The Christ-Centered Life: Seven Golden Lampstands
The third book in “The Christ-Centered Life series”, is “Seven Golden Lampstands”, and it is now complete. This book focuses on what YHWH (YaHWeH) wants to say and do in Scotland and beyond in the coming years, and it does so through an extensive exploration of John chapter fifteen and the first three chapters of the book of Revelation. The book then considers what Jesus may want to say and do in and through the church in Scotland, and beyond. The contents are summarized below:
Two major themes underpin this book and provide its foundation upon which the rest of the book sits, and they are an extensive meditation on John chapter 15 and an equally extensive meditation on the first three chapters of Revelation.
At the very heart of the Trinity that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is relationship. At the very heart of the Trinity’s dealings with all peoples on the Earth, there is relationship. At the very heart of all human beings on the Earth; there is relationship. We must, however, be cautious about saying that, at the very heart of the Trinity that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is love, as if love was merely one of the characteristics of YHWH. Not so. YHWH is love. YHWH does not ‘do’ love, YHWH does not imitate love, YHWH does not manufacture love; YHWH is love. Love is YHWH. This is union, not mere unity.
We examine what sacrificial love means in terms of giving and receiving. What do we as human beings have that YHWH needs? As human beings we need everything that YHWH wants to give to us, and that is the foundation of the ‘divine exchange’. I believe that knowing YHWH is primarily a thing of the heart, and that knowing YHWH is primarily a thing of community, not individualism. We examine the foundation of all relationships.
No-one else except the Father cleans and prunes. No-one else except the Father has the vision and understanding to clean and prune. We cannot clean and prune ourselves, and no other human being can clean and prune us. Indeed, no-one else except the Father who is the gardener can see what cleaning and pruning needs to be done in me and in you, so it is best from all angles to welcome the gardener to do his work in me and you, knowing that the outcome will always be what is best for me and you.
My Father the gardener prunes the dead wood from me and cleans that in me which is alive and growing and bearing fruit in order that I may bear greater and better fruit. How much this will mean to those who love to work in their gardens I am not sure, but that is not really my field since I am not much of a gardener! But I do know this: Gardeners get their hands dirty. My Father gets his hands dirty for me. He gets his hands dirty as he cleans me. That’s a divine exchange worth thinking about for some time.
What value does theological training and learning have? Is it all about the head, and therefore irrelevant to real life? Theological study surely must concern itself with my character, with my growth and with my spirituality, should it not? Theological study cannot just be about passing exams and jumping through academic hoops, can it? Aren’t character, growth and spirituality vital learning areas for ministry? Indeed, are they not vital learning areas for life itself? Information for its own sake is of little or no value. What, then, is the value of academic study and theological learning? Surely it is this: To go hand-in-hand with daily life and to help us to know YHWH, to help us to grow in our faith in him, to help us to grow in wisdom for living – and all of this so that our growing understanding has its foundation and its place in the whole of real life.
LOVING AND LEARNING
Isn’t it amazing that, as the Father loved Jesus, so Jesus loved his disciples? He told those teenage boys to remain in his love. Teenage boys do not usually take in everything that they are taught, and they rarely know nor understand the big picture. Teenage boys tend to think that they are invincible and that they are in command of their lives. What did it mean for those teenage boys to remain (or abide) in Jesus’ love? What part does obedience play in remaining and abiding? Jesus made known to his disciples everything that he learned from his Father, and that would go on after he was back in heaven and the Holy Spirit continued that work in them. Jesus gave to them that they might give to others. Whatever God has given me is not for me alone and it is not my personal property, but rather it is for sharing and giving. The giving and receiving of love is surely the highest practice of community.
I have come to believe that, for me, my life’s purpose is summed up in this: Knowing Jesus the Christ and making Jesus the Christ known. My life is therefore a life of spirituality far more than it is a life of mere mortality. One day I will shake off that which is mortal even as I inherit that which is eternal and everlasting. One day, all the cares of this world and the cares of this life lived in it will melt away as I stand face-to-face with Jesus and jump into his arms with tears of joy streaming down my face.
But what is my one mortal life here and now in the midst of so many billions of mortal lives? What is my mortal life when considered in the context of all of time and space? Who am I that I should make a difference in this vast world? I thought about such questions. I thought about these things. And the only answer that came to me was: Insignificance. What does it mean to be insignificant in this world but significant in the eyes of YHWH?
Surely Spiritual Development should not merely be the subject of a module of theological education, but rather that spiritual development must surely be an ongoing growth experience to be undertaken with supervision and mentoring? Spiritual growth should always happen in experience and it should be expected to happen as we work to create the best conditions in our lives for our spiritual growth. Surely spiritual development should not just be taught as an academic subject that is divorced from daily life? Surely theological study in general should have a much greater emphasis on the realities of life and ministry, rather than purely on academic learning?
Over many decades, I have been actively pursuing the reality of knowing YHWH for myself every moment of every day; in order to realize what it is to know prayer as breathing and to know breathing as prayer; in order to know what it is to be in union with Christ; in order to know what it is to have Christ so formed in me that I begin to disappear and he is seen more and more. Apart from one or two people who are really close to me, I really can’t talk about this pursuit very often – after all, what would people think? Would they think I was on some kind of super-ego trip? Perhaps. Would they really understand where I was going and encourage me in that? Perhaps not.
Yet, my normal human experience is to waver, it is to fluctuate; it is to ebb and flow – these are features of my normal daily mortal life. It is the same for everyone. I breathe without thinking, and I only notice my breathing when something is wrong with it. Ceaseless prayer. Ceaseless union finding ceaseless expression. Always aware of you. Always aware of you with me. Always aware of you in me. Always aware of you on me. Always aware of being always aware. Your face always turned to me. Your love always guiding me. Your love always keeping me safe. Your love always eternally safe. I am never out of your loving gaze. I always know the warmth of your smile. I always know the touch of your hand. I always feel the breeze of your breath. I always smell the sweet scent of your person. Always aware. Always union.
PRAYER IS AN OPEN HEART
What does it mean that you or I could actually be a friend of YHWH? It means, according to Jesus, that our love for him is expressed in our loving obedience to him. Love obeys. It means, according to Jesus, that he will make known to us everything that he heard from his Father. Love reveals. Was this something that was only valid for those disciples who were physically with him at that time and therefore who physically heard what he actually said to them? We are going to look at what it means to pray with an open heart, and what praying with an open heart can achieve in us and through us. To that end, we are going to think together about the power of YHWH first, and about the intimacy of union, second.
We think and examine the whole subject of church planting and what it is, or what it should be. It seems to me to be somewhat unnecessary to have say it, but church planting should surely be the result of genuine conversion growth. If it is for any other reason, I would seriously question the validity of such ‘growth’. A church that is “growing” only because they are the latest trendsetters and so pulling Christians from other churches is not truly growing – it is merely getting fat. Supposedly having “the best worship band” or reputedly having the “best teaching” and being altogether popular so that Christians want to come to a particular church is not what the kingdom of Christ is about. Furthermore, any church that “grows” by importing unhappy Christians from other churches is simply storing up trouble for itself in the future.
Also, if churches are truly seeing conversion growth, then that conversion growth itself will determine what kind of church is planted as a result of that conversion growth, and its shape will serve that conversion growth through real discipleship. It is my current thinking that church planting should not be used as an attempt to inspire conversion growth, but rather that church planting should clearly be the wise outcome of conversion growth that creates the best environment for discipleship. What kind of church should be planted is another question entirely, and the answer depends upon the local circumstances and the local people – not on a formula.
The gardener is the only one who has the overview of the whole garden (the whole of creation) and he has entrusted to us as his people in Christ to our being discipled ourselves even as we disciple others. But the question must be asked again and again: What is discipleship? What is discipleship not? How are lives changed? I believe that we need to re-evaluate discipleship and Christian education and bring the preaching and teaching that we give to our people back into the realms of being relevant and helpful for them in their everyday lives. True Christianity will always be critical, questioning and continually developing in its understanding of YHWH and of human life. Theology must be intimately married to real life.
YHWH’s people need their faith to be constantly growing and they need their faith to be continually seeking fresh understanding. YHWH’s people need to know what they believe and why they believe it, and that means that they need always to be growing in their knowing of YHWH. Truthing in this context needs to be a real experience of discipleship as people learn day by day what it means to be in a love relationship with Jesus Christ, and how to live in the reality of that relationship.
CHURCH WITHOUT WALLS
I examine the Church of Scotland report “Church Without Walls” and especially consider many of its valuable insights, thoughts and suggestions. The writers of the report were under no illusions about the history of the Church of Scotland, and they knew that there would certainly be resistance to any change. ‘Follow me is a call to change. The history of the church is an account of our failure to respond to that call, and Christ’s faithfulness in recalling us again and again to the Way.’
In reporting as they did in 2002, the writers of ‘Church Without Walls’ themselves stated how difficult change could be to implement, even if there was truly a heart for change among the people of the Church of Scotland. Many denominations could learn a lot from the ‘Church Without Walls’ report, and I have quoted at some length from it because of its ongoing relevance, even if it does not have an ongoing implementation within the Church of Scotland. The report was like a breath of fresh air for me, but I wonder how much it is being implemented nowadays. Is it even still being discussed within the Church of Scotland? I hope so.
Among the commandments that Moses received from YHWH was the instruction to “Love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Hundreds of years later and in a Greek saturated culture, Jesus said, “Love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The mind was certainly included in Jesus’ statement, but as the servant of the heart, and not as its master. This was explored in depth in my first book: “The Christ-Centered Life: Deep Calls To Deep”. What does it mean for us, the people of YHWH, to love YHWH with all that we are, and to love YHWH with all that we have, and to love YHWH with all that we do?
What Jesus is commanding is a love that gives entirely of itself, holding nothing back; in the same way that YHWH gave of himself to us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, himself holding nothing back. Such a love is holistic, for it considers everything that is good is sacred because everything that is good comes from YHWH. The whole of life is to be God-centered in Christ, and the life of the individual is a part of the life of the community of YHWH, in which there is fullness of expression. Such a holistic love is the love of the integrated whole communities wherever people are, and that whole is far greater than the sum of the individual parts.
I have written in my previous two books about leadership, but I believe that leadership is such a critical issue for church today that I want to return to it here – even at the risk of repeating myself on occasion. The whole area of leadership is crucial to every community, leadership is crucial to every congregation, leadership is crucial to every to every church, and leadership is crucial to every to every denomination. To show and train the people of YHWH in how to live a life of knowing Jesus and of making him known in the midst of the world in which we live is the highest calling of leadership. Isn’t it?
If we do not know Christ, we cannot follow him; but Jesus’ constitution for everyone is the very simple, ‘Follow me.’ Leaders of the church need to direct God’s people back to this simple truth and teach them how to do it by demonstrating to YHWH’s people the reality of a holistic love relationship with YHWH through Jesus the Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not a sacred social club; we are the earthly representation of Jesus Christ; we are the body of Christ, we are church. Church is about the community of believers who are the people of YHWH wherever they are and whoever they are. Church is much, so much more than just the people of YHWH gathered together on a Sunday morning or for a church meeting; church is the people themselves that are the church, the church is not the gathered meetings.
This is about the life, presence and power of YHWH made manifest in the midst of his community wherever his people may find themselves. Our Father in heaven is in the business of changing and transforming people’s lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we need to be immersed in our father’s business. This has a radical impact on how we see and practise ministry in the church, for ministry is for every believer and every believer is for ministry.
I believe that the whole general accreditation and training process of ministers and leaders needs to be radically widened in order to formally recognize many functions of leadership service that were previously occasionally acknowledged in some way, but that were never properly recognized. That which is not properly recognized will not be trained for. That which is not trained for is a process of learning through mistakes and blunders to a far greater extent than needed to be the case.
Furthermore, accreditation should not just be about attaining an acceptable level of academic achievement, but character, temperament, spiritual development, and other factors should be included in gaining accreditation. Accreditation should be about the whole person. People need to be able to test their call from YHWH under the watchful eye of respected and Godly leaders, and that means local church leaders should be contributing to the process of accreditation alongside the staff in the training organization.
The God-anointed leaders of our churches must continually find new, interesting and exciting ways to touch the hearts of the people in our churches, so that the values and commitments that lie at the center of who and what we are in Christ might find their fullest expression through a real joy and a genuine excitement in YHWH. Leaders need to be people who wear their hearts on our sleeves, whose passion for both Jesus and for God’s people is both unmistakable and irrepressible. Leaders need to be a people who love as Jesus loved and who demonstrate that love in the way that Jesus did. But this is not so much about a passion for Christianity, as it is about a passion for Christ himself. This is not so much about a passion for church, as it is about a passion for him who is the Head of the church. This is about a passion for Jesus that overflows to his people and seeks to love them in word and deed.
If leaders are not excited and joyful about Jesus, their people will not be, either. The God-anointed leaders of our churches must find new, creative, interesting, and exciting ways to express what it means to be the people of God; to express what it means to be the church. We need to know who and what we are in Christ, in order that we might do the things that Jesus did; indeed, that we might do the very things that he is still doing.
In thinking again now about renewal, I am aware that I may be repeating some things that I have already said in my previous two books in the ‘Christ-Centered Life’ series. However, I do believe that the discussion that follows is very important, and so I beg your indulgence where I am saying what you already know, and if I am saying that which you have already put into practice.
SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS
The fact that these messages were from Jesus and that the letters followed the same form as old covenant oracles clearly implied Jesus’ deity. Furthermore, the descriptions of Jesus’ glory as found in the letters resemble in form the sort of epithets with which Greeks often addressed their own deities. The call for each church to “hear” was common language in both Jewish and Greek ethical exhortations. The fact that Jesus was the author of the letters meant that the content of the letters should be taken very seriously indeed.
The seven churches were each invited to read the letters that were addressed to all the other churches, as well as the letter that was addressed to their own individual church. Each church was called to hear and know the bigger picture of what the Spirit was saying “to the churches” (plural), so these letters would circulate around those churches. Furthermore, the call certainly required each church to receive as from Jesus not just its own letter or even just the seven letters, but they were to receive the whole of the book of Revelation.
When we read the letters to the seven churches, it is very important to bear in mind that the churches were described by Jesus as seven golden lampstands, and that means that they were therefore of great value to Jesus, since he personally and lovingly walked among them because he wanted their shortcomings corrected. The seven churches were not in any way being discarded, nor were they being judged, nor were they being condemned, and nor were they being rejected; otherwise Jesus would not have issued corrective directions. Therefore, Jesus walking among the lampstands was an act of love; it was not an act of condemnation and nor was it an act of dismissal. Each church was also called to “overcome”, which implied that endurance and stickability were required if the churches were to come through the trials in which they found themselves by virtue either of their own failings, or because of what was happening spiritually in the cities in which they based.
While each of the seven letters was addressed to a specific church that had its own specific issues, there were elements within each letter that were applicable to all seven churches and, through them, to all churches throughout all the ages. This was especially true of these sections on overcoming, which made clear that receiving at least some of the inheritance that awaited those Christians who overcame was not automatic, but rather that the inheritance was conditional on fulfilling what Jesus said. Before looking at the individual verses on overcoming, there are important questions to ask, and they are these:
- What does it mean to overcome?
- What is it that needs to be overcome?
- How will we know when we have overcome?
- How will we know when we are overcomers?
These questions address practical issues surrounding the overcoming verses, but they also question whether those verses actually apply only in the life to come, or whether they have at least some importance for us here and now. Since the verses were given to all churches in letters that were very much about the here and now of their then and now, I conclude that the overcoming verses also have importance and relevance for us in the here and now.
TO JESUS’ CHURCH
The common theme in all of the seven letters to the seven churches is not rebuke, and neither is it correction – since not all of the seven letters contain rebuke and nor do all of the seven letters contain correction. Indeed, the common theme is actually not a negative thing at all, for Jesus is writing to the churches to encourage them, he is writing to the churches to build them up, and he is writing to the churches to exhort them to overcome. Jesus’ challenge is given in love, not in condemnation. The common theme in all of the seven letters is a threefold revelation from Jesus. First of all, the revelation is how Jesus saw the people of his church in each place; second, the revelation is how Jesus saw each place’s overall situation; and third, the revelation is how each place’s Christians should respond to Jesus’ revelation of their state and situation.
Throughout the letters, the focus is firmly on Jesus and what he reveals and says to those churches, because those churches are his and he loved them. Therefore, as we come to think about what Jesus may be saying to his church in Scotland, we need to grasp that such revelation is not about Jesus condemning any church, and nor is it about Jesus merely pointing out error in any church. I say again that Jesus is never merely negative in what he says to his churches, and we need to get away from the idea that a letter from Jesus must automatically be bad news. In fact, the opposite is true. What Jesus is saying to his church in Edinburgh, what Jesus is saying to his church in Scotland, and what Jesus is saying to his church further afield, is surely about knowing and understanding how Jesus sees each church in its city or in its location, it is about knowing and understanding how Jesus sees each fellowship of Christians, and it is about knowing and understanding how Jesus sees the church as a whole.
THE HEROIC AGE
We come now to think in greater depth about the subject of ‘heroes’ that I mentioned earlier, and it is a subject that I will now explore for a while and, in particular, I must do so with reference to the book of Judges. The age of the Judges in Israel’s history, in which the communal, political and social structure had given way to individualistic and charismatic leadership was commonly known as a ‘Heroic Age’. The corporate, tribal, or national feelings that had once bound the social order together had given way to an emphasis on an individual and charismatic personal leadership who were often from the aristocratic warrior or wealthy landowner class. This was the birthing pool of cults and empires that would be led by one man who was in absolute control. In the realm of personal values, individualism again predominated in that culture. Bravery, an exaggeration of physical prowess, and an excess of passion were just some of the ingredients that made up the heroic character – and they were essentially individualistic characteristics.
In the coming years…
I must now return to the subject of compartmentalization that I have touched on several times earlier, and I must now explore it in some depth. The Greek-based culture of our western society often causes each of us, even from before birth, to be human beings of an unhealthy inner compartmentalization. The important word in that preceding sentence is the word ‘unhealthy’. We in the west are usually conditioned to see and to believe that we are human beings who are each a multitude of different inner departments. We in the west are conditioned to see and to believe that we are human beings who each have an inner being that consists of many rooms. We in the west are conditioned to see and to believe that we are human beings who are each are a complexity of many and varied divisions that may, or may not, make a whole.
Rarely, if ever, do we in the west see ourselves, or anyone else, as a potentially whole human beings, and that is understandable because of the culture into which we were born and in which we grow up. Rarely, if ever, do we in the west expect to be whole human beings ourselves. That unhealthy inner compartmentalization can rapidly grow in each of us even as we physically grow, and it something that we may never question, it is something that we may never doubt, and it is something that we are probably not even aware of. An unhealthy inner compartmentalization is not something that we have created for ourselves and nor is it what we have sought for ourselves, but rather it is what life had done to us and what life had formed in us long before we knew how to create or to seek for ourselves. It is the way that we each were shaped before we even knew that we were being shaped. What I am speaking of here is an unhealthy inner division, an unhealthy inner fragmentation, an unhealthy inner conflict.
WHICH CHURCH DO WE SEE?
The visible face of Christianity in Scotland today certainly has an extremely unhealthy inner compartmentalization that can most certainly be identified as the church in Scotland having a divided heart. You hardly need me to go into details of just how fragmented the Christian church in Scotland really is, and you hardly need me to give you example after example. Denominations dividing, churches splitting, congregations infighting, and so much more have blighted the church in Scotland for many years. Unity is not the word that springs to mind when thinking of the visible Christian church in Scotland. Union is a word that is even more distant from our thinking about the church in Scotland.
We must contrast the preceding paragraph with the realization that Jesus’ church in Scotland is actually healthy, it is integrated, it is whole, and it is growing well. Jesus’ church in Scotland knows nothing of an extremely unhealthy inner compartmentalization. Jesus’ church in Scotland is growing strong and healthy just as Jesus said it would. There is no panic in heaven over the state of the church in Scotland; on the contrary, there is great joy in heaven over the consistent and dynamic growth of Jesus’ church in Scotland. Perhaps, after all, union is the word that springs to mind when thinking about Jesus’ church in Scotland. Which church do we see? Which church do we believe in? Which church are we truly a part of? Which church truly is Jesus’ church?
DREAMS AND VISIONS?
The title of this section is “Dreams And Visions?” and the question mark is very important in that title, because I will be exploring why, how, and if, dreams and visions should be given either credence or importance (or both) in twenty-first century Scotland. Let me say right at the outset that I do believe that dreams and visions (and indeed prophecy) do have a very significant and very important role to play in our church life today, and that we need to value these things very highly and nurture them accordingly. Having said that, I need to explain in depth how I have arrived at that belief, and I need to do so in detail so that I fully lay out my reasoning and leave the reader in no doubt about the process that I have gone through in order to arrive at my stated belief. Though it may initially seem to be a strange approach, I will be initially laying the foundation to exploring dreams and visions from the standpoint of words – both spoken words and written words.
When Jesus sent the letters to the seven churches in Asia, he made one thing very clear to each of them by the repeated use of the phrase: “I know”. Jesus made clear that he knew the history of each church, and knowing that had an impact upon what he said to each church, and how he said it. The fact that Jesus was well aware of each church’s history meant that what he had to say to each church was set firmly in the context of where each church had come from to get to the point where they were then. When Jesus speaks to the church in Scotland, what will be included in his “I know”?
The cultural situation in Scotland today – as it is in the west generally – bears remarkable similarity to the situation that the apostle John faced in the decades that followed Jesus’ ascension. We will explore the first letter that John, the apostle of Jesus, wrote in order to appreciate why John wrote what he did, and in order for us to see why those writings are so important for us today. In all of his writings, John loved to use opposites like light and dark, day and night, and he loved to speak in ways that were mysterious.
Such writings require the reader to both think deeply and also to consider carefully the culture and context into which John wrote. There was a very good reason why John wrote in that way. John’s first letter is a very important document because it greatly helps us in our understanding of what was happening in John’s day, but vital to that understanding is knowing how John wrote that first letter, what literary devices he used in that letter, and how he handled the conflict with the enemies that were within his own church.
SHEPHERDS AND THE SHEEP
The Jewish calendar was, and indeed still is, punctuated by feasts and festivals and John, in his gospel, majored on Jesus being present at many of those feasts and festivals. For example, from chapters five through nine of his gospel, John had Jesus appearing at the Sabbath, at the Passover and at the Feast of the Tabernacles, and now here in chapter ten John has Jesus appearing at Hanukkah. The feasts and festivals were important to John. Jesus had been gradually revealing something of his identity and something of his work through the festival imagery in all of the gospels, but that was especially true in John’s gospel.
Alongside the ongoing revelations of Jesus’ identity came the various ways in which Jesus revealed something of his work. In the stories surrounding Jesus, John used words, symbols and signs to help his readers in their understanding of what he was doing and so, alongside the signs, we see words like bread, water, light, truth, glory, way, love, and so on. The way that Jesus taught, the way that Jesus spoke, the words that Jesus used, the things that Jesus did, all combined to highlight an important principle that his Jewish hearers would have understood well – even if they didn’t like where Jesus was going with it. The principle that Jesus was teaching was this:
That which is new always springs out of and comes from that which is old; that which is to come is always birthed in that which already is.
This is a natural law of creation, and Jesus picked up on that law as he spoke about shepherds and sheep as recorded here in John’s gospel. Jesus’ words that we read were proclaiming that a brand-new leader – Jesus himself – with a brand-new type of leadership – love – was springing out of the old leadership and coming out of the old type of leadership. This is certainly the case when Jesus described himself as the “Good Shepherd”, as we will see later.
The Greek word for ‘disciple’ (mathetes) literally means ‘learner’. By the time that Luke wrote Acts, this literal term ‘learner’ had become the favorite way to refer to Christians. The word appears four times in this chapter of Acts alone, and it appears twenty-eight times in total in Acts, and it appears more than two hundred and fifty times in the gospels. The term ‘learner’ was applied to all Christians, irrespective of their age, irrespective of their gender, irrespective of their life experience, and irrespective of how long they may have been in relationship with the Christ. How I wish that translators into English would use the words ‘learner’ and ‘learners’! All disciples were ‘learners’. There is no reference in the Scriptures to any disciple that no longer needing to be discipled because they had it all worked out, nor is there any reference in Scripture that any disciple no longer needed to learn.
I will now ask you a question which may seem to have a rather obvious answer, and it is this: What was the highest purpose of Jesus’ mission? In asking that question, I recognize that Jesus’ mission had many purposes, but what was the highest purpose that he came to achieve? The two answers that I hear most often when I ask that question are closely related to each other:
- To save the world.
- To save people.
Jesus’ highest purpose is often summed up as “Jesus came to save.” Of course, he did. There are many Christian worship songs that speak of Jesus’ mission to save, and there are many Christian books with a similar focus. Salvation is usually given as the primary purpose of Jesus’ mission, and that belief is so ingrained in us that we do not even tend to think about it. Let me be plainly honest here. If salvation was indeed Jesus’ primary purpose in his mission, then that mission is not going terribly well. Indeed, and I do say it reverently, if salvation was the primary focus of Jesus’ mission, then he does not appear to be doing a very good job of it. I am not being irreverent here; I am simply being honest. For example, we proclaim that Jesus is the Saviour of the world, but where is the evidence of that in this world? Where is the evidence of that in the people of this world?
I want to turn now in order to look at the life of Jesus’ mother to see what we can learn from her life, and explore how her life can encourage us in our walk with Jesus, both as individuals and as church. Much has been assumed about Jesus’ mother, and much has been invented about Jesus’ mother, but our brief exploration will be based firmly in what the Scriptures tell us; we will pay no attention to what any mere tradition may want to tell us. Studying the life and times of Jesus’ mother is important because the Reformed wing of the church has tended to ignore Jesus’ mother completely, and preachers within the Reformed wing of the church hardly ever preach about Mary. That is a great loss, for she has much to teach us.
John 15 and the first three chapters of revelation had been really important for me as I began to grow into the new calling that YHWH formally placed upon my life in March, 2018. For some months before that, I had sensed that YHWH was initiating a change or changes in my life, and I wanted Christians that I trusted to journey with me as I discovered what it was that YHWH wanted to do in me and, ultimately, through me. Chief among the Christians who journeyed with me was Alan Ross, and it was primarily through him that YHWH directed me to John 15 and to the first three chapters of Revelation. Alan’s prophetic words, those Scriptures and their message to me were foundational in beginning and shaping this third book in the “Christ-Centered Life” series.
Throughout 2018 from March onwards, YHWH used those Scriptures to look deeply inside me and to see what he would do in me, and to see what he would do through me in the days that lay ahead. YHWH’s gaze inside me had reordered parts of my inner being in order for them to be ready for the new call that was coming from YHWH, who was looking in on my inner progress. That looking in has been very precious and very, very valuable, but it is now time for me to be ‘Looking On’. ‘Looking On’ can mean seeing from above as in an elevated overview, but it can also mean looking forward as into the future that is yet to come. However, this is not about ‘holy fortune telling’, but rather it is about a real preparation for an important future time and a coming fruitful season.
For far too many Christians, prophecy is a contentious and a difficult subject for them to think about, to talk about, or to explore, not necessarily because of prophecy itself, but rather because of those people’s bad experience(s) caused by the way that other Christians have handled prophecy with them or around them. Indeed, people’s difficulty with prophecy may actually be because of the way in which other Christians have mishandled prophecy with them or around them. While 1 Corinthians 13 is Paul’s guide to handling spiritual gifts that he had written about in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, 1 Corinthians 13 is more about personal attitudes and individual character rather than it is about the practicalities of handling prophecy. I believe that knowing how to handle prophecy is very important and rarely taught and so, from my own experience of one kind and another over many decades, here are my thoughts on the practicalities of how to handle prophecy that you have received.
WHEN LEADERS FALL
The above heading of this chapter is: “When Leaders Fall”; it is not: “If Leaders Fall”. Now, not all leaders fall, of course they don’t; well, not in the public eye anyway. Part of YHWH’s discipleship for emerging leaders is that his leaders have an undivided heart and pure motives before they are in the public eye. Many wise leaders made all their serious mistakes before they were in the public eye. Many wise leaders made all their serious mistakes in the training phase that preceded their being in the public eye. Many wise leaders never made serious mistakes in the training phase because they had learned from the experience of other leaders around them and other leaders before them. Charismatic and enigmatic leaders are prone to the kind of temptations that most people only think about. While that is especially true of cult leaders, it is also true of Christian leaders whose reputation or position lifts them above other leaders and that, in so doing, lifts them way above the people that they were supposed to be serving.
A quick glance through the history of the Christian church shows us that power through position, money through exploitation, and status through oppression are the most common types of crash that Christian leaders experience. Those common causes of crashes are very often manifested through, or include, sexual misbehavior. Why are people surprised when leaders fall? Why are people shocked when leaders crash? What is it about people’s idea of leadership that they elevate normal human beings into becoming Superman, Superwoman or, in this day and age, Superperson? Why do people think that leaders can be everything, why do people think that leaders can do everything, and why do people also think that leaders are to blame for everything? Where do people get the idea that leaders are utterly devoid of human feelings and that they are essentially indestructible robots that will not be harmed no matter how much solid brown waste is thrown at them? Why do people treat leaders with such contempt?
This third book in the “Christ-Centered Life” series shortly draws to a close with John 15 and the first three chapters of Revelation, all of which have been of great importance to me. I hope that they have been meaningful and important for you as you read this book, and I am sure that those Scriptures will continue to be important to me in the days that lie ahead. Let the readers discern what they have read in this book, and let the readers take to heart what needs to be taken to heart, in order that what needs to be applied is applied in the wisdom of YHWH. I have given you what I received from YHWH, and I have tried very hard not to add to what YHWH has said, and I have tried not make any assumptions regarding how YHWH wants it to be used.