Peter Holloway

Grow old along with me

Rabbi ben Ezra
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

From Rabbi ben Ezra by Robert Browning

Taken from my grandfather’s poetry book. I like the sentiment of this first stanza.

Authentic Church

church

Authentic is all the rage at the moment. We want honest people, transparent ideals, reality, authenticity. This need for authenticity has seeped into the Church too. Of course, it is a genuine need and one that becomes more necessary with every generation of Church. As we become involved in our local fellowship, as one generation passes on to another we gradually accumulate that which is not biblical and include it in our traditions – and that is what they are: extrabiblical traditions. That’s what the Pharisees became and promoted – human tradition over biblical truth. The thing is, we can as easily make a tradition out of modern praise as we can out of singing 300 year old hymns. It’s not the what but the why that matters.

As I look around me I can see churches and denominations failing. I can see new startups beginning to address these traditions, but very often lacking a sound basis for that change. To be honest, give them 20 years of existence and they will have their own traditions to pass on.

So, how do we get it right? How do we get to authentic Church?

The first thing to realise is that we are already authentic Church if we are born again of the Spirit of God! Throughout the Bible God promises: “They will be my people, I will be their God!” This is our true position, we belong to Him, wholly, as a people, our identity is bound up in His ownership of and inhabiting of us as a people.

The second thing to realise is that we must live as that people and in order to do that we must understand fully just who we are in Christ. Note that I said ‘who we are’, not ‘who I am’ or ‘who you (singular) are’. God called us as a people, sent His Son to be our Groom and we His bride. There’s no place for individualism in the Church. You can’t just sit it out until Christ returns and listen to the God channel on TV.

I’ve attached a PDF that gives a fuller summary, a study that I prepared over 10 years ago, but which I am still convinced would help if we applied it to our understanding of how we ‘do Church’. But I’d like to summarise three things that to me are the hallmarks of Church. These are in order for a reason. We first of all look Godward, secondly we look to one another as God’s people and thirdly, on the basis of the first two things, we look outwardly in witness and evangelism.

Worship

Everything is for God, this universe that He created, the people in it, everything has a solitary purpose for existence: the glory of God. Without this the world has no meaning, the universe has no meaning, our lives have no meaning. We must always look to God first. In our personal lives, and in our corporate lives as the chosen people of the Creator of the universe and sustainer of all things. If we do not do everything to God, for God, in God, then nothing else will matter. All the good deeds in the world done outside of a Godward heart are in vain.

Our doing Church authentically can only be done so wholeheartedly seeking to know God, to touch God, to relate with Him as His people, as He intended. We must rigorously, vigorously channel all that we do as a local church through this attitude. If we do not look to God first and foremost we can do nothing of eternal import.

This is the true nature of worship: we sing in Him and to Him, we serve in Him and to Him, we weep in Him and to Him, we live only and ever in Him and to Him. To do so as a gathered people is to glorify Him as He intended.

Edification

Edification literally means to build up. As we look to God we worship, as we look to one another, understanding who we are in God we should have a heart to help, to build, to encourage, to make one another more able to serve God, because to do so glorifies God and builds up that of which we are also a part – in helping others we please God and help ourselves.

I know that seeker sensitive has been a watchword for a generation of believers, but I honestly believe that edification comes before evangelism. How can we witness when we don’t know how? How can we bring in new believers when the Church is not working as it should?

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Evangelism

The imperative of the Great Commission is to make disciples – that’s evangelism and edification rolled into one. We have the most incredible message of hope for a hopeless world. Even if it was not a command, we must feel the obligation to share the Good News. As the Godward living people of God, understanding just what that means, as mutually encouraging and edifying believers that faith must overflow the local fellowship into the community.

The story is told of a child who asked his dad: “How big was Jesus?”, the dad thought for a moment and then gave an educated guess. The child, who obviously had been thinking things through responded: “If he’s that big, and I ask Him to live in me, then he’s going to stick out somewhere.” Jesus should stick out in our lives: He’s too big to be contained. That’s our evangelism as a natural outworking of our worship and edification.

So, with each generation of Church and local church we need to strip back to the essentials. Identify tradition for what it is. If it helps, keep it, but only as it helps, never as a rule, and never on a par with Scripture truth. Get your priorities right and see the church, God’s people as God’s, and not ours. Seek him and His Kingdom and all the rest will fall into place.

“so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:12

Authentic Church – A Brief Study

Short Shots: Theologically and Practically in Christ

Coffee, Short Shots

The book of Ephesians is at once simple and exceedingly complex. It’s short enough to read at a single sitting and deep enough to keep you learning for years. Here are a couple of things that help to see what the book is about.

  1. The book of Ephesians contains 6 chapters. The first 3 are predominately theological, the second 3 are mainly practical. This is a pattern for our lives. Get your thinking about God right, based on his Word, then your practical lives will have the right foundation for living as God’s children.

  2. The first section repeatedly tells us that our theological position: our forgiveness, redemption, our privileged place before almighty God is only found in Christ. As believers we already stand forgiven in Christ, our hope is in Christ. Theologically we are already in Christ. Practically speaking we need to move into Christ – our lives don’t match up with our position. This is why Paul urges us to ‘walk worthy of the calling’. It’s not our starting point, but it should be our ending point. Ephesians 4:15-16 tells us:

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

As Christians we often live inconsistent lives. We stand in Christ through faith, but we live out our lives faithless and outside of Christ. Let’s ‘walk worthy’ because we are all looking to the ‘one hope that belongs to our call’

The Truth About Christian Suffering

The Truth About Christian Suffering

I recall hearing Stephen Fry on TV discussing depression and telling the story of a man who had thrown himself in front of a bus. The man didn’t die, as he intended, and when someone commenting on his injuries said: “That must be very painful!” The man replied: “Yes, that’s why I threw myself under the bus!” We can’t underestimate internal pain, or how it will affect an individual.

The story of Job in the Bible begins with a series of catastrophic events that result in Job’s wife telling him to ‘curse God, and die’! It is this internal struggle and not the external circumstances that is the heart of the matter, and the only portion that we can really deal with. Circumstances are outside our control and as the advertisers are always caveating, may go down as well as up.

One thing we can never do with suffering is compare it to that of someone else. For someone who is genuinely suffering, whether physically, emotionally, socially, fiscally or spiritually their pain is what they have to cope with. It doesn’t stop them understanding the suffering of others or prevent them from empathising with the suffering of others, but it is their pain that is foremost and their pain that needs answering, if not resolving. Knowledge of someone else’s suffering does not trump and render ineffective your own suffering. For that reason I want to deal with the internal responses to suffering, and not the big question of why there is suffering – that might just turn a blog post into an epic…

I believe that when we look at suffering in the Bible we tend to romanticise it. The differences in time and culture can dull us to the stark reality of what is going on. I suspect that we subconsciously do this with the book of Job. We see a wealthy man with a temporary setback (we know how it ends), who has a few questions for God. To romanticise or play down Job’s suffering for whatever reason leaves us without any real help.

The Context

It may help to put Job’s circumstances into a modern day equivalent so that we can better understand his pain.

Imagine a businessman, one who has worked hard over several decades building up a company. He has employees, multiple premises, a whole host of connections: customers, suppliers, contemporaries, legal and financial, not to mention the social life and status of a big man in the city. He has an expensive house or two, an expensive car and more, and quite possibly, he has an expensive wife. People listen to him because his success is the proof of his wisdom. The correlation is obvious to all.

Every businessman knows that he should have a disaster recovery plan. Every businessman also knows that there are some disasters that you will never recover from.

Imagine that, despite this businessman’s wisdom and foresight and competence that disaster comes. It’s outside his control. Suppliers fail at the same time as his customer base goes elsewhere. As the business goes into freefall the factory goes up in flames. Despite their best efforts the fire crew cannot save the building. The extended family en-route to the holiday home in their private jet crash – there are no survivors.

Creditors come knocking, suppliers stop supplying, customers stop buying, employees are suing and in all of this the businessman is grieving for his family. And, just when it seems the worst has happened the businessman contracts a mysterious disease that causes sleep to flee and waking moments to be dreaded.

The man, for he is no longer a ‘businessman’ finds at the last that he has no friends, not even his wife. Those who he thought were there for him he now realises were there for them. All of them walk away!

The man is humiliated, isolated, powerless, and yet, the one thing that no-one can take away from him is his faith. The problem is, he is sorely tempted to throw that one away himself. He feels he has nothing. He is tempted to believe he has nothing.

Can you begin to comprehend what is going through Job’s mind? The pillar of the community is treated like the beggar in the street.

The Truth

The sweetest truth in the book of Job isn’t the knowledge that Job got it all back. It isn’t even the fact that it proves that circumstances don’t determine the man, or woman. The sweetest truth in this tragedy of disaster and humiliation is that God can and will be proud of those who follow him! I’m sure you know the story, but go read it again when you’re finished here, it’s worth the read.

In all that is recorded of Job: his success, his decline, his debating with men and with God, his rise again; in all that, Job is completely unaware of the most important truth: God is proud of Job! God takes pleasure in Job – not in his circumstances, good or bad, but in his life lived before God and for God, whatever the surrounding circumstances.

Think for a moment about why this series of events overtook Job. It wasn’t because he sinned! That much is argued clearly. But, God in his providence allowed these events because Job was righteous! ‘Have you considered my servant Job?’ What an incredible thing for the Creator God, the Righteous One to say about any son of Adam!

I know that at this point, if you are going through your own suffering Satan is whispering in your ear: “But you’re not righteous, you brought this on yourself.” Everything that Satan whispers is a lie – don’t believe him.

Job wrestled with his own faith, he wrestled with his wife’s faith, he wrestled with the accusations, the insinuations, the holier than thou attitudes of his ‘comforters’, but in the end, even though he had nothing left in this world, he was convinced that he had something still in the world to come.

I don’t think I will ever fully know what Job experienced. I doubt that you will. But, that doesn’t make our suffering or struggles any less real or any less important. The devil whispers ‘Curse God, and die.’, God is saying to Satan ‘Have you considered my servant…?’

Let me assure you of this one thing: as you lift your soul in faith to God and agree to trust him regardless of your external circumstances, good or bad, God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe is smiling on you. He is proud of your faith, He is worshipped in your life by your faith.

The sweetest truth in our suffering, whatever that may be is that it is only you and your God, and he is for you! Friends, position in society, security of job and of relationships can all go down as well as up. But we have a God who is love, who has demonstrated his love for us in giving his only Son to a suffering more than we can begin to understand. We have a God who is waiting to praise us, who is actively loving us, even in our suffering.

So, whether your life is externally great, or you’re in the depths of despair, please lift your hearts and souls to God and continue to worship, obey, believe, hope. In so doing you reveal real meaning in your life, meaning that will count for all eternity.

Think for a moment about the final outcome of the story of Job, one not recorded in the Bible. Think that one day, Job will be presented before his Creator, and God will say before the heavenly host: ‘Consider my servant, Job!’

One day, we too will stand and God will say ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ Matthew 25:34

This is our hope!

On Opening the Door

Opening the Door

We have a sign on our front door, it reads ‘Welcome Friends’. It’s interesting the difference friendship makes to a welcome. It’s not that we’re unfriendly, or don’t welcome people we don’t already count as friends, but just think for a minute about the difference in your attitude when you are expecting a knock on the door and when you’re not.

When we’ve arranged for friends to come round we are expecting them, we are looking forward to what’s to come. We go to the door with a smile already crossing our face. But sometimes, usually when we’ve just sat down with a cup of tea, we hear an unexpected knock on the door: is it a cold caller? As we go to the door we are usually just that bit more wary, not sure of how to receive until we know who it is we are receiving.

In Revelation 3:20 there is a direct message from the risen Jesus to the Church. It’s directed at those who already know him – he’s a friend. But the shocking thing is that he’s on the outside, knocking to get in! Remember, these are Christians that Jesus is talking to!

When we invite friends round, it very often comes with the offer of a meal. As we eat together folks relax, relationships are built, questions are asked and answers given – we get to know one another.

For many people today their relationship with God is transactional. Let me explain that: we make our relationship with God a deal, an agreement, an acknowledgement of our sin and God’s forgiveness through Christ. But we leave it there. The deal’s been done, we’re saved. That’s what makes for Revelation 3 lukewarm Christians! We often use the term ‘accepting Christ’ as a description of our salvation. That somehow seems such a poor concept of what Jesus is and what he wants. He doesn’t want to be accepted, he wants to be welcomed!

Read Revelation chapter 1 through to 3:20 and try to see the risen, exalted, incandescent Jesus of chapter 1 standing outside the door to you: knocking, waiting. Try to imagine what it would be like to open that door to Jesus as the best of all friends, and to welcome him in with open arms and a laden table. Try to imagine a life spent around the table of our hearts with the Lord Jesus Christ breaking bread with us, getting to know him as he knows us. That’s a relationship, not a transaction.

Jesus is saying to each one of us in our apathy and lukewarm faith: LOOK! I’m outside knocking! If anyone opens up and welcomes me to the table, I WILL come in and share it with them!

What an incredible offer and privilege – let’s all throw wide the doors with glad abandon and welcome our Lord into our lives.

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