Wednesday, January 28, 2009
I recently found a great website dedicated to my home town of Wigan. I was actually born two miles outside of the town in an urban village but ‘going to town’ meant going to Wigan.
Most of the shops we used in the early sixties were local. The nearest we came to a supermarket was a chain of shops called Morton & Sons who sold everything. Within spitting distance of each other were Dewhurst butchers and Robinson’s Fruit and Veg. All family owned and run.
Once a week mum and I would make the trip to Wigan from Ince Bar on the local Wigan Corporation bus. The first fare I remember was 2d (in old money, just over a new penny in value) and half price for kids. The buses were cherry and white, the same as the famous Wigan Rugby League team. The journey seemed to take ages but was probably no more than 15 minutes. Part of it went over the canal bridge and I always hoped the bus would go over this quickly so that my stomach would churn and tickle. In those days you had conductors as well as drivers and you got on and off the bus via the open platform at the back, no closing doors.
The bus stop in town was in Library Street outside of Timberlake’s Garage. To get to the Market Place you walked up Library Street to a junction which consisted of several roads coming together at odd angles. There were no traffic lights or ‘robots’ as we called them. Instead there was a policeman on points duty. Watching him would fascinate me. He seemed to have so much power. He just raised a hand and could hold up a whole row of cars. His different signals were so clear that instead of potential chaos there was order. My favourite time to see him was on a dark winter night. In those conditions he was lit by a strong spotlight suspended across the road. The picture above shows the exact scene from 1961 as I would have seen it.
Years later I was teaching in church about how God promised through Jesus to clothe those of us who are believers with authority from the Holy Spirit. As I was preparing I remembered the scene of the policeman on points duty.
What made him able to do what he did? Two things. One he had training. He was imparted with an ability to direct the traffic, he had to learn the signals so well that he knew exactly what to do to bring order. Secondly, he had authority represented by his uniform. Without the uniform, even with all the correct gestures, it is possible he would be ignored.
There are two similar concepts in scripture concerning authority and power. The word exousia means ‘a right to do something’. We have a legal right to do it. Jesus was someone who taught with a confidence from knowing He had this kind of authority. It’s the word used by Jesus in Luke 9 when He sent His disciples out to heal. ‘He gave them authority’. The Holy Spirit in our lives is the living authority of God. We can operate by His leading in preaching the gospel and healing the sick.
The second concept is power. The word is dunamis and is the same word we get dynamite from. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said we would receive power (dunamis) after the Holy Spirit has come on us. Dunamis is the ability to do something. Again its not natural ability but supernatural. We have a right to pray for the sick to be healed and have a commission from God to do that. As we lay hands on the sick we can impart healing because dunamis power is in us. We have a right to speak in tongues (exousia) and when we do its by the Spirits power (dunamis).
I learned a lot from that childhood memory. I am learning more and more to live by the Spirit and trust Him. To walk in His authority and express in faith His gifts as He gives the ability.
Jesus has given is authority and power from His Spirit. Let’s walk in Him, the Spirit more and more.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
What is Church?
I recently spoke at a local house group concerning the Apostolic Reformation that is moving in the earth. One of the reforms taking place concerns church.
Church, as Apostle André Pelser puts it, is God’s plan A and there is no plan B. This was something I was going to touch on with the group. Before the meeting and as a test of people’s understanding I did an experiment with someone I was working with that day and asked her to draw church. She drew a building. I am sure many people would have done the same. At the house group I used this as an illustration of what I felt most people would do if asked to draw church.
Most Christians know that church is people not buildings but we have been so conditioned in our thinking to consider the building where church meets rather than people. This mindset leads to false ideas and notions and what church should be doing and also raises false expectations of what to expect.
The word translated church in the Bible is the word ecclesia. It literally means called out. A building can’t be ‘called out’ but people can be. Church is a community of believers called out to a way of living that produces a Body that Christ is the head of.
Jesus was speaking prophetically when he said in Matthew 8:21:-
“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head”
Jesus wasn’t saying He was homeless. We read of places He stayed and people who accommodated Him. He was prophetically stating that He needed a Body, somewhere He could be Head of.
Paul tells us that its Christ who is Head of His Body in Colossians 1:18
“And He is head of the body, the church”
What kind of things characterise Church?
Acts 2:40 to 47 describes what the Early Church did:-
• They continued in the apostles’ doctrine
• Were baptised
• Broke bread together
• Were a sharing community
• Walked in signs and wonders
• Continued daily in these things
What is my family’s experience of Church?
My family relates to an apostle and receive his counsel and input into our lives. He is not above us on a pedestal but alongside us mutually submitting to us as we do to him. An apostle is a foundation layer and we receive him as an apostle and as a reward we see foundations laid in our lives.
We are baptised believers. Hebrews tells us that part of the foundation we build on are doctrines about baptisms. Baptism in water, in the Holy Spirit and fire. We have all obeyed the command to be baptised and sought and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and have experienced the fire of God in our home.
Peter when asked what someone must do to be saved said in Acts 2:38 :-
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”
Baptism is not something we can say no to. It is not an optional extra. We should be baptised. True salvation is about following Christ as a disciple. A disciple does what His Master asks of him. Its not a pastor we disobey if we refuse to be baptised but the One we say we are serving.
Our family meals are part of our daily fellowship. My work pattern made it difficult for me to eat with the family. I began to realise that problems we were experiencing were partly due to the fact we rarely ate together. Our table has become a place of communion and fellowship as a family. Its where we pray together and study God’s word together. The word fellowship is from a word meaning ‘sharing your lives physically, mentally and spiritually’. Its not just being in the same house but being together on every level.
What we as an imperfect family are finding is Church. We experience Christ together. We pray for each other, prophecy to each other and encourage each other.
Is this the same for corporate Church?
Can that really be the same in a building we meet in as Church on a Sunday. It has to be because that is Church. A place where we discover God in each other and part of the community we become. I would dare to say if we don’t have that we are not Church but an institution.
If all we do when we gather is sing, watch the performance on stage, become part of the committee or team that runs things and put our money on to the plate then we might as well be a Working Men’s club, because that’s what they do.
God is reforming His Church. Its not new but has always gone on. Sad thing is we tend to allow God to reform then when we think we see what He’s doing we make a denomination out of it. God is not about denominations but a Body.
Its interesting to see in the Early Church people were added, 3000 on the Day Of Pentecost alone. Acts 2 the last few verses says they ‘continued daily’ and ‘the Lord added to the Church daily’. God did it. All by God using ‘uneducated men and women’.
What about the large churches we see in some places?
There is a new phenomenon these days. The mega church, some have tens of thousands attending. Are they really being church? I can’t judge but if the characteristics that I describe from Acts 2 don’t exist then they are not Church.
I read a statistic concerning one of the mega churches in the US. The majority of people coming to Christ in this church (I think they said 80%) after five years they are either in another church or not going anywhere. The reason given was that they didn’t feel they were doing anything for God, just making up the numbers.
Everyone has a function, part to play.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that we all have a function. In fact leaders are there to equip us and help us find our function. Paul says when this happens (Ephesians 4:16), ‘by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love”
We grow and mature in a true Body. We know our function and place and we are doers of the word not just hearers. We see God work in our midst with signs and wonders.
God’s plan is Church. The Body of Christ is the answer. Not revival or a special outpouring, they come for a time but the Body Of Christ, His church, is here forever.
It’s Christ Church and He builds it
True Church is Christ’s Body and so reflects Him. There’s no room for big names and great reputations. You can build churches on personality and growth systems but eventually the personality moves on and the grown system fails. There’s only One true Church builder.
Jesus said, Matthew 16:18
“I will build My Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”
Does what you have as Church shake the gates of hell or put all its effort into surviving and keeping its identity. Is God adding to it? Are signs and wonders evident? Do the members operate in their function to edify the whole Body?
God is reforming His Church.
The current reform of His Church is adding back fivefold gifts of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Teachers and Pastors so that the members can operate in their function accurately.
In the house group meeting I drew a diagram of a pyramid to illustrate the structure of most churches and why people don’t find function. I named it as old. I had wrongly concluded that this type of church didn’t work. Someone corrected me saying that people still get saved in this type of church. That’s true so I stand corrected. However, I could drive a model Ford T if I had a working example but I’d rather drive my four year old Mondeo with the safety features and sophistication it brings. I could use a Hoover from the 1920’s but I’d prefer a modern Dyson. God is moving His Church on, you either allow reform or stand still and operate in old technology.
Don’t let sentimental attachment to a concept or social group rob you of the excitement of what God is doing with His Church. I want to see His Church prevailing against the gates of hell. How about you?
Friday, January 09, 2009
Recently I heard of the sudden death of a friend I knew as a teenager. Jill was a few years younger than me and died suddenly in her garden I am led to believe. She was someone I only knew closely for a few years but was part of one of the most important times of my life.
I was 16, almost 17 and lost. I’d just finished my O-levels and had not done well. Lots of reasons for that but the main one was lack of motivation and a not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I have been brought up in an Anglican church and made a commitment to Christ at the age of 10. It was real enough and although I never grew in my faith much I knew that I was different. By the time I was ready for sixth form I chose to stay on simply because I didn’t know what else to do.
During the end of the summer term before sixth form I went to a youth group meeting in a house. It was strange for me an Anglican, at that time we didn’t really even have prayer meetings outside the normal services. This led in a round about way with me being asked to go to help at a youth camp to be held in August in the dales around Settle, North Yorkshire. As a family we were poor, no money for camps. A small miracle of provision took place, unexpected income which meant I could go.
I remember arriving at the camp a few days early to help the pastor set up the tents. The scenery was stunning, I remember laying in my tent with my head sticking out from under the side looking at the stars in the night sky. I felt like I could reach out and grab hold of them.
Jill arrived with her younger brother Nick and a friend of hers from school. I think she was 14 and had the most beautiful face and bright red hair. Nick shared my tent and I quickly got to like him. I remember teasing Jill during the week as teenage boys do to teenage girls and thinking that she had a great sense of fun.
That week changed the course of my life. I had been a smoker for two years and stopped overnight, I was ‘on fire’ for God and excited at the reality of faith. I went back to school and within a few weeks two of my friends made commitments. We started a Christian meeting led by a teacher and other friends joined. Where I was hiding faith, now I was telling everyone.
The church that led the camp was a Pentecostal one. I was told they were weird and extreme and had previously had a bad experience at a meeting I attended. What I had seen and felt at camp gave me the courage to go and try it again. It was a special time in the life of that church. The love of God was real and the Spirit of God moved in His gifts. The pastor was a true man of God worthy of a book to be written about him. It was so joyful to be there at that time.
Just before I attended the camp I had been to some youth meetings there led by a group of bible college students from Birmingham Bible Institute. One of the couples helping out were due to end their study and the wife was heavily pregnant with their first child. Neil the husband became the Assistant Pastor and looked after us all as young people.
As the group grew together we began to do things together in ministry. I could play guitar and had the courage to sing so I kind of led that side of things. Neil and Ruth were lovely people. He was a fiery preacher and a fervent man of prayer. I loved that about him. As young people we would go door to door every week spreading the gospel. There are many funny anecdotes to tell.
Through Jill I was invited to her home. Dave and Dorothy (Dode) had just had a baby son, Christopher. I remember my first visit to them. They said I could go any time. I remember walking around the area they lived in for over an hour before plucking up the courage to knock on the door. I needn’t have worried, they welcomed me with open arms. From that time until I went to Bible School a year later they adopted me as a son and I spent three nights a week there. Jill became a sister to me and I was changed by my first real experience of family. I was taught manners, I could debate and enjoy jokes and laughter. It gave me something that was precious.
As time went on I left the area, they moved church and house, and apart from a couple of encounters at church and weddings that was it. After my divorce to my first wife I had no contact. The strange thing was Dorothy taught all my older children at Primary school and was a strong support to them during the first years of separation.
Jill’s death was a shock and I feel sad. Sad not to have the chance in this life to catch up and reminisce. I also can smile at the memories and remember the affection we shared. God knows the answer to why so we need to have faith to trust Him for that. I know I will see her again and we will love each other as never before.
I thank God that He knows who we need and at what time. People are doors and pivot points in life. I ask that I may be a door to someone else.
Bless you Jill. Bless you Moulson family. I love you and thank God for the impact you have had on my life.