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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Humility in Conflict

In a divisive world the counsel of Jerusalem stands as a beacon of hope.

While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Acts 15v1

Two theologies had developed in tandem. Only one could be true.

Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, …, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question.

Jerusalem was the seat of power for the circumcision view making this an act of humility and faith.

When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church,

Acts 15v4

In polarised situations the opposing party could not welcome. As the church of Antioch had shown humility, so did the church in Jerusalem.

some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”

Acts 15v5

The opposing view was openly stated. Without this there could never have been the necessary range of discussion. Any solution would have appeared a fudge.

Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe.

Acts 15v7

When everyone had been heard, Peter took them back to the critical intervention from God. May God give grace that we could resolve things with such humility.

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What trail do I leave?

What is the trail we leave behind? Is it of love, zeal or complacency? In our pursuit of Jesus we fall into traps.

After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

Galatians 3:3

I run ahead of Jesus. I presume that by following spiritual exercises we developed together, I will be with him. Likewise, I put myself under the obligations that seemingly are godliness. When I run ahead of Jesus these become idols characterised by zeal or complacency.

“Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

Galatians3:6

Remember Abraham. He had none of our spiritualities or obligations. He trusted his Lord and lived out what was shown. Though he stumbled God met him and led him into what was important though faith.

when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.

Galatians 5:6

When Jesus is the centre, he leads us into love. When we are living with him and not running ahead there will be a trail of love. This trail is characterised by joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness …

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Disturbing Reality

When we are full of bitter anger how do we respond to grace and peace?

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Acts 9:3-4

Saul is on his way to vent his anger. There he meets Jesus who speaks tenderly to him, “Saul, Saul” the tender call to a child who has lost his way.

Saul has met Love. In his self righteousness he cannot tie together the call of love with the accusation of persecution. Jesus has to spell it out.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,”

Acts 9:5

Now Saul’s world has been turned upside down. He had thought of himself as the star doing God’s work. Now he realises has been opposing the Messiah.

“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”… when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Acts 9:6-9

Saul was not told to fast, yet he did not eat or drink for three days. Maybe a response to discovering that his whole life had been a violent lie?

Do we have the courage to hear disturbing truths from Jesus?

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Who is exalted?

Many want endorsement through signs and wonders, after all-

God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him.

Acts 2:22

Yet we forget that endorsement was not enough

Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.

Acts 2:23

When we are right in our own eyes we will stop at nothing to arrange the world in our image – even at the cost of the Way the Truth and the Life.

But God … raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.

Acts 2:24

The Father’s sovereign power was so much greater than we people in our arrogance could produce. Not even death was enough to stop Jesus.

Now he is exalted to the place of highest honour in heaven, at God’s right hand.

Acts 2:33

When we want endorsement, we are in danger of becoming conceited and arrogantly arranging the world in our image. Let us rather exalt Jesus to the highest place and acknowledge that he alone is sovereign, no matter what appearances are.

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The end of pleasure?

Our western culture could be like this…

Listen to this, you pleasure-loving kingdom, living at ease and feeling secure. You say, ‘I am the only one, and there is no other. [Isaiah 47:8NLT]

Where self-focused complacency develops, a culture becomes conceited and wants everyone to emulate it.

“Come down, virgin daughter of Babylon, and sit in the dust.” [Isaiah 47:1NLT]

Law is symbolised by Egypt. Pleasure seeking is symbolised by Babylon, whose end is not great.

You will be naked and burdened with shame. [Isaiah 47:3NLT]

Ultimately, the Lord lifts the lid and exposes what is within. Arrogance and abuse born of conceit will be exposed.

… your ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’ have led you astray, and you said, ‘I am the only one…’ [Isaiah 47:10NLT]

A culture that grows powerful through knowledge uses that power to exercise its will and elevate itself. It begins to act as if it were a god.

A catastrophe will strike you suddenly, one for which you are not prepared. [Isaiah 47:11NLT]

The Lord shakes everything to prove its permanence. That which is not built on the foundation of Christ will eventually fall.

Where are all your … stargazers who make predictions ..? Let them stand up and save you from what the future holds. But they are like straw burning in a fire. [Isaiah 47:13-14NLT]

The experts make predictions as if they had divine insight. Ultimately, they will be proven fools and those who trust in them will share their fate.
So, what do I build my life on?

Law meets love

Growing up in a culture that values keeping laws, I struggle when someone bends rules. So, when Jesus confronts the rule keepers I have disquiet.  Would I be on the wrong side of him?

Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’ (Mark 3:1-3)

When those who elevate law confront Jesus we see in their hopes to accuse, self-righteousness. Having reduced godliness to keeping rules, their tunnel vision blinkers out God’s glory. Only obeying God’s rules denies his love.

Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent. (Mark 3:4)

If I see Sabbath as alignment towards God and his sovereign authority, then Sabbath elevates God’s love. If I see Sabbath as a law, then that alone matters.

… He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:5-6)

When I struggle in self-doubt, I forget that the Spirit of God will lead me into crises of choice between my cultural norms and his way of love. As far as by grace he has transformed me, so his love will shine through.

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!