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 from Slavery

Psalm 114 (Message)

After Israel left Egypt, the clan of Jacob left those barbarians behind;

Judah became holy land for him, Israel the place of holy rule.

Leaving the land of slavery, Israel became God’s holy people and the land the place of holy rule. This was a first step to their being made Holy.

This move from slavery to holiness is not a process we are good at. We lurch between slaveries. People who have encountered the Lord and been freed often develop a path through which others can find their freedom that is upheld legalistically.

The freedom described here is not gained through repeating steps in a plan, but calling out to the Lord for mercy and waiting for Him.

Sea took one look and ran the other way; River Jordan turned around and ran off.

The mountains turned playful and skipped like rams, the hills frolicked like spring lambs.

When the Lord intervenes, then nothing will be an obstacle to Him. Discussing this with someone from Africa he commented that, in the face of corrupt officials, if the Lord wants something to happen it will.  It may take longer, but the Lord will fulfil his word.

Tremble, Earth! You’re in the Lord’s presence! in the presence of Jacob’s God.

He turned the rock into a pool of cool water, turned flint into fresh spring water.

The transforming effect is not because of the skill of the people of Israel, it is because the presence of the Lord is there. The earth trembles when the Lord approaches.

 

The more complete Study of this passage can be found at –Freedom from Legalism

Way out of emptiness

We live in a world of self-interest, committed to feeling better about ourselves or experiences that take our eyes off the state of our lives. How do we let go this futile thinking that only reinforces inner darkness? (Eph 4:17-19)

I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise. (Psalm 34:1 msg)

When I take my eyes off myself and lift them to the Father, as I worship Him, then life expands as I see His love and am inspired by His purposes.

Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him. (Psalm 34:5)

This worship comes with integrity. It smiles when seeing a twist in life with His mark on it, it calls for mercy when confronted with failure.

Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all his goodness. Young lions on the prowl get hungry, but God-seekers are full of God. (Psalm 34:9-10)

Worship opens to His goodness. This opening, represented by opening our mouths, leaves us vulnerable for open doors let in as well as out. True worship is on His terms and receive what He declares to be good.

When in need I am tempted to be the prowling lion looking to devour something, even God! And after devouring, I am still hungry. When I come to God in surrender not focussing on what I want from the encounter but to worship Him, He fills me with Himself. I may not have what I wanted but am satisfied by His presence.

 

The full study on this Psalm is found in What is worship?

Awaiting God’s intervention

In a crisis I am tempted to force a solution. The Lord shows a different way – Isaiah 56

1‘Maintain justice  and do what is right,

I can’t achieve righteousness through abuse, only love.

for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.

The proximity of danger exposes hearts, asking – ‘Do I believe God’s justice and righteousness are the only way? Do I believe His salvation is at hand?’

Those willing to resist the temptation to force their own righteousness while seeking God’s salvation receive it. What a difference His righteousness will be from the one we had wanted. Instead of me winning and all else suffering, the Lord’s righteousness brings peace and love.

His salvation often waits till the last moment.

2 Blessed is the one who does this –  the person who holds it fast,

The Lord blesses those who hold to His righteousness. To do so I have to let go of hope for the outcome I had defined as righteousness and look to Jesus as my hope.

who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.’

This hope is seen in two aspects of submission:

Rather than driving towards the goal – destroying others in the rush, they will be content that there will be enough time and resources for the Lord’s will to be done His way.

Rather than forcing what they perceive as righteousness, they will walk in love expecting God’s way to become apparent as they go with Him.

Two forms of discipleship

Recently it has dawned on me that there are two approaches to discipleship in the Scriptures.

In the Navigators we use the apostolic form of Jesus. This approach focuses on someone willing to follow as an apprentice. In Jesus’ ministry this required leaving behind home comforts and responsibilities to follow. ‘Leaving’ creates space in life for learning.

Many churches use Ephesians 4, where the Lord gives gifts for building the Church. Gifts and people are brought into the Church for the sake of building it up. The focus is on developing the community.

These approaches come with strengths and weaknesses.

The Ephesians 4 approach gives opportunity for a range of gifts. The community stays together, looking after the weakest. It is naturally pastoral. Since it is building itself up it has difficulty releasing people to minister beyond its own scope. It has a hard time developing leadership since this focuses on individuals not the community.

Jesus’ apostolic approach goes to people so it is naturally outward looking. It takes ministry into the world beyond the community. It develops those willing to go with the apostle, valuing the apprentice who is faithful, available and teachable. This approach develops leaders but can leave people behind.

All groups apply a mix of these approaches. Pastoral ministries extend apostolically and apostolic ministries care pastorally. However, the opposite form is like a right handed person writing left handed. Most churches have to send people away for development, most Navigators struggle with care for the weakest.

Reward with God

What a privilege to participate in Jesus’ ministry. Paul and Barnabas were directed into ministry through Isaiah 49:6:

“… I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,  that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This verse is not stand alone. How does Isaiah leads into this promise?

First the Lord polishes His arrow and conceals it.

2 .. he made me into a polished arrow  and concealed me in his quiver.

This arrow has to fly true first time and so it receives special attention. Other arrows enjoy their successes in the hunt, this one is polished. It seems a humiliating waste of time.

The Lord seeing the discouragement, speaks tenderly.

3 He said to me, “You are my servant,  Israel, in whom I will display my splendour.”

The Lord gives hope that He will use this servant to display His splendour, however these seem vain words.

4 But I said, “I have laboured in vain;  I have spent my strength for nothing at all.

Polishing is hard work, requiring labour for little visible result.

This frustration finally bears fruit through a change in attitude-

Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,  and my reward is with my God.”

The surrender of desire to see the outcome. When content that his reward is with God, there is freedom to be used by the Lord without playing to the audience and wrecking the show.

Now the Lord begins to use His polished arrow!

 

The full Bible study can be found at Biblebase2adaringfaith

 

Nice encounters Love

Being nice has become a core value of our age. It is hard to argue against what superficially seems so good. Nice however is rooted in selfishness, with its fear of what people will think and its desire to be liked and gain influence over others.

An example of the difference between nice and love is seen at Jesus’ trial (John 18&19). Pilate has a choice between what his inner being tells him is right or giving in to what the voices of the self-righteous demand. It is a choice between the aspirations of the heart and the fear of hurting the feelings of influential people with the consequent loss of influence.

The contrast with Jesus’ love exposes the shallowness of ‘Nice’. Jesus knows Pilate is being driven by the manipulative forces of the religious leaders, yet He does not try to out manipulate Pilate. Rather, Jesus challenges him with a question that helps Pilate gain perspective. He goes on in love to risk His life by explaining himself with truth that leaves Pilate a clear picture of what is right.  Tragically Pilate gives in to evil.

Only when I trust the Sovereign Lord can I entertain love. He takes me beyond the immediate circumstances. He takes a stand with love, truth and righteousness and invites me to stand with Him. I can do so because I know He has my back.

Let’s despise niceness, this shrivelled and poverty stricken imitation of love and stand with God in truth and love.

Read the Bible study that inspired this Blog.

Go with the King

The call to become a disciple of Jesus is a call to leave. We see this in Psalm 45 where the bride is called to forget that which has been precious to her and even defined her.

10 Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:
    Forget your people and your father’s house.

As I go with my King I embrace a new future. This requires me to let go of my old life, however good it might have been. This might seem a betrayal, but it is essential. Jesus calls us, yet many are so stretched between a misguided duty of maintaining what has gone before, and desperation to take hold of what Jesus has ahead that neither is achieved.

11 Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
    honour him, for he is your lord.

King Jesus is enthralled by me, yet will I let him? My poor self-image refuses to allow it. Yet if I allow that He is enthralled by me then I will be free to go with Him. As I receive His love, the love of His rivals will fade from my view.

13 All glorious is the princess within her chamber;
    her gown is interwoven with gold.

Those who allow Jesus to do this work in them become glorious and are clothed with Christ.

16 Your sons will take the place of your fathers;

you will make them princes throughout the land.

The fruit of a life with the King takes the place of our fathers. Our hearts are satisfied by what Jesus does.

For the complete study on Psalm 45 follow this link – Caught up with Christ  and go to the end.

Wait to receive joy

I am so concerned to show myself a responsible servant of Christ that I fail to receive the oil of joy which would give off the aroma of Christ, making His work plain to all.

The fruit of God’s work is intended to produce joy. In the Bible joy is experienced at the conclusion of a fruitful venture; bringing in the harvest or sharing the plunder of victory. Joy is developed through reflecting on the challenges God has overcome.

Psalm 45:7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.

The Lord anoints with joy after we, together, overcome my tendency to wickedness and choose righteousness.

Here I tend to stumble. I am so concerned to get to the next act of service that I do not wait to receive the anointing or enjoy the celebration with the Lord over our victory.

When this service, apparently in the name of Christ, drives me from the place of receiving His joy, it is exposed as being a fraud, more concerned for people’s approval than the approval of my King.

8 All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
from palaces adorned with ivory
the music of the strings makes you glad.

Curiously, this oil of joy holds the fragrance of Christ which would spread out to all around. My concern for a testimony compromises the most effective testimony.

Christ in us – Majesty

Our culture tries to smear us with shame for following Christ. Atheism’s angry voice dominates. I want to fit in, yet that means concealing the majesty the Lord has clothed me in, covering it with the clothing of the world. It takes faith and courage to be clothed in righteousness.

Psalm 45 expresses the Lord’s perspective.

V3 ‘ … Clothe yourself with splendour and majesty.’

How can we clothe ourselves in splendour if we have none? We do not understand that when we humble ourselves to show kindness to a child, we are clothed with splendour.

v4 In your majesty ride forth victoriously
in the cause of truth, humility and justice;
let your right hand achieve awesome deeds.

We think of majesty as the domain of the celebrities flaunting and exaggerating greatness. The Lord sees majesty when we humbly acknowledge the truth that outside of Him we are nothing; when instead of currying favour, we surrender our advantage to defend the oppressed. Others see foolishness, the Lord sees awesome deeds.

v8 All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; …

Lives transformed by Christ give off His aroma but we are not aware. Visitors to our home often mention it’s peace. To us, it is normal. Only those for whom it is not, notice the contrast.

We often despise ourselves, seeing nothing in our lives for the Lord to get excited about because we look through the world’s values. Christ however sees His glory being displayed.

 

For the detailed study see Caught up with Christ