Josh recently did an article on prayer, which was well received. This article follows on from this. Josh correctly noted that prayer is essential; I think any Christian can agree with this. However, not all of us are prayer warriors, and we all have a different role to play in the church (Acts 6:2-4). Secondly, praying is all well and good, but you need to be active. This is what this article is all about; being an active Christian, i.e. faith without works is dead!
My church moto, or verse for the year comes from 1 Peter 4 verses 10-11. It reads:
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
I think these are such powerful verses that need to be in the heart of every believer. We can pray, yes, but then we need to follow it up with action. There is always a danger of praying, doing nothing, and then moaning why nothing has happened. We also should never leave service to others, because we are ALL called to serve — woman, man, adult, teenager — if you are a believer then you should be using the gifts GIVEN to you to give grace to others. It is such a vital thing to do, but the church, in general, fails at it so much. We are all caught up in the world, or we are too shy, or we are self-doubting.
The New Living Translation makes verse 10 more understandable when it says “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another”. God has given us these gifts that we have, and we all unique, no one Christian is better than another, each gift is from God and therefore is so valuable and precious. We are then to use these gifts to serve, to be active, whether that is in our church, leading a service, welcoming people, doing teas and coffees, or collecting hymn books after a service, the list goes on. I am sure your church has many needs, why not see if you can fill some of those needs.
I do feel that in many churches, it has become a one man band, that the role of pastor has been perverted and misused. A pastor is not the church leader, and he certainly shouldn’t be doing everything in the church. Rather a church is a community; it needs to rely on the people, on the congregation, on its members to function properly. A church is a community where believers come together to worship and serve Christ; it is more than a service, and it is more than a sermon, it is the people, so look to serve and help, do not leave it to one person!
By being active, by serving others as though it were Christ himself, by being active in our own community, we give glory to God, who has entrusted us with these gifts and responsibilities to be his stewards and servants here on earth. God has given all to us, He has given us his grace, surely we should give what we can to people around us. This also is not just about Christians, this is about the communities in which our churches are based. It is about those whom we come into contact daily. We may pray, but do we shine? Are we just saying prayers to show off? Are we being active Christians, or are we being academic Christians? It is great to know more of God, but that isn’t just limited to reading the Bible, by living out the Bible, so to we learn.
We often take evangelism as preaching, and that just isn’t the case. Just by living out our faith is a great testament, whether it’s the small things, helping your neighbours in your road, setting up a free drop-in café in your building, giving out water when the temperature rises or help families who are in crises, any of things are us serving our local community. It is us being hospitable; it is us living out the gospel. Preaching has its place, but we are certainly not all preachers, and have all our gifts that we can use in just helping our local community.
As everything with this blog, we always urge a balance. Just being ‘busy’ for the sake of it is pointless; just to make us feel like we’re doing something to dumb down our consciences, so to speak. It’s important to get this right. Mary and Martha — Martha was the one running around ‘active’, whereas Mary just sat under the word. When we are being active Christians, the main purpose is to Glorify God, and to follow what he says, and that is to serve.
We need to of course, always pray that God shows us his will and his path for us. But do not be afraid to step out in faith and become an active Christian. Stop leaving it all to other people stop putting other things before your service to the church. The Church is an amazing fellowship, and it is a community of believers, let us break down the old image of the church, of a building, of a sermon and make it what it is meant to be, a community of believers, meeting together, serving one another, and the Lord.
One little thing that we can use to remember this (although we shouldn’t have to be reminded!) is use the acrostic PAL. May we be praying Christians, may we be active Christians, may we be loving Christians and be proper PALs to the lost!
In the wake of recent horrific terrorist attacks (which are now almost a daily occurrence) in Barcelona, Finland, Russia, London and many other places, there are many different reactions. Some people are inclined to panic; others put on a show of resilience, resolve and unity; and some angrily attack back, verbally or otherwise. But how should Christians respond?
Do not fear
First of all, we should not fear. People with guns, knives and bombs come and go. The Bible tells us not to fear such people, instead to fear God, who is Sovereign in all things:
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28).
In times of crisis and disaster Christians should shine brightest. We have peace and assurance, that whatever happens, Christ is our Saviour, and we eagerly await the heavenly home that awaits us. We are blessed beyond belief. However, this blessing is not reason to hide away in some hermit-hole up a remote mountain in Tibet or pretend everything’s OK and stick our heads in the ground like Winnie the Pooh. That won’t help anybody.
In times of war, everyone is mobilised and prepared for battle, and in the same way we all need to report for duty to our King and Commander. We all have a role to play within the world. We should not shirk from our duty (*wink wink* Jonah).
We don’t fear. We praise the Lord as we march out to battle (2 Cor. 20:21). He is the One we should fear. He is the One with almighty power who allows such atrocities to happen, and even uses them for good (Gen. 50:20, Rom. 8:28), so that He might unite everything together under His Son (1 Eph. 1:10) and thereby make known His Name and His Salvation to the ends of the earth.
Every day we read or hear the news of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and horrendous accidents all with massive loss of life. Many ask how God can exist or allow such atrocities to carry on. Without wishing to get bogged down with this question, we must remember that this world is fallen, and it is not everything; there will be a day of judgement, where everyone will have to give an account for their actions, and then there will be a new heavens and a new earth.
One of the reasons I love the Psalms is that they were written by people who experienced the exact same problems as us. They are so exactly like us, it is remarkable. There is a psalm for every occasion. Psalm 73 is a great one to read when we feel like everything is going wrong, and people who do evil seem to be having a whale of a time.
The root cause of terrorism and this savage thirst for blood is, of course, sin. Terrorism and war brings out the worst in human beings, as well as sometimes the best in the aftermath. We are sinful fallen creatures, but we are still made in the image of our ever-merciful ever-graceful God.
Our first reaction should surely be to pray. Prayer is our most powerful weapon, a direct channel of communication to our God which should be open at all times (Eph. 6:18). We pray for the families of the victims of the attacks, that they may be comforted and find strength in God. We pray for the security forces and leaders in the country, that they may be blessed with guidance and wisdom in protecting the nation. However hard it is, we should also pray for the terrorist organisations responsible for these attacks, for the poor deluded individuals who are so misled by false religions and ideas as to commit such atrocities. At the end of the day they are sinners just like us, the same uncrossable chasm that once separated us from God separates them also. Jesus is the bridge and we pray that all may know Him.
The West is trying to bomb Islamic State out; a much more effective means of removing them would be to pray them out. Can you imagine if world leaders were to call for an international day of prayer for terrorists and terrorism?
We must remember that the Lord is in control and that is not a throwaway statement. The more I look at the pattern of things in this world, the more I see the Lord’s hand at work in the course of events, ever merciful, ever just. God allows life to go on, and us to carry on.
Christians should show the world in these dark and desperate days the love of God. We love not only our brothers and sisters in Christ but also the people of the world who live a Christless existence (Luke 14:12-14), and this is a love that should not only be in thought or prayer but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:16-18). We mourn with those who mourn. Their loss is our loss. We love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44), we need to have hearts of love and forgiveness (Matt. 6:15).
One of my favourite examples is that of Elisabeth Elliot, who after her husband and four others were brutally killed by a tribe in Ecuador went back and ministered to that same tribe, telling the Gospel with such a love that spoke volumes to the murderers. Later, a son of one of the murdered men was baptised by the very man who had murdered his father and now come to Christ. That same love and forgiveness that so characterised her heart, although it was incredibly hard, we should have with us too. Read 1 Corinthians 13. We may not lose our loved-ones in such a brutal way, but we should remember our Saviour on the cross. The agony He endured for us, at the hands of those who had cheered Him into the city. Our trials and sufferings are as naught, through all suffering, all embarrassment received through the cause, we should love.
As Christians we should be calm, strong and sturdy witnesses, anchored so deep in Christ that the strongest storm cannot wrench us from our position. We should be ‘Quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires’ (James 1:19-20).
We have the most glorious Gift, Jesus Christ, a gift that needs to be shared to all the world. The three ways we share with them and the three things the world needs are prayer, love and the Gospel.
Pray, pray, pray!
In conclusion, the best thing we can do right now is to pour out our hearts to our Heavenly Father for mercy on our world. We must come ‘boldly before His throne of Grace’, and lift up the poor people of this world who go about their day-to-day lives without a thought of God. We should pray that the Lord will draw them to Himself and that they may know Christ for themselves. We should pray that the Lord would send forth His Spirit into the world, into the Church, that we might have a real full-blown revival in these dark times. We should pray for strength, love and faith for ourselves and our Christian brothers and sisters scattered throughout the world. The battle-song of John Bunyan springs to mind:
Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather;
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is,
No lion can him fright;
He’ll with a giant fight;
But he will have a right
To be a pilgrim.
Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit;
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit,
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say;
He’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.
Christ is our hope. He will never fail us. Until He comes, we must be ever watching, ready at a moment’s notice to leave all and go with Him to glory.
Someone recently lent me a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones entitled What is an Evangelical? Needless to say, it had a profound impact on me. I found I agreed with most of what the author said, whilst also disagreeing with him on certain points. In some ‘Reformed’ circles, this man is put on a high pedal stool, which annoys me greatly, however he was a man greatly blessed in ministry and wisdom. Many thanks to Josh for lending it to me, it has been a great inspiration!
Evangelicalism: Primary and Secondary issues
The whole point of the book (a series of lectures given in 1971), is to define what an Evangelical is; that they are one who focuses on the whole truth of the gospel, not jeopardising the primary issues, such as the Cross and the Resurrection, etc. He also is keen to point out a lot of matters which are not primary issues such as Calvinism, how the Spirit works, baptism, prophetic interpretation etc.… with which a lot of Christians can get carried away with and divided by.
When I read this, I was extremely glad when the author noted the secondary issues that should not get in the way of unity amongst Evangelicals. I would add to this, colour of church doors, the type of worship music that we use, whether or not we have pews, or the version of the Bible that we use. There are so many little divisions that keep us from this unity. I am also very glad that he notes of primary issues that we must focus on, and that we should be careful of those who vary from us on these primary truths. The Catholic Church for example, in doctrine on primary truths, varies lot and we must be careful. However Lloyd-Jones’ view on creation I think can be a red-herring, and a hindrance to real issues. Ultimately, how God created the world is neither here nor there when it comes to salvation. It doesn’t bother me, what bothers me is Jesus and his Word being proclaimed in our land.
Nonetheless, unity in the church is a topic Lloyd-Jones focuses on and I would like to take it even further, that the many denominations need to have further unity. In doctrine we will differ on these secondary issues, but with all our aims in evangelising, in spreading the good news, we must unite, as this infighting is just us letting sin control us.
Doctrine and Feeling: the Balancing Act
Lloyd-Jones attacks both intellectualism and emotionalism in these series of lectures. Both, he feels, hinder the work of the Gospel and our walk with the Lord. He notes that especially those in Reformed circles, if they feel the Spirit and are baptised in the Spirit they feel they have to become Pentecostal, which he states is not the case! How true is this! All Christians should welcome such a wonderful gift and should not feel inclined to change denomination because of it! In this, he notes that there has to be knowledge of doctrine, which warns us of the danger of ecumenicalism. That because we think we feel the Spirit does not mean that doctrine no longer matters, it does! That’s why there is still an important divide between Catholics and Protestants, etc… What Lloyd-Jones notes, is that both the Spirit and doctrine are vital for our modern day church. That either going too far one way will become very dangerous and I totally agree with this. I will later go into the Reformed-Charismatic movement as a way of reaching the balance, but for now it is important to note that balance is always needed in the church.
Lloyd-Jones notes of the danger of the growing ecumenical movement that he saw rise during his lifetime. As Christians, we need to be careful of sharing with other churches which vary from the primary issues of the gospel. The Catholic Church and some other denominations need to be kept apart from fellowship for our own good. How can we share evangelism platforms with those who compromise on fundamentals? Share a platform with those who do not believe in a personal relationship with God, who believe in an infallible man called a Pope and pray to Mary? The poor woman would turn in her grave, if only she knew! I am not saying that there are not Christians amongst the Catholic Church, far be it from me to say such things, but certainly the leadership and structure of the Catholic Church should never be met in fellowship, they are incredibly dangerous. I sometimes feel as though we think ecumenical movements are the only way to achieve unity. That idea is wrong, we can have unity in fellowship with our denominations, evangelize together, but we have to recognize our differences and stop trying to water down and compromise on doctrine.
He writes that the church has to be constantly reforming. This is an interesting notion and one that I fully understand. The church should not be relying on its traditions to survive; it should rather be looking forward, and constantly improving itself, adapting to new challenges and situations, and most importantly continually growing in the Lord.
Reformed and Charismatics: where’s the in-between?
I would know like to move onto an article that discusses unity in an interesting way. The term ‘Reformed Charismatic’ might surprise a few, but I think it is wonderful. By it, we see a church desiring to learn the word, whilst acknowledging the wonderful and powerful work of the Holy Spirit.
To me, in simplistic terms, Reformed (Calvinist) churches focus on doctrine but can tread into problems with intellectualism, whilst Charismatic churches focuses on the Spirit, but can tread in dangerous waters regarding emotionalism. Both broadly describe themselves as ‘Evangelical.’ There is no balance in either of these camps. Having emotion and doctrine is no bad thing; God has given us emotions that allow us to express ourselves when words cannot. God has given us doctrine to grow closer to Him.
The church needs to embrace both these. The Spirit is real, the gifts God give are real, and God is unchanging, so why would he suddenly withdraw them from us? The gifts are wonderful, and experiencing God is a fantastic experience that can stir our heart to praise Him more. Interestingly, many ultra-Reformed-types love the writing of Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards, however, it can be noted that he describes of incredible encounters and experiences with God, the like of which some would denounce today.
At the same time, doctrinal knowledge is needed. To keep us from wandering from God, to help us know more of him and to really grow as his children. To generalise the church here, we have gone to one extreme or the other, rather than desiring both. We have become scared of doctrine, or we have become scared of accepting the Spirit, of losing control and letting God use us. What we need to be is unafraid and let God work; we need to desire to learn more of him, whilst we long for his spirit to fill us, to overwhelm us, so that like the old Puritan John Flavel who knew ‘more of heaven from one experience with the Lord than all the books and sermons he had ever read’; or as D.L. Moody, “Stay thy hand Lord! Or the vessel will break!”
The dangers of both extremes are real, between stiff-upper-lip hermit hyper-Calvinists and bewildered Charismatics living for weekly-experiences and healings, perpetually worried about losing their salvation or grieving the Spirit.
Even in our worship we must see a balance. Now I do aim to do an article of worship later on in more detail; but even in our worship we must reform. In many Reformed circles, the organ and hymns are seen as the right way, that praising God can only be done this way; it keeps the emotions under control and is right and proper. In Charismatic circles, having the most up-to-date music, with choruses, and a variety of instruments is seen as the best way to praise God. That God can only work when music is used and that music is the only way we can praise God can sometimes be the message shown. Now both are naïve in their understanding of God, but both can be good forms of worship. To the Reformed, I say, do not box God up and tell him what proper worship is, and do not be scared of your emotions, neither should you hinder the use of God’s gifts he has given people, nor not allow other instruments or new songs into the church. To the Charismatic church I say, don’t let your emotions go unchecked, don’t be afraid of the old stuff and don’t get carried away by the music alone. We need authentic worship that comes from our heart. If both types of churches embraced each other’s style, with an authentic heart then maybe we would really see God work more and more!
Is what I’m saying ecumenical? Hardly! Churches will always have disagreements over secondary issues, but when it comes to Evangelical Reformed and Charismatic churches, we agree on so much, and the denominations agree on so much. By being a Reformed Charismatic, perhaps we can move to a position where the churches can come together to evangelise and fellowship more, presenting a unified Body of Christ, resplendent and effective in evangelism, ‘salt and light’. It will keep us aware of the doctrinal truth of the Bible, and thus aware of heresies such as the Roman Catholic Church, whilst engaging with so many more churches around us. It will allow us to have a church that is filled with the Spirit, and one that is strong in the word of God.
We must learn to come together in unity; we must immediately pray for this unity and get rid of the animosity in the church and we must learn to accept our differences. May our prayer be the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane as John 17: 22-23 states ‘I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. May we be like Christ as Philippians 2:1-5 says ‘Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’
Therefore to conclude, I think Lloyd-Jones’ lectures in What is an Evangelical? are as relevant today as they were then. We need to see the dangers of certain movements, and of the liberal churches that are around. We however, must move away from our extremes of intellectualism and emotionalism, and focus once again on the Gospel truth. We need to embrace the Spirit, long for the baptism of the Spirit, for the gifts, whilst also having a strong knowledge of the biblical truths. We need to be accepting of our differences, except when Gospel fundamentals are impinged on. Although I am wary of labels, perhaps calling ourselves a Reformed Charismatic is a start in bringing a unity between Reformed and Charismatic churches, whilst also bringing together the gospel truths once more. May you be blessed and may God burn in your hearts brothers and sisters!