Month: July 2015

Choosing not feeling…

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We don’t always feel like worshipping.  When the circumstances of our lives are dire, when we are feeling attacked by others or crushed by the pressures of some circumstance, we might not ‘feel’ like worshiping but that is exactly the moment we could to choose to worship God as David did from the cave of Adullam.

In this moment in David’s life he was being accused and persued by his own people as an outcast.  Psalm 57:4 captures the feelings he was experiencing;

My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts – the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords (Psalm 57:4)

In moments like this when it feels like everyone, everything is against me, it is possible to be overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings regarding your plight, in moments like these we are often more inclined to grumble concerning our plight…

But not David in this psalm.  David might feel desperate but he chooses to worship God in the midst of his trial, in the midst of the very real and present threat of danger he is in.

In verse 1 in prayer he throws himself into God’s mercy and declares that God is his refuge, a safe place to shelter in until the storms pass by.  But by verse 5 begins to worship, he might not feel like worshipping but worship he does;

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!  Let your glory be over all the earth. (Psalm 57:5)

He contrast between vs4&5 is extreme.  David has chosen to worship God, his eyes have lifted from his circumstances so that he sees God again as He is, exalted as the glorious One in the heavens!

Worship is a choice, not merely a feeling.  And when we choose to worship even in the midst of perplexing and or challenging circumstances we have chosen wisely.  We see more clearly, we get perspective, we  get reconnected to the experience of God’s love for us.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!  May we choose to worship not just when we feel like it but because God is worthy of our worship because of who He is and what He has done.

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Keep calm and know…

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Keep calm and know I am your God, very near to you, your secure & safe place, I am sovereign and omnipotent & in my wisdom I have joined together my passionate commitment to my name & my glory to your well being and protection! So be still and know that I am God.

What are the foundations of peace, what enables us to be still in the midst of threatening circumstances, from this Psalm?

Covenant relationship (God is our refuge & strength, God has joined Himself to us vs1, God has named Himself according to the resolution ship He established with us ‘the God of Jacob’ vs11)

Proximity (God is ‘a very present help in trouble’ vs1, God is with us, like a river within the city walls ‘in the midst’ vs5, ‘the Lord of hosts is with us’ vs7&vs11)

Power and authority (God speaks and nations are directed/silenced vs6, God is in authority over all that happens on the earth vs8-9)

Certainty – God will work for the exaltation of His name vs10 and God will be exalted!  The Psalmist weaves together our need (for protection, safety and peace of mind) and God’s primary purpose (His glory).  Nothing is more certain than that God will work towards His own glory and that He will be exalted.  The good news for us is that God has tied His name and His glory to us His people. What that means for us is that the solid rock undergirding why we know God will act on our behalf will act for our good is that what happens to us is tied to the fame of His name because we are His people… And so we can be absolutely certain that our God will be with us, fighting for us, will be our refuge and strength because He is committed to glorifying His name through us!

Is God sleeping?

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Why God

Have you ever felt like God has seemingly forgotten you, even maybe rejected you, possibly disappointed you, felt like God might have fallen asleep on the job and so maybe He needs some rousing..?

You’re not alone.  The Psalmist who penned Psalm 44 writes on behalf of God’s people who have faced some unknown national calamity in the face of their enemies.  They feel disgraced, alone, helpless and confused…

As believers, as Christ followers, what do we do when our admittedly tiny perspective on life appears to lead to these types of questions and raises these sorts of feelings?

As a Christ follower and as a church leader I personally identify at times with this psalmist and with this psalm because I know how God has moved in mighty power in the past.  Mighty acts of intervention and blessing cover the pages of Scripture and fill the pages of church history too.

“Our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days” (Psalm 44:1)

So what’s happening now..?  Why does the church not always seem glorious or full of mighty power?  “Why is there so much hardship and pain even for Your people God?”  And what should we do in such times?

In times like this we are helped when we interpret what we don’t know from what we do know from Scripture.  We make a mistake when we seek to redefine what is clear in Scripture because of what is so confusing to us in the moment as we look through the distorted lenses of our experience and or feelings.

We might feel like God has rejected us, left us alone or forgotten us, that maybe God is sleeping on the job of being God & Father but in fact we know that God has made an everlasting covenant with us, He has promised to never leave us, has promised that nothing can remove us from His love…

“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.” (Jeremiah 32:40)

“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)

Just like the Psalmist acknowledged his feelings, expressed them even, we too can be honest with our thoughts, our feelings our questions directed at God.  We don’t have to put on some stoic face and pretend we feel differently!  And yet our faith is not resting on a foundation of feelings which are so transient and unstable, our faith is founded on truth, on promises made by the God who can not lie, is unchanging, the God who is faithful even when we are unfaithful!

And so like the Psalmist we can conclude praying with total confidence to our Father in heaven saying;

“Rise up; come to our help!  Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love” (Psalm 44:26)

We know, we are the beloved children of Father God, our Redeemer, our Immanuel, our Comforter, Counsellor & Helper and in these rock solid truths we rest even when the circumstances of our lives are anything but restful.  We choose to trust not in ourselves, not in our bow or our sword (vs6) or our ability to wield them but choose to trust Father God in the midst of trials, delay or disappointments.

Irony

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It’s been said that the more you learn the more you know how little you know!  Just this week if you might have been among those who were the first people ever to see close-up photo’s of the dwarf planet Pluto with the incredible photo’s being sent back by the New Horizons space probe across 3+billion miles of space.  We know, so little of so much…

Yet in our lives I/we often act as though we have a solid grasp on what’s happening and or what should be happening in any given situation.  Sometimes when I hear myself praying, it’s even as if I’ve slipped into ‘informing God mode’ telling my Father what He needs to know and needs to do…  Have you ever slipped into that mode?

On the Emmaus Road (Luke 24), at one point Jesus comes alongside the two disciples who have just left Jerusalem after 3 tumultuous days with Jesus’ arrest, trial, abuse, death on the cross, being buried and then on the 3rd day an empty tomb with stories of angelic encounters…

The two men are talking about all these things and Jesus asks them what they’re talking about to which Cleopas replies; “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

What irony!  Cleopas is amazed, thinking he knows what has been happening, he is amazed at how little Jesus Himself seemingly knows.  Without knowing it he is in ‘informing God mode’ and yet they are the ones who are about to have their eyes, their minds & their hearts opened to what is really true and real.  God is about to give them some perspective that is going to cause their hearts to burn with passion within them!

The contrast between God’s omniscience and our tiny grasp on reality is massive.  There is much in life which we don’t understand, much that we feel is out of our grasp or out of our control and yet we are in an eternal love relationship with Him who knows all things and works all things according to the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:11) and importantly knows us intimately, formed us in our mother’s wombs and knows every step of ours and even knows every thought (Psalm 139)…

I believe that our Father loves to hear what’s in our hearts, what’s on our minds and that we can tell Him anything we want, but let’s remember that in one sense we can’t tell Him anything and we definitely don’t need to remind Him of anything.

Prayer is not for God but for us, prayer doesn’t change God’s perspective but rather changes ours as we come into our heavenly Father’s presence.

Is there something you’re struggling with, perplexed by?

Take it to Father in prayer, remembering that He knows it already.  He doesn’t need a PA telling Him, reminding Him what to do today, but He wants to hear from your heart, He wants you to express yourself to Him and He wants to pour His love out into your heart, to cause your heart to burn within you, He wants to open your eyes, your mind and your heart so that you see Him more clearly, love and worship Him more passionately and so that you’ll be comforted by knowing who He is regardless of what circumstances you face.

“Father, you know everything in my heart today, you know my hopes, dreams, fears & questions, you know what I need and everything that those I serve need, today I still myself, quieten myself and resolve to simply know that you are God!” Amen.

Come…

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Jesus took the initiative and left heaven to come to us, in Luke 18 there is a set of five parables/encounters that are all about how we ought to come to Jesus…

Come with persistent faith in prayer

The widow (vs1-8) eventually gets the justice she has been pleading for from the unrighteous judge.  Jesus uses this to contrast how much more God who has chosen us in love (elected us) will give us justice (answer our prayers) speedily.  This is because of our relationship with God that was established by God when we believed (John 1:12).

Jesus urges us to be persistent like her and to have faith as we ask because we know who we are asking when we pray.  We are not coming to some unknown official in the sky, but to our Heavenly Father who loves us!

Come with humility acknowledging your brokenness 

Next (vs9-14) Jesus contrasts a self-centered (note the five “I”‘s in the text) self-righteous, proud Pharisee with a humble sinner who knows he has messed up.

These are like the two types of people in the world;

The one is trying to save themselves by human effort trusting in their morality and performance to save them and so asks for recognition and praise for their efforts…

The other knows there is no hope in self-salvation projects and rather humbly admits their moral failings, their brokenness and asks for mercy.

Here Jesus reveals that the only way to being justified is not performance but grace which is only accessed by humbling oneself before God and asking for mercy and grace.

Come believing as a child

Next (vs15-17) Jesus urges us to come ‘like a child’ for only such people shall enter His kingdom.  What does that mean?

Children are eager to believe, they are uninhibited in their believing and they are full of wonder and amazement and unrestrained in expressing joy…

Such a provocation for stuck up, cynical, staid, doubting, questioning adults…!  May I, may we be more like children in our coming to Jesus.

Come prepared to relinquish other loves, other idols

In the encounter with the rich ruler (vs18-30) Jesus refused to let the man put Jesus in the box he had in mind for Jesus!  He tried to call Jesus “good”, good teacher – someone you might learn from…  But Jesus wouldn’t let him do that.

‘I’m not good, I’m God’ Jesus basically says to the man.  ‘You want me to be good teacher but actually I am God and as God I call you to relinquish all other loves, all other things (idols) you have worshipped or put your trust into’…

Teachers don’t make demands, but God does.  Only God is worthy of our worship, our trust, our full attention.  Sadly, the man doesn’t want to let go of what he loves, let go of what he is trusting and holding on to in order to hold on to God alone.

We need to come to God, relinquishing other loves, other things we place our trust in, love Him with all our heart would, mind and strength, knowing that to relinquish all to get God is in fact to get more than all we ever had (vs29-30).

Come boldly with faith

Lastly in this little grouping is the blind beggar, who cried out loudly for Jesus to have mercy on him.  He pressed through etiquette, pressed through the opinions of others and boldly got his request before Jesus.

Jesus interpreted this boldness and this determined action as faith (vs42)!  Faith that Jesus was God and that Jesus could heal him was the fire that motivated him to call out so boldly.

Sometimes I/we come to Jesus in prayer that is so far removed from this man’s bold faith, we come apologetically masking often our lack of conviction that God is able or that God does want to answer with words hat are anything but bold.

Let’s come as God’s beloved children with faith when we pray.

A perplexing parable…

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This is a perplexing parable that speaks about the link between this present life and eternity (Luke 16:1-13)

In my previous post “Jesus, You said what?” I encouraged us to not be put off by perplexing, difficult or challenging passages but to be drawn in by them and to ask questions that help us to hear our Father speaking to us from them.

So let’s ask some questions;

What questions does it address, ask or answer?

This parable speaks to the relationship between this present life and eternity (vs 9&11) and that we will be held accountable for our actions (vs2).  We will be held to account, God as the owner cares about how we steward the resources entrusted to us.

Specifically, this parable links our present management or stewardship of God’s resources in this life to eternity (vs9-12).  Like this guy – for us there is a time of stewardship (our life) during which we should use wisely the time and resources we have at our disposal, before our term of stewardship is done and they are no longer any use to us.

This parable also speaks about our relationship to money & possessions – we are managers/stewards, not owners.  When it comes to money/possessions, we big idea is that in this world we are managers/stewards not owners with regard to money/posessions.

Finally, this parable speaks about our time on earth and that it is finite.  There is a day when we will no longer be able to make the decisions we do still get to make still today, before that day that either we die or the day on which Jesus returns.

What tension/mystery does this text create or resolve?  

Why does Jesus’ parable ‘honour’ this ignoble manager?  Why is a dishonest person being commended?

In what way did this dishonest manager act that is worthy of being called shrewd? 

He knows that he is about to loose his job, loose control of the wealth he manages for the owner, but he still has this moment in the present while he is still manager and he knows he can act now in ways that will affect his future.

This is what he is commended for, having a future perspective that changed his life now in the present, changed his actions now.  

In the same way, one thing is certain in every man’s future: his ‘dismissal’ from his present sphere into the unknown regions of eternity.  

We too are managers/stewards now, we too are wise if we use the possessions under our control for the purpose of affecting the future while we still can.

The tension here is that Jesus can’t be commending the dishonesty in the manager, he is commended surely his forward thinking which affected his present actions, because in contrast to the manager, Jesus’ followers must not be dishonest, must not use the money they steward for God unrighteously, but like the manager they must use their money in such a way that they prepare for their future life, while they still can.

What does this text say about God, myself or others?  

God cares about how we utilise the money/resources entrusted to us.

I have a finite period of time here on this earth, after which there will be a time to give account for how I utilised the resources entrusted to me.

What should I do now as a result? 

Do I see myself as an owner of my money or as a manager/steward of God’s money?

How can I best use the worldly wealth (be it little or lots!) God has entrusted to me in order to hear God’s ‘well done’ on the day when I give an account?

How can I use what’s been entrusted to me to gain eternal friends for myself in heaven?

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Thank you Jesus for this perplexing parable!

Jesus, You said what..?

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As you read the bible, there are many passages that are going to be perplexing or difficult to understand, and Luke 16:1-16 is one of those. So, how do you approach such a difficult passage, or approach any passage so as to allow your Father to speak to you from it?

Firstly, we need to begin by valuing all of Scripture, believing that ‘all of Scripture is breathed out by God and so is useful for teaching, correcting & training us in what following Him looks like.’ (My paraphrase of 2 Timothy 3:16-17).  I have learnt to not be put off by perplexing passages but rather drawn in by them.  So value all of Scripture, ask God to speak to you from it, don’t be quick to move on to more comfortable, less challenging or more easily understood passages.

Secondly, get into the habit of asking questions of the text.  Bombarding the text with questions is a great way of extracting the original meaning and so being able to understand what it means for you today.  Who said it? Why? To who was I said? Where was it said? What did they say? What does it mean for me? What should I do now?….. Apart from the who,why,what, how, to whom & what now type of questions I have learnt to ask the following questions as well:

What questions/mystery does this text address, ask or answer?

What tension does this text create or resolve?

What issues in life does this text address?

What does this text say about God, myself or others?

I urge you to not just read what others have gleaned from Scripture but to develop a hunger to hear God speak to you from all of Scripture, even from the challenging, difficult or perplexing passages. Your Father wants to speak with you, wants to guide, encourage, correct & inspire you as you seek to follow Him and His ways and mission for you life.