Hearing God

What’s your purpose? (Mark 1:35-39)

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We all have moments when we wonder what our purpose and reason for being are. Why did God create me? For what am I here on this earth?

These are great questions to ask because it would be such a shame to live our lives, not knowing where we are heading. In Mark 1:36-37, Simon has gone out looking for Jesus because everyone was looking for him. Jesus’ response is one of someone who knows his mission and reason for being because he tells Simon in verse 38 that he needs to go to the other towns to preach as well because that is why he came.

God created us to love him, to know him, and to glorify him. That is our reason for being. The Bible also tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that God created us for good works that he planned for us to do. I have always loved that verse because we can become overwhelmed by all the need around us and not know where God wants to use us, but this verse tells us that God has specific things he wants each of us to do. By doing the things God has planned for you to do, you will be loving him and glorifying him. The result will be that you will get to know his voice as he leads and guides you along the path he has set.

The key to knowing your purpose is in Mark 1:35. They had to go looking for Jesus because he was in an isolated place, praying to his Father. He came out of that time confident; knowing what he needed to do and not pressured by others to do what they thought was best.

The Bible tells us that we have a purpose, but we need to spend time with our Father, asking him what he wants us personally to do. I encourage you to spend time thinking and asking God to show you what it is he has created you to do. He has placed you where you are for a reason. In your job and in the place you live, God has a purpose for you being there. Perhaps you are sick at home, God knew you would be there and even has a job for you to do. If you are struggling with feeling insignificant, know that God has a reason for creating you and having you in the season you are currently living.

Imagine the impact we as Christians would have on the people around us if we all did the things God planned ahead of time for us to do.

Decide every morning that you will ask the Holy Spirit to lead you and show you what he has planned, and prepare to be amazed.

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Reset Opportunity (Colossians 3:16-17)

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National Lockdowns and social distancing restrictions stopping churches from gathering for Sunday worship celebrations have the potential to expose & bring adjustment to some unbiblical patterns that have crept into the church of Jesus. Our passage for today says;  

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17)

1. Corporate not Individual Faith

In our individualistic age, we need first to remember that these words were not written to individuals. “We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” (Colossians 1:2 in NLT) Why is this important?

We live in a self-obsessed age. The ‘god’ of our age in the Western world at least – is SELF. Sadly, as believers in Jesus, we are not immune to the influence of our age.  

It is all too common to have individuals or families opting out of regular church gatherings be those physical or virtual due to lockdowns on a Sun or mid-week or for small group times of worship/prayer/God’s word/community/care.  

They do so, rationalising their choice to themselves or others even though they are in flagrant disregard to the command of Scripture not to stop meeting together as the church (Hebrews 10:25).

The problem is that the decision making GRID they are using is too individualistic and is not Biblical – ‘This doesn’t suit me, I don’t have time, I don’t need this…service/prayer meeting or small group.’  

But what is entirely missing is the biblical emphasis we see in our passage today – the very corporate nature of our faith! Biblically, we are a family, a body of believers. We are not individuals doing what serves us and suits us. We are to be those who think of others and their needs as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4).  

In Colossians 2:19 & 3:12-17, we see radiating out of Paul’s letter his understanding of the church as a body. The church as a community of faith formed by the Gospel and deeply interconnected.  

Personal Application: 

  • How are you engaging with your local church?  
  • Are you acting like an individualistic, selfish consumer connected to your church in whatever ways you decide while it still serves your needs expectations and desires?  
  • Or are you truly there for the whole body, playing your unique part, totally committed for the sake of the whole body?  
  • I urge you even in these unique times of social distancing, to repent of self-centred thinking and to ask God to help you to make your unique contribution for the sake of those other people God’s put you into contact with through your local church community.  
  • Get into a Community Group and show up each week when it meets, spend yourself for others and watch what God will do in and through you! 
  • Show up for church mtgs, prayer times etc. and reach out to others daily.

 

2. Saturated with God’s Word (vs16)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (vs16)

The Apostle Paul’s desire for this church in Colossae (and for all church communities) is that it be one that is saturated with the Word of God!  

As believers; we have an innate sense that reading the Bible would be good for us and would help us to grow spiritually. And although we might know that Colossians 3:16 urges us to let God’s Word dwell in us abundantly richly – the dangerous modern pattern is that we simply do not read the Bible enough!

Here are some thought-provoking statistics from LifeWay Research (@https://lifewayresearch.com):

  • 88% of Americans own a Bible, and 80% consider the Bible to be a sacred book, yet only 20% of Americans read the Bible regularly.
  • However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible
  • Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian scriptures each day, and a third of Americans never pick it up on their own.
  • 57% read the Bible 4 times a year or less!

We are increasingly in a pattern in the Western church at large of wanting to be spoon-fed Scripture once a week by our pastor through the preaching.  

If God’s Word were equated to the physical food necessary for nourishment for health and growth – many believers would be on a habitual hunger strike! We would be we emaciated and weak due to our eating only once a week (assuming you come to church every week & that the sermons and worship are Scripture saturated, which is a big assumption)! Is it any surprise therefore that the Western church’s spirituality is so emaciated, weak & riddled with compromise?

I unashamedly want to inspire you to hit the reset button in your life and to inspire others around you in your church to do the same. Decide today to commit yourself to a personal habit, a personal devotion of reading, believing and applying God’s Word to your life and watch what God will do in you!

“When it comes to spiritual growth, nothing beats the Bible… Scripture reflection more than any other practice moves people forward in their love for God and love for others.” – Parkinson & Hawkins

Reflection on Scripture is the most potent spiritual practise you could give yourself to. Let the word of God dwell in you and in your church richly, abundantly, deeply. Make Scripture not just your daily pattern but make it central to your thought processes, decision making, your conversations with others.

Personal Application:

Eugene Petersen said of Bible reading that we should “read the Bible with our ears!”. By this, he meant that we need to read listening to the One who authored it – God Himself. The Bible is no ordinary book, so why not try reading, asking the following three questions as you read:

  1. What have I LEARNT about God/faith?
  2. What is God SAYING to me?  
  3. What am I going to DO now?

 

3. #Everyonehasacontributiontomake! (vs16)

As a church, when we all saturate our individual lives with God’s Word, things begin to change as a result in our community of faith.  

  • We all begin to teach and correct and counsel one another with all spiritual wisdom rooted in Scripture not the ideas of the world we live in or our opinions.  
  • We also lose our over-reliance on leadership to teach us once a week through the sermon, rather we start teaching one another from the treasures stored up in our hearts from our own Bible reading.

After all, God promised that we would all know Him (Jeremiah 31:33-34), that we would all be filled with the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29) and Jesus said; ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27).

  • And lastly from our passage, we all begin to overflow with lives of worship and thanksgiving and praise to God. We won’t have an over-reliance on the worship band to gather us to worship, we will initiate worship in whatever context we find ourselves in, we will break out in hymns and spiritual songs filled with thankfulness to God because we are overflowing with these things because we have filled our own life-tanks and so aren’t relying on someone else to fill us, but we bring our plenty and splash it on everyone we engage with.

Colossians 3:16-17 teaches us that in a biblical church, everyone has a contribution to make!  So, let’s all decide today to get into our Bible’s, to fill up our spiritual tank so that we have an overabundant supply to splash on to others in our church.

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What a compelling, inspirational picture of what is possible in your church and in your personal life, if only you and I will allow these lockdown moments to jolt us into a personal and church-wide RESET! Let’s respond to God’s Word to us today and see all that God will do as a result.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Gullible? (1 John 4:1-6)

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Gullibility is a liability! Not everything that ‘sounds’ spiritual or deep is Godly or helpful. We live in an age of information overload, the access to options or alternate thought positions has never been easier.  

Therefore being able to discern right from wrong, good from evil is an important life skill. The apostle John writes warning believers affectionately; “Beloved, do not believe every spirit” (1 John 4:1) or as the NLT puts it; “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.”

In our day in the name of God, church leaders are sadly often in the news for telling those who follow them to perform all manner of crazy acts, claiming this is what God wants or torturing Scripture to say that what they are teaching is what Scripture commands!

Discernment, therefore, is a vital aspect of faith for all Christ-followers. But how does one discern orthodoxy from heresy?

1. Listen to God’s Holy Spirit!

 God’s Holy Spirit will always make much of Jesus, who He is and what He has done for us. So listen to the content and the focus of someone’s teaching and if Jesus is not the BIG IDEA, if anyone, anything is, then tune out! Remember that;

  • The Holy Spirit will teach us and will remind us of everything Jesus said. (John 14:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will testify about Jesus (John 15:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth (John 16:13)
  • The Holy Spirit will bring glory to Jesus (John 16:14)

Hearing from the Holy Spirit is not for some elite group of Christians. Adam and Eve used to walk and talk with God in the Garden. Now that you have been reconciled to God through Jesus, you too can walk and talk every day with God. This is your joy and your privilege as a believer!  

Try this: As you read, or listen to anything/anyone – ask the Holy Spirit to confirm in your Spirit whether this is helpful or unhelpful in your spiritual walk.

2. Use the Weapon of Scripture

One of the primary ways God has put on display His will for our lives is in Holy Scripture. The more you read and internalise Scripture, the better equipped you will be to discern spiritual nonsense from the good stuff.  

So, if some teaching doesn’t line up with Scripture – toss it out! Our LORD did this when He was tested in the desert by the devil, and yet Jesus resisted him, Jesus exposed the falsehood through quoting Scripture to the enemy.

So read your Bible daily, commit to that discipline, and it will protect you in ways you cannot begin to imagine. Internalise Scripture, memorise Scripture – doing so is that arming yourself with the sword of the Spirit, taking the sword out of its sheath to protect yourself from enemy attacks (Ephesians 6:17).

3. Be in intentional Christian Community

Being on your own, isolated with your thoughts, leaves one vulnerable to false teaching and potentially being persuaded or lead astray. The people John was writing to had a relationship with the apostle John, and that relationship helped them to remain strong in the face of false teaching as they could ask John for his opinion. 

Who are you in intentional Christian Community with? Is the Bible and listening to the Holy Spirit a key aspect of that friendship? In Reconciliation Road Church we urge every believer to be in a TRIO or a COMMUNITY GROUP or to be in both if possible. Why? Because Community protects one, keeps us from the pain of being diverted from the path God has for us.  

Do you have an intentional Christian Community? If not, take a step and reach out to some other people.

May we, may you be fortified against gullibility. May you obey the Holy Spirit daily, devote yourself to Scripture daily and may you have an authentic and intentional Christian Community around you to protect you from dangerous spiritual gullibility.

The Danger of Closed Ears (Hosea 5:1-15)

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Hosea Chapter 5 reads like a charge sheet or the pronouncement of the judge of the misdemeanours committed in a court proceeding against Israel/Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom).

The priests, the royal family & the leaders of Israel have led Israel into a snare/trap with their idol worship and their ‘deep slaughter’ (vs2 in ESV might refer to child sacrifice see 2 Kings 17:17).

Israel was so thoroughly gone, so far from God that reconciliation at that point seemed impossible; “Your deeds won’t let you return to your God. You are a prostitute through and through, and you do not know the Lord” (vs4 in NLT).

They might go and seek God to make sacrifices with their livestock, but they will not find God for ‘he has withdrawn from them’ (vs6). Nothing is more terrifying than this! That God removes Himself from us, that He won’t reply any more to our calls. That is the very definition of hell – existence without God, without the possibility of God, listening, without God willing to respond to our cries for mercy, grace or help. Hell, CS Lewis said was a monument to human freedom – people want nothing to do with God and so that is what God eventually gives them.

The leaders of Israel are full of dishonesty, corruption & injustice like those who move their neighbour’s landmarks (stealing land from people) (vs10 in ESV).

And because of all of this the day of judgment is coming, war is coming, and Israel will be reduced to a pile of rubble (vs 9 in NLT), ‘The people of Israel will be crushed and broken by my judgment because they are determined to worship idols.’ (vs11 in NLT). 

When Israel realised the terrible moth-eaten state of her clothes, when they saw that destructive rot had set in to eat away their wooden things (vs12) – they called out for help.

But they did not call out in repentance to God the only One who could truly help them. Rather they sought political & military alliances with surrounding nations to secure protection. They paid money to Assyria (2 Kings 15:19) to buy protection – but these nations, these men can’t help Israel (vs13)! 

We are like this sometimes aren’t we? We have made some mess of our lives, wandered from God, and when we realise our predicament we don’t repent and turn back to God the only One who can truly help us, we make a plan, seek wisdom, solace or solutions from those around us. And yet we know, God is the One we need. Christ Follower, don’t be like Israel was.

Foreign nations will not be able to stop what God has determined. Israel and even later Judah too are going to be punished by God (vs14). God is going to ‘tear them to pieces’ and ‘carry them off’ like a lion does it’s prey (vs15). Israel will be judged, punished and taken off into exile for God has finally declared; ‘enough!’ (see 2 Kings 17). 

And yet even this terrible day that awaits Israel is not the end of the story;

Then I will return to my place until they admit their guilt and turn to me. For as soon as trouble comes, they will earnestly search for me.” (vs15 in NLT)

God is anticipating that judgement will produce repentance in the future and a change of heart and a longing for God again. There is a flicker of hope still as God vs15 hints at God’s desire for this to be restorative justice that will re-unite His people to Him in the future.

What does this mean for you and I today?

  • Remember that God is slow to anger and abounding in mercy. This judgement of God on Israel was a long time in coming (approximately 200yrs and the reign of 13 kings).
  • God had spoken over and over and over again to Israel through the prophets (2 Kings 17:13-14); however, they would not listen but rather were stubborn in their idolatry and unbelief.
  • Decide today not to be like Israel was! Decide today to listen to the soft inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, the whispers of God through your own Bible reading and listening to Bible-based preaching, listen and repent, turn back to God when He whispers to you. Because if you don’t listen to the private whispers, God will eventually raise the volume and what was private will become more and more public.
  • What’s God been trying to whisper to you about that you’ve maybe been shutting your ears too? Speak to God now, repent now, return to Him the only One who can truly help.

A True God-Follower (Hosea 1:1-3)

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Are you a Christ Follower? Not in name but in reality! I am drawn to ‘Christ Follower’ as a way of identifying believers in Jesus because it speaks of movement – it’s not simply an idea but a lifestyle that can be observed. 

And so if Jesus said ‘go left’ and you’re going right at the moment then you can justifiably be challenged to alter your current trajectory.

Being a Christ Follower also necessitates looking for Jesus, His will, His ways (laid out for us in Scripture) and listening for His voice in Scripture and also in all of life.

Now Hosea was a prophet in the Old Testament times. And he was a remarkable God Follower (since Jesus had not come as our incarnate Messiah yet) as we shall see from the shocking first three verses of the book bearing his name.

In the days of the evil king, Jeroboam 2 of Israel’s Northern Tribes God spoke to Hosea (1:1). And it’s a rather shocking thing God said to him;

Hosea 1:2 (NLT): “Go and marry a prostitute…”

Gulp! I can imagine some of Hosea’s dialogue with God.

Hosea: Who’s this speaking to me LORD? 

Hosea: It sounds like the enemy again unsettling me.

Hosea: Or maybe I’m having a bad dream, indigestion not inspiration!

God: Nope, it’s me speaking Hosea. Go and marry a prostitute.

Hosea: But Lord! That wasn’t my plan for life and marriage.

Hosea: You want me to be happy, right?

Hosea 1:2 (NLT): “Go and marry a prostitute…”, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshipping other gods.” 

Remarkable. God as God, is entitled to ask us to do anything for Him. How we react to this command of God to Hosea says something about our perspective and how we are relating to God. Is God in His rightful place in your life or is God not much more than a ‘genie in a bottle’ for you, someone who must come and do what you command when you summons Him in prayer?

It’s easy to say Jesus is your LORD, easy to label yourself as a God/Christ Follower until Jesus tells you to do something that will require serious sacrifice, discomfort or challenge.

  • What’s Jesus calling you to do about your commitment to His church?
  • What’s Jesus calling you to do about using your time/talents for His plan & purposes?
  • What’s Jesus calling you to do about that relationship that’s not honouring Him or that relationship that needs restoration?
  • What’s Jesus calling you to do about the money He entrusted to you?
  • ….

What makes us Christ Followers is not what we say, but what we do when God has spoken to us through His Word or some other means.

Hosea 1:3 (NLT): “So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she became pregnant and gave Hosea a son.”

Hosea was a true God Follower because he did what God had said; he obeyed God. Even though he must have had questions about how this was all going to work out to accomplish God’s purposes which clearly transcended his comfort and convenience.

Now, it is a relief that Hosea is the only guy in the Bible that God told to marry a prostitute. So we imitate not his action as our pattern, but his heart and his obedience and trust displayed. 

May you and I be like Hosea who trusted God enough to obey even though he could not have understood fully.  

May we be like Jesus who likewise trusted and obeyed the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane and so destroyed our enemies of sin, Satan and death and won for us our freedom.

Christ Follower, trust and obey. For then, we shall see God’s plan and purposes unfold in and through our lives, and God will be glorified in us.

Crises (Numbers 20)

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These were not easy times amongst the people of God. Moses was leading a generation destined to wander the desert until they all died. They were now paving the way for their children to inherit what was supposed to have been theirs.

It’s not easy leading 1-1.5million people in a desert on the best of days! But leading a generation that you know will die and will not fulfil any of their dreams can not have been easy.

Then crisis hits. The Wilderness of Zin had no water in it. This very real crisis precipitates a fresh round of complaints and the people quarrel with Moses and grumble! (vs3-5)

Moses is caught between a real crisis, a monumental problem and a discontented people who’s unbelief had blinded them to the magnificence of their God.

So, Moses and Aaron take the situation and the people’s complaint to God (vs6) falling down in His presence. What a great response!

God in His faithfulness responds to their prayer, and God intervenes – “the glory of the Lord appeared” (vs6). God then spoke to them (vs7) and provided a miraculous solution to their need; (vs8) “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water”.

Moses and Aaron do some of what God told them to do. They gather the congregation, but Moses then goes rogue and doesn’t obey God specifically!

When they gather before him, he scolds them in his anger and frustration that has probably built up over the past year since he started leading them; “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (vs10)

His unprocessed hurt and frustration boils over and spills out in a moment in a very public way. More than this, Moses did not do what God told him when he struck the rock twice (vs11) rather than speak to it like God had instructed him (see vs8).

We don’t have the time to unpack the reasons that caused Moses to do this thoroughly. However, what we do know is that once before, about a year prior God had provided water from a similar rock and on that day God told Moses to strike the rock once (see Exodus 17:5).

Regardless of Moses, God in his love for the people solves the very real crisis and provides for the people – so water gushes out of the rock abundantly (vs11) so that the original crisis is solved, but a new personal crisis for Moses has just begun.

God was angry with Moses and said;

Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (vs12)

It seems to me that Moses’ anger at the people blinded him. It caused him not to trust God when God had told him to “tell the rock” to provide its water? God was displeased with the way Moses had not honoured Him before the people, and so that day, Moses lost something. That day Moses missed the Promised Land.

Crises have a way of revealing what’s really in our hearts. People are a little like oranges. When the pressures of life put their squeeze on us, eventually what’s inside comes out.

Undealt with emotions that have subsided with time from our consciousness but have not been dealt with through prayers of lament and forgiveness are a time-bomb waiting to be triggered.

Crises will come; it’s only a matter of time. And when we are faced with crises, God wants us to come to Him in prayer. But when we do, let’s commit to then do what He tells us to do. Not to do more, not less, but to do now what He tells us to do.

Hidden Treasure (Numbers 7-8)

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Hidden treasure sometimes lies in everyday things.  And, hidden within Numbers 7-8, which preoccupies itself with the provision for the tabernacle’s worship and consecration of the Levites to serve in the ministry of the tabernacle, is a gem of a pattern easily overlooked.

Seven times it is recorded that “the LORD spoke to Moses” (or some similar phrase). It is striking how in passages like this, it is so accepted as usual for God to be speaking to Moses, and yet I find myself wanting more information!

How? How did Moses know it was God speaking? Was it an audible voice? Was it through Moses’ conscience…?

What we know is that Moses quite literally followed God, daily followed God’s guidance it seems. It appears as though Moses had an acute sense of what God was saying to him at any time.

More than this, we also know that Moses can not be sidelined as an extra-ordinary example because;

  1. Joel 2:28-29 promised that a day would come when God’s Spirit would be poured out on all people young and old, on women and on men.
  2. Jeremiah 31:33-35 also promised a day to come when we would all know the Lord from the least to the greatest
  3. And because Jesus said; My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

The way Moses lived and lead with the constant refrain of God’s words directing him should be a provocation to all Christ Followers but should not feel unattainable in light of passages like the ones quoted.

So I urge you today to STOP and to ask God to speak to you for your day. God can and does speak in many varied ways:

  • Through creation all around us
  • Through Scripture
  • Through other people (encouragement, prophecy…)
  • Through an “inner sense” or picture/impression that lines up with Scripture’s general revelation
  • Through a peace or unease in our spirit/conscience
  • Through something that happens or something we experience
  • Through something written, sung, painted…
  • Through dreams

“The LORD said to ___________ (fill in your name)”.  What’s God saying to you?

Moses lived with the constant leading & directing of God.  So why not make space for God to speak to you and choose now to obey His leading.