Why Mission Matters!

Why Mission Matters!

Our ideas about participating in ‘mission’ are many and varied! To some, it seems daunting and way beyond the comfort zone! To others, mission is what happens overseas, and requires a special calling if we are to get involved. To some, it’s regarded as the pastime of the super-zealous. And to other, perhaps, it is still seen as a special department of the church – an alternative to ‘prayer’ or ‘bible study’!…

But, as you’d expect, the Bible gives us an altogether different perspective! In the pages of the New Testament we find ‘mission’ is part of the normal day-to-day life of the church – requiring neither a special calling nor a special bravery. Here, mission is what inevitably happens when followers of Jesus live their lives with compassion and generosity towards those around them.

And it seems to me that the early church were absolutely convinced of a few things that fundamentally shaped this perspective; this straightforward view of mission and how they participated in it. Let me suggest four such convictions they had, that God wants us to be equally convinced about:

Firstly, let’s be convinced that our mission is nothing less than the outworking of God’s eternal purpose! The very first page of the Bible announces that God’s plan is to fill the earth with people in His image; God’s original commission to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). Thereafter, all the covenants included an ‘expansionary’ dimension: Noah, like Adam, was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1); Abraham was promised descendants too numerous to count (Genesis 15:5); Moses received a covenant designed to keep God’s people holy and healthy as they expanded in the promised land (Exodus 20ff); and the covenant with David involved an everlasting, ever-growing Kingdom (2 Samuel 7). It’s no wonder, therefore, that when Jesus gave His followers what we now call the ‘great commission’ – telling us to “go into all world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19f) – He was effectively re-stating the original commission and re-emphasising God’s eternal purpose and desire! God wants His People everywhere, so His Kingdom comes and His glory covers earth as waters cover sea!…

Secondly, let’s be assured that our mission is nothing less than continuing all that Jesus started!  As Luke tells us, the four Gospels are a record of “all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1), and the start of the ‘second phase’ of His ministry is described in the Book of Acts – where we see His Church continuing all He’d started: proclaiming the Good News of Kingdom and proving He’s King by setting people free and establishing churches in every place!…

Linked with this, thirdly, let’s understand that our mission is nothing less than the very reason Jesus sent His Spirit!  He told His disciples to wait until they’d received the power that He’d promised (Luke 24:49) and that the baptism with the Holy Spirit would empower them to “be His witnesses” in the locality, in the region, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). To put it another way, the baptism in the Spirit was the ‘ultimate act’ of Christ’s first coming: it wasn’t enough to have a forgiven people; He needed a Church empowered by His Spirit so they could continue His works!  He lived, died, rose, and ascended….so that He could send His Spirit!  It was all part of the eternal plan: He ascended with His physical body but left a spiritual Body behind – His Church, now filled with His Spirit.  And all this means that the baptism and empowering of the Spirit is for our mission and not just for our meetings!… 

And then lastly, let’s appreciate that our mission is nothing less than the key to Christ’s return! Jesus told us He will come again and He told us exactly when it will happen (and, therefore, when “the end will come”). So there’s no need for speculation! The return of Christ will take place when (and only when) “this good news of the kingdom” has been “proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14).  The early church were convinced of this! And so their zeal and devotion to spreading the Good News everywhere was deeply rooted in a belief that fulfilling the great commission of their Lord was the most significant thing they could do with their lives…

Mission really matters, and never more so than right now! And when followers of Jesus live their lives with compassion and generosity towards those around them we experience the joy and fulfilment of participating in His eternal purpose, continuing all that He started, living-out a life empowered by His Spirit and – not least – hastening His return!

Rooted: Covenant

Rooted: Covenant

Season 2 of ROOTED focuses on COVENANT – a fundamental theme that runs throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation! At times the idea of covenant is up front and central, with the biblical story providing great detail of the way God makes covenants with different people at different times. Elsewhere the outworking of covenant is seemingly in the background. But whether it seems prominent or not, we can be assured that covenant really matters, all the time! The God of the Bible is a covenant-making, covenant-keeping and covenant-enabling God. It is His way with mankind.

In this new series we’ll be looking to: define biblical covenant; contrast covenant theology and dispensationalism; explore the meaning of the amazing word hesed (‘covenant-love’ and so much more); look at some of the key features of each of the major Old Testament covenants; learn lessons from the patriarchs and the kings; and understand the purpose of the Law… Then: see how Jesus fulfils the old covenants and establishes the new covenant; consider our covenantal responsibilities; explain the apostolic understanding of ‘Israel’; discover the dynamic realities of the covenant meal; see the way that marriage is only fully enjoyed and expressed in the context of covenant; and look at the vital role of covenant-love and loyalty amongst leadership teams.

Digging-deeper to study the nature and purpose of the biblical covenants will reap multiple benefits! It will give us wonderful insights into the nature and purpose of God; provide a great overview and perspective of the whole biblical story and timeline; deepen our love of Christ and His transforming work; reveal the ever-expansive, world-embracing purpose of God; and trigger many practical implications and areas of personal growth!…

The Unstoppable Mission

The Unstoppable Mission

As we’ve seen in Part 1 and Part 2 of this mini-series, Jesus is totally unchangeable – the same yesterday, today and forever – and has a Kingdom that, unlike every earthly kingdom, is totally unshakeable.  Now we will see that He has empowered His Church to spread the Good News of His Kingdom everywhere. This is our mission, and nothing can stop it!…

Let’s start by briefly making 4 vital statements (expanded elsewhere) that will put things in context and explain why the mission is unstoppable:

  1. Our mission is the outworking of God’s eternal purpose. The original commission to Adam was to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) and God’s desire to see his people fill the earth is seen repeatedly thereafter.  Our great commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20) is a re-statement of this great purpose. 
  2. Our mission is continuing what Jesus started.  The Gospels record “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1) and Acts shows the early church continuing all He’d started, as they proclaimed and proved He is King and has defeated every enemy.
  3. Our mission is the very reason Jesus sent His Spirit.  Acts 1:4-8 makes clear that the whole purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to empower His disciples to be His witnesses in spreading the gospel.
  4. Our mission is the key to Christ’s return. Jesus declared He will come again and “the end will come” only when the good news of Kingdom has been preached in every nation (Matthew 24:14).

Since the purpose of God will always prevail, and Jesus will finish what He started, and His return is never in doubt…we can be assured that our mission cannot be thwarted – it is unstoppable

Now, if you’re anything like me, it will also help to know: What does this look like in practice?  How will it happen? How do we move from theory to reality?  And how can we play our part?…  

The story of the healing at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-12) provides some answers to these important questions.  This story is positioned: immediately after 3,000 people are initially added to the church (Acts 2:41) and then more are added “every day” (Acts 2:47); and immediately before a further 2,000 are added (Acts 4:4) – and in fact it’s this event that triggers the second wave of growth.  And this story is here in the middle of these things by design, to tell us about “one day” that illustrates “every day”, about one man who was saved and added as an example of thousands of others, and to describe one supernatural act that was typical of the “many signs and wonders” prevalent in the church (Acts 2:43).  And, as such, it contains keys that help us become part of unstoppable mission and growth in our communities and churches.  Let’s look at 5 things we see here:

Firstly, the story shows that our mission is not our meetings!  This miracle took place as Peter and John were on their way to pray (verse 1).  God moved in power outside the meeting, because that’s where the need was!  Our mission doesn’t depend on our buildings or our meetings; we can play our part at any time in any place!  We are never ‘more spiritual’ or ‘more usable’ when we are worshipping, praying or fellowshipping with others; in fact, as far as mission goes, we’re probably much more useful when we’re not in a meeting! Meetings aren’t a substitute for mission; good doctrine isn’t an alternative to good deeds; and our great community must not distract us from our Great Commission!  If we want to turn our world upside-down we must let Him turn our church inside-out!

Secondly, we must not miss the moments. Peter and John arrive at the Gate at just same time as the lame man (verse 2); God creates ‘a moment’ when they find themselves sharing the same small patch of planet earth!  None has planned it, but Peter and John know how to make most of every opportunity; and are alert to this ‘moment’ and available for God to use them at any time in any place.  Jesus had told them to “Go and make disciples….” And promised “You will receive power…. you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…”  And now here they are: in Jerusalem and ready to be used!  Participating in the mission means being ready for the many ‘moments’ God will bring our way.

Then, thirdly, we must look and listen.  Peter and John listened to the man’s request and then “looked at him intently” (verse 4).  If we’re going to recognise these God-given opportunities we must attune our senses to what’s happening around us: there’s always something to see and hear; every situation and conversation alerts us to a heart-cry if we look and listen carefully.  Peter and John were ‘present in the moment’, and gave this man their time and attention. Playing our part means taking time to notice and care about the need that’s all around us.

Fourthly, we must be ready to give what we’ve got.  In response to what they saw and heard, Peter simply gave the man what he had (verse 6).  He gave him Jesus, and a miraculous healing in His Name.  Simply sharing what we have, passing-on what we’ve discovered and allowing our lives to overflow is the very heart of our mission!  And note that Peter and John gave away what they enjoyed “every day” (Acts 2:42-47) to a man who’d spent his life begging “every day” (Acts 3:2) – and from then on no day was ever the same again!  It’s a great picture of a thriving church sharing the goodness of God with a barely-surviving world.  When we keep it simple and give what we’ve got…the mission is unstoppable! 

And then lastly, we must help people up and let them hold on.  Peter reached out and helped the man up (verse 7) and let him hold on as they took him into the gathered church (verse 11).   It takes great courage to lift up a lame man!  But also to share your story, offer to help, sit and listen, ask if you can pray…. But note that it was as he lifted him up that healing exploded in the man’s body!  God moves when we step-out.  This man expected nothing more than a hand-out, but Peter offered an outstretched-hand.  He was present in the moment.  It’s a reminder that Jesus embraced people, sat with them, fed them, wept with them, calmed their storms, touched and healed them.  And He’s just the same today! 

Let’s be sure nothing stops us from opening-up our lives, reaching-out and helping others in… and so playing our part in this great co-mission! In this way we can outwork God’s purpose, continue what Jesus started, enjoy His empowering and hasten His return!

(An extended video version of this message is available here)

The Unshakeable Kingdom

The Unshakeable Kingdom

In the first part of this trilogy we saw that Jesus is the Unchangeable Person – the same yesterday, today and forever!  We now explore another related truth: that this Unchangeable Person is ruling and reigning and forever extending His Unshakeable Kingdom…

The Gospels make clear that the Kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus throughout His early ministry. In Matthew’s Gospel alone, for example, there are over 50 references to the “Kingdom”: John the Baptist prepared the way by calling people to “repent, for kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2) and Jesus began His ministry with exactly the same message (4:17), before travelling throughout the region “announcing the Good News about the Kingdom” (4:23, 9:35). His ‘Sermon on Mount’ was all about the Kingdom (Matthew 5-7); He taught to us pray that His Kingdom would come on earth as in heaven (6:10) and to seek the Kingdom above all else (6:33).  Then He sent-out the Twelve to announce that the Kingdom was at hand (10:7), told parables describing its growth (Matthew 13, 20, 22, 25) and made clear that the good news of the Kingdom must be preached in the whole world before the end will come (24:14).  And in His last forty days with His disciples, immediately prior to empowering them to be His witnesses everywhere, He spoke of nothing other than (you guessed it!) the Kingdom (Acts 1:3)!…

As we’ve posted elsewhere, God’s Kingdom comes when His will is done (Matthew 6:10) and so the ‘Kingdom of God’ is not a place but rather the sphere of His rule and reign through Jesus, who triumphed over every enemy and is now enthroned as King of kings and calls all people to come and live under His rule!…  This revolutionary message, proclaimed by the first followers of Jesus “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) – but far too often the message of today’s Church is at best far less potent and at worst a different agenda altogether. It’s vital that we preach the Kingdom!  So, let’s consider four characteristics that should be part of our message: 

Firstly, the Kingdom is EVERLASTING.  Indeed, the Kingdom (God’s will outworked) has always been God’s purpose. Adam and Eve were commissioned to establish His rule and stewardship over creation.  And when God found in King David a man after His own heart, He promised: “Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).  David understood the eternal dimensions of this and knew his earthly kingdom was a foretaste of something much bigger, and declared “your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations” (Psalm 145:13).  As the prophet Isaiah foresaw, the child born to us would have the government of the world on His shoulders and would reign “from that time on and forever” (Isaiah 9:6-7).  Unlike every other dynasty, dominion or kingdom, the Kingdom of God will never end!  We needn’t be fascinated or distracted by passing trends; or by movements, people or causes that come and go – let’s seek first and live for God’s Kingdom!  And His Kingdom is not only ever-lasting it’s ever-growing. As most translations put it: “of the increase of His government and its peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:7) – because the zeal of Almighty God is forever extending His Kingdom.

Secondly, Jesus repeatedly proclaimed and proved that His Kingdom is GOOD NEWS (Matthew 4:23, 9:35).  In fact, this ever-lasting, ever-growing Kingdom is the greatest news! Why? Because Jesus has defeated every enemy (Satan, sin, sickness and death) and is crowned King of kings! And by His victory He’s restored mankind, healed creation and provided for every known need. And because, unlike every failed and failing kingdom, nobody is beyond the scope or reach of Christ’s Kingdom – it’s good news for everyone, everywhere.  And the Kingdom is all the good news we need; as E. Stanley Jones put it, it is ‘God’s total answer to man’s total need’.  Everything else is peripheral; every other good cause is smaller than His Kingdom. In fact, any other ‘gospel’ leaves us needing more, But the gospel of the Kingdom – that Jesus is Lord and offers new life – is all-sufficient.  The really good news is the Kingdom, with nothing added or subtracted.  If our goal is feeding the hungry, it’s not big enough; if our goal is strengthening marriages or empowering parents these aren’t big enough!  If our goal is impacting politics, influencing our work-places or improving our neighbourhood, these are all good but they’re all too small!  Jesus summarised His mission by saying: “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom…because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43).  Our goal must be to see His kingdom established – and it will include all those things, but will eclipse them all as well! 

Thirdly, the Kingdom is OUR NEW HOME, the proper place of belonging of all who follow Christ!  Jesus said we “see” and “enter” the Kingdom when we’re “born again” (John 3:3,5); that’s when we begin to live in the dimension of His rule and reign over our lives: we start making decisions and choices that please Him; we begin honouring Him with our words and actions; and we begin to live for His cause… We start a new life in a new Kingdom.  It’s re-birth, a reorientation, and a relocation!  God has “rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His Son” (Colossians 1:13).  And we’re also “added to the church” (Acts 2:41), which is the community of the King; the people amongst whom His Kingdom is made visible to a watching world. If ‘Jesus is Lord’ we will obey His instructions, mend broken relationships, shun gossip, honour God with our finances, pray before making big decisions…  And when our lives, families, homes, and careers come under the rule and reign of God, there is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17) – and health, order and blessing – and it will soon be obvious to others that we live under a different regime.  

And all this brings us to declare that the Kingdom of God is UNSHAKEABLE!  In Hebrews 12:27-28 we read that “all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain” and that “we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable…”. As we’ve said already, every alternative to God’s Kingdom has been, is being, or will be shaken. Only His Kingdom will stand firm!  And in the midst of the many shakings of our day (in health, economics, politics and much else) we may not understand everything, but we can certainly ‘stand under’ the Throne of King Jesus. And, as citizens of His Kingdom, we can represent it in every way: we can be ever-growing, good news and unshakeable.

We’re at home in a Kingdom that’s everlasting and ever-growing and is good news for the whole world. Jesus is same yesterday, today and forever, and His Kingdom cannot be shaken – and it doesn’t get more secure than that!…

(An extended video version of this message is available here)

The Unchangeable Person

The Unchangeable Person

The opening verses of Hebrews tell us it was “through the Son” that God “created the universe” and now “sustains everything” (1:2-3); and that when all created things have perished, He will “remain forever”  (1:11), because He is “always the same” (1:12).  The final chapter of Hebrews repeat this staggering truth: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

The way we see and relate to Jesus will determine everything else. How do we think of Him? Pray to Him or worship Him?…  And however we answer, and whatever His many other awesome attributes, He is always the same. Theologians call it His ‘immutability’ and it’s an anchor to our faith: God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) does not and cannot change.  He is the same, all the time.  And therefore He is completely consistent and totally trustable.  If He could change, the universe would be open to chaos and we would be lost.  But He does not and cannot!  In fact, as the apostle James tells us: “With Him there is no variation” (James 1:17). Unlike anybody else, Jesus Christ is the same, all the time – and that great truth is of the utmost significance!…

To put it another way, and to give us a helpful image of His immutability, He is The Rock!  As Jesus explained, wise people build their house on Rock (Matthew 7:24); indeed, Jesus (the wisest of all) is building His House – the Church – on Rock (Matthew 16:18).  We can build our lives and our churches on Him, because He is unchanging, unshifting, immovable; “the same yesterday, today and forever”. So, let’s dig a bit deeper to discover what He was like “yesterday”, because that’s what He’s like today and will be like tomorrow.  Let’s consider three ‘yesterdays’:

Firstly, if we go back to the very beginning, we see that the Son of God did not begin to exist in Bethlehem, two thousand years ago; that was when He took on flesh, but He had always been and He will always be!  He is eternal!  That’s why those verses in Hebrews 1 tell us that it’s through Him all of creation came into being – a truth also declared by Paul (Colossians 1:16-17) and John (John 1:3).  And Jesus calls Himself “the Originator of God’s creation” (Revelation 3:14).  God the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit created the heavens and the earth, and did so from things that didn’t exist (Romans 4:17, Hebrews 11:3).  And He’s just the same today: He creates by His Word and He sustains all He creates, and He can do new, creative and miraculous works in our lives!

Secondly, we discover that Jesus appeared on earth at various times in the Old Testament; even before His incarnation, the Son of God made Himself known to mankind.  Some of these ‘theophanies’ are more obvious than others, but consider for example: When Abraham returned from battle he met Melchizedek (Genesis 14) who is described as the “king of righteousness” and “king of peace”; one “having neither beginning of days nor end of life”, one “resembling the Son of God” (Hebrews 7:2-3)!   When Jacob wrestled “a man” who blessed him, changed his name and told him he’d prevail, he knew he’d “seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:30). When Moses led God’s people through the wilderness the Rock that brought forth water “was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). When Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol, the king sees a fourth man in the furnace with them who “looks like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25).  And when Isaiah “saw the Lord” enthroned in the Temple (Isaiah 6) it was none other than Jesus (John 12:41).  Here and elsewhere Jesus is present to find, meet, come alongside, intervene and provide for His people…  And just as He was yesterday, so He is today! 

And then thirdly, when He took on flesh and walked amongst us He gave the most complete manifestation of His unchangeable nature.  Having declared “before Abraham was even born, I AM” (John 8:58), He made seven powerful “I am…” statements to show us what this meant: (1) “I am the Bread of life” (John 6:35,48) – sustaining, nourishing; providing, refreshing, satisfying us. (2) “I am the Light of World” (John 8:12, 9:5) – banishing darkness, removing fear, making things plain. (3) “I am the Door of the Sheep” (John 10:7,9) – giving access to the Father; guarding, protecting, keeping us safe. (4) “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11,14) – caring, leading, feeding, healing; devoted to His flock. (5) “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25) – carrying our sin and sickness, triumphing over death, empowering us to live Spirit-filled, overcoming lives. (6) “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:16) – all our wisdom, the answer to every dilemma, the key to every breakthrough. And (7) “I am the True Vine” (John 15:1,5) – joining us to Himself and one another; and enabling us to be fruitful all the time…  This is JESUS – the Great I AM, the Son of God, the Christ – who is the same Yesterday, Today and Forever! 

Jesus is the same today as when He created all things, and when He appeared in the Old Testament, and when He walked on earth.  He is exactly the same this year as last year, or your best year ever!  He does not change.  He’s the same day or night, and whatever the season, and whatever we face.  He’s the same whether His church is gathered or scattered. He doesn’t change when we change; He doesn’t deviate when we go off-track.  He cannot love us any more or less!  He is always good, all the time.  He was all-sufficient for Abraham, Moses and Daniel and his friends; and for Paul and Peter and John – and He’s all-sufficient for you and me! He never changes.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.  And therefore we can anchor our lives to Him, build our churches on Him, and find total security in Him!  There’s a Rock on which we can stand.  He is unchangeable, and that changes everything!….

In Part 2 we will see that this Unchangeable Person has an Unshakeable Kingdom, but before you move on why not take some time to consider what the unchangeable nature of Jesus means for you at this time?

(An extended video version of this message is available here)

Unchangeable, Unshakeable, Unstoppable!

Unchangeable, Unshakeable, Unstoppable!


“He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:2, 6)

The foundations upon which we build our lives and churches are more important than we could ever imagine. The strength and success of anything depends on what it stands upon; the health of the roots will always determine the quality of the fruit. Even our attitudes and reactions, and our perspectives on things will be profoundly affected by what we hold to be true. And in times of challenge or uncertainty we need to know what we can depend and rely upon – think how often King David’s psalms express his trust in God “the Rock”.

Solid foundations become the anchor-points and reference-points in our lives – the unshifting truths we embrace and to which we will return again and again, and on which we build so much more. This mini-series of three article focuses on three great truths that are fundamental to our lives and our churches.

In the first, we consider the fact that Jesus is UNCHANGEABLE. The Bible describes Him as “the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and this of course has profound implications: all that He was in the past He is today, and will be forever; and all that He did before He can do again! We can rely on Him and build our lives on Him, which is exactly what He invites us to do (Matthew 7:24-27).

In the second, we see that Jesus has a Kingdom that is UNSHAKEABLE (Hebrews 12:28). The Kingdom of God is everlasting and ever-growing and is good news for everyone, everywhere (Matthew 4:23, 9:35). And, whilst so many other things are uncertain and unstable, God’s Kingdom remains utterly unshakeable – there’s no better place to be!

And then in the third article, we focus on the fact that Jesus has commissioned and empowered His Church to spread the good news of His Kingdom everywhere! This is our urgent task and mission, and it is UNSTOPPABLE until Jesus returns (Matthew 24:14). We conclude by looking at a true story (Acts 3:1-11) that helps us make this mission practical in our own cultures and contexts .

Jesus never changes, His Kingdom is never shaken, and His mission will never fail – and holding tightly onto these three great truths will keep us properly anchored and focussed. It’s my prayer that these three article and the accompanying video messages will be a great encouragement to you! Part one starts here

Be Strong!

Be Strong!

One of the shortest, simplest and most striking biblical encouragements is to “BE STRONG!” Recall how Joshua is repeatedly urged to “be strong and courageous” as he leads God’s people into the promised land (Joshua 1:6-9); and how Solomon was to “be strong and courageous” as he succeeded his father David (1 Kings 2:2) and built the Temple (1 Chronicles 28:10). Or think of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:1), or John’s reminder to the young men (1 John 2:14)… And think how much time the apostles spent “strengthening the churches”. It seems the Lord really wants us to be strong, and He urges, encourages, and at times commands us to be so! Why? Because it’s all too easy to become fearful and discouraged! And because when we’re strong we can strengthen others. And right now, that’s what so many people need…

When we dig a bit deeper into these simple words – “BE STRONG” – we find a wonderfully rich sense of what it means to be strong and strengthened.  Let’s take a brief look at five words used in the New Testament and see how God wants us to be strong:

First, there’s a strength that EMPOWERS us.  The word is endunamoó meaning ‘to fill with power, make strong, enable, impart ability.’  It’s the word used by Paul when he says he’s “able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and when he tells Timothy that “Christ Jesus…has strengthened me” (1 Timothy 1:12) and “stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:17).  This is strength God imparts when we stand close to Him.  And it far eclipses our own strength!  Paul uses this word when he urges the Ephesians in their battle against spiritual powers to “be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength” (Ephesians 6:10, also Colossians 1:11).  God wants to impart strength to us, so let’s draw close to Him!…

Second, there’s a strength that PREVAILS and enables us to come out on top – whatever’s pressing us down.  The word is krataioó meaning ‘to grow or become strong; to prevail by God’s dominating strength; to attain mastery, the upper-hand’.  This is the word used to describe how John and Jesus “grew strong” as young men (Luke 1:80, 2:40).  It’s the word Paul uses when he prays for the church to “be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16).  God wants us to know an ‘inner strength’ that enables us to prevail and gain the upper-hand whatever we face.  This kind of strength develops over time as we prevail in the many little (and often private) challenges that come our way…

Then, thirdly, there’s a type of strength that OVERCOMES because we know God’s promises.  This word is ischuros meaning ‘mighty, valiant, powerful, sure; strong in body or in mind’.  It’s the word used in Hebrews 11:34 to describe those Old Testament heroes who – by holding on to God’s promises – “gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight.”  The same word is used by the apostle John when he urges the young men: “you are strong, God’s word remains in you, and you have had victory over the evil one” (1 John 2:14).  Great strength comes from letting God’s Word “dwell in us richly” (Colossians 3:16).  Like all of us, I’ve found that if there’s no Word inside me then there’s no edge to my sword.  It’s up to me: if I want to be strong I must get God’s Word inside me!…

Then there’s a strength that SOLIDIFIES – making us more solid, robust and secure.  The word is stereoó, meaning ‘to make firm, solid, strong; to confirm, settle’ and it’s the word from which we get ‘stereo’ (combining to enhance output).  It’s the word we find in Acts where Peter stands alongside the lame man and lifts him up so that “at once his feet and ankles became strong” (Acts 3:7).  Also in Acts we read that “the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily.” (Acts 16:5).  What does this tell us?  That when we’re alongside others – individually or as churches – there’s a powerful, solidifying impact that brings growth!  If we want to be strong we must get joined-up with others who are strong!…

Lastly, there’s a strength that PREPARES us to carry more This word is epistérizó and it means ‘to make stronger, prop-up, uphold, support; to establish’.  It’s a compound of stérizó (‘fix firmly, buttress, strengthen’) and epi (‘apt or fitting’) and has the sense of strengthening what’s already there to most suitably support what will follow…   It’s the word used many times in Acts when the apostles and prophets devoted themselves to “strengthening the churches” or “strengthening the disciples” (eg Acts 14:21-22, 15:32, 15:40-41,18:22-23). And from its uses elsewhere we see that this type of strength comes from giving and receiving spiritual gifts (Romans 1:11-12) and encouragement (1 Thessalonians  3:2). God wants us to be strengthened – firmly buttressed – because He has so much more planned for us!

It seems that BEING STRONG – for ourselves and others – is a vital, timely activity in these times; something we should prioritise.  We can invest now, to get strong, stay strong, and get stronger – so that we’re  ready for all that will yet be. How do we do it?  By drawing close to God, prevailing in our private battles, getting His Word inside us, joining-up with others, and by embracing anything that will give added strength and help us take more weight in the future. Like Joshua, Solomon, Timothy and countless others, you and I are urged to BE STRONG! 

Total Salvation

Total Salvation

Matthew 16 describes a pivotal conversation between Jesus and His disciples, during which Simon-Peter confesses the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus responds by declaring that Peter is ‘a rock’ and that on ‘the bedrock’ of this revelation and truth He will build His church! (Matthew 16:13-18, catch up here). 

A year or so later, after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus poured out His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, just as He’d promised (see Acts 1:1-8) and a huge crowd gathered to hear and see what was happening amongst the believers (Acts 2:1-6).  Now Peter begins to fulfil the prophetic declaration Jesus has made about him; sure and steady as a rock, he explains the outpouring and draws his sermon to a climax by once again declaring this same great revelatory truth – that “this Jesus is both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).  The crowd are “cut to the heart” – confronted by the truth and convicted by their sin – and ask “what must we do?” (Acts 2:37).  Without hesitation, Peter sets forth three ‘first steps’ they must take: “repent, be baptised and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  These three things are as vital and relevant now as they were then!  So, how are they to be understood?  There’s so much to explore here, but to get us started:

First, repentance is a ‘change of mind’ (metanoeó) leading to a change of direction.  It involves a recognition of our sin, a genuine remorse and a redirection of our lives, in which we turn away from sin and turn towards God, by putting our faith in Christ alone and producing “the fruit of repentance” (Matthew 3:8).  Repentance is from “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1) and is therefore always life-giving; it acknowledges that Jesus is King and Lord over our lives, and is the way we are born again and enter His Kingdom (John 3:3-5).

Then, baptism is a means of grace with real power to enable new believers to make a clean-break from their past (Acts 22:16), burying the old life and beginning to live in resurrection power (Romans 6:1-14).  It’s always by full immersion (since the word baptizo means ‘plunge’, ‘immerse’ or ‘submerge’) and the New Testament never suggests any other type or practice.  The book of Acts also makes clear that repentance and faith are preconditions of baptism (it’s a ‘believers baptism’), but otherwise there is no biblical warrant for delaying it.  Rather, it is the expected, commanded and immediate next step of all who’ve repented; in other words, repentance and baptism always go together (see, for example, Acts 8:36-39: 10:47-48, 16:33, 22:16). 

Receiving the Spirit is the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” that John anticipated (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33) and Jesus affirmed (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-8), for the context of Acts 2 makes it impossible Peter could have been referring to anything else!  The biblical evidence is that this “baptism” or “empowering” (these and other phrases are used synonymously) is a distinct experience (not the ‘equivalent’ of repentance or water baptism).  By His own baptism in water and the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22) Jesus set the example for us to follow.  It is God’s wonderful promise and provision for all believers (Acts 2:17-18, 39), enabling us to live the Christian life the way He always intended.

It’s notable that as part of their ‘foundation-laying’ role (1 Corinthians 3:10, Ephesians 2:20), the New Testament apostles consistently ensured all three of these essential events had occurred in the lives of believers.  Thus: Peter and John laid hands on believers in Samaria who’d only been baptised in water, so they’d also receive the Spirit (Acts 8:14ff); Peter commanded Cornelius’s household to be baptised in water as soon as they’d received the baptism in the Spirit (Acts 10:47-48); having made enquiries of the disciples in Ephesus, Paul baptised them in water and laid hands on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5-6)…  The apostles knew that to leave any ‘gaps’ in the foundations was to leave believers diminished and unsteady.

Those who accepted Peter’s message were “that day…added to them” (Acts 2:41), a final step which effectively completed their ‘total salvation’.  Now, like them, we can be totally saved – saved from eternal death by repentance and faith; saved from the power of the past through the waters of baptism; saved from powerlessness in the future by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit; and saved from going it alone by being added to His Church.  What a wonderful salvation!…

Who is He and Who are You?

Who is He and Who are You?

One of the most important conversations of all time occurs in Matthew chapter sixteen!  After about two years of His public ministry – during which He’d healed the sick, cast out demons, fed multitudes, raised the dead, taught with authority, calmed the storms and forgiven people their sins – Jesus asks His disciples who people think or say He is (Matthew 16:13), and they respond by summarising the most popular public opinions: that He’s a resurrected John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah, or maybe another of the prophets (16:14)…  

But then Jesus turns the question on the disciples themselves, those who’ve been closest to Him, who’ve travelled and shared meals with Him and witnessed these things first hand, and asks: “But what about you, who do you say I am?” (16:15).  This was no longer about public opinion.  Now the focus was on their personal conviction.  And without hesitation, Simon-Peter steps forward and is the first to reply: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (16:16).  

Jesus’s joy at Simon-Peter’s response seems almost palpable!  And His next words are about to change Simon-Peter’s life forever: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (16:17).  Peter’s conviction that Jesus was the Messiah wasn’t just the result of seeing His miracles and hearing His teachings, and it certainly wasn’t a belief instilled in him by his family or his fellow-disciples.  Flesh and blood alone could not convince him.  It was a revelation from God!  He knew Jesus was the Messiah because God had revealed it to Him.  

The same is true for everyone who knows Jesus is the Messiah: we believe it because God has revealed it to us!  Think about it: however you came to know Jesus;  whatever the circumstances; whenever it happened; whoever was involved in sharing their testimony or faith with you – your conviction and belief actually came about because God the Father was at work revealing the truth to you.  Be assured: He wanted you to know; you heard it from God!

Jesus continues: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (16:18).  This is the ‘first mention’ of the church (ekklesia) in the Bible. And notice what happens here: Simon-Peter has confessed the truth about Jesus’s identity (“You are the Messiah”) and in response Jesus proclaims the truth about his identity (“you are Peter”).  The word ‘Peter’ is petros meaning ‘a rock’, or a ‘specific piece of rock’ and in those few words Jesus declares something essential that Peter will need to remember as the story unfolds – Jesus thinks he’s a rock; Jesus believes in Him; and Jesus will use him in the foundations of His church!  This was Peter’s true identity.  In the same way, it’s only when we confess the truth about Jesus that we begin to see our own true identity, and begin to see how Jesus wants to use us in what He’s building.  

In declaring that He will build His church “on this rock”, Jesus is referring not to Peter himself but to the revelation Peter has received and confessed.  The ‘rock’ in this case is not petros but petra – meaning the ‘bedrock’.  This is vital: the church is built not a man (Peter, or anyone else) but on the foundational bedrock of the revelation that Jesus Christ is the Messiah!  It’s as we believe and confess this truth that we’re born again and become part of His church (see Romans 10:9).  Jesus is the Rock, the Foundation and the Cornerstone of His church (see Ephesians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11), and anything built on anything else is doomed to failure, as the story of the two builders dramatically illustrates (Matthew 7:24-27).

This conversation and this revelation lived with Peter for the rest of his life.  It  defined his identity and shaped his ministry.  And in the next article we will look at what happened when he preached it to crowds of thousands on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2)… 

Rooted: Genesis 1-3

Rooted: Genesis 1-3

Theology is ‘the study of God’ and for Christians it’s a dynamic pursuit; we can know God because He makes Himself known and by His Spirit He leads us into all the truth! So, in this first series – GENESIS 1-3 & THE ROOTS OF THEOLOGY – we explore the opening three chapters of the Bible and discover what they begin to tell us about the big issues that affect everyone, everywhere, every day – including: God and His cosmos, man and his mission, Satan and sin, and God’s wonderful plan to restore all things…

This series is in 4 parts: [1] In PART 1 we look briefly at the creation account of the opening chapter, and see that God first “formed” and then “filled” all things, creating order and beauty, and blessing growth and multiplication. [2] In PART 2 we see that the beginnings and roots of all our major doctrines are found in these three chapters, we look at the overarching “eternal purpose” of God, and at what the Bible tells us about the fall of Lucifer and his angels. [3] Then in PART 3 we look in more detail at the nature of temptation and sin and the catastrophic consequences of Adam’s fall, before discovering that whereas God cursed the serpent in Genesis 3, He clothed and covered Adam and Eve, and banished them from the Garden to ensure they wouldn’t live forever in their fallen state. [4] Finally, in PART 4 we see that the work of Christ, the “last Adam”, deals with all the consequences of the first man’s Fall and brings about about the restoration of all things. We discover that on the Cross, Jesus triumphed over sin and death; He cast-out the ruler of this world, revealed God’s glory and brought forth His Church (Jn 12:23-33) – and thus made a way for all the blessings of Eden to be fully restored in the Age to Come (Rev 21-22)!…