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!

 

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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.

PENTECOST

The Lord Jesus Christ left no great monument in His honour. He ascended into heaven without even writing a book. But before this He said to His disciples: “When the Father sends the Holy Spirit as my representative he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” (Jn.14:26). Pentecost celebrates the birth of the whole church: the day when God did just that – poured out His Holy Spirit – the rush of violent wind and tongues of fire!

William Blake wrote a poem about Pentecost. Part of it says: Unless the eye catch fire, God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire, God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire, God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire, God will not be loved. Everywhere the Spirit is at work: bringing life and growth, telling the wonders of God’s salvation, making things happen, giving faith to people and blessing them.

However, it strikes me that for all our talk about the gift of the Spirit and how He creates, upholds, and sustains the Church as a whole, we often miss the full significance of Pentecost.  Hear those Gospel verses again: “I will not abandon you as orphans – I will come to you…I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads you into all truth.” (Jn.14:16-18).

For a start the Holy Spirit is not some mystical power, a floating fog or a ghostly apparition. The King James used the term Ghost – but He’s not a ghost; He’s a person – just as Jesus is a person, and He acts as a person:-·

He speaks (Acts 8:29)·

He teaches (Jn.14:26)·

He inspires (Mk.12:36)·

He convinces (Jn.16:8)·

He leads (Rom.8:14)·

He helps (2 Tim.1:14)

And we need to understand this in order to grow as a Christian and to experience the fullness of Christ.

Secondly, notice that the Spirit is called “the Spirit of truth” (v.17) whose ministry is to fully reveal Christ, to remind us of His presence and to supernaturally unite us with God the Father: “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (v.20). That’s why sin is so out of place in the believer’s life. Yet even a casual glance at the NT reveals to us that the first Christians were far from perfect. None of us will be until after death and glorification – so the Church will always be composed of sinners – saved by grace, but still with feet of clay, still fatally flawed.

Nevertheless, we’re part of the Church – it’s the institution that Jesus commissioned and through the Holy Spirit’s power it’s here for the long haul. Yet we’ve got to learn, got to allow, the Holy Spirit to flow in us and shape our ways to remain effective. If you’ve ever tried using white gloss paint in the bright light of the sun, when it’s gone in, or goes behind a cloud, you see all the bits you missed! In the same way, the Holy Spirit can shine heavenly light on any area of our life, or on our corporate life together, so we can clearly see the things we would otherwise have missed. Every now and then with churches, we spot these things and sometimes we have to take stock, access where we’re at and make changes. We have shortcomings. We either move forward or backward.

For most of the last century Switzerland dominated the world of watch making: Rolex, Omega, Cartier. The Swiss made the best watches in the world and were committed to constant refinement of their expertise. By 1968, Switzerland made 65 percent of all watches sold in the world. By 1980, however, they had laid off thousands of watch-makers and their profits eroded. Why? They had refused to consider a new development—the digital watch. It was too radical for them to embrace. But other companies accepted it and became leaders in the watch industry.

The lesson here is profound. A past that was so secure, so profitable, so dominant was destroyed by an unwillingness to consider the future. It was more than not being able to make predictions—it was an inability to re-think how they did things. Past success had blinded them to the importance of seeing the implications of the changing world and to admit that past accomplishment was no guarantee of future success

Things often only last for a season within the plan of God and right now – perhaps the time is ripe for change. I’m not talking about Biblical principles – they’re timeless, forever fixed in the heavens and unchanging. I’m talking about methodology, the way we do things – to embrace, through prayer and discernment, a new vision. Who knows what the years ahead hold for this place? Maybe, we’re on the threshold of a new chapter in our history. Have any of you ever seen the Holy Spirit? Have any of you ever seen the wind?…No – but you have seen evidence of the wind, trees blowing, hats taking off, umbrellas turning inside out. Wind farms harvest its energy. Similarly by asking the Spirit to strengthen, guide and help us to blow change through the cobwebs – we can see the role He plays in being the architect of the Church.

Also take prayer seriously. Like those first disciples who trusted this promise – and filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit saw the Church adapt and grow. We know the theory of Christian living but what we must do is to practice it. There’s a story told of a husband and wife both of who were doctors – one a doctor of theology and the other a doctor of medicine. When their doorbell was rung, the inquirer would often ask their children for “the doctor”. Their interesting reply was: “Do you want the one who preaches or the one who practices?”  More importantly the prayer life of those disciples didn’t diminish once the Church was established. They have left us the empowering Biblical principle that nothing important and lasting happens without prayer.

We live with the realisation that the Spirit has come in all His fullness, the Spirit of truth, the “one called alongside to help”, our Advocate and Encourager who guides us into all of the Lord’s revealed will. Being under the Holy Spirit’s control is like a shop hanging a sign out on its front door: Under New Management. Things will be different from now on. There’s fresh hope! And signalling a change in our lives the Spirit leads us out of that kingdom of lies, and helps us live as Jesus would have us live, and the more He controls our lives – “under new management” – the more like Christ we become and our future is assured for we are no longer staring death in the face. He makes Heaven nearer and the Word of God clearer: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn.14:27).

That’s the comfort of the Spirit. Remember that He still fills the church with power today, just as He did on the day of Pentecost. Therefore, let’s ask Him to direct our thoughts and actions and allow Him to control our thinking, outlook, assumptions, and values. Only God can turn around a church. He has in the past, and He may well do in our church today.

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

A THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION ON THE CURRENT ISRAELI – PALESTINIAN VIOLENCE

14th May 2018

The US opens its embassy in Jerusalem on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel’s formation. Palestinians furious about this as this move is seen as supporting Israel in its ambition to take over the whole of the city. East Jerusalem, they claim, is their future capital whereas Israel regards it as its indivisible capital. Violence erupts in the Gaza Strip with over 50 Palestinians killed and more than 2000 wounded.

15th May 2018

Palestinians call today the ‘Nakba’ – remembering the mass displacement of 750,000 of its people, 70 years ago, in the war following Israel’s formation. Israel, meanwhile, celebrates its birthday with Independence Day festivities taking place around the country. Interestingly on May 12th Netta, an orthodox Jew who raps in Hebrew won the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel. Its celebrations started early: “Thank you! I love my country!” as she patriotically took to the stage.

70 is an important number in Israel’s history. 70 years in Babylonian captivity (before the Jews were freed by the Persian King Cyrus) and 70 years from the time that Jesus was born to the time of the 2nd temple being destroyed. The nation state of Israel is 70 years old today. There is something theologically important about this and it goes under the name Zionism.

I am a Christian Zionist (CZ). I have a particular understanding and interpretation of the Bible that supports the ingathering of all Jews to Israel and their claim to the whole of Jerusalem and the land of Palestine. The seeds of CZ lie within the Reformation. Several Puritan leaders spoke out in favour of the restoration of the Jews to Palestine. The evangelicals of the 19th and 20th centuries took the Biblical prophecies concerning the Jewish people to predict their diaspora will end and they will return to the land promised Abraham in a great exodus.

The doctrine of the covenants is the key of theology. Zionism is thoroughly Biblical: “The Lord is King forever and ever! Let those who worship other gods will be swept from the land.” (Ps.10:16); “You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice.” (Is.9:3); “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates…” (Gen.15:18-19) – prophecies that are happening now and which echo what some see as the current Israeli agenda that “We are going to drive out the Canaanites for this land belongs to us; it is given to us of the Lord, and we will subdue it.” The Jews occupy center stage in God’s plan – they always have and they always will. Yes, Abraham is father of both Jew and Arab, but the promise was given through Isaac, not Ishmael – whose descendants are not the covenant people. Biblically we cannot deny this fact.

Today, Israel is a Western culture in a Muslim world and a fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture concludes that the 2nd Coming of Christ can’t occur unless the Dome of the Rock is demolished and a 3rd temple built. Current events unfold, interpreted as signs of the end times. President Trump has the support of extreme evangelicals. The opening of the embassy in Jerusalem is the start of restoration. It is not just political but deeply theological. It’s a prophetic sign. The disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Many voices have called Trump a type of Cyrus – “a messiah” because he has recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital.

Within God’s prophetic timetable CZ expects that many Jews will be converted to Christianity before Christ returns. Some imply that CZ promotes violence and is not concerned with Jesus’ manifesto of love, forgiveness and peace. Some even argue that it is anti-Semitic, as Jews that don’t accept Christ will be annihilated. After all, God is the God of Armageddon as well as the God of Golgotha. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Its leaders had Him crucified. Yet it is time for the eyes of the Jewish people to be opened to their Messiah. Revival will come to Israel.

CZ is a religious ideal and naturally pro-Israeli. It also has a strong political agenda. I can’t deny that. The current violence has led many nations to condemn Israel’s actions. Israeli forces (IDF) are gearing up today for a second straight day of Palestinian protests. Israelis and Palestinians need peace and security. CZ does not prevent this. I don’t believe, for instance, that God orchestrates every act taken by Israel. I condone the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Since 2007, Israel’s restrictions continue to make life difficult for the millions of people crammed into one of the most densely populated places in the world. On the other hand Israel’s military occupation, the seizing of land on the West Bank and the settlement movement on the Golan Heights is justified for the Scriptural reasons explained above as well as for Israel’s security.

Just as in the past the world stood against Fascism and Communism, so today Israel and Western Nations must stand against radical Islam. Over the years Israel has successfully prevented victories by terrorists in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and thankfully has also kept the nationalistic Syrian regime in check. The IDF with its air-force is dominant in the region for good reason as regrettably most Islamic nations have sworn to destroy Israel, to obliterate it off the map. Iran is militant in the Gaza Strip (and also assisting Assad in Syria). Its agenda is Jihad. It uses Hamas to promote and stir up violence. As Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said his military was acting in self-defence against Gaza’s Islamist rulers, who want to destroy Israel. Thousands of people don’t just run towards a highly protected sensitive border unless Hamas-led. What occurred yesterday was not some sort of ‘peaceful’ protest – it was a violent march on the Gaza border.

The difficult thing in all this of course is the peaceful citizens, the non-militant Arabs residing in Gaza who need to be liberated from this propaganda machine. Normative Islam is a viable religious and humanistic alternative for a just and secure peace. It could be that CZ is compatible with the proposed Two-State Solution. A theological interpretation that accommodates all people, as let us not forget there are Palestinian Christians too.

Fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding).