Sovereignty

Magnificent God (2 Kings 4)

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Elisha is the one true God’s representative. In a nation divided and filled with the worship of false gods, the call on Elisha is not just to bring messages for God but to reveal who God is through his everyday life, actions and interactions.

In this chapter we see God revealed in numerous ways through a collection of short stories which all put on display God’s nature as the one who sees, a personal God, involved in the intricate details of people’s lives, who is not indifferent to the cries and the pain that individual people endure. These stories reveal God as the one who is able to miraculously suspend or overturn the normal with His supernatural inbreakings of power at any time on people’s behalf.

Short story 1: Debt (2 Kings 4:1-7)
A poor widow in crisis is struggling with mounting debts and the ongoing challenge of providing for her two children as a single woman has the debt collectors at her door threatening to take away her children as slaves as payment for her debt! Crisis. She asks God by asking Elisha and God provides miraculously an abundance of olive oil which she sells and pays off all her debt and as able to live off the rest. God is the miracle working, prayer answering, need-seeing God who intervenes in remarkable ways for poor or rich people.

Short story 2: Deep Longings & Despair (2 Kings 4:8-39)
A wealthy woman is hospitable and honouring of God’s servant, she was rich but used her wealth to bless Elisha & Gehazi not to gain anything (vs13-14). Elisha discerns the true longing in her heart, one she is not even willing to express for fear of her longing being dashed again, and so promises her a child. She is so shocked she can’t receive this good news (vs16) but she does conceive and a son is given to her. Many years later the child falls suddenly ill and dies will in the fields with his father. She rushes straight to Elisha in deep despair, she would have rather not had a son than have one and then loose one like this! Elisha goes with her, and raises the son from the dead and gives him back to her alive. God knows the deepest longings in our hearts, even the ones we dare not speak of for fear of being hurt or disappointed again or opening up the wound… God is able to bring back to life people, marriages, finances – God is good and is so whether you are rich or poor.

Short story 3: Deadly Stew & Multiplication (2 Kings 4:38-44)
There is a famine in the land, Elisha is hosting around 100 of the prophets. He wants to cook for them, but Gehazi is a bad cook or one of the prophets is injudicious in his produce selection and the stew being cooked is bad, so bad it is like death warmed up. They complain. Elisha miraculously cures the pot with a little flour and the food becomes edible to them all. While they are all there, a man brings to Elisha some of his first fruits offering to supply food for Elisha. Elisha tells Gehazi to set it before the men to eat (but there is not enough – vs43). Elisha tells him to proceed and they all ate and yet there was excess and they had food to spare. God is hospitable, able to throw feasts of abundance in the midst of a famine, able to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19).

Our God heals, answers long-lost longings, provides financially and materially. This all makes me think of the song we sung on Sunday;

You’re my author, my maker
My ransom, my Saviour
My refuge, my hiding place
You’re my helper, my healer
My blessed redeemer
My answer, my saving grace
You’re my hope, in the shadows
My strength, in the battle
My anchor, for all my days
And You stand, by my side
And You stood, in my place
Jesus, no other name
No, only Jesus, no other name…

So, cry out to him now!  Tell your Father in Heaven your deepest longings, know that He is good and when you can’t join all the dots of your confusing life, He can and He does and so having asked Him trust Him.

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Who are you listening to?

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There is a plethora of advice out there for us at any given stage in our lives – we need to choose wisely who we listen to!  

As God promised, Israel is torn in two after Solomon’s death as judgement for his many sins and his compromised heart towards God.  1 Kings 12 is one of those places in Scripture where we see the will and actions of men and women and those actions have ‘natural’ consequences and yet simultaneously those actions and consequences are attributed by Scripture to God’s sovereign workings.

After Solomon’s death his son Rehoboam is approached by his people who ask that consider easing the heavy burden of conscripted labour and taxes that his father had placed on them (for all his building works).  Rehoboam calls the old men who used to advise his father – they advise him to heed the call to lighten the burden.  Rehoboam abandons (1 Kings 12:8) their counsel and goes to his young contemporaries who advise him unwisely to speak harshly to the people about making their lives even harder under his rule!  This is bad advise and he takes it.  And as a result the people of Israel all rebel under the leadership of Jeroboam and all the tribes except Judah succeed from Judah and become the northern tribes with their own king.  Israel is divided and is never re-united.

And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Kings 12:13-15)

Rehoboam acted unwisely, was selfish, arrogant, did not listen to and was harsh with his people – it was his doing.  And yet Scripture attributes this moment to God’s sovereign plan – ‘it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that He might fulfill His word…’ (vs15).

So who did this?  Rehoboam or God?  Well both.  Rehoboam was unwise and sinful and therefore the kingdom was torn in two and yet God was at work to fulfil the judgement He had made on Solomon and  the prophesy He had spoken through Ahijah to Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 11:28-40).

Now, Jeroboam (now the king of the Northern tribes of Israel – called Israel from now onwards in the book) had heard God speak to him.  He had God promise to bless him and establish him as a king “IF” (there is that word again); 

“If you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.” (1 Kings 11:38)

Jeroboam had heard God speak to him, God gave him counsel… 

And yet Scripture records that Jeroboam didn’t listen to the counsel of God but rather listened to his own thoughts; ‘Jeroboam said in his heart…’ (1 Kings 12:26) & He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart.’ (1 Kings 12:33)

Jeroboam did not believe what God had promised but doubted and thought to himself – I can’t have people continually going back to Judah to worship at the temple in Jerusalem so I will build temples here in the North (in Dan and Bethel which was contrary to what God had commanded) and I will appoint my own priests for these temples (men not appointed by God) and I will make statues of golden calves for these temples (just like Aaron had done in the Exodus)!  More than this Jeroboam found counsellors who agreed with his ungodly plan (1 Kings 12:28).  This plan became sin for the whole nation of the north (1 Kings 12:30).  

Jeroboam had God’s wisdom and advise and promise – and yet he chose to ‘follow his heart’ and found counsellors to confirm his folly!  And so he set the Northern tribes on a disastrous course of idol worship which they never recovered from.

In 1 Kings 13 we read about a prophet sent by God from Judah to denounce Jeroboam’s self-styled worship.  This prophet is told by God to prophesy and then go home and not eat or remain in the Northern territory – but he too doesn’t listen to God and ends up being killed by a lion sent by God.

What can we learn from this all?

I am freshly invigorated to listen for God’s counsel, to read God’s counsel in Scripture and to not depart from it come what may.  I don’t want to be like Rehoboam, or Jeroboam or the prophet who had heard God and knew what God had said to him and yet departed from it to his own detriment.  May I, may we be those who listen to God and obey all He tells us to do.  

Loving Deliverer (Psalm 18)

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‘I love you, oh Lord my strength’ vs1

‘This God—his way is perfect’ vs30

‘…he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him’ vs30

David wrote this Psalm reflecting on God’s having delivered both himself and Israel from many foes (you’ll find this Psalm as a song recorded in 2 Samuel 22 if you want to read the context in which it was written).

There are three lines that summarize this whole Psalm, they summarize king David’s feelings towards God because of his personal experience of God’s faithfulness and protection in many challenging life situations.

‘I love you, oh Lord my strength’ (vs1)

In all David has experienced of God’s intervention and deliverance, what has resulted in David was a heart full of love for God.  God’s loving care produced a love for God in David who proclaims this love and declares at the outset of this Psalm his dependence on God – God is his strength .

‘This God — his way is perfect’(vs30)

Don’t you love David’s summary statement of his experience of God’s faithfulness to him over many years of challenges and threats?  This is a wonderful personal testimony from personal experience.  Perfect, there is nothing wrong with God’s dealings with Him.  There must have been many times David felt God wasn’t answering prayers, or that God’s ways were hard to understand…  But when reflecting on his life David could say; God’s ways are perfect.

‘…he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him’ vs30

Through out this Psalm David shares testimony of how God answered his prayers, coming to his rescue and delivering him when he cried out!  God is a shield for those who tuck into His protection and care.  God rips open heaven as it were and comes down to rescue us when we pray and cry out to Him (see the wonderful testimony of vs6-19).

Reflection:

  • What is there in your life right now, or in the life of those you love that causes you to feel like God is distant, not listening, doesn’t care?
  • Take time to reflect on times God has ripped open heaven to deliver you from situations in your own life, times when God has answered prayers you cried out to Him
  • Thank God for those times and then pray giving to God those thoughts and questions and replace them with prayers of faith from the testimony of this mighty Psalm.

Real Authority (Mark 1:16-45)

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Jesus announced; “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)  But what is the ‘kingdom’, what did Jesus mean when He said that?

Mark 1:16-45 and the rest of the Gospel will show what Jesus meant.  The kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God (Jesus) over all things.  Just like a king on this earth has authority over the domain of his kingdom, Jesus as King and kings has rule and dominion over all things everywhere.

Here in these verses we see Jesus’ authority four distinct ways;

  1. Jesus’ authority over people’s lives & their destinies (1:16-20)

The still relatively unknown Jesus meets Simon & Andrew, James & John by the lakeside and simply calls them to follow Him and they do!  They leave their livelihood, leave their father and join Jesus on a journey into the unknown trusting Him.  Jesus ‘knows the plans he has for us…’, when we respond to His call on our lives, we choose to trust Him, His goodness and His authority.

  1. Jesus’ authority over the demonic realm (1:21-28 &34&39)

Jesus starts to teach in the synagogue and all of a sudden the demonic influence in a man starts making a scene at the prospect of King Jesus being in the room.  After a very short rebuke to be silent, Jesus commands the demons to leave the man alone and they have to, he is freed!  No power struggle at all, just a simple authoritative command from the King.

  1. Jesus’ authority over sickness (1:29-34)

Jesus arrives in the home of Simon & Andrew, their mother-in-law is ill, Jesus doesn’t even pray for her, no drama, just authority as He took her by the hand and the fever left her.  Word gets out and “all who were sick and oppressed by demons” (vs32) get brought so that it felt like the whole city was at the door of the house and Jesus heals & delivers ‘many’ from all sorts of various diseases.  Whatever it was, Jesus’ authority over it was demonstrated in that moment.

  1. Jesus’ authority through his teaching (1:22&27&39)

Jesus was different, when He taught, they marvelled at His authority, when He commanded demons to be silent or to leave a person alone – they had to do so.  Just as an earthly king has authority within the realm of his kingdom, so too Jesus has authority over His entire realm, which is the entire universe, so His words are all powerful & have all authority.

Lastly, an outcast, a Leper comes to Jesus imploring Him; “If you will, you can make me clean” (vs40) to which Jesus moved with pity for the man replies; “I will, be clean.” (vs41)  Although Jesus is the ultimate authority in the universe, He is not aloof in the least, but left heaven to enter our humanity, stops for the outcast and is moved in His heart for this man.  What a King Jesus is!  What authority, what love!

Contemplate:  How is Jesus’ authority & His love connected to our prayers?Pray:  Is there anything, I mean anything you need to ask King Jesus for…ask Him. 

Do you see the hand of your God? (Joshua 24)

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Do you see the hand of your God? In chapter 24, Joshua gathers the nation again and through him God speaks recounting the story of His people’s journey to the present and shot through the whole narrative God keeps pointing to Himself and what He did for His people.

Sixteen times God says; “I….” in only 12 verses of chapter 24! God is taking a highlighter as it were and pointing out a myriad of times and ways that it was God Himself who was acting lovingly, protectively, providing, caring, always faithful to His promises to His people. Joshua points out to God’s people;

  • How God called Abraham out of God’s own sovereign free will
  • How God gave Abraham a miracle promised son to his barren wife
  • How God gave that son a line of sons to fulfill God’s covenant promise to Abraham
  • How God provided land for those sons
  • How God sent Moses to deliver His people from Egypt
  • How God delivered His people by dealing with the super power Egypt
  • How God miraculously divided the Red Sea for His people’s deliverance
  • How God answered the panicked cry of His people when Egypt pursued them
  • How God showed who He really was through His powerful dealings with Egypt
  • How God brought His people through the Wilderness protecting & providing for them
  • How God gave victory to His people over the Amorites
  • How God destroyed their enemies before them, God was their protection
  • How God delivered them from the hand of Balaam
  • How God took His people into the Promised Land & gave them victory over all people
  • How God fought their battles for them in miraculous ways (using hornets one time)
  • How God gave His people a land they hadn’t laboured for, cities they didn’t build, farms full of produce they didn’t plant or cultivate…

Pause.
Do you see the hand of your God in your life?

God is good, all the time, God is good. You might not always see it, understand it, feel it, but it is true. God is at work in your life in a myriad of ways, always has been and always will be. God is faithful, even when we are unfaithful, He cannot be unfaithful, its just not possible, it’s not who He is.

Brother, sister; if you don’t recognise how your life is saturated with the activity of God, then you won’t thank God, and you won’t respond to His love for you with love for Him and worship of Him…

So pause.

Consider daily, thank God daily for small things worship Him and devote yourself again and again to loving Him & serving Him only in all of life.

God renews the covenant with His people in chapter 24, calls them to respond to His goodness towards them, urging them to love Him only and to forsake anything that would seek to rob them of their faith and love for God.

Joshua warns the people of the sinfulness of the human heart to wander away from God, to be unfaithful, and yet declares that for Him and His household they will serve God (Joshua 24:15).

And Israel served God all the days of Joshua (great leader!) and all the days of the other elders of Israel who served alongside Joshua and outlived him and who knew, who remembered all that God had done for His people. Remembering, recognising God’s hand in our lives is so vital to a life that honours God. So, pause, recognise, remember…

A new perspective

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Watching a documentary series on television, I became intrigued by the strength of the family bond.  In this series, the presenter and staff pull out all the stops in an impressive detective display, reuniting long lost family members – adopted children seeking biological parents, children raised by single mothers searching for their father, parents looking for children with whom they’ve lost contact due to broken relationships…

And each time the reunion confirms this one fact – there is a link between members of the same family that spans continents and cultures.  Parents never forget the children born to them, and children have an unidentifiable want that is only satisfied by either meeting their parents, or at least gaining a better perspective and more information on who they were.

So the story of Joseph intrigued me.  Here is a much loved son, who is betrayed by his brothers and becomes traumatically lost to his family.  He goes through a series of trails, pain and unfair situations.  But eventually God turns it all around and he becomes a super-powerful person in a super-powerful nation.

And after many years, he comes face to face again with his family.  The intricate storyline that follows may be a reflection of the deep emotional turmoil he experiences.  Surely that same strong family bond identified in the stories I mentioned above made him want to be reunited with his family? But he doesn’t know whether he can allow himself to trust them again. They were, after all, to blame for the trials he had experienced.

So, he tests them.  And he finds them changed men.

Genesis 45 paints a touching portrait of a powerful man exposing his vulnerability – weeping aloud “so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.” (v 2).  Maybe all the years of pain also came to the surface.

Joseph shows tremendous spiritual maturity when he reveals his identity to his brothers.  He is able to forgive them.  But even more than that – he is able to look past the people who should carry the blame, and see the hand of God.

I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  And now, do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.  And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God. (v 5-8 – my emphasis)

What a perspective!

With distance in space and time from all that happened, God had revealed to Joseph that His plan was at play here and ultimately it was not even limited to Joseph’s good, but would benefit a whole nation.

Of course, with hindsight one can more easily identify the hand of God in troublesome situations or relationships that cause your life to take a different direction.  It should give us hope and increase our faith in God for each subsequent trial.

Because blaming people cannot give our pain purpose. God, who knows the end from the beginning, uses every person and circumstance in our lives to bring His purpose to fulfillment.

Letting go of blame and the need for justice (or revenge), allows us to love again.

Blaming people obstructs our eternal perspective, obscures our view to God.  Forgiveness is an act of faith.  It expresses our trust in the goodness and faithfulness of God.  It acknowledges that God is omniscient, all-powerful, eternal and always fully in control.

by Lise Oosthuizen

When suffering is not wrong…

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Concept of a stressed businessman under pressure

All too frequently I assume that if there is suffering or a trial of some sort in my life or the lives of those I love or in the lives of those I am responsible for as a church leader – I assume that something is wrong.

Are you ever like this too?

When we have to make a decision and then after that decision things don’t go as smoothly as we would like them to, we can find ourselves re-considering whether we made the right decision after-all.

We feel this because we think that if we made the right decision then why is this circumstance feeling so hard, why did I get sick, why did that accident happen, why, why….?

When God called Nadine and I to come and serve Him by serving Oasis Church in Amanzimtoti I needed to sell my stake in a business so that we could buy a house to live in.  We knew God had spoken, what had been a 15yr journey of working out my sense of call had become clear as we were called by Oasis Church and sent by Jubilee Community Church in 2003…

And then it happened!  I had sold my shares in a business to someone so as to pay for the house.  The agreement was signed and sealed and on that basis we bought our home…

However, then the trial started as the person I’d sold the stake in the business to began to delay proceedings and payment.  

Eventually after delaying and delaying he eventually reneged on the deal entirely and we had a house that we had moved into but didn’t have the money to pay for it and couldn’t afford to have a bond big enough to pay for it!
Why? Why Lord?  Did we make a mistake? We thought we had heard the Spirit’s leading in coming, in finding the house, in finding a buyer for my stake in the business….why this, and why now?

Today in my reading of Matthew 4:1 I was struck by these words;

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

You don’t see that on Jesus t-shirts and bumper stickers and Pinterest posters!

We don’t like the idea that suffering can come from the hand of our loving Father through the agency of evil.  But read it again, Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into a place of temptation by the devil.

It reminds me of Jospeh’s declaration to his brothers at the end of his tumultuous and tragic journey from his dad’s house to the palace in Egypt- “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20a in NLT)

Suffering and trials are never pleasant but they can produce incredible fruit that doesn’t grow under any other circumstances, fruit/character that our loving Heavenly Father wants for us and wants in our lives (Hebrews 12:7-11)

I remember that after struggling with our crisis for a number of months worrying and at times waving my fists at my Father, I had a moment where I stopped fighting the circumstance which actually I knew wasn’t ultimately the making of this man but actually under the sweet sovereignty of my loving Father and I came to appreciate that my Father had brought me to this place for His purposes in my life, to produce the type of fruit that only grows in contexts like this…

Remarkably, not long after that ‘aha moment’ another buyer emerged and the deal was cancelled with the first guy and another was concluded and the money was paid and we could move on.

Jesus was lead by the Spirit into a trial for something within the purposes of Father God, could it be possible that a trial you are in might be similar? Hebrews 12:11 makes it clear that the fruit that could come from enduring a trial only comes to those who have been ‘trained by it’.

Will you be trained by it if all you ever want is for the trial to stop, if all you could ever consider is that this hard thing is the work of the devil (which it may well be but still under the loving control of the sovereignty of Your Heavenly Father)?

We are suffering averse, I know I am!  But a truly biblical perspective can help us in our suffering and can alert us to possibilities that could transform the impact on us from something that is merely negative to something that God uses for incredible good.

By Gareth Bowley