Wisdom

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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Courageous Faith (Mark 10:46-52)

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If you think about it, this is quite an introduction we have to the blind man who cries out to Jesus in Mark 10.  As Jesus is leaving Jericho with a large crowd and His disciples in toe, Jesus encounters a man who is introduced in Mark’s gospel as; ‘Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus’ (vs46).  

A little digging reveals that this is not a flattering introduction at all.  This man’s name means ‘son of the unclean or foul one’!  What’s the story behind that name?  Now this extended family was seemingly not into uplifting names as Bartimaeus’ dad’s name means ‘foul or impure’.  And if that’s not enough Mark’s gospel records that this man who is son of ‘the unclean one’ is also tagged as a blind beggar!  He is disabled in his body, and due presumably to his condition he is one who makes a living by begging from others. 

How terrible to have names such as these, tags such as these attached to a person’s identity!  How damaging must that have been to him, how degrading, to feel like all you can do is to sit on the side of the road and call out to people you hear walking past, asking daily for their mercy and alms.

What’s your name?  Do you have a derogatory name or nick name, or a name that tells a sad story that has somehow become your story?

Well for this man, that day recorded for us in Mark 10 is going to be no ordinary day.  That day Jesus the son of God was going to pass by Bartimaeus.  He couldn’t see Jesus but he could hear the commotion, and when Bartimaeus was told who it was passing him by Bartimaeus began to cry out; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)  

We know from Jesus’ own assessment (see vs52) that this cry of Bartimaeus was a cry of faith in Jesus.  Faith is “believing God”, and Bartimaeus believed that Jesus in that moment was worth risking calling out to.  There were crowds with Jesus, self-important scribes and Pharisees.  According to those around Jesus, Bartimaeus did not warrant Jesus’ attention, he was not worthy of bothering Jesus.   But Bartimaeus believed that it was worth pushing through the opinions of others, if it meant he could get Jesus’ attention.  And so Bartimaeus reaches out to Jesus, believing that Jesus can transform his situation and believing that Jesus maybe saw him differently to all the others who could not get past his name, his upbringing, his disability or his way of scrapping a living…

Sometimes we have to overcome obstacles in our heads to get to really encounter Jesus.  When you are in a meeting and you feel like you want to respond for prayer during the worship or after the preached word, you face something milder but similar to what Bartimaeus faced.  “What will other people say or think?”  or “I am embarrassed, and I don’t want anyone looking at me.”  And so often it is possible to feel Jesus’ presence in the room in the moment and to feel like you want to encounter Jesus but you hold back for fear of others and what they will say.

But not Bartimaeus!  Those people who were trying to shut him down and keep him quiet only served to make him louder, insistent and more urgent; “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)  And because Bartimaeus pushed through, Bartimaeus stopped the Son of God, got Jesus’ attention (vs49) and had Jesus ask him; “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs51)

Bartimaeus was healed because he did not allow the thoughts of others to dissuade him.  Bartimaeus was more interested in encountering Jesus than bothered about caring what other people thought of him. 

Resolve today to be like Bartimaeus, to press through the thoughts of others or even just your perception of the thoughts of others – don’t let anything stop you from encountering Jesus, calling out to Him, for He loves to stop for those who seek Him out like Bartimaeus did.  And next time you have an opportunity to be prayed for – take it, take it with both hands, encounter Jesus and have your life transformed like Bartimaeus did.

Be Inspired (2 Kings 18-21)

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Be-Inspired

What do you want said at your funeral or written as an epitaph in your memory?  How about; “there was none like him among all…!” 

Hezekiah stands out in stark contrast to the many who went before and those who came after him the rest of verse 5 tells us.  And what was the secret to this glowing description of Hezekiah’s life and reign as king of Judah?

5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel…. he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. (2 Kings 18:5a,6-7)

Hezekiah believed God, and held on to his belief in God unswervingly.  He did not get into compromise and sin but kept God’s commandments and in response to his faith and obedience God was with him always and caused him to prosper.

Don’t for a moment think that Hezekiah had an easy time following God.  Hezekiah didn’t follow God or lead Judah in a time of ease or peace and security but rather did so in the presence of terrifying threats from the Assyrians!  The Assyrians had recently overthrown the northern tribes of Israel and had also overtaken all the towns around Jerusalem which was surrounded.

And yet Hezekiah trusted God, held fast to his God in the midst of great trials.  Hezekiah’s trust in God is expressed wonderfully in his prayer recorded in 2 Kings 19:15-19;

15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” 

What a prayer of faith!  A prayer that’s real about the circumstances and yet more impressed with His God.  And what a response from God through the prophet Isaiah;

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”  (2 Kings 20:32-34)

What an inspiration Hezekiah is!  Don’t you want to be like him?  How can you be?

5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel…. he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. (2 Kings 18:5a,6)

Let’s be like Hezekiah, let’s trust God, let’s hold fast to God when life is messy and confusing, let’s not depart from following God and keeping his commandments.  And then let’s see all that God will do in and through us.

Enough! (2 Kings 17)

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After a period of nearly 200yrs since Jeroboam’s succession from Judah, the northern tribes of Israel are eventually conquered by the Assyrians and deported into exile (2 Kings 17:6).  Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the writers of Scripture are very keen to make it plain as to why this happened.

“And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God…and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel…” (2 Kings 17:7-8)

This was an event that came about not because of bad military or political strategy (although the passage reveals there were mis-steps made), Scripture attributes the source of the capitulation and capture of Israel by Assyria as being God Himself as the active agent.

The whole of the chapter reads like a charge sheet being read out in a court room, the list of charges against the accused, the guilty one; 

      • You have sinned against your God who brought you out of Egypt and into this Promised Land
      • You walked in the customs of the nations whom I judged and drove out before you
      • You followed wicked evil kings who lead you into sin
      • You built for yourself your own places of worship, altars to false gods & served idols
      • You did wicked things before me, and made sacrifices to these false gods
      • You provoked me to anger (says God)
      • I warned you again and again through the prophets, but you would not listen and were stubborn (vs13-14)
      • You did not believe
      • You despised my commands
      • You even burned your sons & daughters as worship to false gods provoking me to righteous anger

And because of this the judgement comes; 

18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only… 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight. (2 Kings 17:18&20)

23…the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day. (2 Kings 17:23)

Yes, God is ‘slow to anger and abounding in love’ (Exodus 34:6) but that does not mean that eventually God will not say; ‘enough!’  God was patient, forbearing with Israel but eventually love for all those sinned against, all those who lost loved ones, love for all those babies sacrificed to false gods looked like God judging sin.  God had appealed again and again, urged them to turn from their wickedness – but they refused to with hard stubborn hearts.

So what can we learn from this for our lives?

May we not ever trust our hearts, which are so prone to lead us astray from serving the living God.  May we hold on to His words, will and ways laid out for us in Holy Scripture.  May we never tamper with His Word and make our own false gods suitable to our fancies and our modern culture’s preferences.  May we repent when and if we have sinned against Him, and may we worship our Holy God with holy reverence and as our loving response to all the love He has poured out to us through the gift of His precious Son, Jesus.

The Stuck Record (2 Kings 15&16)

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Over and over and over again in 1 & 2 Kings there is a type of phrase that repeats itself.  It’s a phrase that always describes the life and the rule of one of the kings of Israel (the Northern tribes) in a negative way.  It’s a phrase that is repeated not 3 or 4 times but is repeated 15 times in 1 & 2 Kings and three time in 2 Kings 15 alone!

It is used in 2 Kings 15:9 to describe King Zechariah;

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

And then again in 2 Kings 15:18 to describe the despicable King Menahem who committed atrocious sins (vs16);

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart all his days from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

And then again in 2 Kings 15:24 to describe King Pekahiah 

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

As we read these chapters we are reading the crescendo of evil that all started with the sin of Jeroboam back in 1 Kings 12-14, sin which continues to be referenced and is repeated 15 times over in the record of the kings of the northern tribes.  As the chapters of 2 Kings progress the reigns of the kings seem to to get shorter and shorter some reigning 1 month some 6 months, there is death and evil and insurrection and calamity…

And all of this is racing towards our the next chapter 2 Kings 17.  God is going to use Assyria to finally punish Israel and to stop forever the successive sinfulness of the northern kings who again and again continued in the sin of their forefather, Jeroboam son of Nebat.

What does this mean for you and for me?

As a father, as a parent; I am freshly struck by the impact we have on not just our own children but on successive generations.  We are modelling life for our children, we can’t turn it off, can’t stop it.  The question is what are we modelling?  What are we passing down to the next generation and the generations to come?

Jeoboam’s sin resulted in a stuck record legacy of ungodliness!  In 1&2 Kings there is a contrast of sorts to this legacy and that of King David.  I say this because there is another phrase that repeats over many of the kings of Judah in the south where God does not punish because of promises He made to David.  Even through King David was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination (he murdered, lied, committed adultery…) the Scripture honours King David as a man who’s heart was devoted to God.

So what will be said of me, of my heart of my life rhythm when I die one day?  Could it be said, will it be said that I was a wholehearted worshipper of God?  No one who knew me would ever be able to say; ‘he didn’t sin, make mistakes…’ but could they say – ‘He loved God and served God all his life’?

We pass on a legacy!  What legacy do you want to pass on?

Who are you listening to?

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There is a plethora of advice out there for us at any given stage in our lives – we need to choose wisely who we listen to!  

As God promised, Israel is torn in two after Solomon’s death as judgement for his many sins and his compromised heart towards God.  1 Kings 12 is one of those places in Scripture where we see the will and actions of men and women and those actions have ‘natural’ consequences and yet simultaneously those actions and consequences are attributed by Scripture to God’s sovereign workings.

After Solomon’s death his son Rehoboam is approached by his people who ask that consider easing the heavy burden of conscripted labour and taxes that his father had placed on them (for all his building works).  Rehoboam calls the old men who used to advise his father – they advise him to heed the call to lighten the burden.  Rehoboam abandons (1 Kings 12:8) their counsel and goes to his young contemporaries who advise him unwisely to speak harshly to the people about making their lives even harder under his rule!  This is bad advise and he takes it.  And as a result the people of Israel all rebel under the leadership of Jeroboam and all the tribes except Judah succeed from Judah and become the northern tribes with their own king.  Israel is divided and is never re-united.

And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Kings 12:13-15)

Rehoboam acted unwisely, was selfish, arrogant, did not listen to and was harsh with his people – it was his doing.  And yet Scripture attributes this moment to God’s sovereign plan – ‘it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that He might fulfill His word…’ (vs15).

So who did this?  Rehoboam or God?  Well both.  Rehoboam was unwise and sinful and therefore the kingdom was torn in two and yet God was at work to fulfil the judgement He had made on Solomon and  the prophesy He had spoken through Ahijah to Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 11:28-40).

Now, Jeroboam (now the king of the Northern tribes of Israel – called Israel from now onwards in the book) had heard God speak to him.  He had God promise to bless him and establish him as a king “IF” (there is that word again); 

“If you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.” (1 Kings 11:38)

Jeroboam had heard God speak to him, God gave him counsel… 

And yet Scripture records that Jeroboam didn’t listen to the counsel of God but rather listened to his own thoughts; ‘Jeroboam said in his heart…’ (1 Kings 12:26) & He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart.’ (1 Kings 12:33)

Jeroboam did not believe what God had promised but doubted and thought to himself – I can’t have people continually going back to Judah to worship at the temple in Jerusalem so I will build temples here in the North (in Dan and Bethel which was contrary to what God had commanded) and I will appoint my own priests for these temples (men not appointed by God) and I will make statues of golden calves for these temples (just like Aaron had done in the Exodus)!  More than this Jeroboam found counsellors who agreed with his ungodly plan (1 Kings 12:28).  This plan became sin for the whole nation of the north (1 Kings 12:30).  

Jeroboam had God’s wisdom and advise and promise – and yet he chose to ‘follow his heart’ and found counsellors to confirm his folly!  And so he set the Northern tribes on a disastrous course of idol worship which they never recovered from.

In 1 Kings 13 we read about a prophet sent by God from Judah to denounce Jeroboam’s self-styled worship.  This prophet is told by God to prophesy and then go home and not eat or remain in the Northern territory – but he too doesn’t listen to God and ends up being killed by a lion sent by God.

What can we learn from this all?

I am freshly invigorated to listen for God’s counsel, to read God’s counsel in Scripture and to not depart from it come what may.  I don’t want to be like Rehoboam, or Jeroboam or the prophet who had heard God and knew what God had said to him and yet departed from it to his own detriment.  May I, may we be those who listen to God and obey all He tells us to do.  

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.