Wednesday, 22 June 2011

5. We love God the Holy Spirit

One would sometimes think that God the Holy Spirit is a spirit of controversy. After all, what would spark your interest to read something on the Holy Spirit? A post entitled, 'Famous speaker sparks controversy over spiritual gifts!' or 'We love God the Holy Spirit'? Well, you're reading this, so let's take that as a sign that we're not all entirely Corinthian. And on to this lovely expression of faith in God the Holy Spirit, from Part I 5 of the Cape Town Commitment.

5. We love God the Holy Spirit

We love the Holy Spirit within the unity of the Trinity, along with God the Father and God the Son. He is the missionary Spirit sent by the missionary Father and the missionary Son, breathing life and power into God’s missionary Church. We love and pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit because without the witness of the Spirit to Christ, our own witness is futile. Without the convicting work of the Spirit, our preaching is in vain. Without the gifts, guidance and power of the Spirit, our mission is mere human effort. And without the fruit of the Spirit, our unattractive lives cannot reflect the beauty of the gospel.
    a. In the Old Testament we see the Spirit of God active in creation, in works of liberation and justice, and in filling and empowering people for every kind of service. Spirit-filled prophets looked forward to the coming King and Servant, whose Person and work would be endowed with God’s Spirit. Prophets also looked to the coming age that would be marked by the outpouring of God’s Spirit, bringing new life, fresh obedience, and prophetic gifting to all the people of God, young and old, men and women.[1]
    b. At Pentecost God poured out his Holy Spirit as promised by the prophets and by Jesus. The sanctifying Spirit produces his fruit in the lives of believers, and the first fruit is always love. The Spirit fills the Church with his gifts, which we 'eagerly desire' as the indispensable equipment for Christian service. The Spirit gives us power for mission and for the great variety of works of service. The Spirit enables us to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel, to discern the truth, to pray effectively and to prevail over the forces of darkness. The Spirit inspires and accompanies our worship. The Spirit strengthens and comforts disciples who are persecuted or on trial for their witness to Christ.[2]
    c. Our engagement in mission, then, is pointless and fruitless without the presence, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. This is true of mission in all its dimensions: evangelism, bearing witness to the truth, discipling, peace-making, social engagement, ethical transformation, caring for creation, overcoming evil powers, casting out demonic spirits, healing the sick, suffering and enduring under persecution. All we do in the name of Christ must be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The New Testament makes this clear in the life of the early Church and the teaching of the apostles. It is being demonstrated today in the fruitfulness and growth of Churches where Jesus' followers act confidently in the power of the Holy Spirit, with dependence and expectation.
There is no true or whole gospel, and no authentic biblical mission, without the Person, work and power of the Holy Spirit. We pray for a greater awakening to this biblical truth, and for its experience to be reality in all parts of the worldwide body of Christ. However, we are aware of the many abuses that masquerade under the name of the Holy Spirit, the many ways in which all kinds of phenomena are practised and praised which are not the gifts of the Holy Spirit as clearly taught in the New Testament. There is great need for more profound discernment, for clear warnings against delusion, for the exposure of fraudulent and self-serving manipulators who abuse spiritual power for their own ungodly enrichment. Above all there is a great need for sustained biblical teaching and preaching, soaked in humble prayer, that will equip ordinary believers to understand and rejoice in the true gospel and to recognize and reject false gospels.

[1] Genesis 1:1-2; Psalm 104:27-30; Job 33:4; Exodus 35:30-36:1; Judges 3:10; 6:34; 13:25; Numbers 11:16-17, 29; Isaiah 63:11-14; 2 Peter 1:20-21; Micah 3:8; Nehemiah 9:20, 30; Zechariah 7:7-12; Isaiah 11:1-5; 42:1-7; 61:1-3; 32:15-18; Ezekiel 36:25-27; 37:1-14; Joel 2:28-32

[2] Acts 2; Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Peter 1:2; Ephesians 4:3-6; 11-12; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Corinthians 14:1; John 20:21-22; 14:16-17, 25-26; 16:12-15; Romans 8:26-27; Ephesians 6:10-18; John 4:23-24; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 14:13-17; Matthew 10:17-20; Luke 21:15

The Cape Town Commitment can be purchased here. Lindsay Brown, presenting the Commitment to leaders in Boston, said that if he were teaching missiology in a Bible College or seminary, this would be his textbook for the year - there's enough in it, despite its slim size and accessibility!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

4. We love God the Son

Continuing with The Cape Town Commitment - on this Lord's Day:

God commanded Israel to love the LORD God with exclusive loyalty. Likewise for us, loving the Lord Jesus Christ means that we steadfastly affirm that he alone is Saviour, Lord and God. The Bible teaches that Jesus performs the same sovereign actions as God alone. Christ is Creator of the universe, Ruler of history, Judge of all nations and Saviour of all who turn to God.[14] He shares the identity of God in the divine equality and unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just as God called Israel to love him in covenantal faith, obedience and servant-witness, we affirm our love for Jesus Christ by trusting in him, obeying him, and making him known.

A    We trust in Christ. We believe the testimony of the Gospels that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the one appointed and sent by God to fulfil the unique mission of Old Testament Israel, that is to bring the blessing of God’s salvation to all nations, as God promised to Abraham.
  1. In Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, God took our human flesh and lived among us, fully God and fully human.
  2. In his life Jesus walked in perfect faithfulness and obedience to God. He announced and taught the kingdom of God, and modelled the way his disciples must live under God’s reign.
  3. In his ministry and miracles, Jesus announced and demonstrated the victory of the kingdom of God over evil and evil powers.
  4. In his death on the cross, Jesus took our sin upon himself in our place, bearing its full cost, penalty and shame, defeated death and the powers of evil, and accomplished the reconciliation and redemption of all creation.
  5. In his bodily resurrection, Jesus was vindicated and exalted by God, completed and demonstrated the full victory of the cross, and became the forerunner of redeemed humanity and restored creation.
  6. Since his ascension, Jesus is reigning as Lord over all history and creation.
  7. At his return, Jesus will execute God’s judgment, destroy Satan, evil and death, and establish the universal reign of God.
B    We obey Christ. Jesus calls us to discipleship, to take up our cross and follow him in the path of self-denial, servanthood and obedience. ‘If you love me, keep my commandments,’ he said. ‘Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I say?’ We are called to live as Christ lived and to love as Christ loved. To profess Christ while ignoring his commands is dangerous folly. Jesus warns us that many who claim his name with spectacular and miraculous ministries will find themselves disowned by him as evildoers.[15] We take heed to Christ’s warning, for none of us is immune to such fearful danger. 

C    We proclaim Christ. In Christ alone God has fully and finally revealed himself, and through Christ alone God has achieved salvation for the world. We therefore kneel as disciples at the feet of Jesus of Nazareth and say to him with Peter, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,’ and with Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God.’  Though we have not seen him, we love him. And we rejoice with hope as we long for the day of his return when we shall see him as he is. Until that day we join Peter and John in proclaiming that ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.’ [16]
We commit ourselves afresh to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching, in all the world, knowing that we can bear such witness only if we are living in obedience to his teaching ourselves. 

Friday, 17 June 2011

'See in it a chance to die'

Lord Crucified, O mark Thy holy cross
On motive, preference, all fond desires;
On that which self in any form inspires
Set Thou that sign of loss.

And when the touch of death is here and there
Laid on a thing most precious in our eyes
Let us not wonder, let us recognise
The answer to this prayer.
Amy Carmichael, of Northern Ireland / India

Or as Ajith Fernando of Sri Lanka wrote, in Embracing suffering in service:
The biblical model of community life is Jesus’ command to love one another as he loved us — that is, for members to die for other members (John 15:12-13). The model of Christian leadership is that of the Good Shepherd dying for the sheep (John 10:11-15). We don’t discard people when they have problems and cannot do their job properly. 
As the cross is a basic aspect of discipleship, the Church must train Christian leaders to expect pain and hardship. When this perspective enters our minds, then pain will not touch our joy and contentment in Christ.  

In a world whose idols are physical health, appearance and convenience, God may be calling Christians to demonstrate the glory of the gospel by being joyfully contented while enduring pain and hardship. People pursuing unsatisfying things may be astonished when they see Christians who are joyful and content after depriving themselves of these, for the sake of the gospel.
Patrick Fung, Singapore, director of OMF, in partnership - equilibrium vs diversity:
The cross is at the centre of reconciliation. The cross symbolises death in obedience to God. And therefore true biblical partnership requires of each of us something of a death to self. It may be death to our own ambition in order to see others succeed. It may be death to our own desire to be in key positions of influence or controlling power so that others can be in positions of leadership. It could be death to our own opinions or insisting on how ministries should be run, but trusting others to be used by God, for greater work. 
Having criticised the word equilibrium, I believe that we could have a new equilibrium, that is, a kingdom equilibrium which comes from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. When members of God’s community contribute sacrificially for the sake of the Kingdom. Equilibrium is possible, when there is submission to Jesus Christ, when there is submission to one another, and there is death to self.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

3. We love God the Father

From The Cape Town Commitment (part I), because we need a reminder:

Through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, - and through him alone as the way, the truth and the life - we come to know and love God as Father. As the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children, so we cry the words Jesus prayed, ‘Abba, Father’, and we pray the prayer Jesus taught, ‘Our Father’. Our love for Jesus, proved by obeying him, is met by the Father’s love for us as the Father and the Son make their home in us, in mutual giving and receiving of love.[10] This intimate relationship has deep biblical foundations.

A)    We love God as the Father of his people. Old Testament Israel knew God as Father, as the one who brought them into existence, carried them and disciplined them, called for their obedience, longed for their love, and exercised compassionate forgiveness and patient enduring love.[11] All these remain true for us as God’s people in Christ in our relationship with our Father God.

B)    We love God as the Father, who so loved the world that he gave his only Son for our salvation. How great the Father’s love for us that we should be called the children of God. How immeasurable the love of the Father who did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all. This love of the Father in giving the Son was mirrored by the self-giving love of the Son. There was complete harmony of will in the work of atonement that the Father and the Son accomplished at the cross, through the eternal Spirit. The Father loved the world and gave his Son; ‘the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.’ This unity of Father and Son, affirmed by Jesus himself, is echoed in Paul’s most repeated greeting of ‘grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins…according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’[12]

C)   We love God as the Father whose character we reflect and whose care we trust. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus repeatedly points to our heavenly Father as the model or focus for our action. We are to be peacemakers, as sons of God. We are to do good deeds, so that our Father receives the praise. We are to love our enemies in reflection of God’s Fatherly love. We are to practise our giving, praying and fasting for our Father’s eyes only. We are to forgive others as our Father forgives us. We are to have no anxiety but trust in our Father’s provision. With such behaviour flowing from Christian character, we do the will of our Father in heaven, within the kingdom of God.[13]

We confess that we have often neglected the truth of the Fatherhood of God and deprived ourselves of the riches of our relationship with him. We commit ourselves afresh to come to the Father through Jesus the Son: to receive and respond to his Fatherly love; to live in obedience under his Fatherly discipline; to reflect his Fatherly character in all our behaviour and attitudes; and to trust in his Fatherly provision in whatever circumstances he leads us.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Gospels = eye-witness accounts

If you're not sure, take a listen to this engaging and up-front lecture by Dr Pete Williams (Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge).

Sunday, 12 June 2011

As the sun is full of light

O Holy Spirit,

As the sun is full of light,
the ocean full of water,
Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of thee.
Vain are all divine purposes of love
and the redemption wrought by Jesus
except thou work within,
regenerating by thy power,
giving me eyes to see Jesus,
showing me the realities of the unseen world.

Give me thyself without measure,
as an unimpaired fountain,
an inexhaustible riches.
I bewail my coldness, poverty, emptiness,
imperfect vision, languid service,
prayerless prayers, praiseless praises.
Suffer me not to grieve or resist thee.

Come as power,
to expel every rebel lust, to reign supreme and keep me thine;
Come as teacher,
leading me into all truth, filling me with all understanding;

Come as love,
that I may adore the Father, and love him as my all;
Come as joy,
to dwell in me, move in me, animate me;
Come as light,
illuminating the Scripture, moulding me in its laws;

Come as sanctifier,
body, soul and spirit wholly thine;
Come as helper, 
with strength to bless and keep, directing my every step;
Come as beautifier,
bringing order out of confusion, loveliness out of chaos.

Magnify to me thy glory by being magnified in me,
and make me redolent of thy fragrance.

- Arthur Bennett, based on Puritan writings. The Valley of Vision

Friday, 10 June 2011

2 We love the living God

Continuing contemplation from The Cape Town Commitment - today's section is hard to hear:

2 We love the living God

Our God whom we love reveals himself in the Bible as the one, eternal, living God who governs all things according to his sovereign will and for his saving purpose. In the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God alone is the Creator, Ruler, Judge and Saviour of the world.[6] So we love God - thanking him for our place in creation, submitting to his sovereign providence, trusting in his justice, and praising him for the salvation he has accomplished for us.

A    We love God above all rivals. We are commanded to love and worship the living God alone. But like Old Testament Israel we allow our love for God to be adulterated by going after the gods of this world, the gods of the people around us.[7] We fall into syncretism, enticed by many idols such as greed, power and success, serving mammon rather than God. We accept dominant political and economic ideologies without biblical critique. We are tempted to compromise our belief in the uniqueness of Christ under the pressure of religious pluralism. Like Israel we need to hear the call of the prophets and of Jesus himself to repent, to forsake all such rivals, and to return to obedient love and worship of God alone.

B     We love God with passion for his glory. The greatest motivation for our mission is the same as that which drives the mission of God himself – that the one true living God should be known and glorified throughout his whole creation. That is God’s ultimate goal and should be our greatest joy.
‘If God desires every knee to bow to Jesus and every tongue to confess him, so should we. We should be “jealous” (as Scripture sometimes puts it) for the honour of his name -- troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed, and all the time anxious and determined that it shall be given the honour and glory which are due to it. The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God) but rather zeal -- burning and passionate zeal -- for the glory of Jesus Christ. … Before this supreme goal of the Christian mission, all unworthy motives wither and die.’[8]  John Stott
It should be our greatest grief that in our world the living God is not glorified. The living God is denied in aggressive atheism. The one true God is replaced or distorted in the practice of world religions. Our Lord Jesus Christ is abused and misrepresented in some popular cultures. And the face of the God of biblical revelation is obscured by Christian nominalism, syncretism and hypocrisy. 

Loving God in the midst of a world that rejects or distorts him, calls for bold but humble witness to our God; robust but gracious defence of the truth of the gospel of Christ, God’s Son; and prayerful trust in the convicting and convincing work of his Holy Spirit. We commit ourselves to such witness, for if we claim to love God we must share God’s greatest priority, which is that his name and his Word should be exalted above all things.[9]

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Captivating ideas

In the BBC's All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, Adam Curtis gives a persuasive interpretation of history, proposing that much of our current outlook and many of our contemporary problems, are caused by the general acceptance of fictional theories, as science. The first episode considered the impact of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged on global economy, with the grip of the idea of capitalistic progress through free trade regulated by selfishness - and the consequent collapse of markets. The second proposed that the idea of ecological systems was a fiction, born of Eugene P Odum's Fundamentals of Ecology, and applied to society - a flawed search for equilibrium. The third episode presented the question: Why do we find it compelling, to reduce ourselves to machines, equations and mechanics? Perhaps it is to avoid responsibility for the horrific crimes we have committed.

I certainly found the concepts of mathematics laughable. It seems thus:
I have/come across a philosophical / sociological idea about how people act in certain ways
I describe it in terms of mathematical equations
Conclusion: Science says why people act in certain ways
Ethical conclusion: We should act according to this model

Lesson to learn, please! Just because some sociological theory about how people act, can be described as a mathematical model, does not mean it is correct. And it certainly doesn't become scientific fact. Simply because there is a model for how a limited sample of people act, doesn't mean that we should universally pursue this mode of conduct.

Made in the image of a Triune God of love and grace, we should know that our selfishness would not produce general growth, because it was God's self-giving which produced the universe. Knowing that this world is cursed subject to futility, we should know that 'nature' and society do not tend to balance, but to decay. And yes, we suppress the truth of our humanity in order to avoid blame for our corruption. If we can describe our actions with equations, we can sleep at night. The blood of equations does not cry to us from the ground. The flaw: we are not machines, and we need love and grace from others, and from our creator, to survive.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

1 We love because God first loved us

The Cape Town Commitment is a fruit of The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, October 2010. 4,200 evangelical leaders from 198 countries met together, with the goal - to bring a fresh challenge to the global Church to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching - in every nation, in every sphere of society, and in the realm of ideas.

The statement is in two parts. Part I sets out biblical convictions, passed down to us in the scriptures, and Part II sounds the call to action. As we need to hear the voice of believers in other countries filling in our blind spots, and need to call each other on to faithfulness to the Lord we love, I'll be posting excerpts from The Cape Town Commitment. Each is worth reflection. (It is also available in Arabic, German, French, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese and Spanish, and can be purchased from your local Christian bookshop or online.)

1 We love because God first loved us

The mission of God flows from the love of God. The mission of God’s people flows from our love for God and for all that God loves. World evangelization is the outflow of God’s love to us and through us. We affirm the primacy of God’s grace and we then respond to that grace by faith, demonstrated through the obedience of love. We love because God first loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.[1]

A    Love for God and love for neighbour constitute the first and greatest commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets. Love is the fulfilling of the law, and the first named fruit of the Spirit. Love is the evidence that we are born again; the assurance that we know God; and the proof that God dwells within us. Love is the new commandment of Christ, who told his disciples that only as they obeyed this commandment would their mission be visible and believable. Christian love for one another is how the unseen God, who made himself visible through his incarnate Son, goes on making himself visible to the world. Love was among the first things that Paul observed and commended among new believers, along with faith and hope. But love is the greatest, for love never ends.[2]

B    Such love is not weak or sentimental. The love of God is covenantally faithful, committed, self-giving, sacrificial, strong, and holy. Since God is love, love permeates God’s whole being and all his actions, his justice as well as his compassion. God’s love extends over all his creation. We are commanded to love in ways that reflect the love of God in all those same dimensions. That is what it means to walk in the way of the Lord. [3]

C    So in framing our convictions and our commitments in terms of love, we are taking up the most basic and demanding biblical challenge of all:
  1. to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength;
  2. to love our neighbour (including the foreigner and the enemy) as ourselves;
  3. to love one another as God in Christ has loved us, and
  4. to love the world with the love of the One who gave his only Son that the world through him might be saved.[4]
D    Such love is the gift of God poured out in our hearts, but it is also the command of God requiring the obedience of our wills. Such love means to be like Christ himself: robust in endurance, yet gentle in humility; tough in resisting evil, yet tender in compassion for the suffering; courageous in suffering and faithful even unto death. Such love was modelled by Christ on earth and is measured by the risen Christ in glory.[5] 

We affirm that such comprehensive biblical love should be the defining identity and hallmark of disciples of Jesus. In response to the prayer and command of Jesus, we long that it should be so for us. Sadly we confess that too often it is not. So we re-commit ourselves afresh to make every effort to live, think, speak and behave in ways that express what it means to walk in love - love for God, love for one another and love for the world.