Christmas without limits?

Christmas is often expressed as a time to live without limits. John the Baptist challenges our generation with its rejection of boundaries. We don’t think to ask “Who has God made me to be?” but rather, “What could I make of myself?” John the Baptist knew who he wasn’t.

He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ John 1:19-20

God had shown John who he was, and he was content with that –

 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’ John1:23

In our society it never occurs to us that there could be a limit. We want the biggest, the best, the most, … Christians have christened this value to become: Having the biggest church, Having a strategy that will take the world for Jesus Christ, … Another name for this value is greed and with spiritual clothes it becomes spiritual greed.

The godly value that opposes greed is contentment. Paul writes

“Godliness with contentment is great gain” 1 Timothy6:6

John the Baptist did not go to the crowds in Jerusalem, but risked all on the passage the Lord had given him. He went to the wilderness. John was content to depend on God to fulfil the ministry He intended.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. Psalm 16:6

Am I willing to receive the delightful inheritance God has given me with its boundaries?

Created perfect?

If God is so great, how come he made me like this? There are many who look at themselves and see only imperfections and a choice between a helpless God, or a God who doesn’t care.

God speaks to this in Isaiah 44:2.

This is what the Lord says – he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you:

The Lord affirms that it really is He who formed us. He does not pick up where nature leaves off. Everyone has been formed with care and purpose.

We forget that those who seem ‘perfect’ have an inner wealth that tends towards independence. They are tempted to think that they don’t need God, or worse that God needs them.

It is no accident that the following statement is that the Lord will help us. If we think, I am made so poorly I need help, we miss the wonder of our creation. We were not made to be independent but to live in partnership with God. Only in unison with the Father are we complete – the poor in spirit who inherit the Kingdom.

do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.

Dancing with an invisible partner leaves us feeling exposed. When we appreciate our situation fear rises. This takes us from a naïve presumption to real faith where we trust God to fulfil His perfection in us. He chose us not as dispensable add-ons but ones who cost Him His son’s life! We are chosen in love, with patience and care.

 

A fuller study on Isaiah 44 can be found in Biblebase2adaringfaith.

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

Keys to the Kingdom

When what we say lifts Jesus as God and acknowledges ourselves as servants then we have the keys of Kingdom. When speaking in independence we lose them. Spiritual authority is based on submission to Jesus, ‘Son of the living God.’

In Matthew 16 following Peter’s confession:

16 …, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

Jesus states:

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

It seems Jesus gave Peter Carte Blanche; whatever he says goes. So, many believers pray believing they will get what is asked with an authoritative voice. However Peter immediately uses this authority and is rebuffed –

23 …  ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’

Isaiah 33:5-6 coming from a different angle illuminates –

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; … He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

Isaiah lifts up the Lord, as Peter has, great things are promised on the basis of the fear of the Lord. If I put this thinking into Matthew 16 I see Jesus saying, while you acknowledge Me as God and take Me seriously, then you have the keys of the kingdom.

 

For the complete study – Key to the Kingdom

Poor in spirit

When presented with the impossible, I am challenged to be poor in spirit. When my peers flout their wealth, I am challenged to be poor in spirit. Much of Jesus’ ‘sermon on the mount’ can be summarised by this. We need to have courage, look reality in the face and acknowledge that we are in a weak position. Then we look to the King as against our abilities, networks or resources for the impossible to be fulfilled.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 5:3

The poor in spirit are not necessarily materially poorer, but they know their wealth is not the answer.  Wealth can take many forms: our money, our heritage, our network of friends, our skills, our profession, our family, knowledge of the Bible, our spiritual gifts, … Those who have these advantages find it hardest to let go of the security found in wealth and entrust themselves to the King.

People who allow the Word to speak into their lives and take action are the poor in Spirit. They act not knowing how the end can be achieved, for at the start they don’t have the resources. They act confident that their Lord will back them up. This poverty of spirit requires a surrender of life and reputation into the hands of the King. It is not easy. ‘When I step out in faith the question lurks in the darkness: Was this God’s idea or my presumption?’ We learn the difference as we develop in our relationship with God.

Entrust to mercy

A living sacrifice does not pick it’s sacrifices, nor determine the cost. A living sacrifice is ready to die to self. If I am to walk yoked with Jesus in step with Him, then I cannot choose the bits of the journey I want. In essence, I am throwing myself at the mercy of God.

When an opportunity is presented to me my reaction is to evaluate the cost against my capacity and decide if I can fulfil what is being offered. While this approach is generally appropriate and eminently Biblical (Luke 14:28), I sense at this time The Lord’s challenge for me personally, is different.

Therefore brothers, in view of God’s mercy, I urge you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1

I feel as I do when standing on a tower with a zip line in front of me.  My head tells me that I will be safe while my senses shout, ‘You fool!’ It is the Lord who knows the journey’s path from the beginning. He can regulate the pace; He can cancel meetings; He can make apparent obligations impossible, and expose them as frauds. The other side of the challenge? If I allow Him to work in me this way then through faith He will break the bounds of my limited view and overflow from me into the lives others. So, I am encouraged to take the risk and entrust myself to His mercy, to His love.

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

Spiritual emptiness

Why does the Lord take us through periods of spiritual emptiness? We long for intimacy in worship and the word, but encounter dryness.

This seems to be the experience of the Psalmist in Psalms 42&43 (combined as one).

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

This seems blasphemy to a culture exalting intimacy with God. How could God distance Himself? Yet the Psalmist writes –

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night,while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’

When this spiritual emptiness is experienced there are consequences, a rawness to life. One is on edge and brought to the end of natural defences. One is tempted to fill up through satisfaction of physical senses that only scream louder.

In years gone by, the Psalmist may have believed in a ‘technique that worked.’ After gaining intimacy with God through such techniques and then losing it for no apparent reason one gains perspective that God is after more than experiences of wellbeing.

43:3 Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.

The break through comes not from our efforts but from the Lord. The Psalmist calls on the one who seems to have forgotten him, recognising that the Lord’s purpose is as much about character as the experience of His presence.

 

For greater detail see the study for the whole passage.

One thing I ask …

Psalm 27:4 both inspires and challenges.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

First – In praying this I have seen the Lord bear fruit, however I then go on to ask the Lord to give ministry success as well, missing the point that He is sufficient in Himself.

The Lord has been challenging me to be content with ‘one thing’!  Only when willing to be open, that my ‘one’ ministry was to dwell in His house, experiencing the ‘humiliation’ of ‘not doing anything’ did He open the door to further ministry.

Second is the context – I had imagined it as the longings of one far from worries. In fact it is written in conflict. V12 –

Do not hand me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me,  spouting malicious accusations.

David the general has confidence not in his skill, but in the Lord. This confidence comes not from his history of success but from the core of his soul. He has encountered the Lord and seen His goodness in both success and failure. So David is at peace confident of God’s goodness, whatever that may look like. He prays, ‘One thing’ not out of sentimentality but because the outer situation reinforces the need for his core relationship with God to be developed.

The study from which this was derived is found in BibleBase2ADaringFaith