an expression of freedom) and certainly more important than any temporary nuisance.
Love dictates our actions, not the establishments of our rights, be they personal or political – a sadly forgotten kindness/ethic in our rights-obsessed culture.
Mask up, you’ve been unmasked Lone Ranger.
 Slow Train Coming: Bob Dylan. 1979, Colombia Records.
 Gordon Fee. NICNT, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Eerdmans, Rev Ed. 2014.
I love the church.
It has played many crucial roles in my life; loving me, baptising me, supporting me, challenging me, discipling me, investing in me, and taking chances on me. And it has been doing these things for literally as long as I can remember.
I love the church.
The church is extremely important to God. Therefore it should be extremely important to us. The way we interact with and within the church is also extremely important to God.
Let’s be honest here, the church isn’t perfect and there is no such thing as the perfect church.
There won’t be a perfect church until Christ returns and makes her perfect. However, that’s no reason for us to slack or disengage. It is of paramount importance for us to spend each day we have here on earth building God’s church, His bride, into the best she can be.
I want the church to be in the best shape it can be when I pass it on to future generations. I want my children to have the same love and testimony of the church as I do.
How can we live in such a way to help this become reality?
Let’s dive into the beginning verses of Romans 12 to see.
Romans 12:1 ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.’
Paul spent the first 11 chapters in Romans teaching the church the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here in Chapter 12, Paul is changing from theology to instruction.
He is building on from what is true about God and Christ and our salvation, to how we should then respond and live in light of these great truths.
Weighing up everything that he has said in his letter so far, Paul instructs us to live ‘in view of God’s mercy…’ To live always aware of the mighty mercy that has been shown to us. To keep it front and centre in our minds.
In other words, the Christian life is built on the solid rock of the mercy of God.
But what does that mean practically speaking? How should our lives reflect us living in view of God’s mercy?
Let’s use the following verses to find out.
1. Live selflessly and sacrificially.
Verse 1 tells us, ‘To offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.’
Simply put we are to live selflessly and sacrificially in order to worship God.
Easy to say, hard to do.
2. Live according to God’s will for our life.
Verse 2 exhorts us, ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’
Simply put we are to live according to God’s will for our life, not according to our own.
Easy to say, hard to do.
3. Live humbly.
Verse 3 says, ‘For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought..’
Simply put we are to live humbly, putting others’ needs above our own.
Easy to say, hard to do.
4. Live well in community.
Verse 5 teaches us, ‘so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.’
Simply put we are to live well in community, belonging to each other.
Easy to say, hard to do.
5. Use our gift and talents to the best of our ability.
Verse 6 encourages us, ‘We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith…’
Simply put, we are to each use our gift and talents to the best of our ability to benefit others.
Easy to say, hard to do.
As I contemplate this important teaching, I am challenged by the magnitude of what is asked of us, but thankfully, I am reminded that it’s all done ‘in Christ’.
It’s in and through His great mercy.
I lean on Him.
I find strength in Him.
I commit to living in view of God’s great mercy; selflessly and sacrificially, according to God’s will for my life, humbly, living well in community, and using my gifts and talents to the best of my ability.
I love the church.
A little over 18 years ago, just 6 months married and working full-time as an emergency nurse, my husband and I found ourselves leading a church. No one was more surprised than us.
We discovered the only way would actually survive this journey was within community. The C3 tribe quickly became our family, which we now love and are dedicated to.
From the moment we were welcomed at our first pastors gathering by Ps John & Danielle Pearce (from whom we had just claimed the title of “youngest pastors in the movement”), to having Greg French help demolish our kitchen on a visiting ministry weekend, we soon realised that ministry was a “whole of life” experience!
We have learned so much, but there is, however, one piece of advice that to this day resonates. It’s advice that I embrace and resist with equal fervor. It challenges me, empowers me and, perhaps a little surprisingly, has come from the guy with whom I have walked hand-in-hand in ministry for almost two decades. It’s advice we have shared with many a wide-eyed, fresh-faced leader and is often met with reactions of surprise, uncertainty, disagreement, and even sheer relief.
“Ministry will take everything you give it, so don’t give it everything.” My husband, Nick Hind.
Ok, before you get your hackles up, let me clarify:
In Acts 6 the disciples are counseled to spend time on the right things. The believers found themselves at a stage of rapid growth and growing complexity. The needs seemed endless and they were learning the lesson that every Pastor will face: there is and always will be something else to do – something urgent, something unavoidable.
We would be foolish to think that success in ministry is defined by the hours we give it.
And yet we can easily live as if just a little bit more time or effort will make all the difference. The challenge is that, as Ps John Pearce says, “there’s always something”!
So if there is always something, then perhaps too, like the disciples, we need to take the time to allow God to be the focus, allow Him to guide us in how we spend each of these precious moments we are given by Him.
There will always be more needed – the demand is endless – so we need to be wise about what we give out, and how we manage ourselves through the many seasons ahead of us.
Here in Canberra, Australia, I see the changing of seasons. Summer has lost its power over the cool dew mornings, the Autumn colors are thinly spread amongst the trees, Winter’s barrenness and dormancy will soon unfold as we allow creation to rest around us.
Each season has a purpose: to rest or to grow; to lay dormant or to produce. Every season shapes the way we live, the way we move through our days. Seasons of full-time work, bi-vocational work, having young children, older children, empty nesting…
Seasons are the way God has designed life.
Taking a moment to reflect on the season that has been, to prepare and embrace the season ahead, will keep us in step with God’s purpose and plan. A regular habit of reflection empowers us to continue to grow. It allows us a moment to reassess, prepare. It allows us to navigate the wrestle we find in the statement, “ministry will take everything you give it, so don’t give it everything.”
By a case for gravity, I don’t mean, what goes up must come down.
What I refer to is a case for dignity, for solemnity, because it appears that we have all but lost the capacity, or even the desire, to present with some sense of gravity – in our words, and our lives.
I apply this to us, to God’s people, because who am I, who are we, to judge the world.
The clamor to be heard, to express an opinion, overwhelms any sense of restraint and sobriety in much communication these days.
Yet, the greatest of people say less, not more.
That is a hallmark of their greatness; less is more and more is less (more or less).
The prophet, Isaiah, speaking of the servant of the Lord when he was being oppressed and afflicted, said “so he opened not his mouth.” He said it twice in the space of one verse. He talked less; we talk too much. Isaiah also stated that the servant of the Lord, would not “cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the streets.” The picture he paints in these verses is of someone who by extreme patience will bring forth justice. It isn’t saying he won’t speak, but that he wouldn’t push himself forward to be heard.
He (Jesus is the Servant) respected Synagogue protocol as to when he could speak. He didn’t walk in and demand his messianic right to minister. On the contrary, he told his disciples to walk away if their voice wasn’t heeded, which thing Paul did, ultimately. The gentle persistence of Jesus accomplished the will and purpose of his Father. He never craved the publicity of the miracles he accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, I digress.
A case for gravity can and should be made for those that lead God’s people, his church. We should be, need to be, described with words such as restraint, simplicity, dignity, and sober-mindedness. These words are easily, but wrongly, interpreted to mean, boring, and out of touch. But if they are (which they aren’t) then so be it because it is precisely these qualities that Paul sets out for anyone in leadership. They are the job description of the necessary qualities of God’s servants.
The list of attributes Timothy is to employ placing leaders over God’s church has nothing in it that speaks of gifts or charisma. It is entirely character-based. Nearly every word in these instructions portrays a dignified, well thought of, and self-disciplined person.
- Sober-minded – not given to the fanciful. Reflective, not reactionary, neither thinking too much nor too little of oneself.
- Self-controlled – control of appetites, needs, and wants. Calm under pressure; slow to react.
- Respectable – showing grace towards and respect of others, having earned standing in the community, not given to extremes, nor consumptive of commodities.
- Hospitable – a house open to others, one who welcomes, not exclusive but inclusive, the table is for all.
- Not a drunkard – not given to dissipation, able to enjoy what is legitimate but not captured by it; this is pleasure with restraint.
- Not violent (but gentle) – able to resolve conflict without fists, not a physical bully, someone able to maintain peace under duress.
- Not quarrelsome – no need to win arguments, especially to prove intellectual or academic superiority or make a point, a kind person, silent around fools and the contrary.
- Not a lover of money (which is idolatry) – able to be the same person with or without whether in lack or in abundance, not deceitful, or a scammer/schemer. Money is a gift to this person, not a possession.
What sort of person is this?
It is a person who displays gravitas – maturity, and bearing.
Regal bearing need not be the domain of the aristocracy. A person who expresses grace and kindness has gravitas, regardless of their social status. Another word for this is dignity. A dignified person is one who knows have to handle themselves in any setting – when to talk, when to be silent, when to come, when to go.
It is a person who shows restraint.
They aren’t just restrained in being able to control their feelings so as not to spill invective on others, or lash out, but someone who doesn’t live over the top, who isn’t a walking advertisement for conspicuous consumption, who is careful not to belittle others with what they have and what others don’t.
Paul wrote to this last point in his letter to the Corinthians, where the poor and rich (both in God’s church) were advised how to do community together in such a way that the poor of God’s people got to eat at the same table in the house church/es as the rich. The rich ate before the poor thus belittling them with the plenty they exclusively enjoyed, while the poor starved. Paul said it was for this reason people were weak and ill, some having died.
Another word for restraint is simplicity. How much do you need at any one time? There is a place for God’s people in the West to examine our lives – how we live, how much we spend on the frivolous, the unnecessary. Our consumeristic clutter is not to our advantage; it makes us no happier.
A leader should live with restraint dictating parameters to decisions and lifestyles.
The New Testament gives good grounds for gravity in living – in appearance, speech, behavior, and lifestyle. In fact, it is required of the leaders of God’s church.
This is my case for gravity.
 I Corinthians 5:12-13.
 Isaiah 53:7.
 Isaiah 42:1-4.
 Acts 28:26-31.
 I Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9.
 We can rightly assume that gifts mattered, but character leads to competency.
 People disqualify themselves from leadership in God’s church who don’t open their arms and homes, as a lot of discipleship is done around the table.
 Paul’s claim to be able to do all things through Christ is premised on/contextualized by him being able to be in abundance or lack. Either way didn’t change him. This takes strength.
 Dignity can at times be seen in deportment and appearance: not drawing attention yet well-groomed, fitting in yet not standing out – in a self-seeking manner.
Without prayer the New Testament doesn’t work.
You cannot come to Christ except through prayer.
Draw near to Him in prayer. When you are soft, when you are hard. When you are sinful, when you are holy. When you are full of doubt and when you are full of faith. When you have failed and when you have succeeded.
In His Presence you’ll find all you need.
This is where we learn to lead.
In prayer we learn to preach.
In prayer we get wisdom and strategy from Heaven.
In prayer our attitude is made right.
God gives us strength in prayer.
There is no relationship with God, except through prayer.
Prayer is not saying some words to God.
It is crying out to Him from our spirit.
We cannot express faith without prayer.
We hear His voice in prayer.
We find Him when we seek Him.
The only place where we cast our burdens on the Lord is in prayer.
Is any among you suffering? Let him pray!
Not seek out the pastors.
Not get some counselling.
Not take some medication.
Not ask others to pray.
Let him pray.
The point of pain is to get us to pray.
Pain makes us focus on what really matters.
‘How long will you be stricken?’ How long is it going to take, and how much pain will it take before you will turn to Him in prayer?
It is in prayer we repent.
It is in prayer we find faith.
It is in prayer we wait on the Lord and rise up with wings like eagles.
It is in prayer we equal our output with our input.
What is a wilderness season?
There is no such thing to the praying person. There is always fat in the bones, waters in the desert, food on the table for the praying soul, because God means more to that person than what He can do for them.
It is in prayer that we thank God.
It is in prayer that we worship and praise Him.
Paul tells us to pray all the time, never ceasing.
It is not an occasional exercise.
It is a continual state, and this state begins at the beginning of every day.
If we do not set aside time for prayer every day, we will lose our relationship with God.
Many Christians have started, but not finished their race.
They failed to develop a prayer life.
Praying men don’t sin. Sinning men don’t pray.
If we do sin, prayer is where we find our way back.
Prayer is your spirit breathing.
Prayer is the church breathing.
If we don’t eat food we can last maybe 6 weeks.
If we don’t drink fluids, maybe 3-4 days.
However, without breath, we die within minutes.
Our prayer life should be as continual as our breathing life.
Whatever shuts down our prayer life needs to be shut down.
The greatest entertainment is the presence of God.
If we are seeking the pleasures of this world we will forsake the ‘fountain of living waters’.
We spend so much money on that which is not bread. It has no spiritual nutrition, no resurrection life, no communion with eternity. We spend money for counsel, for wisdom, for advice, for entertainment, yet it ‘does not satisfy’.
‘Come, buy wine and milk without price’, for no money at all.
Prayer is completely free.
Drinking from the river of God is completely free.
We ignore it to our peril.
Prayer is the secret to effective ministry.
Without it, no life inhabits our abilities.
We may have gifts, talents, personality, charm, yet without the Spirit of God, we are mere flesh creating things that are temporal.
We create eternal things from eternal life.
We find eternal life in prayer.
In prayer we grow strong.
We are Samson without hair when we are without prayer.
We are grinding in the basement, without vision, no eyes to see, not only grinding corn but also grinding our teeth with regret, remorse, and revenge.
If we allow prayer to grow again like Samson’s hair, we will regain our strength and hear again from God, emerge from the basement and bring destruction to the enemy.
Prayer is an everyday habit, without which we will die.
It is in prayer we gather up our manna for the day.
If we don’t we are living on yesterday’s manna.
Ministries that rise on talent will fall and die if they are prayerless.
The chiefest of delights is to draw near to God.
The only place to do this is in prayer.
Prayer is key to New Creation living.
It’s here we cry Abba Father.
It’s here we are filled with the Holy Spirit in an upper Room.
It is here the church is birthed on the river bank.
It is here Paul receives back his sight.
It is here Peter sees the vision of the Gentiles entering the Church.
It is in prayer that prison doors are broken open and prisoners are set free.
It is here we are told by James that the sick are healed and the dead are raised.
Pray at the start of anything.
Pray through everything.
Pray at the end of things.
The secret of all things.
Pray. Pray. Pray.
One of the greatest privileges is to be called to plant a church or lead a church, it is a joy and great adventure! To be shepherds of God’s people is a great responsibility. Our foundation is to lead “after God’s own heart”.
“Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart who will lead you with knowledge and understanding”. Jeremiah 3:15
Our emotional health will however play a large part in how we lead. Emotional health can be seen by others. It becomes visible when we are under pressure, in a crisis or making difficult decisions. Our emotional health ultimately affects others and those we lead. Therefore, we need to continually tend to our inner life, our emotional health.
Paul told his leaders to: “keep watch over yourselves and all of the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Acts 20:28
3 Keys to Maintaining Emotional Health
1. Pursue the Fruits of the Spirit
The daily pursuit of the fruit of the Spirit helps us to keep watch over ourselves. The gifts of the Spirit are freely given to us by God, we are to be stewards of our gifts, but the fruit of the Spirit is produced in us as we “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). Gifts are given, fruit is produced. Pursue all of the fruit! Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Couple them together, as an example, self-control without kindness is simply restraint. When we keep in step with the Spirit, we develop the ability to build others up and become careful not to move beyond our authority over others. Paul’s apostolic authority was constructive, not destructive.
“The authority the Lord gave me for building you up not tearing you down”. 2 Corinthians 3:10
An emotionally healthy leader builds others up.
2. Guard your Thoughts
Guarding your thoughts! Our thought life plays a huge part in our emotional health, as very often our thoughts precede our emotions. When we are dependant on the Holy Spirit we can learn to “hear” our thoughts. Hope has a sound in your mind and in turn lifts your heart, fills you with strength. Hopelessness equally has a sound and takes us to despair. Thanksgiving has a sound, self-pity has a sound. When we learn to “hear” our thoughts and move towards the ways of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed by the renewal of our mind.
“Lord help me to gird up the loins of my mind and may I press forward towards the mark for the prize of my high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Charles Spurgeon
3. Restore your Soul
Learn well the way of restoring your soul. We are all unique and we need to rest to lead effectively. Learning to rest will help you become a leader of longevity. Remembering also that Jesus gives us rest for our soul and prayer is our ultimate life source.
“Whatever is your best time in the day, give that to communion with God.” Hudson Taylor
Prayer is a relationship. We need to pray for our churches, but we also need to leave room in our prayer for our relationship with the Lord. Just you and Him!
You will always be busy in ministry; Jesus’ disciples were so busy that they didn’t even have time to eat (Mark 6:31a). But Jesus said to them,
“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31b
Jesus gives you permission to leave the crowds and be with him, to restore your soul. He has indeed begun a good work in you. Go well!
A theme consistent with, and constantly repeated by, scripture is the goodness and majesty of God’s creation, attested so beautifully in Psalm 19.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
This Psalm has been divided into three segments that follow on one from the other: verses 1-6, 7-11, and 12-14.
Psalm 19:1-6 speaks as though creation itself talks – which it does. It tells us, loud and clear that the heavens, and the sky above, declare and proclaim God’s glory and handiwork. Who could doubt this looking at the night sky, especially when unimpeded by the ambient light of cities? The heavens are spectacularly glorious, strewn with glory like diamonds scattered on midnight blue. The colours of the nebulae and the galaxies pale the finest of the Great Masters palettes. A Real Master has been at work here.
Creation speaks to us; it is telling us of God’s majesty, His goodness, and power – exemplified in the sun, which is portrayed as a strong man running his course with joy. What a magnificent and vibrant description.
Psalm 19:7-11 develops this theme of Creation talk stating that, even though God is apprehended in creation, he is known more clearly and perfectly as he speaks and reveals himself in scripture. In other words, creation is good, but his law is perfect. God speaks of himself in what we see, but God speaks transformatively to us in what we hear. Creation doesn’t redeem us; his word, his law does.
The Psalmist sees delight and joy in his Law; as these verses list the many wonderful ways that God’s word speaks to us: it revives, it makes wise, rejoices the heart, and it enlightens. This is because his law is: perfect, sure, pure, true, righteous, more valuable than gold, sweeter than honey, a warning, and a reason for reward.
Creation speaks in declarative terms (V1-6), the Law of Lord is perfect and transformative (V7-11), and now the final part of the Psalm speaks to the inner person, the hidden person, the compromised person. These verses invite the Lord to look inside of us, into the ruin of the human condition, asking him to moderate and tell us what we don’t and can’t know of ourselves, because of the deceptiveness of the human heart. The Psalmist’s prayer is that the Lord would keep him, and by inference us, from errors, hidden faults and presumptuous sins. It is these that obfuscate the pictures of creation and law.
We may know of God in his creation, and experience him in his word, yet we don’t truly know ourselves. Only God does. It isn’t just a Creator we need to know and appreciate, it is a Redeemer, the Lord, we must experience – my rock and my redeemer. Only he can keep us from the folly and danger we pose to ourselves.
Psalm 19 directs us to contemplate God’s majesty in creation and see him in the perfection of his law. But it also reminds us of the all too human creatures we are, and our need for a redeemer, one who knows, one who sees and saves.
We can look upon the heavens in awe, agree with the wonder of his Law, and yet hardly know ourselves. To this end, David’s heartfelt prayer in the last stanza of this Psalm is that we would be kept from the danger we are to ourselves, from faults and sins that have dominion over us.
His prayer is that our words would be acceptable, as the words of God are – the words of creation and the words of the law of God.
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There is no doubt 2020 was a defining year for the church globally, shaping and shaking our very understanding of what the church is and how we continue to plant, grow and multiply in the midst of a global pandemic. Over the past couple of decades technology has been a huge part of innovative and emerging church models and strategies, but to be fair, the church historically has been quite a slow adopter when it comes to embracing new practices and methods.
For better or worse, 2020 has fast-tracked the adoption process and forced churches (some kicking and screaming) into the digital era. But with this quick pivot, has come some structural and strategic whiplash that is now in need of a framework to help us move into the future with clarity and strength.
It’s important for us to acknowledge that the world is still in a highly volatile social climate with constantly changing government restrictions, health alerts, travel bans, lockdowns, hot spots, and more – because of this, churches are all in different phases of change, some are still operating solely online, some are gathering with restrictions, some have hybrid models, the list goes on. On top of this, even within our own movement, exists a broad spectrum of churches: mono and multi-site, attractional and missional, urban and rural.
The truth is churches all around the world have implemented brilliant and creative ways to cultivate and sustain healthy community in the digital space. What I don’t want to do here is be too specific or prescriptive in the way it should outwork in your context.
What I’d rather attempt to do is provide some guiding principles and a digital framework that will allow you to interpret and navigate the best strategic direction for you.
Before I dive into the principles, I’ll say this: when thinking through our digital strategy, I think it’s important we make decisions with a post-Covid view in mind. Although there will of course be decisions we need to make for the immediate season, as much as possible we should be trying to form a strategic direction that is looking beyond the current circumstances and without a crisis lens.
Here we go….
Principle #1: The world was already digital.
87% of the developed world’s population is online, over half the world’s population are now under 30 and considered “digital natives” and 50% of the world’s internet usage is now via mobile devices and rising rapidly.
What we must realise is we don’t have online people and offline people, we just have people, and the vast majority of them live in the physical and digital worlds simultaneously. Therefore our digital approach needs to be designed with all of our people in mind.
Principle #2: Digital needs to be a culture more than a team, department or location.
If you follow the evolution of new and emerging digital products that tech companies are producing, they have a clear goal – create products that integrate, not compete, with real life. In the same way, our digital strategy should complement our physical strategy, in fact, they shouldn’t be two different strategies at all. We need one strategy for our people that leverages the strengths of both digital and physical.
It’s not about creating a digital version of church; it’s about asking the question ‘how do we integrate the strengths of both digital and physical to help people engage even more with Christ and community?’ I would suggest avoiding the trap of delegating digital to become a silo within your structure, and instead integrate it as a core culture of your whole church and team.
Principle #3: The digital world plays by different rules.
One of the common trends that emerged as churches ventured into the digital space, is a trend that similarly occurred when broadcasters first transitioned from radio to television… instead of creating TV shows, they just filmed their existing radio show. What we end up doing is using new technology to keep doing an old thing – or in our language, we fill new wineskins with old wine.
What we need to do is start creating things that are made for the medium, not just copy and pasting from another context. We need to ruthlessly challenge old ways of thinking and old modes of operation, because suddenly the barriers of time and space, buildings and time slots, don’t exist.
Principle #4: Digital is public, very public.
A couple of years ago I travelled to Iceland, on every tourist’s to-do list is to swim in the thermal pools, but there’s something they don’t tell you on the brochure: before you’re allowed to swim, you have to strip down and shower naked in a room full of strangers to wash off any nasty oils on your skin, so you don’t contaminate the thousand-year-old natural spring. Needless to say, if you don’t want everyone watching, be very careful what pool you decide to swim in.
We need to take great care in knowing the purpose of our content, and where it should be placed. I like to categorise the purpose of digital content into two main pools: reaching and resourcing – defining our content’s purpose helps give us a better idea of what platform we position it on.
Principle #5: Digital is a crowded house.
Due to the borderless nature of the digital landscape, we need to guard against the temptation to try and reach everyone. The problem with trying to reach everyone is that we spread ourselves so thin that we end up reaching no one. The fact is hundreds of thousands of churches all around the world are trying to carve out their space in the digital world. Imagine every church in your city all meeting in the same venue, at the same time… it could get ugly.
As leaders, we must stay true to who God has called us to reach and build our digital strategy with them in mind.
I’m praying you’ll be filled again with the spirit of wisdom and revelation as you lead God’s church faithfully into the future.
Holiness, without which no one will see God, has become either a despised term or, worse, a forgotten one.
We most easily associate holiness with a list of prohibitions, and we are well enough versed in scripture to know that “do’s and don’ts” don’t make the Kingdom. It was strict prohibitions in regards to the normal enjoyment of foods and sex (in marriage) that Paul reminded Timothy had infiltrated the church and were a sign of the teaching of demons. We don’t want a return to those days.
But has our freedom become our snare? Is holiness ever best defined as the things we forbid ourselves and others? Could we have fallen into the trap of, in trying to reach the world, it covertly reaching us? Yes, no, and yes.
Paul answered a rhetorical question in Romans 5 where anyone following the logical consistency of his argument would conclude that we are “to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul came to the conclusion that with the law essentially forcing an increase in sin, God, in grace, abounded all the more in righteousness – to us.
So then, his opponents conjected, the more we sin, the more God’s grace is made manifest. That is where logic takes you, and I suspect that is the unstated conclusion in any theology that overemphasizes grace and underappreciates sin (not that we are wanting to appreciate sin – you know what I mean).
Paul is adamant that our freedom is never an excuse for sin, and that freedom is always to be modified by the exercise of love.
In regards to being an excuse to sin, Paul reminds us that we are dead to sin by being in union with Jesus’s death and resurrection by baptism – how therefore can we continue in sin, when dead to it?
In regards to freedom and love, we are to moderate our freedom (and remember this often related to the practice or not of various aspects of the law in regards to holy days, food, Sabbaths, and the exercise of conscience) by our love for others. The truly free believer has no need to exercise their freedom if it offends a weaker brother or sister – and they do, like grace, abound. Love demands something better than an insistencece on freedoms.
Holiness is better defined as:
- a life lived to the glory and majesty of God,
- a life that exhibits the nature and reflection of God in Jesus Christ,
- a life glorious and enviable,
- a bright life of moral integrity and beauty,
- a life where restraint is more to be admired than excess,
- a life more defined by what we can do than by what we can’t.
In holiness there are some things we don’t practise, some behaviours we are to avoid, but these are not what it is to define holiness.
God’s holiness includes his separation from sin, but that isn’t its place of origin. Holiness is part of that divine essence that makes God so “other” to us that it is only by revelation that we know anything about God in the first place. Firstly, God is a lofty mystery and inconceivable majesty. It is this that separates us from God – this is his holiness. To be a part of this, in and through Christ, is surely much more than a list of what we don’t do.
There is a porous membrane between God’s church and the world. However, it is only meant to allow the church to reach and evangelise the world, not the world to reach and evangelise the church.
We have become so familiar with the world that we have all but forgotten the nature of the ‘called out ones’ and the desire of God to form and inhabit a people that are actually separate from the world and all that defines it – power (militaristic and oppressive), division, unrighteousness, moral corruption, the rule of principalities and powers (demonic and human), etc.
Christians, especially in the West, are often barely recognisable from the world around them – in thinking and in living. We have umbilical cords attaching us to the life of the world, from which we feed.
These are not simple matters, but they do simply matter.
Appealing to the Corinthians in his second letter, Paul reminds them that God’s church is a temple, a place of his Spirit’s dwelling. This has implications and promises attached to it.
It was God’s presence that made Israel different from all the other nations, leading Moses to ask of God, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.” It meant everything to them, it should mean the same to us – God’s Holy Spirit with, around, defining, comforting and changing us.
Before expanding on the temple metaphor, Paul asks a series of self-evident questions about unequal yoking, partnership and fellowship. His point is that believers and unbelievers, righteousness and lawlessness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, temple and idols, have no common ground; they are unequally yoked if linked. He then states that to be the temple requires separation of the believer from partnership of and fellowship with the world. The two don’t mix – oil and water. And yet you’d think we have made a way for them to mix because separation and difference are difficult to differentiate.
But God’s promise is that he would be a father, and we would be his sons and daughters if we come out from, and not otherwise. Because of this Paul appeals to them to be free of “every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” This is not easily done, but it is worth doing.
Every age requires the church to, in some ways, redefine holiness, as it becomes quickly anachronistic.
Whilst there are many things we can do and enjoy with biblical impunity/freedom there are some things we are wise to not involve ourselves in.
I have no intention of writing a list and falling into the prescriptive trap, but we should all be alert to what makes us worldly(un)wise.
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