Monthly Archives: October 2012
I Can Trust God, for Everything
Reading: Psalm 103-105
He spread out a cloud as a covering, and a fire to give light at night. They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven. He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert. Psalm 105:39-42 (NIV)
When God brought his people Israel out of Egypt and into the inhospitable harshness of the desert, the people had absolutely no idea that they were about to enjoy the faithful hospitality of their God. Rather, many of them feared they were about to die. The environment offered them nothing. There was no way they could provide for themselves – there was no food, no water and no protection from the elements. Unless God miraculously provided for them, they would surely die. But God did provide, and in a way that left no one in any doubt: God was looking after them.
I'm used to the idea of providing for myself. I work to earn money and provide for the needs of my family. I have insurance lest something be stolen or damaged. The government provides services to care for me should I become sick or needy. If I'm hungry, I just go to the pantry. I'm certainly grateful for all those things, but I really don't know what it's like to have nothing, to be absolutely dependant on God for everything as the Israelites were.
Yet everything I have comes from God. He is the source of everything I will ever need. If all I depend upon is taken away from me, he will still be my Provider. It's all because of God's wonderful grace. So what can be my response?
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name. Psalm 105:1
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
Thank you Father that I can trust you. Please continue to provide everything I need. Thank you that I can trust you with my life, and with my family. Thank you for the opportunity to work and earn an income. Thank you for the good things you provide, and for all your blessings to me. I look to you, Lord. May nothing else have a hold on me except the desire to know you more, and enjoy your grace forever.
Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Psalm 105:4-5 (NIV)
See also: Jesus Wants Me to Ask!
Confidence and Tumbleweed (If Trees Could Walk)
Reading: Jeremiah 16 – 17
Tags: confidence, fruitfulness, trust, faith, security, peace, resilience
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-9 (NIV)
We all need to have confidence in something. To have confidence is to be able to stand firm, to have roots and be anchored to something. Confidence brings security. Without confidence, we are like tumble weed, with no idea of where the wind might blow us next. That's not a nice feeling.
But confidence has to be placed in something. In Jeremiah 17, God describes the plight of someone whose confidence is rooted in something or someone other than him:
This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.” Jeremiah 17:5-6 (NIV)
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.” What a contrast. In God there is to be found hope. In him there is security and inner peace. In him we can flourish, resilient and fruitful even when the circumstances of life are difficult, because our fruitfulness doesn't depend on our circumstances but on God's faithfulness.
Trees don't normally uproot themselves and walk off to another place, but that's exactly what I feel like doing. I hate the idea of relying on my own strength and falling short of all God has for me. Living my whole life within my own feeble limitations would be abysmal, yet I still find myself far too attached to that safe and familiar ground. It's time to shake the dust off those roots and move!
Lord, rip me out and plant me next to a stream! I don't want to pray prayers that are so safe I could answer them myself. I want to pray in faith beyond what is naturally possible. I want to step out and do things that will only work if you come through. I want to bless others even as I face challenges of my own, because you are the source of my fruitfulness, not me. I want to see what you are doing and follow you.
Lord, may my confidence ever be found not in me, or my job, or in anything else, but only in you, and your wonderful promises to me through Jesus.
See also: Ready or Not, I'm Stepping Out! and Fruit of a Life Well Spent
The Aroma of Christ in Me
Reading: Exodus 29-30
Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil.
Then use it to anoint the Tent of Meeting, the ark of the Testimony, the table and all its articles, the lamp stand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand.
You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy. Exodus 30:25-29 (NIV)
Everything in the Tent of Meeting had an aroma, a unique aroma that was not allowed to be used anywhere else. The recipe was given directly by God, and it was to be considered holy.
I wonder what it would have been like to be the perfumer, the man who carefully followed the recipe from God to prepare this sacred anointing oil, the “aroma of God”. How careful he must have been, how diligent to ensure that all was done according to God's prescription. Though he wasn't a priest, he enjoyed an immense privilege, and was one of the team of people God chose to help represent his presence in a physical tangible way, in what people could see, hear, smell, touch and even taste.
God still chooses people – men, women and children, to represent himself to mankind. God gives us the privilege of ushering others into his presence in many different ways, often according to the gifts he has given us, our personality, or the situation in which he has placed us. More than that, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the aroma of Christ is in us.
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 .
Sharing God with others, and ushering them into his presence in whatever ways I can is worthy of my time, my careful thought, and my best efforts. These are my offering and my privilege.
Jesus, please cleanse me of anything that would distract from the purity of your aroma in me. As one who is made holy, may I be a workman who is approved by you and available for any task that you would have me do.
Joy, Suffering and the Fragrance of Life
Reading: Philippians 1
For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. Philippians 1:29 (NLT)
The “privilege of suffering.” The phrase could easily have been penned by poet Rupert Brooke who, during WW1, wrote idealistically of the 'glory of war'. But whereas Brooke died from infection en route to the battlefield before having faced a single day of active combat, Paul was certainly a man familiar with suffering, and even as he wrote was chained up in a Roman prison because of his faith.
Unlike Brooke, Paul doesn't speak of the 'glory' of suffering for Jesus, but rather the privilege of suffering. Elsewhere he speaks of “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil 3:10), and Peter speaks of “participating in Christ's sufferings”. (1Peter 4:13)
But Paul does say that if we share in his sufferings, we will “also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17), and Peter says, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1Peter 4:13)
Paul even goes so far as to say that he wants to know the fellowship of sharing in Christ's sufferings! (Phil 3:10). He has reached such a level of trust in Jesus and love for him that his greatest, most heart-felt desire is that “Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)
When Jesus suffered for me at the Cross, his work was complete. There is nothing left still to be done to put me right with God. He died on the Cross “as me”, and I now live forever under the favour of God, a “co-heir with Christ.” But until the day when God puts all things right, I can expect to encounter suffering for being a Christian. In a sense, I am suffering “as Christ”, as his ambassador.
Jesus, thank you that you did not turn away from suffering, but instead you let love and obedience determine your path. For the joy set before you, you “endured the Cross, scorning its shame…” I also want to walk a path of love and obedience. Please grant me courage to be your ambassador, to share you with others, to carry your love and grace to the world in which I live.
Help me Lord to be bold without being obnoxious, and sensitive without being timid. Like you did, Jesus, help me to look beyond any suffering I might face to the joy that is before me, and even now to live in that joy as I serve you, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (NIV)
See also, To Him Who Overcomes
Grace is the Antidote to Disgrace
Reading: Luke 1
When [Zechariah's] time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.” Luke 1:23-25 (NIV)
Luke chapter 1 must be one of the most “feel good” chapters in the Bible. I love the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.“Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” Through no fault of her own, Elizabeth lived in disgrace among the people because of her barrenness.
Disgrace: Loss of reputation or respect as a result of a dishonourable action; a person or thing regarded as shameful and unacceptable; loss of honour or esteem; ignominy; shame; public contempt.
How much pain must Elizabeth have carried in her heart, along with her husband Zechariah. Yet the two of them continued to serve God and do their best to please him.
And then, inexplicably and against all the odds, Elizabeth learns she has been chosen to bear a son! He will be called John. “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” Elizabeth must have nearly burst with happiness as her “dis-grace” vanished like the morning dew. The “dis-” was gone forever, leaving her to enjoy what God had for her all along – “grace“.
No matter how much “dis-” there has been in my life, whether inflicted by others or the result of my own actions, Jesus has taken it to the Cross. He carried it in his body to the grave and it is gone forever, leaving me to enjoy what God had for me all along – grace.
Grace and disgrace cannot coexist. They are opposites. A person cannot truly experience God's grace – that is, his undeserved favour – and still be weighed down by shame and condemnation. Grace is the antidote to disgrace. The coming of grace is like the rising of the sun, causing disgrace to vanish like the morning dew.
This is my mission as a follower of Jesus – to bring grace. What an exciting and rewarding prospect, to have the Holy Spirit working not just in me but through me to bring the wonderful love and favour of God to all who would receive it.
Father, let me be a channel for your grace! May it flow through me like an ever-increasing river. Help me to use my gifts and to take every opportunity you give me to share your grace, and to bring joy where now there is only despair. I am your servant.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)
Surprise! It’s Righteousness!
Reading: Isaiah 60 and 61
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. Isaiah 61:10-11 (NIV)
It is God who is the source of all righteousness. He makes it spring up. He speaks and it happens. He creates the conditions which cause righteousness to grow. When I see righteousness in my life, it is evidence that God is at work. The willingness that allows this to happen – even that is a gift from God, and faith, hope and love, those eternal qualities which increasingly characterise my life, they all have their source in God.
So there is no room at all for pride – just gratitude and joy and praise. No wonder that “I delight greatly in the Lord, and that my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me with garments of salvation, and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” And if God has clothed me, I can expect to look pretty darn good!
It's Spring! All sorts of plants are popping up in my garden, many of which I haven't even planted! It's the same in me. God is causing righteousness to 'pop up' and grow, in me. I don't need to strain to be righteous. I just need to give the Holy Spirit free reign to do his work in me, and up righteousness comes! It's not my doing. Rather, it's all his – his purpose and his delight. I just need to be willing and obedient, and then I will enjoy the fruit of righteousness in my life. This is what salvation by faith in Jesus is all about.
It is such a privilege Lord to be at the receiving end of your good plans and purposes. May you cause righteousness and praise to spring up in me, and may it be visible to all as a testimony to your goodness and love.
Looking Into the Face of God
Reading: Psalm 102
Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. Psalm 102:2-3 (NIV)
Right at the beginning of Psalm 102, the writer pleads with God, “Do not hide your face from me…” What is it about a person's face that is so important? Of the five senses, touch is the only one that doesn't rely on the face. The face is where we see into a person, like a window into the person's thoughts and feelings. But a person's face is also a window through which they can look to see into us.
To hide your face from someone speaks of cutting off communication with them. But even if we can't see a person's face, we may still be able to hear their voice. And so we see that God draws us to himself even when we are far from him, calling us to turn from our sinfulness and come into his very Presence. The final verse of the psalm reveals once again, as all through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, what God's intention for us is: “The children of your servants will live in your presence…” (vs 28).
When Jesus won victory over sin and death at the cross, he did something wonderful – he opened up a window between me and God. It's a window through which I can see God – his thoughts and his feelings, and his holiness – and through which God looks into me. Yes, “everything is open and laid bare” before his eyes (Heb 4:13), but before, his face was turned away from me because of my sin. Now my sin is gone. I have been made holy by the completed work of Jesus on the cross. Now, God's face is turned towards me.
I imagine myself walking up to a wide open window and talking with God as he leans on the smooth wooden sill, his face turned towards mine. The sun shines and a warm breeze gently blows. This is why I was made – to commune with my awesome and approachable Creator.
Thank you Jesus that you have opened up for me this window of opportunity to come close to you, and see into your heart. May the window always remain open, and may the sill be worn smooth from time spent leaning on it and talking with you.
Disciples Who Make Disciples (Who Make Disciples)
Reading: Matthew 28
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
Jesus had come to the end of three years with those who had followed him. He had taught them, discipled them, modelled behaviour for them, and brought about in them the gradual transformation of their hearts and minds. Now, Jesus reveals his master plan for all the people who were yet to come: Disciples who make disciples who make disciples.
We are the plan! But not just us standing alone. We go with and under the authority of Jesus, the highest authority of all. We go with the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. We go in the power of the Holy Spirit who is with us and in us. We are to make disciples of every kind of person, from all walks of life. The word used in verse 19 for nations, ethnos, is also translated 'Gentiles'. Jesus is giving instructions that this new covenant is not just for the Jews, but for everyone.
“Go and make disciples“, from the Greek 'matheteuo': to become a pupil; to disciple; enrol as scholar; instruct, teach. Jesus instructs me not to “convert” people but to teach them and instruct them. Baptism may be an event, but to make disciples is a process that begins even before a conscious decision has been made to make Jesus lord.
As a teacher therefore, I can start teaching people who are not yet committed Christians. Discipleship is incremental; even small packets of “teaching”, in whatever form that comes, may help people to come closer to obeying everything Jesus has commanded us. No matter what my gifting, my life can provide opportunities for others to learn about what it means to obey the commands of Jesus. I can disciple people by the way I live.
Thank you Lord for calling me to yourself, for choosing me, and for those people who discipled me, especially my parents. Holy Spirit, please guide me into every opportunity to disciple others, whether by word or deed, whether formal or informal. Use me and my gifts to bring people closer in their everyday walk with you.
Reading: Exodus 34
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Exodus 34:29-31 (NIV)
“…his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” How awesome that when Moses was in the presence of God, his very physical appearance changed. He absorbed something of God's glory and majesty that could still be seen on his face after he had left God's presence, and to such a degree that the Israelites were afraid of him. How interesting that while Moses longed for the Presence of God, the majority of the people were afraid of it.
I want my face to be radiant because I have spoken with God. The time I spend “sneaking off with God” is my time to come into his presence and speak with him – to express openly what is in my heart, and also to seek his voice, to allow him to openly express to me what is in his heart.
Father, please transform me. As I come into your presence, please burn off the dross that you find, and make me radiant. I would love for others to see you and find you and know you more closely as a result of being with me. As I enjoy your presence in my life, will you draw others into your presence, and help me to bring people with me into that very privileged place.
See also: Meant For His Presence
When Your Words Come…
Reading: Jeremiah 10 – 15
Think of how I suffered reproach for your sake. When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty. Jeremiah 15:15b-16 (NIV)
Right at the beginning, God had warned Jeremiah that in serving him, he would have “…to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.” (Jeremiah 1:18). Yes, God promised to be with him and protect him, but what a life he must have lived; what a burden his calling must have been to bear. No doubt he longed to be welcomed and accepted by the people around him, but there was something he cherished far more – “When your words came…” Hearing from God was what Jeremiah lived for. His soul hungered for it. “I ate [your words]; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name…”
I too have opportunity to hear the voice of God speaking to me. The wonder of that possibility is almost breathtaking, yet so easily disregarded or made light of. To hear the voice of God is not only a privilege – it is life-transforming. But it can only happen as I purposefully incline my heart towards him and seek him, like a flower unfolding its petals each morning and following the sun as it moves across the sky. It is intentional, and born out of both hunger and delight.
Lord, I also bear your name. Like Jeremiah I have been called and your Spirit is within me. I have been bought for a price and I am yours. I too hunger for your words. As I read your Word, please speak to my heart. May I never be satisfied with just words on a page. Please bring them to life, and sharpen the acuity of my ears so that I might clearly hear your voice speaking to me. May nothing else in this life satisfy the longing of my heart like hearing you speaking to me. May that forever be my joy and my heart's delight.
See also Wake Up and Listen