Don’t Test God

“The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “`He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered, “It says: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
(Luke 4:9-12)

Lent 22

Reflection:
Nowhere in Scripture does God tell us that we can be either careless or seek to be sensational. To assume that, no matter what we do or how we do it, God will see that we come to no harm, or make everything work out, is to treat Him as some sort of a genie. To try and do flamboyant things in His name in order to attract attention is to make ourselves the primary focus. To seek to demonstrate our faith, and prove our relationship with Him, by getting God to put on a show is to abuse Him.

Jesus was quite clear in His teaching that He acted and spoke in response to God’s guidance and not His own wishes. He served God and did not try and get God to act as He, Jesus, wished. How very clearly this is brought out in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus submitted Himself to the will and purpose of His Father.

If this is how Jesus, the perfect Man, acted then we as His younger brothers and sisters need to take a leaf from His book. We have the promises of God, as well as the guiding, gifting and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit within us. He is not there to do what we want but to help us to do what God wishes. One of His primary purposes is to take the expressed will of God and to see that it happens. He will do that in and through us as well.

God does not invite us to come up with a purpose for Him, instead He has a purpose for us. This is something for which He has prepared us, gifted us and will empower us. Following His will is a part of our finding and becoming our true selves. We trust Him to make us who we were always intended to be.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  (Ephesians 2:10)

Prayer:

Father, You could not do more than You have done to show Your love for me. Please help me to accept it, believe it, trust it and respond to it. Amen.

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Follow the Lord

“So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD;
 he did not follow the LORD completely,
as David his father had done”
(1 Kings 11:6)

Lent 17

Reflection:
In the early days of his reign the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” He was so pleased when Solomon asked for wisdom that He promised to give him riches and honour as well.  As a result of God’s promise His fame became so great that when the Queen of Sheba visited him she marvelled,

“I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.”  (1 Kings 10:7)

Solomon achieved a great deal during his reign which included the building and furnishing of the Temple which God blessed with His presence. However his great wisdom and insight did not keep him true to the Lord. He impoverished the nation and subjected the people to heavy taxes to maintain his fabulous lifestyle.  In this he ‘loved many foreign women’ despite the Lord’s having warned the Israelites that ‘you must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after foreign gods.’ In fact Scripture credits Solomon with ‘seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines.’ They did indeed seduce him into worshipping their gods. As a result,

“Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done”

It is very easy to look upon our gifts and abilities as ‘our gifts’ and to see the achievements, rewards and blessings that we have enjoyed as ‘our right.’ What starts out as a ministry of blessing others can become one in which we look to be blessed instead. One day we might discover that in our eyes we have become the source and focus of ‘all good’ and God has been marginalised. The ministry and the blessing dry up.

In a strange and wonderful way with God our greatest weaknesses can become our greatest strengths – but there is the danger that our greatest strengths become our greatest weaknesses. We are only saved by keeping our focus on the Lord, by continually offering His gifts back to Him for His blessing, and by thanking Him for any success and blessing that we see. All is for His honour and glory – and if we are blessed in the process it is due to His grace and not our just reward.

Prayer:

Thank you Father for reaching out to choose me for Your service. Thank You for the gifts You have given me and the opportunities for them to be used. May all be to Your honour and glory all the time. Amen.

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God does it

“All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.
I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go”
(Genesis 28:14-15)

Lent 10

Reflection:
Jacob’s life began with a prophetic revelation to his mother – but neither he nor Rebekah appeared willing to leave the matter in God’s hands.  They schemed to get the blessings for Jacob – with a sad affect upon family relationships. Jacob comes through the story of his life as one who was naturally crafty and deceitful, was in turn deceived by his uncle and father-in-law, finally learned to trust God and became the father of the twelve sons who became the foundation of a nation. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel and the Hebrew nation became known as both the ‘sons of Jacob’ and ‘the children of Israel.’

Jacob had two remarkable experiences of God. One was the dream after he had fled from home, where God re-affirmed His promise to Abraham and promised to be with Jacob and to look after him. The second was on his way back home with his wives, children, servants and flocks. The day before he was to meet Esau, of whom he was desperately afraid, he wrestled with God all night. At day-break God changed his name to Israel and caused him to have a limp. God blessed him there, and Jacob called the place Peniel, saying,

“It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”(Genesis 32:30)

There is a telling similarity between the call of Abraham (and by implication, the call of Isaac and Jacob) and the call by Jesus of His disciples. In both instances the call includes the words “I will make you.’ There is no suggestion in either case that the people called are already those of high faith, wisdom and integrity – nor that they will be the ones who will work well for God. The focus is entirely on God’s majesty and grace. He calls who He will call and, by His grace, will transform their lives and work His will through and around them. And so down the years He became known as ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ because of what He had achieved in and through them and not through what they themselves had done. That truth is hugely significant in our lives today. It is also worth noting that the three wives who were to bear the sons through whom God would fulfil His promises were each barren until God intervened.

Each patriarch had his shortcomings – some more than others. But God, who had called them – with full knowledge of who they were and what they would be like – was faithful and true. His love, grace and power prevailed – as it will with us if we too step out on the Way with Him. We do not have to scheme or manipulate things for God’s will to be achieved – only to be available and obedient. He will bring about His own will.

Prayer:

Father, Yours is the kingdom the power and the glory – please continue to work Your will in, through and around me, and help me to trust and be available to You and Your direction. Amen.

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Trust and Obey

“I am the Lord,
and there is no other”
(Isaiah 45:6)

Reflection:
In the uncertainties and pains of this world remind yourself of three things

God is still God, He is still in control and He always will be.

  • “I am the Lord, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:6)
  • “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10)

Jesus Christ His Son is, and always will be, the Answer to all life’s challenges and needs – in each and every situation.

  • “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6)
  • “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND Lord OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16)
  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)

We are called to live in faith and obedience to God. Faith is an active response and it is revealed through our obedience – whilst to disobey is a rejection. So we start by putting our faith and trust in Him, and continue by expressing it in our obedience.

  • “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29)
  • “If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:16-17)
  • “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him”  (John 14:23)

Whatever the state of our lives at this moment we need not be alone. The Lord God, the Almighty Father, is with us, the Crucified, Resurrected and Ascended Saviour is with us, and the Life-giving, Fruit-growing and Transforming Holy Spirit is within us.

Response:
Acknowledge Him, Speak to Him, Listen to Him, Trust and Obey Him

Prayer:

You are God and there is no other. You are the God of my life and my situations. Bless me Lord for I need You so much. Guide me, strengthen me and grow me in faith and obedience and the knowledge of Your love. I entrust You with me in my today and tomorrows. Amen.

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Faith to Obedience

“Through him and for his name’s sake,
we received grace and apostleship
to call people from among all the Gentiles
to the obedience that comes from faith”
(Romans 1:5)

Reflection:
Salvation is by faith and not by works.

  • “Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29)
  • “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no-one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Obedience is the response that is expected to arise from our faith and out of our love for the Lord.

  • “The obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5)
  • “Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” (John 14:23)

In the Great Commission Jesus sets it out clearly. First we are to bring people to faith in the Lord and then teach them to obey His teaching.

  • “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations …. teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Obedience is the expression of our faith and love. To disobey the Lord would be to reject Him and walk away from Him.

  • “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10)

This is what we pray for in the prayer Jesus taught us – which is really the Believer’s Prayer

Our Father in Heaven
Hallowed be Your Name
Your Kingdom come
Your will be done
On earth as in heaven

Response:
Live out your faith in, and love for, our Lord

Prayer:

Father God, please build my faith and  pour Your love into my heart by the Holy Spirit – so that my greatest desire will be to walk with You in Your ways all the days of my life. Amen.

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One Way to Live

“Through Him and for His name’s sake,
we received grace and apostleship
to call people … to the obedience that comes from faith”
(Romans 1:5)

Reflection:
Paul is quite clear that our response to the gospel is ‘the obedience that comes from faith.’ He is not saying that obedience earns salvation but that having been given the incredible gift of salvation in Jesus Christ there is no other response possible than to live in obedience to Him.

There are two aspects to this call. The first is that in response to the message of the Gospel we place our complete and permanent trust and faith in Jesus Christ.

  • “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29)

The second follows on as a necessity. Having put out faith and trust in the Lord we commit ourselves to the life that He wants us to lead – not the way that the world is living. Not to do so would be a denial of our faith in Him. That is why James would say,

  • “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it say” (James 1:22)
  • As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:2)

Jesus underlines this when He tells us that

  • “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10)

He is not saying that obedience brings us into His love, but that it keeps us there. The reason is quite simple – if we refuse to obey Him we walk away from Him! Obedience is not a tiresome requirement thought up by God as a test. Obedience is saying to ourselves that ‘Hey! There is a better and more fulfilling way to live – and I want to be a part of it!”

Response:
I’ll do it His Way

Prayer:

Lord help me to desire Your Life and Way of Living – and to walk with You all the days of my life. Amen.

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Who am I?

“You are my Son, whom I love”
(Luke 3:22)

 

Reflection:
God spoke these words to Jesus at His baptism in the River Jordan. Immediately afterwards He went into the desert where He faced the three major temptations known to man. All of them had something to do with identity –and it was from the secure foundation of His own identity in God that He was able to recognise and refute them.

We find a similar situation in the very first Psalm which stands as a gateway into the rest of the Psalms.

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2)

The person who is blessed is the one who has established their identity as a man or woman of God. That means that they can recognise and say ‘No!’ to the advice and ways of the world and instead base their lives and living on the word of God.

The need for and reality of this new identity is stressed by Jesus and Paul.

  • “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3)
  • “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”(Romans 12:2)

The key question, therefore, is ‘Who am I ?’ Am I a man or woman of God and living according to His word and ways – or am I still a child of the world and subject to its influence and ways? As Jesus said,

“No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24)

Response:
Who am I?

Prayer:

Lord God I acknowledge You as my Lord and Saviour. Please help me to delight in the revelation of Your love and will in Scripture and to live in Your Way. Amen.

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Choose Your Thoughts

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable
–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–
think about such things.”
(Philippians 4:8)

Reflection:
Our lives are influenced by what we think. And what we think is a product of our past as well as being fed by the influences of the world in which we live, the people with whom we associate and the news that we read and hear. It is important, therefore, to exercise control over our minds – instead of allowing them merely to react to negative stimuli.

Very easily do we indulge ourselves in angry and critical thoughts about others, negative thoughts about ourselves, and doubtful thoughts about God. All of these affect our opinions, relationships and the way we conduct our lives. They do nothing to help us or anyone else. Our minds need to become used to new habits of thought as well as choosing to reject what is not helpful.  As we ‘choose to choose’ our thoughts we may well be astonished at what we need to filter out.

Christian love begins to look out for the positive and beautiful aspects of life and living and focus on them. This is not artificial and an ignoring of the reality, but it is a refusal to merely dwell on weakness and ugliness when it is not helpful. There is beauty all around us. There are fine qualities in many people, including ourselves.

Paul is challenging us to allow the God-given beauty within us – the new and redeemed us, temples of the lovely Holy Spirit Himself – to begin to surface and take control of our thoughts. God will give us a new focus, a fresh awareness, and a different perception of truth. We will discover that there are deeper truths than the superficial bits and pieces that have come our way.

We can choose not to reflect the world but to reflect the God of love instead. That means also feeding ourselves on His love and life and word – not merely on worldly news and views. And when we do meet news that is distressing, whilst we may acknowledge even the sin that is behind it, we can pray for all and everyone involved that somehow God’s love and blessing will touch them all.

Response:
There are enough armchair critics.  Check yourself and step out in a new way.

Prayer:

Father, fill me with beauty and the loveliness– and help me to discern more of Your Truth and Love. In Jesus name, Amen.

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Lord’s Prayer 5

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
(Matthew 6:10)

Reflection:
God has a plan and a purpose for the world, and God has a plan and a purpose for each one of us.

  • “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” (Isaiah 46:10)
  • “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

From His commission to Adam and Eve, to Noah, in Jesus teaching, in the Great Commission to the disciples and all who follow Jesus, and as picked up by Paul, comes the message that God is working towards a definite end which He will accomplish. Our privilege is to be a part of that purpose and to be those through whom He works to achieve His end.

The will of God and the glory of God are connected. He is best glorified by His people when He is obeyed. It is an indication that we acknowledge and submit to His sovereign power and authority, and that we trust His love for us – the extent of which is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of His Son.

Jesus also submitted Himself completely to the will of His Father.

  • “the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 14:31)
  • “He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:41-44)

 The alternative to God’s will being done on earth is that the will of fallen man will be done instead. We can see around us the fruit of that option – which should make us pray even more fervently for God’s will – His good, pleasing and perfect will – to be done instead and starting in us. And, of course, if I pray the prayer then I must seek to find out more about the will of God and allow the Holy Spirit to mould my life to it in thought, word and deed.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2)

And His will for us above all is this – to really and fully live our belief in the Lord Jesus.

“Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29)

Response:

I believe – Lord help my unbelief.

Prayer:

Father – Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven – starting in me. Amen.

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Your Way

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them,
and they said, “We’ll go with you.”
So they went out and got into the boat,
but that night they caught nothing.”
(John 21:3)

Reflection:
Jesus had already appeared to the disciples more than once. They knew of His resurrection but, unlike previously, He was not with them all the time, teaching and giving them instructions. For days at a time they were on their own.

 Peter the man of action, probably restless and uncertain of what came next, went off to do what he had done previously. He went fishing, not just to try and catch one or two, but to throw out his nets to catch fish that he could then sell. He and the others fished all night but caught nothing.

  Jesus appeared on the beach the next morning and told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat. Immediately they were filled with fish – 153 large ones. What a difference it made when they were doing what Jesus told them to do. After all, He had said of Himself,

“but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 14:31)

 There are two lessons here. The first is that to go off on our own, as Jesus disciples, and to do our own thing will not necessarily bring any rewards. We always need His guidance and blessing. The second is that Jesus is not against honest labour and is prepared to guide and bless those involved in it, if they will listen to Him – note the word ‘exactly’ in His statement. He is to be Lord of all our lives, at all times and in all things.

Response:
Look for Jesus guidance and involvement in all that you do this week

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, please help me to discern the way forward and to seek to do everything the way that I believe you would want me to – for Your glory. Amen.

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