Facing Challenges

With new challenges it is encouraging that the Lord has been preparing me for them.

Praise the Lord, who is my rock. He trains my hands for war and gives my fingers skill for battle.

Psalm 144v1

We might not welcome the challenge ahead, but without it, the skills he has developed in us will never be fully realised.

He is my loving ally and my fortress … my rescuer … and I take refuge in him

Psalm 144v2

I can go forward without fear knowing that he will keep me safe.

Open the heavens, Lord, and come down. Touch the mountains so they billow smoke.

Psalm 144v5

When the Lord acts we can be disturbed. Yet, our response is to pray, and this prayer is not without effect.

I will sing a new song to you, O God! I will sing your praises with a ten-stringed harp.

Psalm 144v9

Seeing him do new things, we worship him with a new song.

May our sons flourish in their youth like well-nurtured plants. May our daughters be like graceful pillars, carved to beautify a palace.

Psalm 144v12

Then, after patient endurance, we look back and see the fruit of his work with joy.

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Who is my brother?

Seeking God’s blessing it is easy to focus on spirituality, worship and style of ministry. We forget the Lord has desires.

How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!

Psalm 133v1

Harmony is easy between those who share forms of worship, spirituality and style of ministry. When we differ, not so much.

For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe.

Psalm 133v2

The Lord values harmony as we do the outpouring of his Spirit. As Jesus said,

‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

John 13v34-35

What would it take to develop the love of our brothers irrespective of being conservative, liberal, charismatic, high church, …

Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.

Psalm 133v3

There are practical constraints. We shouldn’t undo beliefs or paper over differences. It is however, possible to have a welcoming heart and a positive attitude. It is possible to treat as brothers. We can build up rather than scores points. We can choose to be together rather than merely acknowledge from afar.

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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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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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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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Feeling useless?

These Covid months ask much of us, it is tough interacting online and being held from our loved ones. How does Jesus look at those who ask for strength?

Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me.

Isaiah 42:1

Jesus looks with pleasure on us who feel so weak we are just surviving through that strengthening. He calls us his chosen ones! What undeserved privilege.

I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations.

When we humble ourselves to call for help, he puts his Spirit in us. Somehow, though we are kept from people he uses us to contribute to his kingdom!

He will not shout or raise his voice in public.

Isaiah 42:2

We imagine this requires us clamouring for attention. The Lord does not need our noise, just his strength to enable us to overcome in the little things of our shut down lives.

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Overcome shame

We think of shame as something bad that Jesus would never have experienced, yet,

… For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2

You don’t scorn something you don’t experience. Jesus was nailed naked to a cross as a criminal. This was the ultimate shaming, but knowing it was the will of his father, he went through it.

Shame is developed in us so we can fit in with culture, but it can keep us from God because it has to do with politeness rather than love.

Fear of shame can keep me from following Jesus. I need to overcome that fear, and even its reality if I am to be free to walk with Jesus.

Jesus went through shame knowing that there was a reward beyond: To sit at the right hand of his Father. Many claim friendship with Jesus because he died for them. A more intimate place comes to those willing to join him in breaking through the shame barrier.

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Where do your desires lead?

Contentment frees us for Jesus, yet our culture drives us from it.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Luke 6:20

The poor, aware of need have opportunity to depend on the Lord, whereas those focused on their desires turn to them – money, relationships, gifting, … for support. They are captive to what they have.

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. 

Luke 6:21

Tragically, we have been trained by our consumer culture to always strive for more. The Bible says,

godliness with contentment is great gain.  

1 Timothy 6:6

Contentment bring freedom. when we are content, we can let go of the desires that drive us and are free to follow Jesus into love and faith.

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.   But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  

1 Timothy 6:7-8

Food and clothing is a pretty low bar for contentment, the focus of it is the great equation: We come with nothing and we leave everything.

People argue that riches now make life more comfortable, but that accumulation comes at an eternal price.

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 

1 Timothy 6:9

Where are your desires leading you?

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