A Monotone Monofaith in My Salvation

The message of many Christian evangelicals is one of personal salvation by faith in Christ. This is perceived to be the essence of our belief in the one true God, who sacrificed His Son so that ‘I’ may be saved. This message, while correct, is only a portion of the message, yet it appeals to our desire to be seen as acceptable – in God’s sight and in the sight of others. It comes with a bitter pill of accepting that without God I am unacceptable, I am a sinner, my life before Christ was full of sin and I must repent of my former ways and become completely new.

This is an uncomfortable message of a mini-gospel – The evangelist who first shares this message with a non-believer earnestly wishes to see whether their persuasive words take effect in that person’s heart and mind so that they can imagine another notch on their belt of salvific works in partnership with God. They have thrown another soul into the lifeboat of which they are at the helm. We look out onto the sea and there are so many souls bobbing around if only they would accept our offer of God’s help and be saved. If they do not, they are not wise, but foolish and will deny it at their own peril.

We can look out to a sea of lifeboats, all of various shapes and sizes and colours, with completely different people at the helm. Some will make the lifeboat as comfortable and attractive as possible, knowing that passers-by will simply climb onto the rope ladder hung over the edge. Others do not allow just anyone in; they must be tested and drilled for their knowledge and beliefs first.  Some make the soul survivors recite special words, like an entrance test before they can be deemed acceptable to join the lifeboat. While some will not accept anyone who has been in a different lifeboat and jumped out when they were starved or mistreated – such people will be treated with suspicion as to why they ‘jumped ship’.

This analogy is not at all biblical. Yet it is such a common lived experience of the Christian life that perhaps it has become normalised and is no longer challenged. Its prevalence has been growing steadily for the past 500 years, though it is as old as the Church itself.

If we were to take a bird’s eye view of this scene, how does this look like a family, a Kingdom of God, a bride prepared for her groom, a body consisting of many parts?

Many evangelical Christian faithfully rote-learn passages from the Bible, especially from Romans, but it takes regular prayer and reflection to examine the context. Here in Romans 12:1 we are given what can be perceived as a ‘do or die’ message. This is the way many live their faith, it is honourable, we make sacrifices, and we sacrifice our own wellbeing and sometimes our friends and families for the sake of the ‘gospel’. Yet, this is also a message fed to us by the world – that our own plans and purposes (for work, for achievement, for accolades) are more important than relationships with others. I contend that God’s will is – good pleasing and perfect, and our will is not. The will of the world is one of selfish ambition and it can creep into our lives, our faith, our ministries and families on a daily basis. Our personalised mini-gospel is too small for God’s kingdom purposes.

A Living Sacrifice

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

God’s View of Gospel Church

It is no accident that the following verses of Romans 12 set out exactly what God’s will for the Gospel church looks like (ps. there is no notion of individual lifeboats floating on an ocean of drowning souls):

Humble Service in the Body of Christ

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your (the) faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, (or to provide for others*) do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Romans 125 collage

What is the image of a Gospel-shaped faith that seeks to love God and one another in all of our lives? A chorus of voices proclaiming the Gospel to every nation in many languages, inspiring hope in salvation for all God’s people for His purposes for eternity. A lived faith in God as our Creator, Redeemer and Helper for the sake and salvation of the world.

 


*Notes:

  • Rom 12:8 – the one who leads (προιστημι) has a sense of direction, protection, ‘to care for’, ‘to help’, ‘to assist’, ‘to join with’. – Strongs Greek #4291

 

Image Credit for  Photo Collage:

Sunset family on beach – Photo by Stuart Vivier on Unsplash

Mountain hiking group – Photo by Kevin Delvecchio on Unsplash

Faith heart woman – Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

Bible verses and notes from bible.com

© Lisa Haynes 2018

Glory

I’m keenly aware that last time I stuck my neck out, it was chopped off. Such an inglorious fall from grace must surely not be repeated? Yet, I’m also assured that my body does not belong to me but to the true head, who is Christ. So, as painful as it is to be humbled by others and brought low in circumstances, none can compare to the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross at Calvary.

The joy that surpasses all understanding is mine despite the shape of my body, the soundness of mind or emotion, the clarity of speech, the winsomeness of my writing; God has revealed to me time and again in His Word and whispers, ‘You are mine.’

I, forsaking all others, have pinned my hopes and fears upon the cross. As Christ’s bride, we all acknowledge that there is no person on earth that deserves the glory that is bestowed upon the Son of God by the Spirit at work within us.

We need not be ashamed of our words and deeds, nor the possibility of wrong motives, for we present ourselves as a living sacrifice and God accepts our humble deeds in the midst of our messy lives as acceptable to Him. God’s love is boundless and eternal, it covers over all our sins and washes us -sanctifies us – so that we may remain in His presence for eternity.

To God Be the Glory, Amen.

 

Image Source: Getty Images

Mercy and Forgiveness

Matthew 18: 21-35

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


‘I know a minister who preaches about the Kingdom of God as ‘the kindness’. She suggests we invite and inhabit it, allowing it to come towards us. Kindness comes in our daily life away from the corridors of power. The Kindness assumes accessibility. It is similar to the way Jesus spoke in agricultural images to farming communities in Galilee. He assumed the Kingdom of God as something already there for the seeking and finding.’ –Julie Perrin.

On reading the gospel account of the unmerciful servant, we hear Peter questioning Jesus ‘how many times should we forgive one another?’ Jesus replies by telling Peter about forgiveness in the Kingdom of God. The unmerciful servant is the sinner who owes a great debt to the King who is God, the Master is Jesus who takes pity on the servant. Although the servant is the guilty party and is obligated to repay, yet the Master forgives him and sets him free from his burden of guilt and sin. Mercy and forgiveness in this story is a kindness that promotes generosity and understanding, rather than harsh punishment, retribution or anger. We can, in our own life experience, imagine owing someone a great debt that we are unable to pay – rather than the case being dragged through the courts, all charges are dropped and the debt is cancelled. Have we ever been on the receiving end of such generosity and kindness? Would we pass it on to others?

In the Kingdom of God, we are like Peter, seeking advice from Jesus, wanting to know how to relate to one another, how to live together when things are difficult when we are hurt or offended by others. Jesus teaches us to remember that we are God’s servants who have been shown great mercy, forgiveness, and loving-kindness. Our burden of guilt and shame and resentment is forgiven when we come before God and lay our burden down and place our trust in the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. God strengthens us to love others by His Spirit at work within us, we are free to give the same mercy and forgiveness that God has shown to us.

The servant in this story had a grateful heart to his Master for cancelling the debt he owed, yet, he was unable to pass on such kindness to his fellow servant. Forgiveness is not a curt apology through gritted teeth, like a child in a schoolyard – but it is the gracious loving-kindness that is the gift of God’s Kingdom, it is the source of peace for us, peace with God and with others.

We cannot find this kindness within ourselves, the pain of hurt and broken human relationships is very real. We can find healing and forgiveness for ourselves and others through prayer with our merciful God, listening to God’s word as it speaks to us by the Holy Spirit. God’s love flows from within his people, like a spring of water coming up out of a dry desert, giving life to others.

Lord, help us to forgive others as you have forgiven us, grant us your peace, May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Psalm 114:7-8 ‘Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.’

A Heart Full of Joy

Mt 13:1-9, 18-23

The Parable of the Sower

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

The Parable of the Sower Explained

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


The parable of the Sower uses familiar imagery to help us understand Jesus’ words. For those of you who enjoy gardening, or have spent time farming the land – you would know first-hand the tireless work and long days spent preparing the soil and tending a crop of food for harvest. When the weather and weeds spoil the crop, it is a source of frustration and grief, that the hard work has not been productive.

When Jesus spoke to his followers, they were ordinary men accustomed to hard work, the first thing Jesus said was, ‘Listen!’ In the parable of the sower, we are told six times that the seed of faith is received by hearing God’s word. God’s word is described in the Psalm as ‘Words of life’, they are ‘a lamp to the feet and a light to the path’, these ‘righteous laws’ are ‘his heritage forever’, and also ‘a joy to my heart.’

A heart full of joy is what the gospel promises to those who hear God’s word and receive it faithfully. Yet, the gospel story tells us that not everyone will want to listen, some will not understand, others will give up in times of suffering, yet another will be concerned about the things of this world, like money and possessions. Following Jesus was not an easy task; it required faithful obedience and enduring struggles and hardship. Their reward was God’s gift of faith and the promise of eternal life – this gift is given freely to all who hear God’s word and receive it – the seed of faith implanted in our hearts when we believe that Jesus died and rose again to save us from our wrongdoing and bring us into relationship with our Creator God.

When we go about our day, enjoying the plants of the garden, as we look outside at the sun and rain nourishing the soil of the earth, we are reminded of God’s provision, the miracle of His creation and His promises to us. When we see one another in our community and our families, we are reminded that God calls us to faithfully love and care for one another.

We thank God for giving us his grace and love and pray that we might have the opportunity to share God’s love with others, that we would grow in faith in the joyful hope of his eternal blessings, in Jesus name, Amen.

Accidentally Cult Street

One of my less-glamorous true stories is that I came to the Christian faith through a street evangelist who was a member of a Christian cult. I refuse to be embarrassed about this. As a genuine seeker – walking towards the Hari Krishna band – I was intercepted by a woman in her mid-20’s who invited me to her church and sat with me in a cafe to read the bible. When I was confronted by the gospel, though sheepishly looking around to see who might see us with a BIBLE open in PUBLIC, I was convicted by the truth of who Jesus was and what He did for us, and immediately turned my life toward knowing God and being known and loved by Him.

In the month that followed, I was welcomed with generous hospitality into the homes of fellow church members and felt a sense of being part of God’s family. I hungrily read my bible at home, though soon enough alarm bells sounded for me when I heard those fateful words from her ‘we are the only church to be saved.’ The countdown was on, it was only a few weeks later I cut myself off from that lovely, though misguided community and found myself receiving the generous hospitality and biblical teaching of a Baptist Church in Sydney’s West. Praise God. The whole inter-denominational community opened up to me at the Katoomba convention and I’ve never looked back, always relishing the taste of the Kingdom on earth wherever I worship.

I would like to say that all of that is behind me, however, it took many years of listening and learning to ‘weed out’ (pertinent expression!) the false doctrine that I was taught in those first few weeks as a baby believer. The spiritual milk was a bit off, and I needed a lot of extra nourishment to grow strong and mature in my faith. Even now, as I wander the earth through the different stages of my life, I come across the same idea in otherwise doctrinally sound church communities. The red flag is hoisted when I hear ‘we are the only healthy church around here,’ or a red-faced teacher adamantly insisting that his point of view on a matter of faith is to be obeyed (or else!).

This my-way-or-the-highway view of ecclesiastical issues has many faithful and dedicated souls hitch-hiking their way from crumbling sandstone building to urban chrysalis hoping to find a healthy kind of ecumenicalism. Those, like me, who do not wish to be judged for the denominations of their past. For me, my spiritual home is wherever I lay my coat and pick up a name tag – although I’ve been known to use the Royal ‘We’ when referring to the Anglican Church, it is, in fact, our Kingdom royalty that expresses the words We Believe. I am traveling toward a place where We stand on common ground and can have arm wrestles over doctrinal implications. A place where We allow grace and truth to season us as we mature, forgiving and giving one another the opportunity to be transformed in our mind and hearts, and loving one-another as Christ intended for his bride, the church.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 14:27

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, Ephesians 1:18

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Photo Credit: Brett Boardman

eveangelical.

ζωηγγελιος – ζωη – ‘life’ from Septuagint and ‘ἐυαγγελιον’ – good news, gospel messenger.

A woman of God who proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ, obeying Christ’s commission to make disciples of all nations by sharing God’s word with all people. As Eve and Adam were given authority by God to rule and subdue creation together, the eveangelical woman is redeemed in Christ to work alongside men and other women as a creative counterpart. They do not seek power or glory or authority for themselves but give glory to God in all things, men and women in mutual submission to their Creator, both made in His image.

The eveangelical woman gives respect to God–ordained authority and institutions – humbly accepting that we are all marred by sin – relying on God’s power at work in His people. Relying on God’s strength and wisdom she will use God’s gifts, as given to all His people, to build up and encourage the body of Christ. She will pray for God to increase her faith, to give her greater gifts, not to boast, but to serve God in any context to which she is called.

The eveangelical woman is made in God’s image and is purposed since the creation of mankind to give life to others, through physical birth, spiritual guidance, exhortation and encouragement, humble service of others in prayer and hospitality. She is not saved by these actions, but the gifts of God are for the people of God, given to women and men to serve one another. But the greatest calling is to proclaim new life in Christ so that all will turn to Him in faith.

She is humble in her speech but courageous in her actions, she is assured of her salvation through faith in Christ, and devotes herself to the study of God’s word and prayer. She relies on God’s strength made perfect in her weakness and is patient in suffering, dealing graciously with the weak and vulnerable to reflect the love of God to others. She is teachable yet discerning and grows in spiritual maturity by lifting others. Her life, created and redeemed by God, is life-giving and her reliance on God’s word as a source of comfort and strength becomes her witness and testimony to all who know her. She acknowledges God’s order in creation and seeks to emulate this by redeeming the day with her time and energy, as God is sanctifying the work of her hands. She will not want to place any person in the position that Christ holds as her personal Saviour.

The eveanglical woman values community and fosters genuine relationships with neighbours, family, friends and church community.  She depends on God who knows and loves her first, and delights in praises of God, not seeking undue praise for herself or honouring others above God. She is aware of her limits and readily makes sacrifices in her daily life, as she is led by reflective prayer, in the Spirit and the Word. She discerns God’s will for her life and disciples and influences those within her sphere, desiring to enlarge God’s Kingdom, through gentleness and love, not coercion or force. She continually gives thanks for the fruit of the Spirit working in the life of every believer, and the Spirit’s work in those to whom God is revealing Himself.

The Spirit of God has made me,

    and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. – Job 33.4

The Hands of a Surgeon

We put our lives in people’s hands every day. Pilots, train drivers, medical staff, even those who prepare our food at restaurants, these are just some of those skilled workers who are entrusted with the lives of others. We often do not think about this trust we place in people who are complete strangers to us. We would never think to check or questions the qualifications or experience of the airline pilot or aircraft maintenance schedule before checking in our baggage at the airport.

When things do go wrong, we must also trust the integrity of those investigating the problem, that the problem will be identified and corrected.  The potential problem and the identified disaster are all invisible to our eyes, yet we feel the consequences deeply – either personally or on the news or social media. These hidden problems and their impact affect us all.

What about our own hidden problems, are they so easy to hide and deny also? To whom are these defects evident, whose responsibility is to fault-find and rectify problems? Who ‘mops up’ the consequences when our faults in the framework of our character rise up and cause collateral damage in our lives? Who can be held accountable for these things, is it that loud person standing at the complaints department who is to blame for the disruption to the peace?

It is a painful process to look within and decide that there needs to be an adjustment in our behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. It is common practice at this time of New Year to do a systems check on ourselves and our relationships from the previous year and decide upon inner-change in some form or another. Most often it is the physical aspect which is decided to be unhealthy, with resolutions to stop smoking and drinking and start exercising as the perceived way to be a better person in the year ahead. This might make us look and feel better about ourselves, it might even make others look upon us with admiration or even envy for a trim physique.

What if our true need is much deeper and the symptoms harder to identify in us? Have we been putting off the comprehensive health check that involves our temperament and behaviour towards others on a daily basis, at home, work, school, in our neighbourhood? There is a heart to this problem – the will is at work and is not easily identified as it is also our will that glosses over it. There is only one person who can see within us and search our hearts and minds and wills to determine what problem exists and rectify it.

It is the Maker who is also the Judge of our condition. God is a skilled Surgeon and can excise a wound or cancer in our character and repair and heal the damage. Sometimes what is required is a full heart transplant in order to restore us back to full health. Putting ourselves into His care and attention will require full trust in His diagnosis. We must bring ourselves to Him, remain in His presence, be still and trust in His knowledge and wisdom. To put ourselves on the operating table we need to be at rest and peace, rejoicing in the outcome of the restored body, tending the wounds from the excision with care and patience.

It is God’s purpose as the Creator of everything to ensure its good and right order, to restore us and change us to become more like His Son, Jesus – who is for us the perfect model, a blueprint for humanity, He made a way for us to be redeemed and made new, to become more and more into the likeness of Christ.

‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’ Titus 2:11-14

Lord, search us, cleanse us and change us by the work of your hands that made us, shape us into the likeness of your Son, Jesus Christ. Give us clean hands and pure hearts to live with honesty, humility and gentleness in community with one another. (Psalm 24:4)

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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