Month: June 2015

Lord?

Posted on Updated on


Who is following who?  Who serves who?  Our consumer culture is impacting our discipleship, our followership of Jesus…

You see, consumer’s are those who acquire goods and services for the sake of fulfilling their own needs, desires and objectives.  Like you I consume everyday, making choices based on a grid of that which suits my needs or my families needs best…

I just experienced this replacing a kitchen appliance for our family.  As the consumer I mulled over what I was willing to give in exchange for what benefit we will receive from the exchange.  We bought one item, but then stood on our consumer rights taking it back the next day as we changed our minds again..!

Consumer’s have rights, they get to choose, they get to be served, get to be right in some stores even, they get to take back what doesn’t suit their needs.
Sadly however, these same attitudes these lines of thinking easily slip into our faith, into our followership of Jesus and into our view of His church and what it is there for!

And yet Jesus said;

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? ” (Luke 6:46)

One of my spiritual father’s, Simon Pettit, used to say; “you can’t say ‘no, Lord'”!  Jesus is saying the same here.  It is incompatible to call Jesus Lord (which means master) and yet disregard His commands, desires and instructions.

‘But isn’t our following Jesus all about love?  What’s all this about commands and obedience then?’ – some might be thinking.  And yet, we know that Jesus defined loving Him as obeying Him (John 14:15).

There are two things that matter in this regard; firstly it matters to at we do obey our Lord and secondly, it matter why we obey Him.  Tim Keller contrasts the Gospel and religion when he says;

‘I obey therefore I am accepted by God’ equals religion but ‘I am accepted by God because of Jesus, therefore I obey’ equals the Gospel.

When it comes to our faith, we are not consumers – we are beloved servants, sons and daughters of the most High God accepted by His glorious grace because of the finished work of the Son, Jesus on the cross for us.

But, that free grace doesn’t turn us into consumers but rather into grateful obedient sons and daughters who respond to this lavish love and grace by living to please Him who died for us, living out lives of obedience to Him because of the love in our hearts for Him who loved us first.

We are on shaky ground if we have slipped into thinking along the consumerist lines of; “what can the church do for me” or “is this church meeting MY needs/desires.

This is Jesus’ church, it’s His bride whom He is preparing and through whom He will fulfill His plans and purposes and in whom He will glory in that Great Day to come and in whom He will be glorified!

If Luke were recording the eyewitness account of this moment with Jesus today, he might have heard,

“Why do you call me Lord, Lord and yet expect to be served rather than serve me, serve my purposes in and through the church that bear’s my name?”

Or maybe; “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and yet you live in perpetual sexual sin and immorality, as if I didn’t care?”

In this age of consumers, may we be those who live out lives of radical obedience and radical servanthood inspired by verses like 2 Corinthians 5:15;

“He (Jesus) died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Advertisements

Full…

Posted on Updated on

overflow

full (fʊl/), adjective
containing or holding as much or as many as possible; having no empty space.

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness (Luke 4:1)

My eye is drawn to this phrase ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit’ in Luke 4:1. This sentence is translated in the same way in 7 of the 8 translations I looked at. So the underlying meaning is clear, but what does it tell me about Jesus and what does it mean for us for me today?

Matthew and Mark use the same word translated in Greek to describe the measure of leftover bread after Jesus fed the thousands and they collected the excess. Luke uses the same word to describe the man covered totally by leprosy. John uses the same word when he describes Jesus and tells us about the measure of total grace and truth Jesus possessed. Luke later in his account uses the same word to describe how the early church were instructed by the Apostles to look for men ‘full of the Spirit and of wisdom’ and uses it to also describe the measure of Stephen’s faith and of Tabitha’s good works and mercy gift.

Today the word means, to contain as much as is possible and it’s safe to say that the same meaning is apparent in it’s original context.

From Luke and the other eye witness accounts, we know that as Jesus was coming up out of the water at His baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus. Now we read about the measure or the result of that anointing, that coming upon by the Spirit, in the man Jesus. He was full of the Holy Spirit.

Before continuing the narrative, Luke wants to tell us something descriptive about Jesus. It is meant to help us understand who He was and what He was like and how or by what power He was acting. Luke describes Jesus as full of the Spirit, overflowing in the Spirit like the baskets of bread, covered with the Spirit like the man who had leprosy all over – Jesus was filled to capacity by the Holy Spirit.

This is a key description of Jesus for Luke who later explains the source of Jesus’ ministry power in the following way;

“you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:37-38)

For Luke then, there is an intimate connection between Jesus’ acts of power and His being full of or anointed by God with the Holy Spirit. The source of Jesus’ being guided into the desert and having power to resist the temptation of the devil, the source of Jesus’ ministry effectiveness was His being ‘full of the Holy Spirit’.

It is vital that we see that this being ‘full of Holy Spirit’ as an attribute of Jesus’ humanity, not His deity. Like Luke’s description of Jesus here, Elizabeth, the first deacons, Stephen & Tabitha are all described in the same way by Luke as Jesus is being described here. None of these other people were divine but rather human in every way, just like you and I. And yet they too were described as being filled or full of the Holy Spirit too!

This means that being filled/full of the Holy Spirit is a possibility for us a believers too.

More than that is a necessity that we be full of the Holy Spirit, which is why Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit before they embarked on fulfilling His great commandment and great commission (see Luke 24:49 & Acts 1:1-8) and why Paul commanded the Ephesian believers to “be filled with the Spirit” in light of the evil days in which we live out our followership of Jesus.

Luke describes Jesus as full of the Spirit, Paul exhorts us to be filled (crammed to the full – literal meaning of the word he used). Some questions arise; ‘Is this fullness automatic?’ ‘If it is possible/necessary to be full of the Holy Spirit, then is it possible to not be full?’ ‘How can I/we be filled/full of the Holy Spirit?’ and ‘What caused Luke to describe Jesus in this way, what did he observe in Jesus that resulted in this description?’

Luke’s description of Jesus as full of the Holy Spirit would have been superfluous and just literary padding if it was not necessary, if it were not distinguishing Jesus’ state from other possible states (like not being full of the Spirit).

Paul’s commandment for us to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” would be non-sensical if it were not possible for one to be in a state of ‘not-being-full-of-the-Holy-Spirit’, and it would be a non-sensical command if it were not possible to in fact be filled with the Holy Spirit, like Jesus was!

Much more could be written, but for today my prayer is simply; “Father, fill me to the full with the Holy Spirit, anoint me as You anointed Your Son. Amen.”

Is it the end yet?

Posted on Updated on

  

Why?  

Such a short phrase and yet so all consuming at times in our lives or the lives of those we love.  In the opening lines of Luke’s gospel (Luke chapter 1) we are introduced to a married couple (Zechariah & Elizabeth) who are now ‘well advanced’ in years and yet sadly do not have any children…

Why?  Although Nadine and I never faced this particular challenge ourselves, we know a number of couples who wanted children and yet had to wait month after month, year after painful year… Why?

Luke, wants us to know that this experience of theirs was not as a result of consequences of some action on their part.  In fact they are described in glowing terms as having married according to God’s instructions and they were also diligently serving God and living in such a way that would have been pleasing to God.

Luke points out two medical reasons for their being childless – ‘Elizabeth was barren’ and ‘both were advanced in years’.  However, the unmentioned reason is the true reason for this situation in their lives – God was going to work a miracle through them that was going to usher in the miraculous birth of the Messiah to come!

Makes me think of Romans 8:28 and how as Michael Eaton says that passage means that when things are going badly, somehow for the believer they’re going right in a funny sort of way that we just might not fully understand right now!

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s pain and sadness must have been real and crushing at times, it must have caused them to question themselves, to even question God…  But all the while, God was sovereignly working out all things, personal things and national and cosmic things all in accordance with a His plan and purposes (Ephesians 1:11).

We know Zechariah had prayed because the angel Gabriel in vs13 says to Zechariah; “your prayer has been heard”.  I would not be surprised if Zechariah had gone through periods of doubt regarding his faith, regarding the goodness of God or whether his prayer’s were being heard…  But in this moment, the angel confirms, your prayer has been heard!

Are you like Zechariah and Elizabeth?  

Have you been diligently following God, seeking to live in ways you know please Him, serving God in the church in some way and yet there is something that you feel God has not heard you on?

What an encouragement this seemingly ordinary couple are!

They served God, obeyed God loved to please God in spite of their own struggle and disappointment at seemingly unheard and unanswered prayers and seemingly did so for years and years.  Their faith wasn’t dependent on God doing what they wanted when they wanted it!  They weren’t consumer’s but worshipers of Almighty God.

If they had conceived as a married young couple, no one would have noticed, it would not have caused all who knew them or all those in the hill country of Judea and all around who heard say; “What then will this child be?” (vs66)

God was working in the delay, God wasn’t late but on time as He always is according to His timescale not ours.  What is there in your life that feels like delay, or unheard or unanswered prayer?  Can you believe God’s sovereign will and His perfect timing?  I am not saying you’ll get what you’ve been praying for necessarily, but I am saying that as with this couple, God has your life and it’s circumstances in His loving control and your life like that of this couples’ is interwoven with God’s divine purposes in the whole earth!

This story is a good news story, with a wonderful conclusion far beyond what they had ever prayed for no doubt, angelic visitations, in filling by the Holy Spirit, prophesy, and the honour of a son who usher’s in the Messiah…

Someone said to me the other day, when things in our lives seem unfulfilled, out of control even, under pressure – what we can say with assurance is ‘that we haven’t reached the end of the story yet‘, there is more to come, God’s not done.  We know from Hebrews 11:39 that for some of us God won’t have even written the final chapter of our lives when we have passed on to eternity as our lives can still have impact after our death and history of this earth won’t be wrapped up until Jesus comes back…

Maybe you’re in a tough spot right now, maybe your faith is being challenged, maybe it feels like God has abandoned you or is not answering your prayers…

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story encourages us to remain faithful, diligent in loving God, serving God’s purposes and while we wait to see what God will do and we too with them one day cry out “blessed be the Lord God”.

Never satisfied…

Aside Posted on Updated on

  
 
In the wisdom of Proverbs, there are two things that are never satisfied, two things that have an insatiable desire.

Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man. (Proverbs 27:20)

I know Scripture is true, I believe in it’s infallibility 100% without need for proof.  And yet it is nice when you have something happen which confirms what Scripture says to be true.

I had this happen to me just the other night watching Apple’s WWDC’15 with my son Luke.  Luke and I were is amazement, drooling at all the ‘magical’ ‘revolutionary’ new software and hardware lined up by this company…  

Things we will be convinced we ‘need’ because what we have is simply not good enough any more.  Luke and I felt the force strongly that night!  


‘…never satisfied are the eyes of man’ came to mind and Luke and I got to talk about it.

Then just yesterday a similar thing happened.  On a messaging group of church leaders I am part of, this message appeared, followed just minutes later with the ‘apparently a scam’ message…

What happened next was funny and proved Proverbs 27:20 to be true once again and caused much laughter and some self reflection for a bunch of guys that might have erroneously thought they were above such things

       Four of the guys admitted to having followed the link and started entering to win their new device, the others were silent but I’d place a wager on a good few of them having also followed suit in the folly.

Why do silly things like this scam have any power of grabbing our attention?  – ‘…never satisfied are the eyes of man’

If you consider the Ten Commandments all of them are possible until you get to commandment no.10 the very commandment Luke and I were wrestling with and that which would have tripped up these ‘men of God’ yesterday.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)

When you put Exodus 20:17 together with Proverbs 27:20 you can be sure that you and I are doomed to fail!  We can’t keep the Law. No one lives a sinless life devoid of any covetous desire – it’s just not possible for us.

But that’s why Jesus came!  To live the sinless life you and I could not live, so that He could die in our place as the substitute sacrifice for our sin and rise again for our new and eternal life forever with Him.

The good news is that the problem as CS Lewis famously said; is not that our desires are too strong, it’s not that we should just try not covet, want or desire things – no the problem is that we are too easily satisfied with trivial things when we were made to be satisfied fully in God, in our relationship with Him and in worshipping His glory alone!

Nothing can, nothing will ever satisfy us except God Himself.

The heart of hearing…

Posted on Updated on

  “Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge” Proverbs 23:12

There are two directives here, one of which may surprise.  In this the 11th of thirty wise sayings grouped together in Proverbs 22:17–24:22 we are told;

1) Apply your heart to instruction.

2) Apply your ear to words of knowledge

This at first can be surprising because in our age of information, content and knowledge.  One might expect it to say “apply our mind to instruction” but it doesn’t. Why?

One of the themes throughout Scripture concerning who we are and how we’re made by God, is that the heart is the centre of our being not our minds.  I speaking of the heart Scripture here is not merely taking about your and my “blood pump”.

The heart is spoken of in Scripture as the center of the physical, mental, moral and spiritual life.  The heart is the place of the will, of motive, conscience and it is the spring from which life or death flows. Elsewhere in Proverbs 4:23 Scripture declares that the heart is the wellspring/fountain of life.

In the fall, men and women’s hearts were corrupted and so because the heart is at the root of the problem, this is the place where God does His work in the individual and so salvation is rooted in heart transformation so that we believe with our hearts, and as a result are declared justified by God and therefore are saved! (Romans 10:10)

So, the heart is of primary importance, and this is why this saying tells us to apply our hearts to instruction.  But what does that look like?

How can I apply my heart to instruction? 

First we need to use our ears, open them, we need to listen.  Listening to words of knowledge in itself is a heart lead action.  In order to hear properly we need to humble ourselves, not be proud or arrogant or unteachable but actively give our ears to knowledge being shared with us.

Then, having heard we need to apply our hearts to what we have heard.  I think the best way to do this is to train ourselves to become ‘self-aware’ – to learn to identify how we are feeling, thinking, reacting and why so?

We need to ask questions that go beyond content, what have I received?  What have I felt God say to me?  What reactions have I had and why?

Applying our hearts to instruction will help us to hear what God is saying to us which allows us to then discern, to obey and to be shaped by what we’ve heard.

Fear of death or a desire to live…?

Posted on Updated on

  
Having just had a life threatening scare in having suffered but survived a pulmonary embolism resulting from a post-operative complication resulting in a DVT in my leg I have been reflecting on the difference between a fear of death and a desire to live.

Having previously always been healthy but suddenly facing the reality of how life truly is a gift given by God each and every moment, I was surprised by the emotional and mental impact of my experience.

I know that I am certain of my salvation and as such have no fear of death which I know is not a termination for a believer like me but rather a transition to eternal life with our mortality being swallowed up with life because we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:4).  As DL Moody famously said; “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.” (DL Moody quoted in R.Alcorn, Heaven pp 31).

I know I have believed in Jesus and that Scripture assures such a person that they “will be saved” (Romans 10:9) and more than that also assures me that “our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you (me) to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).

In addition to this, the Holy Spirit witnesses with my spirit that I am the child of God, and because I am a child of God, I am also a future heir with Christ (Romans 8:14-17).

And yet to be honest, this week’s experience rocked me.  

So why?  I knew I wasn’t afraid of dying, so what was I feeling?  Why was I so emotional?

On reflection, the feeling was not so much fear, but more a fighting even desperate desire within me to live longer on this earth, to be with my wife and family and those I love and a sincere feeling that “the good works God had prepared in advance for me to do” (Ephesians 2:10) were not yet completed.  

I know without a doubt that all the days ordained for me are in my Father’s book (Psalm 139:16), I know that I can’t add one to them!  

Yet in me is a desire to live – to enjoy this life He has given to me with those He has given me, and to serve my Father’s purposes in this life.

Thank you Father God for every breath, may I truly live each day You give for You and for Your glory, Amen.

Anger, sense and a restoration project…

Posted on

   
Do you ever envy other people?  I do.  

Now I know that envy isn’t what my Father wants from me but not all envy is that bad.  

I sometimes wish I could be the guy in the line at Home Affairs/Bank/Traffic licensing office…who isn’t getting riled at the inefficiency or the seeming absence of any commitment to serve others – I envy that guy who’s just calmly sitting there even seemingly enjoying the time away from tasks!

I sometimes wish I could be the guy of the squash who is playing top squash but just seems to be having fun and isn’t affected by dodgy referring calls – I envy that guy sometimes.

Scripture is so life-giving and practical.  Just yesterday I read again that;

“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11 ESV 

Now although I am who God’s made me and that includes all my physical, mental & personality attributes, Scripture also teaches me that who God made as Gareth – was tainted, marred by the Fall.  I am created in His image but that image needs restoring/re-moulding which is what happens daily as I listen to God through Scripture and obey the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

So when I say I am envious of someone else’s calmness in certain settings I am not expressing dissatisfaction with who God made me but rather dissatisfaction at the particular effect of sin in my life.  I see something of the image of God in that other person (regardless of whether they are a believer or unbelievers) and it draws me into the Holy Spirit inspired restoration God wants to do in me!

Hence, when I read this verse it doesn’t condemn me but calls me into what I know the Father wants to be in me by in terms of restoration.  As I read and listened to the Holy Spirit these were my personal reflections from this passage:

Anger that is ‘in-the-moment’ is bad sense because:

1) Anger clouds my vision  

2)Anger predisposes me to making rash assumptions regarding motives, meaning…

3)Anger makes me the focal centre rather than making God and others the focal centre

4) Anger is a slippery slope towards me sinning even when I have been sinned against

So how can I apply this to my life?  

Step 1: Identify the emotion (anger) early, report it to yourself

Step 2: Pause, count to three (seriously do it Gareth)

Step 3: Consider – What is making me feel this way? Have I misunderstood? Is God’s perspective and the other person’s perspective being valued by me? Is this worthy of godly anger?

Step 4: Is this something I can overlook?  After all to do so would be to my benefit. Or is it necessary confront but doing so slowly and in love, full of grace and truth?

For me, being quick to anger has been one of the old sin patterns God has been remounting me in making me more like the most incredible man who ever lived – Jesus.

As a son of God, I want to be like my Father who time and time again is described as follows; 

“…you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” (Jonah 4:2)

Father, today I want to be more like you, I want to identify, pause, consider & overlook where that is truly possible or confront in love full of grace and truth where necessary. Amen.