Leading Towards 2020

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The mission statement of a church states the bottom-line purpose for which it exists. St Paul’s exists To know Jesus, treasure Jesus and represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people. Our mission shapes our present and our future. It informs our strategy, goals, values, ministry practice, leadership and governance. It informs what I and the staff do day by day, and even how the Parish Council functions. This is important to think about as we move into an AGM and Parish Council elections this month.

Over the past couple of years I have been working with Parish Council in thinking about how our corporate mission impacts the way we lead and are led at St Paul’s. The goal is to ensure attention to our corporate mission, clearly defined roles and responsibilities and accountability to strategies and goals. 

Historically, St Paul’s Parish Council has operated on the level of doing ministry at an operational level. Under this model, Parish Council are democratically elected representatives for a particular service or group within the church. As democratically elected ‘spokes-people’ they voice the needs and concerns of their ‘constituents’. The danger is that corporate mission can be lost to immediate concerns and agendas of individual groups.

The Parish Council is a legally obligatory governance body that comes as a consequence of membership with the Anglican Church of Australia. It is primarily a democratically elected group of members of the church. The role of Parish Council, however, is not clearly defined. There are some functions that are essential and cannot be altered. Interestingly, the majority of the roles of the Parish Council involve direction, compliance and consultation rather that direct decision making over issues of ministry and mission. Other aspects of their role are not so clear. This becomes increasingly complex for a church that is diverse and growing in membership. On the very practical level of governance here at St Paul’s we must be more concerned about developing effective strategies and structures than in perpetuating meetings, events, and traditions that do not contribute to us pursuing our corporate mission. 

Over the past couple of years the staff and Parish Council have been shifting towards a governance model that sees us working together on pursuing Vision 2020. Parish Council now oversees the resourcing of Vision 2020 through finance, property and policy. The role of Parish Council is to set the policies that I, as Senior Minister, and the staff operate within. They then hold me accountable to achieving those policies. 

This is a much bigger picture perspective than has traditionally existed within our Parish Council. It involves Parish Council separating from the intimate details of the management of the parish and focussing on resourcing the corporate mission and overall performance towards a set of corporate ministry goals. As the Senior Minister, I report each month on those corporate goals. 

Much more can and will be written about this change in governance for St Paul’s. Needless to say I am so grateful for the Parish Council we’ve had in recent years. They have been working very hard on resourcing Vision 2020 and thinking about long term strategic initiatives (eg. property development and ICS). Please pray with me for a Parish Council that is prayerful, wise and courageous in making decisions that keep us pursuing our corporate mission.

Seve Jeffrey

Senior Minister

Prayer Week 2014 - Saturday - Peter's advice for an effective prayer life

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7 NIV).

8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing...12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:8-9 & 12 NIV)

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7 NIV)

All three passages teach us not so much that praying helps us live right, but that living right helps us pray. That is not to say that praying doesn’t help us live righteously. Peter’s point in every one of these passages is that it's also true the other way around. The Bible reveals a way for us to live which will help us pray. There are ways to live that hinder prayers and there is a way to live that helps prayer.

Firstly, husbands, there is a way to live with our wives that can block our prayers and a way to live with our wives that will help our prayers. If we want our prayers to be helped and not hindered we have to live with our wife in a certain way. When we husbands live with understanding, tender care and honour, our prayers will not be hindered. If we do not live like this, our prayers will be hindered.

Second, Peter goes on in verses 8 and 9 to call all of us, not just husbands, to be sympathetic, and brotherly and kindhearted and humble, and not to return evil for evil but to bless those who are unkind to us. Then he gives a reason for why we should live like this in verse 12 (quoting Psalm 34) - prayers are hindered if you don't live this way. God listens to the prayers of those who keep the tongue from evil, refrain from deceit, seek peace, and do righteousness. 

Third, in 4:7 he says that there is a way to think and live that will hinder your prayers and there is a way to think and live that will help your prayers.

In each of these texts Peter is telling us to resolve to do something so that our prayers will not be hindered. In other words an authentic life of prayer is not automatic. Your prayer life in 2014 depends in part—under God and his enabling grace—on how you live at home and at work and in your private life.

It might be good to start your next prayer time asking God what the blockages are for you, then confessing them when the answers come.

Looking to remove blockages, 

Steve Jeffrey

Prayer Week 2014 - Friday - What about unanswered prayer?

Friday, February 07, 2014

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”

6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8 NIV)

I thought we should revisit yesterday’s text again. It is one thing to say we should pray and not give up, it is a lot harder to consistently pray when it seems like those prayers are being unanswered. Months and years of apparently no answer to our prayers tends to ‘knock the stuffing out’ of our confidence that prayer actually works. We know we ought to pray both individually and as a church and so we organise opportunities to do so. Our primary motivation in meeting for prayer becomes tradition and that it is a spiritual thing to do, but we have no real objective. I suspect this is why prayer meetings are attended by only a few. Many of us are either unsure how to pray effectively, or unconvinced that prayer is effective. 

Let me encourage you in your prayer life by quoting from JI Packer:

We need not be discouraged by the problem of supposedly unanswered prayer. I say 

‘supposedly’ because I challenge the supposition. While God has not bound himself to hear unbelievers’ prayers, his promise to answer the prayers of his children are categorical and inclusive. It must then be wrong to think that a flat no is ever the whole of his response to reverent petitions from Christians who seek his glory and others’ welfare. The truth must be this: God always acts positively when a believer lays a situation of need before him, but he does not always act in the way or at the speed asked for. In meeting the need he does what he knows best when he knows it is best to do it. 

The parable of the unjust judge shows that God’s word to his elect concerning the vindication for which they plead is “wait” (Luke 18:1-8), and he may say “wait” to other petitions as well. Christ’s word to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” when Paul had sought healing for his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor.12:7-9), meant no, but not simply no. Thought is was not what Paul had expected, it was a promise of something better than the healing he had sought. We, too, may ask God to change situations and find that what he does instead is to give us strength to bear them unchanged. But this is not a simple no; it is a very positive answer to our prayer. 

(Knowing Christianity, p.130-131)

Does this help you see any answers to prayer?

Lord, help us to keep praying, 

Steve Jeffrey

Prayer Week 2014 - Thursday - Pray and don't give up

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”

6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8 NIV).

I don’t agree with Homer Simpson’s ‘wise’ counsel to his son Bart “if something is too hard it can’t be worth doing”, but I have practiced it on occasion. As a teenager I wanted to learn the guitar, so I bought one. I also bought a book on how to play it and started to teach myself. After a couple of months I gave up.

This is the third time this week we are confronted with a passage that calls us to prevail, persevere, and not give up in prayer. Jesus tells this parable to his disciples, verse 1, that they should always pray and not give up. This parable is preceded by a section on the return of Christ and ends with a question in v.8 However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? I take it therefore that this parable is an encouragement to pray continually until Jesus returns. When Jesus says in verse 8 However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? he is asking whether he will find disciples who have faithfully hung in there (expressed in a faithful praying life), or will they have just given up. 

The picture of badgering God in prayer until I get answer isn’t a very attractive image. It seems to fly in the face of a loving Father who cares for his children. Yet again, though, this is the picture of prayer. But again, we also get a clear picture of God’s commitment to us in v.7: And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. We can’t see it, but God has everything worked out. He is in control, he cares, he is able to act, and he will act. 

Yesterday I wrote that joy and prayerfulness go together, today I want to add that ongoing faith in the promises of God, and a life of prayer, go together. If we lose heart and drift from prayer then our faith won’t last. One of the divinely appointed means of stoking the fire of faith in our lives is prayer. 

Come Lord Jesus,  

Steve Jeffrey

Prayer week 2014 - Wednesday - Pray without ceasing

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV).

What I discover when I turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is that as I grow in prayer I will grow in joy. Notice the structure of the text. We begin in v16 with Be joyful always and end in v18 with give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Essentially they are saying the same thing - be joyful in all circumstances.

Paul is not being flippant here. As we know Paul suffered horribly and continually for the cause of Christ. What God taught him was that suffering and deep joy are not mutually exclusive. Paul didn't experience joy because he had a personality bent in that direction. Joy is a resource that belongs to God. It is part of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Paul had learnt that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). It is not easy to see the good side of a hard time, but if we trust that God is over all, and that he is good, then there is an avenue for joy. 

It isn't surprising then to find this command in the middle of the text - pray continually. There is a link here between joy in all circumstances and prayer. 

So how do we pray continually? It is obviously not possible to spend all of our time with prayer on our lips. I suspect however that it is possible to spend  all our days in a spirit of prayerfulness. What I mean is, spending our days realising our dependency upon God for all we are and have, being conscious of his presence in all circumstances, and submitting ourselves to his will continually. Naturally, such a state will overflow into verbal prayers quite naturally. 

The great John Newton used to meet regularly with some colleagues over lunch at an Inn. Each time they would wrestle over a portion of Scripture. One meeting they were discussing what it meant to pray continually. They discussed it for sometime without any great conclusion so they asked the waitress what she thought. Knowing the company she was in she reservedly gave an answer. It was something like this: Well sirs, I don't really know. All I can say is that when I serve you your drinks I thank Jesus for living water. When I serve you your meals I thank Jesus for being bread of life. When I wipe down your table I am reminded that my sins are wiped clean by the blood of Jesus...and on she went describing everyday events with a state of prayerfulness. 

Turning everyday activities and events into opportunities for prayer will surely turn me away from grumbling to joy and thanksgiving. Pray that I would pray continually.

Steve Jeffrey

Prayer Week 2014 - Tuesday -Daniel's defiant prayer

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

1 It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”

6 So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: “O King Darius, live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered—in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing.

 10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:1-10 NIV).

Daniel is clearly an inspiration of faithfulness to God. It is clear that he treasured his relationship with God more than his position in Babylon, more than his relationship with the king or his peers, even more than his life. He was boldly, publicly, defiantly, a servant of the  living God.

His boldness to live in obedience to and fellowship with God is expressed in his prayer life in Daniel 6. Firstly, notice the discipline of his prayer life: Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Prayer was clearly a regular part of his life. Daniel’s life of prayer was so well known and so established as part of his character that his enemies knew that this was one place they could count on him not giving up on. They were exactly right. Inspirational!

The second thing to notice about Daniel and his prayer life just takes your breath away: Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Daniel makes prayer a matter of life and death! He could have prayed privately. He could have taken a month off. Instead, he’d rather die than not pray. Inspirational!

I want to leave you with two things to reflect on very briefly - they are both connected. 

1.Have a daily set time of private prayer where you work to pray through a number of specific issues throughout the course of a week. 

2.Seek to make prayer a spontaneous, and public, activity of your day. Be bold in prayer. Throughout any given day we are struck with a number of people with a number of issues. Certainly take the time to listen and discuss but take the extra step of committing it to prayer with them. Take your prayers public. 

It is naturally easier with Christians (although we rarely do it). You might also be surprised at how open a non-believer will be to prayer. You might say something like: I’m a Christian and I believe that God is in control of everything. I also believe that he is good. I would like to talk to him about what we have talked about. Are you happy for me to do that, and can I do it right now with you? It might be a tough thing to do but they are unlikely to feed you to the lions.

Seeking to be a Daniel,

Steve Jeffrey

Prayer Week 2014 - Monday - Devotion to Prayer

Monday, February 03, 2014

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

As I said yesterday we have prayer week at the beginning of the ministry year to make a statement as a church. It’s a statement to God, to the world, and to our own consciences, that we exist as a church to do things that we cannot do without the supernatural grace of God. Everything good, and worthwhile, and eternal, and God glorifying that we want to do as a church, we can’t do without the supernatural grace of God. Prayer week proclaims: St Paul’s exists mainly to do the humanly impossible. 

Our stated objective to grow to be a healthy church with 150 core members and 500 attending by the end of this year is one thing that is humanly impossible. The intention and vision behind our objective is to see people know and treasure the Lord Jesus Christ for the first time through the people and ministry of St Paul’s. We have a fair way to go. But our Lord has not called us to an impossible mission, he has called us to a demanding mission.

If I understand Colossians 4:2-4 correctly then the human key that might unlock the blessing of God's power and grace in our mission to Chatswood is prayer. There are two main points to notice in this passage:1. WHAT Paul asks the church to pray for, and 2. HOW he asks them to pray.

Firstly, WHAT he asks prayer for in verse 3, pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ...

Each time the 'open door' is used in the New Testament it seems to be a remarkable set of circumstances that would have been very effective for the gospel. Circumstances and attitudes and receptivity for the gospel change so that instead of hitting a brick wall, the gospel finds an open door and becomes unusually effective. 

The first thing we should pray for this year is that God would work in all the circumstances surrounding our people and ministry, including the hearts of everyone who hears the gospel, to open a wide and effective door for the gospel.

The second thing to pray for is the clarity of the message and boldness of the messenger. Verses 3–4 again, pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Paul exhorts the Colossians to persevere in prayer, and follows it immediately with a request for them to pray for himself and his co-workers. He doesn’t pray for personal benefit, he prays for the effectiveness of the message going out. This is a prayer for the preacher, the evangelist, the community group leader, the music director, and everyone Christian who has the Word of God on their lips.

Those are Paul’s two prayer requests—

1. for a door be opened in the lives of unbelievers, and

2. for a clear and powerful gospel message go through that door.

It is with a real sense of urgency that I call us all to devote ourselves to these two prayers in 2014. 

This brings me them to HOW Paul asks the church to pray. Paul mentions three things in verse 2: Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

The call of God’s word here to devote yourselves to prayer should not come as a surprise to us given what Paul requests prayer for in vv3-4. If prayer is so great and central to unlocking God's purpose for the universe and for your life, it is not surprising that God would command us to devote ourselves to prayer.

It means to pray often and pray regularly. Prayer is not infrequent and prayer is not hit and miss. Being "devoted to" prayer means that you are not haphazard and you are not forgetful. It means you take steps to see that it is part of your regular life, the same way eating and sleeping are.

I think this is also implied in the word watchful to describe the sort of prayer life we are called to have. Watchfulness is often used in reference to the second coming of Christ and the final judgement and end of all things. This vision of the future - God’s plan and purposes coming to their final end in Christ - is to govern not just the content of our prayer life but our devotion to it. God is working out his purposes and he will bring it all to completion so don’t go to sleep at the wheel, direct your mind to Christ and his coming and the fulfilment of all our hope and joy. 

Be vigilant my friends, like a sentry on duty outside the camp at night knowing that if you go to sleep in this job, the enemy can overthrow your mission. This is the tempo of prayer that is often missing when the church has settled into the world and is just using prayer as a domestic intercom instead of a battlefield walkie-talkie. Paul urges the church to be devoted to prayer because of how tremendously serious the battle is. Heaven and hell hang in the balance for many people this year. So be watchful, awake, vigilant and pray! Pray the way you would if you knew that two of your unbelieving friends would hear the gospel for the last time next Sunday.

Finally, Paul calls us to pray with thanksgiving. When we pray for the salvation of others, isn't the fervency of our prayer a mirror of how thankful we are for our own salvation? I suspect that as we grow in thankfulness for our own rescue we will pray with new zeal for others. 

Will you join me in this Prayer Week in being devoted to praying that a door would be opened for the gospel among many precious unbelievers, and that we would proclaim the gospel with clarity and power? 

Will you also join with me in pray 1+1+1 throughout the year? 1+1+1 is a commitment to pray for one person, for one minute, once a day. By God’s grace praying 1+1+1 may equal one more person treasuring Jesus. 

Brothers and sisters, pray for a door to be opened to the gospel as we labour to make it known with clarity and boldness in our mission field her in Chatswood in 2014.

Praying for a new devotion to prayer,

Steve Jeffrey

It's time to reassess commitment again

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Today we begin our annual commitment series. This series is an opportunity to reflect on where we are individually in our commitment to the corporate mission, core values and ministry vision of St Paul’s. 

We've been called the STABO generation. It stands for Subject To A Better Offer. Once upon a time invitations to an event were sent and you'd ask people to RSVP (which is French for let us know if you're coming). Apparently hardly anyone ever does this nowadays. We're STABO people! 

So why have you turned up to a church service today? I wonder why you're not at the gym, or walking the dog? I wonder why you’re not visiting friends and family, or cutting the grass, or taking the kids to sport, or doing some retail therapy? Is being here at church right now the best thing you could have done this morning? If there was something better to do, or something more pressing, would you have given church a second thought? Be honest, after all, it's only church...isn’t it?

I wonder if you're comfortable with the way those words run together - only church. Is meeting as a church family only an afterthought? Does it fit in around everything else that's on? If you're comfortable with the words "it's only church," (or even if you’re not), I want to invite you to take a look at what God thinks of his Church from Ephesians 3:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. (3:10).

Manifold literally means many coloured. The church is God's brightly coloured neon sign to the universe. The church is the universal advertisement of the wisdom of God. Imagine that! Imagine that even the angels look down upon St Paul’s and marvel at God’s eternal purposes as they see it being worked out in us! Do you have that kind of purpose as you gather on Sundays? To think that we’re here to demonstrate to this world - and the angels in the heavenly realms - the wonders of God’s eternal plan being worked out in Christ. Mmm, only church doesn’t seem to grasp it. 

Often we take a STABO approach to the gathering of God's people, and we miss the point that gathering together as his church is God's beacon of his glory in the universe. This is still the case even if your experience of church might be disappointment, something slightly boring, or relationships that have been less than what they could be. Gathering for church is more important than the weekend get away, going out for brunch, sleeping in, watching TV, Sunday sport, retail therapy, visiting family, or work.  

In reassessing our commitment to the church I am encouraging us all to pursue Core membership at St Paul’s. I am convinced that Core Membership is essential for us as a church. We have a statement that defines our very reason for existence as a church. Our Mission statement says that St Paul’s exists To know Jesus, treasure Jesus and represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people. Our corporate Core Values define & shape how we will live it out & pursue it. Core Values are essential because they shape the culture, flavour and ministry practice of our church. Core Membership is simply a way to express what living out our Core Values might look like in the life of an individual member of our church family. There are 5 aspects of Core Membership at St Paul’s (please see the Vision 2020 booklet for a fuller explanation):

Living a life of personal devotion

Living a life in community

Living a life of servant heartedness

Living a life of local and global impact

Living a life of generosity

In encouraging us all to reassess our commitment in light of Core Membership I would like to draw our attention to being driven by works rather than grace-fuelled faith.  

The word “legalism” does not occur in the Bible, but legalism is a certain attitude toward God’s law, commandments and rules. Romans 9:31-32 is a good example of legalism: but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. Legalism is when faith is not the engine of obedience.

Legalism is not simply the pursuit of the law. It is pursuing the law in the wrong way—with some other engine than faith. Legalism is the pursuit of the law with some other engine than faith, on some other steam than the Spirit. 

What is the engine of legalism? Paul calls it “works” (Romans 9:32). “Works” is the opposite of “faith”. Legalism is not whether you strive to obey the commands of God, but which engine you run on. The power of legalism comes from ourselves. 

The power of the “obedience of faith” does not come from ourselves but from God (the Spirit). The aim of the obedience of faith is to receive everything from God as a free gift of grace.             1 Corinthians 15:10 is a key verse for me in understanding this: by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 

Discipline is not legalism. Hard work is not legalism. Acting against sinful flesh is not legalism. They may be, but they may also be the torque of the engine of faith running on the power of the Spirit to the glory of the grace of God in a self-centred & undisciplined world.

If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 

(1 Peter 4:11)

Calling us to pursue Core Membership in the strength that God supplies,  Steve Jeffrey 

Time to Build a Life of Hope

Sunday, August 18, 2013

In his book Holiness J.C. Ryle writes these words:

All things are growing older: the world is growing old; we ourselves are growing older. A few more summers, a few more winters, a few more sicknesses, a few more sorrows, a few more weddings, and a few more partings, and then—what? Why the grass will be growing over our graves!

Sometimes this is great comfort and sometimes it is a great threat. It depends on whether we are overwhelmed with the burdens of life or invigorated with the challenges of life.

It is not unusual to oscillate between two errors: resignation and triumphalism. It is possible for us to have experienced both just as we’ve gone through Nehemiah.

Resignation has a truth in it. The shortness of life, the obscurity of our labours, the smallness of our influence, the weakness of our powers, the shortfall of our efforts, the disappointments of unfulfilled dreams, the relentless downward spiral of our culture. These things can make us melancholic longing for heaven and for the end of our spiritual warfare. It is easy to fall into resignation and lose energy for the work at hand.

Triumphalism also has a truth in it. Some good success of our labour, or a timely encouragement from a respected person, or the birth of a righteous movement somewhere in the world, or the vindication of a famous Christian leader, or a doctor’s clean bill of health, or a bright spring morning, or a new friendship. These things can so fill us with a sense of life’s possibilities and challenges and energy that we fall into a triumphalistic forgetfulness that we are dust, that our perspective is profoundly limited, our importance in the world is relatively minute, our time is short, and the church and the mission and the kingdom are able under God to survive when we are gone and forgotten.

Neither resignation nor triumphalism is a safe place to live and minister. My prayer for us as a people is that in this season of building God will reveal to each of us where we are in this oscillation, and that he would move us to the place where we believe with all our hearts two complementary biblical truths:

Truth #1: Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that. (James 4:14-15)

Truth #2: Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Seeking to live in the middle,

Steve Jeffrey

Time to Build Contentment

Monday, August 12, 2013

Will the people of God return to covenant obedience? It’s one of the big questions of Nehemiah. They have spent 70 years as slaves in exile because of disobedience. Have they learnt their lesson? Surely they have now tasted that a life of obedience to Yahweh is supremely better than a life of disobedience! Obedience and faithfulness means a life of blessing, disobedience means slavery. Pretty clear choice. 

Of course, it seems that it isn’t a clear choice. As we saw in Nehemiah 5, the nobles of Judah were driven by greed and were exploiting their brothers. They were again turning their back on Yahweh. Nehemiah calls them to repent, restore and return to covenant obedience. It is quite possible that some of these leaders are included in the list of those who gave generously to the rebuilding project in Nehemiah 7:70-72. Repentance is not passive.

Core values shape who we are, what we want to be and how we do things. One of our core values at St Paul’s is Radical Generosity. It says: Our gifts, possessions, finances and time belong to God, we will therefore, use them for his glory and not our comfort. We desire to be like the Macedonians (2 Cor 8:1-2) whose joy in Christ through extremely difficult circumstances resulted in rich generosity towards others. We believe that in a world that loves money, a lifestyle of radical generosity proclaims that Jesus is our greatest treasure. 

Sam Low was sent an article last week in response to one of his Time to Build devotions (thank you Ann Newman). I grabbed it, read it, and decided to share some of it with you. It is by John Stott, and so relevant for us now:

In 1 Timothy 6:18 Paul calls us to generosity. The rich are to become richer by adding one kind of riches to another. They are to imitate God who richly gives, and if God is a rich giver, His people must be rich givers too.

In verses 6-10 of the same chapter Paul says there is great gain in godliness with contentment. If we have food and clothing, we should be content, but those who desire to be rich and covetous, fall into a snare. Senseless and hurtful desires plunge men into ruin and destruction for the love of money is the root of all evil. In those verses, contentment and covetousness are contrasted. Covetousness is a self-destructive craving that is never satisfied. Covetousness is idolatry, it seduces the heart from God and imprisons it in the love of money.  Covetousness brings much pain and many sorrows, but contentment is the secret of inward peace. The watchword of contentment is not nothing, but enough. If we have food and clothing and the other necessities of life, then that is sufficient. Christian contentment is coupled with godliness.

Should we become poor in the indigent sense? The answer is no, for though Jesus still calls some to that total voluntary poverty, yet it does not appear from the New Testament that it is his call to everybody. Should we stay rich? No, that is not the option either for there are many spiritual dangers besetting the wealthy and their generosity, if they become generous as they should, it is bound to modify their wealth. Instead, we are to cultivate generosity on the one hand and simplicity with contentment on the other.

The principle of simplicity is really very clear to grasp. Simplicity is the first cousin of contentment. Its motto is we’ve bought nothing into this world, and we shall carry nothing out.  Simplicity concentrates on what we need and measures that not by what we want, but what we use. Simplicity rejoices in the good things of our good Creator, but it hates waste and greed and clutter.

The principle of generosity is also absolutely clear. John illustrates it in his first letter when he says that if you have the world’s goods and you see a brother in need, then you must do the necessary arithmetic of love. If you don’t apply what you have to what you see, then you can’t claim the love of Jesus within you.

Our God is a generous God and His people must be generous too, and if His love indwells and possesses us, our eyes will be opened to see need, our hearts will be open to care, and our hands will be open to give and to serve and to relieve the need we see.

Our world loves money. Greed is rampant. The only way we will ever be content and generous is if we see that what we have in the Lord Jesus is so much more valuable. 

Seeking the Kingdom with you,

Steve Jeffrey