A Church……….

20 – A Church where you are accountable in relationships across the generations

A Church where you are accountable in relationships across the generations

Read the following verses
Eph 6:1-4
1Tim 5:1-2

These are just a couple of passages among numerous others in scripture that deal with relationships across the generations.
Firstly, it is important to note these verses are directed at God’s covenant people and not necessarily, therefore, the expectation for those outside of the family of faith. It is characteristic of our culture today that old people are often viewed by younger people as irrelevant and out of touch and that older people look at younger people in an alien way as the ‘youth of today’, but this should not be so amongst God’s people. One of the defining features of the church should be a community of people of love, relationship and respect across the generations. The church should after all be one body across the generations as much as we are one body across the social, gender and class spectrums.
Eph6 emphasises one of the 10 Commandments where children are told to honour their parents but then also speaks to fathers about not exasperating their children (as if a father would ever do that!!). There is a call here for mutuality in the relationship between children and their parents, family relationships aren’t simply to be one sided where respect is demanded without being earned. Instead the call is for both generations to take responsibility for their part in the relationship.
1Tim5 speaks of how to deal with men and women who are older and younger within the church. Older men are not to be rebuked harshly (maybe this is out of respect but maybe it is because it is assumed older men will not respond being dealt with in this way!), but this is not to say that they aren’t held to account by those who are younger. There is to be accountability across the generations but the way in which this happens should be in gentleness and with strong encouragement and exhortation treating an older man as you would your own father. Similarly older women should be treated as mothers. Younger men shouldn’t be treated as inferior but as brothers and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. The instruction towards younger women is that they shouldn’t be taken advantage of but protected as a younger sister in the family.
The relationships amongst God’s people are strongly modelled on a close knit family, where the older generations are respected and honoured and the younger generation are valued and given equality.
The recognition of each person’s value in the community of faith is very important to encourage intergenerational relationships. It is only when people truly value those who are older and those who are younger than them that deep relationships can be built between people across the generations. When an older person values a younger person that young person’s opinion matters and has importance, so the younger person is able to challenge the older person’s mindset. Likewise when a younger person values an older person that older person’s opinion matters, so the older person is able to challenge the younger person’s behaviour. Ultimately, as with all relationships in church life, love is the key!
Genuine accountable relationships across the generations are vital for the church to grow into the fullness of Christ. If our deep relationships are only with our peers then we will not grow as fully as if our relationships genuinely span many generations older and younger than us. We must seek ways of churchmanship that encourage cross generational living and avoid segregation according to age.

Discussion starters
Do you have strong relationships with people younger and older than you in the church?
What is your responsibility in developing relationships with those older and younger than you?
How proactive are you in developing these relationships?
What areas of humility come into play when dealing with people older than yourself?
What areas of humility come into play when dealing with people younger than yourself?
Name some characteristics that are ‘valuable’ in people older than yourself.
Name some characteristics that are ‘valuable’ in people younger than yourself.
What are the pitfalls of only relating to people your own age?

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19 – A Church where you are engaged in real and honest heart to heart relationships.

A Church where you are engaged in real and honest heart to heart relationships.

Read Acts 2:42

One of the key markers of the early church was their devotion to ‘the fellowship’. ‘The Fellowship’ is sometimes used as a name to describe our church and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we understand what we mean by ‘fellowship’.
Fellowship is an active and dynamic word that describes the relationships that characterise the way in which God’s New Covenant people are to interact with one another. The word translated ‘fellowship’ in the bible comes from the Greek word ‘Koinonia’ meaning – communion, association, partnership, fellowship. In essence ‘fellowship’ can be understood as intimate relationship with other people that involves sharing, contribution and participation. The idea of being a church ‘engaged in real and honest heart to heart relationships’ comes from an understanding of ‘fellowship’.
True fellowship runs completely contrary to the cultural and social norms of the age we live in. In many ways the relationships that are the cultural norm today are characterised by superficiality and even dishonesty. For instance, take how we greet neighbours of passers by in the street. On the whole the interactions will probably go something like:

Person 1 ‘Hi, how are you?’
Person 2 ‘Fine, how are you’
Person 1 ‘Good thanks’
End of conversation!

Does Person 1 really want to know how Person 2 is? Probably not! – superficiality!
Is Person 2 really fine? Possibly but ‘fine’ is rarely an adequate way to sum up the fullness of an individuals human condition at any one point in time! – dishonesty!
This loop of superficiality and dishonesty is then reciprocated from Person 2 to Person 1 and then repeated with Person 3 further down the street!
When you stop and analyse some of the ways in which we behave in our culture they do seem a little strange. I’m sure we could justify some of the reasons why the world works it does; most of us simply haven’t got the time to stop with everyone we meet and hear their life story every time we go out for an extra pint of milk. But, the point is that the way the church lives should not be guided by the prevailing culture around it and should instead be redefining how culture should behave by living out a new Christ centred reality. In true fellowship Person 1 asks the question ‘How are you?’ and genuinely seeks a truthful answer so that they may share, participate and contribute in the life or Person 2. In true fellowship Person 2 responds to the request honestly and opens the door for Person 1 to be able to share, participate and contribute in Person 2’s life. To relate on this level and truly ‘fellowship’ takes time, effort, commitment, trust, grace and love.

As a write the last word of the previous sentence – ‘love’ – it strikes me that true fellowship is actually the outworking of Jesus’ command to love one another (Jn13:34). This command isn’t something that can be followed by dealing with each other at a healthy trombonist’s arms length. This command calls us to engage with others in real and honest heart to heart relationships.

 

Some discussion starters:

In what ways do we share with one another? Material, physical, social, spiritual….

How do we contribute to each others lives?

How do we participate in each others lives?

How do we avoid superficial relationships?

How do we avoid dishonest relationships?

Is it possible to fellowship without meeting?

How do we outwork loving each other?

18 – A Church active and guided by the Holy Spirit in prayer

A Church active and guided by the Holy Spirit in prayer

Read Eph6:10-20

This week’s heading leads me to focus on Eph6:18:

‘And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.’ (NIV)

Before we look into what it is to pray in the Spirit, lets not detach this one verse from the verses that precede it. The NIV translation begins verse 18 as a new sentence but numerous other translations continue verse 18 on as the same sentence as verse 17 which ends off the components that make up the armour of God, the last of which being the ‘sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God….’. There is seemingly therefore, some connection between the word of God, the Holy Spirit and prayer. The call to pray in the Spirit isn’t something that is announced in isolation, but is part of the means by which the church makes its defensive and offensive stand against the devil and powers he controls and influences in this world. With this in view, prayer isn’t to be seen as a bolt on optional or additional extra that Christians should try and fit into their busy lives. Instead prayer in the Spirit needs to be viewed as something vitally important to the life, strength and health of the church that faithfully stands as God’s witness in this world. A church active in prayer ‘in the Spirit’ is a church that goes a long way to being ‘strong in the Lord’ (Eph6:10).
What is prayer in the Spirit? John Piper uses a simple and succinct definition – that it is prayer in which the ‘Holy Spirit is the moving and guiding power’. Piper continues ‘In other words, when you pray in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God is “moving” you to pray. That is, he is the one who motivates and enables and energizes your prayer. And when you pray in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God is “guiding” how you pray and what you pray for. So, to pray in the Holy Spirit is to be moved and guided by the Holy Spirit in prayer. We pray by his power and according to his direction.’
As I reflect on Eph6:18 it would make sense that prayer ‘in the Spirit’ is the only way in which Christian’s should pray. It doesn’t say ‘sometimes pray in the flesh’ or ‘sometimes pray what you think feels right’ and then maybe once in a while ‘pray in the Spirit’. But on all occasions pray in the Spirit. Prayer that is motivated and guided by the Holy Spirit should be the continual way of prayer.
The NIV translation ‘with all kinds of prayers and requests’ keeps our perspective open that prayer in the Spirit encompasses a great variety of types and varieties of prayer. Therefore, whether it is written, spontaneous, silent, spoken, sung, individual, or congregational prayer, in all pray in the Spirit. Whether they are prayers of repentance, petition, representation, praise, thanksgiving, or request, in all pray in the Spirit.
Let us grow as a church that is active and guided by the Holy Spirit in prayer!

It is essential that at this important and transitional period in our church’s life we do not get overly bogged down with plans, strategies and costings but grow in praying in the Spirit for all the saints and that through all we do we would boldly proclaim the mystery of gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Some Discussion Starters:

Reflect on the importance of prayer in the Spirit for the health and strength of the church?

As a church are we ‘strong in the Lord’ regarding prayer in the Spirit?

How do you sense the moving of the Holy Spirit?

How do you discern the guiding of the Holy Spirit?

Is there any other way of Christian prayer that is not ‘in the Spirit’?

 

And now pray! In the Spirit!
Allow God to motivate and guide you in prayer as you wait on the Holy Spirit………

17 – A Church engaged with and in the community through outreach

A Church engaged with and in the community through outreach.

Read Ex19:3-6 and 1Pt2:9-10

You will notice from the two readings that there are some striking similarities in God’s description of Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. Indeed God’s purpose for His people hasn’t changed an awful lot throughout history. With the advent of Jesus the ethnicity of God’s people did become an awful lot broader but essentially the call and purpose for God’s people stayed pretty much the same! Through Christ we are a chosen people, a special people, a treasured possession, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. This could be misunderstood as something very exclusive and elitist, and that God’s people are an exclusive group for the privileged few. But this is not the case, even if God’s people at various times haven’t realised it!
A key verse to notice is Ex19:5b where, in amongst the seemingly exclusive covenant between the Lord and Israel, God reveals that there is some connection between this covenant and ‘all the earth’ which belongs to God. Israel wasn’t chosen and set apart as a nation to be for her own purposes, but Israel’s call was to be a missionary nation that effectively served all the other nations. The idea of God’s people as a missionary can be seen throughout the Old Testament:

  • Through God’s covenant with Abraham all nations are blessed (Gen12:3),
  • God’s covenant with David has purposes for all mankind (2Sam7:19 ‘And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord GOD, You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord GOD!’ ESV),
  • Israel prays and sings for God’s blessing so that God’s ways would be known on earth and salvation known among all nations (Ps67:1-2)
  • God’s Servant is given as a light to the Gentiles (Is49:6)

God’s people have always had a missional purpose at the very heart of who they are. This is why they are a chosen people, they are chosen to fulfil God’s mission in the world. This is why they are a they are a royal priesthood, they are to represent God to the people around them and the people around them to God. This is why they are a holy people, they are to be as different and set apart from the sin stained people around them to demonstrate what it is to live in the true human vocation, that is to be image bearers of God. God’s call is for His people to be ‘Be holy for I am holy’ (1Pt1:15-16, Lev11:44-45), this is to be a people who represent Him by being like Him. Just as Adam and Eve were put on the earth to reflect God’s image so Israel and now the church in Christ is called to be a holy priesthood that reflects God in every way to all peoples and all creation.
The ‘Great Commission’ (Matt28) wasn’t a new idea that Jesus gave the disciples as a challenge to keep them busy while He returned to heaven! The ‘Great Commission’ has always been at the heart of what God has been doing through His people. In times past however, sin has always been the thing that stopped this mission being completely fulfilled. Adam and Eve’s sin tarnished their image bearing qualities before creation and Israel’s sin polluted her holiness before all the other nations. But now Christ has come to fulfil all things, which includes fulfilling Israel and mankind’s vocation to be holy image bearers of God and to deal with sin once and for all. Now all who are in Christ are new creations cleansed from sin and holy, fully able to bear the image of Christ in and through them. In Christ we are a holy nation and royal priesthood (1Pt29) called to be a missionary people to reveal God in everything we do to all peoples and all creation. As Peter says we are tasked with ‘proclaiming the praise of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light’ (1Pt2:9b).

And so to this week’s topic heading! Our church isn’t purely to be an introverted holy enclave that serves only itself. We are to be a holy people who are set apart to demonstrate who God is in and through what we do and say, engaging with and reaching out to the community around us that they may encounter the living God through us. We are to be a priesthood that ministers God to the people and community around us and ministers the people and community around us to God through Christ.
Therefore, we will continue in the call to be God’s missionary people revealing Jesus to all the people around us through engaging and outreaching to the people God has sent us to here in Addlestone and beyond!!

Some discussion starters

What are our perceptions about being a priest that come from our culture, upbringing and history that make cloud our thinking on what it is to be part of a royal priesthood?
Do they cause us to shy away from thinking of ourselves as priests?
As a Great High Priest how did Jesus engage with and outreach to the communities of people He lived amongst?
In what ways does the model of Jesus as a priest differ from our perceptions of being a priest?
How can we follow Jesus way of priestly ministry?

What is holiness, what isn’t holiness?!
What is the purpose of us being holy?
Do we fear being polluted by the unholiness of the world and as a result shy away from full engagement with it?
What was Jesus’ approach to coming in contact with unholiness and uncleanness?
Are we confident to follow Jesus into the unclean places to bring holiness to them?

Is evangelism and outreach an optional extra or part of the DNA of what it is to be one of God’s people?

Does it help to understand our missionary call as part of what it is to be fully human?
How do we live out the reality of being image bearers of God in and amongst the people we live with?

16 – A Church that is visible and active in the community we live in

A Church that is visible and active in the community we live in.

Read Matt5:13-16

Jesus speaks very directly to His disciples and says to them ‘you are the salt of the earth’ and ‘you are the light of the world’. Jesus doesn’t say these are a couple of things you should aspire to be, but that ‘you are’ salt and ‘you are’ light. The challenge in Jesus’ words to His disciples is not so much to become these things but to live appropriately knowing that we are these things!
As ‘salt of the earth’ Jesus calls His disciples to be an ‘active ingredient’ in the earth. Salt brings flavour, salt perseveres, salt stimulates thirst, salt purifies, salt is an essential mineral for life, and salt was used for the sealing of covenants. As the salt of the earth we are to be active in these ways (and others) in the community around us. As Jesus disciples we bring ‘salt’ to our community by bringing flavour to bland and tasteless lives, preservation and new life where there is decay and death, purification to uncleanness, the structure to sustain and support life and the sign of covenant and commitment. In short as the church of Jesus’ disciples we should be active in the community around us.
As ‘light of the world’ Jesus calls His disciples to be like Himself (Jn8:12) and be a visible presence to the world. Light illuminates, light overcomes darkness, light is visible, light reveals what is hidden. As the light of the world the church is called to be a beacon of light that is set in a position for all to see and all to see by. In short as the church of Jesus’ disciples we should be visible to the community around us.
The purpose in being salt and light is simple! Through all we do we bring glorify our Father in heaven. Jesus teaches that shining as a light comes through our good works. It is through visible Christ like action that our Father in heaven is glorified.

Over the next few weeks we want to explore this theme of salt and light / active and visible in particular with how we use our church building.
Watch this space……..!

Discussion Starters

Discuss how salty and how light we are as a church.

Are we visible and active as a church?

How can we become more active (salt) and visible (luminous)?

How we may use the resource of our church building to be more visible and active in our community?

15 – A Church where you are accepted for who you are, not what you can do.

A Church where you are accepted for who you are, not what you can do.

Read
Gal3:5-9, 26-29 (or the whole of Gal3 if you would like!!)

As a church we must be ready to accept people on the same basis as God receives people. One of the central points of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that people are righteous before God through faith and not through their works, effort or achievement. God receives people to Himself through faith and not through what they do. If this is the way the Lord receives and accepts people, then surely this should be the way in which the church receives and accepts people. We should not be more accepting of those who can tithe lots, sing well, pray loudly, quote the bible proficiently or fix the church roof, and less accepting of those cant do any of these things or any of anything! We should not reject people on the basis that they cant or don’t do certain things that we might deem acceptable or not because that isn’t how God works. We are all sinners saved by grace! No matter what a person’s background, training or ability God receives all equally, as sons, through faith in Christ. And if that is the way the Lord works why should the church be any different? First and foremost the church shouldn’t accept people on the basis of what they have done or can do but simply that all people are accepted for who they are as people in Christ.

Gal3:26 speaks of a new creation (Gal6:15) reality of what it is to be in Christ. No matter what ethnic, economic or social background a person comes from, all are one in Christ. If we take this seriously it will causes us to get to the very root of who we are as human beings, created in the image of God. If we take on the biblical worldview that Gal3:26 describes we will look beyond the outward and external, and view ourselves and each other as image bearers of God. We will look beyond who people appear to be through their actions, words and facades and see them for who they really are – people!
Behind the broken body of paralysed wheelchair user is a person created in God’s image,
Behind the actions of a teenage ‘hoody’ on the street is a person created in God’s image,
Behind the veil of an Islamic burka is a person created in God’s image,
Behind the surgery of a woman who used to be a man is a person created in God’s image,
Behind the image of a confident preacher is a person created in God’s image,
Behind the stereotype of a single mother with numerous children is a person created in God’s image.

Discussion Starters

Give examples from inside and outside the church where people are accepted or rejected on ability.

How does accepting people for who they are work in practice? What are the markers of a person having been accepted?

In what ways are people marginalised in our society? In what ways are people marginalised in church? How do we work to bring unity (not uniformity) and equality? What are the markers of biblical unity and equality?

How does biblical equality and unity work in practice?

Who were the ‘unacceptable ones’ to the religious people in Jesus’ day? How did Jesus deal with them? Who are the ‘unacceptable ones’ to the religious people in our day? How should the church deal with them?

What stereotypes and prejudices do we hold onto that stop us accepting people for who they are?

Is our emphasis to receive from people or to serve people? How does this impact on who we accept?

14 – A Church infused with the Holy Spirit

A Church infused by the Holy Spirit.

One of the promises of the New Covenant is that God would put His Spirit within His people (Eze36:27). We desire to be a church who live in the complete fulfilment of this promise and the breadth of its outworking in us. As with so many of our discussions there is much to say concerning the Holy Spirit but I want to focus on the parallels between Jesus’ Holy Spirit baptism as described Luke’s gospel and the new born church’s Holy Spirit baptism as described in Acts (also written by Luke).

Read:
Lk3:16-22, 4:1, 4:14-19
Acts1:1-8, 2:1-6

John the Baptist foretold that, whilst he baptised with water, Jesus would come and baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire (Lk3:16). But before Jesus baptised others with the Holy Spirit He was first baptised Himself. At Jesus’ water baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon Him (Lk3:22). Jesus, although fully God, ministered as a fully human being, empowered fully by the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Holy Spirit Jesus was led into the wilderness (Lk4:1) and was empowered to endure temptation. He then returns from the wilderness in the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk4:14) to go out into His mission field to teach. Through teaching the scriptures Jesus declares that the Spirit is upon Him to proclaim the gospel (Lk4:18).
From this brief summary of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry we notice that Jesus was baptised, filled and empowered with and by the Holy Spirit. This filling of the Holy Spirit empowered Him and emboldened Him to proclaim the gospel. In short the Holy Spirit was the power source behind Jesus, and the One by whom He was able to fulfil His ministry. I think it is wise to see Jesus’ own ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ as a model for the church’s baptism in the Holy Spirit. When God’s people are plunged into the fullness of the Holy Spirit we can expect that they will do and say what Jesus did and said.
The beginning of the book of Acts considers the life and ministry of Jesus only to be the beginning of all that Jesus did (Acts1:1-2). What Jesus began to do Himself in person is now continued to be done in and through His church who are filled by the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells His disciples to wait for (ie don’t do anything until…) the promise of the Father. They are told that will soon be baptised with the Holy Spirit and when that happens that they will receive power and shall be witnesses to Jesus in all the earth. When the moment arrives (Acts2:1) the people are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak with ‘other’ tongues and people from every nation hear words in their own language. Rather than get too distracted with what the manifestation of ‘other tongues’ is in theory, let us not miss what happens in practice – when the Holy Spirit fills the people they open their mouths and speak! The Spirit was upon Jesus and He was empowered to speak the gospel and now the Spirit is upon the church to empower them to speak the gospel (whether they know what they are talking about or not!).
And so we find Peter being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking the gospel (Acts4:8), the church being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking the word of God with boldness (Acts4:31), Gentile converts receiving the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues and magnifying God (Acts10:46) and people who were newly baptised in to Christ receiving the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues and prophesying (Acts19:2-6). It seems that being filled with the Holy Spirit means that people start speaking in one way or another. Whether it is in unknown languages, prophesy or bold proclamation of the gospel the Holy Spirit empowers the mouths of the people of the church!
There is much more that can be said about the Holy Spirit. But for now let us meditate on God’s word and seek Him in prayer and allow ourselves to be plunged fully into the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Let us be ready for God to empower our mouths and lives with bold proclamation and demonstration of the gospel.

 

Discussion starters:
Discuss what we understand water and Holy Spirit baptism to be. Are they the same thing? Are they optional extras to following Christ?

How do we know we have been baptised in the Holy Spirit?

How do we receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit? (Lk11:13, Acts19:6)

Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit an individual and personal thing or is a corporate and church thing?

Can the church perform any ministry without the Holy Spirit? Does the church have a voice without the Holy Spirit?

Is the filling of the Holy Spirit something that happens as a one off or is it ongoing?