Tag Archives: growth of the body

This is how the Bible says the Boy of Christ grows: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4: 11-16)

How often I have longed to gather you under my wings…

I took these pictures of Juvenile starlings clamouring over a feed tray at the weekend. When I showed them to a Christian friend at work today, he immediately looked at the first one and quoted Jesus saying: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather you under my wings, yet you would not…” I realised in that moment that there were other pictures in the collection that could also have parallels for some of us today.

If you have ever seen and marvelled at the wonderful synchronisation and unity in a murmuration of mature starlings, you will know how different that sight is from the squabbling rabble of juveniles in these photographs. Sometimes we must seem like these young birds, thinking only of ourselves and our own agendas, with no vision for what we are to become. But one day Jesus will gather His church under His wings, and we will all be one; and on that day we will be like the murmuration in the last picture, swooping and soaring as one in the freedom and the purposes of the Spirit.

Wherever we are as believers today, let us take heart in the fact that our Lord is not going to leave us there: He has a vision for His church, and it will be accomplished in all who will seek His presence and hold onto His word. I offer this series of images in the hope that they will inspire some of us to take another step forward in our journey towards full maturity and unity in the Spirit, when, no longer children, we will “all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;” (Eph 4:13).

Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often I wanted to gather your children together,
like a hen gathers her own brood under her wings, and you refused
!
(Luke 13:34)
“Do not be like your fathers, to whom
the former prophets preached, saying,
‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “
Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.
But they did not hear nor heed Me,” says the LORD!

(Zech 1:4)
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart
of unbelief in departing from the living God;
(Heb 3:12)
“Blessed rather are those who hear
the word of God and obey it.”
(Luke 11:28)
He who supplies the Spirit to you and works
miracles among you, does He do it by the works
of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
(Gal 3:5)
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted,
forgiving one another, even as
God in Christ forgave you.
” (Eph 4:32)
“Not giving back evil for evil, or reviling for reviling,
but on the contrary, blessing, having known that you were
called to this, that you may inherit a blessing; “
(1 Peter 3:9)
“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:” (John 17:22)

Pressing the Reset Button

 “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and all the flock, among which the holy spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the Church of God which He purchased with his blood.” (Acts 20 verses 27-28)

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4: 11-16)

“God is pressing the reset button.” We’ve all heard it in the wider context of the impact of Covid on the world, but it is also a strong theme in many prophetic messages that the Holy Spirit is bringing to the church in the UK, the USA, and elsewhere in the world. A recurring message that is coming through many people in various ways is that God is going to change the model of leadership in the church. There is a great harvest to bring in, and at the moment many of His people are not being equipped for the harvest field in the way that He originally intended. Although none of us, in our earthly life, can be perfect like Jesus, scripture repeatedly encourages us to become “complete” (see 2 Cor 13: 9; 2 Cor 13:11;  Col 4:12; Phil 1:6; 2 Tim 3:17). So how do we grow into “the perfect man,” and what does the Holy Spirit want us to understand by this? I think some of the answer can be found in how the flock is shepherded.

To Shepherd is not to pastor. If this is a surprise, consider this: Jesus is the good Shepherd, and He gave us what He knows we need to carry on His work, which is surely the package of gifts listed  in Ephesians 4:11 quoted above: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” If this is true, it must the responsibility of eldership to shepherd the flock using the gifts of shepherding that are provided. Arguably two of these gifts, pastor and teacher, can be seen as one ministry, but whether pastor and teacher are one minister or two, the principal of plurality remains the same.

In a prophetic word given to my own fellowship but with a general application, the church was likened to a four-wheel-drive vehicle. It has just been driving on the roads, but while the road has been closed by lockdown God has been getting our attention and telling us that we are an off-road vehicle designed for the mountain, not for the main road at all. In a four-wheel-drive vehicle, each wheel is driven independently, which is what gives it its grip on an off-road surface. Four wheels: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor/teacher.

Because Jesus has commanded us to love one another he has created a model of leadership that combines independence with interdependence. According to scripture it is the different parts of the body working together that cause the body to grow in love. The word translated as “effective working” is the Greek energia. In it we recognise the word energy. But what is important is that in the new Testament the word energia is only used of superhuman power, whether of God or of the devil. It does not refer to human ability or effort. We mature in Christ through the supernatural operation of all the ministries that Jesus gave to the body as each part “does its share” of His work. The stated purpose of the Ephesians 4 ministries is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying (ie building up) of the body of Christ.” As the different  ministries “do their share“ of the work of the Good Shepherd the body of Christ grows in love and unity, and, instead of being children, we grow up “in all things into him who is the head.” Working together, the four wheels take the vehicle up the mountain.

As a rule this is not what we see in many churches today. Although it is not true in every case, church leadership has often rested on the shoulders of a salaried minister who has been to Bible college and is therefore “qualified” to lead. But the purpose of a Bible school is to teach. The ministry gift in operation is primarily that of the teacher. The product of the Bible school will tend to carry the anointing that produced him or her – the anointing of the pastor/teacher. Therefore many churches are led by a pastor/teacher, who received at Bible School an implicit message that it is the pastor/teacher who leads church, and who therefore appoints more pastor/teachers to share the work of leadership as the church grows (if indeed it does grow.) Of course there are many other reasons – going back centuries, even millennia – why the teacher has been put on  leadership pedestal that Jesus never intended (“Do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.” – Matt 23:10), but the fact remains that the pastor-teacher is just one of four wheels. If only one wheel is driving the vehicle it will probably cope, for a while, on a smooth road; and many churches today have done just that. But they won’t travel very far up the mountain.

Discipleship is supernatural.

The mission of the Church is to go and make disciples. The goal of the disciple is to become like the master, and the more clearly the image of the master is replicated in the disciple, the better equipped is that disciple to carry on with the process and disciple others. If it had been left to the ability of the human brain to interpret the original teachings and copy the examples of Christ and the first apostles,  today’s disciples would be poor matchstick figures by comparison to the original master. But Jesus thought of that, so He told the disciples that “the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (John 16:15). Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but by the power of the Holy Spirit His reality can be fresh in the heart of every believer in every generation. Without the power of the Spirit illuminating us, we only have our own understanding to lean on – which Proverbs 3:5 instructs us expressly not to do. So the work of making disciples has to be done supernaturally, through that energia – “the effective working by which every part does its share” – which flows  as a life-force through the body when it is operating in the fulness of the Holy Spirit.

To build and equip the “perfect man” who will make effective disciples all the ministries are needed. As each part does its share the believer is equipped in different aspects of the effective Christian life. Through the evangelist, the believer is equipped to preach the gospel. Not all are evangelists, be we are all called to share our faith. Through the prophet, he is equipped to hear God and speak His words. “All can prophesy,” but many need training and encouragement. The pastor heart brings an emphasis on growing loving relationships, in tandem with the teacher who brings clarity on doctrine and the written word of God. All of these are essential for Christian growth. The apostle – the “sent one” – imparts faith and carries an anointing to build, and nurtures the leadership skills of those who have the gifting to be church planters themselves. Although most of us aren’t called to plant churches (or are we??), we are all involved in building the Church of Jesus. Of course there is only one Lord, and one Spirit, in whom all of these streams flow together, and whose thoughts are not our thoughts anyway; and this is very much a thumbnail sketch of a far more complex picture. However the message remains that five different leadership anointings, carried by four or five different ministers, are referred to in Ephesians four, and each of them is necessary to edify and equip the “perfect man.” The ultimate goal of the “work of ministry” is that we go out and make more disciples. The qualification for the work is not a Bible College degree, but the measure to which the Christian ”graduate” has received from all of the fivefold ministries and  is able, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to build, prophesy, preach the gospel, care for others, and know the Word of God. All of this is achieved through the power of the Holy Spirit, not through leaning on human understanding.

Those of us who have children long for them to become all that they can be and fulfil all the potential that we see in them. We want to see them use their abilities and achieve their dreams. How much more does our heavenly Father want the same for His children? The Good Shepherd longs for all of His lambs to grow and multiply, and has put in place the “parenting” system by whichwe should no longer be children” but instead “grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—” . As we mature in the spirit and come into all that God has put into us, His glory will be reflected in the Earth in as many ways as there are individuals in the church. Surely this is part of  “the manifold wisdom of God” that He intends “might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” (Eph 3:10)  However at the moment there are many churches that are full of overgrown lambs who just expect to be fed and kept safe in the sheepfold, and who reflect very little of God’s glory. They have not grown up in all things, and since they are not mature they are not multiplying, because the flock is not being shepherded according to the shepherding plan that we have been given.

If God is pressing the reset button I think this is what He is working on now. And now that we are starting to move again, are we going to carry on along the road as we were, or will we turn off and head up the mountain that we were meant for?

The Cygnet and the Broken Egg (A prophesy)

I was talking recently to someone who has been prominent in leading worship since the early days of charismatic renewal. He was telling me about a time when he watched a cygnet breaking out of and egg. I felt at the time that the Lord was saying “this is prophetic.” The next day I found myself reading the account of Josiah’s temple reforms in 2 Chronicles 34-35.  I believe the Holy Spirit has given me the following, that connects the two.

The Cygnet has broken out of the eggshell. At the moment she is small and vulnerable, but she will grow, for this is the beginning, the birth, of the one that will become the White Swan, the spotless bride of Christ. As the world systems are breaking she Is emerging from all that has kept her concealed: secularism, tradition, and religion. But now the egg has broken and its supply is exhausted, and she will feed on the Lord: Jehovah Jireh will be her source. She is not yet recognisable as the one that she will become, but as she grows she will take on more and more of the characteristics of the beautiful White Swan.

It is the sound of worship that has broken her shell, and it is the sound of worship that is the atmosphere in which she will grow and mature. As King Josiah restored the true temple worship in his day, so the Lord is restoring true worship in His temple now, free of all that has contained it. And as Josiah’s restoration of true worship was followed by the greatest Passover that had ever been known in Jerusalem in all the days of the kings, so the greatest Passover ever known among men will follow this time of restoration as the young Swan emerges. For it will be a true Passover: while those in the temple rejoice and celebrate under the covering of the blood of the lamb, those outside will know only the devastation of the broken shell left by the collapse of world systems. They will run around, picking up pieces of broken eggshell, saying “Is this what we cling to? Or is that piece over there what we cling to?“ while those in the temple celebrate in the presence of the One that they cling to, Jesus, the rock that is higher than them all. And just as the priests in the time of Josiah took their places at the altar where they were busy until night, meeting the needs of the many people bringing their sacrifice; so it is time for the priests of the Lord today to take up their positions, ready for the many that will come to the temple from miles around.

And so the Cygnet will grow in the house of worship until the white swan, the bride, is revealed.

“So the service was prepared, and the priests stood in their places, and the Levites in their divisions, according to the king’s command.”  (2 Chron 35:10)

Sweep the Floor (2)

We have a large paved patio which I look out on when I am having my prayer time. I was thinking again about sweeping the floor to prepare for the Lord to come and fill it with his presence (see earlier post: “Sweep the Floor“); and then I was in the spirit, trying to sweep the patio outside. But there were lots of little bits of straw lying around: I was trying to sweep them up but they got caught in the cracks between the paving stones and got stuck on the bristles of the broom. No matter how hard I tried I could not sweep the bits of straw out from between the paving stones. Then the Lord said to me: “You will never sweep the straw out from between the stones. You need a complete new surface.“ And He reminded me of the floor around the throne that Ezekiel and John saw, like a sea of glass. He said: “You need a floor like this, where every single strand of straw stands out, where you hate to see it, and where you can sweep it away immediately and with ease. It’s the floor that I laid down for you by my blood. It’s the floor of grace and forgiveness. There is no other foundation.

But where there is division in my church rubbish will always gather, and your broom cannot sweep it away no matter how hard you try. In many places the floor of my church is like that patio, with lots of individual paving stones, marked by division and unforgiveness where the rubbish gathers. But my mixer lorry is ready. It is just outside, with the engine running, waiting to pour out a new floor of grace and forgiveness in your lives and in your churches that will shine with the beauty of holiness. You will not even need a broom to keep it clean: if you see any little bits of rubbish you will just bend down to pick them up, because you will say “that doesn’t belong here!” You will love one another and prefer one another, and then you will see me in your midst and the world will see my glory, because you will be gathered in my name.

Soldiers in Training: Resistance Esercises

I’m feeling that God wants to remind us this morning that we are soldiers on a training program. There is a war going on, between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. Of course we all know that Christ has already won it, at the cross, but that doesn’t make the battles any less intense now. Where we usually experience this war the most keenly in our own lives is quite simply in the war between the flesh and the spirit. The Bible tells us that the two are in conflict with each other: “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Gal 5 17 NIV) I think God is going to increasingly give us opportunities to hear and obey his word in personal areas now, so that we can grow as overcomers in the spirit in order to be fit for greater battles that may lie ahead. We cannot grow without exercise.

Above is the word that I had for the church this morning (25th Oct 2020). Some reflections follow.

A common form of exercise is weight training. Weight training is just one form of resistance training, which refers to any form of exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external source of resistance, causing an increase in strength, power, endurance etc. The apostle James gives us an exercise in resistance training. He says “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) Paul writes: “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” So when the devil – or one of his legions, that is – comes and dangles a temptation in from of our flesh, we need to remember that God has allowed it because he wants our spirits to grow in strength and endurance. Temptation is an exercise in resistance training; spiritual weight-lifting.

However the body of Christ isn’t built up to look good in front of a mirror, but to carry on the work of the Kingdom of God in the hostile environment of a fallen world. On an occasion when Jeremiah was telling God how difficult his life was, the Lord said to him: “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5) The answer to the question God put to Jeremiah is that we do it through training and practice. Small steps lead to bigger ones; small weights to bigger ones. The Christian life is not static. One step on the water today before Jesus has to pull us out; but two tomorrow. And the beauty of it is this: when we do “compete with horses” we are ready for them, and it’s no more of a struggle than “racing against men on foot.”

Paul alluded sometimes to the many trials he faced as  he continued to “press (a resistance word!) on towards the goal for the prize of of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) By the time he wrote to the Ephesians Paul had done a lot of pressing. His heartfelt prayer for them, and through the words given to him by the Holy Spirit a prayer of Jesus for us as He intercedes before the Father, is “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3: 16-19)

The Ephesians 3 prayer lists three wonderful consequences of being “strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” – they all start with the word “that.” Do we want to be “filled with all the fullness of God?” Part of God’s plan for us is that we do our resistance exercises.