On the edge yet hopeful

Trusting God is easy when all is well, but when we are on the edge emotions challenge truth.  A dread of failure and shame can send us packing. An experience of refuge steadies us.

In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. (Psalm 71:1)

There is no pretence here that terrible things never happen. We have all suffered shame.

Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness … for you are my rock and my fortress. (Psalm 71:2-3)

We don’t just need guidance to avoid traps. We need God in his righteousness and grace to rescue. We need him to be the foundation on which we stand; everything else will ultimately disappoint. We need him to be our fortress of protection from assaults by enemies- including from within.

Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked … For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord. From birth I have relied on you… I will ever praise you (Psalm 71:4-6)

We grow up believing that powerful manipulators will win. Such fear keeps us from God, yet when we look back on our life with God, we see his rescue again and again. So, pressed in by strong people, on the edge, we can prayerfully go forwards in hope, praising in anticipation.

I have become like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. (Psalm 71:7)

Some may reject us as a lightning rod for trouble, yet we stand firm on God our refuge.

Impact of loving God

Those who love God become like him and influence their world.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.  Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. [Psalm 36:5-6]

As we meditate on his character- love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice we aspire to become like him.

You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. [Psalm 36:6]

We notice that the Lord loves and preserves all his creatures, both people and animals. They are valued as his creation. We join him, showing that same value.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. [Psalm 36:7]

As we aspire, and in some small way live out this love, people find safety with us.  In effect, they take refuge beneath God’s wings.

They feast in the abundance of your house; [Psalm 36:8]

As we generously share what God has provided, we demonstrate his abundant care.

you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; [Psalm 36:9]

Not being the source, we have no idea what will feed or give life. We merely pass on what he has given us. Then to our surprise, this is spiritual life to those who receive it.

 in your light we see light. [Psalm 36:9]

When we look at Jesus, the light of the world, we see the light of life. Though our situations are dark, he fills us with light from within.

Why isn’t life always ‘peaches and cream?’

Why would the Lord leave me with constant background fear? He says he will deliver me from them all.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. [Psalm 34:4]

Usually fears bubble away in the background, even as I pray. It’s only when the fear becomes acute that he delivers me. Maybe, because what is really valuable in life- faith, hope and love are all developed most thoroughly in the presence of challenging circumstances.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. [Psalm 34:5]

This radiance is in the presence of fear. With faith and hope, the presence of fear will not take away joy; there is confidence God will save the day.

Looking to God brings confidence that there will be no shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him… [Psalm 34:6-7]

We want to be well off. Yet the Lord hears the call out of poverty.

Who will the poor man fear? those who threaten him, or the Lord? People say, I had no choice. If I hadn’t, terrible things would have happened!  -meaning, I didn’t believe God would rescue.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. [Psalm 34:8]

Let’s wait for God, living out the faith, hope and love -the real treasures of life and see his blessings!

Refined understanding of Scripture

God’s word is refined in me till it is proven flawless.

And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. Psalm 12:6NIV

In the Bible clay pots can symbolise people while silver and gold can symbolise that which God works into our hearts as we live by faith. In this Psalm we are clay crucibles in the furnace and God’s word within is challenged. When things go wrong, we question our understanding of what God has said. If we persevere with him, his word will prove true, yet the process refines and deepens our understanding. For example, take the verse-

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Romans 8:28NIV

When tragedy strikes, I am challenged to question my understanding of what God means by ‘good’. I wrestle with God concerning reality and how it challenges my understanding of what his truth is and what he means by it. I may have to endure grief as I let go of simplistic theologies. The outcome however, is a deeper knowledge of God himself.

Allowing my understanding of God’s word to be honed by life while upholding it as flawless, I come to a depth of understanding of who God is and what his word means that has integrity and is honest to the whole of Scripture. This is the silver that he is refining within us.

Live Free

How do we move from a trained righteousness to truly live …

… a life worthy of the calling you have received. [Ephesians 4:1NIV]

Paul points to attitudes, actions and a spiritual dimension …

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. [Ephesians 4:2-3NIV]

When that behaviour is merely the product of training it looks good, but the outcome is not the unity of the Spirit nor the attitude love, yet when I break free I find I am immature …

…  tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. [Ephesians 4:14NIV]

Being tossed between enforced ‘love’ and a freedom subject to selfishness indicates an area of immaturity where Jesus has been excluded. Thinking I knew how to behave, I never listened to Jesus to learn from him.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. [Ephesians 4:15NIV]

Paul points to the love of Christ.  Training will always drive, no matter the cost to those we love or ourselves while Jesus understanding the whole draws us to love…

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. [Ephesians 4:16NIV]

Living in hope

God’s promises inspire hope. Do we have faith until he fulfils?

We live in two worlds- embracing current reality and simultaneously being prepared.

When they were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in it, they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another. [Psalm 105:12-13NIV]

The patriarchs wandered Palestine holding to a promise that they would be a great nation, all the while while having nothing to show for it. How did they achieve it? They believed God.

He allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: … [Psalm 105:14-15NIV]

God was faithful. He protected them from abusive kings even when they succumbed to fear in their doubts.

He called down famine on the land  and destroyed all their supplies of food and he sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave. [Psalm 105:16-17NIV]

Things seemed to go backwards. The son Isaac hoped in was sold as a slave.

Famine tests our resolve we look for consolations elsewhere, sometimes good things, sometimes not so good. It is good to live in current reality, but not to let go of what God has promised.

It is hard to appreciate that God might be manoeuvring his servant into the optimum position.

… till what he foretold came to pass, till the word of the Lord proved him true. The king sent and released him, the ruler of peoples set him free. [Psalm 105:19-20NIV]

What has he promised you?  Can you faithfully wait for him?

Life on the edge

Why is it that the godly seem to struggle in life while the wicked get it easy? This is a constant refrain of the psalms

Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve. How long, … will the wicked be jubilant? (Psalm 94:2-3NIV)

The wicked seem to successfully use abilities to oppress people. In their boasting they draw many away from God into their schemes. The Bible gives God’s perspective-

Does he who disciplines nations not punish? Does he who teaches mankind lack knowledge? The Lord knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile. (Psalm 94:10-11NIV)

Yet what of us, why is it that we always seem to be living on the edge. There is always a challenge that takes us out of our comfort zone?

Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law; you grant them relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked. (Psalm 94:12-13NIV)

The end will work out well, but what of the now? There may be blessing, but in a context of discipline. There may be relief, but in a context of trouble. We have a desire for the easy life, yet, that is not what life is for. Life is about walking with God in faith, hope and love and each of these is only proven to be real if lived out of a challenging situation. It should be no great surprise that life is on the edge!

What does Jesus is Lord mean?

For many who acknowledge Jesus, the term ‘Jesus is Lord’ is their ticket to heaven. After all the Bible says,

If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9NIV)

Yet the declaration “Jesus is Lord” is about the whole of life. It is not some cheap password to get us ‘saved’.

In the same way, salvation is as much about the here and now as heaven. Life constantly presents me with opportunities to look to Jesus for salvation. Life situations challenge my independence when I realise I can’t do it; I need Jesus. They beg the question: Do I trust him? They challenges my belief: Did God raise Jesus from the dead? If he did, then this crisis I am going through is trivial in comparison. ‘Jesus is Lord’ is not a get out of jail free card to be brought out when I die, it is a recurring theme of life.

‘Jesus is Lord’ is also a place of surrender. I know I can’t ask for help unless I submit to Jesus. What is the point of trying to deceive the one who sees deep into my soul. So the recognition that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is an act of repentance. It is through this alignment of my heart coupled with believing he has the power and will to rescue me that I am saved. Saved in crises now, saved from eternal hell after death.

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

What do we value?

Our culture has only one question to determine value – “Does it work?” Jesus takes a different view. After feeding the 5000 He leaves.  Most would have continued the ministry. When the people find Him, He challenges their motives –

  ‘… you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  (John 6:26)

What is the difference between eating bread that came as a miracle and seeing signs? The difference is in the focus. If I look for Jesus because I ate, then I am looking for myself and the focus is on me. If I look because I saw miraculous signs my focus is on Christ and I am looking to worship Him.

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’ (John 6:27)

This focus is seen in our relationship with God. If the focus of my spirituality is on what works, then it is subject to men’s evaluation which inevitably is temporary and ultimately spoils. The fruit Jesus is looking for is the fruit of lives changed by faith. Faith is proven through trust even when things don’t seem to be working –

‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (John 6:29)

Are we able to trust Jesus in how He directs rather than try to use Him to get what we want? This is food that endures to eternal life.

 

A fuller study