Suffering

Wishful Thinking? (Philippians 1:18-30)

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These lines penned from prison reveal a world-view so foreign to the secular humanistic world-view the current-day media is saturated with. Paul’s musings regarding his imprisonment and the prospect of dying as a captive can help us navigate thoughts concerning healing and or life and death itself.

Paul rejoiced that the Philippians were praying for him. More than this, he was confident that their prayers for him and the help of the Holy Spirit would result in him being delivered (Philippians 1:18b-19). But was this a vain hope, just wishful thinking?

Biblical Christianity is nothing like wishful thinking!  

I love how another hero of the faith is described by Paul in his letter to the Roman believers. Abraham faced the fact that his and his wife’s bodies were as good as dead (being about 100yrs old) and therefore not able to conceive a child. But in the face of the biological facts before him, Abraham chose to believe what God had promised him (that they would have a son) because he was ‘fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises’ (Romans 4:21).

Abraham and Sarah didn’t have a son because of wishful thinking, or the power of positive words, they had a son because they believed God’s word to them in spite of what the circumstances around them were shouting.

Similarly, Paul’s confidence about his being delivered from his Roman prison wasn’t wishful thinking or positivity but was rooted in a biblical world-view. Paul was confident that he would be delivered/saved (same underlying Greek word) from prison either in this life or in the next life.

We know this from the context of the rest of the passage (Philippians 1:18-30). Paul had not tied all his hope to this present life. Paul didn’t know whether his deliverance would be in this life or the next but what he was confident about was that Jesus would deliver/save him ultimately.

So he muses about whether he would rather be delivered from prison in this life or whether he would rather be delivered from prison by going through death into eternal life with Christ (Philippians 1:19-23). If he is delivered in this present life, he will live his whole life for Christ (vs21) and if he is delivered through death into eternal life, he will gain for then he will be with Christ in eternity which is far better than the present life (vs21&23).

The biblical perspective on display here in Paul regarding life and death is so contrasted to the secular humanistic perspective! During a global pandemic, people are being forced at present to face up to their mortality and that of those they love.  

What we believe about life, death & eternity directly impacts how we live in the present. If you believe that life simply ends in death, you will have neither a concern about life after death/eternal consequences and you will cling on to this life since it is all there is.

What is striking in this passage is that the apostle Paul is not clinging on to this life at all. But why? He is not suicidal or depressed; he is confident! So what is he confident of?

He knows that life doesn’t end in death; death is not a termination but a transition to eternal life for the believer in Jesus. He is confident that death will be swallowed up by victory & immortality, the perishable will be raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:35-58).  

And so he is confident that even if his imprisonment ends in death not release back to freedom in this life, that death will be his deliverance since death can only transition him, promote him into eternal life with Jesus Christ! And that is not wishful thinking for the apostle Paul; it is so real that if he allowed himself to think selfishly, his preference would be to be delivered from the prison he is in into life after death rather than back to freedom in the present day.

So how does this relate to life and death for us?

God wants you and me who have believed in Jesus to live with a rock-solid assurance and peace even in the face of a global pandemic that comes from knowing two things;

  1. God knows the day and the hour that He will end this present earthly life of ours. The day of our death is an appointment we can not be early or late for and one we cannot reschedule or delay. No amount of anti-ageing cream or anti-oxidants or gym sessions will prolong our lives one minute longer. God alone gives life, sustains life and ultimately ends our earthly lives on a day He determines (Job 12:10, Job 14:5 & Psalm 139:16). And so that makes us immortal until the day Jesus returns or calls me home to be with him.
  2. Life doesn’t end in death; rather, death is swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:4) for the believer in Jesus. And so, death is not a termination of life but a transition to eternal life for the believer in Jesus. This is not wishful thinking; it is confident hope in Christ Jesus!

And how does this all relate to healing or lack thereof?

Just like Paul was confident that he would be delivered by Jesus, so too, we can declare boldly that every single believer in Jesus who is sick will be healed. What we don’t know is whether that healing will be in this life, extending and improving it in the present day or whether it will be in death and resurrection to a new glorious body fit for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). We know that in the new heaven and the new earth there will be no more sickness, sadness, suffering, disease or death, no more tears and no more pain (Revelation 21:3-5) and so we know that ultimately every single believer in Jesus will be healed.

So although it is good to ask God for healing in the present, Jesus encouraged us to do so, and although God does heal people today (I have seen it), let’s be like Paul was regarding his deliverance from prison if it seems like God isn’t healing us or the person we have been praying for.

Paul’s biblical world-view produced such certainty and peace in him that from these lines penned from prison to the Philippians, he really didn’t seem bothered by whether his deliverance was in this life or in the next at the return of Jesus. What a liberating way to live, no fear of death, no wrestle with God over why God hasn’t done what we want him to do for us in delivering us from this or that…

Rather just settled confidence, peace and security that all flow from faith in Jesus which is immoveable (1 Corinthians 15:58). May you, may I navigate this present life and these perplexing and potentially worrisome times with the very same confidence and assurance we see in the apostle Paul in the lines of this letter penned from prison.

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

Sweet Assurance (Philippians 1:6)

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Since this is the first Global Pandemic I have ever lived through, I can’t make sweeping generalisations. But, from my observations thus far, Pandemics have a way of polarising people if you were to categorise them according to their reactions.

  • You get the nonchalant type, who’s in denial or is just ignorant
  • The paranoid person petrified even to make a phone call for fear that 5G might transmit the virus
  • The conspiracy theorists who seem to abound right now
  • The well-read, and so the wisely cautious person
  • People looking to make a quick buck off the whole thing
  • And, then, of course, there is always the nutjob with a smartphone willing to record themselves to share their nutty ideas with the whole world …

You get the idea! Sadly in Christian circles, we see all of these varieties and then some. As a pastor, I have been inundated with videos/articles sent to me from all the types of people listed above.  

The sender typically wants my read on what’s contained in the piece. And, it is no exaggeration to say that they have ranged from the sublimely insightful to the utterly ridiculous.

World shaking events like COVID19 and the ramifications emanating from the unprecedented strategies implored by national governments to try to contain the virus and mitigate the risk of loss of lives have unsettled many people. And Christians are not exempt from this all.

All of this has gotten me thinking a lot about assurance, and the unshakeable faith and confident security; I believe Jesus wants us, believers, to experience even in times like these.

Just the other day we were reading Mark 13 – an unsettling passage about the end times with people being led astray (vs5), a forewarning of false Christs (vs6), wars, earthquakes, famines(vs7-8), persecution of believers, being hated for being Christ-followers(vs11-13), something called the abomination of desolation and great tribulation (vs14-24) and the call of Jesus’ to be on guard and awake (vs23 & 37)…

I was struck by one of Jesus’ commands; “Do not be alarmed” (vs7)! It stood out like the first flower pushing up in a field after the veld has been burnt, almost out of place in the surrounding desolation. 

Jesus wanted His disciples, Jesus wants you and I who have trusted in Him not to be alarmed by even tumultuous events and experiences. Jesus wants us to be assured, at peace, secure. Jesus wants us to trust Him who not only made everything but is the One who holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17) 

John records similar last moments with Jesus and explodes this theme of what Jesus wanted the disciples to experience in greater detail in the first verses of chapter 14;

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

Jesus didn’t want the events of the days that would follow to unsettle His followers. He wanted them to contend for peace in their hearts and minds. Jesus wanted them not to let their hearts go to the place of anxiety and stress that they would go to if not restrained by faith.  

Jesus wanted His disciples to believe, to trust Him, to trust the Father’s goodness and power. Jesus wanted them to see the final picture; these disciples could be assured that they would dwell with Him for eternity in His the Father’s house. That future hope was something to believe because it could not be seen. However believing it would produce something in the disciples – assurance, peace & security in spite of tumultuous days that would follow.

Assurance for the believer in Jesus is a strong theme in the New Testament, and it is found in our passage for today’s reading (we are reading Philippians + some Psalms in August for our Bible Reading Plan).

I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

Paul wanted the same thing for the Philippian believers that Jesus wanted for those first Christ-followers: assurance.

Yes, they might have faced tough circumstances, challenges to their faith, struggle and hardship, but God wanted them to be assured IN IT ALL.

That the God who initiated their faith would be the One who would bring it to completion as well, God doesn’t start our Jesus journey and then let us go to walk on our own like some parent teaching their child to walk hoping they will get the hang of it.  

No, rather God alone was both the author of their faith and would be the One to bring it to completion too (Hebrews 12:2). The confidence of these believers wasn’t to be in anything or anyone else other than their Saviour who both initiated and would complete their faith.

Friend if you know that have put your trust in Christ Jesus. If you know that you truly are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone then you can be and should be, God wants you to be the most assured person on the planet. You and I are utterly secure, having believed in Jesus, He will save us completely (Hebrews 7:25).

You are immortal until the Day Jesus returns or the Day He calls you home to be with Him. You need not fret or worry, trying to discern the times and work out what not even Jesus knew when He walked on earth (Mark 13:32)!

So do not be alarmed even in the middle of a Global Pandemic, don’t stress yourself with worry when Jesus’ command to you is not to be alarmed and not to let your heart be troubled. Jesus wants you to sleep secure, live at peace knowing whom You have trusted your life to – and not just this life, but eternal life to.

Speak to Him now in prayer. If you have already believed in Jesus, simply ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to cast off fear with His perfect love and peace. Know this, Jesus wants you to experience the incredible peace that comes from knowing whom it is you have entrusted your present and future eternal life to – so live in the good of the assurance He purchased for you.  

But, if you haven’t yet believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the salvation of your soul, don’t feel any assurance or peace until you have believed in Him. So, call out to Him right now! We really do not know whether any day is our last day, and so as Matthew Henry resolved; live every day as if it was your last day.

And if you know friends who have not yet put their faith in Jesus – don’t delay speak to them share the love of God with them, appeal to them in love to believe in Jesus while they still can.

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

Authority, Demons & Healing (Mark 1:21-34)

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Authority

Authority, who has it and how they use it is a massive topical issue right now.  

In the USA, we have sadly witnessed the murder of George Floyd by a man supposedly in authority. In shocking moments like this, countries look to people in all the various realms of authority (politics, community, business, churches…) to say something or do something. In addition, we have witnessed that if a country or community believe those in authority have misused their authority – they are prone to rebel against all authority.

In our own South Africa, late yesterday, we heard that the judicial authority in our country had declared our Government’s authority in promulgating Level 3-4 regulations unconstitutional as the Bill of Human Rights has been compromised. Here we have Government trying to use its authority for the good of our nation, but citizens appealing to the judicial authority to resist or reform the Governing authority.

Authority! It’s a big issue and always has been. In Mark 1:21-34, we see real authority on display, good authority being exercised, the authority that blesses individuals and a community.

Jesus walks into ‘church’ (a meeting in the Synagogue actually) and stands up to teach the congregation who are present. Those who teach from the Scriptures have some authority as they help people to understand and apply the authority of God’s word for their lives.

But when Jesus starts preaching, which is something very normative in this context, all those present that day are astonished. There is something very different about this teacher; Jesus is unlike those they are used to hearing. Their position or role, their activity is the same as Jesus’, but He is preaching ‘with authority.’ (vs22)

I’m so glad this wasn’t my church. The contrast drawn by the congregation that day was between Jesus and their normal teachers – gulp. And, the contrast was notable as Mark’s Gospel records; ‘And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes’ (vs22)

Good authority used well isn’t repulsive to human beings, quite the contrary. These people were drawn to Jesus’ authority even though the things He was saying weren’t all affirming and cushy! Remember what Jesus was preaching; “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” (Mark 1:14-15)  

Jesus wasn’t a people-pleaser saying what people wanted to be said, that’s not what drew people to Him. Real authority often has to make decisions or lead in ways which are for the good of those they are leading but won’t always be liked.  

When we encounter good authority, I believe that we are drawn to it, and it brings us peace and security. These people willingly gave themselves to Jesus’ authentic authority and therefore listened to His teaching.

In a church context, church leaders (elders) have authority;

  • If they have been called & gifted by God to lead.
  • And if that local congregation have recognised that calling and gifting as God’s gift to that local church and their personal lives
  • If they teach and always lead from the fountain of authority that is everlasting – Scripture
  • And if those elders use the authority that God’s entrusted to them for the benefit and blessing of God’s people and not for any personal gain

Pray for your church, pray that God would bless your church with leaders who are truly called not just placed in their position by some organisation, but hand-picked by God and called by God to lead and to teach and to love and care for your church. Pray that they would not say what itching ears want to hear, but that they would stand on the authority of God’s Word, always faithful to the Scriptures and in so doing will protect and bless that church for generations to come.

Lastly, a short exhortation from Scripture to anyone who is in a church; “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) 

The demonic realm and demonic influence

Those present on that day didn’t just hear a great sermon which came with authority because it was rooted in Scripture; they witnessed power over the demonic realm.

I have always been fascinated by this guy sitting in ‘church’ with a demon influencing his life. He was sitting there not entirely free but in some form of demonic influence or bondage. How did this demonic influence manifest itself in his life? Was it a perpetual fear or a constant struggle with depression… What we know is that it doesn’t seem to have been too obvious otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been welcome in the meeting.

But on this day when Jesus, the King of kings, walks into the room immediately that under-the-radar-demonic-influence in his life suddenly surfaces! The guy who’s probably never said a word in ‘church’ (Synagogue actually) suddenly shouts out; “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

Yikes! I have had a few moments like this in church when someone blurts something out that is socially not cool in what suddenly becomes a very public and awkward moment. I wonder whether this guy was the most surprised of everyone!

Authority. The demon or demons influencing this guys life know who Jesus is, and they know that Jesus has real authority. The people listening to Jesus’ teaching have just encountered His authority in His bold proclamation, but the demon(s) knew Jesus and knew his power.

We know this because of what they say to Jesus. They know who Jesus is, they know where He came from, they; know Jesus has the power to destroy them; they know that this man standing teaching these people is GOD! They know that He is the King of kings with absolute and total authority over them.

And so Jesus uses His authority to bless this man under the influence of the demonic realm and sets him free with just these words; “Be silent, and come out of him!” (vs25) Real authority doesn’t have to shout.

I love the fact that there is no show-down here, no titanic battle. Jesus’ authority so far outstrips any power of the demonic realm that they have to obey and leave the man alone – free at last.

There is so much we could say about the demonic realm and Jesus’ authority which He has now invested in us His followers to relieve people from demonic influence but time & space doesn’t permit.  

However, in summary, may we see how much authority we have in Jesus’ name to set people free from all forms of demonic bondage and influence (John 14:12-14). May we not be blind to the demonic realm, and may we not be fixated on it either. May we simply be in awe of Jesus and ready to proclaim Jesus’ authority in lives and situations that need it for people to be free indeed.

Healing

Lastly, in Mark 1:29-34, we see Jesus’ authority over sickness as He heals Peter’s mother in law and then many in the town of Capernaum.

News of Jesus’ teaching with authority and Jesus’ act of supernaturally and simply setting the man free from all demonic influence spread like wildfire so that by the time evening came ‘the whole city was gathered together at the door’ (vs33)!

What drew them? Fascination no doubt, but I believe that for the sick and struggling and those suffering under the various physical and psychological maladies resulting from demonic influence what really drew them to Jesus was hope. Hope that was awakened because Godly authority was present. They had hope that they could be freed from their sickness and bondages.

Mark’s Gospel records what must have been amazing scenes. Just imagine the whole city outside a house, a gathering of onlookers and those suffering greatly. Picture Jesus, coming out the house, and speaking to people one by one simply with no histrionics but with his real authority as King of kings being displayed for all to see. Picture the tears and exclamations of joy as MANY are set free from their pain and sorrow and oppression.

What a joyful time it must have been! This is a moment when we see the coming Kingdom breaking into the present. This is what we ought to pray for an expect every day, people being released from pain and suffering in the authority of Jesus name. Amen

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.

Choosing Peace (Psalm 131)

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Psalm 131 is a little Psalm with a big message for us on day 60 of our national lockdown due to COVID-19.

Peace is an active choice; it is not a state of being that is arbitrarily obtained. This Psalm reveals how peace is the result of choices we make. In this Psalm, David makes four active choices that together result in peace and calm in the midst of trying circumstances.

vs1: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; 

The first thing David chooses is to reign in his heart. David won’t let his heart get proud. Humility and peace are interconnected. Pride leads to lofty thoughts about your ability or ideas, your grasp on a situation. And so pride multiples agitation and frustration – the absence of peace.  

When our hearts are proud we bemoan; ‘Why isn’t what I think should happen, happening?’ Pride gifts one with opinions, and strong opinions don’t tend to lead to peace, especially in the face of an unprecedented national and world crises!

Every time we hear; “My fellow South Africans…” the state of our hearts is tested. The humble heart will see a man, a group of leaders and experts doing their very best, might think; “Phew that must be a hard job!” and won’t just complain and moan & criticise.

Do you need to reign in your heart?

vs1: my eyes are not raised too high;

The second choice David has to make is to curb ambition. Ambition, like pride, doesn’t lead to a peaceful state of being. Proud or ambitious eyes that look up to selfish & ambitious future plans that are being frustrated by the present circumstances are agitated ones – not peaceful ones.  

In contrast, humble eyes don’t think too highly of oneself but rather submit to the Almighty hand of our sovereign God who holds all things together by just the words of His mouth. Humble people say things like; “If the LORD wills, we will do this or that.” (James 4:15)

Humble eyes see clearly, understand who God is and who they are in relation to God. Humble eyes rest in the sure knowledge of the goodness of God. They rest in God’s everlasting love for His children and the sovereign omnipotence of God. We can only rest in humble peace when we know that God is good and loving and in control of all things for us who believe in Jesus.

vs1: I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 

Anyone who has studied something, in particular, will probably know the paradoxical feeling; that the more you know about anything, the more you realise how little you know!  

As human beings created in the image of God, we have this incredible God-given ability to advance knowledge and understanding. But even with all that data and insight, we are finite & limited. God’s ways aren’t ours; God’s ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).  

If I am honest, I don’t even know how my toaster works just that it does what I want it to the bread I put in it. I can use this computer, but I honestly don’t know how the computer is transforming touches from my fingers into characters and streaming data to the internet that can be read by yourself..!

David’s third choice that leads to a peaceful and calm life is that he has embraced his limits. He knows that there is much in life that is honestly beyond his ability to comprehend, and so he has chosen not to fret and occupy his thoughts with that which is beyond his grasp.  

I don’t believe that this is laziness on the part of David but wisdom. It is wise to know your limits, and wise to trust God where your comprehension is outstripped by circumstances. In bewildering moments we can fathom or control we can either choose to fret and worry, or we can trust our omniscient, omnipotent Father in heaven.

vs 2: But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 

David’s fourth choice is his active decision to calm and quieten his soul (his whole body) satisfied to be in God’s presence. David is like a weaned child nestled into the bosom of God, drawing comfort and security from just being there in a relationship, intimate and close to the one who loves him.

In contrast to a weaned child nestling with their mom, a breastfeeding child in that position and posture close to their mother’s breasts will often have their desire for food awakened – they will not be content to just nestle there safe and secure but will want to be fed.

This is a picture of our relationship with God. Are we like a breastfeeding child coming to God looking for something from God, or a weaned child coming close to God simply for that, to be close to God?  

In times of personal, community, national and world-wide crises, we can easily be those who are coming to God always asking for something. David challenges us to come to God in a different way, to come close to God not because we want or need something but simply because we love God, and we know God loves us! Come to God contented like a weaned child, come to God not to always ask for something but simply because you get to come into God’s presence because of Jesus!

Think through your prayers, your devotion times. How much of them are just nestling into the bosom of God because you belong there because He loves you and you love Him? Ask God to forgive you of coming just to ask for something else…

vs3: O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

The Psalm closes with an exhortation; ‘Hope in Yahweh!’ Put your hope in God alone. Do this now in this global pandemic, do this today and do it for the rest of this life God’s given you. Hope in God for eternity to come. Hope in Yahweh alone, and you will truly be at peace.

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

Marked by Hope (1 Peter 3:18)

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We face an uncertain time worldwide. In times like these that we believers in Jesus are to stand out, distinct amongst the crowd. We are to be those characterised by hope because Jesus is our LORD.

In his epistle to believers who are suffering for their faith Peter writes at one point;

“But in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:18) 

Despite the hardships and the fear-inducing atmosphere they were facing, these believers are exhorted to be prepared to answer anyone who asks them about the hope that is in them. This implies that the hope Peter is anticipating they will have will be surprising, will be rare – otherwise no one would ask them for the reason they have hope!

To do: Discuss these questions amongst your family now or get online and discuss it with your friends, or Community Group or Trio.

  1. How can we have hope when all around us people are feeling hopeless?  
  2. How can we resist fear and worry & be filled with hope?
  3.  What is our hope?

Our hope rests in the sure heart knowledge that we have believed in Jesus, and therefore, He is our LORD & SAVIOUR. Our hope is that we are His, beloved by Him, the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful Prince of Peace. Our hope is that His care for us extends to both this life and life after death!

In these days filled with much fear and uncertainty all around us, we may be those who are marked by a noticeable hope in Jesus Christ.  Pray and ask God to help you to fix your eyes on Jesus, your Prince of Peace.  Ask Him to take up residence in your heart, in your thinking, ask Him to guard your heart and your mind (Philippians 4:7).

To Pray:

  • Please pray for our president and all the leadership in our country seeking to deal with this pandemic. Pray for wisdom from heaven for these leaders.

  • Please also pray for every person in the health services (Dr’s, Nurses, Pathology, Radiology…) for their protection and for strength for the times ahead.

  • Please pray for those who’s businesses are under threat at this time, for wisdom, grace and help.

Visit our church’s website for more information.

Perseverance produces Faithfulness (2 Timothy 2:3-26)

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What would your final words be?

Imagine you were a CEO of a startup company, a leading figure of a research project or a key member in your field of expertise, and you knew what you were writing would be your final words to your successor. That scenario isn’t too dissimilar to Paul’s life as he was writing 2 Timothy around 64-67 AD. He finds himself in prison, awaiting a certain fate of death, with very few people around him. After a lifetime of church planting, preaching and raising leaders, Paul knows his final efforts will be to encourage his spiritual son in the faith.

It’s helpful to visualise the situation Paul is writing in, as it provides some clarity in an otherwise confusing section of scripture. At first glance, chapter 2 seems a whirlwind of different themes that Paul is mixing together. He’s discussing leadership, holiness, perseverance and false teachers in a manner so unlike the structured theological masterpieces of Romans or Ephesians. However, with an understanding of Paul’s context, we as the readers, are given a glimpse of Paul’s overall reflections of ministry, as well as his final words of encouragements to us.

Within this book of Paul’s final words, there consists an encouragement for Timothy to persevere in faithful ministry.

If anyone would know the challenges that Timothy will face, it would be the Apostle Paul. He was sitting in a jail cell, waiting for his promotion into the grandstands of Heaven. He was the guy who was kidnapped and stoned to an inch of his life (Acts 21). The man who survived a shipwreck, only to be bitten by a viper (Acts 27 & 28). Paul was the guy who wrote and boasted in his various sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), so that God would be praised. Paul knows exactly what he is encouraging Timothy into when he says “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus”.

Many of us today do not live with a readiness, a willingness, to embrace and fight through the challenges that will come as we try to live for Jesus. Maybe this is because we so easily forget that we live in a spiritual warzone. When Paul says “share in suffering”, what he is communicating is that there is a share of suffering that every believer should brace themselves for. If we live as we ought to, transformed and compelled by the gospel, then we should expect trials, opposition, temptations and sufferings to face us. Sin won’t go down without a fight. The devil is still prowling around. Cultural ideologies such as individualism, sinful temptations of materialism and political tactics of division have already taken out the sincere faith of many believers.

One of the questions that we all need to face up to as a matter of urgency is this: Are you ready for the inevitability of suffering? The hardest rugby tackles are the ones you don’t see coming. They are the ones that cause injuries. Paul’s words are a caring and compassionate plea to Timothy and to us; that we would be prepared for wartime living.  

Our perseverance comes from remembering and trusting in Jesus’ work in our lives. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead…” This section runs parallel to the first chapter of the book, and it reminds us that our perseverance does not come from ourselves. We are meant to trust and rely in our savior’s ongoing work in our lives. Our perseverance is inseparable from the resurrection of Jesus, to His victory and the certainty of our success in the mission field. This is also why Paul says, “therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect”, because there are people who have been elected (chosen) by God, and Paul knows that their conversion is an absolute certainty. The truth that God is electing, preserving and empowering us will produce endurance inside of us.

Finally, our perseverance produces faithfulness and glorifies God. This is where Paul ties in our holiness with our faithful perseverance. To be ‘preserved’ is not just to make it to the end of our lives without sin taking us out. To be preserved is a call to fight for holiness in our lives. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed.” As we are preserved by God to continually endure through our sufferings, it is a testament of the faithfulness that God is working in our lives and displaying to the people around us. We should “flee” from sin and “pursue” a transformed pure heart. Then we too will be able to say, along with Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, that we have “fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  1. What kinds of challenges should we expect as we live for God in the world today?
  2. Why do you think Paul’s using his final words to encourage us to keep persevering?
  3. What do you need to flee from in your life to preserve your faithful holiness?
  4. What do you need to pursue more in your life to preserve your faithful holiness?

God’s Delight (Psalm 18:1-19)

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

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

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

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

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

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

And why does Yahweh act in such a way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with Delay (Psalm 13)

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Delay is one of the hardest things to deal with as a believer in Jesus.

We don’t like delay. We tend to expect to a certain timing, and we don’t take kindly to that timing being extended.

So, maybe you can relate to the lyrics of the famous Queen song; 

“I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now”.

What is it for you? How would you complete these sorts of sentences?

  • “I thought I/we would have….. by now”
  • “I can’t believe I still don’t have …….!”
  • “How long does ……… take?”

In this Psalm, David is lamenting a delay of some sort. He is at the end of his emotional and even physical reserves. The wait has nearly emptied him entirely (vs2-4).

His four-pronged question (“How long?”) is less a request for more information than it is an expression of his deeply-felt feelings.

Feelings are fickle! Does he really believe that God has forgotten him, does He now believe that the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God has somehow lost sight of him, forgotten him? But it is how he feels. Does he really believe that God has hidden his face or that God wants him to be grovelling in the dust crying his days away – not caring?

Does he believe these things? Or is this how he feels when assaulted by the gap between his self-fashioned expectations and what has transpired?

I want a robust faith, not fickle feelings. In moments like these, when we are assaulted by the gap between our expectations and reality. Or when our emotions attack our faith – we need robust faith that is already in place.

It’s far too late when delay or trials come. We need an anchor for our emotions to hold us fast when they threaten.

Here in Psalm 13, despite David’s lament in vs1-2 what he believes to be true anchors him in the moment and pulls him through.  

He doesn’t really believe God has forgotten him or turned his back on him because then it would make no sense to pray out to God and to ask God to consider his plight and answer him (vs3).  

By vs5-6, the tone of the Psalm has changed already;

“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Oh that you and I may invest deeply in our relationship with God, that we might grow in the depth of our knowledge of who He is and what He is like. May we grow in robust faith so that when the storms of delay or disappointment come, we will find ourselves anchored by that faith and so the storm in our heart and mind will subside replaced by trust in His unfailing love.

What’s your lens? (Philippians 1:12-20)

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What’s your lens? What gives you meaning in life, and what helps you make sense of all that happens in your life?

As he writes to the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul is a prisoner of Rome because of his faith in Jesus. We know he was confined to ‘house arrest’ for two years, and yet he is isn’t found complaining in his letter to the Philippians.

Consider this for a moment, what would you have been writing about if his experience was yours?

It’s hard to know for sure how I/we would have responded, but a brief analysis of our prayers when life is feeling unfair or hard for us now are probably a good indication.  

And yet Paul was rejoicing! (vs18) How could this be?  

Paul’s joy, his sense of meaning and purpose was clearly not tied to his personal comfort or freedom – since he wrote this from a period of imprisonment, most likely chained to a Roman soldier.  

His lens for life, his life purpose was that the good news of Jesus would be proclaimed & that Jesus would be glorified through his life or death.

And because of this, he wrote; “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (vs12)

His imprisonment gave him access to the praetorian guard (vs13) – a special unit of ten thousand selected soldiers in Rome that had unusual privileges & were influential. He could write that the whole guard knew that Jesus was the reason for his imprisonment. It seems as though God, through Paul’s imprisonment, had inserted him inside the ranks of those who were influential in the great city of Rome, sowing gospel seeds for the future behind enemy lines.

There was meaning in his suffering, in the curtailment of his freedom. And so there could be rejoicing because his lens was God’s purpose, plan and God’s glory, not his comfort or liberty.

What’s your lens? Your lens will focus your attention and define your reaction to life’s varied circumstances.

Paul was strengthened in his imprisonment, knowing that the Philippians were praying for him & knowing that the Helper was with him. And so he was confident that God would deliver him either in the present from Roman captivity or in the glorious future at the return of Jesus (vs19).

Paul embraced his circumstances because of his lens which was that all of his life was to proclaim Jesus and to bring glory to Jesus in how he responded to all of life’s circumstances believing that God was sovereign in them.  

And so he wrote;

“…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (vs20)

What’s on display here is the focus of Paul’s life – that Jesus Christ would be honoured by my life whether that means I live or whether I die – Jesus be glorified.

What an inspiration! May his lens be your lens and mine. May Jesus being proclaimed and Jesus being glorified be the priority that pulsates through our every decision and our every thought in every circumstance we endure.

Dynamite Comes in Small Packages (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

A two-word verse followed by a three-word verse followed by a slightly longer one. Such short verses with such challenge!

In vs16, it’s the ‘always’ that ramps up the challenge factor! Who would have a problem with rejoicing in good things? Our problem is rejoicing in all things, in those hard situations and or rejoicing still when things have not gone the way we would like them to go.

And yet this is God’s will for us, so it is possible to do. But how can it be possible to rejoice always or in all circumstances?

I believe that this is possible for the Christ Follower when we consider Jesus, who He is, and what He has done for us. We can always thank God for Jesus, for loving us when we were unlovely when we were His enemies.

No matter what is happening in our lives, if we have put our faith in Jesus, we have been forgiven of our sin, set free from the wrath of God’s righteous judgement and have been granted eternal life with God. We have been given the privilege of being called the children of God! As believers we know that whatever we might be facing is going to be swallowed up by the glory to come for us; “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

So, we can always rejoice. I am not saying this is easy to do, but it is God’s will for us, according to vs18. And so it is possible, and it is for our very best.

Pray without ceasing (vs17). One more word than the previous verse and yet no less challenging. Praying without ceasing is the opposite of living a worldly life, living life as though God doesn’t exist.

To pray in this way is to practice God’s presence amid your everyday life. To pray in this way is to master the art of always being in two places at once. Being wherever you find yourself at any given moment and being with God, aware of His presence in that place or situation.

How amazing it would be to be in continual conversation with God, accessing His Help and wisdom, knowing His love, affirmation & His guidance! This is not some onerous command; this is an invitation to live a life on a whole new level.

Lastly, ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (vs18) is not an instruction to give thanks for all circumstances. Rather, it is to be aware of God in everything and to be mindful of what you can thank your Father for. Growing in gratitude cultivates a heart of worship and breathes life-giving perspective into all of life.

Surprised? (1 Thessalonians 3:1-13)

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In 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5, we discover that Paul desired deeply that no one in the church in Thessalonica would be moved/shaken/unsettled by the afflictions/pressures that faced them. Because of this, Paul sent a person, Timothy to encourage them, to help them think clearly. In addition to this through his letter, Paul also reminded them of truth. He did so because it’s the truth that undergirds us, reinforces us so that we can face trials, stand firm when pressure situations hit.

So what truth did Paul seek to reinforce them with?

He said;

“YOU YOURSELVES KNOW that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (vs3-4)  

He expected these believers in Jesus to know that pressure, suffering, persecution are not abnormal for the believer in Jesus but rather part of our normal experience.

We often say we are ‘followers of Jesus’, but did we forget that Jesus suffered from almost continual opposition during his 3yrs of ministry on earth and ultimately that Jesus died on a cross at the hands of His enemies!

Did we forget that Jesus said things like; “then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers” (Matthew 24:9 NLT) & “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mark 13:13)

Jesus knew Paul knew that we are living through wartime, not peacetime this side of Jesus’ return. Having a biblical perspective and expectation regarding suffering, trials, persecution and pressure will help you massively when such things do come. So let’s not be naive, but rather let’s KNOW that we are destined for such things but also KNOW that greater is He that is within us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4) and let us KNOW that ;

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28&35-39)

Are you surprised when suffering or pressure comes? Does it knock you sideways?

Be strengthened by knowing what Scripture teaches in these verses & knowing that God has promised amazing things concerning His ever-present help to you IN what you are going through.

Vindicated! (Numbers 17)

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Who hasn’t felt the pain of being misrepresented or misunderstood? Many leaders have known the uncomfortable feeling of not being trusted or feeling confident in your leadership slip or even being challenged. Added to the pain and pressure of such moments are your own internal struggles and doubts which only get amplified by the enemy.

Times of pressure, moments when there are delays, setbacks or significant obstacles often heighten these dynamics. The context leading up to Numbers 17 was that God’s people had grumbled against God and His appointed leaders for bribing them out of Egypt, they had doubted and feared rather than trusted God, there had been internal leadership squabbles and outright rebellion and questions raised continually about who should lead.

In moments like these, it is often inappropriate and ineffective, trying to vindicate yourself. Managing the perceptions of others is not only exhausting; it is impossible in the long run. In a wise, lucid moment the apostle Paul reflecting no doubt on some situations from his own life and ministry said this with fatherly wisdom;

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’.” (Romans 12:19)

RT Kendal reflecting on this passage advises that we often want to vindicate ourselves, take revenge, make our point, and we could choose to do so, but that is very unwise. It’s like God then says; ‘Oh you want to vindicate yourself! Go ahead and try but you’ll mess it up and end up sinning.’ Rather Kendal says God’s wisdom is to leave vengeance and the desire to vindicate oneself to Him and to His timing.

In Numbers 17, we see God doing exactly what Romans 12:19 promises He will do, as He vindicated Aaron’s ministry as head of the priesthood in a remarkable, public and miraculous way! God’s intent was to stop the discontent & grumbling which doesn’t help those leading or those following;

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. 4 Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.”

The key thing to notice here is that this is God’s initiative, God stepped in to vindicate Aaron, to silence the discontent. Moses and Aaron were not trying to vindicate themselves (although no doubt they were glad for what God was doing) – God did it. God chose how, and God chose when it would happen – and so it was effective. A right reverence returned to the camp, respect for those God had appointed (vs12).

Remember, when we try to vindicate ourselves, we are likely to mess it up! Not the least because we should be slow to think that we have an accurate perspective on ourselves, our own heads and hearts or the situation we find ourselves in.

Wisely, Paul was cautious about judging himself as he wrote to the Corinthians, some of whom were challenging his leadership;

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)

So, if it is God’s prerogative to vindicate, what ought you to do if you feel unjustly treated, misrepresented, falsely accused…?

Three things come to mind in sequential order:

  1. Lament – “A passionate expression of sorrow and grief” – Christina Fox. The Psalms are full of this processing raw emotions to God and leaving it with Him.
  2. Forgive – Because we have been forgiven much because this is the only pathway to health and not bitterness & because it honours God.
  3. Leave it to God – Remember that Jesus died without being vindicated! As did many of the heroes of the faith. Vindication is hardly ever on our time scale and is quite likely to be only seen in full at the return of Christ.

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

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

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

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

What do you rejoice in?

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

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

1. We rejoice because we are at peace with God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. We rejoice in our sufferings

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

We rejoice in our sufferings because we KNOW;

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have so much to rejoice in!

Expectations (James 1:2-4)

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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.