James has been described by some as the book of Proverbs in the New Testament. It is a book filled with wisdom. Wisdom concerning how one is to think and act in this present age as a believer in Jesus. An age in which the believer could be described as one being in ‘exile’ – scattered amongst a pagan people and in a world that is not their ultimate home (James 1:1). This challenging context for faith in Jesus Christ is the context for everything in this letter and the context for every believer in Jesus.
Realistic expectations are wise. Climbing into a steel cage with a cage fighter with no expectation of danger or the need to defend oneself – is unwise. Going fishing on the beach and not expecting to smell like bait and fish – is unwise. Being a new parent and expecting to have broken sleep for several years – is wise…
So what is the wise expectation of a Christ Follower in this age?
James says; ‘expect to meet trials of every kind in this age’! That’s a wise expectation. To believe that life and the journey of faith in Jesus in this age will be easy – is unwise. The New Testament is clear that in this age we have an enemy who is bent on undermining our faith, robbing from us & even devouring us. We live in an age where temptations & struggles abound. To have any other expectation leaves one unprepared and prone to wrong conclusions and even a crisis of faith.
So, James prepares us with a realistic expectation in these verses, but then goes beyond mere counseling the Christ Follower to have a reasonable expectation when he writes that we ought to ‘consider’ (NASB) it ‘all joy’ when we encounter such trials! This is more than having a reasonable expectation, this is ‘embrace trials’.
How can this be? Only because we know something.
Knowing the endgame can fortify one to press through incredible hardship or pain. They say it takes two months to climb Mt Everest, two months out of normal life, living in compromised accommodation and discomfort and at an average cost of R600k-R800k! Why do people do it, endure it? Because they know they want the endgame of standing on the peak and being one of just a few who have done so.
James says; ‘you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness’ and he says that steadfastness produces something else in us; ‘that we may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing’ (vs4).
So do you know what James assumes you do?
Is your expectation of life as a Christ Follower a biblical one or unrealistic in some way? And do you believe Scripture, which says that the road to the goal of a complete life that lacks nothing is through suffering and trials?
Trials test the genuineness of our faith. Are you a ‘fair-weather’ believer who believes but only when life is rosy, and God seems to be blessing us and answering all our prayers? Or are we robust believers whose faith under fire results in endurance/perseverance, consistency in our faith whether life is rosy or really hard?
In this present age as exiles, the road following Jesus can be hard and long. The call on us is to remain steadfast when startling, unexpected trials come, and to endure through them and then to go on enduring. We know the destination towards which we are headed, because James tells us – it is that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing in our life and faith.
So, wisdom is to arm yourself with a biblical expectation & to arm yourself by knowing that God wastes nothing and that any and every trial you will face has a God-ordained purpose. So be strengthened & remain steadfast when you meet any and every type of trial.
We tend to reach for the eject button, tend to pray for God to remove us from trials. Yet the prayers of Scripture inspire us to pray that we (or those we love)
- might know God’s will in the midst of trials,
- that we might walk in a manner worthy of God in the midst of these trials,
- so that we might be fully pleasing to Him
- and in order that we might bear much fruit
- that we might be strengthened by God’s power in the midst of trials
- so that we would remain steadfast (see the prayer in Colossians 1:9-14).
And when we do this, we become more like Jesus who did the same when he endured the cross scorning its shame because he knew what was the endgame (Hebrews 12:2) and so he was steadfast! May I, may we be like Him.
It’s common to hear people say things like; “seeing is believing” and yet in this encounter with Jesus and the two men on the Emmaus road we see that believing leads to seeing.
So often, we want to see and then we will believe but in the Kingdom of God, on the journey of faith with Jesus, it is in fact the opposite way around. Faith is what opens our eyes to see the realities of the King and His kingdom.
The disciples on the road were not seeing Jesus. They were not recognising Him being right there with them, they were not understanding the events in Jerusalem and even the events from that morning with the empty tomb and Mary’s testimony – that they were telling the unknown traveller about… Oh how similar I and we are to them!
Jesus gently rebukes them calling them “foolish ones”, ones who can’t understand who haven’t seen and then Jesus gives the reason they didn’t see or understand;
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25)
Believing leads to seeing. Hebrews 11:3 says; “By faith we understand…” Note the order there. Faith leads to understanding in God’s kingdom.
How often aren’t there circumstances in our lives which are hard to understand or make sense of, circumstances that undermine our faith, and yet it is faith that is needed to help us to understand in those moments.
These disciples were in the midst of mind-bogglingly tough days. Jesus their hope, the One they were following and the One they were increasingly feeling was in fact the Messiah was captured. Jesus was tried and crucified! Some then saying He had risen again?
What these disciples needed was to have faith, to believe all that the Old Testament had foretold about Jesus and all that Jesus Himself had told them about what would happen to Him and what He had come to do. Because of their lack of faith, they were perplexed, unseeing, unable to recognise what was happening and who in fact was right there with them through it all.
And yet, Jesus is so gracious and kind. He opens their minds and their eyes and shows to them who He is, gives them the sight they were lacking and helps them to see who He was that was walking with them and how all of the Old Testament foretold these events!
May we remember in those life moments when we can’t see or can’t understand that faith is the key to seeing. Our faith in who God is, our faith in what Scripture says, that faith is the key to seeing and understanding or even experiencing God’s presence right there with us in the midst of it all.
May you seek to grow in your faith so that you might see life and circumstances through the eyes of faith, and may you call on Jesus who is so willing to gracious help you in your faith!
Ten people all in a desperate situation. All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions. Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition. They all needed God.
One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives. Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?
“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?” “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?” “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”…
It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like;
“Guys this is our moment! If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!” And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)
Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith. There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment. But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.
Jesus sees them. Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society. Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help. Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them. Jesus is amazing!
Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter. I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal. A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa). He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say. In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness. Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!
Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14) They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)
It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith. Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him. Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you. Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed. They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.
All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.
Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years. We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear. God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).
But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received. May we be like this guy! May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)
May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him. After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come. Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.
In Mark’s Gospel account, just after Jesus multiplied the five loaves and the two fish to feed the thousands, Jesus then encouraged the disciples to get into a boat and travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while He stayed to dismiss the crowd.
Jesus created this God-moment! He did so by sending the disciples on before Him so that He could then walk by them on the water. Why?
Was it so that He could continue to answer their question recorded in Mark 4:41; “Who then is this; that even the wind and the sea obey him?” which had not yet fully answered by Him?
Do you ever get that feeling? Like God has organised things, events, timing, meetings with people, conversations and there is more going on that what’s maybe visible on the surface…? God does this all the time actually.
Here in Mark 6, we get to observe from the outside – and so it is relatively easy to spot God’s hand in the circumstances. However, it is not always so easy when we are in the thick of it.
Why did Jesus create these circumstances? Jesus wanted His disciples to know Him, to know His deity, His power over creation and the laws of nature (multiplying food, walking on water, healing diseases…). And so Jesus sent them ahead in a boat, fully intending always to catch them up by walking across the water, walking past them (vs48) so that they could see Him.
And when they do see Him, their first thought is not; “Hey Jesus!” Their first thought is more like; “WHAT! A Ghost!” Aren’t you and I like that?
We are all too often filled with fear not faith, doubt not delight. If they had been on land they would have probably run for their lives, but they were captive on that boat, captive to the circumstances. Sometimes we are in the midst of a circumstance God Himself has orchestrated but we don’t see God or His handiwork, we just see dimly and have a tendency to freak out like they did.
Jesus didn’t want to make them afraid, and God’s not playing with your emotions either. And so, as soon as Jesus sees their fearful terrified response He spoke to them calling out to them; “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid!”
Friend, God is always with you, even when you can’t see Him obviously, even when you can’t feel His presence or hear His voice above the storm and the winds of life. In those moments remember what God has promised; “never will I leave you and never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20)!
So call out to Him, He is there and when you do call God will come rushing to you and will speak to you, comforting you as He comforted them with His words of affirmation, with His presence (Jesus climbed into the boat with them – vs51).
Just like the other storm which was calmed by Jesus authoritative words (Mark 4:35-41), this storm too suddenly abated and peace was restored. The disciples are dumbstruck, they are in awe and wonder, astounded (vs51) at who Jesus really is – God almighty.
God arranges moments in our lives that will help us to see Him more clearly, moments that will demonstrate who He is to us in ways that no sermon or song could ever convey.
So, next time there is something of a storm in your life, ask yourself whether God might be in the storm in some way? Ask whether God might be wanting to reveal something more of Himself to you? Call out to Jesus, He is there with you already, but He will come rushing to show Himself to you and to speak words that calm you just like He did for the disciples. Trust Him that He can silence wind and calm waves with one whisper of His voice. Worship Him, be amazed at Him, trust Him, grow in your love and knowledge of Him continually. Amen.
Three passages, three encounters that Jesus had with three different people who all had different struggles with the demonic realm. The constant is Jesus Himself and that the result of each of the people struggling under some demonic influence or another, was that they were instantly freed by Jesus!
There are two equal and opposite errors we tend to make regarding the demonic:
- We give the devil and his demonic minions too much focus, fascination and airtime
- Or we effectively deny the existence of the devil and demonic influence
May we always be way more focused on Jesus and His glorious victory on the cross, focussed on His resurrection and the resultant victory in which He defeated sin, Satan and death and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:13-15)! You and I as believers have no need to remain in fear, we ought not remain in a state of being influenced by or even bound by demonic forces since Jesus is our Lord.
On the other hand, to deny or to ignore the reality of the existence of Satan and the demonic realm and its ability to influence believers is to foolishly ignore clear warnings and exhortations of Scripture and to potentially allow the enemy to keep impacting you or those you love.
These three encounters in the Gospels are so helpful as they are all so different. Because of this, together they help us to have a balanced understanding of the whole range of types & degrees of demonic influence (‘demon possessed’ is an unhelpful translation in the NIV Bible translation as it indicates total control and has no room for degrees of influence) that is evidenced in Scripture.
The Mark 1 man (subtle under the radar influence): It seems likely that this man was influenced by the demonic to a limited degree. I say this because he was there in synagogue seemingly unbeknown to those around him, seemingly behaving himself in socially accepted ways, until he suddenly cried out because of Jesus’ presence! He had a demonic presence influencing him but it was undetected until the man came into close proximity with Jesus. There are lots of things we don’t know about how this influence worked itself out in his life, did he battle with fear, depression, a destructively low-self esteem, panic attacks…….? We don’t know, but he is helpful to us in that Scripture is clear that he had some form of demonic influence in his life – and so his example helps us to see that some demonic influence could be ‘under the radar’ because it doesn’t appear too bad, or isn’t too socially obvious. Are there maybe things we just accept as ‘normal’ or ‘this is who I am’ but in fact it is an area in which we as believers are just not free? The great news is that one encounter with Jesus and this man was delivered and set free from that influence.
The Mark 5 man (overt control and intense demonic influence): This man probably fits your prior notion of what a person with a demonic influence would present like. This is an extreme case of demonic influence, even a destructive one – the great news though is that one encounter with Jesus and this man is set free and left ‘clothed and in his right mind’ (Mark 5:15) – what a contrast to the description of him just moments sooner! No demonic influence is beyond Jesus’ instant transformation.
The Luke 13 woman (sickness attributed to demonic influence): Jesus healed many people of sickness and most times it was not attributed to demonic influence, it was just sickness as a result of the impact of the fall on all of humanity. However, in Luke 13, Luke (a medical doctor) recorded very specifically that this woman’s ailment had its source as being spiritual not medical, “And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.” (Luke 13:11) Jesus Himself said; “ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16) In our secular society and in the minds of many believers in the church today – her symptoms would not have been even considered as having a potential spiritual source! But that is exactly what Jesus and what Scripture attributed her symptoms too a demonic influence. The great news is that Jesus loosed the hold that this demonic influence had held over her body for these many years in an instant feeing her from her disability and the bondage brought from Satan (Luke 13:16).
Never be looking for a demon under every bush, never get fascinated with the demonic – be enamoured and amazed and secure because of Jesus. But also never underestimate or deny the ability for demonic influence and the spiritual realm at work in lives, in minds, in bodies. Know however that regardless of what influence their might be – we have been given all of Jesus’ authority to set people fee (Matthew 28:18-20) just like Jesus did.
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.
David begins this psalm with a declaration of faith (God is his God) and an expression of his feelings toward God whom he calls, “my rock”.
“My Rock” – God is personal immovable and immutable. Because of this God can be trusted, God is worth calling out to in prayer. If God were not God and if God were not personal or immovable or immutable it would not be worth calling out to Him in prayer! Because God is all these things and we can confidently call out to God in prayer.
And yet David’s prayer is also a complaint. Sometimes it feels like God is not hearing, like God is not speaking, as if God is unmoved by our situation or unaware from our perspective.
(vs3-5) In these verses David’s complaint is outlined, it feels like God is treating him no differently to his enemies, he is looking for God to act on his behalf and seemingly hasn’t seen God’s answering his prayers.
What’s happening in your life that feels like God is not hearing, not seeing, not aware, not speaking or answering?
I urge you to lift your eyes again to your God.
Why not declare as David did that God is your ROCK, your FORTRESS (another way of translating the underlying Hebrew word). God can be trusted because He cannot change, will not shift under your feet, God is worthy of our trust even when we can’t see what He is doing or why He is allowing something to happen. So, call out to Him again, put your faith in God again.
The psalm changes in vs6-9 becoming a psalm of praise. David is convinced now that God has heard his cries, his prayers, his lament.
David has been strengthened in his faith, knows God is his strength and his shield (protection), God is the One whom his heart can trust and so He finds help in his moment of need.
And so his heart exults, it jumps for joy (literal translation) and bursts into song! What a transformation when we see God for who he is, when we enter again feeling his presence and the warmth of his love. David had been feeling like God was no where now David’s heart is bursting with praise and thanks and love for God.
Worship is warfare! When we feel like God is distant or disinterested, we should take drastic action, reminding ourselves of the truth about our God our immovable immutable rock who is worthy of our trust and we should begin to worship as warfare against those feelings of doubt choosing to warfare not wallow in those feelings of doubt.
In worship we declare what we believe (God is our ROCK vs1, our SHIELD vs7, the ONE who HELPS us vs7, our STRENGTH vs7 & the SAVING REFUGE OF HIS ANOINTED vs8).
We worship with faith and in worship faith is renewed. And on that foundation of renewed faith we can ASK God for the future (vs9). Amen.