Monday, 30 August 2010

Building an Apostolic House

Jesus made the statement, "I will build My church..." He is authoritative and definitive. He takes personal ownership of this task. Two thousand years have passed since those words were uttered. We are now able to look back and see many expressions of church around the world. Our perspective enables to see which periods of history and expressions of church have been effective in working towards the great commission and which have not. It is a sobering reflection at times. One thing is certain. There is no perfect model of how to do church.

Within Europe we have a big battle. The architecture, laws, education, science. and history of Europe are deeply rooted in Christian values. But we now live in a post Christian age, a post modern age that has, at one level, rejected and become disconnected from the past. So whilst we embrace the advancement of technology displayed in things like iphones, many reject the notion that science can provide all the answers. Like the first century Christians, we live in a pluralistic society where Christianity competes with many other belief systems available for people to choose from.

How do we do church in such an environment? Let me share something of my vision for what I will call an "Apostolic House". This vision is rooted in my understanding of four things;

1. Scripture
2. Church history
3. The context we live in - the real world where we marry, work, pay our bills and carry on life.
4. The network of relationships I am connected to.

Scripture obviously takes precedent over all the others but the others definitely influence and nuance my understanding of the sacred text. That's how it should be. To quote the famous theologian Gordon Fee, "Interpretation is a community affair and the first community we are indebted to is the church in history"

What I write is not meant to be a definitive answer of how to do church. As Paul said, "We see in a mirror dimly...". 1Cor 13.12. Everything is "in part", partial and incomplete. But my vision is clear enough for us to move forward under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. David said, "The house to be built for the Lord must be exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorious throughout all countries", 1Chron 22.5. What a vision! He prepared for it, even though he didn't see it in his own lifetime. His son Solomon would go on to build the house that David had in his heart.

Psalm 40.6-8 'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire; My ears you have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering you did not require. The I said, "Behold I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart".

This passage is quoted in Heb 10.5-7 as relating to Jesus. It is His starting point. And it's where we need to start. The people that Jesus is calling out to Himself are a people given over to radical obedience to what He says. Jesus delighted to do the Father's will. We all have things in life we feel passionate about. The things that excite us are easy to commit time, money and energy to. That's how Jesus felt about the Father's will. For in doing it, God's Kingdom became manifested. It was life changing for all who encountered Jesus; for to encounter Him was to encounter the Father, John 14.7-9.

In Matt 12.46-50 we have the account of Jesus speaking to the multitudes when His family show up wanting to see him. Mark 6.3 tells us the names of His four brothers, James, Joses, Judas and Simon. He also has at least two sisters and then there is His mother, Mary. These family members show up wanting to see Him. Someone tells Jesus they are outside. His response is shocking. "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?" Imagine that! What a way to get peoples attention. "And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."

Think about that. Obedience to the will of the Father positions us to be closer to Jesus than if we were His blood relatives - and that includes His mother. He is redefining family, redefining how we get close to God, redefining who has the priority on His time and attention. An apostolic house encourages this kind of understanding. And the obedience Jesus looks for is not blind obedience. It comes from a heart that has studied the ways of God and knows His character. Obedience to God's word gives us new value and new status.

In our culture we are obsessed with political correctness, especially in the public arena. It has begun to mute the voice of the church. We must be seen to be equitable, to give equal opportunity. Of course there is validity to the concerns that lie behind these issues. But morality can't be legislated. I once worked for a Management Company where our equal opportunities policy required us to advertise for a particular role in the Company. In fact the MD had already made his decision who to appoint. The whole interview process was a farce of ticking boxes and jumping through hoops. We did it to be free of any accusation of a lack of fair play. But the irony was that the whole process was fixed, but only known to the insiders.

Jesus didn't play those games. His passion was obedience to the Father. And so He was free to call two sets of brothers and all of them fishermen. Some today would accuse Him of bias towards tradesmen and favouring certain families. Jesus won't dance to that tune, Matt 11.17. Neither should a church that seeks to be an apostolic house. The real issue is "What is the Father saying?" and "Do we have the courage to obey Him?" The obedience I find the most difficult is the kind that leaves me open to the accusation that what I am doing is from self interest. No leader wants that label. But God sometimes tests our hearts.

Take Elijah. He is sent to a widow whose only prospect is to make a final meal for herself and her son and then wait to die. Most preachers focus on the fact that he proclaimed a wonderful promise of unending supply of flour and oil until the end of the drought. True. And that's important. But first he asked her to make a meal for him! How embarrassing. How awkward. A poor widow. And here he is asking her to meet his need first. That took guts. That took being willing to be misunderstood. That took obedience. And blessing flows from obedience. As long as we try and keep our reputation we remain captive to judgements and opinions of those we are trying to win for Christ. We have to rise above that.

For me an apostolic house is characterised by joyful praise. I mean people whose worship is loud, vocal and energetic. I understand the need for solitude and silence. They have their place, but my reading of scripture is that these are primarily personal disciplines practiced while alone with God, Matt 6.5-6; Mark 1.35. The general push of scripture is towards praise that is corporate, loud and with musical instruments. Take the dedication of Solomon's temple. As the Priests sang and played their instruments, (120 trumpeters are recorded), the house of the Lord was filled with a cloud that is called 'the glory of the Lord'; 2Chron 5.11-14.

David is our prime model here - the man after God's heart. Listen to Ps 33.1-3, "Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the harp; make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy". Do you hear its encouragement to shout, be joyful, learn 'new songs', play skillfully and rejoice?Praise from the upright is said to be 'beautiful', Ps 33.1.

And when we praise, Jesus joins in! That's what Ps 22.22 says, as it is quoted in Heb 2.11-12. Jesus sings with us. God declares that whoever offers Him praise glorifies Him, Ps 50.23. Ps 98.4-6 says; "Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp and the sound of a psalm, with trumpets and the sound of a horn; shout joyfully before the Lord, the King".

Do you get the message? God is great and He is worth our highest praise. There is only one period in Heaven when silence reigns. It is for half an hour, Rev 8.1, at the opening of the seventh seal - the close of the age. The rest of the time Heaven is filled with praise that is often like the sound of a mighty river, Rev 14.2; 19.6. And why not? Praise has the power to silence the enemy, Ps 8.2. This text is quoted by Jesus in Matt 21.16 as the chief priests and scribes chided the children for their praise of Jesus. He would have none of their criticism. An apostolic house is unapologetic for its loud, joyful, vibrant, and musical praise of the great King.

An apostolic house is also a house of prayer. Jesus said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations", Mark 11.17. I like that. It's a house open for all nations to pray. There is meant to be ethnic, social and gender diversity in God's house. Prayer can be personal, but is most dynamic when it is corporate. Even when we pray alone Jesus taught us to think corporately, "Our Father....", Matt 6.12.

The account of the cleansing of the temple by Jesus in John 2.13-22 shows us how seriously He took the idea of God's house being a house of prayer. Jesus went in and drove out the money changers and those who sold animals. First He took time to make a whip. It was a totally premeditated act. Then He entered the temple and drove them out. God’s House has a plan and a purpose. Jesus saw it. He wouldn't allow business and profit to replace ministering to the Lord in prayer.

This is Jesus at His most passionate. He critique is simple, " have made it a den of thieves", Matt 21.13. What an indictment. The very house that was meant to be a place of connection with God, a place of worship and intimacy, had become a place of merchandise, where thieves profited. His passion for the Father's house is seen by John as as fulfillment of Ps 69.9, "Zeal for your house has eaten me up".

We sometimes speak of people being consumed with jealousy or grief. We ask the question, "What eating at him?" It is a turn of phrase that in effect says this person is totally preoccupied with whatever has captured their heart. That's how it was with Jesus. The difference was that because the focus of His heart's affection was the Father's house it made Him the most authentic display of the Father's will on earth. And that call now rests on the church to display the magnificence of Jesus, Eph 1.22-23; 3.21.

An apostolic house is a place where people can pray and get connected to God and His purpose. It's not about a physical house. It's about a spiritual house where we value God's presence and reach out to Him together in prayer. One of the most dynamic prayer meetings recorded in Acts is in chapter 4.13. The disciples had been beaten and warned not to speak about Jesus. Instead they return to their fellow believers and spontaneously begin to pray.

It is loud, corporate and rooted in scripture, prophetically driven. The result was that the place where they assembled was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. A smaller but no less impacting repetition of Acts 2 was released. This prayer came out of a real life situation. They were in it together. They were reminding God of His promises and challenging the power of the enemy to silence their witness. They prayed, not from desperation, but from conviction. And God heard and acted.

An apostolic house is also a house of testimony; a place where we tell of the great things the Lord has done. Our personal testimony is a history if what God has done in our lives. But churches are people on a journey together. It is what God is doing in our midst, together, that often has more significance.

Think of Israel and their deliverance from Egypt. This was the testimony of a nation enshrined in the yearly passover. And they were required to pass it on to their children so that they grew up with an expectation of how great God is. Faith was nurtured through their corporate testimony. This is what the prophets did over and over again. They reminded the nation of what God had done in order to ignite faith and expectation for Him to do it again.

This is also what stirs faith in us. We hear a story of what God has done in someone Else's life and suddenly we believe it can happen to us too. We hear of how God has used one church to bless the world and it inspires us to believe God to use us. An apostolic house nurtures this kind of faith that builds an authentic journey with God; a journey that becomes our story.

In Rom 1.8 Paul tells the Roman Christians. "Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world". Wow! What a testimony. No wonder he wanted to go there. He wanted a part in adding to their story. But these kinds of credits don't come cheap. There is a price to pay. Daniel had to face the Lion's den. David had to face Goliath. Paul had to endure beating and being thrown into the Philippian jail. Yet all these men saw God's deliverance and lives were changed.

An apostolic house is by nature a place of ministry development. We see this in Jerusalem as seven more are appointed to ministry by the apostles. They were called to 'serve tables', Acts 6.2 By accepting this humble position three significant things happened. First there was a multiplication of the disciples. Until now Acts speaks of disciples being added. Now growth was moving into an exponential stage. That's what happens when we release new levels of ministry, especially at the leadership level.

The second thing was that many of the priests were obedient to the faith. These were probably the hardest group to win to the faith because they were so deeply entrenched in tradition and old ways of thinking. But the believers testimony became so powerful even they were won. Amazing. But thirdly and more significantly, Stephen and Philip, two of the seven, began to do exactly what the apostles where doing. They began to move in signs and wonders, Acts 6.8; 8.5-6. The apostles were reproducing their ministries through these men.

At one level we shouldn't be surprised. This was the model that Jesus Himself used. He called men to be with Him and, in process of time, developed their ministries and released them to do what He did. Ministry was there to be reproduced - that's the point of making disciples.

We also see this later in Acts when Paul and Barnabas give shape to the church in Antioch, Acts 11.25-26. By Acts 13.1 the leadership team has grown to five, all from different countries, therefore ethnically diverse, and all from different social and educational backgrounds. Paul's' strong teaching gift and Barnabas's strong prophetic gift were being reproduced in others. Ministry was being developed and as a result the church could move out in mission, not just locally but trans locally.

Ministry development and mission go hand in hand. In order to reach out someone must have the skill to maintain and keep the ground that has been taken. An apostolic house strives to keep this balance. Ministry is not the preserve of professionals. Leaders in an apostolic house take their ministries seriously but hold their roles lightly. Paul encouraged Timothy to give what he had received to others.

2 Tim 2.2 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. That's a threefold reproduction of ministry. Paul taught Timothy. He in turn must teach others, who in turn must pass on what they have learned to others. Paul is extending his ministry through Timothy and Timothy is doing the same thing. That's why reproducing leaders always multiples a church.

An apostolic church is also a resource church. Sometimes the resource is seasoned ministry. Antioch was able to send out Paul and Barnabas because other leaders could carry the load. Mission progressed and the home church continued to flourish. Sometimes the resource is money. We have power to share wealth. Paul encouraged the churches in Macedonia to share in the needs of the church in Judea, 2Cor 8.1-7. Sometimes the resource is gifting. We may have many talented musicians that we can share with other churches that struggle to have a good worship experience.

Sometimes the resource is being a sanctuary for those in difficulty. People can come and rest in our midst and get refreshed. No demand is placed on them, other than to enjoy God's presence and allow themselves to be served for a season. Missionaries and those in full time ministry need that kind of resource. An apostolic church sees it resources as something to steward for the good of the whole body of Christ.

Finally, for me, an apostolic house is a place of connection. Of course we connect with God through worship, prayer and obedience. But in our corporate expression we connect generationally, inter-culturally and socially. To connect generationally means we don't accept the generation gap. Older people make an effort to give space to youth while the youth give honour by listening to the wisdom of older folk.

We have a lady in our church who is past retirement age. She's a gem. She wanted to get involved with our youth ministry. That's the 13-17 years old age group. These are not the most polite group of teenagers. Most are unchurched. Yet within a few weeks one of the girls in the group asked this woman, "Can I call you Nan?" Her own grandmother was dead and her family fragmented. But she connected - beyond her peers, to another generation.

The gospel is to be taken to the nations. It started in Jerusalem and was to go to the uttermost parts of the earth. It began locally and then became national and then international. Cultural boundaries needed to be crossed. An apostolic house is intentional about doing this. We celebrate diversity. It enriches our lives. And as we cross boundaries we wrestle with what are our own cultural norms and what is in fact gospel truth.

Too often we focus on what divides us in the body of Christ. Connection helps us celebrate what unites us. I've been to Africa twice; to the poor nation of Burkina Faso. When they worship, at some point all the women get up and dance. It is lively loud, energetic and quite repetitious. Then in the next song the men get up and dance. It's almost like a response to the women. This can go on for up to an hour.

It wouldn't work in our Western culture, but it works there. It's part of their worship. And I can connect with it and even be part of it, much to their amusement. The sight of me trying to dance like an African is comical; but my effort shows my desire to connect with them. I'm a fool for Christ's sake. In doing so I win their hearts so I can preach God's word.

Connection needs to take place socially too. James anticipated this in James 2.1-4. If we only produce middle class churches that seek for bigger and better we are failing. The gospel requires us to remember the poor and value them, Gal 2.9-10; James 2.5; Luke 14.13; 19.8; Rom 15.26. In doing this we strike a blow to human pride and selfishness. We make room for mercy and compassion to shine through.

To connect with God's heart is to connect with God's priorities. He reaches out to the poor, the orpressed and the lost. An apsotolic house dares to connect with a broken world to bring the life changing, healing power of Jesus. This is the kind of house He is building. This is what He gave His life for. This is what I see. How about you?

Monday, 9 August 2010 You Will

Matt 26.36-46 records the last moments of Jesus before His arrest, trial and Crucifixion. He is with His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. The pressure of those final hours is mounting and Jesus feels it; "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even to death", Matt 26.38. The previous verse says He was, 'deeply distressed'.

Nothing that is happening to Jesus is a surprise to Him. From the beginning of His ministry He knew He was, 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world', John 1.29. On no less than three occasions in Matthew He predicted He death and resurrection; Matt 16.21; 17.23; 20.19. But that knowledge could not remove the inevitable weight He would feel as He became the sin offering for a broken world and a fallen humanity.

And so Jesus returns to one of His favourite places - the garden of Gethsemane, John 18.1; a place He was accustomed to going to, on the Mount of Olives, Luke 22.39. The name Gethsemane means 'Oil-Press', for it was in an olive grove. The olive tree has a significant typological link to Israel and the Jewish people. Paul speaks of non-Jews as being 'wild branches' grafted into the olive tree that is Israel, Rom 11.17-18.

He wants Jews to understand that only a faith relationship with God will allow them to be part of the tree. Being born Jewish is not enough. He also warns the gentile believers not to become proud. Their grafting into the Olive tree as wild branches was because of their faith response. They need to stay humble and not judge those who have been cut off from the tree. God can graft the natural branches back in if they respond in faith again.

The Olive tree survives for hundreds of years. The older it gets the more twisted and knotted it becomes and it is very difficult to kill. Olives are harvested by hitting the tree with sticks, Deut 24.20. The metaphor is striking. The oil in the olive is released by crushing the olive in a press. All this points to what Jesus did from Gethsemane to His death on the cross. He was beaten and crushed so that the blessing of the Spirit could be poured out on all who respond in faith; Gal 3.13-14; Luke 24.46-49; Acts 1.4-8; Matt 3.11.

Olive oil was considered to be one of the great sources of wealth in the days of Solomon, I Kings 5:11; II Chronicles 2:10. He gave to Hiram each year in return for services rendered by his men, among other things, twenty thousand baths of oil, one bath being about seven and a half gallons.

Mention is made of the exporting of oil to other lands, Ezekiel 27:17; Hosea 12:1. It was used in cooking and Ezekiel records three important items for the diet; oil, flour and honey, Ezekiel 16:13. Olive oil was used almost exclusively for light in lamps. The most famous example is in the parable of the Ten Virgins, Matt 25:1-13. It was also used for anointing the body,Ruth 3:3.

It was used in various religious ceremonies including; the meal offering, Lev 2:1, the anointing of prophets,I Kings 19:16; priests, Lev 8:12 and kings, I Sam 16:13; I Kings 1:34. The sick were also anointed for the healing of their bodies, Mark 6:13; James 5:14. Its use was universal, diverse and prolific.

This is the place Jesus chose to pray. It is here He returns and engages His Father as His hour approaches. And three times, as He lies prostrate, the same prayer is offered up; "O My Father, if its possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will but as You will", Matt 26.39.

Jesus Himself declared that, "with God all things are possible", Mark 10.27. He did not live with the same mind-set most people are bound to. With Jesus the deaf could hear, the blind could see, the lame could walk and the demonised could be set free. What is impossible with men is possible with God. That was His basic disposition. It was His default position. And so Jesus dares to ask for the cup to pass.

The pain and pressure of the cross was a horrendous prospect. Jesus was 'exceeding sorrowful, even to death'. None of us can begin to imagine what weight He felt in those final hour's. No wonder He dared to ask for the cup to pass. But notice even in this request the sense of surrender that comes through - "nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will", Matt 26.39. Jesus stays true to His lifelong ambition; to embrace and do the will of the Father - at any cost.

In 2Cor 12.7-10 Paul speaks of his own pain - a thorn in the flesh. We are not told specifically what it is and we don't need to know. It's not important. What is crucial to understand is that it gave Paul so much grief that three times he pleaded with the Lord to take it away. The apostle who endured much suffering for the sake of the gospel had had enough. Notice his language; he 'pleaded' 2Cor12.8. But then a clear answer came, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness".

Jesus answered his prayer, not in the way he wanted but in a way that required him to trust in the goodness of God. This answer totally changed his attitude and liberated Paul to see life and his problem differently. It helps us understand the Gethsemane scene a little clearer. For that is exactly what Jesus was given - grace. We read in Luke's account that an angel was sent to strengthen Jesus, Luke 22.43. Paul learned to rejoice, even in weakness. It was no barrier to God's strength being manifested.

This is difficult for us to grasp. People triumphing we get. Joshua defeating Jericho; David beating Goliath; Sampson carrying off the gates to the city; impressive acts of courage and strength. But embracing weakness......? We feel embarrassed, vulnerable, exposed. And sometimes the only way to show off God's greatness to to accept grace rather than deliverance. We do what we don't want to do in order to do have we do want.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. It meant dying an agonising death as a sin offering for all humanity. This joy set before Him gave Him a different take on the cross. He despised it. Most people despised those who were crucified. It was a punishment the Romans reserved for those they considered the worse kind of offenders. But Jesus did not allow Himself to be defined by their corrupt standards. He endured the cross and despised its shame. In Gethsemane grace was extended to help Him drink the cup and He drank it fully.

The cup is another powerful metaphor in scripture. Sometimes it refers to God's blessings as in Psalm 23.5 - my cup overflows or Psalm 116.13 where we can drink from the cup of salvation. The communion cup is called a cup of blessing in 1Cor 10.16. At other times it refers judgement as in Jer 25. In this chapter Jeremiah is told to take the cup from the hand of the Lord and make all the nations around drink from it - a type of his prophetic ministry.

Earlier in Matt 20.20-23 we have the story of James and John asking to sit at the right hand and left of Jesus in His Kingdom. These were the places of greatest honour. In fact they got their mother to make the request. Perhaps they thought Jesus would find it harder to say no to a woman. Jesus reveals that they have no clue as to what they are asking for. Their ignorance is palpable. It is as if they have no idea of the price that that would be paid to receive such an honour.

The right and left hand are not given to those who simply ask for them. They are reserved by the Father for those who show similar devotion as Jesus to embracing the Father's will, even at great personal cost to their own well being. And so Jesus asks them a question; "Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink.....?" I find their response naive. "We are able", Matt 20.22-23.

Having challenged them with this question and aware of the ignorance that lies behind their request, Jesus speaks very graciously to them; "You will indeed drink from My cup...." I find this astonishing. It gives me hope. Sometimes we ask God for things totally unaware of the price we must pay in order to have them. We bring our modern consumer mentality to our requests and forget the part that we often have to play in receiving the answers to our own prayers.

What they cannot do now Jesus sees they will do in the future. With the exception of John, all the apostles died for their faith and loyalty to Jesus. They drank from His cup. The only difference being that He had drained it of all its power to rob us of eternal life. He indeed tasted death for every man; Heb 2.9. Even in these final hours Jesus shows us how to make choices that are painful, yet have the power to release God's purpose.

As we grow and mature in faith we need to be delivered from the need to always do what we enjoy. Sometimes, at key moments in life, we do what we don't want in order for God to get what He does want. And what He wants resonates deep within us. In truth its what we want too, we just haven't come to realise it yet, or the price we must pay to get it.

Listen to Jesus speaking final words to Peter; "I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go". Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!", John 21.18

What is God challenging you to embrace at this time? Have you pleaded with Him to take it away? It's OK to do that. Maybe He will! Maybe there's another way! He is the God of the possible. But maybe not. And if not, what will you do? Will you try and find another way? Or will you take hold of God's grace and find strength in Him, even in your weakness?

Here is a part of Hebrew 11 you don't often hear preached; "Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scouring's, yes and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wondered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented - of whom the world was not worthy", Heb 11.35-38.

None of us want to look like failures, abandoned by God. That's how the cross looked on Friday. But on Easter morning all that changed. Jesus' obedience paved the way for God's mighty power to breakthrough and overcome death. He chose what He did not want - death a separation from His Father; in order to get what He did want - you and me.

I pray that as you think on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane you find inspiration to pray the way He did. And at the end of the day we can all say, "Nevertheless, not as I will but as You will", Matt 26.29

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Energised to do God's Will

Energy is an interesting subject. Global Warming has made us all more conscious of the need to conserve it and to be careful not to waste it. Energy is the fuel that enables all things to function, whether mechanical, electrical, chemical or biological. Without it, nothing happens. Even objects at rest are moving at the molecular level. Energy is endemic to everything.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the author of life and that His life gives energising power to those who receive it. We read in Eph 1.19-20, "And what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places."

The word 'working' that I have highlighted comes from the Greek 'energeo' where we get the modern words energy and energised. It means to be operative, to put forth power. I like that thought. God's mighty power was put forth and energised the dead body of Jesus. God raised Him up to be the first of a New Creation. He received a glorified body, no longer subject to death or corruption. Such was the energising power of God on that Easter morning.

Paul continues to use this word throughout Ephesians (and other places). But he also highlights another energising power of a different kind. Eph 2.1-2, "And you who were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience." Satan too is energising people, but in a different way. He appeals to what scripture calls the 'flesh', Gal 5.16-21. In other words he taps into the propensity in every human being to be drawn towards evil. His energising power is ultimately destructive and deceptive, 2Thess 2.9.

This propensity is so endemic to human nature that even when we want to do the right thing we end up doing the wrong thing. Paul speaks of his own frustration with this state of affairs in Rom 7.14-25. And he highlights to real problem, "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal (fleshly) sold under sin", Rom 7.14. Unregenerate human nature has no energising power strong enough to bring about inner transformation. Despite the changes that can be achieved through psychology and will power it is not possible to bring about moral transformation. A spiritual solution is needed for a spiritual problem.

In this passage Paul admits that the law is good and that what he desires to do is good. However, the problem comes at the stage of execution. He finds himself doing the exact opposite of what he knows to be the right thing. Good intentions are not enough. Listen to Rom 7.18, "......for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find." Notice that he has the ability to set his desire in the right direction, but no power to execute and perform what he truly wants. In these twelve verses Paul uses the word 'I', 'me' and 'my' some thirty five times. His emphasis helps us see where the problem lies!

This is the power of sin that all are enslaved to. None are exempt. And satan is quick to take advantage of our dilemma, adding condemnation to each failure. Our only hope is to be found in Christ; for the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and energised Him now works in us, energising us. The next chapter in Romans contains more references to the Holy Spirit than any other chapter in the New Testament. For the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Promise - the guarantee that we too will share in the New Creation with similar bodies to Jesus. In the mean time we must battle the flesh by being filled with the Spirit, Gal 5.16.

To live in the flesh, even as a believer, is to be armed with no more than good intentions. "To will is present...." It's not enough. There must be an energising power released in us that carries us through, so that intention is turned into action. This energising presence of the Spirit is often called Grace. It is God's empowering presence. Listen to Paul again from Eph 3.7, "Of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working (energising) of His power." Notice it is an 'effective working'. It leads to action. It leads to transformation. It leads to change.

This empowering was not limited to the apostles as special messengers. It is for all believers; Eph 4.16 "From whom the whole body, joined and nit together 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." There it is again. The phrase 'effective working'; only this time it is as every part operates according to their grace gifting. That means you and me.

This is fantastic. It is monumental. It is life changing. When you operate according to the grace gift you have received from the Lord there is an energising power at work in you to 'perform'. Again hear Paul, 1Cor15.10, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, And His grace towards me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Did you hear that? Paul says he did more than all the other apostles. He wrote two thirds of the New Testament. He's boasting. But then he tempers his words. It wasn't really him. It wasn't self effort or determination that was the key factor. It was God's grace that had called him to such a task and had empowered him to act. And he knew it,".......yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me".

Hear him again as he writes to the Philippian church, Phil 2.12-13, "Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." God is working in them. It's the same Greek word. He is energising them. He is there both to 'will and to do'. Here is what I take this to mean.

When I receive revelation and it challenges me to take hold of a promise of God so that I can bring about change in my life it is not enough for me to set my heart and mind to want to change. That is the beginning. At some point I must yield to the Spirit and ask for God's grace to enable me to act on what I know. Notice that God is energising us both to will (to want to do it) and to do (to actually perform and accomplish what we know to be right).

Our part is to work out our salvation, with 'fear and trembling'. I understand Paul is helping us to see that we are to live in the light of eternity. There will be a day when we stand before Jesus and give an account for our life. Each time Paul uses the phrase 'fear and trembling' in the New Testament he does so to convey the sense of reverence that should accompany our attitude towards those we are accountable to, (see Eph 6.5; 2Cor 7.15).

Notice that we are to work out our salvation. Some see this as working out what God has worked in. But that is not the real force of the Greek. It is more like the process we use when doing maths. What is three plus three? Work it out. In other words bring it to the right conclusion. This is Paul's meaning. Salvation holds the promise of transformation, change, renewal, healing and deliverance. By the power of the Spirit energising us we can bring it to that conclusion. God's empowering presence is there both 'to will and to do for His good pleasure".

We all make choices, daily. None of those choices is made in a vacuum. Energising forces are at work to influence us one way or another. Our natural tendency is to be drawn towards sin. Only through a daily surrender to the grace of God can we be empowered to live free. This is what Jesus died to give us. Paul says we must stand fast in that liberty that Jesus has secured for us, Gal 5.1. The Galatian believers were being told by some Judaisers that legalism would help them become mature and spiritual. Paul would have none of it. Maturity and spirituality like salvation were all products of grace - working in us, energising us.

And this is his point. Gal 5.6 "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love". Again it's the same word in the Greek, 'faith energised by love'. The call to faith is a call to connect with God's promises. The call to love is a call to let love be the motivation that screens all choices and actions and empowers us to live beyond ourselves, demonstrating we are salt and light in this world.

Paul hints at this too in his prayer for the Ephesians, Eph 3.20, "Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us...." There is that word again. God takes our requests and our desires and goes beyond them, exceedingly, abundantly; not by working at a distance but by energising us to see them realised.

In order for us to embrace the will of the Father we have to open our hearts to be energised by Him, by His Spirit, by His love, by His resurrection power. And it's not difficult. We are drawn to what we are gifted to do. We are energised by what we are called to. It is how we are hard wired. and it's where the grace of God will flow so that we can live lives that glorify Him.

I pray that you too will experience God's energising power in all you do, taking you beyond your natural limits into the arena of what is possible with Grace.