Monday, 17 July 2017

Colin: Few Are Chosen

There’s a tendency in parts of the church to think that few will be saved. This stems from basing thoughts about judgment on stories such as the flood in Genesis 6. If we dwelt more upon the story of God raising up a saviour to save the world in Genesis 41-47, we might finish up with an entirely different view of salvation!

The harsher view is also reinforced by a misunderstanding of scriptures such as Matthew 22:14, which says, “For many are called, but few are chosen”. This statement comes at the end of a parable Jesus tells us about the kingdom of God being like a wedding feast; and it is clear from the context that when Jesus speaks of the chosen few, He is not talking about salvation.

Let me explain. The story starts with a king arranging a marriage for his son and sending out invitations. When the invited guests all decline, because they are too busy, the king sends messengers with more invitations, but the invited guests kill those servants. The king then sends his army to destroy that city and sends his remaining servants into all the highways to invite everyone to the wedding, both good and bad. Once the feast has started, the king notices one man who is not dressed up for the wedding and has him thrown out (into the darkness). That’s when the statement on few being chosen appears.

So who are the many and the few? What is clear is that the guests who are initially invited are the Jews and their city is Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Romans. Those found on the highways are the gentiles (all other nations), so the ‘many’ who are invited into the kingdom is everyone, all the Jews and all the gentiles. So who are the few? That could either refer to the Jews, who were the especially chosen guests, or the badly dressed man who was expelled (*see footnote below, if his treatment has bothered you!). In either case, the few are not chosen for salvation, but, in the case of the Jews, to model the kingdom and ‘bring’ salvation, and in the case of the man expelled, to miss out on the feast. In fact, whenever the Bible talks of God choosing people, it is never for salvation (He chooses everyone), but always to perform a task.

So what was River chosen for? What tasks has Father God asked us to perform? I think these six help make our community very special:

  • To live in freedom and bring freedom. It was for freedom that Jesus set us free, and wherever the Spirit is, there is freedom. Freedom from the law and religion, as well as freedom from sin and the fear of death.
  • To declare the goodness of God. As Tom Wright says, it’s not that God is angry with people, but somehow manages to find a way to save a few. Rather, God, our loving Father, is determined to bless every family on earth, and therefore works against everything that holds people back from His abundant life and blessing.
  • To overflow with joy in the Holy Spirit. River Church was birthed in a joyful outpouring of the Spirit on a bunch of teenagers. Since then we have enjoyed discovering gifts such as prophecy, tongues and healing. Jesus sends us His Spirit to empower us in all sorts of ways to work with Him on His mission to bless and save the world.
  • To be family. We are held together by our relationships, our love for one another and our appreciation of these values, rather than a set of beliefs.
  • To call everyone to fulfil their destiny. Every person is created in God’s image and made for a glorious purpose. Regardless of age or gender, every believer is an ambassador for Christ and called to represent Him.
  • To bring heaven to earth. We have been given authority to serve through being good news to the poor, setting captives free, healing the sick, making peace, and bringing His presence, justice and joy in His name. 

This is our calling in partnering with Him to bring revival to our land. So let’s do everything we can to make our calling and election sure, let’s give what we can to live life this glorious way, for we will reap a harvest if we do not give up! (Galatians 6:9)

* For those who, like me, have felt sorry for the badly dressed man... after all he was dragged off the street: I understand it was customary for wealthy hosts to provide wedding garments at the door so his lack of attire is really a statement about him gaining entry some other way, not using the door, or not being bothered to change. Both speak to us as Jesus is the doorway to life and He loves us too much to leave us in a less than glorious state, so has given us every blessing (Ephesians 1:4) and everything we need for a life of godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Colin: The Ministry of Reconciliation

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Cor 5:17-18)

This is one of my favourite sections of the Bible because it sums up so much about who we are and what we are here for. If we’re truly to understand it, we have to understand who Jesus was: why He lived, died and was resurrected.

The life of Jesus was both ordinary and incredible! Ordinary in as much as He didn’t appear to achieve much: no books, no wealth, not many followers and no obvious kingdom. Incredible because of what He did and said: the sick were healed, the dead were raised, lepers were cleansed, demons and even storms obeyed Him. Not only that, but all were welcomed by Him, the sinner and the saint, the oppressor and the downtrodden, the wealthy and the poor, the Jew and the Gentile, young and old, men and women. He revealed the Father’s heart, not to judge, but to save, not to restrict, but to set free, not to smite, but to heal and not for a few, but for all! Few, if any, understood Him, but many listened to and wondered at Him. His life represented nice ideas, but are they true and could we trust Him?

It has often been noted that the crucifixion of Jesus, His death, without the resurrection, would simply have been a failure, just one more movement that promised much only to end in disappointment. It would have been just one more story of the powerful crushing those who resist them. The end of the dream His followers had of justice, that the oppressive kingdoms of the world would end and the Kingdom of God be established. 

But have you ever wondered what the resurrection without the life and death of Jesus would have meant? It would certainly have been weird, a story to entertain, a mystery to be explored or an interesting piece of gossip, but it would probably have been quickly forgotten and would not have been world changing. 

Combined, they represent a tremendously powerful story! The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the fulfilment of two thousand year old promises made by God to Abraham and his descendants. Despite man’s rebellion, our insistence on independence from the one who made us, and the tragic results that ensued (the story of Genesis 1-11), God would find a way of blessing every family on earth. This blessing would come through Abraham, because he trusted God. It would come through one of his descendants, who would trust God to the utmost and would turn out to be God Himself bringing salvation! That was the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth, which grows as His followers are empowered by the Spirit of Jesus to live free and represent heaven in begging others to be reconciled to God. It comes through those who show themselves to be Abraham’s seed by also choosing to trust God and this kingdom will continue to grow until it fills the earth! (Isaiah 9:7, Daniel 2:44)

I’m excited about the forthcoming week of prayer, Thy Kingdom Come for a few reasons. Firstly, it is leading reconciliation by bringing churches together who have been separated. Incredibly, the church streams involved represent about 1000 years of church splits! It’s exciting because Jesus said that when we accept and honour one another, it would be a sign to the world that God sent Him. Secondly, it is a call for us to be bold and to invite/plead/beg others to be reconciled to God, the way we work with God to bring His kingdom and salvation to the earth. 

Donald Trump may build walls to separate nations, Nicola Sturgeon may attempt to break up the United Kingdom, Theresa May may be taking the UK out of Europe, but God’s kingdom will continue to grow, He will continue to work, tearing down the walls that divide and bringing all things together under Christ (Ephesians 1:10), and that fills me with great hope! 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Colin: Planted By The River

I was recently asked what makes River so special and it’s clear to me that it is not one attribute that makes it so. Rather it is the combination of many attributes that makes River such a wonderful community to be a part of.

We glimpse something of it when meals are provided for a new-born’s family to help them through the early weeks; when a festival is run for the community at the cost of the church; in the readiness with which many speak prophetic words to comfort, exhort and strengthen the heart of the hearer; and in the ease with which the sick are prayed for in faith to make them well. You can see the heart of it in the deeply committed relationships that have bound friends together through thick and thin for decades.

Yes, I thank God our Father for River, but how did we get here? A few thoughts will help us live in the good of where we find ourselves and help propel us into the next season He has for us.
Firstly, the church was begun by an experience of the presence of God through His Holy Spirit. A group of youngsters were boating on the Thames and were overwhelmed by God and started speaking in tongues and prophesying. Over the years, adventuring in the gifts of the Spirit has been a hallmark of our community, sometimes dynamic and ecstatic, at other times gentle but just as powerful.

Secondly, we have come to know God as our loving Father. His heart is to bless us and through us to bless the world. He is for us, He is always working for good in all things, He is patient and willing to walk at our speed, He’s not controlling but allows our choices to influence His plans, He asks us to partner with Him in ways we could never have dreamed, knowing we will mess up some times but will grow through the work. In short, we know we are the apple of His eye (Zech 8:2), and that fills us with joy!

Thirdly, we have found that Jesus always treats us better than we deserve! We can all think of a hundred reasons why God shouldn’t accept us, why we’re not worthy to be used by Him to bless others, and why we deserve to be punished or to have misfortune, but when we come to Jesus we receive grace. We find He is gentle and humble and accepts us just as we are, whilst promising to transform us. He speaks words over us that lift us from the hum-drum to the highest places, things like, “You are the light of the world”, “I chose you to bear much fruit and glorify your Father” and “You will do the works I do and even greater works than these.”

Yes, this community is underpinned and watered by its theology, its understanding of who God is, which in turn shapes our thinking around life’s biggest questions: why the world is like it is, who are we and why are we here? That’s effectively what Psalm 1:1-3 says, “Blessed is the one who… delights in the law of the LORD, and in His law they meditate day and night. They shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever they do shall prosper.”

So whatever other resolution we may have made for 2017, let’s add a determination to make reading the Bible a delight and to ponder on what we’ve read. The Bible is the Word of God to us, it is given to lead us to Jesus and is the best way of learning who God is and what He wants of us. Don’t be put off by feelings of inadequacy or by thinking you’ll never understand it all… the truth is none of us understands it all and we are all inadequate, but God has promised to teach us by His Holy Spirit, to lead us in paths that are good for our souls, producing fruit in our lives that brings glory to Him!

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen”  2 Corinthians 13:14