Category Archives: Church

Matthew 16:18 – The Dry-Stone Wall Church

Before my prayer time on the evening of the 11th January 2013 I just felt that God was saying he had something special for me but I didn’t know what.  As is usual these days he was already there waiting for me to come into the place of prayer in his presence, not the other way round. I was saying ‘Thank you that your presence is already here’, not ‘Please come, Lord’.

 When I walked back into the living room to spend time with him he literally knocked me to my knees by the weight of his presence. While on my knees God gave me a glimpse of Jesus building his church in a vision. What I saw was a physical representation of the spiritual reality.

 The church was made up of rough stones, not dressed stones, and the building method Jesus was using was that of dry-stone walling.  This I easily comprehended and understood as I was brought up in Derbyshire where almost every field boundary is a dry-stone wall!

It was not a dry-stone wall like you sometimes see these days will regularly shaped dressed stones, but was one made up of irregular stones of different sizes and shapes.  In a dry stone wall there are faced stones which you see on the outside of the wall, within the wall you find many smaller stones which are used for packing and to stabilise the whole wall.  The whole church was being built on top of a large slab of bedrock, and the builder was Jesus. There was also a small bell tower on top, an open one and contained a single bell.

Boulder and Bedrock.

 ‘And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’ Matthew 16:18 (NRSV)

Here Jesus tells Peter that he is a ‘petros’, a ‘stone’, a ‘rock’, a ‘boulder’. He may be substantial in size, but he is separate from the bedrock.  He is one of the big stones built into the bottom of the dry stone wall of the church.

On the other hand he is not the ‘petra’, the ‘bedrock’.  The ancient city of Petra is called that because it was built out of the very bedrock itself.  That bedrock is Jesus himself and the fact that he is ‘the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ Matthew 16:16 (NRSV) as Peter stated on the Father’s revelation.

In this Scripture, as in the vision it is Jesus who is building his church. It is not you or I, it is not the pastor or elders or anyone else, it is Jesus. We need to make sure that we do not try to take credit for something which is not of our doing!

Bell Tower and Bell.

A bell makes a very pure sound and so should our preaching of the gospel. Living lives in holiness should be an integral part of our message that speaks volumes. We should also not complicate the gospel. The message is simple, we were dead in our sins (Ephesians  2:1) as all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory that God wanted mankind to have (Romans 3:23) so Jesus came and paid the price by the shedding of his blood on the cross to take away our sins (1 Peter 2:24). He then rose again and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Acts 2:33), when we trust in him we have eternal life which starts now (1 Timothy 6:12) and he sends the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33) to enable us to live lives that are both holy (Ephesians 1:4) and a demonstration of his power on earth (Acts 1:8).

There was only one bell, not many. Unity in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24) is very powerful. God is calling us to live in unity as Christians. To come together in worship, humility, prayer and intercession as a united people. ‘If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’ 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NRSV). In past revivals God has moved because of the prayers of a few, this time I feel he wants more of his people praying in faith for him to move in power and reveal his glory. Are we prepared to come before him as a humble people united in prayer?

 Faced not Dressed Stones.

The fact that the stones were faced but not dressed is in fact significant. In the Old Testament God told Moses, ‘But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones; for if you use a chisel upon it you profane it.’ Exodus 20:25 (NRSV). This was one thing that separated an altar to the Lord from an altar to a false god, as their altars were generally made from dressed stones.

We are all different, like the stones being used to build the church building. We are to be in unity, but not uniformity. We are to celebrate our differences and be the individuals God wants us to be, then we will truly all fit together as he builds us into his church.

The visible stones were faced. In the past many people in churches have been taught not to reveal their struggles, but God is calling us to be honest. We can neither fool him, nor non-Christians with our religiosity, they see straight through it as easily as God does. In fact hypocrisy switches non-Christians off very quickly and is very bad witness, and it is one thing that makes God very angry as it is spiritual pride! We need to ask him to help us to be real, both with him and with all others whether they are Christians or non-Christians. Faced stones also look clean and fresh, we need to let Jesus knock off anything that will get in the way of his light shining through us.

 All important.

Not all of the stones were visible, but the hidden stones used for packing are incredibly important in the making of a dry-stone wall. This is also true in the church. As Paul says ‘the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect’ 1 Corinthians 12:22-23 (NRSV). We need to learn to raise up the encouragers, the intercessors, those with administrative and practical gifts so that their service is a joy not a burden as can often be the case because they are the lifeblood of the church and are central to its stability.

Jesus is building his church, and we are the living stones being built into its structure (1 Peter 2:5), although the vision I saw was of a physical structure it represents the spiritual structure of the church. Let’s be the church that Jesus has called us to be!

Revelation 8:3-4 – Incense, Prayer & Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

In Revelation 8 we have a lovely picture of incense and prayers rising before God,

‘Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne.  And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.’ (Revelation 8:3-4 NRSV)

This is such an amazing picture of prayer, and more than that, of our prayers coming before God.

There are two other verses which refer to incense and prayer, one more from the New Testament and one from the Old Testament:

‘When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.’ (Revelation 5:8 NRSV)
 
‘Let my prayer be counted as incense before you’ (Psalms 141:2 NRSV)

Prayer is incense, is like incense and is offered with incense!

This says a great deal about how important prayer is to God.  The incense that was used in Tabernacle and later Temple worship was not cheap!  It was made from costly ingredients, some of which came from long distances away.  It was also to be made to a specific recipe that was to be used only for worshipping God (see Exodus 30:34-38).

Prayer that God listens to costs!  Now there are times when we pray and it costs us nothing, God still hears those prayers, but they do not really grab his attention.  Jesus’ prayers were answered by his Heavenly Father because he put all of himself into them.  This is also something we see in great hero’s of faith, they know that they have to put themselves on the line when it comes to prayer.  It can be very hard to say, ‘yet, not my will but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42 NRSV) as Jesus does in the garden of Gethsemane, but this is what the hero’s of the faith have done, and it is also what we can do too!  This is where we get our depth in prayer.

Prayer is made up of different ingredients!  This may surprise you, but this is one reason why breadth of prayer is so important.  In the incense recipe different things were to be mixed together in equal quantities, this would have balanced the scent, and made the incense more beautiful to smell!  It is no wonder that the incense was to be burnt before God alone.  What do you mix in your prayer?  There should be worship, petition, intercession, listening, praise and thanksgiving to name but a few things.  We should also pray in different ways, both individually and especially corporately.  This is why we need breadth of prayer.

In this association  between incense and prayer we also see something else.  They seem to be especially closely linked when prayer is being answered by God.

As I said in my post 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 – The Fragrance of Jesus that last week I smelled incense in the service at Maswell last week.  This was during the worship and God’s presence was really there.  One thing that I did not share though was that during the service we had prayed for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani to be released, and I did feel that God was really happy with that.

Today, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani had been released and acquitted, that is God!  He is now back with his family, and with the other members of his church.  I praise God for his faithfulness, a reflection of God’s faithfulness to him!

Now I know that incense had two meanings, although I only at first recognised one fo them.  That Jesus was there among his people, and that all the prayers of all the church (including Maswell) for Pastor Youcef had come before God, and that the answer would soon be revealed!

WOW!!! WHAT A GOD!!! HE IS SO AMAZING!!!

Heavenly Father, help us to realise how highly you value prayer, and how it should be made up of different ingredients.  Help us to be prepared to give all we have in prayer as Jesus did, and help us to have balanced prayer lives.  And thank you that you do answer prayer, help us to be expectant to see your answers, praying in faith to see you act.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 – The Fragrance of Jesus

‘But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  For we are the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.  Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not peddlers of God’s word life so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.’ (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 NRSV)

All our senses are very informative, but also very subjective.  But more than that at times what we perceive is related to what God is revealing to us.  We see it in this Scripture, and I have seen this in action in the lives of two other people, and also this Sunday at church.  I shall explain.

On two occasions when I was working in Canaan Bookshop in Staines.  I was there with Andy Gilmour the manager when we had two alcoholics come into the shop, both had had some drink, but neither were too drunk that what they said would come from their imagination.  The first was an old gentleman and the second was a middle-aged lady, they came in at different times, and the incidents were separated by quite a months.

The old gentleman came in and said something like this, ‘Wow, its amazing! Can you smell it?’, ‘Smell what?’ me.  ‘Incense, beautiful incense!’ gentleman, and so the conversation went on for a few minutes, and he walked out if anything slightly happier than when he came in as God had touched him in some way, which was nothing to do with us!

On the second occasion, the lady came in, her manner and comments were the complete opposite to his.  ‘It smells horrible in here!’ lady.  Blank looks on our faces,  ‘Can you smell it?’ lady. ‘Smell what?’ one of us. ‘Its horrible, like death …’ lady.  Again this is not exactly what was said, but it gets over the gist of the conversation.

In both cases neither Andy nor I smelled a thing, but both the people smelled something and reacted to that smell.  The Scripture quoted above explains it, the man smelled life and he will give his life to Jesus at some point.  But the lady will not, she smelled death which mirrors the fact she is perishing, even to this day this saddens me, but I know that God is just and only he can see the end from the beginning.

On Sunday during the worship time at Maswell Park Church I smelled incense, for a while it was a very strong scent, then I kept getting whiffs of it.  It was like the finest incense I have ever had the pleasure to smell, but without the smoke!  I did not share it during the service, but afterwards I shared it with Daniel, the very gifted young man who had been leading worship, which I think encouraged him!

I shared it on Facebook on Sunday evening and an old friend of mine Mike, who also used to go to Maswell, shared that he had also experienced it once, and that was at Maswell too!  This encouraged me, as when I had mentioned it to my husband on the way home about it he said that he could not smell anything!  He did however comment on how good the worship was, and how he could happily have spent a longer in worship.

Lord Jesus, help us to be people of your presence.  To be so close to you that we both sense your fragrance and carry it with us wherever we go.  That your glory may be revealed, in your name we pray, Amen.

 

Olympic Games #2 – The Men’s Road Race

The Men’s Road Race for cycling was run on the Day One of the Games.

The British cyclist Mark Cavendish was expecting to get a gold. The whole British cycling team was determined to get him into a good position so he could win with a sprint finish.  But it just wasn’t to be!

After an early breakaway the British team were left in the front of the peloton, along with other good teams with other good sprint finishers (Australia and Germany).  They were behind the leaders, but the whole group could have caught up if they had all worked together, and taken a share of leading that group.

But the rest of the teams decided to leave all the work to the Brits, and it was too much work for four men to do!  Because the rest of the best teams in the peloton were not prepared to do their share of the work and risk Cavendish winning, they also sacrificed their own medal hopes.  The final winner, Vinokourov of Kazakstan, deserved it, he took a risk and pushed ahead and the glory went to him.

David Millar, one of the British team summed it up quite well, ‘We lost out, but a lot of teams lost out by planning against us.  We can’t complain because everyone knew what we were going to do, so it was their job to derail us.  Which they did.’

What is God saying through this to his church?

We are all individuals, and part of different churches, but we also are all part of God’s universal church.

Now, here’s the challenge.  Do you seek solely your own personal growth and advancement?  Or your church’s?  Or do you seek growth and advancement for the whole of God’s universal church?  Or are you prepared to let others do the work which will in fact mean that everyone loses out in the end?

The Apostle Paul says ‘Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win it.’ (1 Corinthians 9:24 NRSV).  Let’s support each other and run to win, that we may each get the prize that God has for us.

What does this mean in reality, go after the vision God has given you and do everything you can to support those with a greater vision than yours!  In the case of churches let us spur each other on and seek to learn and grow from each other.  If we are petty or insecure and don’t support each other, then we will all lose out in the end.

Lord Jesus, help us to run to win, and to help others too, both individually and as your church.  So that you may be glorified in all we do, in your name, Amen.

Changing times for churches…

In the church in the United Kingdom we are living in a time of great change.

God is on the move in a way that he hasn’t been for a long time, the generations are changing and we are moving ahead into the future God had for us, rather than looking back to a past we see with spectacles that are far too rose-tinted.

We are also living in an age where time constraints on people are changing too.  All children now have free nursery places, others have jobs with variable hours (like my husband) and many have no certain hours especially if they are ‘bank’ staff who are on call if needed to cover other employees.

We live in the 21st century, with all that entails, yet when it comes to most churches calendars they are still firmly in the 20th century!

What do I mean?  Here are a few examples:

  • Ladies meetings that women with children at nursery can’t get to because the time clashes with them dropping off or picking up their preschoolers.
  • Small groups that only meet midweek in the evening that people can’t get to if a member of the family works irregular hours, or shifts.
  • Holding only a limited number of meetings and if people can’t get to them assuming they aren’t committed, or preventing them from serving God because they can’t fit into our time straight-jacket.
  • Not effectively reaching non-Christians because the schedule they keep does not fit into our church’s program.

More so than ever we live in a 24-7 society.  With employers putting ever great time pressure demands on their workforces as the recession bites ever deeper.  They know that their workers would rather keep their jobs and be pushed on hours than lose the job and try for a new one in the open market.

If churches want to reach their own members and grow them in all areas, let alone reach the un-churched, they must change when they are doing activities and having meeting!

If our churches want to be 21st century churches, meeting people where they are, then they must also meet them WHEN they are available!  Some churches do this fantastically, other are trying and still other churches haven’t even realised that this is an issue.

We should not be afraid to have the same type of meeting at different times in the week, even if it means more work for those in leadership (if your church has a healthy leadership structure then it will be easy to spread the load).  We should get away from expecting everyone to come to a few meetings but have more meetings so everyone can come to them, even if only two or three come Jesus will still be there!

What about you?  How does your church deal with living in a 24-7 society?  Do you work difficult hours?  What are your insights, I’d love to hear them!