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…