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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Photo by Randy Jacob on Unsplash

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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Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

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!

Receive blessing

God’s blessing is not through using right methods, but quietening our hearts to listen to him. Yet the voice challenges-

Blow the ram’s horn at new moon, and again at full moon to call a festival! Psalm 81:3NIV

God called on his people to hold a festival every two weeks at new moon and full moon. In our busy, busy culture – a waste of time!

I heard an unknown voice say, “Now I will take the load from your shoulders; I will free your hands from their heavy tasks. Psalm 81:6NIV

This same voice commits to take off our load. Yet this load is carried with a sense of Christian duty. So, can I listen or will I continue my self-destructive drives?

You cried to me in trouble, and I saved you; I answered out of the thundercloud and tested your faith when there was no water at Meribah. Psalm 81:7NIV

The voice calls when we are in the wasteland calling for water. When we are in trouble we discover our deepest motivations.

You … must not bow down before a false god. For it was I, the Lord your God, who rescued you … Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it … Psalm 81:9-10NIV

When I am in trouble can I settle down and wait for him to feed me?

Those who hate the Lord … would be doomed forever.  But I would feed you with the finest wheat… Psalm 81:15-16NIV

Do I hate or trust? Do I receive doom or blessing?

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!