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 

Life in trials

Life circumstances push faith to the limit. We wonder why our ‘faithful God’ has abandoned us. Such trials expose the extent of our faithfulness to God’s word.

If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. (Ps 119:92)

We can be so angry with God for allowing affliction that spiritual death takes hold. Affliction exposes how much we learned to delight in the Lord and His law in the easy times.

I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. (Ps 119:93)

Those who have been through trials with God can testify that His Word preserved their lives. Through His Word they had an inner strength to face impossible odds.

Save me, for I am yours; I have sought out your precepts. (Ps 119:94)

From this place of having proved God’s Word, God’s servant calls out for salvation to the only one worth calling to.

The wicked are waiting to destroy me, but I will ponder your statutes. (Ps 119:95)

The fruit of this proving ground is that there is a confident hope of God’s salvation, and so sufficient peace to ponder God’s work while most at this point would struggle with anxiety.
96 To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.

Perfection is limited in that it is predictable. God’s Word is boundless because when the Lord fulfils His Word we are always surprised by the twists with which He does it.

 

The original Bible study is found at this link – Faithful Word

Eternal Word?

We see a world in flux. The ‘best’ lasts six months. The ‘must have’ I-Phone 5, gives way to I-Phone 6. If ‘the best’ lasts a year, how can the Bible, written thousands of years ago claim to persist? The Bible is clear about itself –

Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Psalm 119:89

If the Lord’s word were fixed on earth it would change. Instead it is fixed in heaven, the home of our Lord who created time! He is Alpha and Omega who knows the end from the beginning and can have text written that persists through time.

90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.

Life on earth appears to persist on a knife edge. During the Cuban missile crisis an officer on a Russian submarine refused to launch a nuclear strike. Today many fear global warming. Continuing life on earth testifies to God’s faithfulness.

91 Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you.

God’s word stands to this day, not because He has been clever at writing and anticipated all that was needed. Rather, the whole universe rests on the frame of His word. All that happens works to serve His purposes –Jesus’ death on the cross was intended as evil, but brought salvation. The fact that we question God’s Word exposes how narrow our view of life is. When we align our lives to God through His word, we participate in God’s purposes through His love.

Choose Jesus’ way

Jesus talks of how we choose to receive His word. An emphasis on visible results has pushed us towards –

The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.

Results are easy! We can count green shoots of decisions and boast of fruitfulness. But easy come brings easy go –

But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

Noticing the failure trailing this approach, many abandoned the focus on decisions for a journey into the Christian life. This sounds good, but the thorny issues of life are not dealt with in repentance. So –

The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

Protecting ourselves and others from Jesus’ cross is producing a fruitless faith. There is however another choice –

But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Mat 13:18-23 (NIV 1984)

Jesus is clear about what this choice involves–

…  unless an ear 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

Let’s choose Jesus’ way!

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.

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

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?

Worship, a cure for rebellion

When I really want something, I look on the Bible as a hindrance, getting in the way of what I want. I want to rebel –

 ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’ Psalm 2:3

I despise my convictions as irrelevant for this situation. The Lord however, has a response:

He rebukes them … saying, ‘I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.’ Psalm 2:5-6

I have become so passionate for what I desire that I have forgotten Jesus. The way back is to focus on Him alone. When I have Jesus in focus, when I have surrendered the passion and spent time with Him, feeding on Him, I find my heart is restored. Then questions of ‘What are the limits I can get away with?’ become irrelevant.

For those unwilling to surrender there is a tragic road ahead –

You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery. Psalm 2:9

The Lord is clear about His intention. He will not willingly allow us to be drawn away by false gods.

Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. Psalm 2:12

Finding the limit of law is a sideshow. The response He is looking for is to worship Him, to choose to delight in Him, not the trappings of this world, to turn my head around and look passionately at Jesus.

 

The Bible study from which this came – biblebase2adaringfaith