Knowing God

Four Spaces (Mark 9:2-13)

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Six days after Peter’s revelation about WHO Jesus was and Jesus’ announcement about WHAT He had come to the earth to do, Jesus went up a mountain and took with Him just three; Peter, James and John.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider the different layers of relationship around Jesus; because the layers we see around Jesus are the same layers we see in our lives and church.

Proxemics is the study of the different concentric layers of relationship that we all have and which exist in any group of people. 

Looking at those around Jesus I see the four layers of relationship described in proxemic theory as ‘spaces’;

  1. Public Space: (Crowds) Jesus often had a crowd with Him comprised of both expectantly inquisitive people & those in opposition to Jesus. These people knew of Jesus, were intrigued by Jesus, or they opposed Jesus. But, these people hadn’t yet committed their lives to Jesus in faith.
  2. Social Space:(Church) By the time Jesus ascends to heaven, there is a defined group, a community of faith of about 120 people in the upper room (Acts 1:15). Their faith in Jesus had established new secondary relationships with one another – this is the embryonic pre-Pentecost church, a community of faith in Jesus.
  3. Personal Space: (Community Group) Within that community of faith, Jesus had 12 who were with Him on a deeper level – the disciples. He had chosen them (Mark 2:13-20). So within the followers of Jesus, there was this small group, a subset of the whole community of faith. Jesus wanted these 12 to be in a special and close relationship with Him so that He could share his life and teachings more deeply. They lived with Jesus 24/7; they walked with Him daily; they shared meals & experiences – they shared life on a deeper level. Their relationship to Him brought them also into a deeper relationship as a small group of followers centred around Jesus. 
  4. Intimate Space: (Trios)  Four times in Mark’s Gospel Peter, James & John are found to be with Jesus in a setting the wider group didn’t share in; 
  • Peter along with James and John are the only ones to witnesses Jesus raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37)
  • Peter ends up having the revelation of Jesus’ as the Messiah (Mark 8:29)
  • Peter witnesses the Transfiguration with James and John (Mark 9:2-13)
  • And Peter stands up on the Day of Pentecost to preach at what was the genesis moment of the church (Acts 2:14).
  • James was one of that first group of disciples and part of Jesus’ inner circle. James was martyred for His faith by Herod (Acts 12:2)
  • John also part of that inner-circle in his own Gospel describes himself as one that Jesus loved four times (John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:20)
  • John seemed to be the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:6 & Galatians 2:9) before moving to Ephesus and becoming the last of the 12 apostles still to be alive in the late first century.

In our passage today, we see how this inner-circle in Jesus’ ‘intimate space’ got to see more of Jesus than anyone else. Jesus was transfigured before their eyes, and He begins to glow with a radiance reminiscent of Moses’ face, which shone after encountering God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29-30).

Jesus unapologetically interacted with the people in these four spaces differently. Jesus revealed more of Himself, explained more to his twelve than the wider group and then even shared even more to his tighter group of three.

Jesus responds to our willingness.  

Jesus responds to willingness. Peter is an example of someone who just always seems willing. He always seems to be asking questions, pressing in to know more, see more. I believe that Jesus was drawn to that willing eagerness and responded to it and showed Peter more as a result.

Likewise, John had a special relationship with Jesus. Was it that he listened more than the others, made sure he was close by to Jesus? Jesus seems to have responded to John attentiveness, and so John writes of himself that he was a favourite of Jesus’ (see texts above). John testified about Jesus’ existence in his epistle from those personal experiences with Jesus; 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

Jesus had these four layers of relationship/spaces with those around Him, and the closer people were to Jesus, the more intentional or willing they were to spend time with Jesus, the more He revealed Himself to them and the more they, in turn, did for Him with their lives!

So what does this have to do with us and our followership of Jesus?

  1. God wants to move all people from the CROWD to the COMMUNITY: 

This is the mission of the church and of every follower of Christ, to share the good news about Jesus with everyone we know so that they can move from spectators to believers and followers. [Who is there in your life who might be interested in Jesus as a man but is yet to believe in Him as God? Pray for them now, and keep asking God the Holy Spirit to give you opportunities to point them to life-giving faith and relationship with Jesus.]

  1. The Gospel always creates a COMMUNITY of faith, the church: 

Our journey’s of faith lead us into a community; God’s family brought into relationship with one another through our common relationship to Jesus. A diverse new people who once had not been a people at all, but now through God’s choosing are the people of God (1 Peter 2:9-10). I love how those thousands who were saved on the day of Pentecost were saved and added (Acts 2:41), they became a community of faith that was not just devoted to Jesus but to one another sharing life and their possessions (Acts 2:42-47)! We were not made for walking alone. There is no such thing as biblical Christianity without commitment to a local church.

“There is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers. You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.” – Keller

“Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of his greater presence better than scattered individuals.” – Dallas Willard

“You must be deeply involved in the church, in Christian community, with strong relationships of love and accountability. Only if you are part of a community of believers seeking to resemble, serve and love Jesus will you ever get to know Him and grow into His likeness.” – Keller

  1. Healthy Church communities will have three of the different ‘spaces’ Jesus had around Him within each congregation:  

Each of the three spaces within a church community plays a different role in the life of any Christ-follower. 

  • The whole church gathered (social space) for worship, sacraments, prayer & preaching has a significant role in catalysing faith, community and corporate vision.  
  • Small groups of 6-20 (personal space) gathered around God’s word, prayer, care, fellowship and for mission ensures that everyone in the church is caught up in life-giving relationships that spur them on in their faith and give them contexts in which to serve and bless others too.
  • And finally, even smaller groups of 2-4 Christ-followers meeting (intimate space ‘TRIOs’ in RRC) allows for greater intimacy and intentionality. Peter, James & John’s experience with Jesus should provoke us to want what they had!  

The pattern I see in the Gospels is like one big parable. The parables Jesus told, bemused the crowds but to those who pressed in with faith and intentionality – Jesus revealed more!  

Those who intentionally pressed in became a community of faith (the church). Yet, there were those who pressed in, even more, and Jesus formed them into a small group to whom He revealed even more.  

And then there was Jesus’ inner-circle, the TRIO of Peter, James & John to whom Jesus revealed the most. They experienced more of Jesus than anyone else, and correspondingly also accomplished amazing things for Jesus.

This is like a parable to you and I. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to stay just in the CROWD. But instead to be added to the COMMUNITY (the church).  

More than that, I believe Jesus doesn’t want anyone to stop there with some connection to the COMMUNITY.  

Instead, Jesus wants us to join ourselves to a SMALL GROUP (Community Group in RRC) so that we can grow close to some fellow Christ-followers whose relationships with one another are all centred around Jesus Christ.  

And for those who truly wish to grow in God, to press in even further adding themselves to an even smaller group – a TRIO. Two to four same-sex Christ-followers who have committed themselves to an intentional spiritual friendship focussed on helping one another to follow Christ and His mission for their lives and the church. 

Oh, that more people would want to move from merely being in the CROWD of admirers around Jesus to the COMMUNITY. And that they wouldn’t be satisfied to belong just to the wider church community but that they would press in towards greater connection in the personal and intimate spaces, and as a result would encounter more of Jesus and accomplish more for Jesus!

How are you responding to the parable of the spaces?

Jesus’ parables bemused and offended some and drew others in. And those who pressed in more got more, got closer had more revealed to them and as a result did more for God with their lives.

We live in a self-saturated age. This whole blog has been about relationships, a community of faith that all flows from the Gospel. This global pandemic, when we are restricted from meetings, can be a healthy moment for self-reflection.

How am I responding? Have I believed the lie that my relationship with Jesus is just a personal thing when in Scripture, that is never the case?

The Gospel creates community, and those who press in more to Jesus and to the community get more & do more for God.

So I challenge you. If you are a Christ-follower, don’t be satisfied to be part of the CROWD of onlookers, or even just being an isolated attendee in the COMMUNITY of the church.  

Press in, join a small group and pray for an intimate band of friends (TRIO) who like Peter, James and John end up seeing more and doing more than they could ever have imagined! You will never regret that decision. 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.

The Jesus Journey (Mark 8:27-29)

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Every person on the planet will one day essentially have to answer to one question from Jesus; ‘Who do you say I am?’ (Mark 8:29)

All through Mark’s Gospel, we have had front row seats to the ‘Jesus Journey’ of the disciples, the crowd, the scribes and Pharisees.

Mark’s Gospel started with an announcement! This book is; “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). It’s a whole book dedicated to the announcement of WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do on the earth.

John Mark’s account of the life and person of Jesus concerns itself with this journey of discovery that Jesus’ disciples and others were on during the 3yrs of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

And so, the Gospel is arranged in such a way that WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do for you and me is the BIG IDEA.

John the baptiser was preaching in the desert about One greater than him who was to come. One whom John was merely preparing the way for (Mark 1:4-8 & Matthew 3:11) – who is this?

Then at Jesus’ baptism, the sky was split open, and God the Father spoke from heaven saying; “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove (Mark 1:10-11) – who is this?

Jesus then starts preaching about a kingdom that has both come and is still imminent, one that requires a personal response of repentance and faith (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus preaches with such authority and conviction that everyone who hears is astounded – who is this?

On one occasion, a man in Synagogue who is under the influence of a demon cries out in the Synagogue. The demon says it knows who Jesus is – “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24) – who is this?

Then Jesus begins to heal sick people and deliver people from demonic oppression wherever He goes. Simon Peter’s mother in law is healed, and almost the whole town gathers as many get healed and delivered that night (Mark 1:29-34). Jesus has authority over sickness and the demonic realm – who is this?

Jesus encounters a leperous man and is moved with empathy by the suffering of this outcast of society. Jesus restores his humanity and dignity by listening to him, engaging with him and then healing him (Mark 1:40-45) – who is this fearless, compassionate One?

Jesus then claims He can forgive a paralysed man’s sins and to prove He can forgive sins, Jesus heals him of his paralysis in front of everyone! (Mark 2:1-12) – who is this that can forgive sins & heal?

Jesus seems to be entirely free from the constraints of tradition, and the heavy burden of the interpretative religious regulations of the religious hierarchy of the day. He re-writes the rule book on fasting & scandalously re-interprets the Sabbath (Mark 2:18-3:6)! – who is this?

As some people are delivered from demonic influence, the fleeing demons cry out; “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:12) – who is this that the demons seem to know of yet writhe on the floor before?

Jesus teaches in parables about life, spiritual things and a kingdom that is both mysteriously powerful and appealing. The parables of Jesus both draw people in and also simultaneously confuse others (Mark 4:1-33). – who is this that teaches like this?

Jesus calms a violent storm on the lake with just a sentence from His lips & then again with merely a few words of authority brings peace to a diabolic demonised man ranging about the tombs and countryside (Mark 4:35-5:20) – who is this?

Jesus heals a woman that no doctor could help who doesn’t even speak to Jesus but simply touches His garment and then raises a little girl back to life (Mark 5:21-43) – who is this?

Jesus returns to His hometown, to the place and people that know Him simply as ‘Mary’s son’, the carpenter… They can’t see past Jesus’ humanity and so Jesus marvels at their unbelief (Mark 6:1-6) – who is this man?

Jesus then sends His band of followers out, giving them authority to do what he has been doing – preaching, healing people and setting captives free from demonic influence. Jesus’ delegated authority causes them to do things they probably never imagined doing as demons flee, and people are healed as they pray for them! (Mark 6:7-13) – who is this man who can delegate such authority?

Jesus multiplies food to impossibly feed 5000 men and probably even more women and children, walks on water and calms another storm and then heals myriads of people some of whom only touch His clothes (Mark 6:30-56) – who is this man?

The big shots from Jerusalem come to call Jesus to account and bring Him into line on minor issues of law and tradition. Jesus boldly stands up to them unintimidated by them, denouncing them from the Scriptures they were supposed to be experts of and turns to His followers and explains true spirituality (Mark 7:1-24) – who is this man?

A gentile woman breaks societal normas and approaches Jesus asking for a miracle, and in the end, she is not disappointed! A deaf man and a blind man are healed, and once again, thousands are fed with impossibly little (Mark 8:1-26) – who is this man?

All along, the disciples are on their own ‘Jesus journey’ witnessing all these things together. I can hear their questions and conversations. Jesus has been revealing Himself in all His glory, the Godhead in flesh and blood, a man they can see, touch, engage with…

And in what is the pivot point of the whole Gospel, Jesus turns to them and asks them; “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) Jesus knows that the crowds, scribes, Pharisees and the disciples to varying degrees are all wrestling with the same question.

And then Jesus focusses the question on those gathered around Him, those who have seen it all, heard Jesus explain the parables that dumbfounded the crowds and the Pharisees, those who had private encounters no one else knows about on the lake – “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)

This is the question every person on the planet will face one day – “Who do you say that I am? Do you believe that I am God, the Messiah – Jesus? Did you believe the Gospel, the announcement about WHO I am and WHAT I came to do?” (see 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10)

Those who like Peter (see Mark 8:29) believe that Jesus is God the Messiah and repent – will be saved from their sin and will be welcomed into eternal glory with Jesus as their King.

This point in the Gospel is the hinge on which the whole Gospel turns; this exclamation of faith by Peter is the culmination of all the experiences He had had with Jesus. From this point onwards the focus becomes not so much WHO Jesus is but WHAT He came to do.

I am encouraged that Peter saw so much, experienced so much revelation of Jesus before he reached this point of believing. I know my Jesus journey has been similar! In His grace, God revealed Himself to me when I was 8, but I encountered Jesus powerfully when I was 12 and kept encountering Him throughout my teenage years. I know I believed when I was 8, but my faith has grown stronger through the years as I have seen more and experienced more of Jesus through so many life experiences.

I am encouraged that as I pray for friends that don’t yet know Jesus, that Jesus will keep revealing Himself to them. They are on their own ‘Jesus journey’, and I get to walk with them and point them to Him – but He is in control, always has been and always will be.

I can identify with the disciple’s experience outlined in this Gospel of Mark, can you? And I know that having reached my Mark 8:29 moment many years back, I don’t want to stop now. Instead, I want to keep growing in my knowledge of Jesus and my love for Jesus. I want my faith to become more and more robust as I see more of Jesus in my life. After following Jesus for more than 30yrs, writing Scripture and planting churches, the apostle Paul wrote; “I want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10). I want the same!

This is what I call the Jesus journey. Every day, seeing and experiencing more of Jesus and having those experiences transform me to become more like Him. Join me in the journey so that one day when Jesus looks into your eyes and says; “Who do you say that I am?” you will look back into His eyes with love and wonder saying; “My LORD & my God!”

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)

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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.

Better than Gold or Honey (Psalm 19)

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Psalm 19 starts with creation and how what God has made proclaims who God is most remarkably so that no one has any excuse to claim that they do not know of God (Romans 1:19-20).

But the rest of the Psalm is focussed on something entirely different. David, in vs7-13, turns his attention and his delight to a meditation on God’s words, on Scripture.

David delights in, he cherishes Scripture. David has a high view of Scripture that has shaped his life and his worship of God. His outpouring of words regarding God’s covenantal words to him, God’s commands, will, ways and wisdom are profoundly convicting and inspiring at the same time.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; 

God’s law given to Moses was a sign of the covenant God had made with His people. God’s covenant is a covenant of grace, an outpouring of love and commitment from God towards people that is faultless and full of unmerited favour and love. God’s choosing us brings our souls to life!

the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 

The ‘eduwth’ (Hebrew) or carved stone record of God’s covenant is rock solid & sure – it can be trusted, and trust in God makes the simple person wise. 

8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; 

God’s ways, His commands and instructions straight and true. God created us, so it makes sense that His ways and instructions are for our good and when followed, cause our hearts to rejoice!

the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 

God’s royal commandments are pure with no hidden agenda ever, and when they are followed, trusted and obeyed, they bring light to all situations we ever face.

the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; 

All people need to resolve in their heads and hearts who they are in relation to God Almighty and who God Almighty is in relation to them. The reverent fear of Yahweh is appropriate always is it the only pure way to live both now and forever.  

the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. 

The judgements, the verdicts of God, are perfect. God’s perspective on people, on situations and circumstances, is always true and perfectly right.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 

Knowing God’s thoughts on any and every topic is more precious than gold, it is sweeter than honey! God’s Word reveals the thoughts of God, and because it does, God’s Word is to be valued more than anything else and delighted in more than anything else. In God’s Word, we find God Himself, not just ways to live but God Himself!

In God’s verdicts and God’s revealed will, God warns and instructs His children and when we take heed of His ways and His revealed perspective and will and keep them – we are rewarded greatly.

I can testify to this abundantly. Nadine and I met each other when we were just 14yrs old. We grew up in incredible families founded on God’s Word and were part of a wonderfully Bible-centred church and so from our earliest moments as friends, then as boyfriend and girlfriend, then as a courting couple, engaged couple and then a married couple – God’s Word has been at the centre of our relationship and our daily lives. And we can testify that God’s Word has moulded, shaped, protected, enlightened, guided & inspired us! We have been rewarded over and over again by simply believing the Bible and trusting that what God’s Word says is right and true, trusting God’s perspective on life implicitly. Nadine and I have decided that if there is one thing we want to inspire people to do, its to devote themselves to reading and meditating on God’s Word, making it the cornerstone of their lives, their daily food and the lamp to their feet. Friend, God’s Word is more valuable and sweeter than anything else – what are you waiting for? 

Is it any wonder that there are always so many things vying for our attention when we want to commit to reading God’s Word, so many distractions, other priorities, interruptions? Is it any wonder that we always seem to have so many excuses why we don’t read the Bible or think that we can’t read the Bible. Our enemy will do anything to distract you, deceive you or discourage you from reading the Bible and making it the cornerstone of your daily life. So be aware of his tactics & resist him. The best form of defence is attack, so dive in and commit yourself to read Scripture daily, and just keep going and in time to come you too will feel like David did about God’s Word.

David closes this Psalm with the following words that have become a precious prayer of mine; 

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. 

I am convinced I have Italian blood in my bloodline somewhere! I can be hot-headed and quick to speak, and so this single verse has become a prayer I keep on the tip of my tongue when I feel tempted to react or to dwell on someone or something that is not pleasing to God. What a tether for the mind and the heart, bringing us back to the thing we want more than to have the final Word – I want/we want to please God, our LORD, our rock and our redeemer!  

A little example at the end of the Psalm of how God’s Word is living and active, how it speaks and restrains evil and gives God’s perspective in the midst of a moment.

I love God’s Word! Do you? Join me!  You will never regret devoting yourself to Scripture, never – that’s a guarantee, and there is not much in life that can be guaranteed these days.

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Gareth is one of the elders 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.

The greatest story of all time (Colossians 2:13-15)

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I love watching movies, reading novels, and I like a wide range of genre. I think the common thread is that I love stories. It’s always sad when they end because I want to carry on living in that world for a little longer.

I often find that God shows me things about life and people in movies. I find it helpful to read the Bible, trying to imagine the story or passage I am in as if it was a movie. It makes it so much more real and alive.

The story of our salvation and rescue is the greatest of all time. It’s a love story of the most profound love ever seen. While reading today’s passage, I allowed my imagination to run a little, imagining these verses on a movie set.

I’m sure you can picture a movie you’ve seen where someone is in serious trouble. Maybe the character has done something terrible, and are about to be caught, or perhaps have wronged someone and are about to be found out. Maybe they are in a hostage situation or have been captured, and there seems to be no way out. All you can feel for them is despair and hopelessness. That is our situation before Jesus. No hope, just despair.

Let’s go back to our story. It wouldn’t be a great movie if all it painted were hopelessness and despair. You have to have a hero, a way out, an answer. As the story progresses, solutions get discovered, a hero steps in, or a glimmer of hope shines into the bleakness of the situation.

Jesus is our hero! At this point, my analogy falls flat because he is so much greater and more amazing than any hero we could picture or imagine. He swoops in, cancels all our debt, forgives all our sins, rescues us out of a prison where we thought there was no way out. We were just like that poor person in the movie who had no answers and was about to be found out. All the charges against us have been dropped and cancelled. We were guilty, we deserved no mercy, no way out, BUT God in His mercy loved us too much to leave us in that state.

There’s a sense of justice when the villain gets caught. God didn’t just save and rescue us. He dealt with our enemy. He disarmed him, stripping him of all power towards us and then publicly shaming him with his victory over him on the cross. What a victorious and fantastic way to end the greatest story of all time!

I’ve studied the Bible for many years using a method I heard from John Piper.

I read the passage a couple of times and then ask myself three questions:

  1. What does this passage teach me about God,
  2. What does this passage teach me about myself
  3. And what should I do?

The incredible thing I saw today was that I learnt a lot about God, I learnt a lot about who I was and what I am now, but I couldn’t write anything under “what should I do?” Why? Well, I can’t do anything. Jesus has done it all. It’s all about him and his heroic actions towards me. That’s the gospel, and what we need to remember and meditate on for the rest of our lives.

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)

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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!

Family Resemblance: Love (1 John 4:7-12)

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In the preceding verses (vs1-6), John has made it clear that false teaching is invariably linked in part to erroneous teaching about who Jesus is and what He came to do.

Then starting in vs7, the apostle John contrasts false teaching with authentic godly life that results from right teaching and right believing.

Those who have accepted the Gospel, those who have been loved and accepted by God, in turn, love others with the same type of love with which they have been loved (vs7).

The connection between love for God and love for people is so strong that the apostle writes that anyone who doesn’t love other people can’t truly love God!

The Gospel doesn’t leave us unchanged; it doesn’t just cause our sins to be forgiven; the Gospel melts our hearts and changes our lives and our relationships.

True faith in Jesus Christ has to have an outworking. The overwhelming characteristic John highlights is love – because ‘God is love’ (vs8). Therefore, we will love if we are truly God’s children (‘born of God’ vs7) because God is love.

I can’t see it, but people tell me that my children look like me. The resemblance is there physiologically and in terms of things like temperament and personality. They share some of my DNA, and they grew up in close proximity and relationship. Similarly, the apostle John’s argument is that we who have truly been supernaturally born of God will resemble God because we have God’s DNA in us (1 John 3:9)!

True faith is not the attainment of knowledge, or experience but demonstrates itself as being true in God-like self-giving love.

And this is how we know what real love is – that God gave of Himself in sending His only Son into the world to save us (vs9). Love doesn’t start with us (‘I love God’); rather love was initiated by God when God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (vs10)!

Brother or sister, we did not initiate reconciliation with God. We didn’t take the first step in love towards God. While we still sinners, still against God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is all God’s initiative; God has loved the unlovely and made us lovely and able to love others.

So, let you and I who have believed in Jesus love one another with the same love with which we have been loved – and as we do, God’s tangible presence will be experienced amongst us.

Reflection

  • Who are you finding hard to love right now?  Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and your present struggle.  What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you?  And what ought you to do now?
  • Look back on your spiritual journey of faith in Jesus – how have you changed when it comes to love for others?  Be encouraged.  We all mess up, but as you look back you will see progress.  Now ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more like your heavenly Father.

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.

Who is Jesus? (1 John 2:18-29)

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Jesus Christ is not just the hinge of history, separating all of history into before and after His birth. Who you understand Jesus Christ to be is what separates Christianity from every other faith.

The apostle John writing in 1 John 2:18-29 is fortifying the church from false teachings that were threatening to undermine the apostolic doctrines of the church regarding who Jesus was.  

John makes some quite clear statements that draw a line between what is Christian and what is ‘against God’ (antichrist).

“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2:22)

John, as usual, is making stark contrasts. Those he is writing to know ‘the truth’ (vs21) while the person who denies Jesus’ divinity is ‘the liar.’ Such a person is not just wrong but anti-God, against God.

John is saying that; “everything depends on what a person believes about Jesus Christ. If an individual does not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Christ, God’s own Son, sent from the Father, then he is (literally) against Christ.” (David Jackman)

More than this, we see from vs23 that the Trinity is not divisible. The Father, the Son and the Spirit can not be separated, to deny the Son is to deny the Father and conversely accepting the Son causes one to be in a state of right relationship with the Father also! 

Who is Jesus Christ? This is essentially the BIG QUESTION that every person on the planet has to answer, and it is also the most important test, that sorts out all religious teaching we may hear.

John confirms that the teaching about Jesus from the very beginning has not changed (vs24-25). It will not change, does not need updating but believing in the Gospel truth about Jesus comes with an amazing promise – eternal life.

So, remain in Jesus. Stand firm against all notions that divert from the truth portrayed in the Gospels about Jesus. Remain, believing in Jesus Christ so that when He appears in glory, you’ll be excited to see Him and not shrinking back because you diverted from the truth (vs26-28).

In closing, the church wrestled with false teaching about who Jesus was for nearly three hundred years after this letter was written by John. Which is not surprising since the enemy must have tried everything in his power to derail God’s church.

Finally, in 451AD the Fathers of the church from the known world agreed on this long but important statement of faith/creed about who Jesus is for us as Christ Followers. This statement has never been updated and has never needed to be nor will it never need to be;

Chalcedonian Creed from the Council of Chalcedon 451

“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”

Chew on that for a while, marvel at Jesus and worship Him!

God’s Sovereign Word (1 Timothy 4:1-10)

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I want to start of by asking a question: Are we looking at the Bible through the world’s eyes or are we looking at the world through the Bible’s eyes?


You see, there is a difference; and history is full of horrible examples of how people have manipulated God’s word to do the unthinkable. Both Apartheid and the Crusades were fueled by the misinterpretation of scripture and the arrogence of self centered leaders. This is unthinkable! How could people be so easily deceived?

Verse 1: “by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons”

These people did not devote themselves to God’s Spirit and God’s Word. Rather than being changed by the Spirit of God and His Word, they tried to change God’s Spirit and God’s Word to suit themselves. They looked at the scriptures to prove their worldly view, to justify their sinful hearts. Is there an area in your life where you do the same?

The Bible is there to interpret the world around us. It is not just a book full of wonderful stories of God’s faithfulness, it is a guide to our everyday life. It is the living word!


Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.


We have been given a weapon to fight these deceitful teachings: God’s Word. His word will enable us to discern between right and wrong. We must thus study His word and apply His word.


Verse 4-5: For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.


You see, if we live in the world through the guidelines of God’s Word, God will keep us safe. I think alcohol is a good example of what is talked about in verse 4. Alcohol in itself is not bad; drinking a glass of red wine per day actually has cardiovascular benefits! However we all know the consequences of abusing alcohol; it is the cause for so many hurt in our society today. There are things in our lives, like drinking alcohol or watch certain TV series, that can be made holy by the word of God, when used in the ways that honors God. The word of God is there to guide our every move in life, so that we can to grow in godliness. In other words, the gospel transforms everything!


Verse 7: “have nothing to do with irrelevant, silly myths. Rather train yourself in godliness ( being like God). For while bodily training is of some value , godliness is of value in every wayas it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”


Believers must first be dedicated to God’s word and His teachings, before we spend our time reading weird and wonderful theories of other peoples interpretations of God’s word. We should rather use our time to grow in godliness and place our hope in God.


Verse 10: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God You see our hope can not be in other people with fancy words, new teachings and interpretations. Our hope is in Christ Jesus and in His Word.”

I want to end of by honouring all of you that do read this bible plan and who are dedicated to His word. Keep going, training yourselves in godliness for it has value even in the life to come!

Leadership note:
My hope today, is that you will be encouraged in reading the Word and equipping yourself to discern between what is good and evil in these confusing times. I hope this scripture challenges you to not only read His word, but to allow His word to change the way you see the world around you. How can you apply His word today in your life and the lives of the people around you? For God’s Word is alive, and is actively working in you!

It’s always good to read to the end of the Book… (Hosea 14:1-8)

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I remember encountering the short story genre in senior school with Jeffrey Archer’s, “A Twist in the Tale”. You needed to read to the end of each story to work out what the whole story was about.

Hosea is something like that. If you had stopped reading Hosea a few chapters back, you might have reached an inaccurate, premature conclusion about God.

You might have felt that the God portrayed in these pages of this prophetic book seems too far removed from the God on the pages of the New Testament.

But Hosea 14, however, is a clear demonstration of the fact that God has never changed and never will (Malachi 3:6). The God of Scripture has always been the God of grace.

Hosea 14 begins with the frequent OT refrain; “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God” (Hosea 14:1). God’s harsh words through the prophet have been justified at every point, and yet the heart of God is that His people would recognise their sin and repent, that they would repent and return to God.

God, through the prophet, invites Israel to ask God to forgive them, ‘to take away all iniquity’ (Hosea 14:2). God appeals to Israel to say to God;

  • Assyria (humankind) will not save us (vs3)
  • Abandon faith in false gods and human-made idols (vs3)
  • Say that you will never bow down to these idols again (vs3)
  • Say that in God alone will we find mercy (vs3)

And then God will respond saying;

  • ‘I will heal you of your faithlessness my love will know no bounds for my anger will be gone forever’ (Hosea 14:4 in the NLT)
  • I will refresh Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven causing flowers and fruitfulness (vs5)
  • I will be like shade to Israel, and so Israel will flourish again like the vine I originally intended it to be (vs7)
  • ‘O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.’ (Hosea 14:8 in NLT)
  • At the end of the book of Hosea, what is clear is that the desire in the heart of God is for His people to choose to repent so that they can return to Him. God wants to forgive; God wants to lavish His love that knows no bounds on them. That is His desire to lavish love on us.
  • The question is, will we repent, will we stop our sinful ways and love and worship God only? Only we can respond to God’s invitation – I urge you to respond and to keep responding to God daily.

    Parenting Pain (Hosea 11:1-11)

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    All through the collection of prophecies in this book, God has likened His anguish and pain felt because of Israel’s unfaithfulness as being like the human experience Hosea was having in his painful marriage to Gomer.

    Now in the eleventh chapter, God uses another human experience to communicate the pain He feels over His people’s rejection of Him – parenting.

    Israel is a beloved child who has walked away from the parent who raised it (vs3), turned its back on them despite the incredible love and parental care (vs4) that has been shown.

    God’s anguish is evident; ‘My people are bent on turning away from me’ (vs7). The God of Scripture, our God is not aloof, untouched or cold. The language of the whole book of Hosea is of profound human experiences that help us to understand how God feels when we are in a state of sinful rebellion or rejection of Him, living and acting as though He were not our God who has loved us.

    Because of Israel’s refusal to turn back to God (vs5), ‘the sword will rage against their cities’ (vs6) and God will not answer them anymore when they do call out to Him (vs6).  

    God’s heart is in pain and conflicted like a parent who has had to discipline their child; ‘My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender’ (vs8) and so God will not totally destroy Israel when He sends them into exile because of their sin.

    God promises a future day when a remnant of Israel will be gathered back to God from the nations they are about to be scattered to in exile;

    They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. (vs10-11)

    God will remain faithful to His covenant promises; God is faithful even when we are unfaithful.

    What does this mean for us today?

    • All the language of human experiences throughout this book of prophecies reveals the profoundly personal nature of God and our relationship with Him.
    • How we live really matters to God, God feels pain when we live as though He doesn’t exist, when we spurn His words to us, when we live in sin and compromise, when we give our hearts trust to other things or people.
    • Ephesians 5:10 in the NIV translation instructs us to ‘find out what pleases the LORD’ and Ephesians 4:30 urges us; ‘do not grieve the Holy Spirit’. May we live to please God, live in such a way that we do not grieve God. May we bring joy to our Father, not tears!

    Third Day People (Hosea 6:1-11)

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    Old Testament prophecies are a little like onions in that they often have layers of meaning. They meant something in that day to those people; they often prefigure Jesus the Messiah in some way, they often have direct application in our lives in the present and sometimes they have an as yet unfulfilled future relevance too.

    Hosea 6:1-3 is one of those portions of OT prophecy that from our perspective in redemption history suddenly takes on a fuller meaning.  

    “Come let us return to the LORD” – vs1

    God’s repeated call to His people is that they would reach this point, that they would come to their senses and would return to the ONE who had covenanted to love them. Here the prophet includes himself and appeals to Israel to join him in returning to the LORD.

    The good news of the Gospel is this – is it not? God has openly displayed His love for us; God has made it possible for us to have our sins forgiven so that we could return to Him and be reconciled through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.

    Have you sinned? Confess your sin and then return to God through Jesus Christ, your Saviour King.

    ‘For he has torn us, that he may heal us…’ (vs1)

    God has punished Israel’s sin, purifying Israel so that healing could come to them. God justly struck them down, but God will bind them up…

    Israel was punished for their sin; they were struck down; some were killed; they were exiled.  

    We too deserve the wrath of God against our sin, our compromise and rebellion against God. And yet God doesn’t strike us!

    No. God allowed Jesus’ back to be torn by whips, ripped open by the rough wood of the cross. God allowed Jesus to be killed in our place for our sin. This all happened to Jesus so that it won’t happen to us, to those who put their trust in Jesus. Jesus was struck, we get bound up, healed by His finished work on Calvary.

    “On the third day…” (vs2)

    The prophet announced to Israel that although their sin was about to be punished, it would not last forever and they would be revived. Hosea and the people of his day could not have known what all was contained in these words of the prophet.

    But we know the story. We know that Jesus died but ‘after two days’ (vs2), ‘on the third day’ (vs2) God raised Jesus up just like Hosea prophecied!

    Jesus was struck for our iniquities, but He rose again victorious. Not even death could hold him down and because Jesus rose again from the dead we too who believe in Him have His resurrection life in us.

    This all happened so that; ‘we may live before Him.’ (vs3). This is the Gospel, hidden in the pages of OT prophecy. Jesus took on Himself the punishment that was ours and rose again victorious on the third day SO THAT we might be forgiven of our sin, cleansed from all our unrighteousness and be reconciled back to right relationship with our Holy God.

    We are a ‘third day people’. We have hope because Jesus died and rose again on the third day. It was foretold about 740yrs before Jesus Christ – this was God’s gracious plan all along.

    ‘Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD’ (vs3)

    All that Jesus did for us is worth nothing unless we take hold of the opportunity God has given us and press on, press in to know the LORD.

    Jesus has removed every obstacle, removed the sin that separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2); there is no reason why we ought to be far off from God. We can know Him.

    But will we? Will we remain far off or will we press on to know God intimately, deeply?

    About 28years ago, my Father in law was once asked by my friend who had recently given his life to Jesus on a youth camp; ‘Jeff, pray that I would know God better.’  

    To this, Jeff replied; ‘I can’t pray that!’  

    My friend (and I) were horrified at his seemingly unloving response. Then he said words that I have never forgotten; ‘I can’t pray that you would know God better, that’s up to you. But I can, and I will pray that you will WANT to know God better.’ And so he did, and now that friend leads one of the most significant churches in Cape Town South Africa.

    Do you know Jesus? Let us press on to know the LORD! The more we know, the more we will love and worship Him.