Power of example

The way of discipleship is a path of following Jesus through the influence of others who are following Jesus. Paul wrote,

 “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Some have said, “The Scriptures were incomplete, this as a stop gap measure.” Yet Jesus elevated example-

He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach (Mark 3:14)

Without teaching of the word we miss the principles, but the teacher will be watched to understand how it is lived. Paul writes-

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters … (Philippians 3:17)

To the extent we follow the example of Christ we become an example worth following. We have little idea of how people see our lives and the impact this has on their walk with God. The verse goes on –

and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

We must take responsibility to choose how we are influenced and from whom we gain our perspective of what it looks like to follow Christ.  It is good to be close enough to these examples to see their lives. The contrary message is also given-

… watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. Romans 16:17

The measure of the ones we are to avoid is the fruit of their lives as much as their teaching.

To whom do we align?

There are people who have power through words. They puff up their claims of what they will do to gain a following. Depending on our position we love them or hate them.

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? (Psalm 52:1)

The Lord calls them a disgrace. This can either shock or elate us, depending on our attitude to their policy. Yet the issue the Lord has is not with their policy but their deceit.

Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit … You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue! (Psalm 52:3-4)

These champions of the powerful word who strike down their enemies, and sometimes ours, are considered a disgrace by God. We have to consider carefully who we align with.

Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin … he will uproot you from the land of the living. (Psalm 52:5)

Are we aligned with those who will be brought to nothing? Who should we align with?

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. (Psalm 52:8)

The reason we align to powerful people is that they offer us hope. The contrast is when we trust in God’s unfailing love. As we take our nurture and love from him, we are empowered to model God’s love, offering dignity while surpassing the deceit of both sides.

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]

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!

Return to intimacy

When we feel far from God, restoring intimacy seems doomed to failure. We feel like prisoners, devoid of life. Sometimes the Lord has brought us to this place!

 When I speak to the rivers and say, ‘Dry up!’ they will be dry. (Isaiah44:27-NLT)

The Lord does this with an intention of restoration.

… I say to Jerusalem, ‘People will live here again,’ … I will restore all your ruins!’ (Isaiah44:26-NLT)

This is a message of hope, but can we listen? The Lord’s message comes with a context,

“Pay attention, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you.” (Isaiah44:21-NLT)

The Lord calls on Jacob, ‘the deceiver’ whose life he had turned around after creating a threat Jacob could not worm his way out of. Having won him, he will not forget him. Jacob struggled with God through a night of anxiety till finally he surrendered and received a new identity – Israel, ‘he struggles with God and overcomes’.

We cannot orchestrate our own struggle with God only prayerfully give him permission. The Lord does the hard work of surfacing the issues, then he looks for a response.

I have swept away your sins like a cloud… Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.” (Isaiah44:22-NLT)

In Christ the price was paid. There is no chasm for us to cross, yet returning to freedom in God requires a surrender and many hang on to the end before being willing to give it.

 

You can read my source Bible study at this link.

Becoming a living sacrifice

Becoming a living sacrifice does not come easily. Self does not go to the cross willingly. Living sacrifices are those who have surrendered their all to Jesus and received from him the life of God. We prefer to sacrifice almost anything else.

Esau in great anger comes with a force of 400 to destroy Jacob. Jacob, the schemer, in great anxiety tries to protect himself. He-

  • Schemes- splitting his party to reduce the chance of losing everything.
  • Prays- asking God to save ‘himself’ – while ignoring his family.
  • Sends gifts- hoping he will pacify his brother’s anger.
  • Sends his family to face his brother first.
  • Sends his possessions. Maybe these things will distract Esau.

Step by step he gives up everything, starting with his schemes until in the end he has given up what seems most precious. An observer might conclude he had surrendered all. God knew that he was withholding his heart.

When God sees he has nothing left to negotiate with, he comes and wrestles with Jacob- all night until, with one touch to the hip, God disables Jacob and he surrenders.

The form of the surrender is instructive. Jacob will not let go of God until he blesses him. The blessing shows two factors.

Jacob acknowledges both God’s superiority and his own surrender. Hebrews 7:7 says, “And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater.”

Jacob receives from God a new identity and a new hope – ‘Struggled with God and men and overcame’.

In peace, Jacob limps ahead of his family to meet his brother …

 

The Bible study behind this can be found at – ‘True Repentance

Overflowing grace

We desire to see the Lord’s fame go to the world, to see God yield His harvest.

Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him. (Psalm67:6-7)

This skips to the end of a process. It begins with –

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, (Psalm67;1)

Great! I want that too! When however, He chooses to answer at a time of His choosing, will I be ready to respond? When He wakes me at 3:00am am I willing to get out of bed and receive that blessing?

that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.  (Psalm67:2)

I might think of this blessing as a purely personal thing between God and myself. Yet it is precisely such personal blessings that go out to bless His world.

People see and hear how the Lord has worked His ways in us. This demonstrates something living and practical. They are inspired to seek God too. People hear of how the Lord rescued us from challenging situations and they are emboldened to ask Him for their own.

He uses a ripple effect, throwing a pebble into the pond so the waves go out. The wave is with us for a short time, we forget and move on. The Lord however makes the fruit of that personal encounter persist into the lives of others, and beyond to people around them.

See more detail in Biblebase2adaringfaith.

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