Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Not In Vain...

I've not been my usual chipper self lately.

No, I haven't.

Scratch a little below the surface and you'll find a man who has somehow managed to get a little swallowed in weariness. You see, when things get a little bit quiet... it is very easy to become disheartened and think that maybe you've been cast aside... even spiritually speaking.

Sometimes... and I say this as much for the benefit of anyone reading this as myself, you have to weigh your feelings up against faith and fact... and what you already know of God through your relationship with him up to this point.

I'm not a super apostle. Every now and then my knees buckle like anyone else, however... I don't believe in holding this all inside. I feel it is important to record things like this... in order to help lift other people when they themselves become encumbered. I'm by no means the first person to think of this... the apostle Paul made a point of doing the same thing in his second letter to the Corinthians:

"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
2 Corinthians 12:7-10

There is no shame in sharing your weaknesses if it in turn encourages others. It's not about airing your dirty laundry, it's about loving one another and building each other up so that each one can get just that little bit nearer to God when they feel that their face is down in the mud.

I need to make a record here of Sunday's preaching. I believe there was something in there designed to strengthen my bones. Naturally, being Easter Sunday, the passage was connected to the Resurrection... we found ourselves jumping around 1 Corinthians 15 a fair bit. However, it was this verse that personally pricked my ears up:

"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, 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

And there my friends, we have it in a nutshell... I have been letting things move me... and downing tools because I feel I'm not up to the task ahead and why should God want me for it? He's probably written me off.

Self pitying fool.

I'm doing no better than the remnant who laid the foundations of the temple in Jerusalem and who at the first sign of things taking a turn for the worst,dropped the tools and went off to decorate their own homes first. God's calling me back to work on his temple, but shall I remain in the rubble of my own home?

While I write these words, iTunes has decided to play "The Healing" by James Newton Howard. Do you remember me talking about that a while back? It is from the film Lady in the Water. It is the point where one of the central characters - Cleveland Heap, is forced to confront the things that made him check out of his true calling in life. I can't help but think there's a deliberate irony there.

I'm plodding on though... I know what is right, I know the truth... I know God is good... but I've hit the valley floor here, as most of us do. Weary as I am, I endeavour to carry on bearing witness to my God... because it is true - our labour for the Lord is not in vain!

But I want to taste that Emmaus Spirit again... the precious moments of when God sets your heart on fire with the things he is saying. It is my hope and prayer that perhaps something written here will ignite you own spirits is some way.

Something else that was drawn out of the sermon on Sunday was that the second letter to the Corinthians was written sometime around 56-57 AD. It's a convincing blow to revisionists who claim that it was only later in the Church's history that the resurrection of Christ was held as a central belief and added to the Gospel theology. Yet here we have a passage of scripture written to an established church only a generation (20 odd years) away from the actual events recorded in the gospels:

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born."
1 Corinthians 14:3-8

Paul is underlining the resurrection of Christ as being of primary importance... but he didn't begin there. About five years prior to this he wrote these words to a church in Thessalonica:

"You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what happened when we visited you. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath."
1 Thessalonians 1:6-10

Around the same time or possibly even as early as 48AD, he also wrote these words to struggling churches in the region of Galatia:

"Paul, an apostle—sent not with a human commission nor by human authority, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Galatians 1:1-5

Now of course, there is so much more in both those books... but I merely highlighted those verses to underline the fact that as little as around 15 years from the events of the first Holy Week, there were people as far away as Asia Minor, who were adamant in their belief that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.

In this age, it is easy to remain unmoved by that statement. We live in an age where news travels ridiculously fast...an event being recorded on one side of the globe can be simultaneously broadcast to the rest of us, thanks to the technology of geosynchronous orbiting satellites.

The apostles had no such technology to hand. They had their voices, their bodies... pen and parchment... but most importantly they had the Spirit of God. Empire wide there were an estimated 1 million Christians by the time the century was complete. True, that was only 0.6 of the population of the then known world... but considering the means at their disposal and the distance from events, I think 1 million is a remarkable number... and now as we move the ever further from 1st century Christianity, we find that around 2.1 billion people lay claim to the same belief in the risen Lord(though whether they truly believe is a matter for themselves and God).

It is all the more amazing when you think that so many people were willing to lay their life down for this idea. I don't think was a case of blind religious fervour or frenzied false martyrdom brought on by a hypnotised bunch of cultists. I believe this response came from genuine conviction. You see it's not just about the fact that Jesus rose from the dead... it is more importantly about what his death and resurrection meant.
I quoted Galatians earlier and Paul goes on to say in a later chapter that:

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
Galatians 5:1

Freedom has always been among the highest ideals to die for. Whether it is freedom from slavery, freedom of speech, freedom of religious expression, or freedom to live out a life as seen fit by the individual... people have always seen the concept of freedom as the most precious commodity.

But for Christians, it isn't just about freedom in this life. It is about freedom in eternity. Freedom to live in the fullness of God's love... forever. That's what Christ's death is about - the defeat of death and the demise of sin's power over us.

And to that end the early Church did not labour in vain...

... and neither do we.

If you want to taste freedom call on Christ tonight.


  1. You're no fool mate. God's not finished with you either. Thinking of you

  2. God never lets go of us; I've had troubled periods when I've tried to discard God but He wasn't finished with me. Such is the prodigality of His love that, no matter how weak and unworthy we feel, we are made worthy to serve Him because of His love for us.Jesus didn't choose wart free people as His disciples!


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