Identity

Life Intersections (Mark 10:46-52)

Posted on

I love how in the Bible, we have a record of people just like you and me who encountered the living God. From these encounters, we can learn all sorts of things about God, faith and ourselves. In Mark 10:46-52, there is an encounter between Jesus and a man called Bartimeaus. 

Jesus and his band of followers, plus the usual crowd of onlookers arrive in Jericho. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem with the events of the Passion ominously on the horizon.  

They stop in at Jericho, and as Jesus was leaving a man called Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 

47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

Two paths intersecting 

Here we have two people’s paths intersecting! This happens in life all the time – people on different life journey’s, who share a moment when their life-journey’s collide.

In this intersection we have Jesus, incarnate Son of God, the centre of a crowd for the past three years, famous or infamous depending on how well you knew Him, passing Jericho on his way to Jerusalem to die for the sins of all of humankind and rise again!

And we have Bartimaeus, a seemingly insignificant resident of Jericho. This man’s name is a shocker! Bartimaeus means; ‘son of unclean man’! Not exactly flattering is it – sounds like his dad didn’t have a good reputation. More than this, Bartimaeus is identified in Scripture simply as a “blind beggar”, sitting by the roadside – what a complicated, painful identity.

But on this day recorded in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and Bartimaeus’ life-journey’s are about to intersect! Seemingly insignificant, helpless, hopeless Bartimaeus is about to have his best day in a long time if not ever!  

He is about to meet God.

What about your life journey and God?

  • Do you maybe identify a little with Bartimaeus?
  • Do you feel insignificant, like people and life are passing you by?
  • Do you feel any sense of shame or remorse, regret?

Each of us has our own story. But today might even be your unique moment where you and God – intersect in a remarkable moment! I think of all my friends who don’t yet know Jesus, a day like today could be THEIR DAY!

Moving from knowing to encountering

Bartimaeus had heard about Jesus; he knew of Jesus. He knew his name, some of His titles. But now all of a sudden, Jesus was actually there, right in front of him! There are moments in our lives like that aren’t there?  

Mine was at age 8 in my bedroom praying and giving my life to Jesus. Then again at age 12 on a youth camp, during worship being prayed for and being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and then many times since…  

Christ-followers are people who have all had a moment and then subsequent moments where knowing about Jesus became KNOWING HIM & ENCOUNTERING HIM personally. Knowing Jesus is right there with you, knowing you can call out to Him and that when you do He will answer you personally.

In a country like South Africa, there are many people who know about Jesus – much like Bartimaeus did. But, knowing about Jesus is never enough to save you from your sin. What’s needed is not just more knowledge but rather a personal encounter with Jesus.

If you are already a Christ-follower, call out to Jesus again today, you can know that He wants to encounter you again and again.

Bartimaeus calls out (vs47)

Bartimaeus believed something about Jesus. We know this because if he didn’t believe something about Jesus, then calling out to Jesus as he did would not have made any sense.

After all, it makes no sense appealing to someone to help you if you don’t believe they have the ability or power to help you.  

If I need help with woodwork I don’t call my friend Antony; I call Warren! I don’t call out to my friend Robert for medical advice – no, I call Wade or Nkanyiso two of the specialist doctors in my life…  

When we decide to call out to someone for help, intrinsically there is embedded in that call a hope or even more likely a belief that they can help us in our need or else it is pointless.

We don’t know precisely what Bartimaeus knew about Jesus, but what He knew was enough for Him to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” vs47

‘Jesus’ is the name God told Joseph to give the child Mary miraculously carried from God. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Jesus’ name is also His role, His mission; it’s what Jesus came to do. He will save people from their sins – that’s what His name means. When you call on Jesus, you are calling out to the Saviour of the world.

Bartimaeus also called out using the title, ‘Son of David’ – a title that points to the fact that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (deliverer) promised hundreds of years before.

By calling out to Jesus using these names and asking Jesus for ‘mercy’ reveals something of WHO Bartimaeus believed Jesus was.

Bartimaeus had a need, but he also knew that he didn’t deserve anything. So Bartimaeus appeals to Jesus for Mercy – undeserved favour.  

Like Bartimaeus, none of us can say that we deserve anything from God! Not even on our best days are we good enough to deserve anything. Our need unifies us, and what we all need is grace and mercy from God! 

The GOOD NEWS I have for you and I today is that as Jesus Himself said; that He didn’t come for those who thought they’d done well in life or those who thought they were ‘good with God’ because of their exceptional behaviour. No, Jesus came for those who knew they needed MERCY.

Christ-followers are those who have had an encounter with God and who know that God hasn’t accepted them because they are good enough, but rather that God has accepted us because we cried out to Jesus for MERCY!

So if you need help, firstly you need to call out to someone who CAN HELP, but secondly, you also need to be sure that they WANT TO HELP you. After all, no one wants to be left hanging, rejected in public.

Bartimaeus heard Jesus was close by, and He cried out to Jesus for mercy! He had heard enough about Jesus to make him believe that not only COULD Jesus help him but also that Jesus WOULD WANT to help him…

Maybe he had heard about the woman who reached out to touch him in the crowd or the centurion who wanted his servant healed or the dad who wanted his son set free…

He believed Jesus wouldn’t leave him hanging, leave him on the side of the road rejected. So Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus loudly!

But many rebuked him (vs48)

Those around him didn’t like Bartimaeus’ calling out to Jesus! He was told to “shut up” basically, shunned, frowned upon…  

You know, often for you to get to Jesus, you have to push through some opposition. This opposition can come from one of three sources:

  • Your own voice (doubts/fears/ungodly beliefs)
  • The voice of others (unbelievers, mocking, media, the age we live in…)
  • The voice of the deceiver and enemy of your soul

But Bartimaeus wasn’t having any of it – ‘But he cried out all the more’ it says. What about you? Will you press past the obstacles between you and Jesus? The opinions of others? Your own internal obstacles to faith in Jesus, the questions you have, your fears? Will you press past the Devil’s stumbling blocks designed to keep you from calling out to Jesus?

Be like Bartimaeus. Cry out to Jesus, don’t stop, press past the opposition, you won’t be disappointed.

Jesus stops (vs49)

I love this part of this God-encounter. Jesus stopped.  

He stopped, for the seemingly insignificant, blind beggar crying out to Him at the moment that their journey’s intersected.

51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. 

Today you need to know that you matter to God. Jesus will stop if you call just out to Him. Those around you who don’t yet believe in Jesus need to know this about Jesus too! That if they just call out to Him, He will stop for them.

More than that, in His incredible gracious generosity, Jesus will not just stop, but He will ask you what He can do for you – what love and what authority! Jesus is not limited in any way He can offer to do whatever is needed.

Bartimaeus’ most apparent need was his blindness. We often have needs we are most aware of. For you maybe it is a job, finances, a true friend, a husband or a wife, or for someone you love to be healed.

And yet, Jesus knows our greatest need. Our sin & shame to be dealt with once and for all taken away

So that we can have a life-giving relationship with Him!

All He asks from us is for FAITH in Him. Not even’ lots of faith’ just faith… Even a little faith. Because it is not your faith that saves you, heals you, but WHO that faith is in!

Bartimaeus’ life journey intersected with Jesus in a moment. He called out with faith to Jesus, and Jesus stopped, and offered to meet His need and did exactly that in an instant.  

And so, Bartimaeus was healed physically but more than that He was also healed spiritually & so he became a Christ-follower from that day onwards. (vs52)

Every Christ-follower is a little like Bartimaeus. Each one has in their own unique way had an intersection moment with Jesus, has called out to Jesus, has put their faith in Jesus and has found Jesus stopped for them and answered their call. And Christ-followers don’t stop there but like Bartimaeus follow Jesus from that point onwards in their lives.

Today might well be a moment where your life journey and God intersect with each other either once again, or even for the very first time.

Will you call out to Him who will STOP & will MEET YOUR DEEPEST NEEDS?

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

Juxtaposition (Mark 1:11-20)

Posted on Updated on

Life is full of contrasting experiences! One moment we are celebrating something the next we can be plunged into hardship by a phone call or some unexpected trouble.  

In Mark 1:11-12, Jesus has a thoroughly human experience. One moment Jesus is basking in the love and affirmation of Father God, the next He is being sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan – juxtaposition.

You know the feeling, don’t you? Sunday you’re lost in worship, basking in the love of God, or you’ve just had a great time of personal devotion with bible reading prayer and worship and then BAM! 

Someone rear-ends your car in traffic, or something hits the news on the radio that plunges you into despair, or your cell phone buzzes with a message you really didn’t anticipate or need – juxtaposition. 

When this happens, we need to remember that our faith is not feelings. We know the God we were worshipping, delighting in and listening to. We know who has loved us and who had proclaimed that love. Feelings are fickle; they come and go, rise and fall, but our faith is anchored by something greater than feelings.

What anchored Jesus in the midst of this sudden change of atmosphere and experience?  

  1. Jesus knew WHO He was, and Jesus knew WHOSE He was. At His baptism, God the Father had confirmed this in an emphatic way through His words to Jesus (vs11).
  2. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1)
  3. Jesus knew Scripture and quoted it when Satan tempted and tested Him (Luke 4:9-13)

And what will anchor you when your life is thrown a serious curveball? I pray that it will be anchored by the same three things that anchored Jesus in his moment of contrasting circumstances.

Verse 12 reveals another surprising contrast. How can Scripture say that the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (see also Matthew 4:1)?  

We prefer to attribute bad or hard things to our own agency or the sinful agency of others or Satan himself. We are happy with language that places God with us in trials or working in trials, yet all synoptic Gospels ascribe Jesus’ guidance to the Holy Spirit!

God doesn’t just work in all things; God is sovereign over all things. God, the Holy Spirit, lead Jesus into this challenging time for the sake of the purposes of God in and through Jesus. Being tempted by Satan and being without food for 40days could not have been easy or pleasant at all for Jesus. And yet it was God Himself who sovereignly lead Jesus into those circumstances.

At present we are facing a world-wide pandemic, economies are shaking, people have lost their jobs in thousands, businesses are struggling, people are sick, and many have lost their lives. There seems to be hardship on every side, and yet one of the keys to thriving in this world-wide crisis is; “knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it.” – John Piper

Sometimes I think we want to let God off the hook for our tough life circumstances. We feel it is too conflicting to know that God could have been involved in our circumstances or don’t want God to be blamed for not relieving them. But then you can’t have it both ways! “If we try to rescue God from his sovereignty over suffering, we sacrifice his sovereignty to turn all things for good.” – John Piper

The Gospels report without any apology or embarrassment that God the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into this time of hardship and discomfort and testing by Satan, and God sustained Jesus in it too! Luke records also; “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (Luke 4:14). God, the Holy Spirit, never left Jesus from the time of His baptism, strengthening Him through his trial and temptation, and empowering Him in all His ministry (Acts 10:38).

Likewise, God will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5-6)! No matter what you face, no matter what He leads you into for His sovereign purposes, God the Holy Spirit will always be with you to enable and equip you to do God’s will in it all.

So in these times full of juxtaposed experiences, good things and hard things know this – God is sovereign in it all and God loves you and me with an everlasting love.

Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you again today, knowing; “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

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

The Centre of the Solar System (Mark 1:1-11)

Posted on Updated on

[In June/July for our church’s Bible Reading Plan we will be reading the Gospel of Mark. Join us…]

Mark’s Gospel begins with a succinct summary sentence outlining the big story of the book and also the main character in the story of the book – “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” [Mark 1:1]

This short book is an announcement (that’s what ‘gospel’ means essentially), a revelation about the most important person in the history of the world – Jesus.

The announcement is this – Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ, the Son of God. All of this language meant that Jesus is the One the whole Old Testament anticipated, the One Israel was longing for.

Who Jesus is, is the big story of this whole book. Not surprisingly, therefore, Jesus is the main, or central character. Friend, Jesus isn’t just the big story and central character of this book, Jesus is the BIG STORY in all of human history.  

And so, any life that is not centred around the BIG STORY that is in turn centred around Jesus Christ the Messiah, who He is and what He came to do – is a life that is missing the whole point of life.

John Piper said; “The majesty of Christ is like the sun at the centre of the solar system of your life. The massive sun, 333 000 times the mass of the earth, holds all the planets in orbit, even little Pluto, 3.6 billion miles away. So it is with the supremacy of Christ in your life. All the planets of your life – your sexuality and desires, your commitments and beliefs, your aspirations and dreams, your attitudes and convictions, your habits and disciplines, your solitude and relationships, your labour and leisure, your thinking and feeling – all the planets of your life are held in orbit by the greatness and gravity and blazing brightness of the supremacy of Christ at the centre of your life. If he ceases to be the bright, blazing, satisfying beauty at the centre of your life the planets will fly into confusion, a hundred things will be out of control, and sooner or later they will crash into destruction.”

I urge you to consider this question right now; ‘Is Jesus and His supremacy truly the centre of my life?’  

The honest answer to that question will determine whether all the various ‘planets of your life’ are at risk of crashing into each other or being lost in outer space. Or whether all the things that comprise the solar system of your life are in their proper orbit in relation to one another and God, because Jesus is in His proper place at the centre of your life.

The writer of this Gospel wanted his readers, wants you and I to know that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, is the promised Messiah!

How amazing that we get to read the Bible thousands of years later. And yet these words, written down by John Mark in association with Peter, still come to us with potency & revelation.

Prayer: I urge you to stop now and to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you as you read the Gospel of Mark. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see Jesus afresh and hear Jesus’ voice to you in the present so that Jesus will be at the centre of your life’s solar system.

[Mark 1:2-8] John the Baptist had a unique role that no one else had before him, and no one had since. John the Baptist got to announce who Jesus was, came to prepare the way for the One the people of the day had been waiting for. His whole job was to point people to Jesus.

And in that way, although John the baptist was a little like the last of the Old Testament prophets, he was also like the first Christ Follower – pointing people to Jesus.

Our role as Christ-Followers is not to rescue everyone we meet, not to try to be their deliverer or saviour but to point them to the ONE who is their Saviour – Jesus.

At one point John the disciple records that John the Baptist said of Jesus; “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) and in our passage for today in vs8 John tells those he is baptising that Jesus is greater than he is and that Jesus will do greater things [Mark 1:7-8]. In this way, John the Baptist is a great example to you and I. Our role is to make much of Jesus, to point people to Jesus.

Often we baulk from sharing our faith or the good news about Jesus with someone because we have an over-realised sense of responsibility for the person’s faith.  

John the Baptist reminds us, that our job is to point people to Jesus, not to be Jesus! We do this in normal life and conversations about the One who is at the centre of our life’s solar system! There is no pressure on us to know everything or convince anyone – our job is to simply point people to Jesus as and when God gives us the opportunities to do so in a manner that is authentic and not contrived.

[Mark 1:9-11] These verses record Jesus’ baptism in water by John the baptist. We see the Christian theology of the Trinity here in these verses. Jesus the Son is being baptised, God the Father rips open the sky and speaks audibly to Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit descends from heaven onto Jesus like a dove!  

In Jesus’ baptism, we see that the whole of the Godhead was intimately involved in the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus’ ministry flowed from this moment in which His identity and sense of belonging were confirmed by God the Father; “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.” These words of love and affirmation and the anointing of the Holy Spirit that went with them catapulted Jesus into His earthly ministry and all that will follow in this Gospel.

We, like Jesus, need to know WHO we are and WHOSE we are before we will do anything great for God. We, like Jesus, also need the empowering of the Holy Spirit if we will accomplish anything of significance for God. And if you know Romans 8, you will know that those two needs are connected as one. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit in us declares to us that we truly are the beloved children of God most high.

So, just as Jesus started His earthly mission for God with God affirming WHO He was and WHOSE He was, with the infilling of the Holy Spirit – so too this is what we need Christ-Followers.

So ask God the Father, ask the Holy Spirit to come upon you now, to confirm to you WHO you are and WHOSE you are and pray for the enabling power of the Holy Spirit for today and every day. Amen.

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

No regrets (Colossians 3:1-10)

Posted on

69514-gettyimages-501295459-alexsava.1200w.tn

I find it such a comfort knowing that we have heaven to look forward to after this life. When I feel harassed and don’t have time for things I love to do, I think that I’ll have all of eternity to do those things. When I miss people who have passed on or friends who live far away, I am comforted to know I’ll see them again, and we will have eternity together. When I get frustrated at things in life that are difficult, I know I have eternity to look forward to without those things.

But, we still have to live and get through tough times and the daily struggles we all face. Our most significant comfort and encouragement of all is knowing that Jesus has given us a new identity. He has saved us from our sinful nature and given us a new nature. It’s like he took the old, dirty clothes we were wearing, and he has given us fresh clothes that are clean and new. The change, however, is on the inside. It’s our hearts that he has transformed.

So, in light of this, Paul encourages the Colossians to set their thinking on heavenly things. That is to put Him first in your life and to live a life worthy of his name.

When I think of putting Jesus first in my life, I imagine all areas of my life revolving around him. My thoughts, my priorities, my choices, my actions; I want them all to reflect that he is the one that everything is centred around. I don’t want to make any decisions or do anything without first assessing, “will this please Jesus?”. I don’t want to say Jesus is important to me, but there is no evidence of that in my time spent, my speech and the way I live.

I think it’s essential to look at your priorities and thoughts and ask yourself if they reflect someone whose focus is on things that are important to Jesus or things that the world says are important. They are very different.

You have been given a new life in Jesus. You, with the help of the Holy Spirit, now get to live in a new way. Your Father is the King of Kings, are you living a life worthy of him? In his letter to the Colossians, Paul lists several things that could be lurking in our lives. He is very definite about what to do about them; put them to death, get rid of them, have nothing to do with them.

This side of heaven, we will never be perfect, and we daily have to rely on the grace of Jesus. However, we are being transformed into his likeness as we spend time with him.

When you meet someone who is a Christian, you expect certain things to be true of them. People rub off on us as we spend time together. If we’re spending time with people who are into bad things, it rubs off on us. As we spend time with Jesus, he naturally influences us. We don’t have to try and be more like him; it will just start happening.

There is no better person to emulate. He is everything good. So, take Paul’s advice. Get rid of sin in your life, fix your eyes on Jesus and all that is important to him. It’s a choice you will never regret!

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.

Progress takes time (Colossians 2:6-7)

Posted on

istockphoto-649804116-612x612

Paul is urging the Colossians to continue following Jesus. Here is how he suggests they do that. He uses the analogy of plants with roots and buildings on a firm foundation.

Both of those things take time to develop. I recently discovered that I could use the bottom of the celery I buy at the shops to grow another plant. I cut off the leaves and the stalks and then put the end piece in a little water. Over time it grew new leaves out the top and roots out the bottom. I have just planted it in the soil, and now I wait to be able to use it in my kitchen. The point of my story is that it has taken quite some time. The leaves didn’t grow immediately, and the roots took even longer to appear. I have no doubt it will be a few weeks before I can cut off some celery to use in cooking.

Similarly, building something takes time as well. Anybody who has been involved in any building project of any kind knows this to be true. If the process is rushed, essential details will be ignored, and the result will be a building that doesn’t last or one that presents problems over time, like leaking or cracking and unsightly parts to it.

I think Paul chose these analogies on purpose because following Jesus, allowing your roots to grow deep into him and building your life on him takes time. It takes time to read your Bible. There is so much to read and understand, yet as we daily read little bits, the Holy Spirit gently reveals more of himself to us and builds our knowledge and wisdom. It takes time to speak to him. Prayer isn’t always easy, but as we persevere, he rewards us with a sense of his presence and even in his grace answers our prayers.

We are all building our lives daily.  The question is on what are we building? Are we trying to gain our sense of security from money, relationships or possessions? God is our rock, our refuge and fortress. He is the only secure thing that will not send our lives crashing down in a heap of rubble if we build on him.

We all have roots reaching out to gain nourishment for our souls. Are you reaching out to Jesus or are you reaching out to the things of this world that will never satisfy the longings of your heart, as Jesus will?

As you are faithful in reading your Bible and pouring out your heart to him, you will grow closer to Jesus, your faith in him will grow, and you will recognize a thankful heart in yourself. It can be disheartening when day after day it feels like you’re plodding through reading your Bible and trying to grow in prayer, but remember how slowly a building is completed and how many days a plant takes to grow to maturity.

One day, after many months of being faithful in following Jesus, you will look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come. So keep going!

Gospel Metamorphosis (Philemon 8-16)

Posted on Updated on

metamorphosis-butterfly-transformation-700x467

You know, sometimes we don’t need a super-star to look at in Scripture! Don’t get me wrong, super-stars are fabulous, but we tend to create a “special” category for them, and if we are honest we often don’t feel we can relate to someone in that category.

And as a result, their lives can tend not to motivate us.

Listening or reading people like Tim Keller or John Piper I sometimes wonder if I should do something else! Their stellar gifts can seem quite out of reach, leaving me prone to feeling demotivated in comparison.

What about you? Do you know that feeling?

Yet, Scripture is full of some pretty ‘ordinary’ people, people so similar to us, weak people, people who made mistakes, not so famous people – but all transformed by God and used by God in some way or another!

In today’s passage, we are introduced to just such a person Onesimus. We know about him from this letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a church leader called Philemon, who leads a church that meets in his house in Colossae.

What’s the back story?

Paul seems to have lead Philemon to faith in Jesus (vs19). And having believed in Jesus Philemon’s life was transformed. His faith in and love for Jesus was known (vs5), and this love for Jesus led Philemon to love his fellow believers. So much so that he was known as one who refreshed and revived other people’s hearts (vs4-7) and now he and his whole family were living their whole lives for God’s mission with a church even meeting in their house (vs2).

But not everything was rosy!  There was someone Philemon found difficult to love. Someone he had little time for. There is always someone isn’t there.  That itchy neck person, that person who did THAT thing…!

For Philemon, THAT GUY’s name was; Onesimus.

He had been a slave of Philemon’s, he worked for him, but apparently wasn’t a very good or honourable employee.

Onesimus was so bad that although his name means ‘useful’ (vs11), it seems like he was nicknamed ‘useless’ by Philemon.

He wasn’t just ‘useless’ to his master, on top of this bad work ethic, it seems like Onesimus had also stolen from his master (vs18-19).

So, Onesimus was either dismissed & sent away by Philemon or, more likely; he ran away as such criminal actions against an owner would have been harshly treated in that society. Either way, Onesimus somehow ends up with Paul in Rome, where Paul has been imprisoned for the Gospel.

Maybe Onesimus remembered hearing Paul preach in the church that met in Philemon’s house; maybe he remembered hearing the letters that were read out containing the liberating truth of the Gospel? Maybe he longed for such freedom from guilt and shame for himself…?

Whatever it was, Onesimus finds Paul in Rome in prison, and Paul ends up leading him to faith in Christ, or Paul restores him to faith in Christ in Rome while in prison.

And because of that we now have this very personal letter in our bibles, so what can we learn from it. So what can we learn from this letter, this story?

1. The Gospel gives identity & belonging

Having run away, having stolen, having been called ‘useless’ when your name actually means ‘useful’, Onesimus must have had some real identity issues. Low self-esteem, nothing to be proud of, no hope for a future, a criminal on the run…!

But all that is about to change. You see the Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms who we are!

“The Gospel doesn’t just change

our eternal address it transforms who we are!”

We don’t know anything about Onesimus’ nationality or parents, but it is highly likely that he was a foreigner probably brought to the Roman empire through war or slave-traders.

As a slave, Onesimus would not have much in the way of protection from exploitation/abuse would not have had much in the way of rights or any privilege.

But in the Gospel Onesimus becomes a son 3x over!

  • The son of his human dad
  • A son of God
  • A son of Paul, his spiritual dad! (vs10) “I appeal to you for my child.”

The Gospel transforms identity/belonging, so much so that Paul says that when he sends Onesimus back to Philemon (carrying this letter we are reading), he says that he is, in fact, sending “my very heart”! (vs12)

This useless slave who had messed up monumentally – because of the Gospel becomes a beloved son 3x!

More than this, Paul writes to Philemon, an important man, a church leader a homeowner and Paul writes of how Onesimus has become to both of them (the apostle Paul and this leader) – a fellow brother (vs16) in Christ!

Our faith in Christ, our adoption as children of God, creates a new relationship of love & equality of value between us, a connection that is deep and eternal – brothers and sisters in Christ! Equal in the Lord.

The Gospel gives us a value that transcends social barriers that previously defined and divided us! This is so real for the apostle Paul that he writes to Philemon instructing him to receive Onesimus ‘AS YOU WOULD RECEIVE ME’ (vs16-17).

  • I don’t know how you see yourself today.
  • I don’t know if you can identify a bit with Onesimus?
  • I don’t know if your identity feels like it is intact or in tatters?
  • I don’t know if you feel useless, ashamed of things you’ve done or failed at?
  • I don’t know if you feel like you don’t belong anywhere because of your family situation or a lack of a father or lack of parents….?

But what I DO KNOW is that the Gospel, the good news about Jesus transforms your identity and your sense of belonging!

  • God wants you to belong!
  • God wants you to KNOW Him as Father
  • God wants to give you spiritual fathers and mothers, spiritual brothers and sisters wants to give you a place of honour in His household – the church.

The Gospel gives us identity & belonging!

2. The Gospel gives us purpose!

Rejection is a terrible thing. Imagine being called ‘useless’! Maybe you’ve been, or you are still at times called ‘useless’ by someone, a boss, a friend or family member…

As a rejected, runaway slave and fugitive – Onesimus seems purposeless. Seems like he is useless – having no useful purpose at all in life.

But having encountered Paul and the Gospel Paul writes; ‘formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.’ (vs11)

Paul wants Onesimus to continue to stay to help him with the mission of Jesus but sends him back to be of help to the church back in Colossae.

When Jesus begins to change us from the inside out, little by little, our character starts changing too. We begin to become trustworthy, faithful, reliable, on-time, helpful…

The Gospel is incredibly down-to-earth, practical!

It doesn’t just change our eternal address but changes everything in our lives – it makes us useful, helpful, reliable to others and in God’s service.

Onesimus was set free from slavery by the Gospel, but what was he set free for?   Following Christ set him free from sin but in addition, set him free for good works (Ephesians 2:10) that God had prepared in advance for him to do. And so Onesimus becomes useful to in God’s church/kingdom (vs11). He gets a purpose!

Are you looking for purpose?  

The Gospel is what gives you purpose. Onesimus was floundering until he found Christ! And as you follow Christ, as you begin to serve others because you serve Christ – your life too will get purpose, and your character will get transformed.

3. Transformation by Spiritual Fathering Mothering

It’s worth asking; ‘How did this all happen for Onesimus?” This all happened because the Gospel restored him not just to his heavenly Father but also gave him a spiritual dad too! Paul picked up on this guy, who was a bit of a wreck probably by the time he got to him.

Paul didn’t get too hung up with his own life challenges while he himself was in prison. Paul wasn’t too self-absorbed so that he missed the moment, rather he saw the young man in front of him in need of help! What a (personal challenge to us)

And so, Paul involved himself, fathering Onesimus in the Lord, in the Gospel – Paul loved him as a son. Paul spoke life, hope, faith and a future over him calling him ‘useful’ restoring dignity to him. More than this as we shall read in the verses that follow, Paul advocated/mediated for him, was willing to pay for him, trusted him.

Who is God calling you to invest your life into? Could you be used by God to redeem a life, from useless to useful, from rejected to beloved? Who is your Onesimus?

Conclusion & Application

  • What’s God saying to you today?
  • Are you like Onesimus in some way? Do you feel like you have lost your way, you’re ashamed, have messed-up, feel lonely, purposeless or lacking hope…? God wants to redeem your life, put you back together again! Pray now and ask God to begin a metamorphic process of Gospel transformation in your life. Reach out to a spiritual father/mother to walk with you today.
  • Or have you walked with God for some time already, God has put you back together and so you’ve made some progress (not that we are ever totally right this side of heaven). Who is your Onesimus? Who is God calling you to invest your life into to see some other people’s lives transformed by the Gospel? What are you waiting for? Reach out to them today.

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

Know Three Things & Do One (1 John 5:19-21)

Posted on Updated on

3079136+0B3axYh3Ek8hfMFdyUDlzcDNqX0E

The apostle John’s longing has been that those who have believed in Jesus would KNOW that they have eternal life through faith in Jesus (1 John 5:13).

Now he goes on to write of three additional things that Christ Followers know also;

1.We know that we are from God.

So many personal problems begin when this truth is not firmly grasped and held on to by the believer in Jesus. The devil repeatedly tries to undermine the truth that we have been adopted as God’s beloved children through faith in Jesus (see John 1:12, 1 John 3:1).

Assurance, security, peace, acceptance, love, protection, hope for answered prayer…are all rooted in this truth. God being our Father changes everything – it’s a classic case of; ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’! Even better it’s not about who you are but who’s you are!

If you are battling with feelings of fear, anxiety, rejection, or loneliness or feeling under-valued or over-looked or unseen, you need to tap into this truth, again and again, the sons and daughters of God most high need never struggle with questions of this nature.

If God the Father loved you enough to send Jesus to the cross to die in your place for your sin while you were still His enemy, then having already done that, how much more will He not also along with Jesus give you all things? (Romans 8:32). Know these things.

2.the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 

Know also, however, that in this present age post-Christ’s resurrection but before His return the world around us is under the control and influence of the evil one – the devil.

Although the devil has been triumphed over by Jesus on the cross (Colossians 2:14-15), although his days are numbered, and his final destiny is the final judgement of God in the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20) – he still has power in this present age. And so the world is full of traps and temptations as the devil tries to derail people from faith, worship and trust in God.

Knowing that you have an ultimately defeated, but real enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8) will help you to be sober-minded and alert. Remember that ‘He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world’ (1 John 4:4) – so do not live in fear but be alert to his cunning schemes and traps.

3. And know that Jesus is the one true God (vs20) 

The knowledge that we have a real enemy is sandwiched between knowing we are God the Father’s beloved children (vs19) and that we have believed in Jesus Christ the one true God and we ‘know him’ and so we can know we have eternal life with Him.

Don’t give in to doubts and lies from the enemy about who Jesus is – what you have believed is true, and you will be richly rewarded into eternity for holding on to that truth. There is no god besides our God, Jesus Christ!

Armed with the knowledge of these three things, John concludes with something we ought to DO.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (vs21)

Don’t give your trust, your worship or devotion to anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ. But what is an idol? Is it just a statue of sorts?

An idol is anything that we seek to get significance, meaning, identity, belonging, purpose, security, peace or happiness from – someone or something that occupies the place of God in our lives. Mark Dever said; “Idolatry is sin in its purest form: it is trusting something other than God.”

The apostle closes his letter with a warm warning – keep yourselves from idolatry. Worship, serve and love God only!

Two Ways (1 John 2:15-17)

Posted on Updated on

Two-ways-of-life

As Christ Followers, what should our relationship to the world be? Such an important question for every Christ Follower to consider.

Over the centuries, there have been many varying responses to this question. Some believing that they are at risk of being contaminated have tried to remove themselves from contact with the world. Others have reached out to the world and so immersed themselves in it that they have risked accommodating themselves to it.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

Reading 1 John 2:15 & John 3:16 side by side, one can get easily confused. Which is it? Are we to love the world or not?

To unravel this, we need to consider the variations of meaning Scripture has for the Greek word ‘kosmos’ -translated as ‘world’ in English.

‘Kosmos’ can mean;

  1. All that is created and sustained by God, or 
  2. All of humankind (the apex of God’s creation) or 
  3. The ‘organized system of human civilization and activity which is opposed to God and alienated from him. It represents everything that prevents man from loving, and therefore obeying, his creator.’ (David Jackman)

John has been using stark contrasts so far in the letter, light and darkness (1 John 1:5&2:9), truth and lies (1 John 1:6&2:4), love for God and love for the ways of the world (1 John 2:15).  

In vs15 John is forcibly urging Christ-followers to see that love for God and love for the world’s ways are mutually exclusive. They are like light and darkness.

But, in what way is the system of the world anti-God or dangerous for us? John goes on to elaborate;

‘For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.’ 

John highlights three aspects of the fallen worldly system and correspondingly the devil’s strategy against us;

  1. The desires of the flesh.  Physical appetites themselves are not evil since many like thirst are God-given and essential for human life. However, our natural desires have been distorted and exaggerated in fallen humankind so that we crave a level of self-indulgent satisfaction that can lead us to ignore God’s commandments and wander into uncontrolled excess. Unrestrained desires have an insatiable appetite that can lead someone off-course from the path of following God. Desires are natural, are God-given, but we are not to be lead slavishly by our desires. ‘John is concerned that we should realize that we cannot love the Father and live that way.’ (David Jackman)
  2. The desires of the eyes. Desire often starts with seeing something desirable. This reminds me of the original sin in the garden… ‘When Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise’ (Genesis 3:6) Much of the world’s marketing runs on this operating system – selling us a desirable image and enticing action. John knows that our eyes can and do get us into trouble.
  3. Pride in our achievements and possessions (NLT). This worldliness can easily slip into our lifestyles and thinking under the radar, undetected. The world we live in loves to celebrate achievements! From ticker-tape parades for rugby world champions to endless prize-givings at every education institution. The problem is not in the achievement or possession itself – but rather in what a person hopes these things will do for them. To look to our achievements or possessions as things that define who we are or to hope that they will open doors of acceptance or feeling like we belong – is worldly and does not come from the Father. Our identity, belonging, and purpose are ultimately only found in a relationship with Jesus alone, which leads John to the final thought in our passage for today.

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (vs17)

John concludes, reminding us that not only are the world’s attractions, not God’s way for us, they ultimately fail to satisfy us, and they are fleeting.

We need to be more eternally minded; we are wise if we think long and not short! The person who focuses on God and God’s ways, God’s commandments not the ways of the world ends up fulfilling the will of God which is good for us for eternity and will bless us not just in the short term but bless us eternally.

Although following God’s ways and doing God’s will sometimes involve saying ‘NO’ to some desirable thing, in light of eternity it is not Scripture’s view to see such as a sacrifice but rather a wise investment.

So John challenges us to make Godly decisions about the way we are living today. Do not love the world and its ways, love the Father. We face these little decisions daily, but John challenges us to keep loving the Father and to follow His ways, not the way of the world in all things. ‘For the world and those who live for it will pass away, but the Father and his obedient children will live forever.’ (David Jackman)

So what is our relationship with the world to be?  

We are to love people, as God loved people going to extreme lengths to share His love with them (John 3:16).  

However, we are also to be extremely careful of the tempting and corrupting influence of the world’s ways, wisdom and systems which are anti-God and dangerous for us from the perspective of eternity (1 John 2:15-17).

For consideration:

  1. Look through the three aspects of the world’s ways that John highlights and ask God the Holy Spirit to speak to you about any of these which you need to address
  2. ‘Love for God is the ultimate antidote for sin’ – how does loving God more fortify you against sin?
  3. Are you truly living with an eternal perspective?  How would having a clearer eternal perspective help you in daily decisions?

Discipleship

Posted on Updated on

(2 Timothy 1:13-18 & 2 Timothy 2:1-3)

In the first part of Timothy we visited a few ideas: 

  • godly mentorship (discipleship), 
  • being unashamed to share the gospel, and 
  • having an eternal perspective in times of suffering.

In today’s devotional I want to continue with focusing on discipleship and the need thereof. 2 Timothy 13-14 and 2 Timothy 1-2 speaks concerning this, read it again.

Jesus set out on his mission to change the world by choosing disciples, this is one of the first things he does, and in what is recorded as some of the last things said to his disciples, he encourages them to do the same.

Matthew 28:18:  ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…’

Just like Jesus discipled the twelve to go on and change the world (read disciple others), so too Paul was discipling Timothy. He encouraged Timothy to imitate him as he imitated Christ and in 2 Timothy 2, he gives the structure we ought to follow in discipleship of others.

2 Timothy 2:2: ‘and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.’

Paul teaches Timothy, who in his own time, teaches faithful men and they then go and teach others. It always baffles me that Jesus could change the world through only twelve people. They were not extremely smart, nor extremely holy, they were not especially good with words, no; they were ordinary people just like you and me. Imagine what He could do through us if we are willing to disciple and be discipled!

One of the beautiful examples of discipleship was described in 1 Timothy, Paul honours the role of Timothy’s grandmother and mother in shaping the faith he now possesses. Two godly women not only raising their children, but actively discipling them. That is ultimately the goal of parenting: discipling. 

We have all received good deposits from other people in our lives; our faith would be worse off if it had not been for those people who prayed for us, encouraged us and loved on us. It is our responsibility to not only receive these ‘good deposits’, but also to guard the deposits entrusted to us in order to deposit it to others.

Matthew 28:18: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’

Questions:

  • Are we being actively discipled and are we actively discipling others like Paul teaches?
  • Are we teachable enough to receive other people’s deposits?
  • Are we only raising our children or are we also discipling them?
  • Who do you look up to in the faith, that you could ask to walk this road with you on a more intimate basis?

Leadership Note:

There are so much godly wisdom in our church communities today, so many lived experiences and so many testimonies that could be benefited from. God has placed people in our lives so we can share our ‘good deposits’ and receive the ‘good deposits’ from others. In this way the church will be ever growing into the image of God. Now, go therefore and make disciples!

God’s Delight (Psalm 18:1-19)

Posted on Updated on

baobabs-2708289-1

‘I love You, O LORD, my strength’ (vs1)

What a relief, what joy to be able to declare that God is our strength! What a relief to not have to try to be strong, to not have to seek to hold it all together. Yahweh is our strength, and for that, we love Him (vs1)

Yahweh is our strength in that He is our rock, our strong, immovable foundation, Yahweh is our fortress the strong tower into which we can run and find refuge in times of danger. Yahweh is also a shield defending us from the attacks of the enemy (vs2).

Yahweh is my strength because He is the one I can call on and call out to for help (vs3) when desperate situations or challenges greater than my strength present themselves (vs4-5).

Yahweh is my strength because when I cry to Him, He hears and recognises my voice from His holy temple (vs6). And so my cries are not in vain.

Yahweh rips open the heavens to respond to my cries for help; He rides the wind and thunders on my behalf (vs7-19)!

And why does Yahweh act in such a way?

“He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (vs19)

What astounding words. That the God of angel armies, the LORD most high, the Alpha and Omega delights in me! God takes pleasure in me in us.

I know myself. I know my limitations, my failings, my weakness and my sin, and yet You delight in me. Psalm 18:19 helps us to understand Hebrews 12:2 which explains the motivation in Jesus’ heart as He looked upon the cross;

Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Psalm 18 depicts Jahweh his strength saving him from his temporal earthly enemies. But the great enemy and the greater eternal salvation for you and for me who have believed in Jesus is that we are saved eternally from our enemies of sin, shame, satan & death because of Jesus.

Why did Jahweh do this? Because He delighted in me, in us. Scripture is clear that it was God’s love for us that caused the Father to send the Son (John 3:16) so that He could have the joy of having us in heaven with Him forever and ever (Revelation 21:3).

LORD, thank you for choosing to love me, despite me, for loving me enough to send Jesus to make a way to cleanse me from my sin so that I would be in close relationship with you forever.

And if You did this massive thing in saving me, I am sure that there is nothing in this life, nothing on this earth that you will not rescue me from (Romans 8:32).

‘I love You, O LORD, my strength!’ (Psalm 18:1)

Fearfully & Wonderfully Made (Numbers 4)

Posted on

Newborn and Baby Photography London

Reading Numbers 1-4, it is clear that God is specific and detailed. The camp was set up in an evident ordered pattern with the Tabernacle, the symbol of God’s presence in the middle of it all.

Numbers 4 details the roles of various of the Levite clans who served beside the priests in the Tabernacle. God was specific and detailed; individuals and groups had specifically designated roles.

Eleazar (Aaron’s son) had a specific role concerning the oil and incense and other items used in the worship in the Tabernacle. God chose him specifically. Aaron and his sons were to “appoint them each to his task and to his burden” (Numbers 4:19), “according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying.” (Numbers 4:49)

So what! I hear you say. How does this have any impact in my life? We can always ask of any passage the following questions;
1. What can I/we learn about God?
2. What can I/we learn about people or faith?
3. What can I/we learn about myself?
4. And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?

What can I/we learn about God?

God is specific and ordered. God cares about details. We see this in the intricate design of creation and the human body. We also learn that God is holy, and the worship of him must be filled with reverence and awe, the sons of Kohath needed to work with special care to not touch the ‘holy things’ lest they die!

What can I/we learn about people or faith?

God gifts people, equips people uniquely and diversely for a myriad of specific God-given roles. We live in an age which esteems ‘freedom’ as the notion that one can choose to do and be whatever one wants to, self-determination is enshrined. But God as our creator, is purposeful in how He has made us in all our diversity of race, gender, personality & gifting. Ephesians 2:10 declares; “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Specificity, God-ordained purpose! Maybe freedom is more about discovering through Scripture and by the leading of the Holy Spirit what God has intended for us than it is about us self-determining who we are!

What can I learn about myself?

A prayer… “Lord, you commanded all these people with specific roles in ministering to You. How can I best live for Your glory and not my fulfilment? How can I better know Your design for me and the ‘good-works’ You have planned for me? Lead me, Lord, speak to me and help me to humbly embrace Your design as my loving LORD, Father & Creator.”

And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?

Spend time thinking about this prayerfully and then responding in whatever way God directs.

Unified in Jesus (Romans 9:30-33)

Posted on Updated on

exclusion_pawns_0

A wave of nationalism and increased polarisation between diverse groups of people is washing over the world stage with issues like Brexit and the increasingly hostile international trade negotiations between the USA and China just current examples.

Within our nation (South Africa), we are experiencing the same wave of polarisation. In our recent national elections, there was a rise in support for the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum and the rhetoric in the public space is increasingly acrimonious.

The church that received this letter from the apostle Paul was needing to work out its unity in diversity, needing to avoid polarisation within the church. The Christians who were ethnically Jewish seemingly had some heart re-wiring that was required. They were in danger of spiritual arrogance, trusting in their traditions and ethnicity. They were at risk of potentially looking down on their Gentile brothers and sisters as being ‘less-than’ in some way or another.

Paul has been at pains in his letter, to show that salvation for all people is not something we can earn personally through law-keeping, is not something we obtain through our ethnicity but that God has revealed a righteousness that is received by faith in Jesus alone. (Romans 3:21-24) and so God is the God of the Jews & the Gentiles equally (Romans 3:29), God is the One who mercifully ‘justifies the ungodly’ (Romans 4:5).

All believers are in the same position. None of us is deserving of God’s grace and mercy, none of us was able to earn it through good behaviour, no one has any ethnic advantage – we all need God’s grace and mercy to be saved!

(Romans 9:30-31): Shockingly to Jewish believers, Gentile believers who didn’t even seek God or deserve anything – have been made righteous by God’s gracious choosing.

And Jewish people who wrongfully put their trust in the Law and their law-keeping efforts have not been made righteous because God has revealed a righteousness that is ‘apart from the law’ (Romans 3:21).

All people are in the same position, all people need God’s grace, and all people need to put their trust in Jesus, not in their law-keeping efforts or their ethnicity or traditions but to put all their faith in Jesus only.

(Romans 9:32-33): Which makes Jesus the stumbling block that Isaiah prophesied about. The proud religious person who believes they deserve or have earned God’s choosing of them will battle to put their trust in Jesus – He is a stumbling block to them, a rock in the road obstructing their way.

Paul is uniting the believers in the church in Rome, destroying spiritual arrogance, digging up pride in ethnicity and relaying the same foundation for all people – “…and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:33).

The great power to overcome polarisation in our nation and the world is the Gospel of Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved! No matter what your upbringing was, no matter what your social standing is, no matter what sin you’ve committed – putting all your faith in Jesus is the answer and therefore is also the great equaliser and unifying power in the world. May we, as believers, be part of churches that demonstrate this unity in diversity that is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?

What do you rejoice in? (Romans 5:1-5)

Posted on Updated on

colombia_fans_bogota_world_cup_8ky32wkj_d4qgiep5

What types of things get your joy-juice flowing?
And what form does your rejoicing take?

In popular culture, the most common public expressions of joy are often supporters arms aloft, jumping, hugging strangers and yelling because their team scored.

I have the joy of serving with a fantastic fellow elder, Sibongiseni Dlamini who simply cannot contain himself in certain moments in church life. He can not stop his feet and arms from doing a little high-speed mini-dance at certain times. Like when he sees God at work in someone’s life, or that moment in one of our church services (www.recroadchurch.co.za) when a diverse crowd of Christ followers is passionately worshipping God’s name all in unison or when someone comes to faith in Christ – pure joy!

What do you rejoice in?

In Romans 5:1-5, Paul mentions two but lists four things we rejoice in as Christ followers.

1. We are at peace with God
2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God
3. We rejoice in our sufferings
4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit

1. We rejoice because we are at peace with God

May we never tire of rejoicing in the wonder and goodness of our salvation – that God has justified the ungodly (Romans 4:5). We were saved FROM the consequences of our sin, but we were saved FOR relationship with God and access into His presence continually.

Those who have been declared righteous by God because of their faith in Jesus now are in a position of ‘having peace with God’. We were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10), but now we have been reconciled to a right relationship with Almighty God.

More than this as we will discover in later in Romans 8 we are granted the privilege of being adopted as the children of God because of our faith in Jesus (John 1:12) and therefore we have free access into the presence of the Holy God, calling out “Daddy” as we come to him (Romans 8:14-17).

When they were young (and to some degree still today) my children never asked if they could please interrupt me by bashing open my office door or bedroom door! If they wanted me, they came in without hesitation. They were confident and secure that whatever I might have been focused on was not as important as they were.

Come like that, rejoicing that you are at peace with God because you have been declared righteous (justified) by the grace of Jesus. Come knowing this is where you belong.

2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God

We rejoice knowing that we are not what we once were (‘sinners’ & ‘enemies of God’) and that we are not all that we will one day be! The best is yet to come. Although we have access into our Holy Father’s presence already, there is greater unlimited access & proximity to come in the new heaven and the new earth when this will happen;

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new..Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 21:1-5 & Revelation 22:20)

This is our hope. Unrestricted eternal access in the presence of God living in a new earth where all of the damage of sin and death and suffering has been eradicated! It’s hard to imagine, but it is our eternal and sure hope which we rejoice in. The future is very, very bright for the believer in Jesus.

3. We rejoice in our sufferings

Oooooh. This seems to be the odd one out. Seriously is there not a typo here? The most challenging word here is the word “knowing” in verse 3. Paul expects the believer in Jesus to rejoice in sufferings because they know something. Do you KNOW it? You need to KNOW it before you’re in it because once you’re in some suffering/pressure/hardship that will not be the right to try to get to KNOW this thing that Paul assumes you KNOW.

We rejoice in our sufferings because we KNOW;

1. That although in this age we suffer because of the sin of others, and because of the effects of the fall all around us in our bodies, creation & society around us. We know that Jesus is both with us in it, and ultimately is coming back to make all things new!

We know that; “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

2. We also rejoice in our sufferings in that we know that they are not outside of the loving, sovereign control of our Heavenly Father who will use even the worst things, even sinful things to shape us more and more into His likeness and show us His love for us. We KNOW that suffering with a right perspective (Hebrews 12:10-11) results in us developing the muscle of endurance. A muscle which can only grow with the resistance training of hardship. We also KNOW that endurance produces authentic character in us, Christ-like godliness, which is only formed under pressure. And lastly, we KNOW that godly character results in a view of the world that is filled with hope because we are convinced of what Scripture says about the future coming age of Christ.

It is only possible to rejoice in sufferings if you KNOW God is still in control, if you KNOW God loves you, if you KNOW your loving Father is able to work through all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), if you KNOW that this suffering has some purpose & that it will end and be swallowed up by eternal life to come and superseded by glory!

4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit

We rejoice because God the Father loves us with a love that is purer, deeper and more powerful than anything else in all creation. And we rejoice because this love has been given to us, not in some small measure, it hasn’t been rationed to us, it has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit! So rejoice, that you get to drink deeply of the love of God, by at any time inviting the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you again and again with the fullness of God’s love.

We have so much to rejoice in!

Who are you? (James 1:1)

Posted on Updated on

Who-are-you“Who are you?” I met a church planter in Calgary last year who was planting a church into an area in the city, and his practice was to go to a particular local Starbucks Coffee every day and work there striking up conversations with anyone who frequented the same Starbucks.

His favourite question as he engaged people was to ask them; “So, who are you?” He told me how most people would begin to answer by saying what they did for a living.

But he would cut them short saying; “I didn’t ask you what you DO, I asked you WHO YOU ARE?” At which point many would look quizzically and reply; “Hmmm I’m not sure how to answer that question.” He would then proceed to ask them if they wanted to explore that together with him.

So, WHO ARE YOU? What’s your primary identity?
Our world is filled with people trying to answer that question with all sorts of things ranging from culture, language, family, achievements, careers…

James, the writer of this little book we are reading and meditating on for the next month, answered that question in the following way in James 1:1;

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Greetings.” – James 1:1 (ESV)

What a way to introduce oneself! A servant or a slave of Jesus, as some translations say, this was James’ primary identity. Is this how you think of yourself? Is this what defines you more than any other thing?

Paul like James uses this phrase “slave of Jesus” to introduce himself to the Roman believers (Romans 1:1). And in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 we read of the reason in the heart of Paul as to why he, like James identifies himself in this way;

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” ( 2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

The Christ Follower is one for whom Jesus died, SO THAT they would ‘no longer live for themselves but for Him’ who died for them. When we believe in Jesus, we don’t add Jesus to the mix of all we do. No, when we put our faith in Jesus, He revolutionises our whole lives and transforms our identity!

When we put our faith in Jesus, we get a new identity; we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:16) whose purpose is now totally orientated around serving God, pleasing God (2 Corinthians 5:9). We are those who have been re-defined by our faith in Jesus; He is our new master, our Lord. We exist to serve His purposes on the planet with our one precious life He has given to us.

Spend a moment thinking about the question; “Who are you?” If you are a Christ Follower, I urge you to ask Jesus to help you see that being a “servant of Jesus” is your identity just like James and Paul and millions of others. And as that truth about your identity becomes clear it will lead you to another question which we can ask every day; “Lord Jesus, what do you want me to do for You today?”

As Jesus speaks to you, obey Him and watch as Jesus leads you into serving Him and others in remarkable ways, knowing that He is faithful and that He will reward those who live their lives in this way.