Honoured by God

I am so used to the idea that we honour God that I don’t think much about God choosing to honour his people. Yet in Psalm 148 we read,

He has made his people strong, honoring his faithful ones— the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 148:14NLT)

I am used to living in dishonour; I could never do anything right as a child. It is a challenge to receive honour, let alone from God. He has spent years training me not to hide from such situations.

Of course, the primary thrust of this psalm is that we honour and praise God. The writer goes through every element of creation he can think of declaring that each should praise the Lord. This praise is justified-

Let them all praise the name of the Lord. For his name is very great; his glory towers over the earth and heaven! (Psalm 148:13NLT)

Maybe it is with this thought that the Lord honours, for he honours his faithful ones, those close to him who have learned to live through his grace and praise him for all they have seen him do.

He honours people by making them strong. This strength enables people to stand when all expect them to fall. I think of situations where people who despised me were forced to re-evaluate their opinion after seeing something they valued that God had given to me or to others through me.

I think of Jesus dishonoured on the cross bringing salvation to all through that cross.

Live the Truth

Only when we understand Jesus, do we understand life, for He defines it. When we understand Him we are aligned with the One who is the Life.

Jesus was challenged over the validity of his teaching.

 “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”  (John 8:13)

His defence was curious. His basis for validity was-

I know where I came from and where I am going. (John 8:14)

It would seem this implies that when I want to be sure of my validity, I need to know where I come from and where I am going. The person who understands such things often appears secure in relationships and free. Yet, Jesus’ statement about the Pharisees holds me back.  He says –

“But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going.” (Jn8:15)

The implication is that the focus is not on our own identity, where we come from or where we are going, but on Jesus’ identity.

My testimony is validated as my life becomes more aligned with the Jesus the Way and the Truth and the Life. This alignment occurs as I grow to know Him through making the choices in life that He leads me into and empowers me for through His Spirit. Taking these choices requires a security and freedom not in my own identity, but founded on Jesus love and life.

A more detailed study can be found at Biblebase2AdaringFaith

Mantle of shame

What does it mean for a loved child of God to wear ‘the mantle of shame’? (Ps89:45) We live in a world that beats down our identity and threatens us. In our insecurity we accuse the world of doing this, but the Psalmist points to the Lord–

YOU have broken through all his walls and reduced his strongholds to ruins.’ (Ps89:40)

When we build up ‘Self Image’ we develop a destructive conceit the Lord challenges–

YOU put an end to his splendour and cast his throne to the ground’ (Ps89:44)

Do we have faith to acknowledge the reality God has us in- a church in disrepute where even leaders act in shameful ways? In past decades the Church presented itself as spotless. Now, when problems are evident, do we polish our image grasping for the once great splendour? Or can we embrace that the Lord has-

‘covered us with a mantle of shame’ (Ps89:45)

When the Lord gave me no ministry opportunities, it took courage and faith to answer the question, ‘What do you do?’ By saying, ‘Nothing beyond standing in God’s presence’.  I could state this because I know the Lord values me for who I am, not for any ministry I do. Similarly, we can acknowledge this shameful place the Lord has us in when we are ready to believe that our value to Him is as His loved children, rather than the exterior image of our witness. Which do we value, the world’s view of us or God’s view?

The original Bible Study can be found here – Mantle of Shame

Christmas without limits?

Christmas is often expressed as a time to live without limits. John the Baptist challenges our generation with its rejection of boundaries. We don’t think to ask “Who has God made me to be?” but rather, “What could I make of myself?” John the Baptist knew who he wasn’t.

He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ John 1:19-20

God had shown John who he was, and he was content with that –

 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’ John1:23

In our society it never occurs to us that there could be a limit. We want the biggest, the best, the most, … Christians have christened this value to become: Having the biggest church, Having a strategy that will take the world for Jesus Christ, … Another name for this value is greed and with spiritual clothes it becomes spiritual greed.

The godly value that opposes greed is contentment. Paul writes

“Godliness with contentment is great gain” 1 Timothy6:6

John the Baptist did not go to the crowds in Jerusalem, but risked all on the passage the Lord had given him. He went to the wilderness. John was content to depend on God to fulfil the ministry He intended.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. Psalm 16:6

Am I willing to receive the delightful inheritance God has given me with its boundaries?

Being human

What does it mean to be human? I find Jesus’ take shocking. When I survey our culture’s opinions I see anything from a triumphalistic ‘Top of the heap’ to ‘A virus wreaking destruction’. For many Christians, people are made in the image of God, and so to be respected.

My shock came looking at the logic of Philippians 2:7, starting at the end.

… he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  being made in human likeness.

Firstly, Jesus was made in human likeness.  Then going back, I read ‘the very nature of a servant …’ The implication is that the nature of a human being is to be a servant! I am shocked! We live in a culture that exalts freedom, yet our nature is to be a servant.

The fact is our nature is seen in our attitudes. We use freedom to pursue our passions, yet we become servants to whatever we exalt. If I exalt money, I become a slave to money. If I lift up family, I become a slave to family.

These false masters destroy us as we pursue them and their dream turns out bankrupt. When I pursue Jesus, He leads me down a path that fulfils. He said,

‘If you hold to my teaching you are truly my disciples, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ John 8:32

Jesus’ teaching is love. When I pursue Him, He frees me to serve in love, and I discover I am loved.

 

 

A more detailed study in Philippians 2 – ‘Who are we before God?’

 

Created perfect?

If God is so great, how come he made me like this? There are many who look at themselves and see only imperfections and a choice between a helpless God, or a God who doesn’t care.

God speaks to this in Isaiah 44:2.

This is what the Lord says – he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you:

The Lord affirms that it really is He who formed us. He does not pick up where nature leaves off. Everyone has been formed with care and purpose.

We forget that those who seem ‘perfect’ have an inner wealth that tends towards independence. They are tempted to think that they don’t need God, or worse that God needs them.

It is no accident that the following statement is that the Lord will help us. If we think, I am made so poorly I need help, we miss the wonder of our creation. We were not made to be independent but to live in partnership with God. Only in unison with the Father are we complete – the poor in spirit who inherit the Kingdom.

do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.

Dancing with an invisible partner leaves us feeling exposed. When we appreciate our situation fear rises. This takes us from a naïve presumption to real faith where we trust God to fulfil His perfection in us. He chose us not as dispensable add-ons but ones who cost Him His son’s life! We are chosen in love, with patience and care.

 

A fuller study on Isaiah 44 can be found in Biblebase2adaringfaith.

Go with the King

The call to become a disciple of Jesus is a call to leave. We see this in Psalm 45 where the bride is called to forget that which has been precious to her and even defined her.

10 Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:
    Forget your people and your father’s house.

As I go with my King I embrace a new future. This requires me to let go of my old life, however good it might have been. This might seem a betrayal, but it is essential. Jesus calls us, yet many are so stretched between a misguided duty of maintaining what has gone before, and desperation to take hold of what Jesus has ahead that neither is achieved.

11 Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
    honour him, for he is your lord.

King Jesus is enthralled by me, yet will I let him? My poor self-image refuses to allow it. Yet if I allow that He is enthralled by me then I will be free to go with Him. As I receive His love, the love of His rivals will fade from my view.

13 All glorious is the princess within her chamber;
    her gown is interwoven with gold.

Those who allow Jesus to do this work in them become glorious and are clothed with Christ.

16 Your sons will take the place of your fathers;

you will make them princes throughout the land.

The fruit of a life with the King takes the place of our fathers. Our hearts are satisfied by what Jesus does.

For the complete study on Psalm 45 follow this link – Caught up with Christ  and go to the end.

Christ in us – Majesty

Our culture tries to smear us with shame for following Christ. Atheism’s angry voice dominates. I want to fit in, yet that means concealing the majesty the Lord has clothed me in, covering it with the clothing of the world. It takes faith and courage to be clothed in righteousness.

Psalm 45 expresses the Lord’s perspective.

V3 ‘ … Clothe yourself with splendour and majesty.’

How can we clothe ourselves in splendour if we have none? We do not understand that when we humble ourselves to show kindness to a child, we are clothed with splendour.

v4 In your majesty ride forth victoriously
in the cause of truth, humility and justice;
let your right hand achieve awesome deeds.

We think of majesty as the domain of the celebrities flaunting and exaggerating greatness. The Lord sees majesty when we humbly acknowledge the truth that outside of Him we are nothing; when instead of currying favour, we surrender our advantage to defend the oppressed. Others see foolishness, the Lord sees awesome deeds.

v8 All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; …

Lives transformed by Christ give off His aroma but we are not aware. Visitors to our home often mention it’s peace. To us, it is normal. Only those for whom it is not, notice the contrast.

We often despise ourselves, seeing nothing in our lives for the Lord to get excited about because we look through the world’s values. Christ however sees His glory being displayed.

 

For the detailed study see Caught up with Christ

 

Freedom in Identity

Identity has an impact on our freedom to act. Throughout my life I have constantly struggled with a fear of what people think of me. That fear brought paralysis, teasing and so more paralysis . This paralysis leads to a prison; a bland life of nothingness.

Jesus, understanding His own identity had a remarkable freedom to act. In John 13 we read “Jesus, knew that the Father had put all things under His feet, and that He had come from God, and that He was returning to God so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing and wrapped a towel around His waist.” So, from His sense of identity He was able to walk in true humility and serve. Philippians 2 reinforces this –

6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,   7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.   8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

It seems that there are two points to our identity, one bound in heaven – a child of God, the other on earth – nothing, a servant.  We must hold both of these in order to gain freedom.

My identity before God is that I am His son. He will always receive me. In Him I am secure. My true identity on earth is tied to a heritage: ‘The empty way of life handed down to me by my forefathers’ – nothing to boast about there.

When I try to make something of who I am I become bound by certain no-go zones. There are activities and appearances that are not fitting or not allowed.

If I am willing to receive the identity God has for me then I am free to make a fool of myself. However much others laugh, I know that God loves me and will vindicate me. Some time ago, my wife was running a seminar. For one part she had a boy who studies ballet, and needed him to teach a man some ballet steps.  I took the role of the man. This turned out to be helpful in learning to live out this identity. In order to have the freedom to do the ballet steps, I had to ‘not care’ what anyone thought or said. Knowing the Father’s love, and that He would receive me, I could give it my all. Knowing that I am a servant, with no pretentions to uphold, I could give it my all. In some small way I could learn from Jesus ‘who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant’

Hankering after the crowd

I was pondering on the love of God in Deuteronomy 7:6-8

“ 6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.   7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

The crowd tell me that the purpose of the Christian life is to have an impact on the world.  It is to be fruitful by leading as many as possible to God. Everything is measured by numbers and observable effects. God tells me He has chosen me ‘To be His treasured possession.’ Which of these two messages I follow, has a bearing on life as a whole.

If I believe that I am to have an impact, then all else in life must be sacrificed in order to have an effect on as many as possible. If I believe that I am to be His treasured possession then when I read – ‘For you are … holy to the Lord your God.’  I know that first and foremost God’s purpose for me is to be set apart for Him. The inner life of giving my Father time to speak to me, to wash me through the Word is not merely there to give strength and vitality to serve the higher purpose of having an impact. The inner life is there because it is there that I fulfil my highest calling of being set apart for Him. This is a key element of what life is all about.

One of the reasons why we choose to be too busy to spend time with the Lord is that we are too concerned about our impact. Having an impact on people takes all of one’s efforts, it is a relentless drive to craft the message and measure the impact so the message can be perfected.  The drive of having an impact is a relentless slave driver. When I am caught up with impact I am driven from taking time with God. All this is supposedly done ‘for the Lord’ who ‘brought [me] out with a mighty hand and redeemed [me] from the house of slavery.’

God has said, ‘It was not because you were more in number … that the Lord has set His love on you and chosen you.’ We believe the lie of the Christian crowd that our fruitfulness in Christ is about numbers, and give ourselves to having a wide impact, all the time blanking out the Lord’s clear message that He puts no such pressure on us. He loves us for who we are, whether we are one or many.

So how much do I value the God who saved me by giving Him my specific attention, to be with Him for His sake, to live out the life of one who has been set apart for Him.