Testing

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

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Believing

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!

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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.

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.

And… (Nehemiah 4:7-23)

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I love how the spirituality of the Bible is so practical.  All through this chapter there are references to Nehemiah’s response to the opposition to rebuilding from both without and within God’s people.

The pattern that emerges is that Nehemiah’s first response was to respond to criticism/opposition, threats or doubt with prayer.  We read of this in vs4 and again in vs9 which follow the pattern from Nehemiah 1:4, 2:4…

But what strikes me in Nehemiah 4 is the word; “AND”.

Some people are so spiritually minded that they are no earthly good!  But this is not the spirituality of the Bible.

So with Nehemiah & God’s people they hear of the threats and the mocking of Sanballat & Tobiah and in vs4 they pray AND in vs6 we read “So we built the wall”.

Later in chapter 4:7-8 when Sanballat and Tobiah get angry at the news of the rebuilding, they plot together to come and threaten overthrow those rebuilding Jerusalem.

God’s people under Nehemiah respond to the threat; “so we prayed to our God” (vs9) AND “we set a guard as protection”.  I love that!

They didn’t hear the threat and make a plan and then go to God when their plans had failed, no they went to God first in prayer AND they made a plan for protection.

This is attractive spirituality to me, it is trusting in, calling to God first but then it is thoroughly practical too, God gives us the facility of thought and the ability to make plans and it is not unspiritual to do so but is in fact us utilising the God-given talents we have.

So, when you face opposition and threats – whether they come in the form of internal monologue and doubts and fears (see vs10&12), or whether they come from doubt (vs10-11) or opposition from the outside, I urge you to respond first in prayer taking the trouble to the Lord AND then act, do what God’s told you to do, be decisive and use the ability and understanding God has granted you.

Making a plan with the resources you have is not to lack faith but to have faith believing that God has given you what you need to accomplish what He has planned for you.

So, don’t be immobilised but act (Nehemiah made a plan to arm the workers and to organise a strategy to gather if there was an attack, he posted watchmen by night).

Lastly, we read in this passage the crucial role that good leadership plays.  There is a moment when Nehemiah stands up and counters the negativity that was draining their faith in God and says;

“Do not be afraid of them, remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, sons, your daughter ” (vs14)

Again, a wonderful balanced spirituality; “remember the Lord…AND fight!” (vs14).  And because of these prayers AND action; ‘God frustrated their plan’ (vs15) as a result of their prayers.

PRAY AND ACT!

Overcoming opposition… Nehemiah 4:1-6

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The Christian life isn’t like a battle, it is one.  Christ Followers have an ever present enemy who will resist us, obstruct us and try to discourage us at any opportunity.

Most significant advances for God, whether those be personal in nature or corporate, will attract the attention and opposition of our enemy.  In fact if there is no opposition it’s worth asking whether you’re attempting anything great for God in your life!

Nehemiah chapter 4 is an example of kingdom advance being opposed:

  • In Nehemiah 2, Nehemiah called for the people to join together in rebuilding the wall
  • In Nehemiah 3 we read about the rebuilding project having begun in earnest
  • Yet as soon as that rebuilding project had begun opposition to it arose (Nehemiah 4:1-6)

Analysing the Opposition:

Anger/Rage (vs1) – the more you love God and serve God’s purposes the more you anger/frustrate and irritate the enemy.  Advancing God’s kingdom through your life shrinks his kingdom’s influence.  Don’t try to make people agnry, but anger in others isn’t always a sign that something is going wrong, but rather might well be that you’re doing something right as you serve God.

Jeering/Mocking (vs1-2) – opposition often takes the form of an attack on one’s identity, character, wisdom or ability.  “What are these feeble Jews doing?” – said Sanballat.  This is designed to humiliate, to influence the perception of others and to insert doubts into the mind and heart of the person being derided.  We do well to remember that our enemies name is the “Accuser” of the followers of Christ and so ought not to be surprised when we face such opposition.

Doubt (vs2) –  Another one of the enemies favourite tactics is to get into our minds and sow seeds of doubt.  “Will they restore it for themselves?”, Sanballat questioned.  Such questions can set off doubts that can cause the ones being opposed to back off, pull-back, to reconsider thereby capitulating to the opposition and being controlled by it.

Misrepresentation (vs2) – “Will they finish in a day?”, Sanballat said.  At no point did Nehemiah or the Jewish people rebuilding the wall claim that they would be finished in any short-time frame.  Opposition often takes the form of misrepresentation and distortion of what one has said or claimed they would do.  Unjustified misrepresentation cuts deep as one often isn’t afforded the opportunity to correct misrepresented facts about oneself.  Again the strategy here is to pull the rug out from underneath the person being opposed, distracting them from the task at hand and undermining their will to proceed.

Gossip/Slander (vs2-3) – Sanballat is making these comments and accusations in the company of his brothers, the army of Samaria and Tobiah.  Opposition often takes the form of slander and gossip.  When we face such things, we need to be careful not to get drawn into ourselves sinning too against those who slander against us.

Criticism & Exaggeration (vs3) – Tobiah joined the chorus claiming that the wall they were building was so weak that it would break down with even just a fox walking on it!  We need to know who we are, we need to also know what we are doing to allow unfounded criticism to not disrupt our progress or sow seeds of doubt.

Responding to criticism 

1. Take it to God!  “Hear, O our God, for we are despised…” (vs4)  Your Father is large and in charge of everything.  You have free access into His presence because of Jesus and your faith in Him.  You are the beloved child of the most high God.  So take the opposition you face to Him, lay it out before Him because you can and because He loves you.

Their prayer at this point essentially was; ‘defend us God & vindicate us Lord’.  When you take criticism and opposition to God in prayer it relieves you of the need to try to defend yourself or vindicate yourself.  Letting go of your right to feel wronged helps one to keep focussed on what you have been called to do and to keep focussed on being like Christ in the midst of this opposition.

2. Get back to the job at hand. “So we built the wall” (vs6)  After praying, they got back to the work at hand in spite of the opposition.  Isn’t that the best response to opposition, to proceed with the course of action you know God told you to proceed with?

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We will all face opposition to the mandates God gives us personally and corporately to advance His kingdom in our lives and through our church.  May we never get drawn in by the tactics of our enemy, distracted from the task, tempted to sin, but may we take it to God in prayer and may we get back to the job at hand!