The God Who Spares No Expense

Our house isn’t coming down with family heirlooms. In fact, I could count on one hand those that spring immediately to mind, and still have fingers left to count how many of them would make it on to the Antiques Roadshow.

There is one however that my late grandfather gave me a long time ago. It is a pocket watch, given to him by his father. His father’s name is engraved on it and the year 1899.

As it was no longer functional, I decided some years ago to take it to a jeweller and have it repaired. Unfortunately he returned the watch in the same condition. He said that, whilst it might have great sentimental value, it was beyond economic repair. Priceless, but broken and, in his eyes, not worth the cost of fixing.

When Isaiah spoke the prophetic words to the people of Judah recorded in Isaiah 44.24-28, he was speaking to a people who, in God’s eyes, were priceless but broken. And a people who in the eyes of the world were beyond economic repair.

If you had looked west to Jerusalem during Judah’s Babylonian exile, you might well have concluded that Jerusalem and the temple of God were also beyond economic repair.

God had other plans, better plans. He would restore His people to their land. He would restore Jerusalem. The temple would be rebuilt. And how would he do it? He would use a pagan King, Cyrus, to initiate the return and restoration of his people. (Incidentally, the Jewish historian Josephus relates a story that Cyrus somehow got hold of Isaiah’s prophecy and was so impressed that he had personally been mentioned that he was moved to action!)

Earlier in the chapter, Isaiah outlined how God would move among His people as He moved to restore what had been lost. He promised to pour out His Spirit (1-5). He challenged them to confront and renounce their idols (6-20). And He reminded them of His grace (21-23).

God is still in the business of restoring what is “beyond economic repair”. He has done and is doing just that in everyone of us who respond to Him in faith. He is still in the business of restoring families, churches, communities, cities – even whole nations – let’s not limit His ability!

He usually works to the kind of pattern seen in Isaiah 44. The outpouring of the Spirit on those who are thirsty. Confronting and renouncing our idols – for idol read “anything that we put in the place of God”. And, of course, His grace. If we forget grace our most sincere desires for the Spirit to move and our most godly instincts for holiness can so easily work themselves out in legalistic self- effort.

No life, no situation is beyond economic repair because Christ has already paid the repair price at the cross. God spared no expense for us. That’s why it’s called grace.

3 Things I Learnt From ELIM100 Scotland

ELIMSECC

I am finding it rather hard to believe that I am writing this blog post on the Monday after the ELIM100 Scotland event. For the first time in eighteen months I will not be sending and responding to emails associated with this event, except to say “Thank you” and tie up any loose ends.

I have learnt a lot from the experience. “Thirty things I learnt from ELIM100 Scotland” might be a more appropriate – and accurate – title than the one I have chosen. However, on this occasion, I will limit myself to three. I also hope you will take it as read that without the grace of God, ELIM100 Scotland would never have happened!

One thing that came over very powerfully on Saturday was the sense of family.

Throughout its history, Elim has seen itself as a family. In its earliest days, probably up until the 70s, the sense of family and the feeling of belonging to a wider church family, was very strong within Elim. A combination of conventions and crusades, with national rallies, most notably in the Royal Albert Hall, both reinforced and promoted the sense of family belonging that was at the core of Elim’s identity.

Society inevitably changes over time. The church has to remain true to its call and yet adapt to change at one and the same time. What brought the family together a generation ago, or almost a century ago, did not always prove to have the same cohesive power in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. However, like any family, the difficulty of getting together “the way we always did” has not meant that we have ceased to be a family.

For me, Saturday not only confirmed my impression that the Elim family is still just that, a family, but revealed a new hunger for the family to be together. In the last forty-eight hours I have heard the term “Elim family” used on more occasions than I have heard for a long, long time. And not just from leaders, but from a broad spectrum of people throughout the churches.

Perhaps, like the person who decides to research the family tree, we have discovered a new desire to interact with the wider family circle. It feels as though there is a new hunger for fellowship within the family of Elim Churches that extends beyond our own local churches.

Secondly, I was reminded of the power of making an unusual effort.

I hesitate to use the term sacrifice. When one considers the huge sacrifices that Christians in places like Syria are making for their faith, it puts into perspective anything we might be tempted to call a sacrifice. Nevertheless, many people made huge efforts to make ELIM100 Scotland a success. Too many to mention. Both volunteers on the day and churches who travelled for many hours to be there. Huge efforts were made by many people in many different ways to make the event possible.

Two comments are necessary. Firstly, the kinds of unusual efforts put into making the event on Saturday possible might not be sustainable on an ongoing basis. However, secondly, if we are more open to making unusual efforts more often, we might be more surprised by what God will do.

The third thing I learnt is that every occasion is a gospel opportunity.

It would have been very easy for our General Superintendent, John Glass, to conclude that his audience was made up of Christians and therefore ditch any evangelistic appeal. In the event, he still made an appeal and people responded. What he did not know, what most of us did not know, was that one person was there who had met some Christians from Glasgow Elim just a week before. They had invited him to the “birthday bash” at the SECC. He came along. When John made the appeal, he stood up to indicate his desire to follow Jesus.

You just never know who is in the audience. You never know when God will use a church family gathering to add a new member to His family. Every occasion is a gospel opportunity.

Those of us who were at the SECC on Saturday will, no doubt, remember that day for many years to come. Only in the life to come will we fully realise all that was accomplished as we gathered together to celebrate one hundred years of God’s faithfulness to Elim.

ELIM100 Scotland: Let’s believe for more than a good event

ELIMSECC

This Saturday Elim in Scotland will host an event celebrating one hundred years of God at work in and through the Elim Churches. As befits the occasion, we will be meeting in one of Scotland’s iconic conference venues.

The previous sentence could very easily feel like a blurb from a sales pitch for a never-to-be-repeated opportunity. In this case, even though there might well be a two hundredth anniversary, most of us won’t be around to see it – so it’s once in a life time for us!

As for the “iconic venue” bit, that is a cliché, but sometimes clichés express something that is true. We – the regional team under Kevin Peat’s leadership – set out to hire such a venue because we felt it would pay eloquent tribute to the faith of the pioneers, who were never afraid to hire the biggest and the best.

And we felt it made a statement about the future, expressing in a tangible way the faith and aspirations of Elim pastors and Elim people throughout the nation. And, of course, those aspirations extend beyond the borders of Scotland; we are delighted that people from Carlisle and Sunderland will be joining us.

The desire to take a step of faith and join together to believe God for a fresh moving of His Spirit amongst us is one that seems to resonate with leaders and congregations up and down the land.

So what are we hoping for? I am sure that everyone attending will bring their own hopes and expectations to the event.

Perhaps the best answer I can give is found in 2 Chronicles 30.

This chapter details an event that produced something that went above and beyond what was anticipated.

At a time of when Judah faced great pressure from the surrounding nations, King Hezekiah invited people from his own nation Judah and the northern nation of Israel, broken by invasion and exile, to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.

Hezekiah’s intention was no doubt simply to bring all of God’s people together for an important feast. It soon became evident, however, that not everyone was ready for the feast! Many lacked the necessary ritual purity.

We are told that Hezekiah prayed. Verse twenty records the Lord’s response:

And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.

In the end God honoured Hezekiah’s faith and the people’s response by doing something much greater than simply having a very blessed celebration. May it be so for Elim in Scotland and our friends from across the border on Saturday 17th October.

 

Changing someone’s world

I don’t suppose that most people who read my blog have ever been faced with the question of what they should do with the remaining members of a rival dynasty who might stake a claim to their recently acquired throne. It’s not exactly a pressing issue for most of us.

If we strip away the dynastic and regal overtones and think more in terms of how we should treat rivals or enemies, real or imagined, then the story of David and Mephibosheth becomes a little more relevant.

2 Samuel 9 relates how David treated Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul. He invited him to meet with him, restored the property that belonged to his grandfather and gave him a place at his table for the rest of his days. He did this, because he wanted to show kindness to anyone related to Saul (v.3).

Kindness is an incredibly important and powerful virtue. Important, because without it we would easily degenerate into something less than human. Powerful, because of its ability to transform relationships and individual lives.

David’s kindness towards Mephibosheth illustrates almost perfectly God’s kindness towards us through Jesus Christ. Romans 2.4 singles out God’s kindness as the attribute that leads us to repentance. Titus 3.4 roots salvation in the appearance of the kindness and love of God appearing in Christ. Divine kindness turned us from God’s enemies into God’s friends.

In Paul’s letters, we find that kindness is not only something we experience from an encounter with Jesus. It is something that, through the Spirit’s work in our lives, should find expression in our relationships with each other (Galatians 5.22; Ephesians 4.32; Colossians 3.12).

Kindness when found amongst God’s people is potentially life changing. One “fruit” of kindness is forgiveness (see Ephesians 4.32). That is life changing. Not every act of kindness will have such a life altering impact, but impact it will have. You might not change the world, but you can change someone’s world with kindness.

What is sometimes overlooked is that kindness benefits not only the recipient of the kindness, but also the person who is being kind.

The book of Proverbs highlights at least five benefits of being kind: receiving honour (11.16), benefiting yourself (11.17), cheering up anxious people (12.25), blessing (14.21), reward (19.17). Four of those blessings of kindness are for the kind person.

Little wonder that research has shown over and over again the social, psychological and physical benefits of kindness.

The Morgan Freeman character in Evan Almighty might have been overstating it when he said:

“Do you want to know how to change the world son? One act of random kindness at a time.” But come to think of it, it might not be much of an overstatement after all.

Why is love such a big deal?

Am I the only one, or do others sometimes think that when Jesus said we had to love one another as He loved us, He somehow chose just about the most difficult thing ever to define our faith?

Jesus explicitly commands His disciples to love one another five times. Add to that Paul’s and John’s epistles plus Jesus’ sayings about loving our neighbours and our enemies and you’ve got a whole lot of love. Perhaps more than we really want.

Jesus seems very concerned with this theme, especially as the shadow of the cross looms larger.

Why is love so important?

I’ll give you four reasons. They aren’t meant to be comprehensive. Nor, should I add does the Bible ever explicitly explain why love is so important. The following is offered as a deduction from what the Bible says about love.

Firstly, love has a cosmic dimension. I am tempted to say it is a cosmic force or power, but I might be labelled new age for using that kind of terminology.

What do I mean by the cosmic dimension of love?

1 John 4.12 says God is love.

When we express love we are touching something that is deep within the person of God. Clearly that brief statement about God’s person stated in 1 John 4 needs a lot of unpacking – more than I am able to offer – but it does indicate that love and loving connects us to something deep within God Himself.

Secondly, love has creative power.

I know, I’m leaving myself open to the charge of “new age” once again. But love does have creative power.

We have power. We have power to build people up or tear them down. To encourage or discourage. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 8.1 that love builds up whereas knowledge puffs up. Knowledge makes us look good. Love makes others stronger.

Thirdly, love has cohesive force

Colossians 3.14 says And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Jesus says in John 13.35 that a community of disciples who loved one another would impact the whole world. In John 17.20-21 Jesus prays for unity amongst His followers so that the world would believe.

Unity needs love. Love protects the unity we already have in Christ. Love has the power to bind the church together and to keep our own lives whole and wholesome.

Finally, love connects us to God and to each other.

In John 15 Jesus says that we remain in His love if we obey Him , specifically His command to love one another (John 15.10-12).

The kinds of qualities associated with love set out in 1 Corinthians 13 are further testimony of love’s connecting power.

Without love, we cut ourselves off from the life of God. And we cut ourselves off from other people. Little wonder Paul maintained that all of the most impressive spiritual attributes are pointless without love (1 Corinthians 13.1-4). Absolutely pointless. Perhaps that’s why love is so important.