‘Daddy! Do you know it’s nearly my birthday!
At the time of writing this I’m having a family break with some friends. All around us is beauty; wild coastlands, thrilling panoramas, ancient castles, beautiful flowers, gushing streams and rustling trees. Also on our break, we’ve cooked good food and devoured lots of fudge! Yet despite all this ‘distraction’ Jemimah cannot seem to move on from the fact that in 4 days it will be her birthday, which to her equates that in 4 days she’ll get lots of presents! Didi (a slightly doctored form of ‘Dida’ which means grandma in Bengali!) is a generous gift giver! Jemimah can’t wait. In fact, it seems to dominate most of her conversation! What have you got me daddy? Do you think I’ll get this? Can I unwrap my presents on the morning? Will you hide them in the garden? And so it goes on! In the slightly annoying repetitiveness of her expectant questioning, I began thinking about the Greatest Gift Giver. Better than Didi! What is our response to Him?
I remember one Sunday relatively recently Paul Winstone brought in an Amazon gift parcel declaring that, as the church, we are a gift to the world. Not everyone sees it that way. And sometimes I sympathise with them. Often our churches can make our services and meetings and experiences of God and holy huddles an end in themselves, rather than being a launchpad for Kingdom activity where everyone flourishes and is filled with joy. Often our churches can seem divided over what the world sees as pretty trivial things. I have loved making friends across the churches of Teesside as we explore and pray together what Jesus’ united church could look like amongst the challenging areas of Teesside’s neighbourhoods. In a few day’s time, as the churches of Great Ayton gather to pray as part of the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ initiative, I have loved their welcome and openness to Jubilee Church Teesside’s representation amongst them.
Of all of Jesus’ great legacies, His peace, His joy, His meal, none is more significant than His church to the world. That is His greatest gift, the outworking of His salvation.
’As the father has sent me, I am sending you’ (John 20: 21)
These well-known words put ex-fishermen and tax-collectors and chief prosecutors in line with the mission of the Son of God. He is the greatest of all gift givers. The church as Jesus saw it is the hope of the world!
In the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus he unpacks the gift of the church to the world. Chapter 4 especially explains the importance of Jesus’ great legacy to the broken, the lost, the marginalised and the blind. Why are these four-fold ministry gifts so important? (I see the pastor-teacher as one ministry together but you can disagree with me on this!) Why do many of us seem to leave these gifts wrapped up for no-one to experience?
I believe these gifts are essential to the church of today and without them the church can seem slightly annoying and irrelevant to both believers and non-believers.
So, from the bible, why do I think that?
Firstly, these gifts that Paul talks about - apostles, evangelists, prophets and pastor-teachers - are all gifts of God the Holy Spirit. In other letters his list goes on: serving, healing, giving, mercy, leadership, miracles, languages, wisdom, faith and so on. (Romans 12: 6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10)
As Luke writes of Jesus in Acts 2:33, Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear
As G.G. Findlay put it: He gives what he receives. Yet he gives not as he receives. Everything laid in His hands is changed by their touch.
Secondly, these gifts have their authority rooted in the ascended Jesus. Like our nervous system helps us control our fine body movements, our direction and coordination and vitality from its headquarters in the brain, so Jesus is our head. Though Spirit-anointed leadership in the church is God’s way, it operates from an authority much higher, namely the risen Christ. And because no person or ministry can adequately represent Jesus, these gifts can bring the church to an experience of the ‘fullness of Christ’ to the world. Leaving such gifts unwrapped or only half open, showcases the church as only half full! Just like Jemimah can’t wait to open her presents, we want the unchurched to see the beauty, majesty and glory of The Gift Giver, don’t we?
Thirdly, these gifts together produce variety and life for the world to be captivated by. I love how Jubilee invites apostolic input from key people across our wider family of Newfrontiers as well as local ‘master builders’ from across Teesside. I’m looking forward to hearing Miriam Swaffield from Fusion on Pentecost Sunday share her heart at the Transforming Teesside Together event. I have loved getting to know Mark Miller and Stephen Sutton over the years and how they are shaping the Church across our ‘city’. What a joy it has been to pray with Tracey Brittain and Jonatas Bragatto at our monthly Revival Prayer meetings. We pray for Chris and Meg Vale from Tees Valley Community Church who at the call of God have bravely upped sticks and are now church planting in Canada. More recently in Jubilee we have been discussing how God wants to see the prophetic released into and from the church bringing God’s revelation and sense of purpose and direction through His living Word. This Christmas we are inviting Adrian Holloway to our seasonal service to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. All these gifts of God the Holy Spirit to the church produce that essential variety which is a mark of God’s great handiwork and together provide a richness and depth which more closely reflects His Son.
This is the challenge! More and more we are to see Jesus’ gifts as great! More and more we are to be excited and want to unwrap them fully for all to experience and enjoy. The apostle Paul tells us that they are to equip and prepare us for service (Ephesians 4: 11-12). They are to cause the church to be built up and grow numerically. They are to bring believers to maturity both individually and together. They are to UNITE THE CHURCH. We are to see them serving not just Jubilee but the Church at large - Jesus’ united Church, in prayer, counsel, pastoral support, and love and friendship. Such ministries make up Jesus’ Church to the world!
Is this picture of wholeness too idealistic? I used to think so. I know many who still think so - good Godly people. However, the tide is turning. Jesus keeps challenging me about my intermittent pessimism as I sometimes fail to grasp what such a restoration might do for us and the world around us. However, the big question for me is this. If Jesus gives them, who am I to refuse them?
In the end it’s a no brainer, yet that doesn’t make it easy. We all carry ‘L’ plates as we progress together on this journey. We make mistakes, we forgive, we get over our personal agendas and pride and submit to one another in love, we generously give, we look to the bigger vision of God, we deny ourselves and lift others up.
We recognise these gifts, we release them, we receive them.
This is how we will truly see the Church of Jesus Christ in all her fullness and beauty.
Charlotte, over the last 3 years, has been planting and nurturing our garden borders. Year upon year they look more vibrant and colourful. Often, I try to identify what the individual plants are called. But as time has progressed, this has become more challenging as the shrubs and bushes obscure their labels. So it is with these gifts. Function is the vital word here. When Jesus gives gifts of ministry to the church, what they do in the end is more important than what they are called!
Let’s be bold. Let’s go on an adventure together. Let’s be biblically motivated to step out. Let’s enjoy the gifts of Jesus, the greatest of all gift givers.
Sorry Didi! We still love you!
Oh, and happy birthday Jemimah!
I couldn’t possibly write an Elders’ letter this month without at least making reference to that amazing night in Madrid on June 1st and Liverpool FC’s historic sixth Champions League trophy. Non-football fans…please don’t switch off!