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When the darkness sweeps in

“1 dead, 19 injured after crash”

This is the sort of news that is becoming routine in our world today.  Here, a car barreled into non-violent protesters. We would link it to a terror attack, except this is not. It happened in the US of A – the land of the free and brave.

Some say it is getting darker. Most deplore the darkness. Some evil seem so obvious, like ISIS.

Many are eager to expect others to condemn and speak up. We look to leaders, spiritual and political to hand out answers and police the situations. But the news essentially never changes.

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We need to keep praying for courageous leaders to emerge. Power is an attractive thing, and the good are often not drawn to it.

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Other influencers, educated, powerful men and women, can become blind to the darkness in their hearts so that the darkness in each connects and coagulates and becomes a huge blob that snuffs out sense and light.

We need to pray for philosophies and practices that are driven by greed and fear to dismantle.


But it isn’t just the folks who rule. 


Each of us is a little kingdom to our self, and we each have influence, often greater than we ever considered.

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The Bible tells us that darkness lurks in all our hearts. With the speed of information spread today, and little time for journalists to do deep research, many of us are agreeing too quickly on shaky facts, and often we are adding to the vitriol. Much of it seem harmless: voicing our opinions, defending our positions, highlighting our preferences.

This is why any teaching that does not call each of us to account for our thoughts and deeds is far from the truth, and will never enable us to grow into our calling to be peacemakers.

From systemic darkness to personal demons, there is a way to understand this:

“…the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient…gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.” ~ Ephesians 2v2-3
It is personal.

There is a personality behind darkness.

This is the personality of actual human leaders. It is also the personality of a sinister and strong force that is against all that is light, good, truth, hope.

It is an opportunistic being that weighs in on our human ambition, the desire for revenge, payback for injustice suffered, our need for recognition and applause…. riding on what seems reasonable, the darkness embeds into our souls. When given time to grow beneath the surface, it can erupt as rage, murder, rampage, genocide.

We under-estimate the reality of darkness and ignore the forces of evil that lurk beyond our physical senses, to our peril.

The Bible does not whitewash this harsh reality. It refers to moments and a cataclysmic time:
“when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” ~ Ephesians 6v13
Has a day of evil come upon you?
There will be dark and incredibly difficult days ahead.

Thankfully, we are asked to do what we can: stand.

There are days when evil can come suddenly to plow us down.

At such times, all that is required of us is to stay standing.

Recently I was at a passing out parade of several platoons of soldiers. The parade wasn’t very long, but I remember my own days when I loved to march as a member of the Girls’ Brigade. The pride of marching however, dissipated quickly when the sun beat down, we felt thirsty, our stomachs growl and our legs begin to buckle. Only two things kept us standing: knowing we could not walk away, and trusting that we can actually do this or the officers would not require it of us.

Will we walk away when it gets hard?
Do we trust that the tough times are still a part of God’s good and perfect will?

It seems to me, as old songs have a tendency to float back into my consciousness unbidden these days, that we took these challenges far more seriously in the past. We had songs like “this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through”. But some of our luxuriant homes and lifetsyles (pastors included) makes me wonder if we have not sold our passport to heaven coz’ it’s just got so good here on earth.

Sir Glubb’s* prescient essay about the rise and fall of great nations names ‘the good times’ as that which undermines our ability to stand and stay true, and so to give way. Wealth and ease weaken us.

God actually has a strategy for this, which we need to recapture in our homes and churches.

1] Accountability for personal growth: unless we will be open and vulnerable, we cannot help shine light and dispel darkness. How many are feeling lost, lonely, afraid. far from God – even as they may go through the motions of faith?

2] Contemplation for spiritual resilience: unless we fill our hearts and minds with things above, all of our senses will hold us hostage. How many are battling emotions and thoughts that weigh them down and cause confusion and a loss of vision for life?

3] Encourage each other: this is not merely gathering together to reinforce our platitudes such as “God is good, all the time”. It is a serious effort to share our possessions and resources so that we can together enjoy God’s bounty towards our needs. How many are struggling to make ends meet and wondering if God has chosen not to bless them?

This A.C.E. strategy is very hard to teach and implement. Yet it is also really very simple and powerful. The best place to start is to live it ourselves, in increasing measure.

And then, we must pray for our leaders in all fields, so that we may live our lives with godliness and dignity.

Sir Glubb’s essay as referenced on Today paper

These 4Cs foundational to 5fold and all maturing, stable, impacting churches based on Ephesians 4

“Live a life worthy of the calling…”. Paul begins at chapter 4 of Ephesians.

Why start off with this imperative? Because actions grow out of beliefs.

Do we believe that our lives have the call of God upon them? It may be easy to say this when you are young and fiery. But after some storms and heartaches; it can be a struggle to say ‘yes I do’.  But it’s because we think of our calling mainly as Activity and Mission. Perhaps Paul had more in mind.

This idea of a life that has a calling also tells us two things: one, life for the Christian is distinct in some visible, manifest way. It also means that it is possible to live a life that is not worthy of this calling (a prospect we should perhaps spend some time on!).

What is this calling?

In fact, Paul has been disclosing this right from chapter 1. Paul peels it back layer by layer for us.  He began by the way he addressed us; most of us are uncomfortable and leave the way Paul addresses his readers as some extra-literature tit-bit because he calls us ‘saints’, and ‘the faithful’!  Wel, we certainly know better than to consider ourselves saints or faithful; the way we stumble along so often!

But it is a calling not based on who we are, but whose we are.

Paul unpacks it as he goes. It is a calling to a life that is blessed beyond what the temporal and material world can offer. It is a calling to bring praise to God’s glory. Chapter two details how it is a calling to mystery; where mortal man can now come to receive insight and understanding to God, to believe and trust in Him. It is a calling to a new way of being where reconciliation and brotherhood are normative; a calling even angels grapple to make sense of as God’s wisdom will be displayed through those who are called! It crescendos with this: we are called to experience a love that cannot be measured or fathom.

Then Paul emotes with a concern so deep, he urges his readers, us, to remember these varied and amazing dimensions of who we are — and to live in a way that is worthy of it.

For too long, chapter 4 of Ephesians has been reduced to a functional look at the 5-fold ministries (what the 5fold is really about. click to read) 

How many sermons have I heard where chapter 4 appears to begin at verse 7! No, there is much more to it. Indeed. this point in the teaching is part of something larger – it belongs with  “live a life worthy of your calling…”

As Paul adjures us to consider our lifestyle; he doesn’t leave us without a frame of reference. No, in fact he spells it out for us: there are 4 Cs to living a life that is worthy as individual Christians which result then corporately in a body that is healthy, stable and impacting.

 

Character

Paul begins by talking about our attitudes and choices which calcify over time to form our character. He describes the following character traits: completely humble and gentle, and patiently bearing with one another.

These traits do not sprout overnight; but are tilled over many years by remembering our calling. Humility is birthed from worship and gratitude. The person who recognizes that his life is a gift and his faith is a mystery will turn his heart in this direction; and in the process will deal gently with others. Humility is also borne as we recognize our darkness and sin and admit to our many limitations and our reluctance to obey easily. To recognize our common humanity is these areas will allow us to bear patiently with one another; knowing we are all work in progress.

 

Community

There is one body and one Spirit, and we are to make very effort to uphold this. Sadly, the history of the church bespeaks more division than unity. From families to boards to cities, Paul is calling us to recgonise the amazing Grace of God in each others’ lives and know that we have been called forth to belong to God together; where our identity as God’s children is the other side of the same coin that we are brothers and sisters.

 

Capacity

There is next a Grace given to each of us that helps us find our place in the body. With humility and a heart bent on seeking oneness, we can move into the spaces and specifications of role in order that the Body grows up. A common sense questions to ask then for churches which are unsure of its growth may be this: are people’s capacities recognized and encouraged?

 

Conviction

Whereas Paul began with Character, many of us begin here. We major on being ‘right’ and ‘speaking the truth in love’ to those who we deem are getting it wrong. If we look carefully at Paul’s words, the point is to become stable with a strong core of understanding that allows new ideas to be sieved and interpreted rightly. As we all have a tendency to be taken up with new ideas and trends; we must then lovingly point this out to one another; reminding each other of the core truths which we may be distracted and deviating from. Our convictions are to help us ‘grow up into him who is the Head’ which means simply that they are to shape us into Christlikeness; not give us ammunition to cut someone down to size when we believe they are wrong.

The 4Cs are personal. They are also marks therefore of a maturing, stable, impacting church because they grow out of a people who take their calling seriously.

Which of these 4Cs could the Spirit be trying to grow in the soil of your life?

If you were to describe your church against these 4Cs, where would she stand?

 

the C that enables the other Cs

the C that enables the other Cs

The ‘5-fold gifts’ and maturity… something to ponder for growing in 2015

The 5-fold office, as they are described by some in Ephesians 4 offers us an important insight into Christian maturity. That is after all, the context in which they are mentioned:

To prepare God’s people for works of service

So that

The boy of Christ may be built up

Until we reach unity in the faith

And in the knowledge of the Son of God

And become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 

Paul is giving us a definition of maturity, the marks of it and the means towards it.

 

The definition of maturity is the whole measure of Christ. Paul is saying that God desires us to become Christlike in full measure as a church. We will grow towards Christ’s heartbeat, mission and way of life. We will see life through Jesus’ eyes and respond and live by His values and character.

 

The marks of this maturity, since there is only one Christ; involves our reaching a point of unity {one} where we know Christ and live out a faith that is centred on Him. Indeed, we see this happening. The Spirit of God has been moving the church in the last few decades in this direction. From Christ-centred preaching to Christ-centred worship… the Spirit of God is directing us.

 

The means towards this maturity is in the exercise of the gifts of God, in particular, the 5-fold gifts of teacher, pastor, prophet, apostle and evangelist.

 

And here is something important to know.

 

These gifts do not merely complement or contribute towards some church health; they are essential for maturity. In other words, Jesus as in individual and Christ as the church embodies these aspects:

 

God’s wisdom (teacher)

God’s Grace (pastor)

God’s ways (prophet)

God’s agenda (apostle)

God’s mercy (evangelist)

 

These aspects are seen in Christ’s earthly life.

 

Again we see the Spirit of God calling forth and establishing these gifts in the church in the recent decades as He matures His church, his bride.

 

I grew up in a Presbyterian church spiritually; but in my youth was greatly impacted by an Assemblies of God preacher, Abel Thomas. Later, I would come into contact with Pentecostal Anglicans and began to grow in my understanding of the gifts. Most of my growing years, the foundational seed planted in me that God desires us to reach the world steered me in many of my choices and even my vocational training. I have been stretched to consider how in my life I am growing in Christ’s heartbeat, mission and character.

 

What does this mean for us as pastors and leaders?

 

In view of the fact that Ephesians was written to expound on the grand purposes of God in the church, we should encourage each follower of Christ to be open to these gifts that will help us in our journey towards maturity and fullness. This needs to happen for the individual Christian as it does for the local assembly.

 

However, we are not to get anxious, worried or feel we are in lack if our churches do not seem to have these gifts. Certainly no one pastor or leader can ever embody all these gifts. God has provided for them in the larger Body of Christ. Great books and sermons have been written by pastors such as Henri Nouwen and prophets such as AW Tozer. The local church is strengthened by the ministry of many organizations. Missions organizations bring an apostolic edge while others have a wonderful teaching ministry for specific aspects of life.

 

In the end, it is our hunger and desire to grow into Christ-likeness that propels us to seek, feed and be willing to change in order to grow.

 

 

But the local church pastor has a special role in this. Called to be the shepherd, he is to find the appropriate pasture for his flock to feed on, to call them to rest, to hold them back by his staff of protection or his rod of discipline when the sheep is acting out of fear and in danger.

So, as Eugene Petersen the pastor puts it in The Message, it is all for this:

to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

 

What a wonderful picture!