Suffering

God-Moments God Created (Mark 6:45-52)

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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.

Free at last! [Mark 1:21-28, Mark 5:1-20 & Luke 13:10-13]

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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:

  1. We give the devil and his demonic minions too much focus, fascination and airtime 
  2. 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.

Magnificent God (2 Kings 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complaint to Praise & Prayer (Psalm 28)

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Confident Complaint!

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.

Passionate Praise

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.

Loving Deliverer (Psalm 18)

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‘I love you, oh Lord my strength’ vs1

‘This God—his way is perfect’ vs30

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

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

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

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

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

‘This God — his way is perfect’(vs30)

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

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

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

Reflection:

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

Meaning Makers (John 9)

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Dallas Willard said that people are ‘meaning-makers’. We look for and or even assign meaning to things that happen in our lives. We want to know, ‘why?’ and when we don’t know why we create our own meaning.

This is what was happening in John 9. A man was born blind. Jesus’ disciples wanted to know; ‘why?’ What was the cause, did this man’s parents sin in some way and that is why this happened or did the man himself sin – why?

I had an accident – why?
I got sick – why?
I lost my job – why?
………… – why?

All too often our desire to know why, combined with our very limited knowledge, leads us towards unhelpful or inaccurate conclusions. We add 1 + 1 and end up with 22 not 2!

This man was born blind, but it wasn’t punishment or the result of some sin that he was blind, no his tough life-circumstance was simply that God’s work could be displayed in him according to Jesus (John 9:3). Something much greater than his own life/behaviour was in play here, something that he had no control over.

God was going to use this moment to reveal the divinity of Jesus to him (vs35-38) and cause him to believe in Jesus as a result. God was going to use this to show his authority, glory and power to those who would take note of what Jesus did and said.

Is there something in your life right now that you are grappling with?
Is there something that you are trying to work out, trying to find meaning in?

I urge you to put down your theories as to why this is happening or happened, and simply ask Jesus to reveal to you what He was doing, or is doing through this thing.

The man born blind, gets healed miraculously, encounters Jesus personally and believes in Jesus and worships Jesus as Lord and Saviour in this story. He must have spent his life up to this point resenting his ailment, but in this moment his ailment became the very thing that lead Him to Jesus, to forgiveness, healing & belief in Jesus and therefore salvation!

May you stop making your own meaning and may you rather ask the King of kings, Jesus to give you His meaning. And may you, trust Him when there is no answer yet, may you accept the mystery, may you trust Him that He is good, and that He loves you and that what you can’t see or know or understand – He does see, know & understand!

Behold Jesus.

Gospel Glimpses (Mark 15)

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Justification (vs3-5)

Jesus didn’t justify Himself, didn’t defend himself against His accusers, would’t speak in his own defence to Pilate’s amazement.  Why?  Jesus would not justify or defend Himself, in order that He could justify and defend from the accuser, those who trust in Him.

Substitution (vs6-15)

Jesus the sinless One was mocked, whipped, beaten and ultimately crucified in our place for our sin, while the sinner (Barabbas) walked free!  The One deserving of only praise substituted Himself and took the punishment that was only ours to bear.

Jesus saved us by not saving Himself (vs29-32)

Jesus was taunted; “save yourself!”  People thought Jesus’ death was a sign of Jesus’ lack of power, thought it was a moment of Jesus’ defeat and yet it was Jesus’ power and strength, His power of the will that kept Him there not a lack of power.  Jesus could have at any moment called upon a host of angels to save Himself from the cross and the mocking.  But Jesus endured the cross scorning its shame for the joy of what lay ahead if He did (Hebrews 12:2) – the joy of redeeming us and restoring us to a right relationship with Him.  Jesus didn’t save Himself so that He could save you and me.

Forsaken so we could be adopted (vs33-34)

In what I believe must be the most chilling, shocked words in all of Scripture, Jesus cries out to the Father; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus was forsaken, abandoned in that moment by the Father & the Spirit as the sin of the whole world rested on Him, so that those who put their trust in Him would never be forsaken by the Father ever.  Jesus was forsaken so that we who trust in Him could be adopted and would belong to the Father forever.

Access granted (vs37-39)

Jesus endured all of this, so that the way to God could be opened up forever.  Nothing remains between God and those Jesus has forgiven.  We are sons and daughters of the most High God, we belong in His presence, we have access, we have His heart and His attention.  We have no need of a sacrifice system or a priesthood, we have benefitted from the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus and we have one mediator between ourselves and God – Jesus Christ.

Praise Jesus!  There is no one like you Jesus.  None can compare.  Thank you for salvation, thank you for bearing everything that should have been ours and for giving us what we did not deserve.

Faith (Mark 5:21-6:6)

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pistĕuō (Greek): to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), to entrust, to believe, commit (to trust), put in trust with.

Faith is believing God.  Faith is to put one’s trust in God regarding something when one has yet to still see the outcome.  Faith is believing and acting according to that belief.  Faith is always rooted in SOMEONE or something.

Jarius the Synagogue ruler had a need, his daughter was desperately ill.  Jarius has seen or heard of myriads of people being healed by Jesus and on that basis Jarius believes that Jesus is worth approaching and reveals his faith when He says to Jesus (Mark 5:21-23); “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live”.

Coming to Jesus revealed his belief that Jesus was worth coming to, imploring Jesus to lay His hands on his daughter puts his belief about what was possible with Jesus on display.

Similarly, the woman who has seemingly unsolvable long-term medical issues believes, has faith.  Scripture clearly explains that the reason for her action was;

She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” (Mark 5:27-28)

Her thinking was, Jesus is the answer to my unsolvable problem – that’s faith!  And faith is what God loves.  Jesus commends the woman for her faith (vs34) and Jesus urges Jarius to keep believing (vs36) when he hears the news that his daughter has passed away.

Why does God love faith?  

Is it because of the relational component that there is to faith?  

I remember teaching my children to swim in the pool and in the ocean.  I remember so clearly just wanting those little freaked out kids to trust their dad, to believe that he would not let them get hurt or worse, to believe that he knew what they could handle.  I know what it feels like now teaching my 18yr old how to drive, when she is panicking that she can’t do something I know she can do, or drive somewhere where I know she can drive, I know what it feels like to just want her to trust me, to trust that I’ll help, I’ll direct and counsel and together we will achieve things she will be proud of and delighted with in the end…  Faith has a relational component to it.

God loves it when we trust Him, when we choose to believe He is good, He is loving and all powerful and that He knows what’s best for our lives.  Will you trust Him, will you have faith like this woman, faith like Jarius?  They saw their unsolvable problems solved because they believed!

In closing, Mark 6:1-6 is set in stark contrast to this.  Jesus goes to his hometown and He encounters the exact opposite of faith, people don’t believe they disbelieve He is anything special and so it says;

And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6)

Jesus still did some miracles, but it was not much, He was astounded at their unbelief and as a result of their unbelief, His hometown lost out on what might have been if only they had believed like the woman, like Jarius.

Will you believe?

Do you trust Jesus in everything?

Are you living today, filled with the faith that God loves?

Misunderstood? (Mark 3:1-35)

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Crowds followed Jesus wherever he went as he healed people and set people free people from any demonic influence in their lives. But that’s not all that followed Jesus.

Opposition, misunderstanding and threat followed Jesus from as early as Mark 2:7, when Jesus forgave the paralysed man of his sin and then also healed him.

In Mark 3, Jesus meets a guy in the Synagogue with a withered hand. Jesus has compassion on him and heals his hand but He does this on a Sabbath day. Now, healing someone, restoring their hand to full function, sounds like a good thing, right? Not so for some. And so in that moment a plot to destroy Jesus is initiated (Mark 3:6)!

Great crowds (Mark 3:8-9) follow Jesus to the lakeside, and multitudes are being healed and delivered – these are good things, things to rejoice in! Jesus eventually pulls back from the crowds for a while and calls just some (12) to be with Him, these ones become His disciples, His sent ones (apostles) (Mark 3:13-20).

They come down the mountain, and the crowds return, eventually surrounding his house ‘so that they could not even eat’ (Mark 3:20). Many are being touched, lives transformed, these are good things.

And yet Jesus’ family, an extended group who must have known the stories about His unique birth, must have witnessed His godliness as He grew up and must have heard from Jesus’ mom & dad what had been spoken over him to them by angels…

Even this group of people misunderstand, don’t support Jesus, but rather go out to grab Him, to stop Him, because some of them thought that Jesus had somehow lost His mind and gone crazy (Mark 3:21)!

How did these things make Jesus feel?
How does it feel for us we when are falsely accused, misunderstood, judged & not supported even by those who should love and support us most?
In what ways can you identify with Jesus today?

Here’s the good news. Jesus left heaven, took on a human body, endured experiences like these SO THAT He could enter our humanity fully, SO THAT He could not merely save us from our sin, but also SO THAT He could empathise with us in our experiences.

Whatever you’re facing, accusations, people not understanding you, not supporting you…. Jesus knows, and you can call on Him who endured all that for you, He understands the frustration, devastation & disappointment and He can and wants to lift your eyes to see His today.

So pour your heart out to Him now, He is listening.

Real Authority (Mark 1:16-45)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not ‘no grief’ but… (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)

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But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep… (vs13)

In their short time in Thessalonica, despite having covered many questions about life and faith, it appears as though questions regarding death and life after death were either not covered in Paul’s preaching while in person with them and so much of the remainder of 1 Thessalonians 4-5 focusses on what is commonly regarded as Paul answering questions that had been asked probably via Timothy who returned to Paul and the team.

When someone dies we as believers can be faced with the struggle of reconciling;

  • our faith and our emotions,
  • our faith and the loss of a loved one,
  • our faith and the likelihood that some of the things we prayed for weren’t answered as we wished they would be,
  • our faith and some of that which is unknown concerning this loved one and life after death.

Paul said to the Thessalonians, “we do not want you to be uninformed”(vs13). We do not want you to not know what we ought to know. As believers, although there is mystery still regarding death we do know many things from Scripture, and knowing helps grieving.

…that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.(vs13)

Grief is our multifaceted response to loss. Grief is unpredictable and can be full of conflicting emotions ranging from deep desperate sadness through to the relief that the person who died is no longer suffering, or even relief as the load of caring lifts and yet the pain of guilt that you feel relieved or are doing ok after their death…

Scripture doesn’t say that we as Christ followers won’t grieve.

To not grieve would be to deny our common human experience post-the-fall of humankind. Rather, what this verse teaches is that we don’t grieve in the same way, as those who ‘have no hope’.

Our grieving is transformed by hope. This life is not the end, death is not the end but rather a transition from this life to the next as Jesus Himself said;

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)

Believing in Jesus transforms us so radically that death becomes the doorway to eternal life! And in that moment death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:55), in life that’s imperishable.

This is why believers in Jesus don’t grieve the death of a fellow believer in the same way, as those with no hope, yes they grieve – because there is loss, a break in relationship for the present time, but that loss is informed, is transformed by the knowledge that this loved one if they believed in Jesus Christ has nothing but glorious suffering free imperishable life in their eternal trajectory with Jesus!

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.(vs14)

Jesus who died and rose again, will resurrect us who believe, will resurrect those who have died having believed in Him in this life. And this knowledge, that believers in Jesus will be resurrected by Jesus on the day of His glorious second coming transforms our grief, doesn’t take it away, but fills it with unshakeable hope.

Hardship: Anticipated or Shocked? (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5)

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Real life is full of ups and downs.  Good days and tough moments or even seasons when life can feel like an incredibly hard uphill battle.  It’s been said that its not a matter of when you and I will face hardship, sorrow or trials but rather just when.

And yet so often we are knocked off our balance entirely by hardships and or suffering as believers.  Why is this?

In part I believe that there is an unhelpful belief/teaching that makes out as if the Christian life is just victorious, just joy, just plain sailing…  And when real life isn’t like this, such teaching/belief leads to a potential crisis of faith (God’s not faithful, loving or sovereign) or unhelpful spiritual introspection or even depression believing that the root cause must be lack of faith or an underlying sin issue that’s not been dealt with.

However, a simple reading of the New Testament letters reveals a different picture for us regarding suffering/hardships.  Paul expected affliction/hardship, as did the Thessalonian believers because Paul had warned them in those first three weeks of their faith that hardship would come as a result of their faith in Christ.  Paul says to them;

“For 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.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4)

Paul wanted “no one (to) be moved by these afflictions” (vs3) that’s why he had warned them before the time that they would come.

I don’t believe Paul was morbid, negative, stoic or resigned to just enduring suffering and letting people walk all over him like a ‘welcome mat at the door’…  I believe Paul was REAL, he knew that the enemy although defeated on the cross and having ultimately destiny with destruction at the Lord’s second coming was still the enemy and able to inflict pain and hardship, able to hinder the Gospel and able to hinder believers.

So, he anticipated hardship so was not shocked by it, not knocked off balance by it, but rather he and those he lead could be fortified in it and know how to respond to it with faith.

When suffering is not wrong…

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Concept of a stressed businessman under pressure

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

Are you ever like this too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Gareth Bowley

Life is hard!

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despair-head-in-hands

As I grow older I realise more and more that nothing on this earth has true security.  Time is constantly changing, money easily loses value, property prices are unpredictable and if the political situation in a country is perceived to be unstable, all the securities in terms of investment goes out the window.

Families often drift apart as siblings grow older – whether emotionally or, in the case of many South Africans, many people emigrate and then families are literally torn apart.  Friends can be a great source of comfort and encouragement, but even this can be lost through misunderstanding, conflict or a change in one or the other’s circumstances.

In this life we are constantly challenged to find a firm foundation, an immovable rock on which to stand. A place of security and rest.

How easily we become distracted from putting all of our hope and trust in God.  This one thought is like a repeated chorus in Psalm 62:

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I shall not be shaken.”

David reminds himself and us, that there is only One who can fulfil that role.  There is only One who can give us hope, who can be a fortress of true safety in the midst of uncertainty, who can be our Refuge when the storms of life are raging all around us. God alone!

“Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

by Lise Oosthuizen

He hit me!

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Mike-Tyson-Throws-Punch-AP

By Gareth Bowley

If you jumped into the boxing ring with someone like Mike Tyson or Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao – don’t be surprised if they started throwing some punches!  After all, they’re boxers, this a boxing ring…!

Or to put it another way, if you lived in Bhagdad or Jerusalem or Gaza and you heard air sirens wailing you wouldn’t think – “I wonder what that noise is?”  You’d run for cover, grabbing loved ones and maybe prized possessions in the seconds before the expected air or rocket strike.  After all these cities have been and to some extent are still war zones…!

Understanding clearly the context, the place, the time in which we live can dramatically affect how prepared or unprepared for are for what might happen next. If you were scheduled to get into the boxing ring with a famous heavy hitter you’d prepare, get some training or even cancel the appointment.  If you live in a war zone you prepare yourself with a wartime mentality. And that mindset, that readiness could well save your life.

And yet as believers in a country like South Africa where it is acceptable to attend church, to read your bible and pray we can make the mistake of having a peace-time mentality, thinking that we live in peace-time and so being surprised by things that according to Scripture ought not to surprise us.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Don’t be surprised beloved Christ follower, don’t be shocked when trials, troubles, difficulty, opposition come even when ‘fiery trails’ come – don’t be surprised as if something strange, something out of the ordinary, something unexpected was happening!

The apostle Peter’s perspective is not a ‘peace-time mentality’.  This life is a boxing ring, he knows that there is an opponent, an enemy who’s throwing punches, launching missiles at God, at the church and at God’s children…  He knows that life is not like a war, life is not a metaphor, this life, this age is literally a war, the in between now and not yet age within which the devil is real, is ugly and is breathing out threats and opposition towards us as Christ followers.  Seeking to discourage, to disrupt us from passionately being steadfast in our followership of Jesus and our serving of His purposes on His planet.  He knows that the fiery trial comes to test our faith to prove its genuineness…

A wrong mind-set leaves us both unprepared for trials and also leaves us vulnerable to making wrong conclusions.  As a church leader over and over again I have heard, watched Christ followers grappling, floundering in their faith in God even when they have undergone trials, tests & faced opposition.  They have looked, sounded shocked, surprised that these things were happening, some have even had crises of faith wondering whether God is loving towards them, doubting whether God is good and sovereign, doubting their own faith because of the trials they’re up against.

We need a biblical theology of suffering that produces robust Christians who since Christ suffered, have as His followers also ‘armed themselves with the same way of thinking'(paraphrase of 1 Peter 4:1), Christ followers; ‘who rejoice in that they share in Christ’s sufferings so that they will rejoice when Christ’s glory is revealed’ (paraphrase of 1 Peter 4:13-14) and who have “entrusted their souls to a faithful creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19), Christ followers who know that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Peter 2:9) and who are convinced that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)!

Brother, sister, a right mind-set, a correct perspective on this life will prepare you for the trials that will come, will help you in the midst of them to not have a crisis of faith but to secure your faith in the one who will rescue us, will restore, establish and strengthen us in this life and into eternity.  Life is a war!  It’s not like one, it is one.  But we know how this war ends, we know who wins…  His name is Jesus, and we are His forever and ever, His beloved ones who will reign with Him forever and ever.  Amen.