Life is hard!

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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

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Laying down the law

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It is probably inevitable that the idea of propriety is so strongly ingrained in the psyche of the Afrikaner.  We traditionally grow up in an environment where rules and obedience are made very important.

So I was wondering: do we really experience, or even acknowledge, true freedom in our walk with God? Of course, in his discourse in Galatians, Paul is referring to the Old Testament Law, but it seems that in today’s Christian life, any expectation can become a law, whether openly or subtly enforced.

The power of expectation and propriety can dishearten a Christ-follower who wants to please God: how to talk, how to behave, what to do and what not to do, etc.  Sometimes so many structures are put in place in the church community that it may hinder people from the joyful experience of freedom in serving and following God, in response to His overwhelming love.

Of course order is important, and without structure very little is accomplished.  But what is the motivation behind these rules or the structure – to enable, or to control? In the church family, maybe we should stop laying down the law, and start letting go of the law.

The law has its place, it is not void of meaning. It confirms to us that we are sinful, that we cannot save ourselves, and that we desperately need a Saviour (Gal 3:10-11).  “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24).

Each believer is at their own place of spiritual growth, becoming more and more like Jesus.  We are all on the same road, following God, and should love and encourage one another, not restrict and control each other. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal 5:14).

I am learning about this freedom.  “Kancane kancane” (little by little) I am starting to understand my own freedom in Christ bought with His precious blood, and it becomes easier to practice grace and love towards others.

Gal 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”.

by Lise Oosthuizen

The power of promises…

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What are God’s ‘precious and very great promises’ Peter refers to in 2 Peter 1:1-4? After all they seem to contain incredible life transforming power as Peter says that “through them you might become partakers of the divine nature”!  So, what are the promises that Peter might have had in mind?

Maybe Peter was thinking of the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, and of Jesus as the promised Messiah that he referenced in his sermon at Pentecost… (Acts 2)

That seems likely as it would also fit the textual context here in 2 Peter 1 as he has just said that God’s ‘divine power’, has given us ‘everything we need for life and godliness’ (NIV). God’s power is not some impersonal force in Scripture, rather Peter is in all likelihood referring to the person of the Holy Spirit whom John also describes as our “Helper” (See John 14-16 in ESV)!

So, with the precious and very great promise of new life through faith in Christ Jesus as Messiah, and with the precious and very great promise of divine enabling power by the Spirit who leads us not into sin but into Christliekness (Galatians 5:16-24) as we keep in step with Him and as we are enabled by His power in us…

…we as people CAN share in God’s excellency, in God’s divine nature and character – it’s possible when we are living out our new life in Christ (Galatians 2:20) enabled by and Helped by the Holy Spirit.

So let’s remember these precious and very great promises of new life in Christ and the empowering and guiding the Holy Spirit our Helper, let’s draw on His help and in so doing become more and more like our Father who is in heaven.

By Gareth Bowley

He hit me!

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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.

Activated

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When Christ followers activate the unique combination of gifts, passion, talent and perspective that God has blessed them with to serve others something remarkable happens… Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10-11

 “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

It’s worth noting that the clear teaching of Scripture is that EVERYONE has received a gift, an ability that when empowered by the Spirit and activated to serve God’s kingdom purposes can be considered a spiritual gift.  More than that Scripture teaches here that we are not owners of these unique God-given abilities but that we are in fact ‘stewards’, we are those who have been entrusted something that belongs to someone else – to God.  These abilities are God’s, not ours, they’re entrusted to us and we need to steward them well for God’s purposes. It’s also worth noting that, Scripture never gives an exhaustive list of such gifts, and the lists that are given are not meant to limit what abilities given by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit can be considered ‘spiritual gifts’.   The feel of this passage is that there is a whole host of varied gifts which all put on display the remarkable the glorious grace of God for all to see and experience as people use their gifts to be a blessing to others. So every child of God has been given unique abilities by God, for God’s purposes and the exhortation here is that each one is to ‘use it’ to serve others. For example, the person with the gift of encouragement who just thinks encouraging thoughts but never actually does something with those things is gifted but is not fulfilling the purpose for which that gift was given and so is short circuiting God’s intended purposes for them, for others and for Himself. When we activate the gifts God’s entrusted to us three amazing things happen: 1) Other people get blessed  Because the gifts/spirit-empowered abilities God’s entrusted to us are from God and enabled by the Spirit, when we use them other people get blessed by God.  They encounter God’s love, God’s grace, God’s help, perspective, generosity, wisdom… I can not think of a time when I have seen a spiritual gift activated under the enabling influence of the Holy Spirit (who Galatians 5:16-25 says doesn’t lead us to sin but to incredible godly fruit) which did not thoroughly bless the other person. I know when someone encourages me, is generous towards me, hospital, caring, brings a prophetic word etc – I always feel built up, I feel like Inhave be blessed by God and them, when that person is being motivated by the enabling work of the Spirit.   These gifts we have been entrusted with are ‘to serve one another’. 2) We (the one who activated their gift) get encouraged Something wonderful happens inside us when we know we have been used by God, when we have obeyed the Spirit’s promptings!  It is exhilarating to be used by God, tank-filling to see someone blessed by God with you as the instrument in His hands…  My experience is that when I step out, when I am a good steward of the the gifts God gave me, when I use them to bless others, I in turn feel like I get most-blessed. 3) God gets glorified Peter’s direct teaching from this passage is that when we are good stewards of the good and varied gifts of God has entrusted to us, God’s grace gets experienced, God’s incredible nature gets put on display to other people and God gets the glory! Do we need any other motivation to step out and use the God-given gifts God our Father has entrusted to us?  Who doesn’t want these three results in their lives and in the lives of others?  These three things ought to be enough motivation to overcome laziness, fear of people or anything else that might hinder us from using the gifts God has entrusted to us.

Choosing not feeling…

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We don’t always feel like worshipping.  When the circumstances of our lives are dire, when we are feeling attacked by others or crushed by the pressures of some circumstance, we might not ‘feel’ like worshiping but that is exactly the moment we could to choose to worship God as David did from the cave of Adullam.

In this moment in David’s life he was being accused and persued by his own people as an outcast.  Psalm 57:4 captures the feelings he was experiencing;

My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts – the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords (Psalm 57:4)

In moments like this when it feels like everyone, everything is against me, it is possible to be overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings regarding your plight, in moments like these we are often more inclined to grumble concerning our plight…

But not David in this psalm.  David might feel desperate but he chooses to worship God in the midst of his trial, in the midst of the very real and present threat of danger he is in.

In verse 1 in prayer he throws himself into God’s mercy and declares that God is his refuge, a safe place to shelter in until the storms pass by.  But by verse 5 begins to worship, he might not feel like worshipping but worship he does;

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!  Let your glory be over all the earth. (Psalm 57:5)

He contrast between vs4&5 is extreme.  David has chosen to worship God, his eyes have lifted from his circumstances so that he sees God again as He is, exalted as the glorious One in the heavens!

Worship is a choice, not merely a feeling.  And when we choose to worship even in the midst of perplexing and or challenging circumstances we have chosen wisely.  We see more clearly, we get perspective, we  get reconnected to the experience of God’s love for us.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!  May we choose to worship not just when we feel like it but because God is worthy of our worship because of who He is and what He has done.

Keep calm and know…

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Keep calm and know I am your God, very near to you, your secure & safe place, I am sovereign and omnipotent & in my wisdom I have joined together my passionate commitment to my name & my glory to your well being and protection! So be still and know that I am God.

What are the foundations of peace, what enables us to be still in the midst of threatening circumstances, from this Psalm?

Covenant relationship (God is our refuge & strength, God has joined Himself to us vs1, God has named Himself according to the resolution ship He established with us ‘the God of Jacob’ vs11)

Proximity (God is ‘a very present help in trouble’ vs1, God is with us, like a river within the city walls ‘in the midst’ vs5, ‘the Lord of hosts is with us’ vs7&vs11)

Power and authority (God speaks and nations are directed/silenced vs6, God is in authority over all that happens on the earth vs8-9)

Certainty – God will work for the exaltation of His name vs10 and God will be exalted!  The Psalmist weaves together our need (for protection, safety and peace of mind) and God’s primary purpose (His glory).  Nothing is more certain than that God will work towards His own glory and that He will be exalted.  The good news for us is that God has tied His name and His glory to us His people. What that means for us is that the solid rock undergirding why we know God will act on our behalf will act for our good is that what happens to us is tied to the fame of His name because we are His people… And so we can be absolutely certain that our God will be with us, fighting for us, will be our refuge and strength because He is committed to glorifying His name through us!