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?

Controversies and faith

The arguments I hold in my mind expose secondary issues that have supplanted my Father as the one to be worshipped.

In Psalm 76 the Father restores perspective.

2 …  his dwelling-place [is] in Zion. 3 There he broke the … weapons of war.

Going to Zion, God’s dwelling, we find different priorities, there He breaks my weapons – my simplistic arguments.

5 The valiant lie plundered … not one of the warriors can lift his hands.

If I allow the Lord to speak His perspective then he exposes these discussions, as pointless. He challenges me with the fact that He is not interested.

7 It is you alone who are to be feared. … 8 From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet –

It is God alone who is to be valued. When I fix on something lesser it becomes my idol. I am shocked when the Lord pours scorn on this thing. Yet when I let Him, I experience a wave of peace.

9 when you, God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land.

These arguments have collateral damage. Hearts are poisoned when the arguments become the overriding issue of a Christian’s faith.

10 Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.

When I allow my Father to divert me from my petty arguments I become a survivor of His wrath and I am restrained. I find myself at peace again in His presence.

 

You can see the original Bible study here

Nice encounters Love

Being nice has become a core value of our age. It is hard to argue against what superficially seems so good. Nice however is rooted in selfishness, with its fear of what people will think and its desire to be liked and gain influence over others.

An example of the difference between nice and love is seen at Jesus’ trial (John 18&19). Pilate has a choice between what his inner being tells him is right or giving in to what the voices of the self-righteous demand. It is a choice between the aspirations of the heart and the fear of hurting the feelings of influential people with the consequent loss of influence.

The contrast with Jesus’ love exposes the shallowness of ‘Nice’. Jesus knows Pilate is being driven by the manipulative forces of the religious leaders, yet He does not try to out manipulate Pilate. Rather, Jesus challenges him with a question that helps Pilate gain perspective. He goes on in love to risk His life by explaining himself with truth that leaves Pilate a clear picture of what is right.  Tragically Pilate gives in to evil.

Only when I trust the Sovereign Lord can I entertain love. He takes me beyond the immediate circumstances. He takes a stand with love, truth and righteousness and invites me to stand with Him. I can do so because I know He has my back.

Let’s despise niceness, this shrivelled and poverty stricken imitation of love and stand with God in truth and love.

Read the Bible study that inspired this Blog.

Driven or Complacent

Living in our hurting world our tendency is either, throw ourselves at the problem, driven by the need, or to harden ourselves to the need and wait for God to resolve it Himself. Both these approaches stem from futile thinking and expose our darkened understanding. This darkness comes from a hardened heart that will not allow in the light of Christ.

When I am driven by need I am not experiencing God’s peace. I have allowed ‘self’ to become an idol, and am sacrificing my soul on its altar.

When I sit complacently expecting the Lord to do everything, I have hardened myself to the needs of people and to the call of Christ who gave His life for them.

The solution is not through trying harder, but to return to the life of God. This comes through surrender; a willingness to deny myself, take up the cross and follow Jesus.

Jesus started the great commission,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18.

Am I seeking the sovereign ‘ME’ or am I surrendered to the Lord and His kingdom. Am I willing for His results to be different from what theory suggests?

Jesus ended the great commission,

“… surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

I must walk with Him in His programme and surrender the appearance of business or spirituality. If He is sitting in the stands then I sit with Him. If He is intervening, then I intervene with Him.

 

The original Bible Study in Ephesians 4:17-19

 

Forgetting God

When I am spiritually empty I get caught up with myself, and forget God. It is a strange emptiness coming either through abandoning routine times in the word and prayer or through intense activity and not having space to just BE with Him, even if I have not neglected the spiritual disciplines.

Psalm 36:1 speaks of this forgetting God:

‘An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes.’

Without the fear of the Lord I have a cavalier attitude and overstep all sorts of boundaries – both the Lord’s and those of people where I think I can get away with it. When I take such liberties, it ends up in wickedness – manoeuvring in order to achieve my will.

V2 ‘For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his own sin.’

The outcome of this lack of the fear of God is that I revert to a place of thinking I am right, and angle to control those around me for the sake of bringing about my view of righteousness, which is in fact self-righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and He points out where I have come to and encourages me back to a place of humility taking Him seriously again. I am grateful for his intervention though at first it feels like a sharp rebuke coming out of nowhere. It is needed because I am so blind I think I am doing what is right!

Freedom from whom?

Many think of freedom as ‘Free from’; free from those who limit us; free from the rules that stop us having what we want. So we blame those who rule over us for keeping us from our desires. In our age however there is such freedom that when we can’t get what we want, the only one we have left to rage against is God. In Psalm 2 we read, “Let us break off their chains.” One would imagine such a cry coming from people who are oppressed, but these words come from ‘The kings of the earth,’ those who are the freest to do as they choose!

In reality, our lack of freedom comes not from the Lord, but from ourselves. We lack the courage to look into our own hearts and acknowledge our failure, our lack of courage to do what is right, or the way we ensnare ourselves through our evil desires. These are the real origins of our chains.

The Lord’s response to the kings is to present them with truth: “I have installed my king on Zion.” Jesus has been installed as my King. If my life is lined up with the Lord and His King then this statement brings joy, peace and freedom for together we can do anything. If however, I am living for my own will, then I respond as the kings do with terror at the Lord’s rebuke. I am terrified by what the Lord might take from me.

Spiritual Prostitution

One of the temptations of spiritual leadership is spiritual prostitution. Ezekiel 16:15-21 spells this out. He begins,

“15 But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.”

When Christ works in us he develops a spiritual beauty. This is seen both by those who are spiritual, and those who are searching. The beauty of Christ in us draws people to us. Since we feel esteem when people come to us, we are tempted to use what God has made us to draw people to ourselves even further.  So Ezekiel goes on,

“16 You lavished your favours on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.”

Those who use us in this way are clothed in us instead of being clothed in Christ. So, the followers become caricatures of their leader.

As we see people being drawn to the spirituality God has developed in us, we are tempted to shift focus from the giver to the gifts making idols of them. “17 You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. “

The final part of this process is tragic: “20 ‘“And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols.” Anything that we worship outside of Christ consumes us, so those who gather to this idolatrous ministry are sacrificed for the sake of the ministry.

Offensive Spiritual Warfare

Who is willing and patient enough to engage with God in offensive spiritual warfare?  Psalm 110 shows how.

‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’

It begins with sitting at God’s right hand! Amazing! Instead of action, it is spent waiting with the Father in prayer. This period of the warfare continues until the Father has won the victory, He alone knows when and can release the prayer warrior.

‘The Lord will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion.’

Through sitting at God’s right hand in prayer, the Lord extends the authority of the prayer warrior. This authority is spiritual, it comes from Zion where God dwells,  rather than organisational, it is a place of humility that may not be recognised by others.

‘Your troops will be willing on the day of battle.’

The victory becomes visible when the Lord raises up troops to fight in the day of battle. The troops are the Lord’s and they are willing to fight for Him.

‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’

Those who have sat with God in prayer, not only participate in great victories, they are given a title of honour.

‘The Lord is at your right hand, he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.’

The victory is assured and it looks like it has been gained through this lord. Only God and the prayer warrior know that the victory was gained months or even years earlier when they sat together in prayer.

Unsustainable idolatry

Many are burdened and unable to carry either the great image ‘success and happiness’, or the great sacrifice, ‘being busy’ that are demanded by our culture. It is amazing how hard people work to present this image of everything being OK while in the worst recession of living memory. This unsustainable idolatry is rampant in our Church as it is driven by the goals of ‘Church growth’ and ‘experiencing God’. It is both disturbing and a relief to find that this situation cannot persist. The outcome of any idolatry is either repentance or captivity.

Isaiah proclaimed the outcome for the idols of Babylon,

“Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; … the images that are carried about are burdensome … They … themselves go off into captivity.” (Isaiah 46:1-2)

The passage goes on to give the Lord’s alternative.

“Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Instead of us carrying burdensome idols, the Lord desires to carry us! He cannot carry us if we insist on carrying Him.

The rest of this chapter outlines how people pour out wealth to build their idols, while the Lord is looking for those who will entrust themselves to Him.

The Lord challenges this persistent idolatry by bringing in a destroyer.

“From the east I summon a bird of pray; … a man to fulfil my purpose.”

Isaiah prophesied a pagan invasion, fulfilled through Cyrus king of Persia. Who or what will it be for our society?

False Generosity

I see a need; my heart goes out to fulfil it, but sometimes I fail to stop and ask the big question: What is God doing here? Why is the Lord of the universe allowing the need to arise? Is it a means of sharpening this person’s character and his dependence on God? If that is the case, then He actually wants the person to be squirming and my assistance would short circuit His purpose.

A friend is in trouble and I desire to help. There is a need for money; can I cover it? I call it generosity, but Psalm 50 questions my faith and motivation –

“I am God, your God. … I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal in the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.”

God is sufficient for the need, so why am I so desperate to help? Am I using money to gain favour? If so, then I am guilty of getting in the way of God’s purpose and of seeking to usurp his place as the answer to all needs! The Lord’s reminder that He has everything in hand calms me and helps me walk in the light.

At other times I am prompted to give generously, yet usually at a higher personal cost and for an unknown benefit. That way I am protected from seeing myself as the source.