Looking for God to restore

We complain about the demise of the Church and ask God why He is not advancing the gospel. We do not realise that He is! He is returning us to reality! We live in a time of disgrace for the church of God. The cry of many is –

Restore us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:4-7NIV)

In times past, the hope of the church seemed to be the Evangelical Movement bringing Christ. At the time we were criticized for a shallow approach: “All you need is to receive Jesus, and God will do the rest.” What we failed to appreciate was the context of a culture striving but failing to live for God. In this context the simple message was good news.

Now our culture has little interest in seeking God. The old message is exposed as simplistic. Many have taken it literally and with their ticket to heaven secured they abandon God and give themselves to sensuality.

The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. (Psalm 85:12-13)

Are we ready for the Lord to do new things, preparing the way with His righteousness, bringing fruit as He understands fruitfulness?

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

Price of abundance

8 Praise our God, all peoples, …

13 You brought us to a place of abundance.

These verses of Psalm 66 begin and end with something we desire: To overflow with praise at God’s abundance. The road to abundance however, runs through fires of refining.

11 You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. 12 You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water,

These fires might push us towards bitterness in our frustration. We question how the Lord can be glorified through such situations where the unrighteous are winning and our response is far from good.

10 For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver

The point of refining is to expose rubbish so that it can to be dealt with. Without heat, we imagine ourselves to be godly. Only when heat exposes poor character can we become aware of our need to ask the Lord for help to deal with issues that He was always aware of.

Often the way to refining is opened by a poor decision. It is a necessary step for without the refining we would be unable to appreciate or rest in the forthcoming abundance.

9 he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.

The Lord encourages us that He will preserve us. We may stumble, but the Lord keeps us from slipping. In this hope we can face the challenges that come our way with an assurance that He will bring us through to a place of abundance.

 

For more detail – Price of abundance

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

Life in trials

Life circumstances push faith to the limit. We wonder why our ‘faithful God’ has abandoned us. Such trials expose the extent of our faithfulness to God’s word.

If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. (Ps 119:92)

We can be so angry with God for allowing affliction that spiritual death takes hold. Affliction exposes how much we learned to delight in the Lord and His law in the easy times.

I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. (Ps 119:93)

Those who have been through trials with God can testify that His Word preserved their lives. Through His Word they had an inner strength to face impossible odds.

Save me, for I am yours; I have sought out your precepts. (Ps 119:94)

From this place of having proved God’s Word, God’s servant calls out for salvation to the only one worth calling to.

The wicked are waiting to destroy me, but I will ponder your statutes. (Ps 119:95)

The fruit of this proving ground is that there is a confident hope of God’s salvation, and so sufficient peace to ponder God’s work while most at this point would struggle with anxiety.
96 To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.

Perfection is limited in that it is predictable. God’s Word is boundless because when the Lord fulfils His Word we are always surprised by the twists with which He does it.

 

The original Bible study is found at this link – Faithful Word

Eternal Word?

We see a world in flux. The ‘best’ lasts six months. The ‘must have’ I-Phone 5, gives way to I-Phone 6. If ‘the best’ lasts a year, how can the Bible, written thousands of years ago claim to persist? The Bible is clear about itself –

Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Psalm 119:89

If the Lord’s word were fixed on earth it would change. Instead it is fixed in heaven, the home of our Lord who created time! He is Alpha and Omega who knows the end from the beginning and can have text written that persists through time.

90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.

Life on earth appears to persist on a knife edge. During the Cuban missile crisis an officer on a Russian submarine refused to launch a nuclear strike. Today many fear global warming. Continuing life on earth testifies to God’s faithfulness.

91 Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you.

God’s word stands to this day, not because He has been clever at writing and anticipated all that was needed. Rather, the whole universe rests on the frame of His word. All that happens works to serve His purposes –Jesus’ death on the cross was intended as evil, but brought salvation. The fact that we question God’s Word exposes how narrow our view of life is. When we align our lives to God through His word, we participate in God’s purposes through His love.

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?’

 

What counts?

How poorly I appreciate the unseen work of Christ. I recently organised a conference. There was a sense of God at work, one person even said it was the best conference they had ever been to. Yet looking back I experience frustration that only half the expected number turned up.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Looking for visible impact I slip away from Christ. In Portugal He spent six years showing me numbers were irrelevant. How easy to revert to type after returning to a culture fixated with measurables. This road leads to a pressure to justify cost effectiveness where the desire to impress, or merely justify, leads to abuse of those entrusted to me. It won’t be through circumcision, but elevating what is secondary and what is elevated becomes idolatrous and abusive. In Paul’s day it was all about bringing people into Judaism; he writes,

Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. (Galatians 6:12)

Such abuse is to no avail, for what counts is the transformation that only Christ sees.

15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

I live in a world where what is counted is supreme so, being human, I will struggle! However, I trust Jesus who promises –

16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God.

 

The background study can be found in ‘Circumcision for now

Freedom

Our society exalts freedom, but what does it mean to be free? Tozer makes the point that ‘there cannot be two absolutely free beings in the universe, for sooner or later two completely free wills must collide.1’ Our western secular culture prides itself in giving people freedom. It exalts the values it has worked out through taking what is Christian and stripping out Christ. Perversely it finds it has to impose this freedom through a system that is increasingly patronising and intolerant. The thing that ties our freedom in knots and forces us to defend ourselves from everyone else’s freedom is our culture’s slide into self-indulgence – the very fruit of the freedom it exalts.

Jesus offers us freedom from a different source. 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.’2 Jesus summarised His teaching: ‘Love the Lord your God’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’3 Freedom is found not in self-indulgence which lifts up ME, but in a relationship of love with Jesus and the people He has set us among. Through love we will know the Truth- and Jesus is the truth4. This is not knowledge that we take and control, it is knowing the King of the universe who loves us and receives us. As we live with Him, He leads us into a deep freedom that is independent of circumstances – even in Auschwitz or the body of a paraplegic!

 

  1. The Knowledge of the Holy
  2. John 8:31-32
  3. Matthew 22:37-40
  4. John 14:6

Keys to the Kingdom

When what we say lifts Jesus as God and acknowledges ourselves as servants then we have the keys of Kingdom. When speaking in independence we lose them. Spiritual authority is based on submission to Jesus, ‘Son of the living God.’

In Matthew 16 following Peter’s confession:

16 …, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

Jesus states:

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

It seems Jesus gave Peter Carte Blanche; whatever he says goes. So, many believers pray believing they will get what is asked with an authoritative voice. However Peter immediately uses this authority and is rebuffed –

23 …  ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’

Isaiah 33:5-6 coming from a different angle illuminates –

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; … He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

Isaiah lifts up the Lord, as Peter has, great things are promised on the basis of the fear of the Lord. If I put this thinking into Matthew 16 I see Jesus saying, while you acknowledge Me as God and take Me seriously, then you have the keys of the kingdom.

 

For the complete study – Key to the Kingdom