Free?

What does it look like to be spiritually free?

“Long ago my people chose to live in Egypt. Now they are oppressed by Assyria. … But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come to know its power.”

Isaiah 52v4-6

The choices we make can leave us in emotional cul-de-sacs. Life situations can oppress us. It is from these places that the Lord can reveal his power in our lives!

Wake up, wake up, O Zion! Clothe yourself with strength. Put on your beautiful clothes, O holy city of Jerusalem … Sit in a place of honor. Remove the chains of slavery from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.

Isaiah 52v1-2

It is while we are captive to circumstances that the Lord tells us to wake up and clothe ourselves with strength. We are asked to clothe ourselves with his beautiful character of love seen through joy, peace, patience, kindness and the like.

When we can live like this by the power of God in us, whatever the circumstances, then we are demonstrating freedom in Christ. Then his name is revealed and we see his power.

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Where hope?

Many hoping for relief are disappointed, Covid is resurging, society has shrunk, …

“Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance …

Isaiah 41v1

Everyone has situations needing rescue. Maybe a personal tragedy, maybe a global crisis …

… think about Abraham, your ancestor, and Sarah, who gave birth to your nation. Abraham was only one man when I called him. But when I blessed him, he became a great nation.”

The Lord lifts up a hopeless case that he turned around.

The Lord will comfort Israel again and have pity on her ruins.

Isaiah 51v3

The Lord knows about our ruins. He encourages and comforts us.

… Joy and gladness will be found there. Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.

There is hope for the future.

Look up to the skies above, and gaze down on the earth below. For the skies will disappear like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a piece of clothing.

Isaiah 51v6

But, that hope is not worked out in the global situation.

The people of the earth will die like flies, but my salvation lasts forever. My righteous rule will never end!

Our desires will often be disappointed but if we focus hope on the Lord we will see his salvation that makes sense of everything.

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Integrity

Franchise owners ensure that outlets maintain standards. The Lord is even more concerned with the use of his name.

“Listen to me, O family of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel and born into the family of Judah. Listen, you who … call on the God of Israel.

Isaiah 48v1

It is very easy for us to apply labels, but is the inside of the tin as described on the outside?

You don’t keep your promises, even though you call yourself the holy city and talk about depending on the God of Israel …

Isaiah 48v2

We are identifying with Jesus, the truth. When teaching his disciples to pray to the Father, he said, ‘Hallowed be your name’. How does our speech reflect our hallowed Father?

Thankfully that same prayer says, “Forgive us our sins.” Mercifully he knows when we fall short and is ready to forgive. He is also ready to intervene when we slip. I once made a flippant statement to which a colleague took offence – “… and you call yourself a Christian!” He tried to prove me corrupt, but the Lord justified me to that colleague. I was so grateful.

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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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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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