hearing God

See, Love, Act (Acts 3:1-10)

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After the rousing sermon that followed the remarkable prayer meeting and the incredibly deep fellowship of the early church all recorded in Acts 2, Acts 3 has an air of normality about it as it starts.

Peter and John are about to enter the Temple complex at around 3pm in the afternoon which was the time of prayer.  The earliest believers had been raised all their lives up to the present of Jews, and the earliest church assimilated it’s new revelations about Jesus with their habitual rhythms (like daily prayer here in the Temple complex).

At an the entrance was a man who was lame, who had been unable to walk since birth.  He was seated at the gate asking people for money considering his state.  

What do Christ Followers do when faced with human needs like; this man’s physical, emotional, financial & spiritual need?

They SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  

Like Jesus with Bartimaeus (see Mark 10:46-52) who stopped for Bartimaeus, Peter and John stop for this crippled man.  They SEE him, they LOVE him enough to acknowledge his presence and this action of SEEING and STOPPING must have communicated value to him. 

They didn’t just toss some coins in the dust although he would probably have been happy with that.  Rather they stopped and looked at him saying; “Look at us… Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

They loved him enough to stop and to see him, to recognise him as a person but then they met a deeper need than even the need he would have identified as his need.  He was asking for money, they saw past that need and saw how being crippled would never allow him to do anything except beg for money and so they reached out and acted with faith speaking life, healing & health into his body all in the name of Jesus!

Having spoken with faith, Peter then reached out in faith with his hands to lift the man up and as he did Dr Luke records that the man’s feet and ankles were immediately made strong.  Peter and John, SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith when confronted with this man’s need.

The way Dr Luke records this miracle and the sequence of events, I can’t help be wonder whether the man would not have been healed unless Peter had had the faith to pray believing God would heal, and then also having the faith to stretch out his hand to lift him up so as to take his first steps ever as a person born cripple.

What life transforming things are passing us by every day?

What would God have you do, small or large that can transform someone else’s life?

Are your ears and eyes open to the leading of the Holy Spirit?

Dr Luke knows this condition was congenital, knows it had lasted 40yrs (Acts 4:22),  and so he records the medical evidence of this wonderful instant healing in response to Peter and John’s faith and their stepping out in faith.  Dr Luke tells us three times that this man was now walking, in fact more than that he was walking and leaping!

Thomas Walker comments, ‘the power was Christ’s, but the hand was Peter’s’.  Peter and John saw, loved and acted on their faith in Jesus and this man’s life was transformed!

What does God want to do through you in the life of others?

May we be those who SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  Amen.

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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?

Life-giving relationship… (Nehemiah 7:1-73)

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“Then my God put it into my heart to…” (Nehemiah 7:5)

All through this book, Nehemiah’s relationship with God is on display.

Nehemiah has a real life-giving 24/7 type relationship with God.  He is constantly shooting up quick prayers, asking for wisdom, God’s intervention, is open to God speaking to him and guiding him.  What an appealing picture of what a true relationship with God looks like!

Having succeeded in re-building the walls, Nehemiah is prompted by God to ensure that there is a re-population of Jerusalem and surrounding areas so that the physical city would live again filled with families and all the interactions common to a city.

God prompts Nehemiah to organise and mobilise 42 360 people as life comes back to Judah as God promised it would 70yrs ago way back in Jeremiah 29:1-14;

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”

God moved Nehemiah in the courts of Artaxerxes, God answered Nehemiah’s prayers and provided for the re-building of Jerusalem, God helped Nehemiah to lead well, answered his many quick-fire prayers when opposition came & God whispered into Nehemiah’s heart about how to re-populate Jerusalem and Judah in so doing fulfilling a 70yr old promise of God’s…

Nehemiah is not an exception but an example of what your life and my life can be like, what God wants for your life journey as you follow Him.  Why don’t you re-set your expectations of hearing God, speaking to God all through your days and seeing God do wonderful things in and through you as a result!

When old news becomes news again… (Nehemiah 1:1-4)

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Not all days are the same.  Sometimes they fly by without any particular happenings to make them stand out or make them memorable.  However on the contrary, all of us remember certain days with great clarity because those days changed the course of history or our own journey.

Nehemiah was part of a generation of God’s people who grew up in exile in Babylon, they didn’t live in the Promised Land, the land that was so central to their identity and history, but rather lived in a foreign land that was effectively ‘home away from home’.

Nehemiah and those like him had heard the old stories of the tragic sacking and burning of Jerusalem, it’s walls, it’s buildings including the temple of God.  They knew the history.  Some Jewish people, a remnant had remained in the land around Jerusalem but life was hard the city destroyed.

But one day when Nehemiah heard the news that he knew already, when he considered the facts that; “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Jeremiah 1:4) Jeremiah is suddenly moved!

Tomorrow we will see what he did with that moment but for today I want you to pause and to think about things in your life, in your church, your neighbourhood, your community that you know about and yet they don’t affect you…

So, ask God, invite God to speak to you about people, situations, injustice, abuse, unemployment, health and education issues and ask God to touch your heart like God touched Nehemiah’s heart suddenly – so that old news came alive and touched his heart and mobilised him into action.

 

Lessons learnt (Joshua 8)

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What is the significant difference in the campaign of Joshua 7 campaign against Ai and the Joshua 8 campaign?

It is noteworthy that in the narrative of Joshua 7 there is no reference to God speaking or Joshua enquiring after God for guidance or strategy for the city of Ai.

God had given clear instructions for Jericho, and their obedience resulted in great victory.

But the pattern is not repeated in Joshua 7 – no guidance from God was sought out.

Aren’t we like this!
We blow hot and cold, one moment asking for help then acting the next moment like we need none!

In Joshua 8, there seems to be a different spirit, a humility in evidence, that no doubt had something to do with the defeat at Ai and the subsequent seeking God for answers, and then God’s revealing the source of their defeat as being the sin of Achan.

The second attempt on Ai proceeds in response to explicit divine instructions (Joshua 8:1-2, 8-9, 18 & 27) which were followed. The passage goes into great detail for a relatively small battle, probably to emphasize that success comes only from following the Lord’s instructions which is in stark contrast to the failure in Joshua 7 as a result of failure to seek God or follow His instructions.

What is God saying to you, to us as a church at this present time?
Are you leaving room, leaving time for God’s specific leading?
Are you obeying what God has told you to do?

Hearing God (Joshua 6)

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Over my years of pastoral ministry, one of the things that people often battle with is hearing God.  As we read these accounts of God’s people moving into the Promised Land, into their promised inheritance its all too easy to pass over some profound little phrases…

“The Lord said to…” (Joshua 1:1, 3:7, 4:1, 4:15, 5:2, 5:9 &6:2…)

That phrase makes one want to say; “Wait, how?  More information please!”  In my personal experience, despite an absolute rock solid conviction that God does speak, that God wants to speak and wants me to hear Him speak to me/us, despite this, hearing God is not always easy.

And yet all through Scripture, it is assumed as normal for God’s people that we will hear God speaking to us, guiding us, encouraging us, exhorting us…

In our passage today, Joshua calls God’s people to embark on a military strategy that had never been tried before to overtake a city, and has never been tried again successdully either.  The only reason God’s people took this action was that; “The Lord said to Joshua…”

When our personal experience doesn’t match up to the clear testimony of Scripture we are faced with two choices:

  1. Either we adjust our interpretation of Scripture based on our experience of lack thereof (never a good idea)
  2. We call on God, asking Him to align our experience with what we see revealed in Scripture (go for this option!)

Jesus promised that we will hear His voice, we will recognise it as His and so we will be able to follow His leading and guiding (John 10:27).  Sometimes I think the problem is we only start asking God for His help, His voice of guidance when we face a Jericho moment, a large challenge or decision.

But Joshua has been practicing listening to God for years and years prior to this moment.  It was his practice to follow Moses into the Tent of Meeting, to witness God speaking to Moses, and even after Moses left Joshua used to remain the in tent with God (Exodus 33:7-11).  Joshua knew God’s voice by the time he stood before this great first challenge of Jericho as he lead God’s people into their inheritance.

We need to develop a habit of listening to God, waiting on Him in our private lives.  We need to learn this habit in peacetime, when there isn’t an apparent urgent need SO THAT we will be able to hear God when there is…

Why not make Jesus’ promise (John 10:27) your own?

Ask God to speak to you, trust that He will, and obey Him when He does.

And when God speaks, even if it means doing things differently to the way they have always been done, or the way others think you should, decide to obey Him and watch what He will do through your obedience.

Frustratingly wonderful

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“God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.” – CS Lewis

I find solace in these words by CS Lewis in that as a Christ follower and as a church leader I desire to hear God, I want to know I am in His will.

Sometimes this means I carve out solitude time, time with no list, no agenda, no pressure and no distractions.

But over many years of climbing up mountains, getting onto quiet stretches of beach or finding a secluded spot in the hills and valleys of KwaZulu Natal I have discovered that God doesn’t speak when I want Him to and I can’t change God.

This used to get me all wound up, I’ve come here full of passion, I need to hear You God and then in those solitude moments there is just myself and…………………………….silence.

God’s not on my timeframe, doesn’t always pick up the ‘phone’ when I’ve decided to call.

Just yesterday I had set time aside for solitude, I had my venue planned, had my camping chair, had some snacks (I’ve found solitude with food way more effective than solitude with fasting) and as I was packing to go found myself saying this to God…

“I know You probably won’t speak to me while I am there and I just want you to know that’s totally cool.  I’m going anyway because I know You love it when I do seek you and I love it too!”

What seems to matter most to Him is that I came, that I sought Him, that I want to hear Him.  He wants relationship – we often want results, an outcome, a decision or direction.
And slowly I’ve learnt that I can’t change God, so I better change and I’m so much the better for it. My Father will speak to me, what matters is that I seek Him.  He will speak in unexpected ways that surprise and thrill me, sometimes He keeps me waiting till the final hour but He will speak to those who seek Him.

Resolving this has helped me grow in my love for God and my understanding of Him.  It’s also helped me enjoy times of solitude more and more knowing that what really matters is that I came, that I sought Him out.

By Gareth Bowley