25 May 2017

God Gives Strength Today

An intriguing balance exists between our part in God's work.  It is very easy to find ourselves tending to think God's work and the fulfilment of His promises depends on us.  When we tilt this balance to our efforts, it exposes our limitations.  It makes obeying God an imposing task because we recognise we are being asked to do something we cannot.

An example of this is seen after God miraculously brought His people out of Egypt.  He promised to give them an exceedingly good land, one "flowing with milk and honey."  God had given the land to His people, but there was one big problem (at least to people who did not trust God):  the land was inhabited by strong people in fortified cities.  God had given the land to His people, and their role was to enter in and possess the land.  Naturally the people thought it fell to them to "take" the land, and did not believe they had the ability to defeat their giant foes.  They compared their strength to others, found it lacking, and suddenly slavery in Egypt started looking good.

The fact is, they didn't have the ability to take the land - not by themselves, anyway.  From the giants they saw they compared their attempts to fight as grasshoppers against men, and they believed would be the grasshoppers crushed underfoot.  The vast majority of the people did not bring the power, the promise, or their past deliverance to bear on the predicament which lay before them.  This is a mistake we can make as well, thinking our entrance to the inheritance God has allotted depends on our strength or natural ability.  Faith in God proves giants to actually be as grasshoppers (which were on the menu for the Jews, by the way), and only those who trust and obey God will experience this for themselves.  Many people stop short of the grace of God and do not possess the gifts or activate the calling He has placed upon their lives because they do not trust Him enough to acknowledge their own weakness and simply obey Him by entering in.

Caleb and Joshua tore their clothes in grief and urged the people to consider God and not be afraid.  They said in Numbers 14:8-9, "If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.' 9 Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them."  God had given His people land with defined borders, and this is a picture of the inheritance God has for us in this life, a fruitful and blessed future for all who are born again.  He puts His Spirit within us because He delights in us by His grace.  Caleb and Joshua were right to say God would bring them into the land and give it to them, but at the same time they needed to walk on their own two feet.  God will be with us, even as He was with them.  If God tells us to enter in, through His strength we can.

When you face struggles in this life as a Christian, don't forget to remember and strengthen yourself in the promises of God.  What He has said He will do.  Those giants in your life are as fearsome as a loaf of bread before our mighty God and Saviour Jesus Christ.  The LORD is truly with us and we need not fear them.  You may not be a "fighter" and feel ill-equipped for the journey ahead, yet since God is for us who can be against us?  It's we who fail to trust God.  Isaiah 40:28-29 says, "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength."

23 May 2017

Answering God's Questions

For the discipleship course I am leading, we typically read through a chapter or two in a Gospel.  With the current course we are reading through the book of Matthew, and I enjoy how themes flow and build through each chapter.  For instance, one chapter may emphasise the power of Jesus over everything - over sin, every sickness, disease, demon, and even a raging sea!  I had a bit of an epiphany as I read through Matthew 22 recently, and it is wonderful God has ordained these moments for those who trust in Him.  The revelation of God is not only for prophets or pastors, but for every Christian who seeks the LORD and trembles at His Word.

Matthew 22 begins with Jesus speaking a parable to multitudes which included priests and Pharisees.  He spoke of a king who invited people to the wedding of his son.  Those who were initially invited made light of the invitation and others persecuted and killed his messengers.  Enraged, the king destroyed the murders and commanded his servants to invite any person they could find to the wedding.  All kinds of people - both good and bad - came as guests at the wedding.  Matthew 22:11-14 concludes the parable:  "But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. 13"Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' 14 "For many are invited, but few are chosen."  We are not told why or how the man entered the wedding feast without the appropriate attire, but the fact he was speechless implies he was without excuse.  He should have been dressed for the occasion and for his error he was cast out.

On the heels of this parable, Matthew 22 details three separate occasions when the religious elite were rendered speechless at questions Jesus posed - like when the king questioned a guest in the parable.  The Pharisees took their shot to entangle Jesus in His speech, and asked Him whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.  The Sadducees tested Jesus with a hypothetical question concerning the resurrection they did not even believe in.  Finally Jesus asked a question based on Psalm 110, proving the Messiah is not only the Son of David but the Son of God!  When Jesus spoke people marvelled, were astonished, and utterly silenced.  Concerning those unbelievers who tested Jesus, the chapter concludes in Matthew 22:46:  "No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions."

Now isn't that an amazing, enlightening connection between the Parable of the Wedding Feast and the interactions Jesus had with unbelievers?  Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God, stood before them offering a robe of righteousness through repentance and faith in Him.  The unbelieving priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, and others in the multitude did not believe Jesus was what He claimed to be.  As the religious authority they sought to discredit and kill Jesus rather than believe Him.  On the Day of Judgment they would be as the man without the wedding garment being questioned by the King of Kings, Jesus Christ Himself.  "Why didn't you believe in me?" He could rightly ask them.  And what could they say?  He had told them He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and for that they sought His life.  When God has revealed Himself to man through the wisdom of Christ's Words, demonstrated His love through the death of Christ on the cross, and proved His power through the resurrection, what can unbelievers say when He questions them concerning their unbelief?

Jesus asked questions unbelievers couldn't answer, but having our questions answered - or being asked questions we can't answer - does not necessarily lead to belief.  One cannot be reasoned into the kingdom of heaven, but faith in Christ is absolutely reasonable.  Belief and salvation is a gift of God by the power of the Holy Spirit who works in us.  God is not threatened by any question man throws at Him and can answer wisely in every case.  But if He asks a question we cannot or refuse to answer, shouldn't we consider the implications?  The Law stops our mouths, and our conscience reveals our guilt (Romans 3:19).  Why trust our doubtful questions more than God's answers?

22 May 2017

God's Love is Always

I was struck last night with the greatness of God's love.  No matter how "loving" we imagine ourselves to be, our love is nothing compared to God's infinite love.  Love is the greatest fruit of the Spirit.  Unless the Holy Spirit lives within and empowers us to love, loving and forgiving others is impossible.  It is good for us to recognise our lack and ability to love so we might earnestly walk in the love of God, not just the best efforts of our flesh.

Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:12-13, "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends."  Laying down your life for your friends is the greatest demonstration humanly possible, and Jesus did this and more too.  He laid down His life on Calvary for friends, enemies, sinners.  What I find phenomenal about Jesus is He loved people He knew hated Him and would continue to do so - despite His love.  He was utterly relentless to love.

When we are hurt by others at some point we ask ourselves, "Why do I keep putting myself out there only to be hurt again and again?  What is the point of loving people who could turn against me?"  Last night, perhaps for the first time, it occurred to me these are questions Jesus never asked Himself.  How do I know?  Because these questions indicate a lack of love and trust in God and Jesus maintained infinite measures of both.  We ask ourselves if it is wise to keep loving someone after we have been hurt; Jesus loved people knowing well they would reject and hurt Him on purpose.  He loved completely before and after, as if nothing had happened.  There was no intermission of His love regardless of His pain.  The love manifested in Christ a love beyond any love of mine.

Consider the NIV rendering of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 which describes God's love:  "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."  God's love is complete and constant, not dependant on our emotional state or the good performance of others.  It is founded upon the righteous, glorious power of God who does not change.  God's love is always:  always protecting, trusting, hoping, and persevering.  Grief cannot twist it, betrayal cannot dampen it, and death cannot kill it.  God's love is, even as He is.

Our feelings of love must not be confused with God's love.  Human emotions can be very strong, but faith in God allows us to love even as the Holy Spirit empowers people to prophesy, speak in tongues, or interpret.  Jesus commands us to love and enables us to do so when we decide in that moment to trust and obey Him.  It will not be easy for us, and this walk of faith never is.  We may contrive a million reasons why loving someone is a bad idea, but this is sure evidence we have reached the end of our love and are toying with the sin of not abiding in God's love.  We had only been loving others on a superficial plane - the equivalent of splashing around in puddles by the beach - and God would have us launch out in faith into His ocean of love.  It will feel like jumping out of a plane without a parachute at times, but we can know God's loving, everlasting arms will uphold us.  As we have freely received God's love may we freely give always.

20 May 2017

Doing Good

"The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ--He is Lord of all-- 37 that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him."
Acts 10:36-38

One marker of Christ's life was He "went about doing good."  Doing good is much more profitable than avoiding evil because it is an intentional act.  Of course forsaking sin is a good thing, but the Christian walk is far more than sin-avoidance but faith displayed by obedience to God.  More than a list of Laws to obey, following Jesus is a grateful response to the love extended to us through Jesus.

Today as I taught through Nehemiah 5, it struck me there is a definite and important difference between saying, "You're wrong!" and "What you are doing is not good." (Nehemiah 5:9)  The contrast may seem subtle, but the implications of the mind-set is profound.  When Nehemiah rebuked the leaders in Israel for oppressing the poor by charging them interest on loans, he told them what they were doing was not good.  He could have simply told them they were "wrong," but the implication of his words was that their aim ought to been to do good - not just cease evil.  When we realise what we are doing is not good, this leads to positive change.

In 2 Kings 7 a story is related of four desperate lepers who decided they would rather risk begging for their lives at the hand of the besieging Syrians than die of starvation in the city.  After mustering the courage to approach the camp, they were shocked to find it deserted.  They went from tent to tent and ate like kings, plundered valuables, and hid them out of sight.  2 Kings 7:9 describes when they finally came to their senses:  "Then they said to one another, "We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king's household."  The lepers acted selfishly by filling their stomachs and plundering tents while people in Samaria were dying, and after realising they were not doing right they confessed their error, repented, and did what was right (though their motive in doing so was hardly pure).

In our flesh even after coming to Christ no good thing dwells (Romans 7:18), but we can do good through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.  Better than avoiding the appearance of evil is to intentionally do good because we fear God, responding with gratefulness for the love God has shown us.