Friday, 25 January 2013

By God’s Grace

Looking at Paul’s first letter to Christians in Corinth we find the church in Corinth was a very real church that struggled with many of the same problems we can identify in most churches today. As people come to faith from all sorts of backgrounds in the world we still struggle with the same problems they faced.

  1. There is the struggle to leave behind the way the world thinks (what Paul calls “the wisdom of the world”) as we strive to grow in the wisdom of God.

  2. The temptation to declare ourselves for or against this or that party or personality in the church

  3. The challenge to see ourselves as servants faithful to the great truths and duties that have been entrusted to us.

  4. The question of how we conduct ourselves in our families, in our fellowshipping and how we engage, as we inevitably must, with the world around us while holding on to the sure hope of future resurrection to glory.

We tend to think of the church in Corinth as so very dysfunctional that any comparison with our own circumstances is insulting. But, I have found the story here very encouraging for three reasons:

Paul reminds Christians, “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?” (3:16)

It was Samuel Johnson who observed that, “Men need to be reminded more than they need to be informed.” As we go about kingdom business we, like the saints in Corinth, need to be reminded that we (plural) are the temple of God and that God's Spirit dwells in us. You cannot be a temple on your own and we need each other to fulfil our role as God's temple.

Paul, as he begins his letter, reminds believers, “in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” (1:4-7) This, writes Paul, is “because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” (1:4)

We can never be reminded enough that whatever we are we are in him. If we are to think with God's wisdom, act as servants to each another, reach the lost we must recognise our need of heaven's equipping. If ever you have felt inadequate to the task (and who doesn't?) before you in God's service Paul assures us that we have been enriched in every way because of Jesus. We can sometimes forget to marvel that God should choose to use us at all, to remember that it is by grace alone that we are included and equipped for the work. Lets encourage one another in these things.

Finally, he promises us, “He will keep you strong to the end...” (1:8)

God, writes Paul, “who has called us into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ, is faithful.” When we look at ourselves and consider each other we must remember that a great work of salvation and sanctification is going on in my life and yours every day. In his first letter John wrote:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!...Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1-3)

By his grace he dwells in us, by his grace he enriches us and by his grace he promises to keep us strong to the end.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

How Big is Your God?

Some years ago I came across a man who was a convert to Islam. I am always interested in how these things happen and it seems the first thing that grabbed his attention was the first verse of the Koran, “Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of worlds...”

He was impressed because it mentions “worlds.” His point was that this seemed to anticipate and embrace modern science because it recognised more than one world. He had always had the idea that the Christian God was a God limited to this world, or that was the impression he had grown up with. I have thought a lot about that.

I am also reading a book entitled “The Genesis Enigma.” It is the account of one atheistic biologist’s grappling with an amazing discovery he has made in the first chapter of the Bible, i.e. he is amazed to discover that the creation account in Genesis is accurate to the very latest scientific discoveries and understanding of origins. He says, “Genesis 1 is correct in a way it has no business to be.”

He is an evolutionist of course and I don't want to get into that but he struggles with questions science simply can't answer. At one point he writes, “I see no problems whatsoever with the process of evolution. But I have encountered questions about life on earth that should have an equivalent scientific answer, yet to which no answer seems to be forthcoming.” He goes on to suggest maybe science will never answer those questions and perhaps the only answer is a Creator.

Like my Muslim acquaintance, however, he has come across too many Christians who have a God incapable of dealing with let alone ruling and reigning over what is being discovered by science. As  JB Phillips put it “Your God is too Small.” But I have also been reading Genesis for myself (Its is January after all) and right there in Genesis 2 we read, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.”

The heavens and the earth...” I think that covers worlds, “ all their vast array...” I think that copes with anything science might throw at us. In the Psalms we read:

O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendour and majesty.

He wraps himself in light as with a garment;

He stretches out the heavens like a tent.” Ps.104:1,2

The Bible reminds us that our God is so great we can trust him even in the face of death. That when our prayers seem not capable of being answered yet his purposes serve a greater end even through the greatest trials, and even death is conquered in those who trust in him. Paul writes of God's,

Incomparable power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above all rule and authority, power and dominion...” Eph.1:19-21

As we enter a new year we must enter it trusting in this God and not the feeble God of limited imagination. We must say, “Worlds?” Let me tell you about worlds.”

By him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church...” Col.1:16-18