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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Empowered?

Why does Luke emphasis that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit’s power? Surely as the Son of God that’s obvious. Yet,

Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power.  

Luke 4:14

After being in the wilderness fasting forty days and been tempted by the devil Jesus should be weary. So, anything he did demonstrated the power of the Spirit.

Jesus said, blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The temptations demonstrated Jesus’ attitude. Consider his response to each,

“No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”

Luke 4:4

The passage Jesus quotes continues,

“But on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Deuteronomy 8:2

The source of his life is God and his word.

When offered the world if he worships the devil, Jesus responds,

“The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”

Luke 4:8

Jesus affirms the Father is the only one to be worshipped.

When encouraged to manipulate the Father into saving him and so gain honour for himself, Jesus responds,

“The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”

At each temptation, Jesus affirms he is not sufficient in himself, he needs the Father and so the whole Kingdom of Heaven is available to him.

For the year ahead when we are weary of the issolation where is our hope and strength?

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Son of God born in a stable?!

The birth place of Jesus, a stable, almost escapes mention in the gospels.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, … She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Luke2:6-7

Luke is the only gospel writer who mentions it, and one suspects his purpose was to give context to the message to the Shepherds.

And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Luke2:12

There is a humility about Jesus’ birth which we can miss through familiarity. It highlights a question many have wrestled with: Why does God allow challenging circumstances to those he loves? Both Jesus’ birth and death are extreme examples. Jesus himself speaks into these situations with statements many would prefer to avoid –

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Luke 6:20-21

The very events we avoid relating out of embarrassment, the Lord calls gateways to blessing. Are we willing to testify to what the Lord has done without embarrassment?

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