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.

Hope in discouragement

I have to be pushed beyond my resources before I recognise my need. My soul cries for God but my body interprets the cry as – eat more comfort food, get emotional space, be entertained.

As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1-NIV)

In discouragement I need God above all. He is my lifeline.

I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? (Psalm 42:2-NIV)

In discouragement God seems distant.

I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and 6 my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you— even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan… (Psalm 42:5-6-NIV)

In discouragement, there is one hope – my Saviour and God. The road begins when we choose to remember him, even with only the smallest trickle of encouragement as a spring on a barren mountain.

 I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. (Psalm 42:7-NIV)

Life’s trials sweep over us reinforcing the question, “Where is your God?”

But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. (Psalm 42:8-NIV)

The Lord pours out his love, will I receive it? Will I acknowledge that he sent it? Will I rejoice with him that he sent me life? I must choose to receive salvation though I don’t feel like it.

 

For more detail – the original study

What do we value?

Our culture has only one question to determine value – “Does it work?” Jesus takes a different view. After feeding the 5000 He leaves.  Most would have continued the ministry. When the people find Him, He challenges their motives –

  ‘… 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 as a miracle and seeing signs? The difference is in the focus. If I look for Jesus because I ate, then I am looking for myself and the focus is on me. If I look because I saw miraculous signs my focus is on Christ and I am looking to worship Him.

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’ (John 6:27)

This focus is seen in our relationship with God. If the focus of my spirituality is on what works, then it is subject to men’s evaluation which inevitably is temporary and ultimately spoils. The fruit Jesus is looking for is the fruit of lives changed by faith. Faith is proven through trust even when things don’t seem to be working –

‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (John 6:29)

Are we able to trust Jesus in how He directs rather than try to use Him to get what we want? This is food that endures to eternal life.

 

A fuller 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.

What counts?

How poorly I appreciate the unseen work of Christ. I recently organised a conference. There was a sense of God at work, one person even said it was the best conference they had ever been to. Yet looking back I experience frustration that only half the expected number turned up.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Looking for visible impact I slip away from Christ. In Portugal He spent six years showing me numbers were irrelevant. How easy to revert to type after returning to a culture fixated with measurables. This road leads to a pressure to justify cost effectiveness where the desire to impress, or merely justify, leads to abuse of those entrusted to me. It won’t be through circumcision, but elevating what is secondary and what is elevated becomes idolatrous and abusive. In Paul’s day it was all about bringing people into Judaism; he writes,

Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. (Galatians 6:12)

Such abuse is to no avail, for what counts is the transformation that only Christ sees.

15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

I live in a world where what is counted is supreme so, being human, I will struggle! However, I trust Jesus who promises –

16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God.

 

The background study can be found in ‘Circumcision for now

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

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