Testing

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!

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Temptation (James 1:12-15)

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In James 1, trials of any and every kind have been in view. One specific type of trial is the trial that comes through the temptation to sin.

We are prone to blaming others when we face difficulty, Eve did it, Adam did it – James urges us not to blame God when we feel tempted (vs13) but to realise that the temptation we are feeling comes from within us.

Temptation comes from our enemy (Luke 4:2&13), but his temptation is targeted at a pre-existing desire within us. We know this to be true from personal experience. What is tempting to one person is not tempting at all to another.

Take, for example, delicious roast beef that has just been removed from the oven, with the crusty bit just shouting out to be sampled before dinner. For some, this would be an irresistible temptation, but for the vegetarian, it isn’t tempting at all but that freshly chopped carrot drizzled in cream cheese dressing is!

This is what James is getting at in James 1:14-15. We are tempted when the devil matches some promise of fulfilment with a pre-existing desire within us. We are enticed, lured into the trap of that temptation by the desire within us that the temptation promises to fulfil or satisfy.

In that sense, the temptation is not from outside of us, but from within us. Ever since Adam and Eve gave in to the temptation in the garden, we have been born with misplaced desires, or with desires that are meant to be satisfied in God alone but that short-circuit and get us into all sorts of pain and trouble when we seek to satisfy them with created things.

The word picture James utilises is that of birth. A misplaced desire looking to be satisfied in anything but God alone gives birth to sinful actions, but when that sin grows up fully, it results not in fulfilment but in death of some sort.

We need to pray not just that we would be able to say “NO” to temptation but rather that our desires would change.

One of the keys to defeating the power of temptation in your life and in mine is to ask God to replace our old desires with new Godly ones. Ask God to redeem our misplaced desires, seeking to be satisfied in God, not other things.

One of the ways we cooperate in this process of transformation is by renewing our minds through a devotion to Scripture which in turn helps us to know what God’s will for our lives is, and knowing what is good and acceptable for us as Christ Followers (Romans 12:2).

Application

  • What are your strongest desires (List your top 3)?
  • How might the devil tempt you, matching something appealing or promising satisfaction for that desire?
  • In what way is GOD the only real person who can satisfy that desire?
  • Pray & repent and or ask God to help you seek to be satisfied in Him alone

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.

Is seeing believing or believing seeing? (Luke 24:13-35)

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It’s common to hear people say things like; “seeing is believing” and yet in this encounter with Jesus and the two men on the Emmaus road we see that believing leads to seeing.

So often, we want to see and then we will believe but in the Kingdom of God, on the journey of faith with Jesus, it is in fact the opposite way around.  Faith is what opens our eyes to see the realities of the King and His kingdom.

The disciples on the road were not seeing Jesus.  They were not recognising Him being right there with them, they were not understanding the events in Jerusalem and even the events from that morning with the empty tomb and Mary’s testimony – that they were telling the unknown traveller about… Oh how similar I and we are to them!

Jesus gently rebukes them calling them “foolish ones”, ones who can’t understand who haven’t seen and then Jesus gives the reason they didn’t see or understand;

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25)

Believing leads to seeing.  Hebrews 11:3 says; “By faith we understand…”  Note the order there.  Faith leads to understanding in God’s kingdom.

How often aren’t there circumstances in our lives which are hard to understand or make sense of, circumstances that undermine our faith, and yet it is faith that is needed to help us to understand in those moments.

These disciples were in the midst of mind-bogglingly tough days. Jesus their hope, the One they were following and the One they were increasingly feeling was in fact the Messiah was captured. Jesus was tried and crucified!  Some then saying He had risen again?

What these disciples needed was to have faith, to believe all that the Old Testament had foretold about Jesus and all that Jesus Himself had told them about what would happen to Him and what He had come to do. Because of their lack of faith, they were perplexed, unseeing, unable to recognise what was happening and who in fact was right there with them through it all.

And yet, Jesus is so gracious and kind.  He opens their minds and their eyes and shows to them who He is, gives them the sight they were lacking and helps them to see who He was that was walking with them and how all of the Old Testament foretold these events!

May we remember in those life moments when we can’t see or can’t understand that faith is the key to seeing. Our faith in who God is, our faith in what Scripture says, that faith is the key to seeing and understanding or even experiencing God’s presence right there with us in the midst of it all.

May you seek to grow in your faith so that you might see life and circumstances through the eyes of faith, and may you call on Jesus who is so willing to gracious help you in your faith!

Meaning-Makers (John 9:1-41)

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We are meaning-makers.  We want to know, love to know, try to know – why?  We look for cause and effect, we are inquisitive.  Now this is mostly good, but it can get us into trouble too!  As we all too often from our limited finite human perspective reach the wrong conclusions!

The man in John 9 was born blind.  The meaning-makers wanted to know why?  Who’s fault was this? Was he blind because God was punishing him or punishing his parents in some way?  Sound familiar?

As a pastor, I often encounter people who have had something hard happen to them and often the big questions are something like; ‘Why did this happen?’ or ‘Why has God done this to me or allowed this to happen?’

Jesus answered their question with an emphatic “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)  This will not always be the reason for sickness or suffering, but it was the reason given by Jesus in this instance.  ‘This man is blind SO THAT I can show God’s power over sickness and suffering’ – Jesus essentially said.

Jesus’ answer wasn’t one of the potential causes they had thought of.  And maybe there is a hint there for us: we often will not know.  And so the trite little answers like those of the people surrounding this blind man, are often just unhelpful as they don’t help us to know the ‘why’.  It’s tough for ‘meaning-makers’ but it is true, we will not always know or be able to answer the ‘why’ questions fully.  However there is a grid that might be helpful:

The 3 possible sources of pain/hurt/suffering:

In my experience and from Scripture, I believe that one can understand there being three potential sources for pain/hurt/suffering:

1. Our own sinful actions

One of the sources of pain and hardship in our lives is in fact ourselves, our own actions.  We do at times bring pain upon ourselves!  We make bad mistakes, we have character flaws, we make bad/ungodly/unwise decisions and do sometimes suffer the natural consequences thereof.

So many of the pastoral issues we end up dealing with as a church leadership are the result of ungodly decision-making and the mess that inevitably follows.  But, think about this for a moment.  This is the one source of pain and suffering/hardship over which we have some control.  There is not a lot you can control in your life, but you can seek to grow in godly wisdom and it will have a direct positive impact on your life.  

2. The Age we live in

Much of what is hard in our lives can simply be put down to this BIG category in which a number of sub-categories or sources of pain fit.  This age we live in post-Fall & pre-Jesus’ Second Coming:

    • Is an age in which we have a very real enemy who can bring suffering (Job is an example) 
    • Is an age in which the systems of this world are impacted by sin and so cause inequality, poverty, oppression, injustice
    • Is an age in which the natural world itself is impacted by sin and so there are things like erosion, pollution, natural disasters…
    • Is an age in which our bodies are decaying (death, sickness is part of the curse), and so in this age we are struck down by sickness & disease battling scourges like cancer and HIV…
    • Is an age in which the sinful actions of others impact us; hijacking, robbery, relational hurt, rape, abuse… 

3. God’s loving Fathering of us  

Hebrews 12:5-11 teaches that part of the plan of our loving Heavenly Father is to produce holiness & Christlike character in us and to use us to fulfill His good purposes on the earth and to ultimately bless us in eternity.  Sometimes, God is at work in the trial or the pain in order to accomplish something in us or through us.  The John 9 man is an example of this potential source of trials, as Jesus Himself declared that to be the reason for his suffering up to that point.

Knowing the potential source of the pain, should inform our best response to that pain.  If it’s self-imposed then stop it, repent and change.  If it’s the age we live in, you might need to pray more for God’s guidance as to how best to respond.  If it’s potentially your loving Father at work in some way, you need to ask Him to help you know how best to respond or what to do or pray.

The John 9 man gets healed miraculously and his previous disability becomes his powerful testimony to the rulers opposing Jesus!

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.

Tragedy (1 Kings 9-11)

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The man who loved God (1 Kings 3:3), the man God chose to use to finally build Him a dwelling place, the one who had the privilege of fulfilling promises and had promises made to him by God who revealed Himself to him personally twice, the one God blessed by answering his prayers and going beyond just answering into exceeding blessing and peace and prosperity…

That one, did the very thing his dad had warned him not to do, the very thing God had spoken to him twice about directly in a very personal way.  After the overflowing blessing of chapters 9-10, 1 Kings 11 is a tragedy of monumental proportions!

We can be tempted sometimes to think something along lines of; “if only I had…….. then I’d be content”.  Solomon is probably the clearest example in all of Scripture exposes that thinking as false.  

Solomon had God’s favour as a chosen man with destiny, God’s promises, God’s blessing financially, God’s blessing in his role as king with peace in the nation, God’s blessing with wisdom.  More than this he wasn’t single wanting to be married but was married…

And yet he wasn’t satisfied!  That’s because things don’t satisfy us, only God can truly satisfy us.  

Solomon’s desire for more is most clearly expressed in his insatiable lust for women.  Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines!  His lust for women blinded his eyes and shut his ears to the words of his father and more expressly the words of God and the commands of God which urged him to follow God’s ways and God’s commandments.  

God had specifically instructed him not to marry foreign women for a specific reason – God knew that they would cause him to compromise and would lead him astray to the worship false gods.  And that is exactly what we discover happening in 1 Kings 11. 

So God eventually swore He would tear the kingdom from Solomon, divide the kingdom into two parts.  Was God not gracious in swearing to do this?  Sometimes we read the Old Testament and make a wrong conclusion that somehow the God depicted in the Old Testament is different to the New Testament- but that is not true.  After all, God didn’t make this pronouncement after the first foreign wife or the second or the third or the 300th or 600th….!

God is is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and yet God is also holy and pure and righteous and He can not leave sin unpunished…

And so the glorious reign of Solomon has a dark lining – it’s a sad end and at the end of his life Solomon himself declares;

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV84)

So sad, what a tumultuous fall from grace and favour!  So what can we learn?  How does this apply to our lives?

If the one guy in Scripture who literally ‘had it all’ wasn’t satisfied by earthly things, by relationships by sex, money and power – do you honestly think you’ll be?

Seek God, find your joy in God, He alone can truly satisfy as God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (Piper).  So don’t be tempted and distracted by temporal things or even the good blessings given to you by God, love God more than anything find your joy in Him.