Life is Good, Life is Christ

We know that puns can be very funny, but they can be spiritually meaningful too. St Paul makes a pun in his letter to the Philippians (1:21).
Commentator Ben Witherington suggests that Greek-speakers in first century probably had a short greeting: “Life is good”. We have something similar today. How are you? we ask. ‘Life is good’, we might reply.
In Greek it would be ‘to zen chrestos‘ (to live good). Now ‘good’ (chrestos) is one letter different to ‘christos‘ (Christ), and would have sounded very similar. We know that modern Kiwis do this with the ‘e’ and ‘i’ sounds too.
‘Life is good’ – ‘life is Christ’. 
He is under arrest awaiting trial, which could lead to his death. He tells his friends that this situation is not really that bad because either way – death or life – he is still with Christ and that is good. ‘For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’.
Life can bring all sorts of set-backs and troubles, but if our life is good because our life is really Christ –  for us, with us, in us, then truly ‘life is good, life is Christ.’

Joy in a Time of House Arrest

I have started a new personal Bible study this week, deciding to look again at St Paul’s wonderful letter to the Philippian church.  It so happens that he wrote this letter while he was under house arrest awaiting trial. I thought this was  a neat coincidence, since I am under ‘lockdown’ right now, along with millions of others.
The dominant note in Philippians is joy – joy in the Lord, despite the circumstances. I need this encouragement this week, because it is frustrating to be restricted and surrounded by fear and threats. I read the other day that Lifeline had the biggest number of distressed phone callers in one day since they started 60 years ago. It is hard to be separated from human company, work, fellowship, and peaceful circumstances.
What made Paul joyful? Not his situation but his Lord, and the blessings of Jesus Christ. He starts by sharing his appreciation and prayers for his friends. This is the pointer that I need this week – turn to prayer and find joy in the Lord and his blessings. Let us take our mind off our fears (turning off the news will help), and turn our thoughts to prayers of thanksgiving and intercession.
Ralph G. Bowles
5 August 2021

Five Types of Ministry

One of this week’s Bible readings (Ephesians 4:1-16) lays out how the Church can grow – in numbers, in community, in service, and in love. The foundation of course must be the gospel message, and then we must build on this with the resources Christ supplies by the Spirit.
Each member of the Church has a part to play in the building up of the Body of Christ, says St Paul (Eph. 4:7). We use the gifts that God has provided to the Church. Here, the apostle underlines the importance of five essential ministries that are required for healthy church life and growth.
There are APOSTLES. This is the gift of those who start and plant ministries through mission. Most denominations and the whole church are indebted to the ministry of the apostolic missionaries in every age. In our generation we need the contemporary apostles or church planters.
There are PROPHETS. These are the people who are able to dynamically help the church to listen to God and find the right way. There is a gift of prophecy and some have a strong role in this ministry.
There are EVANGELISTS. These are the gospellers, who are gifted in communicating the message to others. Without evangelists, the growth of the church withers.
There are SHEPHERDS. This is the caring, nurturing pastoral ministry, which helps the members through life’s struggles.
There are TEACHERS. They take the Biblical message and help others to understand it in practice.
There are many particular gifts in the Body of Christ, but it is likely that they will each be found under one of these fivefold ministries.
What is your role in the upbuilding of the Body of Christ, the Church?

The Mechanics and the Mystery

Some Christians say that you can just trust God, pray and then wait on God to help or do something. Others say that God helps those who help themselves and that we must do it. This is a tension that we may feel ourselves from time to time – the tug between activism (do it yourself) versus quietism (just let God do it).
Does relying on our actions or other means mean that we don’t trust God? Not necessarily. Nehemiah records of their approach to building the walls of Jerusalem in a time of spiritual danger: ‘we prayed to the Lord and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat’ (Neh. 4:9).
Certainly trusting in our own efforts or other means, and not in God, is a mistake. ‘The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord ‘ (Prov. 21:31). Much of Christian service is moved forward by the mechanics of diligent work (study, actions, preparation, hard work, use of gifts and skills, deployment of resources). The mechanics matter! Practicing your music is important if you use this gift in worship. Neglecting to practice and develop, and trusting in God to bless, may not be a blessed experience for others.
Yet there is still the magic of God’s surprising blessing, that cannot be engineered by us but sent down freely by the Spirit. We can ask for the blessing and pray for it, but without it we may not move forward. Always be ready for God to surprise with his ‘plus’.
Sometimes God will act directly without any human means at all, to remind us that He is in control and that we are not the source of our success. Like Mose and the Israelites at the Red Sea, when we cannot save ourselves, God opens the waters miraculously. This reminds us that the power of God is the key factor in all situations, and sometimes it is made inescapably obvious.
Ralph B. Bowles

It is in the Impossible and Unlikely things God Gets the Glory

A wise person said: “If you only attempt what you know you can achieve, it will not be clear that God did it. When everyone knows that you could never have achieved it, God gets the glory.”
How often we face an apparently impossible situation! Friends tell us that it is unlikely to see a breakthrough. Our faith in God is stretched. 
Christian churches face apparent decline, and we wonder what can be done with less members and resources. It can be discouraging. 
I have been thinking of Gideon in the last few days. This First Covenant leader faced big problems but with God the outcome was a breakthrough. In fact, God did not want Gideon and the people to trust in their own strength, so the numbers were reduced, so that the victory would redound to God’s glory. Read about it in Judges 7. When I feel a bit discouraged in facing an apparent impossibility, I often think of Gideon. We follow the God of Gideon, who contended against the false god Baal – and won the victory.
This week I was reminded of Gideon again – from a new archeological discovery. A jug from that era has been discovered, with the name JeruBaal on it – Gideon’s nickname. It is very possible that this is actually a pot that belonged to none other than this famous character. Another reminder of the powerful lesson of the God of Gideon.

How is your enthusiasm level right now?

I saw footage of the reaction of English soccer fans at the news of England’s long-awaited return to European Soccer finals. They were ecstatic, overjoyed, passionate, enthusiastic. What a contrast, I thought, to the level of enthusiasm for their faith– at least overtly – of many church members.

I don’t expect Anglican worshipers and members to jump up and down and shout, but it would be a refreshing change. You never know, others might think there was something exciting about our faith.

How is your level of passion for God going lately? I think that the Covid situation has been so oppressive for most of us, that it has cast a pall over our spirits. Constant warnings, fear of contracting it, endless reciting of statistics and restrictions to life, work and fellowship – even preventing us from breathing naturally God’s fresh air: all these have depressed our spirits.

So what can we do about all this downwards drag on our spiritual enthusiasm? St Paul urges us: “Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic – be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11). Here are some clues. Keep serving the Lord – don’t let the situation stop you from serving the Lord and building others up. If you can’t meet face to face, call someone. Visit them even if you have to stand outside their window for a chat! Go to God and ask for the fire of the Spirit to warm up your spirit, to stir you to new energy.

We have more reasons to jump for joy than soccer fans!

Ralph G. Bowles