Thanking God for His providence over many decades, slowly heading along the path Christ is leading. As a result, and I trust that this is true for most of us sojourners, the desired outcome is that we all have a testimony – our own unique story of joy and sadness, struggle and gain, even temptation and courage! What’s your story? Do you have one?
We’ve been telling the same story by video for some 22 years now. The chief protagonist is Jesus. The scene is corruption, decay, wickedness amidst smoldering promise and hope. It’s a battle between good and evil, truth and compromise, light and dark.
This week we uploaded our 666th gospel film. Like those streets that don’t have a number 13 (preferring instead a 11B letterbox number), the number 666 has it’s own connotations and symbolism. So, how might we manage this conundrum? Number the video as 665B, or plunge right in and tell it like it is?
Jesus has called us to share his good news to the people of this 21st century. It’s a task that apparently needs further defining, given Christianity’s varied and mixed history.
To initiate this mission some 2000 years ago, Jesus chose twelve young men, probably not much older than twenty years of age, nurtured and mentored them, before commissioning and empowering them with, “Go, and make disciples of all nations!” They then healed the sick, preached the gospel, cast out demons, and baptised in Jesus’ name. Thus they were instrumental in perpetuating and deploying more disciples in Jesus’ image.
Since then, the followers of Jesus have both survived and thrived. Christianity across the Western world steadily grew. Its significance was felt to the “ends of the earth”. That is, until now, because followers of Jesus largely in the West find themselves living in what is now called the “post-Christian era”. How times have changed.
For hundreds of years, Christianity significantly influenced the thinking and ethos throughout the rise of the Western world. Great cathedrals dominated its skyline. The clergy were held in high esteem. Churches yielded power and influence, often consisting of two classes – priests and laity. But, now, the demographics are rapidly changing. The previous model of ministry doesn’t any longer seem to be working. In fact, our focus will require rethinking and recalibrating if we’ve any chance of continuing past momentum, as the fruits of our current marginalisation is increasingly evident – at least here in the largely secularised West. (It is worth noting that Christianity’s redemptive message, however, is still taking root in other parts of the world, such as in Africa and Asia).
Thus, given the challenges we face in a generally suspicious if not hostile environment, we must explore being part of a new, second Reformation, a journey initiated by the first but which largely remained unfinished. We must follow Christ’s leadership through what portends to be absolutely unprecedented times. The bygone age of grand cathedrals, of Christianised ethos and law, of the “Lord’s Prayer” recited in schools and government, and of respected clergy, can and will never be revisited in this age. From high esteem, many clergy are now, for example, under cross-examination by Royal Commissions for institutionalised paedophilia! Modern Christianity seems irretrievably tarnished!
Nonetheless, Jesus is still building his church. And, we need to embrace and align our energies with his vision of the future. It seems we need a different paradigm to what was manifest in previous centuries – one that was, of course, that Jesus himself modelled.
Today, however, old practices die hard. Still too many pastors are operating under an outdated paradigm, acting as chaplains and care-givers, and often rushing off to meet the needs of the bleating sheep. Thus, they inadvertently perpetuate a model of dependency. God, however, has called us not to remain infants in the faith, but as his followers become empowered by Jesus to be equipping leaders of other leaders. We are not called to passivity, but to an active faith!
The dynamic of the second Reformation is emerging and evident not only throughout parts of Christendom, but also in greater clarity in the Church of God Sabbatarian community. Twenty or so years ago, at least in my personal journey, the prevailing church paradigm I was accustomed to began to crumble. Its exclusivity and significant awkwardness with the person of Jesus had reached the end of its course. Did Jesus step in and “remove the lampstand”? It certainly sounds like it. But that’s another story.
Today, we increasingly see different parts of the Body of Christ, albeit under different administrations, but sharing a common faith and heritage, working and worshipping together in unity and grace, extending to each other the right-hand of fellowship. Thus, we’re experiencing a revived model of Jesus leading the church. This is manifesting in some refreshing changes. Pastoral care is changing from “one size fits all” exclusively doing corporate ministry, to equipping and empowering others for ministry, utilising their spiritual God-given gifts.
The momentum for this “new” ministry model finds its roots and authenticity in the first century. The old Pharisaically-driven paradigms would never allow the equipping of all to discipleship and ministry according to their spiritual gifts. Pastors must continue to shift from fostering dependency to an equipping model.
The old covenant with the hierarchal Levitical priesthood ceased when Jesus was crucified, evidenced with the tearing of the temple veil of separation. Access to the Holy of Holies, symbolic of our direct access to our heavenly Father, became freely available. Jesus is now our High Priest. The new covenant accordingly ushered with it the priesthood of all believers, something that must be understood and embraced in the new reformation!
Pastors begin “teaching” the word of God, and then continue equipping and coaching all believers to ministry. While Jesus said “Feed my sheep”, he also expanded it with, “Make disciples”. This is the model Jesus commissioned his disciples.
The church no longer consists of two classes, ministers and members. We’re all saints. We’re all brothers. We’re all children of God. All are called to ministry. And we’re all encouraged to develop and utilise those spiritual gifts.
Jesus reminded his disciples, against the model backdrop of the Pharisees, “Don’t be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.” (Matthew 23:8) We are called to grow up in Christ’s fullness and stature, and less dependent on human leaders.
Paul further developed this in his letter to those at Ephesus, when he said, “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service [ministry], so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach the 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.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
The dependence model doesn’t any longer work under the terms of the new covenant! The lament in letter to the Hebrews bears this out: “By now you ought to be teachers, but you’re still in infancy, dependent on the milk of the word”. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
A baby is dependent on his or her mother’s milk. Given that’s where we all started, it’s not a state we want to stay with. We’re called to spiritually grow beyond infancy.
That’s where Jesus’ gentle and humble words beckon us to empowerment, if we’re only willing to listen. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened [from the Pharisaical-modelled version of old covenant ministry], and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. (Matthew 11:28-30) Jesus wants us to take his yoke upon us – something that fits us right, matches our spiritual gifts, and is really as we’re meant to be.
Someone once said that, “A man makes the dream, and then the dream makes the man.” Therein lies a powerful truism. Love and passion can drive us to great heights. The seeds of God’s kingdom have been sewn in our hearts. “Seek first His kingdom,” says Jesus.
So you have a passion, a gift, a skill? Follow that dream. Develop your gifts. Grow your ministry – to the glory of God and in the name of Jesus. Remember the wisdom from an old proverb: “A man’s heart [his God-given gifts] plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
God bless you in your service in the body of Christ.
George was 17 years old when he was dismissed from his dream job. His employer demanded that he work Friday nights, but George wasn’t willing to compromise Sabbath rest. Though devastated at the time, this young man could not have known that embracing such a decision would in time set him on a path that would lead closer to Christ and deeper into His will. It was a defining moment.
Years later, as George experienced a greater distinct call to discipleship, a sceptical friend in the Christian community quizzed him about his understanding of Matthew 6:33. It seemed to George that believers were to “seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness, and God will provide for all those physical needs” [my paraphrase].
“Get a job that pays well,” chided his friend, further quoting the national minimal wage. What he was saying, really, in his opinion, was that you can’t rely on a literal understanding of Jesus’ words that God would provide all our needs.
But George saw it differently. That’s what Jesus had said. Surely He meant it, especially in the light of His pre-incarnate words of, “Put me to the test and see if I will not bless you”. (Malachi 3:10) [my paraphrase].
God desires that we are generous with all our resources. This is particularly true with our increase, our time, talents and desires. Echoes of this generous giving appears in the book of Acts where faithful believers, wanting to step up in service to Christ, donated their land and valuables for the sake of the Kingdom. Those who feigned generosity, who lied to the Holy Spirit, paid the ultimate price.
God’s model for generosity begins at ten percent, but a willingness to give under the terms of the New Covenant knows no bounds. That’s where, for many people, the challenge exists in the words of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of Matthew. Do we trust God with our entire lives? Can we trust Him, for example, with a greater portion of our increase? That’s a radical reliance and an extraordinary step faith. For the sake and call of the Kingdom, these are important commitments to consider.
Most of our prayers are spoken in secret, so perhaps it’s reasonable that most of our alms ought also be done in secret. Have you ever considered putting aside, for example, seventy percent of your time and resources in deployment for Christ? Of course, make sure your heart is right – there’s no room for pretenders. Start a ministry. Join an existing ministry. (In his mid-thirties, that’s exactly what George did). Do what you’re naturally gifted with, and live every moment prayerfully. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide, counsel, comfort and help.
And don’t bother trying to do the maths, for such calculations would not have helped the widow with the abundant flow of olive oil from her one small jar during those days of trial and drought (2 Kings 4). Such small steps of faith begin to reveal a powerful truth in Jesus’ words. More than we can perhaps know or understand, this is our Father’s world. He calls us to trust Him.
George may have lost a promising job early in his career, but through the experience gained his life in Christ. His initial loss was, in reality, a divine calling-card that led to a radical reliance and trust in his Heavenly Father!
Everything we do, say and are becoming must reflect God’s glory and give glory to Him; worship is a way of life, lived through six days of labour and refreshingly highlighted on Sabbath rest. Worship is every thought brought into the subjection of Christ. Worship must be the foundation of every dream, the first response of our heart, and forms the basis of our community in Christ. In other words, God is highly esteemed. He created us, redeemed us from certain death, is moulding and shaping us, and for the faithful has promised us eternity.