WE, THE CHURCH – PART 1: THINGS SHARED by Mike Muller

Reading:       1 Cor. 12:12–27

“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corithians 12: 13)

A right understanding of who Jesus is, will lead us in a right understanding of the Church and what it means to be part of it. The Church exists because of the Cross; and if Jesus thinks the Church is important – then so should we.

When we gather in the name of Jesus and in response to God’s call to us to do so, we discover that God communes with this group of imperfect, diverse people; and empowers them to be salt and light in an otherwise unsavoury, dark world.

In our reading, Paul addresses the woeful condition of the Corinthian church, by using the image of the human body to demonstrate how they should value one another. He urges them to look “no further than your own body. Your body has many parts – limbs, organs, cells – but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body  (The Message 1 Cor.12:12)

With the human body as the orientating image, our attention is drawn to verse 13: “Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain – his Spirit – where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves – labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free – are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.” (The Message)

The Corinthian church needed to recognise the basis of their fellowship; and so do we, for we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body…we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” This means that together, we have things we share in.

First, we share in Christ’s redemptive work. This fact makes the Church unique. We stand under the same Cross. The same blood atones for our sin. We have been baptized with the same baptism.

Secondly, we have a shared faith. Peter greets the church as “…those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). To be sure, faith needs to deepen, but we all share in a faith which saves.

Thirdly, we share in God’s favour equally. When Paul says that “labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free – are no longer useful,” it is because labels are often used to separate ourselves from one another and almost always, in a negative way.

In the Church, God sees no hierarchy of importance, only faithful fulfilling of ministry.

Our responsibility then, is to take the analogy of the Church as a body seriously as the Holy Spirit leads us in life together.

Faithful heavenly Father, we thank you that you love your Church. It is the Body of Christ. This is what you envisaged beyond the Cross. Help us to avoid the pitfalls of pride and arrogance and not think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Help us to see each other as valuable in your sight and therefore valuable in ours. For we are your people, called by your name, O Lord our God. Amen

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COVID-19, LOCKDOWN, AND MARRIAGE

One of the saddest posts that I have seen thus far on Facebook regarding the lockdown was this:

“Dear single friends, stay positive and optimistic. After 3 weeks of lockdown there will be plenty divorces and new opportunities”

My heart literally broke. This was posted by a friend of mine who is a Believer and who is divorced.

When the lockdown was declared I heard far too many married couples commenting:

  • How are we going to stand being together for so long
  • This is going to be nightmare being stuck with the family with no break
  • How on earth are we going to survive this

This from believers…

They have lost sight of the fact that we serve a Holy God, a God we made vows to on our marriage day. A God of love and friendship.

The whole point of marriage is to grow and develop together and to want to spend time with each other.

In Malachi 2:16 God say “I hate divorce.” Not only because it breaks one of His ‘laws’ but because God knows that divorce inflicts deep wounds on His beloved children, that pain and loneliness and guilt will destroy His children. He also knows that the generations to follow will always be touched by the divorce —as families will no longer celebrate things together. A mother or father will always be absent…

“A relationship is like a house. When a light bulb burns out you do not go and buy a new house, you fix the light bulb.” —Bernajoy Vaal

Far too many couples are buying ‘new houses’ instead of fixing the ‘light bulbs’.

We, as believers, have gone so wrong in our Biblical knowledge, our honoring of God and the dismissing of the family unit regarding God’s plan and desire for marriage.

We have started to treat marriage casually and disrespectfully.

A lot of Christian marriages have become a mockery if single people are looking for an opportunity to meet a man or woman newly set ‘free’ from their marriage? Especially in the churches.

How God’s heart must weep for us.

The other thing that has literally broken my heart is that Christian parents have had to ask this question of their children:

“We are going to be in lock down for a few weeks—which parent do you want to spend that time with. You need to decide now.”

Imagine being the child faced with that question. How does a child decide something like that especially if the divorce was acrimonious—whichever parent they choose the other parent will be hurt and upset and may hold it against the child—that is certainly what will be going through the child’s mind. I am the child of parents who divorced, whose mother remarried and divorced twice more and whose father remarried as well. The guilt I carried into adulthood was crippling—I believed that to a degree I was responsible for their divorce. I am not alone, I have spent many hours with children, teenagers and adults whose parents got divorced and that was the common theme running through all our minds. That somehow we were to blame in some way for the divorce.

What a burden for a child to have to carry.  What a burden to have to pack a bag every weekend or second weekend and move into another house with a stepmother/father, stepbrothers/sisters.

And now during the COVID-19 lock down, these children may be trapped with people who are relatively strangers to them.

As married couples we should be rejoicing that we have so much time to spend together, time to spend searching God’s word and praying together. We have been given the gift of time for the next few weeks and we should be rejoicing in it personally.

We should also be taking this time to pray together for those whose businesses are failing and who are struggling and having to face this time in confinement in close quarters with others, or who are in abusive relationships and for those who are lonely.

As married couples we need to keep Ephesians 4:2 in our minds and hearts at all times:

 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Originally written for and posted on https://www.startmarriageright.com/2020/04/covid-19-lockdown-and-marriage/

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A SERVANT’S HEART by Bill Webster

“He humbled himself”
(Philippians 2:8)

Do you have a servant’s heart?  Are you content with the service you are involved in?

Do you envy those in Christ’s service who seem to have it all, who are visibly and materially successful, and who are popular with those they serve?

James and John wanted the best seats in the house, the glitz, the glamour and the glory without any cost to themselves, let alone any suffering. This drew the envy of the rest of the Twelve.

By contrast, do you have a servant’s heart, like Jesus? One of the most moving episodes in the Gospels took place in the Upper Room a few hours before Jesus’ arrest. Jesus removed his outer garments, donned a towel and began to wash his disciples’ feet. No Jew, not even a Jewish slave, was required to wash another Jew’s feet. Yet Jesus did it because he had a servant’s heart and he wanted to show them the full extent of his love (John 13: 1). As he had said earlier in his ministry, he did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing – emptied himself of all but love – taking the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2: 6-7).

Paul reminds us that our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2: 5). Not power, position and posturing, but service out of a servant’s heart.

In Mark 10, where James and John made their power play, Jesus said that true greatness comes to those willing to be servants: that being first in the queue comes to those willing to be slave of all (Mark 10: 42-44). Surely this principle should apply to all who are engaged in Christ’s service? How quick we are to boast about our successes, our popularity and how much we are in demand, all under a cloak of false humility. We’ve forgotten that true greatness comes through sacrificial service and having a servant’s heart.

Jesus repeatedly calls us to live by the standards and norms of his kingdom as humble servants of the servant King. But how? Perhaps James points the way:

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to  God and he will come near to you…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4: 7…10).

“Lord Jesus, help me to put to death the pride that bedevils my life and service, and give me a humble heart like yours, O Servant King.” Amen

(Readings:   Philippians 2: 1-11; Mark 10: 35-45; John 13: 1-17)
Painting by Sieger Koder

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YOU, ME, THE WOMAN AT THE WELL

Drawing by Amy Curry

When I first saw this drawing it reminded me of a woman who lived in Biblical times.  She is commonly known as ‘the woman at the well’.
(The story is found in John 4.)

Jesus and His disciples were walking from Judea to Galilee and on the way they had to go through the village of Sychar in Samaria.  Jesus was tired from the long walk and he sat down beside a well situated outside the village whilst his disciples went into the village to buy some food.
This coincided with the time this woman came to draw water from the well and Jesus asked her for a drink.
She responded with “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman.  How can you ask me for a drink?”

 The Jews considered the Samaritans a mixed race, an impure race and therefore would have nothing to do with them, and yet, here is Jesus, a Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman.
You can almost feel and hear her absolute shock that a Jewish man would be asking her, a Samaritan woman, for something.

This woman was an adulterer, married five times and now living with a man who was not her husband, considered a sinner and shunned by the village folk – we know she was shunned because she came on her own to collect water at a time when no-one else would be there. Twice each day, morning and evening, women from the town would walk together to draw water from the well.  This was a very social time for the women.  And yet, this Samaritan woman, comes alone at noon to draw water.

Out of all the woman in the Bible I think it is this Samaritan woman that I identify with the most.  Definitely not the adultery part but I relate to this woman’s feelings of loneliness and isolation, being rejected, being excluded, being a sinner, feeling guilty, feeling worthless.
I can identify with each and every one of those feelings.

I can imagine her closing her ears to the gossip and malicious talk of the village people, crying and screaming silently in her mind…expressing the same emotions as the woman depicted in the drawing.

I too, have felt that silent scream welling up inside me and the tears pouring silently down my face as the world overwhelms me.

God had created her, as He has created each one of us, to live a life of joy, of worshiping Him, of feeling worthwhile. And yet how many of us, just like this Samaritan woman, because of our sin, our backgrounds, our addictions, our wrong choices hide away from Him, hide away from others, and shy away from the amazing potential God has placed in each of us because we feel like sinners, not worthy of His love.  Not believing that if we turned to Him, He is more than capable of turning our lives around.

Jesus couldn’t care less what race or sex we are, what we have done in the past and are still doing in the present – all He cares about is that we would turn to Him and declare Him Lord.

Once this woman has gotten over her shock at being addressed by a Jewish man, the conversation continues and the woman begins to realise that she just may be speaking to ‘the Messiah’.

She rushes back to the village and calls out “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” and “they came out of the town and made their way toward Him. Many of the Samaritans from that village believed in Him because of the Woman’s testimony”.

Isn’t that amazing…after one encounter with Jesus this woman is so filled with confidence that she can face the townspeople with boldness and say ‘come with me’ and they must have noticed the change in her because they actually pay attention to her and follow her as she leads the way to Jesus.

When we encounter Jesus our lives change radically.

Instead of slinking back into town, with her head hanging low, and slipping into her house not speaking to anyone she faces everybody in the village and I can just imagine her – standing there, her head held high, her voice loud and clear, looking people in the eyes saying ‘come with me’ and these folks who have ignored her and ostracised her for so many years actually follow her back to Jesus.

The village people ask Jesus and His disciples to stay on in the village, which they do, for two days.

After spending two days with Jesus, feeling His grace and knowing His forgiveness I cannot imagine this woman going back into her life of sin.  I believe that those two days that Jesus spent in the village would have been filled with people confessing their sins and making radical life changes.  I love to imagine that this woman and the man she was living with got married and all the townspeople who she had hidden from in shame for years attended the wedding to celebrate her new life.

Jesus wants us to be real, to put away our falseness, our pretensions, our shame, our sin.

This encounter at the well was no chance encounter.  Jesus deliberately took the route from Judea to Galilee in order to meet this woman at the well. Jesus deliberately seeks us out as well and asks us the same question “Will you give me a drink?” In other words ‘will you stop and spend some time with me, will you worship me, will you love me? Will you have a conversation with me?

Jesus didn’t need any water – He created the universe, he healed the sick, he made the blind to see again…He did not need this woman to give Him water BUT He did want her to stop and be real, to be honest and open. He wanted to “bestow on her a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3)

He wants the same thing for each of us.

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THE END OF THE TUNNEL

Imagine yourself a silent witness to the humiliation that Jesus was subjected to before his death. The soldiers stripped him of his clothes, put a crown of thorns upon his head and mocked him. He was spat on, slapped in the face, flogged and struck on the head with a stick numerous times.

Now imagine that, as Jesus stands there, in his mind’s eye he is looking through a tunnel into the future – hundreds of years into the future – and he is focused on one person at the end of the tunnel. As he stands there with spit and blood running down his face, enduring the pain of being brutally hit and mocked, all he can think about is this person at the end of the tunnel. The person he is looking at is a hypocrite, a liar, consumed with jealousy, full of pride and envy. The person he is seeing has often had doubts about the existence of God and thinks of themself as being a decent human being.

He is concentrating so hard on this person in an effort to blot out what is happening to him and he is repeating to himself, ‘I will endure this, I will willingly go through being nailed to a cross and being separated from my Father in heaven if it means that that person has a chance of asking for forgiveness, of being forgiven and of being able to spend eternity with God and me.’

He knows that the only chance that person has is for him to die on the cross – to take that person’s sin upon his body, to have those sins nailed to the cross and to die for that person in the hope that that person will accept him into their lives, confess their sins and, because of the blood that he shed on the cross, be forgiven and so enter into a relationship with God.

Jesus would be the bridge between this person and God. ‘Forgiveness is the divine miracle of grace. The cost to God was the Cross of Christ. To forgive sin, while remaining a holy God, this price had to be paid.’ (Oswald Chambers)

You are the person at the end of the tunnel.
You are the person that Jesus was looking at.
You are the person Jesus died for.
I am that person.

Reposted….

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HOW REAL IS YOUR MARRIAGE?

“A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ come together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.” –Dave Meur

There are far too many Christian marriages that are not real. What I mean by that is that they are not authentic or genuine and would never stand up to a closer examination of what happens behind closed doors. Too often couples pretend to be happy and in love in public, but in private the marriage is lonely, empty and hopeless.

Believe me, I know what I am talking about!

My husband and I could have received Oscar awards for our acting abilities during the first years of our marriage. We would drive to church on a Sunday fighting and screaming, or else sitting in frozen silence, and yet, as soon as we climbed out of the car in the church parking lot we pretended to be in love in order that no-one would know just how unhappy our marriage was and how close we were to get a divorce.

We wasted years pretending. Years full of hurt and loneliness. So many years of unhappiness before we finally sought help. How farcical is that? The church is the one place where we should have the freedom to be genuine, to show that we are hurting, and to ask for help—a place of safety for our emotions and relationships. And yet, it is often the one place where we are the most false. Where we feel the most judged.

There is no shame in admitting to someone in ministry or a professional or someone you trust that you are having difficulties in your marriage and need help.

Recently a friend and I were talking and she revealed to me, in confidence, some issues that she and her husband were struggling with. I responded that in the first few years of our marriage my husband and I had similar issues.

She looked at me in total astonishment and said, “But you and Steve have such a perfect marriage.”  I assured her that it had taken a lot of hard work, forgiveness, letting go of resentments, compromise, and counseling and many, many hours of prayer to achieve what we have now.

We have a happy marriage, we love each other completely but there are still misunderstandings, fights, and squabbles but the difference is we are committed to God and to each other to make our marriage work. We have been married for twenty-seven years and there is no way we are going to ‘throw’ those years away now.

It reminded me of an incident that occurred a few years prior. My husband and I were attending his niece’s wedding in England (we live in South Africa) and a few months earlier his sister had sent me a dress which I had packed to take with me to England. Whilst we were over there she phoned me at our hotel one morning to discuss what we were going to do that day and I mentioned that I was wearing the dress she had sent me. She said she couldn’t remember ever sending me a dress!

A little while later we met up and she took one look at me and started to laugh. It was a good few minutes before she managed, in between laughing, to tell me that what I was wearing was actually a nightdress. I told her that I had worn it out in public in South Africa and friends had complimented me on the lovely dress that I was wearing. This just set her off again! The outcome was that I had to change my clothes and off we went to Marks and Spencers. She took me past the pajama department and there, indeed, was my dress hanging up in the nighty section!

That incident has always reminded me of marriages that ‘aren’t’. They aren’t real. They aren’t honest. And just as my ‘dress’ was actually a nighty, believers often pretend that their marriages are perfect.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” —Ephesians 4:2-5

We need to start practicing these words, firstly in our marriages and secondly in the church.

There needs to be unity and peace and hope in our marriages and that needs to follow through into our church community.

The only way you will have a happy, fulfilled marriage is when you BOTH commit your marriage to God, seek counselling, go on marriage enrichment courses, READ THE BIBLE TOGETHER and PRAY TOGETHER on a daily basis.

Originally written for and published on Start Marriage Right https://www.startmarriageright.com/2020/03/how-real-is-your-marriage/

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HOUSE WORK IS DANGEROUS…GOD IS FAITHFUL

House work is dangerous.
A few weeks ago I climbed on a ladder in order to dust the top of a very high cupboard in our house and the ladder collapsed underneath me.  I landed on the floor, on my left hand side and as I opened my eyes all I could see was this huge puddle of blood in front of me.  I heard this unearthly sound and realized that it was coming from me. I was groaning from the very pit of my stomach from the pain.

The end result was 10 stitches in my eyelid, the gash on my forehead was glued closed and my left side, hand and ribs were badly bruised and my left leg was hurt.

During the weeks that followed I went through a few  days of deep, deep depression. I was in such pain from my ribs, any  unplanned movement resulted in absolute agony.   I questioned God’s love for me and my purpose here on earth! Everything felt absolutely senseless – why did this accident happen?

Apart from my husband, God has placed two very Godly men in my life who have accompanied me on my Spiritual journey for many years and who are also really good friends to my husband and myself.  They both messaged me during this time wanting to know how I was doing and I responded “Feeling very depressed. Kind of like ‘nobody loves me, why me? What’s the point…?”

The one immediately arranged a time to come and pray with me as soon as possible even though I didn’t want to see him and certainly didn’t feel like praying and the other one sent me  wonderfully encouraging verses – you know the ones you really don’t want to hear when you are feeling down…verses like:

1 Thessalonians 5:18  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:28  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

I mean who wants to hear that when you have  fallen off a ladder, are in pain, and feeling depressed ‘that all things work together for good for those who love Him’?
I told him this was not doing anything for me right now and he replied:

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself and start reading the Word of God.  I suggest you start with James 1:2 – 4 and  John 16:33!

James states:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

And John states:

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!  I have overcome the world”

I needed that reminder.

A friend once said to Dallas Willard, the well-known Christian philosopher “Hey Dallas, my heart is breaking, I can’t fix it, I don’t understand it, and I’m sadder than I’ve ever been in my life.” He says there was a long pause and then Dallas responded “This will be a test of your joyful confidence in God.”

I needed to find a new joyful confidence in God.
And I did.
But I needed those two men to jolt me out of my self-pity and to remind me of the God we serve.
One to pray with me and one to tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself. I also needed my husband to lay hands on me and pray for me, which he has done over these past weeks.

My prayer is that each one of us will be surrounded by people who will be bold enough to confront us, pray with us and love us through our ‘trouble’.

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