Cracks Are Serious

cracks2Recently I was getting my hair cut and the radio was playing in the background. Bizarrely there was a phone-in on the radio with an expert in building cracks. Since I had no option but to listen, I listened in as callers explained the nature of cracks appearing on various walls in buildings that they own and the expert responding with, “that is not serious, ignore it” or, “you need to get that fixed or your building will collapse!”

It made me think about the cracks that we sense in our relationships. It is so easy for a crack to develop between two people. Maybe it is with your spouse or a close friend. Maybe it is with a co-worker in the church, or a fellow church member. Whatever the relationship, cracks are serious.

In Colossians 3, Paul recognizes the challenge of maintaining harmonious relationships in the church and offers the vital recipe for dealing with the cracks that will inevitably form between people. After listing several other Christlike characteristics in verse 12, he comes to patience and pauses to develop the thought. “…bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

Most issues between people can be dealt with by Colossians 3:13. Bear with, forgive. But it is important that we do that. Too easily we can leave the cracks to spread and to grow wider.

I really appreciated Andy Stanley’s teaching related to this. He explained how we all have expectations of one another, but what should we do when there is a gap between our experience and our expectation? We expect someone to do A, but they instead do B. There is a gap. Andy Stanley teaches that we are to fill the gap with trust. We can assume that there is something we don’t know and that the person is trustworthy. However, there will be times when we cannot fill the gap with trust. Then what? Simple. Then we need to approach them.

One of two things will happen when we approach someone over a gap between our expectations and experience. When we go and assure them that we want to trust them, but there is this gap… Either they will be able to fill us in with the information we are missing, thus re-establishing the trust in the relationship. Or they will be given the opportunity to own their sin and they will ask us for forgiveness. Either way, the relationship is honoured and Christ is pleased.

So what do we do when we sense a crack developing in a relationship? We are to forgive first, then either we can bear with, or we need to approach and proactively address the situation. Notice that forgiveness is not dependent on the other person apologizing to us. Forgiveness takes only one person. If there is a breakdown in the relationship then it will take two people to reconcile, but we should forgive before we ever approach the other person. It is vital to do this so that our manner and tone can be genuinely humble and loving, rather than confrontational and touchy.

So this leaves some non-options. There are several things we must not do when cracks appear in a relationship. We may be tempted to do all four of these, but we must not, or the cracks will only spread further or grow wider.

1. Leave it. We cannot simply leave it. Ignoring cracks in relationships will not cause them to go away. These things do not self-heal. Some cultures are very committed to avoiding any conflict, but this can simply compound the problem and create a bigger mess once addressing the issues becomes unavoidable.

2. Label them. It is always tempting to label other people. “He is touchy. She is weird. They are sensitive.” But if the crack in the relationship has not been addressed, then this is a label based on incomplete information. We like to think we know enough to make such judgments, but we don’t, and we are usurping God’s role as the all-knowing One!

3. Retreat. Not only is it tempting to leave the issue alone, it is also tempting to retreat from the other person. We can avoid people without even consciously planning to do so. Our self-protection radar beeps quietly and we can navigate life without meaningful or awkward contact, but it is awkward, because the relationship is cracked.

4. Report. How very easy it is to spread the label we’ve applied to others. Gossip occurs when our communication about someone reduces the esteem others have for that person. Do not go there. Learn to sense gossip and stop it in its tracks. When someone starts to cross the line with you, you can ask them, “have you spoken with them about this?” or “do they know you are sharing this with me?” Gossip is aggressive crack multiplication in the local church.

So how is it possible to proactively address cracks and pursue harmony in the body of Christ? Colossians 3:12-17 gives several critical pointers for us.

First, we won’t achieve this by looking to ourselves and determining to do better in this. We must first look to Christ. The whole letter points us in Christ’s direction, see 1:15-23, or 3:1-4. In fact, look at how verse 12 begins: we are God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved – our gaze needs to be on Christ and our union with Him, not on ourselves and our determination to do good.

Second, we have the peace of Christ at work in our midst like a referee with a whistle. Verse 15 in its context is not about a private guidance mechanism. It is all about how the Spirit works to promote unity amongst believers. When we say something unhelpful, or when a crack develops, God is at work with a gentle whistle to highlight the issue to us. Let’s pray for a growing sensitivity to that refereeing of our relationships.

Third, the word of Christ dwelling in us will feed our healthy mutual interactions – verse 16 underlines our need for this.

Fourth, gratitude will be a wonderful gel in group dynamics. Three times Paul points to the need for gratitude amongst the believers.

So keeping our gaze fixed on Christ, with His Word very much at home in our hearts, with the Spirit’s whistle gently nudging us when cracks develop, we can gratefully pursue a proactive unity and harmony. Always forgiving, usually bearing with, and sometimes approaching when necessary, we can be part of a harmonious group of believers whose Christlike corporate culture create a Christlike impact in a world desperate for authentic and loving community.

Dan Hames: What is Grace?

Daniel HamesDan Hames is a curate at St Aldates, Oxford, as well as a PhD student at VU Amsterdam.  He also helps look after articles, talks, and a podcast at  If you haven’t spent some time on the Union Theology site, you are missing a treat.  I am thankful to Dan for this guest post on the subject of God’s grace.


Grace. It’s what your grandma says before dinner. It’s the way a ballet dancer floats across the stage. It’s a polite person reacting coolly to criticism. It’s also one of those theology words that we don’t often explain.

When I was naughty as a boy, I used to think that God could show me mercy, which simply meant he wouldn’t strike me with a bolt of lightning. Or he could show me grace, which was that, on top of sparing me, he would actually be nice to me. As I grew as a Christian, I began to see that grace was something more fundamental in God. God loves to give his grace. His undeserved kindness to us is the whole shape and flavour of the gospel. I was encouraged to ‘trust grace’, ‘love grace’, and ‘preach grace’. God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. Unmerited favour. A gift we don’t deserve.

So is that grace? I’ve come to believe it’s even better than that. In John 14:23, Jesus says something quite remarkable, ‘My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’ In the gospel, God isn’t kind to us by just giving us forgiveness, a sense of purpose in life, a family in the Church, and the hope of heaven. He gives us himself through Jesus.

Grace isn’t a thing God ladles out like a dinner lady with custard; it’s not even the generous frame of mind he’s in when he hands out blessings to us like a supermarket Santa. God’s grace is that he loves you and has made his home with you by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It’s not God’s riches, but God. From the moment of your salvation, the living God moved in with you and will stay with you through your whole life, and beyond your death into eternal glory.

Let’s encourage our hearts by thinking less about the word ‘grace’ in the abstract and more about the gracious God who shows mercy, blesses, and loves the undeserving – but who most of all gives them himself.

Hershael York: The Book of Acts and Us

HYorkDr Hershael York is the Senior Pastor at Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky.  He is also the Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  I really appreciated his books Speaking with Bold Assurance (2001), that Hershael co-wrote with Bert Decker, and Preaching with Bold Assurance (2003).  I am really thankful for this post on the enduring relevance of Acts for us as preachers in today’s world – a reality I hope is demonstrated in Foundations (forthcoming from Christian Focus).  Over to Hershael:


The New Testament epistles would leave us puzzled and perplexed if we only had the gospels without the book of Acts. We would not know how the gospel advanced to the Gentiles, who Paul is, when Christianity spread from Jerusalem to the world, or even why the church took shape and functioned as it did. Perhaps most significantly, we would not know the components and contours of apostolic preaching.

About half of the Book of Acts consists of speeches, discourses, and letters. In fact, like the Greek historian Thucydides, Luke actually moves the narrative forward through careful reconstruction of speeches by followers of Christ and their opponents. He records eight addresses delivered by Peter, Stephen’s lengthy sermon that enraged the Sanhedrin, Cornelius’s brief explanation, a short authoritative address by James at the Jerusalem Council, the advice of James and the elders in Jerusalem to Paul, and nine sermons and speeches by Paul. Clearly Luke believes that what the church said impacted what they did.

But Luke is more than a historian. He is also a theologian. He is not merely recording the words spoken, but the heart of the Christian message, the kerygma, that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation, Lord of Heaven and Earth, and that his crucifixion and resurrection provides redemption from sin for all who will repent and believe.

While manners and modes of communication change through time and across cultures, that core message of the gospel is the unshakeable and irreducible axis of Christian proclamation on which faith rests. The message of what God has done through the person and work of Christ is not merely a historical chapter that we have advanced beyond. Now as much as in Acts, the preaching of Christ is what God uses to move the narrative forward until Christ returns.

Marcus Honeysett: What Does It Mean To Be Human?

mhoneysettMarcus is the director of Living Leadership and an elder at Crofton Baptist Church in South East London.  He has authored four books, including Fruitful Leaders and Gospel-Centred Preaching (with Tim Chester).  Many people have benefited greatly from Marcus’ teaching and writing.  I am thankful to Marcus for offering this guest post on such an important question.  Remember, this guest post series is offered to mark release of Foundations – please do check out and encourage others to follow @4BigQs on Twitter and Facebook.


So God created Mankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)

The two most foundational things about being human beings are:

  1. That we are creatures
  2. That we are special creatures – made in the image of God

Therefore when God blesses the man and woman, telling them to be fruitful, increase and fill and subdue the Earth it is as dependent beings, not independent ones.

In this dependency is the very foundation of life. Everything broken about the world can be traced back to rebellious, sinful desire to live independently from God rather than dependently upon his fatherly goodness as his dearly loved children.

This means that we are never more fully human than when we are consciously living in repentance and faith. A constant walk with God, is the thing that maintains our life and our joy because we were made for it – and forsook it back at Eden. A daily appreciation and thankfulness for the spilt blood of Jesus Christ is the thing that keeps us conscious of God’s everlasting mercy.

Confessing our sins, turning with hatred from evil, glorying in the cross brings healing and gospel transformation by the Holy Spirit. Why? Because when we do we are acknowledging and celebrating true creatureliness. We embrace our dependency. We delight not in God’s absence from our lives but in the closeness of his presence.


Foundations Guest Series Introduction

Foundations CoverWhat do you do when you have one opportunity to communicate the life transforming message of the Bible? Where do you go biblically to address the key issues people really need to hear today?

I had one series of just four sermons and desperately wanted my hearers to hear the critical building blocks of belief. I could have gone to Ephesians or another epistle. I could have gone to the Gospels. I decided to go to Acts.

Preaching from Acts is an exciting challenge because you are entering into other peoples’ sermons as well as their situations. The first apostles were communicating the timeless gospel to the first hearers as the message spread. Perhaps what they preached then would be ideal for expressing the life transforming message today?  It is.

Foundations: Four Big Questions We Should Be Asking But Typically Don’t is forthcoming from Christian Focus Publications. It is a little book that I hope will pack a big punch. In Foundations we see how the Apostles addressed the very questions that we should be asking, but typically we don’t.

Acts contains messages preached under the glare of imminent threat, thus making every word count. Acts contains messages preached to staunch Jews ready to defend the honour of their heritage, a couple of purely pagan crowds who did not know Othniel from Oprah, some brand new believers in Christ, and every other possible combination of listeners. In Foundations we hear Paul addressing the sophisticated philosophers in Athens, over-zealous pagans in Turkey, and some of the judges brought in to put him on trial. We see how the apostles united when the gospel faced its first major attack, and how they made it so clear how the foundational questions must be answered by all.

Underneath our beliefs there is a foundation, and often it sits there unchallenged. The most important issues for life and eternity are regularly engaged in the Bible, but we often ignore this foundation. We too easily think it is all so obvious that we would be wasting our energy to linger longer than it takes to give a momentary tip of the hat to these issues.

Foundations is a fast read, but I hope it will help preachers and listeners, young believers and those established in the faith. It might even be used to clarify the wonder of the gospel to those who are still looking in from the outside. This guest post series is going to run over the next weeks to help mark the launch of Foundations.

Thanks to everyone who will contribute to this guest series. And thank you to everyone who helps spread the word about Foundations – by encouraging others to follow on Twitter (@4BigQs) or Facebook (, pointing people to, or buying several copies to pass on to friends and pastors so that in a small way, the great wonder of the Gospel can grip the hearts of as many as possible.

Sincerely, thank you.

Repentance Uncompromised

I repentancehave just posted on the Cor Deo site on the subject of repentance.  It is such a critical subject, and it is so often compromised by the way we preach it and practice it.  I hope the post will be helpful to you.

One of the greatest terms in the Old Testament prophets is the word “turn” or “repent.” The prophets spoke to a nation of God’s people who had consistently turned away from God and to others. They turned to Assyria or Egypt for support via political alliance. They turned to their own military might for confidence. They turned to idols for alternative spiritual assistance. So the prophets urged them to turn back to God.

Repentance is at the heart of Christianity. It has to be. And yet it is so often compromised in the way we present it or practice it.

Why is repentance important?

The Bible tells the amazing story of God’s grace in rescuing a sinful and fallen humanity to bring about a marriage between His Son and the redeemed bride. Ever since the fall into sin and death in Genesis 3, the starting point for this marriage has not been two neutral parties awaiting an introduction. The bride-to-be is spiritually dead and existing in overt rebellion against God and His Son.

God has initiated in stunning fashion. He has demonstrated his love for us through the death of His Son. He has paid the penalty for the rebellion, broken the power of sin and made possible a reconciliation between God and man. And as we read the prophets, we are reminded that God continues to work to graciously win the hearts of humanity back to him through providentially guided circumstances – both those that appear positive and negative from our perspective. God not only initiates, but He also pursues in His attempt to woo the hearts of humanity to His Son.

The Bible presents the work of God in redeeming us, the persistence of God in pursuing us, and the character of God in all of this. The character of God is startling to rebels like us. For instance, the prophet Hosea can characterize God as the God of steadfast love and faithfulness who desires that His people really know Him personally and closely. Hosea expressed God’s frustration that these characteristics were not the defining feature of life in Israel (see Hosea 4:1).

In light of who God is and what God has done and continues to do, what is the appropriate response? It is repentance. It is trust.

How do we compromise repentance?

We compromise repentance when we lose sight of God’s initiative. We compromise repentance when we turn the spotlight onto ourselves. We compromise it when we make it a meritorious work that we do.

I imagine going back to the day when I proposed to my wife-to-be. What if I had pursued her, cared for her, shown affection toward her, won her heart and then nervously orchestrated the circumstances so that I could propose to her in the right place at the right time. After my introductory comments, I drop to one knee and propose marriage. I am ready to give myself to this woman forever, to become one with her. I propose and she says yes. Would it make sense for me to follow up with a “well done” to her for saying yes? Absolutely not! That would be bizarre.

But a corrupted repentance will be seen as the responsibility of the repentant. It will be understood as something we are to do that brings with it certain benefits. Hosea saw through a false repentance in Israel.

Israel said the right words and looked like they were doing the right things. In Hosea 6:1 we see that they viewed repentance as turning to God rather than merely turning to better behaviour (a common area of confusion in our day). Their repentance was followed by religious acts of devotion. Remember, repentance is a turn to a person, God, not a turn to better behaviour. However, turning to God will be followed by changes in behaviour. Repentance that involves no turning from sin cannot be true repentance. But it is possible to turn from sin and not be truly repentant. So it was with Israel.

They sacrificed and gave offerings, but there was no steadfast love or true knowledge of God (see Hosea 6:6). In fact, God declared, “they do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds and gash themselves for grain and wine” (Hosea 7:14). They turn, but their turn is not toward God (see verse 16). Their response was not what could be expected in light of who God was and what He had done.

What is true repentance?

In the last chapter of Hosea we get a clearer picture of true repentance. It begins with God – His steadfast love and faithfulness, His desire that we should truly know Him. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). And then what do we bring? Commitment? Determination? Resolution? Do we get ourselves sorted and then come to Him for the reward of His love? Absolutely not! Do we bring promises and declarations that twist God’s arm into kindness toward us? No.

We have nothing. All we can bring are the words overflowing from a heart that recognizes its need of God. We will not trust in Assyria, in horses, in idols. We will not trust in our righteousness, church attendance, ministry involvement, giving to charity, turning over a new leaf, determination to never do that thing again. We have nothing. We come with empty hands. We are orphans coming to a God who gives mercy to the totally undeserving. (See Hosea 14:1-3)

Whether we are encountering God for the first time, or whether we have walked with Him for many years, the truth is the same. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling. Repentance is not a work I am responsible to do. It is a response to God. It is a turn from every other plan and distraction and lover. It is a turn to Him, whereby in my absolute poverty I cast myself into His arms, trusting Him and only Him. Like an orphan coming home. Like a bride in His arms. Forsaking all others, Him. That is repentance. That needs to be at the core of our lives and our message.


My Shepherd Today

ShepherdSil2Our church is in the midst of a season of transition.  The team of leaders who committed to starting the church are leading the church through a process of recognizing its long-term leadership as we move forward into the future.  Inevitably potential change creates opportunity for uncertainty.

Who should the pastoral leadership be?  One fact holds us steady.  The chief shepherd of the church is Christ.  And he wants to be our shepherd today.

Yet how easily we can view the work of Christ only in past and future terms.  In his days on earth we saw the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep (John 10).  In the future we know that the chief shepherd will appear (1Peter 5).  But is Jesus our shepherd today?

The shepherd’s work is to lead the sheep to food, to care for them and protect them from harm.  This forms the start of a strong list for church leadership job descriptions – we are to lead, to feed, to care and to protect.  Perhaps we should add in “to equip” and we have a good grasp of the roles of church leadership in the New Testament, most of which are shepherding roles.

Jesus is our great shepherd today.  He is in charge of building his church.  He is the one most concerned to care for the sheep, including you and I.  It is a thrilling thought that Jesus desires to feed me, lead me, care for me, protect me, and even equip me, right now!

I was speaking with a friend about a tough time of loss he experienced last year.  He looked back on that time and his realization that only Jesus could really shepherd his soul through an intense season of grief and loss.

Perhaps we too easily look elsewhere and don’t spend time leaning into his loving care of our souls.  Perhaps some of us are too busy leading others to stop and be quiet long enough to hear his tender care of our hearts.

The Lord is my shepherd, today.

There are other biblical images we could consider in the same way.  My wife is expecting a baby and that means in a few months we will have another season of interrupted nights as the little one needs the care that only a mother can give.

In Ephesians 5, addressing the subject of marriage, Paul uses a pair of descriptive words.  After telling husbands to love their wives with a self-sacrificial love, and with a washing in the Word kind of love, then he adds the need for a “as you care for your own bodies” kind of love.

At this point he uses two words – nourishing and cherishing.

Cherishing is a term Paul only uses twice.  It speaks of a tender, warming kind of care.  It’s a bit like the way we put on a sweater when our bodies feel cold.  We cherish our bodies.  He also uses it in 1Thessalonians 2:7 of how a mother takes care of her little child.  There is a gentleness, an inclination to hold carefully and to protect.  (And in the Old Testament, the term is used twice to translate references to mother birds warming their eggs!)

Paul also tells husbands to nourish their wives as they naturally do their own bodies.  Again, the term is used twice.  It speaks of providing for and helping the growth of the other.   Husbands need to remember not only to put food on the table, but also to provide spiritual nutrition for their marriage.  Paul uses the term in Ephesians 6:4, in reference to bringing up children.

He also uses the shorter form of the term in the same phrase in 1 Thessalonians 2:7.  It is the nursing mother who takes care of her child.  This is a vivid picture, the giving of yourself that only a mother can do for an infant.

So Paul urges husbands to nourish and cherish their wives, just as they naturally do their own bodies.  And in his other use of the pair of ideas, as mothers nurse and care for their infants.  All very poignant images for the darkness we experience in the middle of the night.

But there is one more critical link to notice here.  What is he really speaking of in Ephesians 5?  Even after making the connection throughout the passage, we are still surprised at the end to discover he is actually speaking of Christ and the church.  Husbands, love your wives just as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church – what a thought!

I wonder if we more easily think back to the self-sacrificial love of Christ, which stands historically behind the launch of the church.  We look back to Calvary and rightly so.  But here Paul ties Christ’s loving of the church not to a past event, but rather to a present ongoing reality.  Maybe we don’t ponder that enough.  The present care of Christ for his own is such a glorious truth.

Not only did he give himself in self-sacrifice at the cross, but now he continues to tenderly give of himself to the church he loves so dearly, seeking to warm us and help us to grow.

Jesus is our bridegroom, nourishing and cherishing his bride, today.

It is no mistake that the Bible uses such relational imagery for the reality of our relationship with God.  We have a devoted bridegroom, a loving Father, a faithful friend, a good shepherd.  And we have them all right now.

Perhaps we need to pause for a moment in our leadership and our care for others, and thank Christ for his present care for us.  Let us ask God to tune our hearts to discern what he may be doing very quietly in our lives each and every day.

Jesus is our shepherd, and our bridegroom, today – exactly when we need him.

Let Historical Details Be Details

5StonesbThe Bible contains a lot of historical narrative.  Historical narrative contains details.  Let’s not be unnecessarily clever with these details.

Hypothetical Tale 1 – In 1964 a preacher at a Bible teaching conference was preaching on the story of David and Goliath.  He came to the verse that tells of David taking five smooth stones and putting them in his pouch before going to face the giant.  “Now you may be asking, why five smooth stones?  Why not just one?  Does David lack faith in God?  Not at all, I tell you, he was just prepared for Goliath’s four brothers!”  The audience all gave a 1960’s Bible conference chuckle, except for one character who guffawed with awkward volume.  The preacher’s joke had gone down well.

Hypothetical Tale 2 – In 1964 another preacher at a denominational conference was also preaching on David and Goliath.  He read 1.Sam.17:40 and launched into an explanation of the five stones.  “Some will say that faith trumps wisdom.  Not so.  The story has become something of a tale of mythic proportions, but here we catch a glimpse of the original reality.  David was not foolhardy.  He was prepared.  Here was a man with his faith, and his wisdom.  Facing the foe, David went prepared into battle.”  The audience diligently made 1960’s style notes and headed home encouraged to not be foolhardy in their daily lives.

These two tales are both made up.  One is about a Bible-believing preacher who sought, humourously, to honour the giant-killing faith of David.  The other is about a preacher with a lower view of inspiration, and a desire to give good human wisdom to his listeners.  As much as I dislike the assumptions behind the latter preacher’s comments, let’s ponder the first preacher some more.

Imagine if, in that crowd, were several hundred pastors and lay preachers.  Some found the Goliath’s brothers comments humourous, while others found it stirring.  All of these later made the same point as they preached the passage.  Somehow the various settings don’t all react in the same way, and another generation of listeners hear the comment as received wisdom in Old Testament interpretation.  By the 1970’s several devotional expositional paperbacks include the significance of the number of stones.  Fast forward a generation or two and this insight is established as truth.

But what if it started as a joke?

What am I saying?  Just because we hear something from other preachers doesn’t make it true.  Just because it is published in a book or two doesn’t make it true.

Let’s grow in discernment by learning all that we can about the culture, the history, the geography, etc.  Let’s be discerning in our understanding of a text by evaluating carefully the context.

David was not hedging his bets by taking more stones – there is nothing in the text that points to a blending of faith with human wisdom.  He had seen God at work before and anticipated seeing it again now.  These giants were supposed to be eradicated from the land and David trusted God to complete the mission now.

So why five stones?  Did he lack faith to take more than one?  How many stones in your pouch would cause you to trust in yourself against a monster like Goliath?

Perhaps David’s pouch held five stones.  Perhaps his habit was to always have five for a day’s work protecting sheep.  Perhaps he always grabbed the right shape and size, and this day there were five such stones where he looked.  Perhaps he gave it no thought at all.

What we know is that he took five smooth stones.  Historical detail.  And unless the text pushes us to see meaning in such a detail, let’s not get distracted from the bigger issues in the narrative.  Giant king Saul was scared.  Young king-to-be David trusted God.  The stones were a detail.

Let’s be careful not to be too clever with details of stories.  Read stories carefully.  Every detail matters.  But not every detail is a sermon in its own right.  You never know who will take your clever quip and run with it!

Turning Blah Blah to Wow!

wow2A lot of people in our churches read a lot of the Bible as filler and waffle.  They wouldn’t state that overtly, of course.  After all, it is the word of God!  But actually, in practice, a lot of the Bible is read without real engagement.  Consider the epistles, for instance.  Why does this phenomena occur?

1. Because of complex sentences.  It can be hard for any of us to truly track a sequence of sentences from Paul.

2. Because of unfamiliar words.  Stewardship. Saints. Manifold. Rulers.  Not necessarily unknown words, but not words most people tend to use in normal life.

3. Because it seems to lack direct relevance.  We can’t help but look for what it is saying “to me,” which means the rest can seem distant or theoretical.

4. Because of familiar words.  Hang on, didn’t we say unfamiliar words were the issue?  Actually, Christian terms can grow too familiar – grace, given, revelation, promise, gospel, church, wisdom, boldness, confidence.

I am looking at Ephesians 3:1-13, for an example.  Paul begins a prayer in verse 1 and then gets distracted before returning to the prayer in verse 14.  Why does he get distracted?  Because he mentions his imprisonment for the sake of “you Gentiles.”  This triggers his explanation of why those Gentiles in Ephesus shouldn’t feel the way they probably do feel – i.e. losing heart.  (Actually, it was Trophimus, sent from Ephesus, who indirectly led to Paul’s arrest and imprisonment in Acts 20, so they probably felt an extra burden over Paul’s imprisonment!)

So to lift their hearts regarding his sufferings for them, and therefore to make clear their glory (i.e. their value expressed in his sufferings as part of God’s plan), Paul goes off on a theological digression that should thrill our hearts as well as it did theirs!

But instead most people read it as “blah blah blah…Gentiles…blah blah…grace…blah blah…wisdom…blah blah blah”

Enter the biblical preacher!

The preacher’s role, is, in part, to slow people down in this text and to help them make sense of what Paul is actually saying.  No word is wasted, and no word should be lost under an indiscriminate “blah blah” flyover reading.  So?

1. God gave Paul a key role in unveiling new news – God gave Paul a key role in his forever plan for the sake of the Gentile believers, which was to reveal the momentous new news of the Gentile co-equality in the gospel!

2. God gave Paul grace to preach Christ and explain the news – God gave the ultimate-sinful-nobody, Paul, grace to do two things – first, to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ; and second, to make clear God’s great plan, the new news about the Gentiles.  Why? So that the church can be God’s trophy cabinet to show off his multi-coloured wisdom to the spiritual realms!

3. God’s plan gives us Gentiles stunning boldness! – God’s plan in Christ means that we Gentiles have ridiculous boldness when it comes to entering God’s presence (don’t forget the temple imagery in the previous section)!

So, the Gentiles in Ephesus shouldn’t lose heart, but instead they should be thrilled at their glory/value demonstrated in Paul’s suffering for their sake!

This is true for us too, just as the scars of Christ are beautiful to us because they show God’s love for us.

(I wouldn’t preach these three points as they stand, but I would make it my aim to help listeners hear the content of a section like this, turning the blah blah blah into Wow! after Wow!)

How Do You Pray for Fellow Believers?

PrayingHands2There is a strange phenomena in the church when it comes to praying for people.  Obviously this is a generalisation, but I have observed it enough to suggest that it may be a pattern.

When people become followers of Jesus our prayers for them seem to change.  Before they are saved we pray for God to work in their lives and circumstances, for their hearts to be drawn to Christ, for the spiritual blindness to be taken away, etc.  Once they trust Christ and are in the family, then what do we pray for? Often it seems to shift to the more mundane matters of health and career.

This is not just the case in church prayer meetings, but also among leaders too.  I know that I am tempted to pray more fervently and more “spiritually” for those who are outside God’s family, or for those who are on the fringes.  But for those who seem to be doing well in human terms?  It is tempting to assume all is well.

Take a look at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in 1:15-23.  He begins by referencing how thankful he is for their faith in Christ and love for the saints.  These are healthy believers – they have a vertical relationship that is spilling into their horizontal relationships.  These are the kind of people I am tempted to bypass as I pray.  Not so for Paul!

The One Thing – He goes on to make clear the one thing that he prays for them: that the Father might give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him!  That is, Paul prays for these believers to know God.  Simple.  Or is it profound?

Clearly he doesn’t mean that he wants them to “come to know” God, but to grow in their knowing Him.  He wants their relationship with God to go deeper, that the union they have with Christ should become more vibrant and developed.  (Remember that “in Christ” occurs almost forty times in Ephesians – union with Christ is a massive theme in the letter.)

I suspect many of us who have a passion to see the lost brought to salvation may fall into the trap of then missing the growth potential that exists for a believer.  There is so much more than just getting saved and then telling others, there is massive potential for spiritual growth and maturity.

The Three Things – Paul spells out this one prayer request with three specifics.  He wants God to enlighten the eyes of their hearts to know three things.

First, he wants them to know the absolute certainty of their calling in Christ.  We have churches filled with people who carry the label of Christian, and yet have all manner of uncertainty and confusion over God’s calling on their lives.

Second, he wants them to know that they are God’s inheritance – an inheritance He considers to be gloriously rich!  This is not something new believers readily grasp.  Just as it takes a wife many years to truly believe that her husband really loves her, so it is with God’s people.

Third, he wants them to know how much power there is toward them as they trust God for it.  That is, is there enough power for a life like mine to be truly transformed by the gospel?  Is there enough power for me to be raised from my sinful state of death to do the works God has prepared for me to do?  There is if that power is the same power that raised Christ from the dead, seated him in glory, put all enemies under his feet and made him head over the church!

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is incredibly encouraging for us to read.  More than that, it is deeply challenging to recognize that this prayer was prayed for those who were already faithful and loving.  Let’s not bypass those that seem healthy and established in our churches and in our ministry spheres.  Let’s pray for them, and for ourselves too, to be growing in our relationship with God, knowing more profoundly the reality of our hope, his inheritance and the abundance of power available!