24 February 2020

Greener Pastures

Many people traverse through life like grazing animals seeking greener pastures.  The undertones of the phrase "seeking greener pastures" are dissatisfaction and restlessness, something we humans can all identify with to some degree.  It seems we only need to be at the supposed greener pasture for a little while--that new job, relationship, suburb, or church--until we realise it isn't quite as green as we would like.  Our experiences seem to line up with the Erma Bombeck book title from the 70's:  The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.  The grass is greener, but do you want to know why the grass is greener?  Are you sure you want to eat that grass?

We don't need to be like King Solomon who had everything a person could want and piled on exponentially more to know our expectations are rarely met.  It doesn't take much for a dream holiday to turn into an unforgettable nightmare.  The most exceptional circumstances often leave something to be desired because we are insatiable.  Like greedy dogs whose god is their belly, we are always looking for something to hit the spot.  And when we aren't even hungry we open our stocked fridge or pantry to see what might appeal to us because it is lunchtime and are disappointed.  We scroll through the news or a social media feed to look for something new because our eyes aren't tired of seeing.

Undoubtedly the lure of greener pastures has led unsuspecting sheep to their deaths by hidden dangers they concealed.  Predatory beasts lay in the tall grass with the wind in their face, eyes wide and muscles tense as they crept toward their prey.  You see, it isn't the alluring greenness of a pasture which makes it good for sheep of Christ's fold but the Good Shepherd we follow.  David wrote in Psalm 23:1-2, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters."  Could there be greener pastures than those where Jesus has led you?  Maybe, but who cares?  Better to be casting our cares on the One who cares for us than to walk by sight.  Because the LORD is my Shepherd I shall not want, for He will see all my needs abundantly supplied in His time and way.

Predators target animals that are isolated from a herd or flock.  How important it is therefore we would not scatter from our Saviour Jesus!  David concluded his thoughts in Psalm 23:5-6:  "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."  On this planet we are in enemy territory under the sway of Satan, yet believers find rest and peace through faith in our Saviour regardless of circumstances.  He provides, guides, and protects us even when the enemies draw close with evil intent.  With Jesus leading us goodness and mercy will follow us all our days regardless of drought, famine, fire or flood.  What enduring contentment there is in our LORD Jesus Christ who is ours, and we are His forever.

23 February 2020

Stay Loyal to God

My family and I have been reading through the book of 2 Chronicles and the life of king Asa presents a strong case of our need to keep seeking and trusting God all our days.  Our good God does not change, but we do and not always for the better.  The finest wines can turn to vinegar in poor conditions, and when our hearts drift from reliance in the LORD the wisest can become fools.  King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, yet in his latter days he was a hollow shell of his former self who more resembled king Saul than king David his father.  This teaches us men, regardless of their divinely inspired wisdom, all have their flaws:  none is good like God, not one.

Because king Asa trusted in the LORD God gave him astonishing victories in battle.  He took courage at the exhortation of godly prophets to put away idols from the land and even removed his mother from being queen because of idolatry.  People throughout Israel flocked to him because he set his heart to seek the LORD.  Asa had been king 36 years in Jerusalem when Basha king of Israel came against him.  Instead of relying upon the LORD as on previous occasions, king Asa sent a present to Benhadad king of Syria to make an alliance with him and help him.  Benhadad agreed to the arrangement which ended the threat of Basha and all seemed to be well--that is, until a prophet of God came to Asa with a sobering message.

2 Chronicles 16:7-9 tells us, "And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him: "Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand. 8 Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. 9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars."  When David was confronted with his sin with Bathsheba and Urijah the Hittite he publicly confessed and repented.  Sadly, king Asa responded in a very different way because he was filled with rage.  He was angry with the messenger and did not receive God's gracious message.  It proved to be the beginning of his end.

2 Chronicles 16:10-13 says, "Then Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in prison, for he was enraged at him because of this. And Asa oppressed some of the people at that time. 11 Note that the acts of Asa, first and last, are indeed written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel. 12 And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians. 13 So Asa rested with his fathers; he died in the forty-first year of his reign."  Instead of humbling himself in repentance before God, Asa became angry; he put Hanani the prophet in prison and oppressed God's people.  And when he was stricken with a disease he relied on the doctors rather in God who had the power to help and make him whole.  Before the LORD all the motives and intent of our hearts is laid bare, and God continues to look to show Himself strong on behalf of people whose hearts are loyal to Him.  This loyalty to God ought to continue even when we are rightly (or even wrongly!) rebuked for our foolishness.

How we receive correction and handle depressing news says something about us:  do we seek the LORD or lash out?  Are we filled with rage or allow our hearts to be broken in repentance?  Do we rely on assistance or help from men or return to the LORD in faith, relying upon Him?  King Asa's days as king are spent, but there is hope for us in God.  Praise the LORD we don't need to be kings or queens to learn and personally apply timeless truth from the lessons God has provided through him.  Let us call to mind Psalm 46:1 in times of peace or when we are overwhelmed:  "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." 

21 February 2020

The Willing Offering

"These are their numbers, according to their fathers' houses. Of Judah, the captains of thousands: Adnah the captain, and with him three hundred thousand mighty men of valor; 15 and next to him was Jehohanan the captain, and with him two hundred and eighty thousand; 16 and next to him was Amasiah the son of Zichri, who willingly offered himself to the LORD, and with him two hundred thousand mighty men of valor."
2 Chronicles 17:14-16

The Bible is filled with choice wisdom which can be discovered in listings of genealogies and notable people.  Our initial response when we see longs names and numbers might be to skip or skim, but there are insights for hungry seekers even there.  One such person is mentioned in Amasiah in verse 16, a man "who willingly offered himself to the LORD."

God loves a cheerful giver of themselves into His service, and Amasiah is one of many who offered themselves as a living sacrifice for His glory.  Hannah dedicated her son Samuel before his birth into the service of the tabernacle and later he said to God, "Speak LORD, for your servant hears."  Amasiah was no prophet but a faithful man of God nevertheless, a man God made captain in the army of Judah.  The Hebrew word translated "offered willingly" is defined in the Strong's Concordance as:  "to volunteer (as a soldier), to present spontaneously; offer freely, be (give, make, offer self) willing."  The people willingly gave of their goods to build the tabernacle, but greater still is a man who gives himself willingly unto the LORD.  God's eye run to and fro throughout the whole earth seeking to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are loyal and committed to Him (2 Chron. 16:9).

Many people loyal to the God of Israel flocked to King Jehoshaphat who feared and honoured God from all the tribes.  Having willingly offered themselves to God like Amasiah such were pleased to serve the LORD's anointed in Jerusalem.  As a Christian, this made me think of the call for believers to present themselves as living sacrifices to Jesus Christ who died in the place of sinners.  Then it hit me:  if today Jesus literally was sitting on a throne in Jerusalem, would I make it my primary aim to present myself before Him, to willingly offer myself into His service and do whatever He said?  Of course, right?  We would be willing to leave a country, job or career, and all our possessions at great cost just to see in person the Messiah and our KING, to lay our eyes on the One who atoned for our sins on Calvary, to touch the risen and living Son of God.  Like Simeon who held Jesus as an infant we would say upon the conclusion of that meeting, "LORD, I am ready to depart in peace because my eyes have seen your salvation."

Where this illustration falls short is we do not need to wait until Jesus is physically seated on a throne in Jerusalem to willingly offer ourselves to Him, for even now He sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  He lives to make intercession on our behalf, ready to grant mercy and grace to help in time of need.  It is attractive for us to willingly offer ourselves in person because of what role He might appoint us to or what we stand to gain in the future, but our daily service unto Him should be based upon Who He is and all He has already done.  Willingly offering ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice is more than a pledge or a commitment but is actually doing the thing, freely giving ourselves into His service.  A son in a parable committed to work for his father but "I go sir!" proved to be empty words.  Christian, we must determine if we are all talk and bluster or are willingly offering ourselves to the LORD, not just bowing our knees or heads in prayer but taking up our cross daily to follow Jesus in joyful obedience.

19 February 2020

Judgment, Division and Contentions

We live in a highly polarised world where people are divided and divisive.  According to political, ethical, religious, and personal convictions we fashion a unique identity which welcomes people who agree with us and often excludes those who do not.  This "us and them" mentality is something which can colour and corrupt the perspectives of genuine Christians.  Our views of other churches or denominations primarily emphasises points of disagreement rather than Who unites us.  Based on hearsay we can write-off thousands of genuine believers as heretics because of a book or alleged quote from a pastor of a particular church.  Instead of following Jesus we can follow the divisive patterns of men or the virtual gossip of many modern-day watchmen.

The danger of division in the church is nothing new.  From early days the devil has sought to overthrow the church by persecution, undermine it by false doctrine, or subvert it through legalism.  This morning I read Paul's words written to the spiritually gifted yet divided Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13:  "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"  Paul wrote to a legitimate church of Jesus Christ--not an apostate or false church--that some today would have deem "hyper-Pentecostal" perhaps with disdain.  Yet Paul did not hold this negative view of them.  Having helped establish the church in Corinth, Paul called them brothers and urged them to put away divisions, the same divisions which continue to be an enemy of God's love, grace, and unity in Jesus today.  Judgment led to divisions and then contentions:  it was an environment where those who asserted they were factually right (and others were wrong) were exposed as carnal.

Paul called out the believers in Corinth for their sinful judgments, self-righteousness, and pride.  Did you notice what they were saying?  "I am of Paul; I am of Apollos; I am of Peter; I am of Christ."  The proclamation of their identify revealed pride in themselves.  There was pride in their boasts:  they boasted of their knowledge of the truth, how they discerned fault in others, and created divisions God never made.  It is hard for us to imagine some would follow Paul to the exclusion of Apollos or Peter, but this scripture shows it happened.  Some refused to humble themselves under the teaching or discipline of anyone because they only answered to Christ.  But Paul saw through their self-righteous spirituality and knew their hearts were not right before God.  Judging others as wrong allowed them to approve themselves and maintain an unassailable moral high ground--even when addressed by Paul who helped bring them to salvation.

We need not look beyond ourselves to know this self-righteousness is a real problem.  How many times have we thought or said out loud about another person or church, "I don't like the way their worship is like a show" or "I hate the Bible translation they use" or "I like that we teach through the Bible" (inferring others don't to our high standard).  It is perfectly fine for us to have preferences based upon our understanding of God and His Word, to have personal convictions we aim to uphold for the glory of God.  This does not mean we are justified to condemn other churches, ministries, or people, to judge ourselves right because others are wrong.  Paul wrote in Romans 14:10-13:  "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: "As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God." 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way."  Judgment of others led to contempt for them, and Paul urged believers to avoid this pitfall.  Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God, so let us judge ourselves to determine we are walking in the way that pleases Him.

Paul asked the Corinthians, "Is Christ divided?"  The answer is obviously no.  Paul had not been crucified for believers so he had no desire or claim for followers.  Because believers are united under Jesus Christ our Head, we are to walk in humility and love towards one another so there is no hindrance to the fellowship of the saints.  Self-righteousness and pride work to isolate a person unto themselves, and Jesus demonstrated great humility and righteousness when He came to seek and save sinners.  He was not "holier than thou" when He alone was and is holy!  I believe God led me to these scriptures to realign my perspective with His, to cease creating divisions where He has not.  How blatant is my hypocrisy when I do not give more grace to those I perceive as without grace, to judge the judgmental!  By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit may all in the Body of Christ be joined together in the same mind and same judgment:  that we will demonstrate love for one another by ceasing to negatively judge or stumble others as we keep our eyes on Jesus.  Rather than condemnation, may edification of the Church by grace, love, and truth be Christ's enduring legacy through us.