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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Disturbing Reality

When we are full of bitter anger how do we respond to grace and peace?

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Acts 9:3-4

Saul is on his way to vent his anger. There he meets Jesus who speaks tenderly to him, “Saul, Saul” the tender call to a child who has lost his way.

Saul has met Love. In his self righteousness he cannot tie together the call of love with the accusation of persecution. Jesus has to spell it out.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,”

Acts 9:5

Now Saul’s world has been turned upside down. He had thought of himself as the star doing God’s work. Now he realises has been opposing the Messiah.

“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”… when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Acts 9:6-9

Saul was not told to fast, yet he did not eat or drink for three days. Maybe a response to discovering that his whole life had been a violent lie?

Do we have the courage to hear disturbing truths from Jesus?

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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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Finding God when spiritually empty

When I am thirsty for God I don’t want to be with him.  Spiritual thirst drives out love so I reject its source. Practically, I struggle to read the Bible or pray, while being tempted by my cravings.

… God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, … in a dry and parched land where there is no water. [Psalm 63:1]

So, why is this spiritually thirsty writer longing for God? The psalm gives some clues about finding God out of spiritual emptiness.

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. [Psalm 63:2]

Past experiences of God’s glory seen amongst his people remind me of what could be.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. [Psalm 63:3]

Reflecting on past experiences of God’s love and the impact that had can remind me that his love is the essence of life, so I can choose to glorify him, no matter how I feel.

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. [Psalm 63:4]

When I thirst, praise is a choice reflecting a relationship that perseveres with God despite his apparent absence.

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. [Psalm 63:5]

So, I worship God even in the most barren times, confident that in time God will satisfy me with rich spiritual food. Barren times ask the question – How much do I value God?

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.

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.

Law meets love

Growing up in a culture that values keeping laws, I struggle when someone bends rules. So, when Jesus confronts the rule keepers I have disquiet.  Would I be on the wrong side of him?

Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’ (Mark 3:1-3)

When those who elevate law confront Jesus we see in their hopes to accuse, self-righteousness. Having reduced godliness to keeping rules, their tunnel vision blinkers out God’s glory. Only obeying God’s rules denies his love.

Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent. (Mark 3:4)

If I see Sabbath as alignment towards God and his sovereign authority, then Sabbath elevates God’s love. If I see Sabbath as a law, then that alone matters.

… He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:5-6)

When I struggle in self-doubt, I forget that the Spirit of God will lead me into crises of choice between my cultural norms and his way of love. As far as by grace he has transformed me, so his love will shine through.