IF YOU NEED WISDOM ASK OUR GENEROUS GOD

The challenge we all face every day is confronting the things we can change and making the right decisions about those changes. Life comes down to wise or foolish decisions. Bought a car you wish you’d never bought? Entered into a relationship you wish you had avoided? Accepted a job you wish you’d never taken? Are you building your faith in Christ upon rock or sand?

Hindsight’s a great thing we can all look back and see where we made both good and poor decisions. A wise man learns by the experience of others. An ordinary man learns by his own experience. A fool learns by nobody’s experience. Wisdom is a strange thing. There’s the wisdom of the world and a wisdom that comes from God. Which is influencing us today?

What’s the wisest decision you have made last week? How about yesterday? How do you know it was wise? Wisdom is not always caution or cleverness. It’s not even knowledge. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad!! Knowledge is knowing you can hit a 7-iron 150 yards. Wisdom is taking a 6-iron when it’s over water and into the wind!! If our faith foundations are solid then to seek and use God’s wisdom for every decision is imperative. All we need do is ask: “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (Js.1:5).

We are living in a world that is awash with knowledge, but thirsty for wisdom. Many people know a great deal. But the wisdom of the world wants nothing to do with God. Yet “fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Pr.1:7). There is a benefit to following heavenly wisdom rather than worldly wisdom. It brings a blessing from God and a harvest of righteousness.

We’re introduced to King Solomon in 2 Chronicles. Now a king, or any leader for that matter, needs to make wise decisions. Solomon was just 20 years old when he had his coronation. He hasn’t sorted anything out yet, made no government appointments, hasn’t chosen his furniture and is still riding high on his new position. In vs.7 of ch.1 the Lord appears to him, offering him an incredible opportunity: “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”

The Good Lord always relates to His people on a personal level and equips them to complete His purpose. Having grown up in the royal court Solomon was highly educated, his earthly position was rich and powerful, but listen to his reply:S“O Lord God, please continue to keep your promise to David my father, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth! Give me wisdom and knowledge to lead them properly, for who could possibly govern this great people of yours?” (vs.9-10).

“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (Js.4:6). Humble dependence upon God is the foundation of wisdom. If God were to put the same question to you, as He did to Solomon, what would you ask for? It’s basically a blank cheque, your wishes could come true! Long life, wealth, big house, designer clothing and expensive jewelry. Ok so Solomon had these things but the love of money, prestige and power can so easily corrupt. He could also have asked for the death of his enemies. Instead, he asks the One True God for a wise and understanding heart to be a good king for the people.

Solomon went on to become the writer of Proverbs, which is really a letter on how to live a life of wisdom. He advises us to cry out for insight: “For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.” (Pr.2:6-7).

Wisdom connects us to God. Solomon recognises he could ask for anything but he makes a decision that in turn makes him a great king. He asked His Maker to make him wise enough to live the right sort of life, because he realises he does not have what it takes to make the wise decisions a king must make. He understood that the Good Lord grants us wisdom not so we can show how much we know but so we can be an example to others living by God’s Word.

When we value what God values we are on the path to wisdom. Fools do not seek wisdom because they do not place any value on it. An egotistical person would ask for fame; a materialistic person would ask for wealth; an ambitious person would ask for power; a bitter person would ask for revenge. Often we make bad decisions and cause heartache, stress and worry because we refuse to admit we need to follow the Bible’s advice.

So, to make a wise decision we must first admit that we can’t. “Give me the wisdom and the knowledge to lead them properly, for who could possibly govern this great people of yours?” – is Solomon’s response. (v.10). The order of these words is important. We can have a lot of knowledge and a little wisdom, but if we have a lot of wisdom we have a lot of knowledge.

It is important that we seek God’s wisdom for every decision we make, no matter how small it seems to us. Anytime we want wisdom we can ask for it. We don’t have to be a king to ask for it. We can do what Solomon did. We can ask for something bigger than fame, wealth, power or popularity. We’re promised the same as Solomon.

We can read his proverbs to see that wisdom is seeing life through God’s eyes and living life in the will of God. Immersing ourselves in God’s Word daily is crucial for making wise decisions – it’s the daily bread for our soul. Knowing the Bible helps us make decisions that daily impact upon our health and happiness, how we manage our time, how we handle money and how we deal with temptation.

When we make poor choices we reap the consequences, but wisdom teaches us the lesson before we make the mistake!

The Bristol suspension bridge is an incredible feat of engineering. Spanning the Avon Gorge it opened in 1864. The iron chains and vertical suspension rods supporting the bridge connect to the two towers either side. The secret to the stability of Brunel’s impressive structure is found underneath the towers with the massive foundations carved into the rock. Four million vehicle cross the bridge every year. It’s safe because its foundations are solid. That wasn’t the case of the 50 year old Morandi Bridge in Genoa that collapsed during torrential rain back in August. Restructuring work was being done to enforce the bridge’s foundations at the time. Sadly, there were 37 fatalities.

Examples of good and bad foundations – and Jesus says: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is WISE, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” (Mt.7:24). When we live according to the Lord’s principles of wisdom, we establish the firmest foundation for our lives and so many wonderful benefits will follow as a result.

So let’s seek the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ so that we may live in His wisdom and reap His blessing.

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When We Are Lost

Now here’s an interesting CV:-

Name: Paul of Tarsus. Former name: Saul.

Religion: Jewish. Denomination: Pharisee.

Previous employment: Persecutor who enjoyed applying violence and was particularly motivated to persecute Christians.

Present employment: Servant of Jesus Christ.

There is no discrepancy here. The Damascus Road was where everything changed for Saul. Already a religious man who honestly believed he was the avenging hand of God against Christianity. He was lost, but Jesus found Him. The text from 1 Timothy is where he points out the joyful mercy and grace of God: “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly…overflowed for me…along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (v.14).

He considers himself the worst of sinners when speaking of his own rescue by God and yet understands that Jesus came precisely to save sinners, to rescue the lost and to spare no effort to find what belongs to Him. So Paul describes His Saviour in majestic terms: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (v.17).

This is the acknowledgment of all sinners who repent when God’s grace breaks into their lives. We are all sinners in desperate need of the Saviour. There isn’t anything else, no psychologies or philosophies that can diagnose the human condition, and offer a remedy to relieve our condition, except the transforming grace of God who desires the joy of seeing lost souls turning to Him in worship.

Our souls have a deep need. These are the reasons why they need saving:-

  • It is valuable (Mt.16:26).
  • It is lost with God (Is.53:6).
  • It is risky to delay as the future is uncertain. Our lives are like the AM fog here for a little while – then they’re gone. (Js.4:14).

The parables that Jesus tells speak of a God who loves the sinner passionately – so much so in fact – that as the shepherd He abandons the best part of His flock to hike across the hills to search for the foolish sheep who has strayed. The Christ Light shines into our darkness, searches for us just like the woman using her lamp to look for the lost coin. Imagine the beam of a powerful searchlight exposing the dark state of your life.

According to the Bible, all lost sinners are blind to their condition and their destiny. Due to our depravity none of us can see our need, or the way out of Hell, until the Holy Spirit enlightens us and points us to Jesus: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2.Cor.4:6).

I don’t understand it. How God’s mercy held off His anger as I wandered away in darkness and deadness of sin. Or how His grace reached out to you in love to confront you and call you to His Son. It’s so incomprehensible that Jesus knew we would need a story to try to help understand repentance. The reason a lost person has been found is because he is a sinner who repents. Following religious scruples doesn’t save us. That’s what Paul discovered, as well as the fact that God never gives up on us when we are lost.

The OT gives us a beautiful example of what grace is and does.  When Moses took the Children of Israel out of Egypt and into the desert the people soon became thirsty, but there wasn’t any water to be found. God told Moses to strike a rock and the water that spilled out demonstrates the grace of God flowing out to all who would drink. Without this water, without God’s grace supplying the needs of the people, they would have died.

Christ is the Rock, He is also the Living Water. We are supplied daily with the light of the sun and air to breath, something to eat and drink. He supplies all we need, but we must choose to accept His saving grace: “I was lost till Jesus found me. Found the sheep that went astray.” Without grace, without the pardon God gives us we would be forever lost in sin, death and decay.

This doesn’t mean we’re no longer sinners. We’re sinners working out our salvation with fear and trembling, praying for pure hearts and steadfast spirits. But we live out the gospel in the reality of the world and we can’t be perfect.

A teacher asked her pupils one day, “If all the bad children were painted red and all the good children were painted green, which colour would you be?” It’s a tough question when there’s only 2 options. However, one very wise child answered: “Sir, I would be striped!”

It’s a brilliant answer which illustrates perfectly what Paul says in Romans 7:21: “When I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.” We are striped. We are, in some sense, not completely “complete”. There’s always a part of us that needs to be exposed by the Light of Life and that’s sanctification. That’s the Holy Spirit’s power within, and the loving patience of God trying to make us more complete. When we’re truly sorry for our wrong actions and for breaking holy law – then another part of us is found – resulting in less and less red stripes! I believe every time we confess with a sincere heart angels, who keep watch around the faithful, rejoice again and again.

Hearing today’s parable is a reminder of how we have all been lost at different times in our lives. But there’s a mission focus here too, although “striped”, we’re found – and as disciples we’re tasked to be shepherds to others. To be Jesus’ co-workers. His priesthood of believers. To be the ones who seek the lost:-

  • Those who seldom attend.
  • Those who live in the community around the church.
  • The husbands and wives of the faithful who stay at home.
  • The person who blames God for everything.
  • The New-Age worshipper who thinks the Devil is just as interesting as Jesus.
  • The teenager who says they’ll believe in God when they’re older.
  • The young offender with an ASBO who never even thinks about God.
  • Unbelieving parents.
  • The drug addict and the alcoholic.
  • The person who believes they’re a “good person” and has never offended God.

 That’s the Great Commission. For they are spiritually lost; and some will want to be found. We need to share the Gospel whenever the opportunity arises. People need to experience God’s friendship and a place at His table of grace. He invites us to share His joy in finding the lost. When the shepherd gets home, Jesus said: “He calls his friends and neighbours together and says,” Rejoice with me; I’ve found my sheep” (v.6).

The joy is a present joy in the church and to the people of God. And it makes me think of the song of Isaiah that is appropriate for the redeemed to sing: “I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me…with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (12:1,3).

And no one can sing this song unless they’ve been saved. Unless they’ve been so moved by God’s love. Brought home upon the shoulders of the Good Shepherd, spiritually cleansed by the Living Water, found like a lost coin. It’s not a song Saul the Pharisee would have sung, but it is sung by Paul the Christian, and all Christians, for it is a song of humility and faith.

We think of Paul as a great hero of the faith, but Paul never saw himself that way because he remembered his life before he met Christ. The more he understood God’s grace, the more he was aware of his own sinfulness. He had scoffed at the teachings of Jesus and murdered believers, but God forgave Paul and used him mightily for His Kingdom. No sinner is beyond His saving power for He offers us salvation that leads to eternal life.

There are the lost – and there are the found and there are parts of us that are in the light, and parts still in the dark. Never forget that we are sinners saved by grace. Saved through Christ’s blood sacrifice on the cross.

Today I want you to remember that Jesus found you and rescued you and is sending you out to meet some lost soul. Pray for that person this week. Look for ways to tell that person, or show that person how much God loves them and wants to bring them back into His love and care.

So may we be confident that Christ will help our faith and as our relationship with Him deepens, our love for others, for the lost, will grow too.

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

WHO IS THIS JESUS?

John Wesley had never been on a ship before until he sailed across to America. They’re a week from land and there’s a violent storm. Wesley writes how they were worried that the ship was going to be lost: “The sea spilled over the ship, split the mainsail, and poured between the decks as if the great deep had already swallowed us up.” 

The English passengers cringed in terror. Wesley, however, noticed the German Moravians steadily continued singing psalms. He was impressed with their faith in their hour of need. He saw the difference between those who truly knew the Lord and those who didn’t. Even though he’d been a preacher for some time, he didn’t have that faith that the Lord would, as we read the psalm: “Calm the storm to a whisper, still the waves and bring them safely into harbour!” (Ps.107:29-30).

The sea, of course, can be very dangerous. Even a small one, like the Sea of Galilee only 7 miles across at it’s widest point, can be prone to violent storms and big waves, because it lies in a deep valley surrounded by hills where hot air meeting cooler air causes sudden gales which although expected can still be frightening. Even for experienced fishermen.

Now Jesus had taken Himself off to the hills to pray resisting the temptation to allow the people to make Him king. The disciples waited for Him, but as darkness fell, decided to head back home across the lake to Capernaum. Perhaps the weather was changing and they wanted to get back rather than spend a cold night out under the stars (with a few thousand rabble rousers who were trying to make Jesus king!)

So they’re about four miles out by which time the sea is very rough. There’s a gale sweeping down upon them. Now, they probably were able to handle themselves. Unlike Wesley they were used to such conditions. The point being made in the text is they were terrified: “When suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water approaching the boat.” (6:19). Who wouldn’t be? It’s not something you’d expect to see. Bodies are heavier than water. The waves are pounding. But having already multiplied food to feed thousands of people, Jesus has already shown He can manipulate the laws of nature.

John in his gospel is once again profoundly demonstrating that Jesus is clearly greater than Moses. He’s already been seen as the Prophet, as the King and now the gospel hints at Him acting like God. Moses led his people through the sea, but Jesus was able to walk on the sea! This miracle can’t be explained away by a modernist, scientific mind-set. This abbreviated story is told to demonstrate the assurance that “Everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.” (Rom.10:13; Acts 2:21).

The disciples’ reaction suggests that here John intends us to understand that Jesus is walking on the water to find them. There’s a storm that could easily capsize the boat. They are in danger. However, they recognise that the Lord brings His comfort and healing to them calling out: “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” (6:20). They trust Him. The wind stops. Jesus gets into the boat beside them.

This is a forceful pledge of the divine presence: “Don’t be afraid I am here”, reflects the great “I Am” of the OT. This is undoubtedly the Most High God. It reminds us of the godly name revealed to Moses. Jesus has already used it when talking to the woman at the well and uses it a lot in this gospel, often with a description like bread or light (the signs), or on its own like here. [C]It is enough to calm their fears and they don’t even row the boat to safe haven for “immediately they arrived at their destination!” (6:21).

We often face spiritual and emotional storms and feel tossed about on the waters of life. In spite of terrifying circumstances, if we trust our lives to Christ for His safekeeping, He will give us peace in any storm. Even Jonah realized that! Also Isaiah’s prophecy: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown” (Is.43:2) has been fulfilled by Christ. One could argue physically with the disciples and spiritually with us. Lastly, remember that God sometimes takes us into troubled waters not to drown us but to cleanse us. And storms don’t last forever.

Back to the text, the next morning the crowd, who were hoping to make Jesus king remember, was still lingering on the far side of the lake where Jesus had blessed the bread. Therefore they had no option but to resume their pursuit of Him. John tells us the type of people they were: (1) the curious: “Rabbi when did you get here?” (v.25). They were inquisitive, as Jesus had mysteriously crossed a lake without a boat! (2) And the sincere seekers: “What does God want us to do?” (v.29).

Jesus wasn’t flattered by their interest in Him. He ignores the first question. He doesn’t waste time discussing how He travelled and gets straight to the point of exactly why they are searching for Him suggesting it has nothing to do with His teaching or His miracles but because they like the prospect of free food! “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you [on the hillside]…” – they have no understanding of who He really is and He knows their hearts desire (6:26).

This is the start of one of the Lords greatest sermons. The point we’ve got to grasp is this: that Jesus gives more than bread to satisfy our stomachs; He is the true bread of heaven that will satisfy our souls as it leads to eternal life. The work of God is not something we have to do, but someone we are to believe in. Isaiah symbolically speaks of this invitation to the Lord’s salvation: “Why pay for bread that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.” (Is.55:2). Are you eating the bread of life?

The symbolism here is incredible for there is other “bread”, other “foods” which soon perish and sadly people expend much time, energy and money on them: the food of human wisdom; the food of pleasure; the food of great wealth: buying things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people that don’t matter! How many of you know people who seem to be driven, unable to relax, unable to find satisfaction, who are constantly seeking something, hoping to find in these activities some sense of peace?

Despite all this, people continue to hunger and thirst. None of these provide lasting fulfillment. The only food that lasts is the Word of God by which man truly lives: Bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore! Faith in Christ has satisfied many a person; trust in God has quenched the thirst of many parched souls; belief in the Lord has filled many hungry hearts. I like what this says: Without God our week would be SINDAY, MOURNDAY, TEARSDAY, WASTEDAY, THIRSTDAY, FIGHTDAY, SHATTERDAY – 7 days with God makes ONE WEAK!!

Nevertheless, the crowd found it hard then and people find it hard today. Such is the life of faith. Jesus has come so no one need be lost. He has come to save, He gives food that endures, and abides and remains with those who receive Him. He’s not there for those who only follow Him when it’s beneficial for them. Jesus did not come to fulfill your self-centered desires. He came to change those desires, to transform how you think and how you live.

As the Son of Man, He can do all this, as He is the “one to whom God has given His seal of approval.” All that’s required is to “believe in the one he has sent.” (6:27,29). This is free grace. Yet there is something profound about human nature that spurn’s a free gift. We would much rather achieve something ourselves. When that happens faith becomes too legalistic and tends to just go through the motions of worship and prayer.

So accept that Jesus is who He claims to be and understand God has done all the work and there’s no amount of effort we can possibly make that merits salvation. Although there is effort that merits reward as in not wasting our talents by accomplishing things for God, and not taking our salvation for granted. Grace is free – but it’s certainly not cheap!

Obviously, God can tell the false disciple from the true disciple. So are you striving for that which cannot truly satisfy? Or is your focus in life on that which is everlasting?

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.” (Dt.30:19-20)

I’ll let the Word speak for itself. It’s Good News!

 

The Thread of Faith

I was reminded of these words today written when I was an ordinand…

The Thread of Faith

He shares with us the knowledge that his new-found faith has brought;

his humour and his easy ways are things that can’t be taught

but the Thread of Faith that binds the Spirit of our Lord to him

can bind us all in brotherhood and keep us safe from sin.

His Ministry had just begun and he has far to go

but faith will lead him through the mountains and the depths below.

The Thread of Faith will bind him tightly to his Master’s side

so that he can match the footsteps of his Saviour, Friend and Guide.

His witness will grow steadily through all the passing years,

through joys and trials and tragedies, through laughter and through tears

and the thread of faith will bind him until his life’s complete,

when he’ll take his place of honour at his blessed Redeemer’s feet.

GDK – 06.08.06

Written for Tim Mullings

THE PROMISE OF SUFFERING

Lord open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. To you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.

Job lived about 4,000 years ago. When we read this book of the Bible, we feel grief, anguish and frustration. His story connects us to the universal struggle of pain and suffering across the world. Today’s newspaper and media headlines remind us of the fact that the world is in a mess. Violence, injustice and evil flourish in society; it’s easy to criticise, but we’re all sinners by birth and by nature.

So too was Job. But the opening chapter tells us he was someone special: “He was blameless – a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” (1:1) – of all the folk living at that time, he was the best of the best. Without blemish, blameless and of good character, there were no skeletons in his cupboard.

He was also blessed with 11,000 animals, many servants, land, and money, but they couldn’t compare to the faithful trust he had for the Lord. He rose early and offered prayers and sacrifices for each member of his family in order to ensure their right standing before God. It was regular practice for him. Even God Himself says: “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth.” (1:8).

Then the Lord allows the devil to take everything away that Job found precious. To test him, but not to harm him physically. In one day he lost everything, his animals, servants, and all ten of his beloved children, the ones he prayed daily for had died. Then to add misery to his trouble, Job himself was covered with painful sores from head to toe.

As he sat among the ashes his wife says to him: “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” But Job scolds her for her foolish talk remarkably replying: “Should we only accept good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (2:10). It’s a rhetorical question. He’s not asking for an answer – he’s making a fundamental point that sometimes God sends trouble to His people.

The promise of suffering is explained in Paul’s opening letter to the Thessalonians where he says: “You received the message of Good News with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord.” (1:6). Paul, himself no stranger to affliction and hardship, commends the church at Thessalonica for being “imitators of Christ.” Believers are not exempt; suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life. The cross is a symbol of suffering and like Job in the midst of adversity we are to take it up confidently and joyfully.

Paul also told the Roman congregation: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” (Rom.5:3-4). Basically, in the long run suffering produces hope which does not disappoint us. As Elihu points out to Job in the text: “[God]…rescues those who suffer. For he gets their attention through adversity…to keep them from a life of evil.” (36:15,21).

Other than Jesus no man suffered more than Job. But it would come to an end, ultimately bringing glory to God, who Job is told, “…is setting your table with the best food.” (36:16). Similarly, when we’ve passed through the deepest darkness in the valley, the Lord will also prepare a table in our sight (Ps.23). Instead of being godless and full of resentment, remain firm and steadfast for the Lord will lift us from our distress and place us on the rock of salvation. He will make our feet as sure footed as the deer and bring us safely over the mountains. (Hab.3:19).

Back in the 14th century, Julian of Norwich grappled with this question of suffering. She lived during the time of the Black Death that across Europe killed 25 million people. Where was God in all this plague and suffering? Why weren’t prayers being answered? The same philosophical questions we ask (especially when we see the pain and agony across the world). In order to help answer the unanswerable question of suffering Julian prayed to get sick. In her book Revelations of Divine Love she writes (and I paraphrase):-

“God sent me a bodily sickness in which I lay for three days and three nights, and on the third night I received all the rites of Holy Church, and did not expect to live until next day. I often thought that I was on the point of death…but the Lord showed me a spiritual sight of his familiar tender love. He is our clothing, who embraces and shelters us, surrounds us that he will never desert us.”

Through her experience she discovers the same thing Job does – that sickness, trouble and strife can help the soul advance to God, can help us take little stepping-stones towards eternity: “All shall be well for there is a force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.”

In suffering, whether it’s happening to us, or to others makes us cry long cries heavenwards and ask those big questions. It’s ok to ask them. We’re involved in a great battle. As long as we have breath in our lungs expect suffering. Our wealth and mighty efforts can’t keep us from distress. Why is this happening to me? Why now? Why them? Yet, if we believe in God and His glory then we must trust not that He is the cause of our pain, but that there is a purpose for it. So the question becomes, “Why is this happening for me…what is my suffering trying to tell me?”

Also, many in affliction, long for death. In Job 36:20 it’s put poetically: “Don’t long for the cover of darkness” – it’s sinful to contemplate such desire. To wish for death, when you’re not prepared to appear before God is madness. And when things seem unfair – don’t worry for divine judgement and justice will be upheld. In evil days the wicked will be punished. Never set human wisdom against the wisdom of God. “And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom.8:28).

We have so much more truth and so many more promises than Job ever had. But look what he acknowledges about God at the end of the book in chapter 42:-

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.” (42:1-3).

We don’t understand it, but everything has a divine purpose. Not one molecule is without design. We get good things from the hand of God as well as bad things. He allows this because He is interested in our holiness and in His glory before our happiness. Our wisdom can’t reconcile this, but like Job, if we can accept this then we can begin to understand that God’s grace, not our suffering, is the point.

Psalm 50, verse 15: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Have faith for the promise of suffering has great purpose to open our hearts to the miracle of saving grace. Knowing the answers to our cancer, dementia, broken relationships is less important than knowing the One who does. Call on me! In our opening song we sang this: When we come to Him for help He will never hide His face, but will give us all we need: ample strength, abundant grace.

God doesn’t want us to focus on the problem of suffering, but focus instead on the promise of suffering. Our life in this world is incredibly short, yet filled with tremendous opportunity for the Lord and our place in the world to come. His own suffering in Christ on the cross guarantees the elimination of evil, sin, misery and death. We can’t allow these things to weaken our faith, but strengthen it.

So this week think and pray about your current struggle, how you can reframe it within the Word of God and consider how it might come with a promise.

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

Lord God, I am hurting and know that a purpose for my suffering exists. Help me not to waste this time. Make me more like you that I might shine against the darkness. Amen.

I AM: There is no one greater!

When we delight in new understanding, when we stretch our imaginations, Living God, transform us by the power of your Word.

On the sixth day of Creation came Adam. He was first. He is the biological father of everyone. God gave him stewardship over all other living things and Adam named all the animals. Before sin, he walked and talked with God in perfect unity. Jesus is greater than Adam. His righteousness is greater than Adam’s sin.

And in a world that had fallen into depravity’s evil grip, Noah remained righteous. When called to build an ark, even though the world had never known rain, he faithfully obeyed God. The world around him mocked, the animals gathered, and he carried on building. Soon the entire earth was deluged. Noah and his family survived the flood. Jesus is greater than Noah. His obedience brought salvation to all.

Abraham was called to go to a land he never knew. He left home and comfort behind to be a stranger in a foreign land. The only piece of land he ever owned was a burial ground for his wife. But before that, Abraham believed God for a son even though he was nearly one hundred years old. He became the father of nations and the spiritual father of many more. Jesus is greater than Abraham.

Moses was raised in the court of the greatest empire of its time. After fleeing into the desert, he returned by the command of God to bring the Egyptian empire to its knees and lead the Hebrew slaves (two million of them) to freedom. He turned them from a group of refugees into a nation feared the world over. He stood on the holy mountain to receive the commandments of God by which all nations should still base their laws. He wrote the first five books of the Bible. Jesus is greater than Moses.

Samuel was faithful to answer the call of God even as a child. From a young age and for the rest of his life he was a prophet, priest and judge. In fact he was the only man prior to Christ that held all three offices. Although he was a king maker and a king breaker, Jesus is greater than Samuel.

David was a man after God’s own heart. Anointed to be king at a young age, he was a shepherd boy who wrote songs to God. As a king he was humble and devout enough to continue to do the same. Many of those songs we still sing today. The psalms have become some of the most famous poetry to ever be written. David was the benchmark by which all other kings, before and after were compared. Jesus is greater than David.

These and many more, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Malachi, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Peter, Paul can be named as great men of God. Jesus is greater than all the prophets and evangelists. He is greater than all the angels. He is greater than everything!

In John’s Gospel this AM, Jesus is more than a hero of faith; more than a man of God. He is God embodied. When He arrived, the new wine flowed, a new era dawned and a new kingdom began. There is no one greater. When Jesus is speaking about Himself He says:-
1) I am the bread of life (6:35)
2) I am the light of the world (8:12)
3) I am the gate (10:9)
4) I am the Good Shepherd (10:11)
5) I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)
6) I am the way, truth, and life (14:6)
7) I am the Vine (15:5)

There are 7 “I Am” statements in this Gospel. 7 is the perfect number as it represents completion and divine perfection. However, when we look at the “I am” statements in John, there are actually 8 of them and the one that gets overlooked is definitely the greatest of them all. Let’s pick up the context again:-

The people said, “Now we know you are possessed by a demon. Even Abraham and the prophets died, but you say, ‘Anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!’ Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus answered, “If I want glory for myself, it doesn’t count. But it is my Father who will glorify me. You say, ‘He is our God,’ but you don’t even know him. I know him…Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.” The people said, “You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!” At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple. (John 8:52-59)

“Before Abraham was, I AM” – there is no beating around the bush with this statement about Jesus’ divinity. Jesus knew He was God. When Moses was at the burning bush he asked God what His name was. God answered, “I AM”. Every time you see the word “LORD” in capitals in the OT, the Hebrew actually has “I AM”. Here, Jesus is making a direct claim to be God. This Gospel passage makes it clear that Jesus is more than an itinerant preacher and do-gooder. The stunned crowd pick up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus is supernaturally hidden from them and simply walks away.

The seven “I AM” statements all link to this one powerful statement. There’s no other choice. As C.S. Lewis put it, Jesus is either Lord, liar or lunatic. Then as now, Jesus invites us to believe He is the Son of God. How profound this is on Father’s Day. Did you notice how many times the word “father” appears in the text? Then Jesus says: “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn.8:31-32). He implies His enemies don’t know the truth, and despite being children of Abraham, they are slaves as a result: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (Jn.8:34).

Earlier in this chapter, with the women caught in the act of adultery, Jesus challenged the one who was without sin to cast the first stone. His enemies didn’t dare pick up a stone because no one can claim to be free from sin. Their backs are well and truly against the wall at this stage. When Jesus adds they are children of the devil, and if you obey my teaching you will never die, they have heard just about all they can take! The cop-out answer is to say: “Didn’t we say all along that you were possessed by a demon?” (to add further insult a Samaritan one at that!) – “now we know you are…even Abraham and the prophets died…Who do you think you are?”

They are not prepared for the answer they receive, but they cannot miss the implication of Jesus’ words – “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Impudent blasphemy to the Pharisees and religious leaders, as they are so dull of hearing, presumptuous and slow to understand. Jesus takes the very name of God for Himself – “I AM” – it’s the end of the discussion and, hidden from their sight, He walks away. He has spoken the truth, and they have rejected it.

The important thing in all this is they thought they were saved, that being the offspring of Abraham was their guarantee of salvation. To them, religion was a matter of race rather than of faith. Likewise, any of the religious duties we pride ourselves in, and try to justify before the Good Lord, are not the basis for our salvation either. We’re saved by the grace of God. Apart from the Gospel and the Cross we have nothing to boast about.

I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure we’re not like the people we’re looking at this AM. They accepted the scriptures, but only had cultural, historical faith in God. It was faith that cannot save. Also don’t twist the facts to deny who Jesus is. Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, liberals, agnostics, secular historians are perfectly happy to have a Jesus who is merely a wise teacher, with a heart for the outcast and downtrodden. He is much more. He is the eternal God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the only One, the greatest One, who can save people from their sins. So let’s continue to worship our Saviour who is the great “I AM.”

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

PROSPEROUS & SUCCESSFUL

There was a time when ordinary people like you and I were not allowed to read the Bible for fear of death. In the Middle Ages the faithful multitudes couldn’t read Latin anyway, nevertheless the Church chained Bibles to lecterns fearing theft. How fortunate we are to live in the age we do. The 66 books of the Bible is the ‘daily bread’ we pray for; its precious life-changing words were breathed out by God. It has the power to change lives.

An atheist once rebuked a woman and her husband for wasting their time reading it. The Bible was a bad book in his opinion. The wife replied, “A little while ago my husband was a drunkard, he gambled away our money, he was lazy, he frightened the children. Since he began to read the Bible, he’s got himself a job, doesn’t go to the pub, no longer plays poker, gives me housekeeping money, and our life at home is peaceful and delightful. How come such a bad book produces such good fruit?”

Moreover, the Bible should not be a book you read only when you have the time. It should be the book you create time to read. So keep calm and read your Bible – you’re fortunate to have one! A well know acronym for the Bible is this: (B)asic (I)nstructions (B)efore (L)eaving (E)arth.

Paul writes in Romans ch.12: “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think (renewing of your mind). Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (v.2). It is important to know God’s will for our lives. Jesus said that His true brothers and sisters are those who know and do His Father’s will (Mk.3:35).

1,400 years earlier another servant, Joshua, listened and obeyed. He was the reason the people would inherit the Promised Land. He was going to fulfill God’s purpose established from the time of Abraham. This was his calling and what he was born to do: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God, will be with you wherever you go.” (Jos.1:9).

This is a popular Bible verse, yet the context it’s in couldn’t be more different from our modern lives. The Book of Joshua is the continuing story of the people who had rebelled against God and their former leader Moses. They had been left to wander in the desert for forty years. When we read the opening chapter, many of the people have died, including Moses, and now Joshua is being commissioned with bringing those who remained into the Promised Land. It was time for Joshua to enable and inspire seasoned desert nomads not battle-tested soldiers. He had no special forces, no trained army, few weapons, and no battle plan. They faced at least seven known nations of fierce warriors, every one of which was bigger, stronger, and better equipped than this ragtag bunch of Jewish people.

But the Lord was guiding Joshua and so began the conquest that started with a story of spies on a reconnaissance mission and a supernatural crossing of the Jordan River (chs.2-3). Then the crumbling of the walls of a mighty city, terror, bloodshed and tragedy. The encouragement of vs.1:9 was the secret of Joshua’s unlikely success: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God, will be with you wherever you go.”

The greatest speeches delivered by Martin Luther King or Winston Churchill (or whoever else you might like to add) do not come near to the speech God gave Joshua. It centered on the words prosperous and successful – two things everybody wants. Look in any good bookshop, you will find hundreds of titles on how to be successful. What is the secret of success? We all want to know.

The good news is that there is no secret to success. The Good Lord wants us to be successful, but only in His way. Earlier He tells Joshua: “No one will be able to defeat you as long as you live. I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will always be with you; I will never abandon you.” (1:5). A verse that encapsulates that without God, all success ends in ultimate failure. Any one of us missing the presence of God in our lives, having no connection to the Creator whatsoever and dies that way has not been successful. C.S. Lewis said, “He who has God and everything has no more than the man who has God alone.” The same God who promised He would be with Joshua has promised to be with us.

Success is obeying the principles of God. Joshua is told that if he does whatever the Word of God tells him to do, success will follow him wherever he goes: “Be careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you…that you may have good success wherever you go…but you shall meditate on it day and night…then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (1:7-8). The longest Psalm in the Bible echoes the same thing: “Blessed are people of integrity who follow the instructions of the Lord…who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.” (Ps.119:1-2). Read, study, discuss, memorize, meditate, live and teach it!

In God’s way success has nothing to do with power, prestige or possessions. Success in God’s eyes is to do what is right. The way we respond to His Book of Instruction determines whether we are a success or failure; sheep or goats, wheat or weeds for: “The Lord Jesus will separate the sheep (the righteous) from the goats (the unrighteous). The sheep will inherit the Kingdom and Eternal Life and the goats will depart into eternal fire and eternal punishment.” (Mt.25:41,46). This is a parable of judgement. Heaven and hell are real. These verses are written, the Gospel states, so that we may believe that Jesus is the Saviour and have life in all its fullness.

How do we apply Scripture to ourselves?

First we must ingest and digest the Bible to the point that its words are always in our mouth (like honey on our lips). If our hearts are full of God’s truth, our mouths will speak His truths and say things we should and not say what we shouldn’t.

Second we must let the Word in by meditating upon it. Meditate suggests the image of a cow chewing the cud over and over. When we meditate, we run a truth around in our mind until we begin to see life from the Lord’s viewpoint. A mind filled with the Word leads to a heart full of the love of God.

Third we must apply Scripture, live it out, in our lives. We need to be obedient if we truly want success. The proof we believe the Bible is to obey it! Real success is fulfilling the purposes of God.

There are three types of people in the world:-

  1. Those with no purpose in life. They drift through life, go to school, get a job, start a career, get married, have children, divorce, remarry, move from house to house, retire, play golf and die.
  2.  Those with the wrong purpose in life. Sure they can be super achievers, climb the corporate ladder, get the golden handshake, but live their lives with little or no thought about God and die without Him. The question why would a loving God send anyone to hell? Is the wrong question to ask. It should be, why would a person choose hell over a loving God?
  3. Then there are those who have found the right purpose in life. They believe that God put them on this earth, they are foreigners here, to fulfill His purpose and they are doing what they believe His purpose is.

An estimated 500,000 tons of water go over Niagara Falls every minute. On March 29, 1948, the falls suddenly stopped. Those who lived near enough heard the overwhelming silence, and immediately they thought it was a sign – the end of the world had come! However, after thirty hours had passed the flow of water resumed. What happened? Tons of ice had jammed the Niagara River at its entrance. The ice blocked the flow of water until finally, there was a shift in the blockage and the river began flowing again. The river had stopped flowing because of ice.

If we really want the flow of God’s love, peace, joy, and anointing in our lives we cannot allow our hearts to become like ice. If we do, His life-giving current will stop and there won’t be a spring within us welling up to eternal life. We need the presence of God, we need to obey His principles and be filled with His purpose. Success will then be guaranteed! We need to discover and pursue it.

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.