When we get together at Renew we're not just doing it for ourselves. Each blog post is our attempt to share what we're learning with those who missed the chance to learn with us. We hope it's helpful.
Malcolm Lithgow • November 18, 2020
Ephesians 4:1-16 reveals Paul's vision of the church. Check it out, it's fascinating.
Paul segues from unity (grounded in our one saviour) to diversity. For our world, perhaps the most important realisation is that the church can offer both unity and diversity in the one organism. Jesus doesn't make us all clones, rather he gives us different gifts and roles in the church so that we can build one another up into a strong body.
But there's something else fascinating in this passage, too: what it says about the goal of the church. This passage mentions nothing about social justice or transforming society or anything like that. Rather, "we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ." (v. 15)
Certainly, when "each part is working properly," the "body [will] grow so that it builds itself up in love." (v. 16) The church is not a static organism, it is designed to grow. That is achieved by evangelism, sharing the good news of Jesus' death on the cross, which sets us free from sin and death.
But the church is not here on earth for some lesser purpose. If something is not communicating the gospel and drawing people closer to Christ it is not the church's work. We have limited human resources, and so we should make sure that they are directed such that "we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God." (v. 13)
Too often we worry that, unless we engage the surrounding culture in some way that catches their attention, we will not be able to share the good news. Yet Paul's vision of the church in Ephesians makes clear that if we focus on pressing closer to Christ, and equipping and encouraging one another in that endeavour, that will itself engage the surrounding culture.
The role of the church is to be the body of Christ on earth. Let us labour together to get that right and let God give the increase of souls each day. (Acts 2:47)
Malcolm Lithgow • October 14, 2020
Last night in our Tuesday Night Bible Study we were wrestling with the difference between "mercy" and "grace." Many religions espouse mercy, but only one offers grace.
There are many ways to describe the difference (the picture accompanying this post is one: only in Christianity does God himself enter into a rebellious world as a member of a rebellious race in order to die so that their rebellion might be forgotten). Perhaps a good one is the experience of the apostle Paul.
The apostle Paul started out as a faithful Pharisee and enthusiastic persecutor of the church of Jesus. It was only when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus that he realised his error. But because of the grace of Christ, Paul didn't merely become a follower of Christ, he became an apostle: one who travelled the world persuading people of the need to give their lives to Jesus.
God's mercy would have, perhaps, stretched to forgiving Paul his horrible persecution of the church. God's grace, however, transformed Paul into one of his most influential servants!
When we talk about our second value, "Gracious Community," we're talking about a community that is filled with the power of God so that its members are transformed from rebels into relatives, from sinners into sons, and from captives into conquerors. Only Christ can do that!
Malcolm Lithgow • August 31, 2020
We've just finished our sermon series on the letter of James. If I could sum it up in two words, I would say, "be authentic."
Be authentic in:
- Dealing with suffering (endure patiently, because God has got you)
- Your wisdom (just ask God, he wants to share his wisdom)
- Your faith (don't just believe: act)
- Your integrity (don't try to rely on both God and the world)
- Your love for others (don't treat people differently based on their social status)
- Your speech (restrain your tongue, and say yes when you mean it and no when you mean that)
- Your prayers (recognise your relationship to God)
It is no surprise that Christians are so often criticised for their hypocrisy. Our own Bible constantly tells us to be people of integrity. When we fail at that, we really let our side down. But thank God that he is not keen to judge us, but to redeem us.
Authenticity is certainly one of our values at Renew. We know we're not a big, polished church, and so we don't try to be. But we do try to be loving and caring and faithful. When we fail at that it hurts us, too. We are so grateful for the chance to start over that Jesus gives us, and we're happy to extend that to those around us. As James says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." (James 5:16)
And perhaps that is the key to authenticity. It is only good for us, and for those around us, when we are authentic to the way God made us to be. An authentic sociopath is no help to anyone. Let's strive to be, rather, authentic disciples of the Lord of all creation, Jesus Christ, "and a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:18)
Malcolm Lithgow • July 31, 2020
Last night we talked about Sunday's sermon on James 1, and we struggled with what the "trials" are that James talks about. Why do some people seem to have a surfeit of trials, while others cruise through life untouched? Are those who escape suffering in this life doomed to a less impressive eternal future?
I can't pretend that we came up with any answers, except that trials are much more personal than we might think, and that comes from how trials fit into our Christian formation.
You see, our Christian walk consists of three distinct stages: coming to Christ, walking with Christ, and dwelling together with Christ in his kingdom. The theological terms for these three stages are: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Our experience of these three stages is quite different.
Everyone comes to Christ in the same way: by repenting from a commitment to the world's plan of self-rule, and through placing our faith in the saving power of his blood. The result of that act of commitment is that "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son." (Colossians 1:13) We have been adopted by the Father into the family of God. We are now justified (made righteous) before his throne of judgement.
However, while justification sets us free from "the law of sin and death" and allows us to choose God, it doesn't transform our minds into ones that naturally choose God, rather than our own desires. That's what sanctification does. Sanctification is an ongoing process which is different for each Christian. And that's where trials come in--they help us to strengthen our trust in God, they exercise our spiritual muscles.
Finally, when we die (or Jesus returns), we go through the process of glorification. We are only fully glorified at the resurrection, when we receive our "spiritual bodies" which will be ours for eternity. The New Testament points to the reality that our obedience and growth here in this age (i.e. our sanctification) will influence our reward in heaven. I understand the intersection of these teachings as indicating that our sanctification is building our eternal character, which will then be reflected in our spiritual bodies and our ongoing minds and hearts.
So this "light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison," as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17.
That makes trials seem even more important! Fortunately, if we boldly trust God, if we place him above any other call on our life, we'll certainly encounter trials. Even everyday life provides us with the opportunity of the trials of placing others above ourselves. If we open ourselves up to the concerns of others, rather than carefully protecting ourselves, we will find abundant trials through which to learn endurance. And we can count that all pure joy!
Malcolm Lithgow • July 23, 2020
We studied the letter to the church of Smyrna in our Tuesday Night Bible Study this Tuesday (Revelation 2:8-11). We used the Inductive Bible Study method, which really forces you to grapple with the text of Scripture.
What I came away with was the uncomfortable realisation that God's view of a successful church, and his methods for getting there, are very different to mine (or most human beings).
The church at Smyrna is one of two out of the seven that receives no criticism, and yet they were poor, suffering, and slandered. In response to this oppression, Jesus warns them that more is coming, so that they might be "tested." There is no suggestion that they should complain to the authorities or vigorously defend themselves. Sounds harsh, right?
But Jesus encourages this church in many ways: he reminds them that he is the first and last (he was there at the beginning, and he's in charge at the end); that he died and rose again (he has control over death itself); that they need not be afraid of the suffering (because he's in control of it); and that, if they are faithful, they need not fear the second death, but will instead receive a victor's crown of life.
In contrast to human leaders--who use great messages, good community, uplifting worship, etc. to try to build the church--God uses (in Smyrna's case) poverty, suffering, and slander.
God's idea of success is not a bustling church with a noticeable presence in the community. His idea of success is a community of believers who are unflinchingly faithful to him in the face of poverty, persecution, and slander, even to the point of death.
Malcolm Lithgow • July 16, 2020
On Tuesday night we met together (some of us on Zoom, see the buttons our web page) to dig into what Jesus is saying to us at Renew through the letters to the seven churches of Revelation.
It was a bit of a different study this first week, because we were exploring how to use the Logos Bible application that we have access to through our church's subscription to Faithlife Equip.
If you're a member of Renew, you can have a login to Faithlife, which then gets you a basic version of Logos, which you can either download or use online. You can download Logos to your PC or Mac, and get access to all of its powerful features. For lighter use you can download the app to your Android or Apple device, or use it online.
Logos has a great new feature that helps you study a Bible passage, called "Workflows." These give you a framework for studying a passage, provide helpful information on the passage collected from Logos's other tools, and give you a space to take notes as your work through the passage. On Tuesday night we used the Inductive Bible Study workflow to look at Revelation 2:1-7 (the letter to the church at Ephesus).
An "inductive Bible study" is the type of study that starts with the Bible, spends time reading, understanding, and pulling apart the passage and its context, and then moves on to exploring other resources that talk about it (like commentaries). The benefit of this approach is that you are personally grappling with Scripture, rather than merely leaning on someone else's work. Yes, it takes a bit of effort, but the rewards are even greater.
What did we learn? That, in Revelation, one of the primary themes is Jesus' encouragement to the church, at all times in all places, to keep on loving him and living that out, no matter what people say.
If you want to join us this Tuesday we'll be working through the letter to the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), using the same techniques (we won't be showing how to use Logos, but that will have been done in the preparation beforehand).