Who do you think you are?
In the BBC series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, researchers look into the back histories of celebrities and see where their roots truly lay. Now, I must confess that I have only seen the show once but I imagine that the format doesn’t change. The one I watched carried many camera shots of the bemused celebrity either in awestruck wonder or incredulity at the discoveries about their distant relatives. Ordinarily, many celebrities can come across as fairly arrogant. Their lives are such that they expect to be treated with special attention and they find themselves pampered accordingly. Occasionally, you come across one or two who appear truly humble, and despite all the trappings of stardom, have their feet planted firmly on the ground. To be honest, the kind of ‘celebrities’ that the BBC chose for the show are of the ilk that fall into the latter category. But my point is this – when they start to examine their pasts, they find themselves surprised at what they find. We, as the church, need not be.
As I type these words, across the globe, there appears to be a preoccupation with what is (or is not) about to happen. The web is alive with prophecies all pointed at different things – a meteor strike; an economic collapse; and a whole host of other things that appear to be sending end-timers into a flap. I certainly agree that it feels like we are drawing towards the end, but I am equally as certain that what Jesus said still stands wherever you stand on eschatology.
“Take heed that no one deceives you.” [Matthew 24:4 NKJV]
And, let’s face it, if anyone out there who prophesies something for the 23rd/24th September 2015 that doesn’t come to pass, they are false prophets and should be treated as such.
Now, I don’t much care whether you are pre-trib, post-trib, preterist or no-trib. But I do care if you are a believer of Christ, the son of the living God. All these theories are just that…theories. You cannot prove or disprove them. The enemies of God will and do use them to divide us and their policy is working. Forget the theories – it’s just knowledge that puffs up. Fix your eyes instead upon Jesus. For in Jesus we know both where we are going and where we have come from. We know that a reward awaits the faithful and we know that we don’t deserve it…And yet…I have sensed for some time that there is a wide section of the body of Christ for whom the idea of grace doesn’t mean receiving something you don’t deserve but, instead, that it means we have no need to worry, it’s in the bag.
If I had the choice, I will state this here and now, I would be a reformer. The church as a collective body, in my opinion, has lost its way. Churches, as groups of believers, are often run as businesses. Their priorities are no longer the poor but, instead, claiming back gift-aid. They are not outward facing but insular. They use their buildings as places of evangelism, instead of celebration and worship of the Living God. The congregation has become the audience instead of God. They preach a good gospel but practice none of it. They demand revival from God because they want full seats. They cherry-pick at the gospel to fit their existing practices. They concern themselves with Mission Statements and policy documents. They love the world.
Now, whilst that is a generalisation – for I know there to be groups of believers out there just getting on with the gospel, it is fairly accurate for a great many churches. When you look at the reformers of the Bible, such as Hezekiah, reformation requires tough choices. It means going back to basics. It means stopping what you are currently doing and seeking God. It means being prepared to tear down everything and starting over. It means holding everything you do lightly in your hands. It means saying ‘not my will, but Yours’.
I appreciate that I am not going to win many friends by writing this. I also accept that it will result in much criticism being directed at me. I don’t care. Like I said earlier, however, I do care about those who call themselves believers. You might think that I have an axe to grind (I don’t), or that I have been rejected by a church and want revenge (I have and I don’t), or that I have a problem with authority and want to throw my dolly from the proverbial pram (I don’t and I don’t). So what do I want?
I want a moratorium.
I want us all to stop what we are doing and turn and seek God. I want us all to put aside immediately anything that has no solid basis in scripture and particularly New Testament scripture. I want us to start getting the basics right – feeding the poor, clothing the naked, loving one another – the stuff you don’t need a mandate or a sign from God for. I want us to look again at the gospels and start following the example that Jesus left there for us. Follow me, He said. I want us to stop applying a worldly or business-like perspective to everything we do in and around a church building. I want us to forget everything we do because ‘that’s what we have always done’ – unless it has a firm foundation in the New Testament. I want us to stop resurrecting old Mosaic laws to burden the believers with and start really practising the commandments that Jesus gave us. I want us to stop looking for a formula for revival and start looking at reform. I want us to surrender once more to the King of Kings and accept His way and not what we think that should be.
You may well be asking by now (if you are even still reading) what qualifies me to make these cutting remarks and observations. Nothing. Nothing at all. I am just a man with the call of God on my life. I started this blog only to record what God was teaching us as we followed Him on our own journey. But we have been learning what actually happens if you take God at His word. We have learnt (and will continue to do so) that He is really, really faithful; that through Him we can do all things; that you don’t need money or business plans or financial reserves or gift-aid if you trust Him. And there is the rub…if you trust Him.
When God first called us to start work on Cornerstone my mother gave us a piece of scripture. Now this is one of those little snippets that people give each other but rarely put it into real practice. We have jobs and earn money and have nice houses and so we never really and truly have to exercise it. As a result the scripture can seem a little trite when given to others. However, I now know that there is nothing trite about it. And because we actually practice this every single day, I would advocate that we are qualified to highlight some of the issues above.
“Trust in the LORD with all of your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” [Proverbs 3:5 NKJV]
It would be a predictable bit of scripture if given when sending off a couple of missionaries or for a new church plant. But, because it came from my mother (she never gives me scripture!), I knew it was highly significant.
So, what does it mean to live Proverbs 3:5? To trust in the Lord with all of your heart sounds a lot harder than it actually is. For us (and this is no formula – God deals with us as unique individuals and not with a ‘one size fits all’ approach), God had previously told us something and to trust Him wholeheartedly is to know that He will keep His promise regardless of the evidence that is presented in front of you. A bit like Abraham really. He believed God about the future and totally trusted Him. That’s what we have learnt to do. And the second part is the best. To lean not on your own understanding isn’t to not have a brain. It is to have an understanding and perception of what is happening around you but instead of trusting what you can see, you trust what you can’t see. Sounds simple? That’s because it is!
As a result of trusting Him in this way on a daily basis (we do fail sometimes, when we take our eyes from what we can’t see and start looking at the world we can see – but He is gracious and ready to catch us when we start to fall), we qualify to have an opinion. To trust in God instead of our own understanding is to humble ourselves. It is to choose God’s way – regardless of how alien it is to our minds, instead of the way the world does things. Humility first. Humble yourself before God (James 4:10). And, believe me, you really don’t want God to humble you…it is so much better to humble yourself.
Let me tell you, by way of example, of something that happened to us with Cornerstone when we stopped trusting in God with all of our hearts and started leaning on our own understanding. I use this example because it shows how easy it is for churches in general to get carried away with themselves instead of waiting for God’s perfect timing.
Around the start of the year we were getting a lot of encouragement for the work we were planning to do at Cornerstone. People would tell us prophetic words they had had; we had offers of help from many people and general all round pats on the back. And this encouragement, along with a set of circumstances that made it seem like God was ‘in it’, led us to start thinking a little too far ahead. Before we knew it we had a bible study meeting, based around a meal; we were breaking bread; worshipping; people were coming and in increasing numbers. Easy to think that it was what God wanted. But, as it quickly started to become less about feeding people and all about having a meeting, a deep unease grew in both of us. The unease was very hard to put our finger on but it was there. And of course as the meeting became the focus instead of what God had called us to do, people talked of the need for policies and frameworks and all the other nonsense that churches have. I felt inclined to call my own moratorium. And I did. I spent almost two weeks just seeking God. During that time He graciously showed me how easy it was to get ahead of ourselves. Now, it might well be that in the future Cornerstone will be about teaching and equipping the saints. But for now, it is about feeding and clothing those in need. And most importantly, it is about obedience.
God showed us that He didn’t need another church. He has thousands already. He doesn’t need another splinter cell – that’s happening everywhere. No. What He needs are people ready to trust Him and to be obedient to what He says. We were humbled. And then we had to climb down and go back to basics; to get it right – His way. It became clear that it is easy to follow the formula of others – anyone can do that. But to actually follow God’s unique formula for us…well, that’s far more effective. So, I can speak with some authority in this area because we stopped and sought Him and listened when He was ready to tell us our errors. We could have carried on with the Bible study. He would have let us, because He will never interfere with our sovereign will. That’s how He is. He wants us to learn ourselves.
It’s different now when we meet for food on a Saturday evening. Gone are all the people (not that there were ever that many). Mostly it’s just us. But that is better than fine because we know we are doing what He told us to and not what we decided He might want us to. One step at a time. It is an important lesson.
The title of this post poses the question ‘Who do you think you are?’ And I ask again. Who do you think you are? I ask this because it matters. If you are humble, God can work with you. If you are not then He will leave you to get on with it. Of course, the opposite of humility is arrogance. That can only end with either you humbling yourself…or God doing it. Remember this: God is God. He created the entire universe. He is able to meet all of your needs, if you let Him. He knows what you need before you ever ask Him. He chose you. He loves you. His plan for you is for you to get the absolute best out of whatever circumstances you find yourself in.
For a while I have been wondering what has caused a lot of the arrogance that can be found in churches today. When I say arrogance, I mean the opposite of humility. Just take stock of what your church does. The approach to revival, for example, is as if it has been earned. Prayer meetings that demand revival. Leaders that say ‘we are ready Lord – send it now’, as if it is something out there waiting to come in. Truly, I tell you now revival is not something out there waiting to come in…it is something in each of us waiting to bubble up and over flow out of us.
The arrogance is a weed, choking us, deep-rooted in our minds. Read the Parable of the Sower carefully. It needs pulling out. Arrogance is what convinces us that we know God’s will without consulting Him. Arrogance tells us that we are saved and it doesn’t matter what we do, we will still be forgiven (this is true but it waters down the gospel). Arrogance is leaning on our own understanding and running churches as businesses, instead of groups of believers who share everything and encourage each other (look at the Books of Acts).
It is hard to pinpoint where this weed grew up – I have one idea. Perhaps it is the belief that we (the church) are the Bride of Christ. It is widely taught and adds a certain amount of subtle self-confidence to us whenever we hear it. But, when you start to look at the evidence in scripture, it is clear that Israel is God’s chosen bride and that we are now also chosen in order to make Israel jealous and cause her to return to God and accept the Bridegroom. All of Paul’s letters teach that we are the body of Christ with Him as the head – that is we are already ‘in’ Christ, the bridegroom, and that, therefore, makes marriage to ourselves seem impossible.
Whatever the reason, arrogance appears to be choking us. The scripture below has helped me recently to keep the right perspective of who I am. Read it carefully. I found myself realising exactly what grace means. God’s first love was always Israel. He is big enough to love us too, and He does. But it is only by grace that we see the kingdom at all and never because we deserve it. What we deserve, thankfully, Christ took instead of us, that we might be set free. Amen!
Be humble. Seek God. Call a fast. Listen. Wait. Listen…then be obedient.
“I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah— how he appealed to God against Israel:
“Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”?
And what was God’s answer to him?
“I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written:
“God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”
And David says:
“May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.
You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” [Romans 11:1-31 NIV]