faith

Real Life, Real Ups & Downs (1 Kings 19-22)

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After being incredibly use by God, Elijah has a sad precipitous decline.  The contrast between chapters 17-18 and chapter 19 is remarkable.  The confident faith-filled Elijah who prophesied no rain, told the king what to do, called the nation together, put on display God’s awesome power, executed God’s judgement on the prophets of Baal and beckoned the rain to come again to the nation – is suddenly fearful (1 Kings 18:3) and depressed and out of gas entirely (1 Kings 18:4) all because of one person he fears – Ahab’s wife, Jezebel!

Is there someone like that for you?  Someone you fear, someone who has an influence over you and over your faith in God?  May you choose to not allow anyone to impact your faith in God in the way that Jezebel did for Elijah.

I love the honesty of the bible, love the way it reveals Elijah’s frailty – I can identify with him.  I love the way God cares for Elijah, strengthens him, calls him out from his depressed state (1Kings 18:9&13) and re-commissions him (1 Kings 18:6-18).  But in the end Elijah is never the same again.  God tells him to anoint Elisha his successor.

Do you feel like running away, hiding in a cave from life, from your calling, from God & others?  Know this; your heavenly Father loves you, is kind and compassionate, wants to refresh and restore faith in you!  Reach out to Him in prayer and allow Him to renew you.

Chapters 20-22 recount the end of Ahab’s rule and God’s judgement on him for his many sins.  Twice God sends prophets (Elijah’s belief that he was the only one left was not true, there were many others faithful to God still in his day, he had believed a lie) to Ahab with the express purpose of showing Ahab that “I am the LORD” (1 Kings 20:13 & 28).  Mount Carmel, the rain being withheld and then coming, these incidents – all were designed for Ahab to believe in the one true God, they are God graciously reaching out to Ahab in spite of his gross sin.

Is God reaching out to you in some way, showing you again and again who He really is, wanting you to only believe in Him and put your trust in Him?

Ahab with his wicked wife’s help sins against an honest man who’s vineyard he is coveting – Naboth.  Jezebel has him murdered and Ahab takes the vineyard and this is the final straw for God.  And so, Elijah is told to go and condemn Ahab (1 Kings 21:19).

Remarkably, Ahab repents (1 Kings 21:27-29) and so God relents and decides to delay some of the punishment but Ahab will still be killed by a not so random arrow (1 Kings 22:34) as prophesied by a remarkable prophet who alone heard God correctly and was bold enough to declare it – Micaiah (1 Kings 22:14-28)!

Are you willing to obey God like Micaiah did?  Even when what you’re saying is the exact opposite to what everyone else is saying God is saying!  May you have courage like this one man – Micaiah.

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Enter God’s Agent (1 Kings 17:1-24)

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What an introduction!  There is no mention of Elijah prior to this point, we don’t know anything about him, his upbringing, his faith journey up to this point.  In that sense, he is not like David who is introduced as a shepherd boy learning God’s ways and in preparation for the moment he stands before Goliath.  Elijah just arrives on the scene but does so with remarkable courage and faith.  

I am intrigued.  What lead to this man’s remarkable faith and courage in the gift God had given him?  What multiple little steps of faith had he climbed to get to this place of faith?

He goes to the despicable king of the northern tribes, Ahab and declares;  

“As the LORD, the God is Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (1 Kings 17:1)

Don’t you love that God-inspired boldness!  To go before a wicked king who could kill you in a flash but to be so much more aware of God than him that you pronounce what God tells you to with conviction.  This is not arrogance but godly obedience.  This is God’s man declaring to this wicked king where the authority really lies – in God alone.

Baal-Hadad (or just ‘Baal’ for short) was the god of storms and rain and so people at the time were tempted to worship Baal, falsely hoping that Baal would provide the much needed rain to make the land fertile.  This prophetic announcement is a direct attack on the falsehood and futility of Baal worship which is what Ahab had allowed to proliferate in Israel.

Having spoken God’s word to Ahab about the coming drought, God leads Elijah to an inhospitable  ravine in the mountains with a little brook in it presumably to wait for the drought he had prophesied to begin having its effect.

But think about it.  God said through Elijah that there would be no rain, and yet God sends Elijah not a city with water reserves but to a ravine in the mountains with a little stream – that then dries up!  Elijah must have felt both relieved and concerned by the brook.  Relieved that God had withheld the rain (1 Kings 17:7) in a display of his power over Baal – just as Elijah prophesied and yet concerned in that his life-support was drying up too.

God spoke again!  ‘At last’, he might have a thought – ‘…time for a big meal and comfy room.’  However, this time God leads him to a town on the coast in the midst of Baal-worship territory (Zaraphath) where  he meets his host – a widow with no food in her house who is about to eat her last meal and then die (1 Kings 17:8-12).  ‘Great!’  I can almost hear him saying under his breath.

Elijah had followed God to the brook (1 Kings 17:5), Elijah followed God to a widow in Zarapheth with no food at all (because of his pronouncement of no rain).  Sometimes following God leads you right into hardship or scarcity in the natural realm.  We make a mistake when we assess whether we’ve been lead by God on the basis of circumstances being good/easy assuming hard/lack = not the will of God….

Why did God send Him here?

Did God send him to a foreign land to show him the extent of God’s power over not just Israel but all nations?  Did God send him here to experience the stress and strain of another person and to bring relief to her as maybe she had prayed to God?  We don’t know…

Elijah tells her to make a cake for him first and then for her a her son and then promises to her that God says that her little flour and her jug of oil will not run out until the drought is over because God ends it (1 Kings 17:13-14)!  And so a miracle of provision is recorded because she believed the word of God through Elijah.

Faith is believing God when we can’t see, when there is no evidence but miracles reside on the ‘other-side’ of faith and obedience.

Is there something God is telling you to do, to trust him in?  Do you, will you?

Complaint to Praise & Prayer (Psalm 28)

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Confident Complaint!

David begins this psalm with a declaration of faith (God is his God) and an expression of  his feelings toward God whom he calls, “my rock”.

“My Rock” – God is personal immovable and immutable.  Because of this God can be trusted, God is worth calling out to in prayer.  If God were not God and if God were not personal or immovable or immutable it would not be worth calling out to Him in prayer!  Because God is all these things and we can confidently call out to God in prayer.

And yet David’s prayer is also a complaint.  Sometimes it feels like God is not hearing, like God is not speaking, as if God is unmoved by our situation or unaware from our perspective.

(vs3-5) In these verses David’s complaint is outlined, it feels like God is treating him no differently to his enemies, he is looking for God to act on his behalf and seemingly hasn’t seen God’s answering his prayers.

What’s happening in your life that feels like God is not hearing, not seeing, not aware, not speaking or answering?

I urge you to lift your eyes again to your God. 

Why not declare as David did that God is your ROCK, your FORTRESS (another way of translating the underlying Hebrew word).  God can be trusted because He cannot change, will not shift under your feet, God is worthy of our trust even when we can’t see what He is doing or why He is allowing something to happen.  So, call out to Him again, put your faith in God again.

Passionate Praise

The psalm changes in vs6-9 becoming a psalm of praise.  David is convinced now that God has heard his cries, his prayers, his lament.

David has been strengthened in his faith, knows God is his strength and his shield (protection), God is the One whom his heart can trust and so He finds help in his moment of need.

And so his heart exults, it jumps for joy (literal translation) and bursts into song!  What a transformation when we see God for who he is, when we enter again feeling his presence and the warmth of his love.  David had been feeling like God was no where now David’s heart is bursting with praise and thanks and love for God.

Worship is warfare!  When we feel like God is distant or disinterested, we should take drastic action, reminding ourselves of the truth about our God our immovable immutable rock who is worthy of our trust and we should begin to worship as warfare against those feelings of doubt choosing to warfare not wallow in those feelings of doubt.

In worship we declare what we believe (God is our ROCK vs1, our SHIELD vs7, the ONE who HELPS us vs7, our STRENGTH vs7 & the SAVING REFUGE OF HIS ANOINTED vs8).

We worship with faith and in worship faith is renewed.  And on that foundation of renewed faith we can ASK God for the future (vs9).  Amen.

The Answer (John 19:28-42)

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Five times in John 18&19 the apostle John makes it explicitly clear that what was happening to Jesus was all a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies and passages.  This was true for Jesus’ whole life, but is especially true in these sections covering Jesus’ trial & death & resurrection.

The early church was acutely aware that Jesus was the One who made sense of all of the Old Testament.  Jesus was the ‘lens’ as it were that allowed everything in the Old Testament to come into clear focus.  Jesus was the promised Messiah and the answer to the unsolved riddles of the Old Testament.

Some have counted 351 Old Testament prophecies and Scriptures that Jesus fulfilled (http://www.newtestamentchristians.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/351-Old-Testament-Prophecies-Fulfilled-in-Jesus-Christ1.pdf).

I can just imagine the preaching of the first apostles week in week out in the early years of the church.  Week after week, sermon after sermon preachers preaching with awe and wonder discovering more and more OT Scriptures, seeing them with fresh insight and seeing that Jesus was the answer, the One who made sense of it all, the One who was the fulfilment of it all!

Jesus started this journey of discovery and re-looking at the whole Old Testament with new eyes when on the Emmaus Road Jesus began; “…with Moses and all the Prophets, he (Jesus) interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27).  Jesus showed those early disciples He was what the whole OT was about.

This revelation, seeing that Jesus was the answer, the fulfilment of everything they knew in the Scriptures, caused their hearts to burn within them – Luke says!  Their minds staggered as they came see Jesus in all the OT Scriptures they knew so well, but were now seeing as it were for the first time with new clarity!

No wonder that John keeps telling us in his gospel things like; “these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 19:36)

Friend, Jesus is the answer.  The answer to every question, every need in our lives and in our world.  Jesus is who I need, whom you need.  He alone has, He alone is the solution to our problems, fears, our shame, our dreams and hopes.

Friend, we have such good news for the world, and we can share this news with such confidence – because Jesus is the answer.

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20 in NIV)

Jesus fulfilled every promise and Jesus alone can fulfill our every and our deepest needs, only a life-giving relationship with Jesus can satisfy us completely.

So reach out to Him and trust Him completely!  And, more than that, share the good news about Jesus’ life, death & resurrection with everyone you can so that He can step in and be their answer too.  Amen.

Meaning Makers (John 9)

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Dallas Willard said that people are ‘meaning-makers’. We look for and or even assign meaning to things that happen in our lives. We want to know, ‘why?’ and when we don’t know why we create our own meaning.

This is what was happening in John 9. A man was born blind. Jesus’ disciples wanted to know; ‘why?’ What was the cause, did this man’s parents sin in some way and that is why this happened or did the man himself sin – why?

I had an accident – why?
I got sick – why?
I lost my job – why?
………… – why?

All too often our desire to know why, combined with our very limited knowledge, leads us towards unhelpful or inaccurate conclusions. We add 1 + 1 and end up with 22 not 2!

This man was born blind, but it wasn’t punishment or the result of some sin that he was blind, no his tough life-circumstance was simply that God’s work could be displayed in him according to Jesus (John 9:3). Something much greater than his own life/behaviour was in play here, something that he had no control over.

God was going to use this moment to reveal the divinity of Jesus to him (vs35-38) and cause him to believe in Jesus as a result. God was going to use this to show his authority, glory and power to those who would take note of what Jesus did and said.

Is there something in your life right now that you are grappling with?
Is there something that you are trying to work out, trying to find meaning in?

I urge you to put down your theories as to why this is happening or happened, and simply ask Jesus to reveal to you what He was doing, or is doing through this thing.

The man born blind, gets healed miraculously, encounters Jesus personally and believes in Jesus and worships Jesus as Lord and Saviour in this story. He must have spent his life up to this point resenting his ailment, but in this moment his ailment became the very thing that lead Him to Jesus, to forgiveness, healing & belief in Jesus and therefore salvation!

May you stop making your own meaning and may you rather ask the King of kings, Jesus to give you His meaning. And may you, trust Him when there is no answer yet, may you accept the mystery, may you trust Him that He is good, and that He loves you and that what you can’t see or know or understand – He does see, know & understand!

Behold Jesus.

Jesus Conman, Madman or God/man? (John 8:31-59)

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This whole section records a heated discussion with accusations and counter accusations regarding the question; ‘Who is Jesus?’ (John8:25)

This is the question that every person on the planet needs to answer at some stage in their life or on the day Jesus  Himself returns.  We really only have three options when it comes to answering that question;

  1. Jesus is a Conman
  2. Jesus is a Madman
  3. Jesus is God/man

The Jewish people argumentatively engaging with Jesus here in John 8 were leaning towards options 1-2:

  • They mocked Jesus defaming his identity & character pointing out that they believed He was a child born as a result of sexual sin (vs41)
  • They said He wasn’t of pure descent, was a Samaritan and not a Jewish person (vs48)
  • They claimed He was demon possessed (vs48)
  • They charged Him as arrogant and a madman thinking He was greater than the hero of the Jewish faith – Abraham (vs53)
  • They summarise their arguments with the question – ‘Who do you make yourself out to be?’ (vs53)

They considered Jesus as both a madman and a conman trying to trick people.  Jesus knows where this line of thinking comes from – it’s source is in fact from none other than the devil himself (vs44).  Jesus knew that the devil’s desire was to kill Him and deceive people.

All through John chapters 5-8 we have seen glimpses of Jesus’ divinity, His unique Father/Son relationship, His ability to give eternal life to whoever He wants to, His ability to perform miracles of power (walking on water, multiplying food, healing invalids, His teaching and understanding, His ability to forgive & His authority in the Temple courts…

All of these glimpses are in stark contrast to the challenge brought by these ones who were opposing Jesus who think Jesus is an evil conman or just a madman.  In John 8:58 Jesus in direct answer to their questions regarding who He is (vs25&53) Jesus says plainly;

“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” – John 8:58

Jesus categorically declares – I AM.  I am God, I am the ‘I AM’ who revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 2:14)!

Also in this passage Jesus makes the statement we know so well; “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (vs36).  This is a clear claim by Jesus to his divinity too, only God can free people from sin, satan, sickness and death!  Jesus doesn’t offer to relieve or comfort but to set free entirely.  Jesus is God, Jesus has total authority over sin, satan, sickness & death.

Behold Jesus.

Unreasonable? (John 6:1-21)

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There is a crowd large gathered, after all Jesus has been doing signs and wonders.  Jesus was seeking out some down-time but as the crowds gather Jesus chooses a grassy hilltop on which to teach them.

Seeing approximately 10 000 – 15 000 men, women and children gathering to hear Him Jesus leans over to Phillip and essentially says; ‘How are we going to feed all these people?’.  Philip is astounded.  I can imagine him thinking; ‘This is unreasonable, this is not our problem, we don’t have the resources for this, Lord what are you suggesting?’

Can you empathise with Philip? 

Have you ever felt like God was being unreasonable?  

John doesn’t record Philip ever recovering from his feeling limited by their apparent available resources – in South African currency Phillip estimated that it would have cost R20 000 to buy enough bread to go around.

What is going on here?

Why would God ask us to do what only He can do?  

John 6:6 contains the key to the answer to questions such as these.

He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. (John 6:6)

Jesus is not scatterbrained, hasn’t lost the plot, isn’t unaware of realities and constraints.  No Scripture pointedly reveals Jesus’ motive in the scenario; ‘He said this to test him’.  Jesus was not uncertain as to how He was going to deal with this dilemma of so many people and feeding them, John records; ‘for He Himself knew what He would do.’

There is a difference between what we think we believe, what we say we believe and what we do believe.  What we truly believe is revealed by our responses to situations and our actions.

I know this feeling.  It’s easy sitting in your room with your bible or sitting in church listening to preaching or in a small group discussion thinking or saying what you believe… And then it happens!  Something arises in real life and that belief is tested, is it real, do I really believe?

Philip no doubt has just been with Jesus, heard Jesus’ clear claims to being the divine Son of God, has seen Jesus do amazing miracles – but did Phillip truly believe?

Jesus sets up a scenario that will test him, will squeeze out of Philip and the other disciples whether they truly believe that Jesus is God, that Jesus has authority over all things.

Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers in such a way that it is clear that he can empathise with Phillip, Paul knew what it felt like to have God test his faith, test him to see what was really in his head and heart. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

Likewise, James urges believers to consider it pure joy when we are tested, when our faith is put on trial because such tests from God give us the opportunity  to see steadfastness grow in us so that we might mature in our faith not. (James 1:3)

What’s happening in your life that might be God testing you?

Is there anything God’s asked you to do that you think is unreasonable?

Friend.  God’s not malicious, He’s not having fun with you.  No, your heavenly Father wants to test the genuineness of your faith, wants your faith to grow and to mature.

Andrew did better than Phillip in this moment.  Philiip doesn’t manage to lift his thoughts above the challenges and constraints and reasons why he can’t do what Jesus is suggesting he do.

Andrew at least thought about what they did have and believed Jesus could do a miracle.  He probably didn’t know what Jesus would do, didn’t know the magnitude of the miracle Jesus would do, but his actions do reveal that he did believe Jesus was able to, was going to do something astounding and miraculous.

What do you have in your situation?

Focus on what God had entrusted you with.

Give that to Him for His purposes mixed with faith.

And watch Jesus grow your faith and reveal His majestic power and purposes.