Monthly Archives: September 2012
Reading: Galatians 1-5
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)
We can live either under the law, in which case we must obey all of it, or live under grace, in which case we must follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The intent of the law was that we learn to love God and love one another. Effectively, by following the Spirit, our lives will bear fruit that satisfy that intent, since “the fruit of the Spirit is love…”
It is for freedom that Christ set us free. (Galatians 5:1) It seems that freedom doesn't always come naturally to us. We are in danger of becoming slaves to the notion that we must earn God's favor. Obedience is still required, but to the promptings of the Holy Spirit our guide, our helper, our advocate. He brings forth the fruit in our lives.
Yippee! I am free! Free to love unconditionally, free to serve others, free to be joyful and enjoy the benefits of living under God's favor. I plan to enjoy it! I don't have to worry about whether or not I will make the grade. Actually, I flunked and it doesn't matter a jot because Jesus sat the test for me and passed with flying colors.
Thank you Lord for the freedom I have in Jesus to enjoy a relationship with you, free from guilt, and free from anxiety. Thank you for joy, and as I serve you, and serve those in my sphere of influence, I thank you that I serve as a free man.
Reading: Psalm 63-68
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens. Psalm 68:19-20 (NIV)
This verse is translated differently in the various translations:
Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits… (NKJV)
For each day he carries us in his arms. (NLT)
Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up… (ESV)
Praise the Lord, God our Saviour, who helps us every day. (NCV)
Perhaps it is fair to say that God does all these things. He daily loads us with benefits, and daily bears our burdens. Both are the result of what Jesus won for us at the cross.
I need to get with Jesus each day and do some trading. I give him my burdens, and he gives me his benefits. I like the sound of this!
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Thank you Jesus for this wonderful arrangement, for the divine exchange which took place at the cross so that I need no longer lumber around a heavy burden. What a pleasure to be able to come to you each day and trade in my burdens for blessings. May I come away loaded! Thank you so much for your goodness, fresh to me each day.
Reading: Joshua 2-6
The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. Joshua 3:17 (NIV)
The priests who carried the ark of the covenant had a very noble and serious job! As the people of Israel prepared to cross the Jordan river into the land God had promised them, and with war imminent, it was the priests carrying the ark who took the lead.
Carrying the ark on its poles, the priests stepped into the flooding River Jordan, then watched as the water ceased to flow, the water having “heaped up” somewhere way upstream. They then “stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” Considering the nation probably numbered into the millions, they must have stood there for a long time.
The ark was no doubt a heavy thing to carry, both physically and spiritually. Physically because it was covered with gold, with the lid being solid gold, and spiritually because those carrying it were in a sense carrying the very presence of God. It was certainly not a job for the feeble or the faint-hearted.
Being in the service of God is still not for the feeble or faint-hearted. It is a noble calling. But carrying the Presence of God into the world can be hard work, both physically and spiritually. Even Jesus faced hardship and suffering, with long days and endless demands placed on him from those who desperately needed to experience the Presence of God in their lives. Yet that was why he came, that we might be welcomed into the very Presence of God.
If I am to continue with my part in this noble calling, I'm going to need perseverance, to keep pushing on even when things are uncomfortable. That doesn't sound like much fun really, unless I can also get myself infused with life's “essential oil” – joy. Fortunately, God specialises in joy! Jesus came to bestow on me the “oil of joy” (Isaiah 61:3). Because the Holy Spirit lives in me, I am his dwelling place, and 1 Chronicles 16:27 tells me that “…strength and joy fill his dwelling.” (I note strength and joy are together). The fruit of the Spirit's work and presence in my life includes joy. (Gal 5:22).
I suspect that the secret to letting joy truly infuse my life is firstly to bring daily to God everything that would contaminate that essential oil – sin, worries, annoyances, frustrations, hurts – and secondly, to daily practice those three short verses that so beautifully summarise God's plan for my life: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thess 5:16-18
As well, I need to pray for those who serve God in positions of leadership and responsibility in the Body of Christ. They carry a heavy load, and they deserve my respect and support.
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens. (Psalm 68:19-20). Thank you Lord for joy. It's one of my favourite things! How wonderful that it's in joy that my strength is found – who would have thought they went together?! Help me Lord to bring to you daily everything that would make that oil of joy rancid, that you would purify joy and perfect holiness in me.
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:10-12 (NIV)
Reading: Mark 14-16
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” Mark 16:6-7 (NIV)
“But go, tell his disciples and Peter…” Peter, who just three days earlier had done what in his mind was unthinkable – he had disowned Jesus, not once but three times, just as Jesus had predicted. How must Peter have felt during those three days, after having so emphatically insisted, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” Mark 14:31 Did he have the courage to even let himself be seen by Jesus as he hung on the cross? I suspect not. He had stepped up to the plate and failed, dismally.
But Jesus knew. He knew Peter's despair and the bitter anguish of his soul, and on the cross Jesus bore in his body not just the failings of Peter, but the failings of us all. Soon, Peter's despair would be replaced by hope, and the angel was there to announce it: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter…” It's OK Peter. You failed and Jesus specifically wants you to know that he still loves you.
In many ways the redemption that Peter subsequently found in Jesus through that failure was the making of the man who would go on to lead the early church and eventually make good on his promise, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
In the kingdom of God, failure is not the end. In many ways, it's like a beginning. It's an opportunity for me to stand before God with empty hands and acknowledge once again that he is my everything. It's an opportunity for my heart to be softened and prepared so that hope can spring up afresh and arrogance make way for graciousness.
Lord, you know all too well that I have yet to reach a place of humility like the one Peter found himself in. But I pray that you would continue to perfect holiness in me as I journey with you, and if I meet failure along the way, please help me to grow from the experience, and to pass through it as one who has tasted more deeply the riches of your wonderful kindness and grace.
Reading: 2Corinthians 10 – 13
Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 (NIV)
“Aim for perfection“. That's not a phrase we often hear. More often we hear the phrase, “No one is perfect”, which of course is true, but it is generally an excuse for some misdemeanour or undesirable habit. “Generally I'm a good person, so cut me some slack – I can't be perfect in everything.” Yet here Paul is specifically encouraging us to be just that – perfect in everything.
“Perfect”, from the Greek katartizo: “to complete thoroughly, i.e. repair (literally or figuratively) or adjust:–fit, frame, mend, (make) perfect(-ly join together), prepare, restore.”
God has not left me with an impossible task, to be perfect. He is actively working in me, equipping me with everything good for doing his will. In Hebrews 13:20-21 Paul prays that Jesus may “equip us with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ…” So there is a wonderful cooperation that is taking place, as I aim for perfection, and God works in me what is pleasing to him. This is made possible by the divine exchange that took place on the cross. God is repairing me, restoring me, and completing me thoroughly. There is no room for self-righteousness or arrogance, but rather, a me that is pleasing and productive and good. I like this. Why wouldn't I want to work with God on this divine project.
Thank you Lord God that you are perfecting me. What a wonderful partnership, to be able to work together with you. I feel like a project in your workshop. Please continue, and make me into something beautiful that gives you pleasure.
Reading: Psalm 62
My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:1-3, 8-9 (NIV)
God knows what is in our hearts. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:13 Yet God wants us to pour out our hearts to him, to be our refuge. To pour out our hearts implies that we leave nothing undisclosed. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before him, but we are doing the uncovering. We are laying our troubled hearts bare, and in doing so, we find rest and are saved. This requires trust, and as trust builds, so does intimacy with God. “Into me see”.
No situation can come upon me that I need hide from God. Every trouble is a opportunity to increase the closeness of my relationship with God. He is my first port of call. No need to complain or whine to people who are not in a position to change things for me. Instead I can “Be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for me in Christ Jesus.” 1Thess 5:16-18
Thank you Father for the opportunity I have every moment of the day to cry out to you, and pour out my heart. May that closeness be my every day experience as I walk with you.
Reading: Exodus 39:32 – 40:38
Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels. Exodus 40:34-38 (NIV)
Every day and every night of their 40 years in the wilderness, the pillar of cloud and fire reminded Israel that God was with them. They could see it, they could no doubt hear it, and they could feel it as it provided shade by day and heat by night. The pillar was a multi-sensual representation of God's Presence. And where was God's Presence? Covering and filling the Tent of Meeting, indicating that God's desire was to meet with his people.
Whenever the pillar of cloud moved, the people packed up and followed it. They were effectively moving with the Presence of God. Moving where they did not know, but moving nonetheless. Their ultimate destination was the promised land, but in the meantime, they were simply following God. It was guidance by cloud and by fire.
Guidance isn't always easy. There have been times when I could have wished for my own personal pillar of cloud to help me decide what to do next. But now I think of it, the Holy Spirit is just that – my own personal pillar of cloud. He is my Fire. He is God's Presence meeting with me, and I am the 'Tent of Meeting', anointed and consecrated to him; He dwells in me! And He is the one who leads me as I keep in step with him, following his promptings and enjoying his conversation.
No wonder that increasingly my desire is simply to 'move with the Presence of God'. The details about what I should be doing next seem not so important as just meeting with God, and drawing closer to him. He knows what's around the corner, and knowing that he will be with me in all my travels makes the journey a lot less stressful, and actually quite exciting.
Thank you Lord for revealing this wonderful truth. Help me now to follow you, to move with your Presence, and to enjoy the warmth of your presence by night and the peace of your protection by day. Holy Spirit, my constant companion, lead me on.
The Lord watches over me— the Lord is my shade at my right hand; the sun will not harm me by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep me from all harm— he will watch over my life; the Lord will watch over my coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:5-8 (NIV, personalised)
Reading: Psalm 100
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his ; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100 (NIV)
Psalm 100 is a wonderful psalm – short, yet full of wisdom and truth. I belong to God! That could either be good or bad, depending on God's character. But it's ok, God is good! Not only that but he loves me, and his love will last forever! He will never discard me or shift his affection elsewhere. His faithfulness is the stuff of legends. He stores up goodness for me for rainy days (see Psalm 31:19). He is the rich kind benefactor we all secretly wish we had.
The psalmist need hardly have bothered telling me how to respond. Anyone who really gets it will have that feeling of excitement and anticipation bubbling away constantly in the background, at least to some degree, and even when times are difficult. And when that joy wells up, we naturally find ourselves worshiping God and expressing our grateful thanks.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-20, Paul tells me, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Psalm 100 gives almost the same keys for living, but also reminds me of the reason I can live like that – because I belong to God, and because God is good, he loves me and he is faithful.
I need to remind myself of these things often, lest I slide away from thankfulness, joy, worship and praise, and find myself at the opposite end of the spectrum – self-absorbed, anxious, irritable and bogged down. Whenever I find that the colour has drained out of my life and that the grey tones have taken over, that will be my signal to put Psalm 100 into action:
- “I will enter his gates with thanksgiving!”, an easy place to start as there's always something I can be thankful for.
- I will remind myself that I am God's, and will submit myself once again into his care.
- I will focus my lens on these thoughts, that “the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
- Finally, I will lift up my hands and my heart to worship him.
Yep, that should fix it.
Lord God, I love the view from the colour end of the spectrum. Thank you for your plan for me to be always joyful, to be in continual conversation with you, and to be always focused on the good as I give thanks in all circumstances. I really like this plan. Holy Spirit, if ever you see me down at the grey tones end of the spectrum, please give me a prod. I want to see you fully expressing yourself through me as you fill me with your light.
Have you tried SOAP with your Bible reading? Why not try it out! You can learn more about this excellent tool here: What is SOAP?
Reading: Jeremiah 8:4 – 9:26
This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NIV)
More than anything God wants us to know him and understand him. To know him means also to know what pleases him. Here God spells out three things that please him: kindness, justice and righteousness, “… for in these I delight.” The people of Jeremiah's day would have known this, but what they knew differed from what they valued, as revealed by their actions.
What determines a person's values? In this passage, God implies that if we can but know him and understand him, our values will begin to line up with his.
Values could be defined as those things that I hold as valuable, things that delight me and in which I take great pleasure. The more pleasure something brings me, or that I believe will bring me in time, the more time and energy I will likely invest in it, and the more I'll be prepared to spend or sacrifice to obtain and safeguard that thing.
I suspect that some of the things I believe to be important and good have yet to become true values for me. I'd like them to be, but my actions betray me. The passions that motivate and delight my God have yet to fully grip my own heart. But that, more than anything, is what I want – to delight consistently in the Lord, and to live a life impassioned by those values that delight and impassion him.
Lord God, the only way for me to really understand you and know you deeply is for you to open your heart to me. Thank you that you are changing me from the inside out. Lord, those things you hold dear, I want to hold dear. Once again, I open my heart to you, and invite you to have free reign in me, that I might live a life passionately devoted to you.
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
Reading: Galatians 5:16-26
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
Fruit doesn't appear instantly like gifts do. It grows. Most fruit starts out as a bud which soon opens into a pretty flower. The flower is only temporary though, and once pollinated, its petals fall and its base begins to swell and grow until eventually it becomes a fully grown fruit. Even then the fruit has to ripen before it is perfect and ready to consume.
The work of the Holy Spirit in my life is the same. The fruit is really his fruit, but I get to bear it and thereby share in the blessing of that fruit. This requires my full cooperation, and a willingness to submit to the Spirit and join with him in his work. Much fruit may be born along the way as I walk with him, but the choicest fruit will be that which has had a lifetime to mature and ripen, perfected perhaps by suffering, and ultimately bringing glory to God through Jesus whose perfect sacrifice made it all possible.
My father died this week at the age of 85. As a boy he committed his life to Jesus, and he loved and served God unswervingly all his life. Every year when I was growing up, he used to buy boxes and boxes of fresh fruit in season – apricots, plums, peaches, pears, nectarines and more. When the fruit was ripe to perfection, he would preserve it in big jars and fill our cupboards with fruit for the year ahead.
On reflection, it seems to me that his life too was characterised by fruit, of two types. The first was fruit born by him as he faithfully used his gifts and his time to serve and bless others in all sorts of ways. The second was fruit born in him, those 'character' fruit described in Galatians 5:22 which over the course of his life developed and matured, and were finally ripened to near perfection.
Perhaps the two types of fruit are one and the same, with the former being simply the natural expression of the latter. Both are evidence of a life well spent – a life committed to Jesus and yielded to the Spirit – and the fruit of his life will be enjoyed forever.
Thank you Lord Jesus for the kindness and love that you have shown to my family. I thank you for the life of my father, and for the legacy that he has passed down to his children. May good fruit continue to fill our cupboards and overflow in expressions of thankfulness and praise to you.