_DSC0468 harold

Monday 3 August

Bishop Harold Miller was speaking on Monday evening, continuing the teaching on “God’s unconditional love”.  Here the New Horizon Media Team brings you a summary of his message.  Enjoy!

Reading Ephesians 5: 22 – 33

Jesus uses marriage as an analogy for the mystery that it is Christ’s relationship with His church. Jesus gives Himself to His church as His bride. We read words like submission, love, cherishing, self-giving, respect…

When I read this passage, I ask, “What is the church for which Christ gives Himself.” We use the word Church in all sorts of ways, some of which are quite unbiblical but because we have done it for so long, we don’t realise it is wrong!

The Bible only knows two real ways of understanding the word “church” (ecclesia).

One is the macro-church: The whole Church in the whole world throughout all ages – every single believer in every single place and every single generation. All tribes, peoples and languages. Jesus will present us at the last day as His bride absolutely blameless.

An unconditional love FOR the Church

Jesus will never stop loving His church and the church that He loves is the totality of the redeemed, the church in its biggest and grandest sense.

An unconditional love IN the Church

That big picture of the “macro-church” is funnelled down and focused in real situations. In a faith that is incarnational, you can see the church in different places (e.g. the church in Philippi, Rome, Ephesus, etc.) God wants His unconditional love to be seen in different locations.

My passion above everything else, the thing that will keep me awake thinking about it, the thing that has my heart beating faster is when I discover churches where heaven and earth meet. When people come into church, they have every reason to expect that they are going to experience the fourth dimension.

If people come into church and it is just the same as the world outside, why would they ever come again?

Too often congregations are two-dimensional, cardboard-cutouts – people are not real with one another. They only come alive when the service ends!

If you have had a bad experience of church, that can be transformed into a passion. It is the Popeye factor – “I can’t stand it any more!” I have seen enough churches that are a contradiction of the Gospel they proclaim. I’m determined by the grace of God to see those things changed.

Reading Acts 2:44 – 47

This church had the word of God preached and lived out. It has signs and wonders – God was at work! It had got people being saved. It had fellowship: the Church growth experts say that there is one thing in common with all churches that grow. They can laugh together!

They also had everything in common. They eradicated poverty in the church. There is nothing worse than stingy churches!

The truth is, we are human. We are fallen. There are spots and wrinkles. There are areas where cleansing is needed.  Why is it that sometimes people outside the church are nicer than people inside the church?

There are people here who have been deeply hurt and damaged at the very place where they should have found grace, unconditional love and generosity. There are people here who have damaged others in the church and caused pain.

Philip Yancy has written a follow up to “What’s so Amazing about Grace.” It is called “Vanishing Grace.”

He talks of four common complaints about Christians:

  • You don’t listen to me
  • You judge me
  • Your faith confuses me
  • You talk about what’s wrong instead of making it right

An unconditional love THROUGH the Church

We do not exist for ourselves. When Philip Yancy asked, “What is the first word that comes to mind when I say ‘Christian’?” not one time did anyone suggest the word ‘love’.

A church that believes in the unconditional love of God has strong faith at the centre but porous walls and woolly edges. All are welcome!

I was invited to the launch of a film in the Jethro centre in Lurgan. A group of people from around Lurgan, one of the most divided parts of this province, had been taken to an Amish community.

In this film, there is a tragic story of a man who was driving along in his truck and fell asleep at the wheel. He smashed into an Amish truck and a little girl of 12 died in the accident. The first thing that the parents did was to go round to the man, knocked on his door and say, “We forgive you.” He went to the funeral of the little girl and all of her friends lined up, one by one, and said, “I forgive you.”

I thought, “They have learnt that off by heart.” But then the Lord said to me, “Did Jesus not ask you to learn that off that heart?”

How in this province of ours have we failed to learn this lesson? There is no logic to forgiveness except the logic of the spirit of God. We need to be graceful churches, possessed by the grace of God who in Christ has poured out that grace on us, making that known in the communities in which we live. There is nothing more powerful than that. Love without strings. Love does not leave our churches as tidy as they used to be but it leaves them as real places.