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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Dealing with enemies?

I can be indignant at the way people relate with me. I want God to deal with them but when I see how the Lord has dealt with me I see gentleness.

There he has broken the fiery arrows of the enemy, the shields and swords and weapons of war.

Psalm 76:3

I am interrupted while telling someone of an injustice. I think that I am so right, but maybe the Lord is breaking my fiery arrow! The interruption gives me space to regain God’s perspective and let the subject go.

At the blast of your breath, O God of Jacob, their horses and chariots lay still.

Psalm 76:6

In my agitation can I hear the voice of God suggesting a road of peace? Can I allow him to still me from my indignation?

God is honored in Judah; his name is great in Israel.

Psalm 76:1

When I have listened and resisted the temptation to lash out, I have later discovered that it was good that he had intervened. I am left in awe at God’s greatness.

Can I learn from the way God has acted in my life and pray for a similar intervention into the lives of those who I feel are wrong, maybe even other dear children of God?

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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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Fear or love

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by events and am disoriented –

… the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. [Psalm 46:2-3]

In such times I am comforted by the Lord as I look back at times of rescue and reflect on his care. There is a joy at odds with the circumstances.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. [Psalm 46:4]

Things don’t necessarily end as I want, but I have confidence that I will look back knowing my Father has brought good and that it has been a blessing.

God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. [Psalm 46:5]

So, in dark times I look forward to break of day, that moment when Jesus Christ appears with his grace. This brings me back to v1 –

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though …

Anticipating Jesus’ grace there is a choice not to fear. Fear wells up as I presume events will follow a natural course. Jesus is bigger than events!

Instead I choose to hold onto Jesus’ peace that floods in when I recognise and surrender to his sovereign control.

Allowing fear, I strike out in selfishness and hurt people. Choosing God’s grace and peace, love flows into me and out to others.

How God works

When God doesn’t act as we expect it can shake us and leave us questioning him. In Job’s case, the Lord’s long awaited answer was-

 “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.  [Job 38:2-3]

Instead of clarifying Job’s theology, the Lord asks questions. Questions that waited till Job and his friends had exhausted their own explanations.

When God isn’t doing what we expect, are we willing to wait quietly for his questions?

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. [Job 38:4]

The Bible’s rich insights about life enable us to live well. However, much is shrouded in a mystery that challenges our propensity to make pronouncements.

Am I willing to walk humbly with God into the good works he has prepared for me to do with the limited understanding I have?

Have you made daylight spread … to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? … The light disturbs the wicked and stops the arm that is raised in violence. [Job 38:13-15]

In our humanity we want to overcome the darkness through methods of ministry, whether through prayer or action. If then the Lord acts dramatically, it will be claimed as the work of our ministry. If he fails to act there is frustration.

Such reactions expose the superficiality of my knowledge of God. Can I learn more of who he is from his surprises?

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.

Asking out of need

When I am in need and I see people having the resources then I am tempted to speak in a way that will ‘help them’ answer my need. Some of this is right, the Lord often brings together those with need and those with resources, but what of the attitude –

Neighbors lie to each other, speaking with flattering lips and deceitful hearts. May the Lord cut off their flattering lips and silence their boastful tongues. They say, “We will lie to our hearts’ content. Our lips are our own—who can stop us?” (Psalm 12:2-4 NLT)

Whenever there is a need there is a temptation to deceit. If I puff up my proposal, those who hear may be more inclined to give. If I can tempt them to think more of themselves than they ought to, then maybe they will commit more to my need.

This attitude forgets God’s sovereignty. The Lord wants us to do our best in presenting our message. To flatter is a step too far. Flattering lips betray a deceitful heart, a heart that despises God. We forget that the Lord may have other purposes for the resource. if our deceit captures it, then other, weaker children of God can be left suffering.

The challenge is that flattering tongues sound plausible. Advocates of this approach master the silver tongue, that is why they become advocates and our joining in justifies their stance. Our protection is to walk in step with God, reflecting on what is said with a quiet heart.