A personal walk with God and stuff learned on the way

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The answer to weariness

As Christians we are on a life-time journey of constantly learning and being changed into the image of our Saviour.  This can be an exciting process, but sometimes we can be wearied by long periods of staying faithful to what God is telling us to do and persevering through difficult times, and yet seeing little in the way of change in our lives.

WearinessThis can be a trying experience and we can be tempted to give up if we don’t see progress after years of pressing in and obedience to the Word of God in our lives.  This can be more difficult if we see other people who have what we want but don’t seem to have gone through anything difficult to get there. We all know people in life who appear to coast along and everything comes easily to them.  In the meantime we can be thinking, “What am I doing wrong? How come they get all these things that I’m trusting God for with no effort at all.  God, if you’re working in my life, why can’t I see anything?”

If you are in a situation where you have heard clearly from God for things that He wants to do in and through you but you seem to be in a “holding pattern” where nothing is happening, even though you are doing all you know to do, then remember that even though you’re not making progress, God is still at work.giving-up

Before He can do something through us and give us success in the Kingdom, he has to do something in us to prepare us for what is ahead.  He wants to build maturity and strength and steadfastness into us as a foundation so that we can handle the bigger stuff when it comes along.

Recently I came across a video on YouTube which demonstrated this fact.   The clip below shows a time-lapse sequence of the construction of the new World Trade Centre building between 2004 and 2012.  In the clip, for a while there seems to be a lot of activity, but no building.  A lot of work is happening on the ground but it appears that nothing of any significance is going on. This, of course, is when the foundations are laid and preparation work is being done, so that when the building starts going up, it will have a solid foundation and be strong.

 

When God works in us, he needs to build a foundation in us so that we won’t fall at the first sign of trouble or imagine that our success came from ourselves. Neither of these will enable us to last very long and God needs to do this preparation work in us before He can build something substantial through us.

One thing I have learned to say during dry periods is to repeatedly confess “I believe that God is working”.  This has inspired faith where I have been tempted to doubt and give up and it has helped get my perspective on the long-term picture, rather than focussing on the present set of circumstances.

God is always working, so look up, not down

 

The covenant of relationship

On May 11th 2013 Wigan Athletic and Manchester City played in the FA Cup final.   Whilst Man City had experienced success before, Wigan were considered the underdogs. This was a new experience in their 81 year history.

Dave Whelan

As a supporter of another North West club, I know that many fans of Blackburn Rovers were wanting Wigan to win.

The reason for this is because of the historical relationship that Wigan owner Dave Whelan has with Blackburn Rovers, that supporters of the club will also support Wigan in an otherwise neutral match.  He played for Blackburn Rovers against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 1960 FA Cup final and broke his leg in a tackle with another player.

In 1 Samuel 18 David made a covenant with Jonathan and after Jonathan died, David made a point of looking for anyone who was of the same family of Jonathan, to whom he could be gracious.   He sought out Mephibosheth and bought him to his palace and had him sit at his table in a place of honour. Mephibosheth was overwhelmed by this extraordinary act of kindness and mercy by the King as he knew he had done nothing to deserve it.

Mephibosheth Before David II Samuel 9:3-6It was only because of David’s relationship with Jonathan that Mephibosheth was invited to David’s palace. He had done nothing to earn it on his own.

This can be compared to the relationship that God has established with the Church through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is because of the relationship that that Father has with the Son that anyone can come and benefit from that relationship through the sacrifice Jesus made.  We haven’t done anything to earn or deserve it. We are the benefactors even though it had nothing to do with us. We come to God through no merit of our own.

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3: 16)

When life doesn’t make sense

For Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the pivotal event in history which changed everything.  It was God’s plan to save us by allowing Jesus to take the punishment for all we had ever done and would ever do.  When we read the gospels and the words of Jesus, we read it in this light and it is easy for us to understand God’s plan because we have the benefit of perspective.

For those that encountered Jesus during his life, however, it was a different story.  Everyone, including the disciples, thought that the Messiah’s mission was to save them from the current occupation by the Romans.  After all, during the times of the judges, God had raised up individuals to save them from their current oppressors, such as the Philistines, and everyone thought that this was what God had for them this time.

Matt27It is not surprising, then, that when Jesus was arrested, tried and then crucified, some people even up until the end thought that Jesus was going to be saved himself. After all, how can you save anyone after you’re dead?

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”  (Matt 27: 46-49)

This can be compared to a movie when the hero is about to be defeated by the villain and it looks like everything is lost, but at the end the hero recovers, defeats the enemy and saves the day.   We expect a happy ending and this was the case for those watching the death of Jesus.  They thought, “This is our Messiah. He can’t possibly die. That just can’t happen.”, so when he did they must have been dumbfounded at this unexpected turn of events.

confusionWe have our expectations of how we think things should turn out in our lives when God is involved, and when it doesn’t, we can be disappointed and our faith can waver.  When this happens, God is expecting us to trust him with all and every circumstance.  He can see the big picture and he knows the end from the beginning. God’s ways are higher than our ways and this is true when things appear to go badly. It was God’s plan all along for Jesus to die because he had a much higher purpose than just rescuing the Jews from their current set of circumstances.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.  (Is 55: 8-9)

God requires us to trust Him with our disappointments.  Deposit yourself with God and thank Him regularly that He is in control.  When doubt and confusion threaten, you will have to say repeatedly, “God, I don’t understand this and why this has happened. It really hurts and I wish it didn’t, but I give it to you to make something good out of it. I believe that even now you are working to turn this around in ways I can’t see now, but will do later on”.

What was intended for evil, God intended for good”.  (Genesis 50:20)

Walking a straight line

In the Bible, Peter is portrayed as someone who is well-meaning but has many flaws that trip him up from time to time.  One time where he got it right, however, is in his confession of Jesus in Matthew 16 as “The Christ, the Son of God”.  Jesus responded to this by saying,

You are blessed, Peter, because this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in Heaven.

This shows that when a believer hears from God, then that is a sign of His blessing, which for believers then begs the question ‘what would our lives be like if we didn’t hear from God regularly?’.  It struck me that without the leading of God’s Spirit in our lives, that we would be like the blind person who didn’t know where they were going.

walking in circles

It has been shown that when a person cannot see the way in front of them and attempts to walk in what they think is a straight line, they actually end up walking in circles without knowing it.

Without any frame of reference or a compass to guide them, they are left to their own senses to try and figure out how to get to where they need to go.

compassFor the believer, God’s word to him: His instruction, correction and encouragement, is like a compass.  It tells you the direction you need to go when you have no way of knowing on your own.  In truth, our own ideas of the best way to take will often lead us astray.

There is a way that appears to be right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14: 12)

The Bible says that God is determining our steps even as we make our own plans (Prov 16: 9).  Jeremiah 10: 23 states that our lives are not even our own and it is not for us to establish our own course.  Abraham had to let God lead him when he left Haran not knowing where he was going.  Noah had to trust in what God was telling him to do when he built the Ark without knowing the full blueprint from day one.

Our lives are always better when God is in the driving seat.  We are made that way.

In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

(Prov 3: 6)

God’s extravagant gift

Before the time of Jesus, God instigated rules by which man may approach Him and worship Him. Part of this included the building of the temple in Jerusalem.  This was the focal point of worship for the old testament believers to come and offer sacrifices.

In the old testament books of Kings and Chronicles can be found a description of how the temple was to be built.

Consider these portions of scripture taken from 1 Kings 5 & 6

King Solomon conscripted labourers from all Israel – thirty thousand men. Solomon had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hills, as well as thirty-three hundred foremen who supervised the project and directed the workers.

At the king’s command they removed from the quarry large blocks of high-grade stone to provide a foundation of dressed stone for the temple.

He overlaid the inside of the inner sanctuary with pure gold, and he also overlaid the altar of cedar. Solomon covered the inside of the temple with pure gold, and he extended gold chains across the front of the inner sanctuary, which was overlaid with gold.

So he overlaid the whole interior with gold. He also overlaid with gold the altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary.

What is striking about the building of the temple is the extravagance of it all. This was to be the temple of the Lord and no expense was spared.

On a different scale, but no less extraordinary was the anointing of Jesus by Mary at Bethany.

Mary took about half a litre of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12: 3)

This pure act of devotion was considered wasteful by those who were there because the perfume cost the equivalent of a year’s wages. After all, what would it take any of us to spend what we would earn in a year all in one go? However Jesus commended her for what she did.

Our God is extravagant. He is not stingy or tight-fisted. He expects us to reserve our very best and our highest for Him because he is worthy of nothing less.

However, when considering the lavishness demonstrated in these two passages of scripture,  remember what God gave for us in His Son.

He who did not withhold or spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also with Him freely and graciously give us all other things? (Romans 8:32)

Jesus was the very highest that God could give to save us. There was nothing greater in all of creation that He could have given and nothing more that he could have done. The immenseness of this free gift given for our forgiveness and salvation is just beyond anything we can really grasp.

This just shows us how much God longs for mankind to come to Him and has made the way open for us to approach Him.  Who could turn away from such an extravagant act of sacrifice and love on our behalf?

God gave His highest and deserves our very best

Being set free

I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father, except by me.   (John 14: 6)

There are some passages of scripture that can be said to be universally familiar and this one is among them. It has been used many times in sermons and bible studies over the years.

Throughout the gospel of John there are many challenges made by Jesus to the people who heard him to believe who he was, and this is one of those. There can’t be many Christians who haven’t come across this scripture many times, but even with familiar passages, there can always be a new level of understanding.

When you compare this very familiar passage with a quote from John 8, it brings a new way of looking at it.

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free
(John 8: 32)

Jesus said that he is the truth and if the truth sets us free, then Jesus is the one who sets us free.

Whatever we struggle with: our past mistakes; things that have been done to us; habitual sins we have battled for years; mind-sets that contradict what God says about us and keep us in bondage… the list goes on… whatever has you trapped, can be loosed by Jesus if we cry out to Him to set us free.

Although we can’t free ourselves, Jesus can do whatever we are not able to do with any amount of effort on our part. Only he can do it and he died to make it possible.

This truth is echoed in other scriptures:

Whom the Son sets free will be free indeed
(John 8: 36)

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me… He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners…  and to release the oppressed”
(Taken from Luke 4:18)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
(Galatians 5: 1)

Trusting ourselves Jesus opens the door for Him to do in us what we can’t do ourselves.

Jesus died to set us free


God knows the way

It is often said by unbelievers that the reason they do not want to become Christians is because they think they are doing ok on their own.  They say they can do a good enough job running their own lives and don’t need God telling them what to do. Even once a person becomes a believer, the temptation to go back to doing things your own way can lead us to trying to make it on our own. It’s amazing how easy this is for us to slip back into our old do-it-yourself ways.

The truth is, that a person who doesn’t have God guiding them is like a ship at sea without any navigation equipment.  The ship is small and the sea is very big if you have nothing to guide you and no points of reference. No sailor would be crazy enough to just sail out in the ocean and just hope he is going in the right direction. He could get miles off course and never know it.

When a ship uses its navigation equipment to get to where it’s going, it doesn’t matter if the captain can’t see the way ahead with his natural eyes. They could be lost in the fog at night, and he would still know where they were and where they were going just as well as he could if he were in broad daylight.

This is what it is like for a believer who gives over the navigation of their lives to God. Even if we don’t know where we are going, if we trust God to lead us, we will never lose our way.

The Bible shows us how to do this.

 Proverbs 16: 19 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Proverbs 3: 5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (NLT)

Each of us needs to come to the point where we acknowledge that we don’t really know what we’re doing and God does.  He sees the end from the beginning and he knows where he is leading us.

God knows the way. Let Him lead you

He lives in us

As every Christian knows, when a person makes the decision to become a believer in Jesus Christ, that the Holy Spirit come to live in us.  This is how we are able to live the life that God has given us to live. Consider the following scriptures:

 John 14:16-18

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth …. He lives with you and will be in you.

Romans 8:11

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

As a believer, it can be easy to take this truth for granted.  This may be because we don’t have a background in the old testament Jewish culture.  Before Jesus came and died for us, God was not approachable in the same way as He is since the death and resurrection of Jesus.  He appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai but no-one was allowed to touch the mountain or they would die

(Exodus 19)

God’s presence went with the Ark of the covenant, but it was to be treated with absolute respect. When David put the Ark on a cart rather than carrying it on poles as he was supposed to, God put Uzzah to death for even touching it (2 Samuel 6).

God’s presence dwelt in a fire and a cloud (Ex 13:21) a tent and after the temple was built, in the Holy of Holies.

But for all this time, God remained largely unapproachable and distant.

—–+—–

After Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two  showing us that God had removed the separation between Him and His people and had opened up the way for us to come to Him through faith in Jesus.

Hebrews 10: 19-22

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Now God does not live in a man-made temple or in the Ark of the Covenant. He lives in our hearts.  This once distant God has made Himself available to us by living in us and it is His presence in our lives that makes us Holy in his sight.

God has not changed. He is no less holy and magnificent and worthy of praise. He is still everything the Old Testament describes, but the difference is
He lives in us.

This means that where we go, whatever we do or say is done in His name as His representative God goes and whatever we do to any believer we do to Him (Matt 25: 40)

It means we get to see ourselves and others differently and act, speak and think differently. We get to treat as a Holy thing His presence in our lives. It gives us life but it also means we are careful how we live and do not treat His Holy Spirit in us lightly.  It is the power to those who believe.

You yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives among you.

(1 Corinthians 3:16)

All things are possible

Christians will often tell you that God speaks to them through the Bible and there are times when a familiar passage has brought new meaning to them at a specific time.  Even though they have read it before, for some reason, one day, it has new meaning and the words leap off the page.

Every believer has had this happen to them at some time or another.

A recent example for me was the following verse from Mark 10.

 “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

I understood this to mean that, while men are limited, God is not. When we are unable, God is able. He holds the world in His hands and He can do anything he wants when he wants. This is similar to another passage in Jeremiah.

“Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. Jeremiah 32:17

Recently, however, I read this in a different light.  Although we are unable to do many things on our own, when God is with us, we can do anything God requires of us, like in Philippians 4

 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Phil 4:13

This means that God’s grace working in us can empower us to do what we would be incapable to do without Him.

2 Cor 4:7 describes us as ordinary jars of clay jars with an extraordinary treasure inside. We can go beyond our natural strengths because God is working in us. Bible history is filled with examples of those who were weak in themselves, but when God got hold of them, they became fearless and capable:  Paul, Moses, Peter, Gideon, Samson, David and Solomon are just a few. I have also found that God won’t move on our behalf until we ask Him in.  He will let us wear ourselves out until we get to the point where we are at the end of ourselves.  In my experience it’s better for me if I admit that early on and ask for God to help me before I become unstuck!  The power available to the greats of the Bible is available for us if we ask Him, but we need to ask Him.

With God, all things are possible.

Not by works

As Christians it is important for us to see things the way God sees them.  This can be difficult for us when God’s ways differ from those of the world and what we are used to seeing around us.  For example, when someone commits a crime and goes to prison, there is an expectation that they must be rehabilitated before they can be let out again. In short, they have shown to have changed their ways and can be trusted not to re-offend. They have to show they can go back to being a productive member of society.

In the Christian life when we sin, we are required to admit to God that we’ve done wrong, ask for forgiveness and do an about-turn in our attitude and behaviour. However at this point we can often get off-track because our thinking is rooted in the world’s system and not in God’s economy.

1. Repentance is a gift from God

Rom 2: 4 God’s kindness leads you toward repentance

God is so good to us that it is He who opens the door for us to come back to Him after we have done wrong.  He wants to be in relationship with us and so the sense of sorrow and regret that brings us back is from God. He is drawing us back into fellowship with Him.

2. We cannot stay on the straight and narrow on our own

Work out and fully complete your own salvation with reverence and awe and trembling, self-distrust, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience and watchfulness against temptation; Not in your own strength, for it is God Who is all the while at work in you, creating in you the power and desire, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (taken from Phil 2:12-13)

Doing an about-turn when we realise we have wronged God is our part, but without God’s abundant grace and enabling working in us we can be sure we cannot keep from going back to do the same thing again. This is SO important for us to understand. We CANNOT live the Christian life without repeatedly relying on God’s help to keep us from falling.

 3. (This is the most important one) We don’t have to “work our way” back into God’s good graces

 Psalm 103:12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Here’s the thing. Forgiveness is just that. It isn’t parole or probation like in the world’s system. We’re not let out on good behaviour. We don’t have to earn the right to get back in with God before He can accept us. He already DOES accept us. Repentance must be genuine and we need to rely on God constantly to help us stay away from our natural weaknesses having the run in our lives, but afterwards we don’t have to work to get back in with God – like a penance – Jesus death was the end of all that. Trying to get out of the dog house by being a better person is like trying to earn your salvation. It can’t be done and God won’t let you succeed! The way we are saved is the way we live the life that God wants – by grace.

Accept God’s gift of grace and forgiveness

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