Thursday, November 26, 2015

CP 259 Penty worship 22/11/2015

CP 259 Worship Sunday Nov 22, 2015
Retread series NO 2
Hi friends, last weekend we attended a church not unlike the church we attended the week before. The text was from Genesis 22 and Jacob’s night-long wrestle with the angel. My personal longing is that preachers would ‘get’ that accounts like this Jacob episode are not recorded to be an example of how we should live, but that they point inevitably and inexorably (big word) to the true seed of Abraham, to Jesus who is the Christ, the Messiah.

Be that as it may, on Monday I got in email contact with the preacher of that first sermon and shared some of my thinking with him. I added the following note:
B.., I'm not anti-Penty... Some of my kids worship at Hillsong HQ. One young chap I mentored is part of leadership team at Hillsong Greenwich UK. Yesterday I had to consider the contrast between, on the one hand, elderly people singing the hymns on ABC’s Songs of Praise, and on the other, hundreds of young people at the Sunday evening service at a Liverpool church. Not only that, but at the end of worship probably 60-70 of those young people went forward for prayer. That is awesome. I guess my point is that you (Pentecostal preachers) have such an extraordinary opportunity (and grave responsibility!) to teach the young, and you have such an open door... but I beg you to teach and preach from a New Testament point of view, with Gospel lenses not Law blinkers, from an "in Christ" starting point rather than a law of Moses 'you should do this' kick off point, from a new covenant perspective rather than a Sinai covenant view.

A reminder hit me about a correspondence which took place just after I got back from Vietnam in September, and shared the experiences with you. Here is one writer’s response:
“My nagging question - Why is it we have these experiences outside of Australia?  I had similar experiences on my trip to Cambodia. Do we take our relationship with Jesus for granted in Australia? Why is it so different?  Do we relax into the palm of his hand and give it no more thought?”

Here’s Fred’s reply:
“N..., Re your question, I had the identical discussion with my neighbouring passionate Anglican priest before I went... 

Somebody here, in just the last few days, reckoned that it was because, in Australia, the only message we consistently hear about is that, 'You are saved by grace and there's nothing more you need to do.' That resonates with what two of their (Vietnamese) leaders said about courses in which they sometimes participate in Cambodia... 'They only teach about everything up to the Cross... we never hear anything about the Holy Spirit, filled with the Spirit, and the Gifts of the Spirit when we are there...' 

N.., that's exactly my end-of-38 year-ministry summary in the LCA... When someone consistently speaks about the Holy Spirit in the ongoing life of the believer, our church busily goes about finding reasons why we should not take that too seriously. We are so sure that we have the Holy Spirit sorted in our doctrine of Word and Sacrament that we can't see any place for the Holy Spirit of Jesus doing something like Pentecost in our day to bring the Lord Jesus and his Kingdom to the world where people are dying of spiritual hunger and thirst... Anybody who speaks of experiencing an encounter with the Spirit of Jesus is pigeon-holed 'to be ignored…'” 

CrossPurposes friends, these are real questions being faced day-in, day-out, by searching hearts all over the church. The only answer I have is that all of us speak and teach from a new covenant / biblical standpoint, and that we pray, ceaselessly, for fresh Pentecostal showers… “Come Holy Spirit, revive your church…”

Be blessed this week…


Thursday, November 19, 2015

CP 258 A different worship 15/11/15

CP 258 Retread series …NO 1
Worship on a Sunday evening November 15 2015
So there we were, having laid down the formal call to Ministry a couple of weeks ago, and wanting to ‘go to church’ somewhere. Having let other things detain us on Sunday morning we went instead to an evening service at a local church here in Campbelltown. There are a couple of things I’ll tell you about that service. The first is that the music was so loud and bass-based that I could feel it reverberating through my insides. I’ve been in a few of the louder churches in my time but this was a revelation. I was all shook up. I’ve been racking my brains but can’t remember a single word of what we sang. And I’m still young enough to want to hear myself sing!
Second thing was the preaching. He was a guest preacher and was billed by the worship leader as ‘awesome’. He told us himself that he was fired up for this service. His text was 2 Chronicles 15. He could just as effectively picked Deuteronomy 28 where Moses, having given (humanly speaking) the law of God to Israel, proclaimed to the Israelites the blessings that would come for obedience and the curses which would come upon them for disobedience. 
2 Chronicles 15 is about Asa, King of Judah. I won’t bore you with the details of the exact words of the preacher but will share with you the gist of what he put out there. ‘’If you do this (good thing), God will do that (good thing) for you.” A variant of that was, “Because you do such and such (good or bad things)… then God in turn, will do such and such (good or bad things) to you.” This was classic law-based theology which cuts both ways. Blessings if you obey, curses if you disobey… Your behaviour will draw an appropriate response from God. I have no recollection of whether he at any point mentioned Jesus Christ. Certainly there was not a skerrick of an indication that there is a heavenly Father. Certainly I heard zip about repentance, faith or the Cross. He spent the entire 30 minutes exhorting us to the behaviours which would gain God’s blessing.
I wondered whether he had ever come to terms with the guts of Paul the Apostle’s teaching. Let me give you just one example:
 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. (Romans 8:3)
Do you get that? What the law was powerless to do… God did!
Yes, it was challenging preaching. It was spirited. A Rabbi could have preached it with equal vigour and approval. But it was not Jesus Christ-based gospel-grace-forgiveness-Holy Spirit preaching.
I have a book in my now packed up library entitled, ‘Forever ruined for the ordinary.’ It is what happens when you ‘get’ the gospel, or rather what happens when the gospel ‘gets’ you, when Jesus the Christ is revealed to you as your Saviour and Lord. Every time I sit in a pew my ear is cocked to hear the gospel. I couldn’t bear it if the ‘bread’ served up to me each week for the rest of my life was what I got on Sunday… dry, unpalatable throat-choking stuff being passed off as bread. I’m so over ‘God’ theology.
Still, I’m a sucker. I’ve set myself the challenge of digesting and responding to whatever I hear, whenever I hear it, in worship for the first year of this new phase of my life. Given that Rosemarie and I will be circumcising Australia in 2016 it might be an interesting exercise. I’ll keep you posted.

Forgive my arrogance Lord.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

CP 257 On deciding who gets to lead...

CP 257 On deciding who gets to lead...
Recently the text for one of my sermons was from the book we know as The Acts of the Apostles. It’s about the way the Holy Spirit has used and empowered the 12 Apostles to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, beginning in Jerusalem. The number of disciples has increased rapidly. Those who join are mostly Jews, but some are of Greek parts of the world as distinct from the traditional Hebrew areas such as Jerusalem and Judea. It’s no surprise that trouble arises concerning fairness in food distribution. It is an administrative problem but someone needs to be in charge. Not wanting to be distracted from prayer and preaching the Word of Christ, the Apostles decide a committee is needed to organise the waiting on tables!
“Brothers, choose 7 men from among you who are known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them.” Acts 6:3
Simple enough… until I asked my congregation, (yes, including the women!) ‘If being full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom is the necessary qualification for that task, could you let someone put your name forward for selection?” Not a single hand went up. Not a soul felt free to say, ‘Yes’. I waited… and waited… Eventually some wag in the pews called out, ‘You’re on your own, Fred.’ There are some pretty good organisers in our little church, but not one volunteer if the applicant needed to be, ‘full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’.
Thinking about that phrase, I reckon most of us, including we Pastors, haven’t got much idea what the Apostles even meant. Known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom? We are not sure at all. We seem foggy about it. If my assessment is right, then our unsureness is both strange and disturbing, given that being full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom is the foundational thing people should be able to discern in those who lead. It’s one of those sine qua non things, you know, from Latin. It means, ‘without which nothing’. You can’t do the job without it! You can have lots of abilities, skills and talents, but this is the must have, this you absolutely need… be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.
A couple of things occur to me. The first is this: If whoever organises the kitchen is meant to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, then it is also true for all the other service positions, like Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer, Elder / Deacon, Guild Leader, Youth Leader or Sunday School Teacher. And we had better not forget the Pastor! Especially the Pastor! In regard to the Pastor, I suspect that we make an assumption that if he has come through the seminary and been approved for The Ministry, then he must be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. What if that assumption is wrong? I certainly couldn’t claim that when I started 35 years ago. In fact, I was trained to be wary and suspicious about anyone who emphasised the Holy Spirit.
Of course, all of this applies to what we regard as important when it comes to (selection of) those who are to lead as Bishops, Theology Teachers, Mission Directors, Christian School Teachers and so on. ‘Known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’… that is criterion number one. I can list for you all my professional qualifications, my interests and abilities and achievements, but that Apostolic basis for eligibility for service always stands.
There is an important Bible principle at play here. It is this: As the leader, so the people! If you are confused then so are we. I challenge our Bishops to lead us into ‘knowing and growing’. Clearly we need to understand what is meant. I’m sure it has to do with Christ-centred living faith in God, along with a Christ Jesus-driven passionate love for the Body of Christ and the nations. Equally it will have to do with a Christ-centred grace-full awareness of the scriptures. It will involve a Christ Jesus-driven openness to the sovereign freedom of the Holy Spirit to work among us. Will our leaders please teach us?
An aside…note that two of those who were chosen to head up the kitchen detail, Philip and Steven, came to be powerful evangelist / teachers in the church’s unfolding story!
Something else… You know, in spite of the reaction of our little church in Campbelltown to my challenge, I see this humble yet passionate holding of Jesus Christ in all things in my people all the time. The best people to discern the matter are those who gently serve from Christ’s heart within them. However, all of us can grow in our awareness of what it means to quench or grieve the Spirit, and conversely, to be filled with the Spirit.
Finally, a warning. If those who hold office, at any level in the church, do so without the fullness of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, one of two things will happen. The first is that holding the office becomes about power and control, which inevitably will lead to spiritual abuse and bullying. The second is that leadership will become ineffectual, leaving a vacuum into which confusion tumbles and selfish ambition grows. Either way, the focus drops away from Jesus Christ crucified and Lord. Direction and authority is lost. We don’t want either. The world isn’t going to be blessed by either. So let’s seek to know, and grow, into the fullness and wisdom of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Keep chewing in Him… Fred

Friday, August 01, 2014

CP 256 Satan can just buzz off...

CP 256 Satan can just buzz off…
There's unbelief behind asking for what you already have.
Friends, this week I got some feedback from a Gathering weekend I ran recently here in NSW. It was encouraging, heartening and helpful. The response included a paragraph which courageously raised something I teach about which 'was difficult to accommodate and created a challenge'. I have wanted for a long time to put into words what seems to be at stake here. So here’s a first effort. And here is the quote:
[Some of your message, however, was difficult to accommodate and created a challenge. One, in particular, concerned our weekly liturgy where we ask God for forgiveness. Unless I'm mistaken, you stated that since we have already been forgiven, this prayer in our liturgy is redundant? This comment came from another member, but I do recall you saying that the verse 'create in me a pure heart' is not needed because Christ has already created in us a pure heart. Personally this is a challenge, because my heart does not seem too pure to me. Nevertheless, that these thoughts are still challenging us, so many weeks later, is arguably a good thing.]
Here is my response:      
In regard to my teaching about the pure heart: That is from the text we sing after the Offering in our Holy Communion Liturgy. It's originally from the Psalms, from King David after his adultery... I will teach in the face of anyone, [and remember I invited you all to argue with me?] that we shouldn’t be singing it. It is a prayer that belongs to those who are not yet ‘held’ within the New Covenant. Christians are those who are born again, who are born with that new heart. "If anyone is in Christ that person is a new creation. The old has passed away, the new has come." 2 Cor 5:17. We have Christ’s righteousness, Christ's mind, Christ's Spirit and Christ’s heart. All the while we still have the heart we inherited from Adam. The very fact that the new heart is in place is exactly what reveals the truth that the old heart is not pure. The inner conflict is the sure sign that you have a new heart.
At the back of this is something we struggle to understand. One of the most powerful insights of the Reformation was what Luther called 'Simul Iustus et Peccator'. That might sound like Greek to you but it is actually Latin... and easy to translate. Simul (Simultaneously) Iustus (Justified-saint) et (and) Peccator (sinner). I do not get rid of the nature and heart inherited from Adam until I die my human death. However I have the nature and heart of Jesus Christ in me from being born again of water and the Spirit. My flesh hates the displacement from that internal throne and catches me unawares, moment by moment, day by day. My ‘selfish self’ rages against the instinct to unselfish love which arises from the Christ-heart in me. It’s perpetual war.
That internal personal war never goes away and I fail, again and again and again. For those continual failures I need to hear the declaration of forgiveness for sure... it’s certainly not redundant.  
But inside all of this is the greater truth that for Christ's sake, through his blood, by grace through faith, I am forgiven. I am forgiven! Only the forgiven can be his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1 May I never surrender this truth to the Lord of doubt. I am forgiven. It's as a forgiven child of the Father that I come into communal worship every Sunday. I still have to deal with the sins the flesh constantly produces, but nevertheless I can and must always own the truth that I am forgiven. Isn’t it true that Sunday by Sunday, among other things, I remind my Lord that I was baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? Do we not baptise for the forgiveness of sins? Did he not forgive me? Of course he did. I am forgiven.
But there is more... much more. More than forgiving me, he has re-created in me his own nature, His own Righteousness. 2 Cor 5:21 (You must read this text… you must.) He sees me, comprehends me, knows me, welcomes me and embraces me, with the same joy and intimacy he has with Jesus. That is the Gospel. So for a Christian to ask for a clean and pure heart, (and a new and right spirit!) is to ask for what we already have. What I absolutely need, and what I pray for, and what he rejoices to give, is for a continual outpouring of his love through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:5. It is the Spirit of Jesus who the clarity and charity, the power to grow in love and service from the new heart he has already placed in us.
You know, unless we ‘get’ that reality of the two hearts the devil can have a field day in our lives, constantly accusing us of sin and ever pointing us to our failures. And we, focussed as we often are on the abject failures, and the guilt and shame which come along for the ride, are crippled by the lie. All the while, the scripture is screaming at us, “I will remember their sins no more.” Sing it in your new heart. No more! Share it with your fellow travellers. No more! Shout it from the rooftops. No more. He remembers my sins no more. Washed away by the blood. Satan can just b….. off! There’s nothing sinful left to accuse those who are in Christ… I am forgiven. I am free…