|Series Theme: Living the Life|
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 1. Introduction
Acts 9:5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked”
When we enter a new year it is good to seek to view afresh this Christian life we are called to live and it seems to me there have been various things coming from heaven over these past months of this Covid-blighted year that we should make efforts to anchor so we don't lose them.
Our starter verse above records an unusual question. The yet-to-be apostle Paul, who saw himself as a zealous representative of God is brought to a halt by a bright light and hears a voice that challenges him, and he dares to ask the identity of the voice although he must have surely known the answer.
A New Year is really just a continuation of the old one but we have fresh hopes. And surely that is true as we face a year when the virus is quashed under vaccines but, if I may reiterate my starting thoughts in a slightly different form, I believe we face a danger. It is that we try to go back to life as it was, Christian life as it was, but the past year has been a wakeup call to see it all differently; it will not be the same.
As Christians we are called to ‘live the life' that the Lord has bought for us but it is far more than most of us have thought and it starts by asking afresh, who is it we worship, who is it that calls us, how does He think, what sort of people does He want us to be? These are the thoughts I feel we need to be pondering for these days ahead.
I am sure most of us would be able to give an instant answer to Saul's question because we have The Book, and we are looking at it all retrospectively. It's obvious, it is Jesus, the risen and ascended Son of God who died for our sins and who now sits at his Father's right hand in heaven, ruling over the kingdom of God until a time comes when he will leave heaven again and come as conquering king (Rev 19) and wind up this present age. Yes, we know all that and it is important that we do keep that big picture before us every day of our lives, but there are some other things, the nitty-gritty details if you like of the nature of the life he calls us to, which reflect on the character and nature of God Himself. That's what this is all about.
Immediately your mind might go racing on, if you are well taught, to think of the God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise, who is everywhere and the eternal creator of all things. That might be enough to distinguish Him from us, but it is how He impacts on our lives and the way we understand our lives that we perhaps need to be looking at, because these things are vital if we are to regain a right picture of the Christian life that it seems the Lord has been hinting at during this period of recent upheaval, fear, and death. What does the Lord want to remind us of through these short meditations? What does the Bible reveal about Him that makes the Christian life unique, with characteristics that reflect what He is like? Rather than looking for New Year resolutions, can we seek for a clearer view of the nature of the life we are called to, and the way we interact in it with the God who reveals Himself to us through His Son, who simply replied to Saul, “I am Jesus”? That was enough.
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 2. Thinking
Isa 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord .”
Is it presumptuous to suggest we can think like God? I mean, after all we have the Bible and surely the point of the Bible is that we learn how God thinks, what He thinks, how He acts and why He acts, and so, surely, these all suggest that God wants us to get to think like He does?
But here is the problem: the God we know and worship is staggeringly different from us – in might, in power, in knowledge, in wisdom and so much more. We see the world from a tiny viewpoint, from a self-centred and often godless viewpoint (sorry, that just means we don't think about Him much of the time), we understand so little – about Him, about ourselves and about others.
Our ways of thinking are so different from His, and we're going to examine that difference in the days ahead. They are probably things we've heard before, things we've read, and yet so often we allow ourselves to think tiny thoughts, selfish thoughts, misguided thoughts confused thoughts, thoughts that aren't like His thoughts. Yes, His thoughts are not tiny, not selfish, not misguided, not confused. God has total clarity, total understanding, total knowledge, and His concerns, amazingly, are turned towards us. Yes, His thinking is so unlike ours.
Let's start the year by asking the Lord to remove the debris of the past out of our thinking and be able to ‘see' more clearly. Let's begin by thinking about the misconceptions we have when we first turned to Christ. Prior to that we might have thought, “God isn't interested in me,” and thus carried on our lives in blissful (or whatever is the opposite of blissful) ignorance because all the while He was watching us, with a heart full of love for us, patiently waiting for the right moment when the Holy Spirit would be able to speak into us and convict us of our need of Him.
Or there is that other delightful thought that my dear mother used to say before she turned to Him: “Oh God must be far too busy with all He has to do to worry about me.” And then she dared pray and He healed her of her smoking habit and her lifelong bronchitis. Wonderful! But in so many ways before we turned to Him our thinking was wrong, was different from His.
But then we turned to Christ and we thought it had all happened in the very moment we were born again. Yes, we had been redeemed, a work done. Well not exactly, we took a while to realise that, yes, redemption is a one-off work but also a life-long work. We are all of us ‘works in progress.'And then one day we blew it and said sorry but still felt guilty and so embarked on a course of action designed to appease God and get Him back on our side, without realising that once we said sorry, that was it, end of story as far as that fault was concerned. He was more concerned to help us not repeat it. So many ways where our thinking has to be brought in line with His, so many ways where we need to submit our minds to His, for He thinks differently to us.
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 3. Foolish Things
1 Cor 1:27a “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.”
We place a lot in store in being wise thinkers. You know the truth of it if someone says to you (or implies it by the way they treat you), “You're stupid!” We don't like that! We like to think, we think wisely, are right in what we think, are right about what goes on in our minds. We're happy to say we're not particularly clever, but not foolish!
The world exalts philosophers, or big thinkers in politics or science or whatever. The history of philosophy is full of ideas about ‘meaning', about what different clever people through the ages have thought was ‘wise'. Smart atheists of recent decades have mocked the Cross of Christ, just as Jews and Greeks did in Jesus' day. We all have values when it comes to thinking ‘proper thoughts'.
The apostle Paul was of a different mind: “we preach Christ crucified… foolishness to Gentiles”, (v.23) he said, and then comes the big ‘BUT': “but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (v.24) Do you see that? The Cross may appear stupid to an unbelieving world but as far as God is concerned, it releases power and is the only way that the world can be saved – and that is wisdom!
When you hear the call of God on your life that is first perceived as Holy Spirit conviction, like a drowning man gasping for air, you grab at whatever straw is thrown you. It doesn't make logical sense but you heard the message and you grabbed for it – Christ died for me! I only sense the tip of the iceberg of his incredible love for me, but it is enough. No doubt further down the path I will understand more.
And then we start learning about justice and our lostness before the face of a holy and righteous God, our hopelessness and helplessness as we struggled to become good but couldn't. We saw him reaching out to do in us what we couldn't do – bring forgiveness, bring cleansing, bring sonship, bring redemption, bring a process of sanctification, and a hope of glory. But none of it made sense to our original unregenerate minds, it seemed pure foolishness, but it was the only thing on offer as we bowed in conviction of our sin and we just took it and, if it had been a big film sound track we would have heard a big deep voice, “And so it begins!”
Why has it to be this way? Well, as Paul went on to say, “so that no one may boast before him.” (v.29) If it made sense to human intellect, if we were able to achieve greatness on our own, we would simply end up with boosted egos who never turned to God for the ongoing daily resources we need. No we need faith in the foolish!Making sense of the world and our lives, starts with God and His revealed wisdom – the Cross of Christ. We need to start this year with a reaffirmation of the wisdom and weakness of the Cross and thank God that it is the sole reason we are saved. Foolish? Maybe, but at the Final Judgment, who'll be laughing then?
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 4. Weak Things
1 Cor 1:27b “ God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
When we are young we seem to have bounding energy that feels like it is without limit, so much so that we take it for granted. We run we jump, we play, we walk miles, and never notice it. As we grow we may participate in games and sports where strength and stamina are the values we seek for. In our twenties and thirties energy continues to flow but then, as we come to our forties and fifties, we start to feel a few limitations and when sixty and seventy arrive we definitely know weakness.
But all of this is a physical focus and there are other sorts of strength that the world aspires to; stamina is linked to perseverance, power is linked to purpose, energy is linked to endurance. We have goals in life, dreams to fulfil and in so many ways strength manifests itself. When I was in my early twenties, a girl said to me once, “You have the strongest personality of anyone I know.” I didn't realise that she meant I was self-absorbed and arrogant, but even self-absorption can make us look strong, but all of that is a deception.
We encourage our children to “Be strong!” which is fair enough until they come to the point of realising that strength alone is not going to get them through life. If helps up to the point when we have to say, “God, I can't do this, I need your help,” to which comes, “No, my child, you need to surrender.”
Jacob, who manifested a life of self-absorption, wrestled with God (Gen 32:23-30) and then limped for the rest of his life as a reminder that wrestling with God is a pointless exercise and the very act of doing it simply points out our self-centred foolishness that insists on having its way.
The chief priests were strong but Jesus came with humility that seemed weak when he surrendered to them, to demonstrate on the Cross the strongest act expressed through a human body that's ever been known. What looked weak, moved and changed the world for ever. His refusal to curse meant he remained the perfect sacrifice and despite all that the world, Satan and his demonic minions could throw it him (see Psa 22:12,13,16) he refused to conform to their ways and what would have been their responses if the tables were turned. That was real strength seen in visible weakness!
Mahatma Gandhi is attributed with saying, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” I'm not sure I understand that for where I have stood, I have come to realise that when we are ‘strong' we tend to look down on those who offend us as being weak and we refuse to acknowledge the parts we played, but when we are confronted with our own frailties and vulnerabilities, we realise we need God, we are small and weak and we get it wrong just as much as those who have offended us, our needs are just as great as theirs and our failures need just as much forgiving as theirs, and they need our forgiveness and it is only pride (self-strength) that stops us giving it.We'll consider more of weakness tomorrow but for the moment let's recognise that all of us have our weaknesses at some time and weakness helps us face reality and stir us to call out to God.
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 5. God's Power flow
2 Cor 12:9b “my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Yes, it's the same message because it takes a long time for God-principles to sink into human minds. The JBP version puts it well: “ My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely.” Was that why Peter was allowed to go through his threefold denial, to break his pride and self assurance (that declared that even if the rest denied Jesus he never would (Mt 26:33)? Was it so he would no longer be the guy changing feet in his mouth? God allows us failures so somehow we will eventually get the message, it's not our strength that achieves greatness in the kingdom of God, but His – which we only draw on when we come to the end of ours, i.e. we genuinely recognise our weakness, and this is best seen when we are forced down on our knees.
This is not to say that we should purposely get it wrong, simply that when we do and the Spirit convicts us, we're in the best place to face the reality of our false opinions about ourselves.
The apostle Paul was, in a sense, at the top of his game. He had achieved great things as he walked hundreds if not thousands of miles taking the gospel to those who had not yet heard it. He had received amazing revelations but, “in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” (v.7) We don't know quite what it was; some suggest he had weak eyes or some other physical limitation but he describes whatever it was as something that Satan used to pull him down. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you.” (v.8,9)
It felt like such a drag on his life, almost a hindrance to him, so that three times he poured out his heart to his Lord, pleading with him to remove it. No, said the Lord, my grace is all you need. And then He added that killer of pride, “my power is made perfect in weakness.”
The record of Acts shows Paul moving in signs and wonders, performing miracles, bringing healings and deliverances (e.g. Acts 19:11,12) yet when he first wrote to the Corinthians, having moved on from having been with them a year and a half, he testified, “ I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.” (1 Cor 2:3) but then testified how his preaching had come with such power of the Spirit.He learned a lesson all preachers need to learn: it's not “with wise and persuasive words,” so that, “your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power.” (v.4,5) So much of the time in church we see preachers seeking to appear clever, erudite, knowledgeable and scholarly and people's intellects get strengthened but their spirit remains untouched, and pride abounds. When God's power is there, the hearts, minds and spirits of God's people are touched, and it all starts back in the preachers place of solitude where a recognition of these things forces him to his knees in weakness, the place where anointing comes that is revealed so often in the not-so-perfect sermon. (Again not an excuse for bad sermons that do little to feed, challenge or envision God's people, but a simple recognition of spiritual dynamics.)
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 6. Not by Might
Zech 4:6 “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty.”
OK, here it is the same lesson we've been considering but from a different angle. We might expand this verse to read, “Not by intellectual greatness achieved through university training, not by clever human planning, smart strategies or witty repartee (all of which tend to glorify human beings) but by revelation from on high and spiritual energy that flows through His word and glorifies Him.”
I have picked up a number of qualifications over the years and I am a fairly tall, strong man, but none of those things count for much in the kingdom of God. I am not deriding university qualifications or anything else like that, but in the kingdom of God, they count for little and may indeed be a hindrance.
The apostle Paul, after listing off all his qualification concluded, “what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.” (Phil 3:7) Another version puts it, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (v.8) He came to understand that all of his own abilities, his own experiences, count for nothing as I live out this moment under the reign of king Jesus. Yes ‘might' or ‘power' tends to be far more than mere physical might, it is so often intellectual might, the way we think. When we think strongly, we speak strongly and strong speaking sounds impressive and powerful, but so often it brings so little.
It's by my Spirit, says the Lord, not by your own personal human strength, whether it be physical or intellectual, as important as they may be for day to day living. Picking up on what we said in the previous study about anointing, I will always remember an experience my wife and I witnessed many years ago. We were at a Bible Week with about three thousand other people. Every evening was the main event with big worship and big preaching. Each night there was ‘great' preaching and at the call-out at the end, a couple of dozen people made their way down to the front to respond to God and receive prayer. And then on about the fifth night (and there were different speakers each night) there came this man whose speaking was a bit rough and he wasn't eloquent and he eventually came to the end (and we were both thinking negative thoughts about the quality of his preaching) and he very simply invited people to respond and over three hundred poured down the front. That was anointing! We repented! We had just learned something fundamental to the kingdom of God.When will we learn that if we see anything great in the kingdom of God this year, it will be by the Spirit of God on the tiller, not the hand of man, the wind of the Spirit in the sails of the Church, not all the puffing and blowing of inflated egos of human beings? That is probably the most important question we will pose this year.
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 7. Died!
Jn 12:24 “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
I find there are certain parts of scripture that, at first sight, I don't like. So this is Jesus speaking about himself – and us! We have been thinking throughout this week about human wisdom, human strength, and human energy, all of which are vital for living our daily lives but all of which can be a stumbling block that prevents the Holy Spirit having His way and achieving the will of God through us. Yes, Jesus said this about himself, but the more you read your New Testament the more you realise it also applies to us.
When it comes to this verse, I can understand Jesus applied it to himself, having to die on the Cross to achieve redemption for us, but when it comes to us, that doesn't seem so comfortable – at first sight at least. It's like Lk 9:24 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me,” but then I realised something: for Jesus taking up his cross meant going towards Calvary, for us it is walking after Calvary – we HAVE died when we came to Christ.
Romans 6 speaks of this. For us, taking up our cross is a reminder of what has already happened and that we are both dead in Christ and are being raised again in Christ. I don't have to look forward to the seed of my life falling into the ground and dying, it already has. It did on the day I laid down my life, gave it to Him and was born again. Yes, I do need reminding of that, that I have died and in him I am dead, and so it is his life flowing in me, raising me up and making me what I am today.
THIS is what makes us so radically different from people around the world in other religions. I don't have to strive to reach God, appease God or get God on my side, I don't have to offer sacrifices to Him to please Him, I don't have to worship Him to placate Him. I've died! As Paul wrote, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone , the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17)
While we still have our own self-centred life with its propensity towards godlessness (combined otherwise known as Sin) then we will never have the power of God flowing through us in the measure He wants. Peter declared, “I will lay down my life for you,” (Jn13:37) but he was only able to do that after he had ‘died' in failure and Jesus raised him up by his acceptance of him after the resurrection.
Peter was never the same again and when we came to Christ and he accepted us, we too were never the same again. We had let go and died to the old life and we have received both forgiveness and his Spirit and so in both mind and spirit we were utterly dead to the past and alive to God's new life for me. I just need reminding of that daily as I count myself “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11) Hallelujah!
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 8. Strange Thinking
Lk 19:26 “to everyone who has, more will be given.”
The upside-down kingdom is how some speak of it, the fact that in the kingdom of God world values are often reversed, so what does this present verse mean?
Let's cut to the chase: he or she who is ‘rich' in Christ, ‘rich' in the Gospel, ‘rich' in faith (Jas 2:5), ‘rich' in good deeds (1 Tim 6:18), ‘rich' in generosity (2 Cor 8:2),‘rich' in their whole-hearted commitment to and reliance upon God (Lk 12:21), this person will find an even greater abundance of blessing, goodness, revelation and power being poured out on them from on high.
Hearts that are fully open to God become a channel of blessing from God. You know when it is by your prayer life, your life in His word, your life seeking His will, your life reliant on Him, and being obedient to Him.
Oh yes, ‘rich' in these things means that we experience much of them, have an abundance of them, have lots of them,' whatever the ‘them' refers to of those things above. May that be us!
Perhaps we should put this in context. The situation is, we are shown, in the home of Zacchaeus the chief tax collector who has just been invited by Jesus to host a meal for him, and has clearly surrendered his life and thinking to Jesus (Lk 19:5,9). Addressing Zacchaeus, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (v.9,10) and it is in this context that he goes on to tell the parable of the servants using what their master gave them and concludes with our verse above: “to everyone who has, more will be given.” So what are we to make of this?
It is almost as if Jesus is taking the amazing faith change that had just occurred in Zacchaeus and building on it. He speaks of a life where we are gifted by God and are clearly expected to use that gifting. If this tax collector has just come to the Lord we have witnessed a little amount of faith – his response to Jesus – resulting in a great transformation. New birth we might say comes courtesy of the Holy Spirit and once He comes, the door has been opened to receive all the blessings of heaven that will be seen in the form of guidance, wisdom, understanding, learning, deliverance from past bondages and so much more.The context shows this verse as being seen first in the small amount of faith we are enabled to have in response to the Holy Spirit's convicting which then, as we said above, opens the door for so much more. But it did need that small amount of saving faith to start with, that ability to surrender to God, receive Jesus' salvation, believe for what God offers, and then, day by day, continuing to respond in little amounts of faith which, again, open the door for the Lord to bless, empower, reveal, and it is as we use each of these things are they multiplied. God wants to multiply what we are and what we do ‘in Christ'. Hallelujah!
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 9. Strange Economics
Isa 55:1c “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”
I have always found this a mystifying verse at first sight. Paraphrase and other modern versions tend to add the rider, ‘It's all free,” but that half misses the point. We normally expect to have to buy our resources, pay something for them, that's how things work, nothing is free, we have to pay for our goods at the cash tills.
But this is prophetic imagery. What do wine and milk represent? The goodness and pleasures of life and the resources for life. Normally we expect to pay for these things, struggle to achieve these things, earn salaries to get these things, but in the kingdom it is different; pleasures and basics come as gifts, yes free gifts from God, all we have to do is receive them. Christ on the Cross has paid for them for us. Hallelujah!
Let's try and dig a little deeper into these things to see the wonder of what is here.
Advice is often given when responding to advertisements, “If something appears too good to be true, it probably is.” And perhaps someone might add, “Nothing comes free,” and in life generally that is true. If we want success, we have to work for it, whether that means studying all hours for exams or working all hours to create a successful business or practising all hours for a sport. Success comes through time and energy.
But in the kingdom of God, in the spiritual word where Jesus reigns, it is very different because the truth is that Jesus has already done all the paying. In a supermarket I use regularly, they give points for every pound you spend and eventually these points mount up and they send you vouchers that you can use to purchase more goods. So when it comes to ‘buying' the resources of the spiritual life and the pleasures of the spiritual life, I have no money that could buy them but, in a sense, Jesus hands me vouchers that HE has earned that he is giving me, vouchers that ‘purchase' these things for me.
Now of course there is another truth to be noted, that when my supermarket sends me their vouchers I have to make use of them, I have to redeem or claim them by handing them over in exchange for the goods. These vouchers arrive every couple of months through the post and I carefully put them in my desk. Now it is possible I leave them there and forget them and thus get no benefit from them.
Now the same thing is true of all the grace (for that is what Jesus' ‘vouchers' are) Jesus has for me. I can't earn it because i) Jesus has already done that on my behalf and ii) I already have it, this grace. It is mine, it's here, I just have to appropriate it, claim it and use it.
Now that sounds almost too easy so how does it work. I want to suggest it is very simple. There are three simple steps for this to be worked through. First, when I pray I am going to heaven's ‘counter' and by faith I claim this grace for the day ahead and thank God for it.
Second, I need to declare my availability for this grace will be poured into my lap, so to speak, when I turn up to listen to what the Spirit wants to put on my heart to do so, third, I need to be obedient to what He then leads me to do. As I do it, the grace flows, the enabling is there, the resources are mine and the joy flows. Wonderful! Simple but true. I can't work for that grace just receive it and use it as He leads me. Hallelujah!
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 10. Viewing Differently
Mt 14:17 “ We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Limitations. Shortages. Economic Gloom. The inheritance of a Pandemic. Naturally speaking we are in an economically dire time. The cost of the Pandemic has been phenomenal and only as the dust starts to slowly settle will we really start realising the extent of its effect and the natural response is to panic.
But we are no longer ‘natural' people we are to be living a supernatural-dimension life, sadly an alien thought to many Christians, but I wonder in these days of increasing austerity, can we Christians be known for our generosity and hospitality as we let Jesus take a handful of food and use it to feed thousands? Can we learn to be a people, like disciples of Jesus, who flow in more than ‘the natural'? This needs some serious thought.
Bricks are hard and dense and cannot be walked through, but Jesus appeared to when he turned up in a locked room (Jn 20:19). Water is fluid and unable to take the weight of a human being, but both Jesus and Peter walked on water (Mt 14:25,29). Five loaves and two fish might just feed a couple of families but Jesus fed well over five thousand with them. Dead people stay dead but Jesus raised a number of dead people (Mt 9:18,25, Lk 7:12,15, Jn 11:14,44). When will we realise that the Son of God who is reigning today at the Father's right hand (1 Cor 15:24,25) is not limited by material restrictions by which the rest of us are limited?
The Bible is full of instances of where God steps over the boundary of material possibilities and we need to remind ourselves of these as we are bombarded with more and more news of people out of work, people who are finding it difficult to make ends meet – and that may include us – and dire predictions of tax rises and other tactics to handle the massive debt created by the Pandemic of 2020.
We started this train of thinking with, “ to everyone who has, more will be given,” and then continued, “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” So let's add a further intellect-challenging verse of scripture: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Lk 6:38)
This is why I said above, can we Christians be known for our generosity and hospitality in a day when everyone else is counting costs, tightening belts and so on. Is it possible that we can learn to reassess the real values of life and be a people who see others with the eyes of Jesus? He had the power of heaven available to him and whenever a practical need arrived, accompanied by faith that opened their hearts to him, he blessed them and met the need. Thus, “ The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5). At the gate Beautiful, Peter declared, “ Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.” (Acts 3:6) There's an interesting attitude with which to face the days and months ahead!
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 11. Viewing Differently 2
Lk 5:5 “we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Human endeavour has produced nothing. Peter had allowed Jesus to use his boat from which to preach to the crowds. He'd been up the whole of the previous night and now has to endure a sermon when he would probably prefer sleep, but what a lesson follows!
Be available to Jesus, even when you don't feel like it, and watch out! Their blessing nearly sunk their boat; Jesus doesn't do anything by halves. Peter hadn't just stayed awake and been available, he had responded and been obedient which is even more amazing when you think on what we've just said. But obedience is really just giving Jesus space to bless – us, others, and him. (I believe he enjoys blessing us!)
But behind all this is this same lesson we've been trying to take hold of these recent days, that our God is supernatural, that he is not bound by the laws of the material world He designed and created, as seen most recently in the example of the fives loaves and two fish. A tiny example with amazing consequences, that seems (for those with eyes to see) to blaze out of scripture like a beacon bonfire that sheds a unique light, the truth that with God nothing is possible.
Yes, Jesus said it, “with God all things are possible,” (Mt 19:26) and “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mk 9:23) Jesus reiterated it in prayer to his Father, “everything is possible for you,” (Mk 14:36) but added the rider, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” There is also his declaration, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Lk 18:27)
Within those few verses are some important realities. First, “with God , all things are possible.” and “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” We are bound by the laws of nature but God isn't. It's His world,. He designed it, He made it, and He can change it. Why should we be surprised at that?
But Jesus' prayer adds another vital truth. Yes, God can do anything He wants, but not everything fits into His perfect will. So yes Jesus, in very human mode, wished that the time of abuse, rejection, pain and anguish that was coming shortly might be taken away – and God could do it! – but the plan from the foundation of the world to deal with the sin of mankind on the cross, required it. As terrible as it would be, the separation between Father and Son that it would create, the awfulness of the experience of taking on himself all the sins of the world, as well as the awful emotional and physical pain, all of this was necessary to conform to the plan, the only possible plan.And therefore as we ask the Lord to build faith in us for the days ahead, our prayer should not be, “Bless me, Lord,” but “Lord, please teach me, envision me, release faith in me, so that YOU can do what only you can do, through me, as YOU wish, at it fits YOUR plans, YOUR will,” for only then will we be in a fit state to be used so the Lord can pour forth the blessings of heaven through us, in whatever form HE wants that to take. Remember it is “ seek first HIS kingdom and HIS righteousness.” (Mt 6:33) to which the Message version helpfully adds, “ You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” Amen!
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 12. Transformations
Ex 4:2 “what is that in your hand?”
God chooses people to work with Him. It's His earth, it's our earth and He delights in involving us in His plans, in fact His plans for the earth are all about us. The first clue came for Moses when he saw a burning bush that wasn't burning. The second clue came when a voice spoke to him out of that bush. The third clue came when the Lord told him He had seen His people and had come down to save them but NOW, “I am sending you.” (Ex 3:10) A somewhat prolonged conversation ensues in which Moses protests that God must have the wrong man while God explains the mission will be successful because of the things He will do. Moses will merely be the mouthpiece for this venture, God will be the one who does the main stuff.
So as the discussion draws to a close the Lord decides to up the temperature with some miracles and simply starts by asking Moses what it is he has in his hand.
It's just a staff, my walking stick, my support, the thing I use to steer the sheep, my work implement, if you like, just something very ordinary. You mean like a few loaves and fish, or jars of water, or a small pot of oil (1 Kings 17:12)?
It seems the Lord delights in taking the ordinary, the stuff we have at hand each day, and transforming it, but in each case we have to do something with them – throw it down, break them to give them to others, pour them out, pour it out – and as we do so he transforms it. We don't do the transforming, He does. We just do the letting go. What have you got? A pen, a kitchen, a bank account, a listening ear, an encouraging voice? How might the world be different in a year's time because we let him transform them.OK, let's tap the nail in your coffin of self-endeavour that needs burying. How much did you prevent you from getting Covid-19 in 2020? You stayed out of harm's way and performed the washing, masking, social distancing, great. So you did have a part to play. But how much of your actions actually killed off the virus across the land, how much of your activity actually brought an end to the Pandemic? Only as much as others instructed you to do. The rest you left to providence. Yes, self-endeavour does play a part in our lives. Moses had to do things in the course of delivering Israel. So what do our nations need most? Revival, God coming in sovereign power to deliver us. Notice the word sovereign. We can pray, we can fast, we can witness, we can proclaim, but until He turns up nothing is going to happen. What's that in your hand? Give it to Him, submit it to Him for Him to sovereignly transform. He has the power, not you and me.
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 13. Lose it all
Phil 3:7 “whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”
This was Paul who had had so much going for him. A Roman Jew, a good upbringing, a good family name, well taught, part of Club- Pharisee, highly thought of by the religious community. Oh yes, he had it all going for him and then Jesus ruined it all, or to put it another way, Jesus showed him that all that was worthless when compared to seeing the glory and presence of God in the kingdom of God.
Knowing and experiencing Jesus, not only on the Damascus road, but every day after that, that was what made life be different, what made life come alive, what put new meaning and purpose into his life.
Let's look at this verse more carefully. “Whatever were gains to me.” Have you ever noticed that? One modern version says, “ things that were so important to me,” while another says, “I once thought these things were valuable.” They all highlight the value we placed on things in our lives.
Paul in Phil 3 goes on to say how he had relied upon his background, his upbringing, his training, his personal zealousness, his reputation, all the sort of things you and I rely upon. The past year has seen medical experts, top scientists, top politicians, all turning up on TV to explain their views as an expert, as a top person in charge, and then some of them have caught the virus and they were suddenly bedbound, they were suddenly struggling for life, putting their hands in the medics but utterly powerless themselves.
Suddenly all those things they had previously relied on, now proved to be worthless. When you are fighting for your life, your family background, your upbringing, your education, your training and even experience, and certainly your reputation, count for nothing. That's how Paul felt about knowing Christ, having a relationship with God through Christ. None of those things counted for a jot. When you stand before the Holy God and you suddenly see your nakedness and dirtiness, you realise all those things count for nothing.
We put great store in being liked by others, being approved by them, being accepted by them. Peer pressure is a powerful thing but it can enslave and it can certainly hinder in the service of the King of Kings. If we are constantly looking over our shoulder to see if we are winning the approval of others, we may find that fickle ingredient in life evaporates away.Living life like this probably also means we have never moved in the power of God because once you do, you realise it is His power source and it only continues to flow as long as you are obedient. Thus if you rely on another foundation, on others approval, you will not be looking to God, relying upon Him, and therefore no longer flowing in his supply. This is all about examining our values as believers. The experience of 2020 was challenging those values. Is it time we lost some of those things that really mean so little when it comes to the crunch, that we lose them for the sake of knowing Christ and his power?
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 14. Faith & Love
Gal 5:6 “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
As we started this series we declared our intent was to seek to view afresh this Christian life we are called to live and they have turned out to be things that are quite contrary to the ways that the world thinks. Just recently we have been thinking how God's provision for us is not limited by material limitations but now we go backwards, so to speak, by observing the most basic and most fundamental elements of the Christian faith.
One paraphrase version speaks of “ faith expressed in love” while another puts it, “faith which expresses itself in love,” but it seems to me that the emphasis they bring is on OUR action, our response, in our love for God we express faith, and I am sure that is partly right, but there is another deeper way, I believe of viewing this. The apostle John wrote, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19) Put it another way, we have love because we are loved, because we are the recipients of love. God made us to be people capable of giving and receiving love, knowing something of what love means and we are what we are today because we have been loved and we look into a future in which we anticipate more of this love. We live, with Him, in an environment of love; it is like the air we breathe, it's all around us.
Much of the time Christians focus their thinking and their ‘spiritual actions' on reaching out to God, of performing ‘worship' or ‘prayer' as vehicles not only expressing our love but as means of reaching Him. We ‘do' to get near Him, we ‘do' to achieve things and yet our verse above suggests a possibility of something else, of faith being an expression of living in this fish tank of love, of us swimming in it.
In context Paul was saying, put aside all your religiosity, your religious thinking, the only thing that matters is the way faith oozes out of your live saturated by God's love. We don't HAVE to have faith, because when we realise we are in this environment of love, faith will naturally flow through us, as we hear the whispers of God and respond the His advances of love, advances that were seen in the Cross, received as the Spirit was imparted and which will continue for ever: today, tomorrow and into eternity, His love. So yes, like the air we breathe, His love surrounds us and like the air around us we can take it for granted, but faith appreciates it and soars in it.Can you see this? The possible life for this year, seen not as a series of actions, or of church performances, but as life in an existence that IS love because we are ‘in Him' and He IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16). When we become aware of this, all we think, say and do is an expression of faith that naturally flows out of being loved, of being aware of this entire environment of love in which we now exist. Maybe we hadn't been aware if it before, but now we bathe in it, swim in it, rejoice in it, grow in it, worship in it, speak naturally to God in it, read His word with fresh eyes in it, love others in it. Do it, enjoy it, wonder in it.
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 15. To Know
Eph 1:17 “so that you may KNOW him better.”
This was at the heart of Paul's praying for the Church. As we go into the second half of January I want us to focus on our faith, things that shouldn't just be for theologians or Bible commentators but should be part of the library of knowledge of every Christian that can act as a resource to help them to stand strong, walk more purposefully, and run the race more dynamically to the end. They are all about knowing God, knowing His plans, knowing what He has for us, what He has done for us, and is doing in and through us and will do for us as we go with him into the unknowns of the year ahead.
But let's take in this verse more fully. This was the apostle Paul who was saying to the Ephesians that he had been praying for them that Jesus would give them “ the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” Note the positive, the definite article – “THE Spirit of….” All of the main versions have it; it is no accident. The suggestion must be that the Holy Spirit imparts wisdom (the know-how) and revelation (disclosed knowledge) to us, “so that you may know him better”. In other words knowing how it all works and being given insight behind the spiritual scenes, so to speak, will mean that we come to know, not only Jesus himself but all that he has for us.
That ‘what he has for us' is then spelled out in the next verses: “(i) the hope to which he has called you, (ii) the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and (iii) his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (v.18,19)It is almost like Paul works backwards here as he spells it out: hope, which is about the future (tomorrow onwards) which is actually the inheritance, the birth-right of all children of God which is expressed as power to live and take us into eternity. ‘Knowing' thus means experiencing him, knowing his life flowing in us that is being worked out in daily living.
So the life we live we live today is not about human endeavour, human effort, human activity, seen as rituals in church, rules to be followed and good things to be done, all motivated by the human mind, but our lives are Spirit-envisioned and Spirit-energised activity.But how does such thing work out in practice? I think it is what we have said so many times before, having hearts that are directed towards God, open and available to God, and obedient to God and which seek God in such ordinary things as praying and reading His word on a daily basis and asking the Spirit to fill us afresh daily. It is then that these things flow naturally in us.
Short Meds in ‘Living the Life': 16. Mystery
Rom 15:25 “the revelation of the MYSTERY hidden …. but now revealed and made known.”
We spoke yesterday about wisdom and revelation imparted by the Holy Spirit, and it's especially the word ‘revelation' that seems to call so strongly now. Revelation as we said before is disclosed knowledge, knowledge that was previously hidden. The Revelation of John, for example, the last book in the Bible, is prophetic insight shared by Jesus to John (Rev 1:1) about how things will be in the last days. In 2 Sam 7 Nathan the prophet comes and gives David the big picture of the future of both the present and the future (v.4-16) and so we read, “Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.” (v.17) In one sense the who Bible is God's revelation to us.
Hindsight is both a blessing and a bane. Having the completed Bible as we do means we have the whole picture in our hands and that is a blessing, but that means we often miss the struggles that people in the Bible had. Paul spoke of the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4, Col 4:3) or the mystery of the Gospel (Eph 6:19) or this mystery more generally, (e.g. Rom 16:25, Eph 1:9, 3:3,6,9, Col 1:26,27). Before Christ came there was this prophetic sense of a ‘coming one', a messiah, but that was all it was, a shadow in history. The prophets longed to understand what they were sensing (1 Pet 1:10). We now know what it was. Let's not miss out on the privilege we have of living in this time with this knowledge.
I wonder if that is how we see it – a privilege that we have of living in this present time with the complete Bible in our hands or on our bookshelves? But there we have it for so many, Bibles on bookshelves. They need to be in our hands for Paul wrote, that we are “saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thes 2:13b) i.e. we experience God's salvation as the Spirit works in us and our faith builds up daily our ‘belief in the truth'.
When Paul spoke of a ‘mystery' he was referring to the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament that hinted at a coming one and yet it had come with different hues – he might be an abused servant, he might a mighty king (and of course he turned out to be both) that it was confusing for scholars. It needed the events to be rolled out in history and then spoken into the spirit of this out-of-time apostle before what had been a mystery became clear. The truth is that the word of God is a mystery to many, very simply because they don't approach it in prayer and with a submissive heart, and so because it does seem a mystery, people fail to read it daily, fail to be fed by it daily, fail to be built up daily by it, fail to be transformed by it as the Spirit applies it.
And so the enemy whispers, “It's hard, you don't need it, you can get by without it.” A lie, in fact three lies! It is the foundation of our faith and it is food for our faith and so without it we feel unstable and worry, we feel ‘thin' and weak. I recently ran across a simple quote by a well-known Christian leader: “Anxiety comes from unbelief,” and I believe he is right and is why so many people are living in anxiety. They have not let God impart faith, confidence, and assurance through His word because they have kept the mystery book closed. Away with these lies, away with this folly. At times in history we have been known as ‘the people of the book'. May that be true again today as we cast off the negatives spoken in the world about it, and let God come again in both His Spirit and His Word and unshackle the Church.