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.

Sharing in Heavenly Glory

We discover Glory through seeing Jesus’ return to heaven.

How the king rejoices in your strength, O Lord! … For you have … withheld nothing he requested. (Psalm 21:1-2NLT)

Following his crucifixion, Jesus returns with joy at God’s victory.  All has been done, not by superman Jesus but, in divine partnership with God.

You have endowed him with eternal blessings and given him the joy of your presence. For the king trusts in the Lord. (Psalm 21:6-7NLT)

This glorious life of faith, hope and love is beyond anyone but for his eternal blessings of grace given to those who trust him.

You welcomed him back … You placed a crown of finest gold on his head. (Psalm 21:3NLT)

Like Jesus, we receive the victor’s crown after faithfully running the race set before us. Faith meets our weakness!

He asked you to preserve his life, and you granted his request. The days of his life stretch on forever. (Psalm 21:4NLT)

Hope looks above the crisis to a sovereign Lord- the adventure of an eternal exploration of the infinite God.

Your victory brings him great honor, and you have clothed him with splendor and majesty. (Psalm 21:5NLT)

God clothes us with the fruit of the Spirit; a love which exudes splendour and honour.

Glory in fruitfulness

Fruitfulness is the first of three avenues Jesus says bring glory. He explains how-

Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. [John 12:24]

What does fruitfulness look like?  The fruitfulness Paul lifts up is the fruit of the Spirit; a love characterised by joy, peace, patience, kindness, … (Galatians 5:22-23 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) This is no surprise. Paul writes, “And now these three remain- faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Love is a gift that we receive free of charge through God’s grace. It is a gift we pass on to others when we bring a hopeful joy, when we are patient and kind with those expecting the worst. It is a vibrant, generous life just like Jesus’.

Why does love require us to ‘fall to the ground and die’? Our culture demands that we love ourselves first, and then from a secure base, love others. Dying is not loving ourselves!

Fruitfulness is God’s love expressed through us. If I first love myself, then my love originates in me. Until my ego dies I get in the way of God’s love through self-protection, selfish ambition or vain conceit. Ego love builds barriers leaving me alone.

God’s love is risky. In taking the risk to love we learn to depend on his love, protection and resources and so our lives bring him glory.

What is prosperity?

Many are drawn to a prosperity of money, sex, power and fame, gaining influence over others to get what they want. Yet if we get, someone else must lose. We leave a trail of hurting people. So, the prosperous-

… wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty. These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others. [Psalm 73:5-8NLT]

Those who have surrendered their souls for this prosperity are-

… like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. [Psalm 1:4-5NLT]

God desires-

… this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, … [Galatians 5:22NLT]

Instead of a trail of hurting people, those who choose God’s prosperity leave behind a trail of love, joy and peace. Love will be tested by the offer of ‘prosperity’ so I need God’s love to stay true-

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked … But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees … bearing fruit each season. [Psalm 1:1-3NLT]

When I invest in God, he blesses with a prosperity that brings joy, not mere appearances attempting to suppress a churning heart. So, do I choose to aim for the prosperity that offers what ‘I want’ or that which leaves behind love and good fruit?

Live for eternity

Jesus’ unearths His followers’ motives following the feeding of the 5000 because it is here that the eternal value of what someone does is seen.

‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. John 6:26

What is the difference between eating bread that came to people as a miracle and seeing signs? They were the same event! The difference is in the focus. If I am looking for Jesus because I ate the bread and had my fill, then the focus is on me. If the focus is on Jesus, then I am looking for Him in order to worship Him. Jesus’ statement asks questions about my direction and focus in life –

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’ John 6:27

In our materialistic age I can be caught up with what is ultimately material, even if it seems spiritual. Paul identified Faith, hope and love as the three that persist. (1 Corinthians 13:13) Jesus asks questions of our motives too. Seeing our lives through the lens of ‘faith, hope and love’ helps us see if we are trying to use Him to get what we want out of life or whether we are working for the food that endures to eternal life.

 

See a more complete study 

Being human

What does it mean to be human? I find Jesus’ take shocking. When I survey our culture’s opinions I see anything from a triumphalistic ‘Top of the heap’ to ‘A virus wreaking destruction’. For many Christians, people are made in the image of God, and so to be respected.

My shock came looking at the logic of Philippians 2:7, starting at the end.

… he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  being made in human likeness.

Firstly, Jesus was made in human likeness.  Then going back, I read ‘the very nature of a servant …’ The implication is that the nature of a human being is to be a servant! I am shocked! We live in a culture that exalts freedom, yet our nature is to be a servant.

The fact is our nature is seen in our attitudes. We use freedom to pursue our passions, yet we become servants to whatever we exalt. If I exalt money, I become a slave to money. If I lift up family, I become a slave to family.

These false masters destroy us as we pursue them and their dream turns out bankrupt. When I pursue Jesus, He leads me down a path that fulfils. He said,

‘If you hold to my teaching you are truly my disciples, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ John 8:32

Jesus’ teaching is love. When I pursue Him, He frees me to serve in love, and I discover I am loved.

 

 

A more detailed study in Philippians 2 – ‘Who are we before God?’

 

Finding peace in anxiety

How can we move from the anxious tossing on a bed, to a place of peace? from

when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.  (Psalm 4:4)

To,

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)

David seems to find his way through sacrifice –

Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord (Psalm 4:5)

This is not, ‘Give up something to manipulate God into what we want’, but the sacrifice of that which is so important it drives to anxiety.  Anxiety is an early warning system showing us our inappropriate affections. In sacrificing our demands we come to a place of peace.

When I give up my demands I entrust myself to God and His love, knowing that the Lord is both good and sovereign. This surrender of what I am convinced will be good is faith indeed. When I exercise such faith, my heart shifts from a desire for personal prosperity to a desire for God Himself. We cannot purse both at the same time.

Many, Lord, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’ Let the light of your face shine on us. Psalm 4:6

In letting go, David has gained the greater perspective, that the Lord himself is our reward.  Everything else is a trinket compared to the Lord who is our true treasure. In knowing that He is safe with God, he can lie down at peace in safety.

 

A more detailed study on Psalm 4 is found in BibleBase2ADaringFaith

Freedom

Our society exalts freedom, but what does it mean to be free? Tozer makes the point that ‘there cannot be two absolutely free beings in the universe, for sooner or later two completely free wills must collide.1’ Our western secular culture prides itself in giving people freedom. It exalts the values it has worked out through taking what is Christian and stripping out Christ. Perversely it finds it has to impose this freedom through a system that is increasingly patronising and intolerant. The thing that ties our freedom in knots and forces us to defend ourselves from everyone else’s freedom is our culture’s slide into self-indulgence – the very fruit of the freedom it exalts.

Jesus offers us freedom from a different source. He said, ‘If you hold to my teaching you are truly my disciples, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’2 Jesus summarised His teaching: ‘Love the Lord your God’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’3 Freedom is found not in self-indulgence which lifts up ME, but in a relationship of love with Jesus and the people He has set us among. Through love we will know the Truth- and Jesus is the truth4. This is not knowledge that we take and control, it is knowing the King of the universe who loves us and receives us. As we live with Him, He leads us into a deep freedom that is independent of circumstances – even in Auschwitz or the body of a paraplegic!

 

  1. The Knowledge of the Holy
  2. John 8:31-32
  3. Matthew 22:37-40
  4. John 14:6

Downwardly mobile

We want to be associated with the rich, powerful and famous for through them we gain a foothold in their world and are elevated among our peers.

The ‘Great Banquet’ of Luke 14 expresses the betrayal felt by a host as each guest despises his invitation. Then, in a surprising turn, the host invites not the next best but those at the other end of the scale –

bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.

Perplexed, I re-read the chapter for clues. This parable was given in the context of a banquet.

12 Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

There is the same phrase! Here, Jesus gives a reason for inviting outcasts – a reward in heaven. This reveals the Lord’s value system often declared by Jesus –

Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last. (Luke 13:30)

To surrender the race for the top, receiving those the Lord sends us is a sacrifice of love, doubly so to receive those who will disadvantage us before those we care about.

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.