Disturbing Reality

When we are full of bitter anger how do we respond to grace and peace?

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Acts 9:3-4

Saul is on his way to vent his anger. There he meets Jesus who speaks tenderly to him, “Saul, Saul” the tender call to a child who has lost his way.

Saul has met Love. In his self righteousness he cannot tie together the call of love with the accusation of persecution. Jesus has to spell it out.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,”

Acts 9:5

Now Saul’s world has been turned upside down. He had thought of himself as the star doing God’s work. Now he realises has been opposing the Messiah.

“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”… when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Acts 9:6-9

Saul was not told to fast, yet he did not eat or drink for three days. Maybe a response to discovering that his whole life had been a violent lie?

Do we have the courage to hear disturbing truths from Jesus?

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Reality Check

How do we interpret events? 

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their local dialect, “These men are gods in human form!” 

Acts 14:11-12

Core beliefs overrode reality. Paul had preached Christ, but since he did a miracle he must be a god.

Paul and Barnabas ran out among the people, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings—just like you! … Even with these words, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them.

Acts 14v14-18

Each of us can fall into this trap of holding too strongly to treasured theories. They might appear Biblical but are not in fact in the Bible. Our Father will bring us events to challenge our clever man made ideas. Do we have the humility and peace in our hearts to listen to what God is actually saying?

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Who is exalted?

Many want endorsement through signs and wonders, after all-

God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him.

Acts 2:22

Yet we forget that endorsement was not enough

Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.

Acts 2:23

When we are right in our own eyes we will stop at nothing to arrange the world in our image – even at the cost of the Way the Truth and the Life.

But God … raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.

Acts 2:24

The Father’s sovereign power was so much greater than we people in our arrogance could produce. Not even death was enough to stop Jesus.

Now he is exalted to the place of highest honour in heaven, at God’s right hand.

Acts 2:33

When we want endorsement, we are in danger of becoming conceited and arrogantly arranging the world in our image. Let us rather exalt Jesus to the highest place and acknowledge that he alone is sovereign, no matter what appearances are.

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Response to wickedness

There are people who seem to spread a spiritual death wherever they go and whatever their intentions.

These wicked people are born sinners; even from birth they have lied and gone their own way.  They spit venom like deadly snakes; they are like cobras that refuse to listen,

Psalm 58:3-4

These people are likened to snakes and since the devil is equated to a snake, that leaves us with a very sad evaluation. They have some characteristics that are worth noting. The use of deceit, the determination to go with their own will and their use of words to bring death to those who are listening to them.

ignoring the tunes of the snake charmers, no matter how skillfully they play.

Psalm 58:5

When such people brim over with evil it does not matter how skilful or wise those who try to intervene might be. That evil is going to come out. In such cases retreat is the only real option.

We don’t want to step back because it leaves the arena free for wickedness. Yet, this is the place of humility. We are not God.

God will sweep them away, both young and old, faster than a pot heats over burning thorns.

Psalm 58:9

Only God can deal with such people. The Godly need to step aside and allow him to do his work.

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Forcing Righteousness

When I try to force God’s righteousness, I am tempted into wickedness.

The wicked conceive evil;

Psalm 7:14

I find myself plotting a course of action to achieve my view of righteousness. I become the one conceiving evil!

they are pregnant with trouble and give birth to lies.

I justify my actions and my words but they don’t have that ring of Jesus. In essence I am pregnant with trouble.

Will I allow the Spirit of God to challenge me and draw me back from wickedness? Can I pray, surrendering the need to control to God?

They dig a deep pit to trap others, then fall into it themselves.

Psalm 7:15

As I try to force “God’s will”, I find myself trying to trap people. Eventually I entrap myself.

The trouble they make for others backfires on them.

That trouble I justified comes back to me.

Jesus does not need me to enforce his righteousness. So, when I sense wickedness expressing itself through me, the only way back to Jesus is surrender, entrusting the issue to him.

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Too much to lose?

Those who are invested in what they have, whether it is wealth or beliefs or value systems struggle giving them up to gain Jesus.

Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

Luke 18:17

There is a simplicity in following Jesus that threatens what we esteem.

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered.

Luke 18:18-19

This ruler had a view of Jesus, which while true, had put Jesus on a pedestal and he wanted to join him there. That desire had to be surrendered.

Jesus answered. “You know the commandments …”

Luke18:20

The ruler was looking for something that would make him special. Jesus took him back to the ABCs. In our terms it would be, love God and love your neighbour.

When the ruler persisted, Jesus gave him a simple application to the ABCs.

“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.

Luke 18:22-23

What do we cling to, missing the opportunities for Jesus’ grace?

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Battle Lines

Jesus lived in a world of intense legalism. We live in a world where the battle lines are around values – BLM, Me Too, No Platforming, Pride, …

The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.

Psalm 2:2

Whenever people face off against one another, Jesus ends up being the casualty! Two sides lift up their standards and demonise anyone who does not join them.

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.  

Psalm 2:4

We get all concerned. Do we join the fray, taking a side with the self-righteous, or do we allow ourselves to be condemned for not joining, or even worse commending someone who has been demonised. As we look at these choices God’s perspective seems shocking, he laughs!

“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

Psalm 2:6

Our Father brings us back to the perspective of heaven. Jesus is Lord! Each side bullies those who don’t join them. I need to hold to Jesus and the way he leads, where –

love and faithfulness meet together

Psalm 85:10

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What Value?

Would we accept being smaller if more precious?

O storm-battered city, troubled and desolate!

Isaiah 54:11

Jesus’ church seems to be consistently battered. We are battered by the pressures of a culture intent on replacing the Lord with mankind as its centre. Now, even Covid is having its impact.

I will rebuild you with precious jewels and make your foundations from lapis lazuli.  I will make your towers of sparkling rubies, your gates of shining gems, and your walls of precious stones.

Isaiah 54:11-12

We feel such losers. Our theology demands growth, while we shrink. Yet, the Lord speaks of doing something else. He speaks of rebuilding with a people whom he is making precious, transformed to reflect him.

I will teach all your children, and they will enjoy great peace.

Isaiah 54:13

Will we allow ourselves and our children to be rebuilt as precious and at peace with God?

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Whom do we receive?

To whom can we show Jesus’ kindness?

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees … complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

Luke 15:1-2

Our society seems caught in a trap of polarised views. Each side has its legalistic lines that define acceptability. The outcome is the same as in Jesus’ day – dividing lines and fear over whom we can be associated with. Jesus countered with parables that speak of value-

“suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

Luke 15:8-10

I used to think, was one coin worth the effort? Then my wife lost her engagement ring. She went through a whole year’s compost to find it! Her motivation was not financial value but heart value.

Jesus seeks racists and misogynists on one side and progressives on the other because they are his dear lost children. Are we willing to accept the slander that comes from sitting with people Jesus would love to welcome?

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Experiencing the cross

We live in an age that idolises enjoyment and rejects passages like,

“I want to know Christ … and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering.”

Philippians 3:10-11

Yes, Jesus did it for us, but he is the forerunner of our faith.

But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief … When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. … I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier.

Isaiah 53:10-12

Jesus’ suffering was far above ours and for a far higher purpose. As the forerunner of our faith, he takes us down similar paths and with heavenly honours.

Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that … his life was cut short in midstream … He had … never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal.

Isaiah 53:8-9

Just as Jesus’ suffering appeared a pointless travesty, so our suffering can appear meaningless. The meaning is found only in Jesus and only understood in heaven.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word.

Isaiah 53:7

The knowledge that our Lord will use this meaningless suffering that we share with him frees us from needing to complain about it. And so,

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that [we] may become blameless and pure children of God.

Philippians 2:14-15

I have a lot to learn!

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