He Reigns

he-reigns

I live in Australia, but like the rest of the world, we are still talking about the new President of America. Trump is a surprise win, a controversial choice and an imperfect human. However, so are we.

Beyond the fear, anger and division, God remains the same. If Clinton won, He would remain the same. Beyond limited human leaders (whether they be good or bad), God has, and will, outlast them all. His reign and His kingdom is secure. I’m reminded of Psalm 146:3 which says, “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” We hope for the best from our friends, family and leaders, but our trust must always be placed in Him. He won’t let us go, and He won’t let us down.

Christians can grow in the most persecuted places where their very way of life is under threat daily. When Jesus was born, King Herod was a child killing leader; most of the Old Testament kings were power hungry madmen, and in Paul’s day he continued to write letters to his brothers and sisters to teach them to obey their nation’s leaders – whether they liked them or not.

1 Peter 2:17 says,  “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.” Those words are even more astounding when we consider that Peter wrote this during the time Emperor Nero ruled and detested Christians with great violence and persecution. Jesus calls us to not only tolerate our enemies, but to pray for them and love them. A difficult task to be sure, but when we love without compromise and when we fear and obey Him above all, miracles can happen. God has proven time and again that He can use any person, and any circumstance for His glorious, ultimate purpose. In the midst of confusion or disappointment, it may not seem like it, but 2 Corinthians 4:18 calls us to, “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

So what can we do? We can trust that God knows what He’s doing, and we can pray for all the leaders in our lives, as 1 Timothy 2:1-2 calls us to do. “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

In Romans 13:1-2, Paul says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.” For someone who had faced as much time in prison for his faith, and being persecuted and physically punished as Paul did, these words carry tremendous weight.

Beyond prayer, we are called to be obedient to the authorities. This may seem obvious, but that means we don’t text and drive or sneak into movies we haven’t paid for, or any of those things that we may think are ok. Remember, God has called us to a higher standard. He wants us to be obedient to the earthly authorities, but to obey Him above all. Christ never compromised due to His obedience to the Father, and love for us. We, too, must live with a similar submissive and reverential approach.

We can be confident, knowing that the King we serve doesn’t lie or change His mind. Numbers 23:19 tells us, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?”

Beyond the fleeting panic and shock of leadership changes, God is above it all, and He’s with us through it all. He sees what we do not. He sees the past, present and future. He calls us to stay strong in Him, to cry out to Him and to know that He is the King above every king. His reign shall never end, and knowing that, we can live with great peace and confidence.

“In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. A person may think their own ways are right,
but the Lord weighs the heart.”

Proverbs 21:1-2

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans.”

Psalm 118:8

 

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Eternity With Him

just-think-about-this

I don’t have much more to say than that really.

In our darkest moments, may we think about this. There is no greater love than His for us. This life is a glimpse of what’s to come. We have all experienced moments of unbridled joy and freedom in the midst of His presence. Now, imagine that gloriously magnified in heaven, without any sin or shame or fear or tears or guilt or pain. The Bible doesn’t say much about heaven, other than that it exists. It is our mysterious, ultimate destination. It’s where we are going. It is our truest home and it will be an unfettered joy to discover all that it has to offer – colours, sights, sounds and smells we have yet to embrace. And we get to spend our eternity there!

There’s a great lyric in Hillsong United’s song Touch The Sky, which goes, “You traded heaven to have me again.” There is great strength and constant hope in the relentless fact that God did what was necessary to retrieve us from darkness and damnation. There was only one solution to the problem that kept sinners from intimacy with a perfect Father. God knew the cost it took, and in Christ, He willingly took it. His life for ours. Christ took the punishment we deserved for the treasure we didn’t.

That marvellous truth is worth reflecting upon, and rejoicing in. We don’t see heaven now, but by faith we know with certainty that one day, we shall.

“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

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

1 Peter 1:3-6

 

God’s Grace

BY THE GRACE OF GOD

Grace is God seeing you, beyond your mistakes. Grace is forgetting your past, to forge your future. Grace is God not only withholding the punishment we deserve, but giving us the victory we do not deserve. Grace is freedom beyond human effort. Grace is found only in the arms of our loving Father.

Before we knew Him, we were enemies of God.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.”

Colossians 1:21-23

But now? Well, this is what Jesus says about us now.

“You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

John 15:14-15

From enemies to friends. That’s what grace does. It welcomes and transforms. It’s Jesus touching the leper. It’s Jesus protecting the adulterous women. It’s Jesus cooking breakfast for the disciples who abandoned Him. In short – it’s Jesus. We are able to offer mercy, grace and forgiveness because that is precisely what we have received. It is grace that allows us to participate in His victory although we didn’t participate in His suffering.

Christians often define grace as “unmerited favour,” which is true. It’s God doing for us, on the cross of Christ, what we could not do for ourselves. From our sinful position, we have no influence over God, and He is under no obligation to come to our rescue. Yet He does – now and forever.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Ephesians 2:8-10

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

John 1:17

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:14-16

Allow The Word To Work Within You

Allow the word to work within you

Sometimes we think of the word “return” negatively. If we buy something that we don’t like, we return it to the shop. However it can also be a good term, such as when we return home after a voyage.

Isaiah 55:10-11 tell us that the Word of God returns to Himself.

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

The King James translation says, God’s words, “shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Nothing God says or does is wasted. It is always for our benefit. The Word was given to us with a definitive purpose and we are blessed to have it. To live life without it would be extremely challenging.

So, if God’s Word doesn’t return to Him empty, it obviously returns to Him full, but full of what? Simply put, when we soak in the Word and let it do its powerful, enlightening work within us, we can offer up more of ourselves to God. The Word shines the light of truth upon the dark, concealed places within us – the ugly places that need healing. The more that the Word reveals within us that needs change, the more of our thinking and priorities we must give to Him.

It’s like a game of tennis, with an endless back and forth; a limitless loop of give and return. God continues to give us Himself in new ways daily, and we in turn give ourselves to Him. Our relationship with God is a lifelong series of God giving, and us returning. He gives us gifts, which we return to Him in service. He gives us grace, which we return in living with joyous freedom. He gives us love which we give to Him and others. He offers His Son, and we offer our praises.  We are chosen vessels, with the tremendous privilege of being used by Him for His glorious purposes.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”

That’s very encouraging. The Bible is not like any other book, so we can’t treat is as such. It is not a textbook, or a novel, or a history book, or a how-to book. It is the word of God which works within those of us who believe it, and unlike every other book we’ve read (unless we travel in literary social circles perhaps), we actually know the Author! Its words give us direction, truth, freedom, wisdom and joy. We learn about Christ, the Father, the Holy Spirit, and those believers who have gone before us. In its pages, we are presented with the majesty of creation, the saving grace of the gospel, and the mysterious end of all things. 66 books written in three different languages (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic), by about 40 different authors (including prophets, fishermen, tax collectors, etc) over approximately 1500 years – and it all points to who God is, and who we are in Him. That’s due to the fact that as 2 Timothy 3:16 states, “all Scripture is God-breathed.” It has power beyond any book, and thus it alone has, and continues to, inspire endless books, songs, and sermons, let alone all the lives it has saved and transformed. We never stop learning from it, but we must examine the condition of our heart when we approach the Word. How many discussions and choices has the Word prompted within your life? How has it stirred you to do the right thing, and stopped you from doing the wrong thing? How many times has God brought a specific verse to your mind to help you, or someone else? How often do you meditate upon it? How many Scriptures can you remember compared to how many facts you can easily recall (sports scores, Hollywood gossip, etc)? How often do you actually obey the Word rather than just read or listen to it (James 1:22)? Is the Bible the first thing you read in the morning, and the last at night? Has your Bible been untouched for days, or weeks, only to be looked at when the preacher asks you to open it during a sermon? These are all challenging questions we must ask ourselves. The Bible is such a precious gift. It is a glorious representation of God’s character and story. People have been persecuted, tortured and killed for its translation and promotion. We must embrace it with joyful thanksgiving.

God deposits the Word inside our hearts for the purpose of it working within us, so it does not return to Him empty. That’s why when we pray for the preaching, teaching or reading of the Word, we don’t only pray for the speaker, but we pray for the listener. We need soft, humble hearts to let the Word dwell within us and do its work. We can reject it, or we can accept it. His truth may be challenging or convicting, but it’s also life. As Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13), the choice of how we accept the Word belongs to us. We must not fight the Word when it settles in our heart, or dismiss it just because we find its truth inconvenient, uncomfortable or unpopular. Our sinful heart will always want to rebel, but we need to choose to allow the Word to fall upon a life that is willing to be transformed, and repent and change as needed.

With the work of the Word coming alive within us, it returns to Him having achieved His purpose, leaving us changed as we further reflect His likeness.

“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.

I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts;
therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.”

Psalm 119:97-105

“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Pray With Purity

 

Pray with purity.

The heart is a mystery. Jeremiah 17:9 says it is deceptive above all things.  Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard it, for everything we do flows from it. We may not think so, but sometimes we may have a wrong agenda when we pray for others. We shouldn’t pray that others become the person we want them to be, so they’re easier to deal with, or fit our criteria of holiness, but who He wants them to be. He works differently in every heart and although we may not see immediate fruit or repentance in others, we can’t judge others growth by our timetable or results. We see only others’ actions or hear their words, but God knows the depth of their heart and true motivations. They are not to be remade in our image. They are already made in His. Our prayers and love will bring that truth to the fore.

Psalm 51:10 asks the Father, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 139:23-24 has a similar request. It says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” We don’t always know our sins, or true motivations.

Just because we’re praying, we may think that we are more holy than those who rarely pray, but the Word teaches us to always examine our heart. What are our true motivations when we pray what we pray for? Yes, it’s good to pray for our ministries, but are we praying to be successful in the world’s eyes, or praying to be more recognised, or praying to have a “better” ministry than others in our church? If we are not closely communing with our God, our prayers will reflect our limited view. In John 15:7, Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” When Jesus says, “if,” we need to pay attention, because He is paying attention to the state of our heart when we approach Him. We can not hide our motivations from His sight. When Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6, the first few words are all about His name, His kingdom, and His will. We must first humble ourselves in His presence and be sensitive to the Spirit. Be flexible, and pray for God’s agenda, not ours.

We must recognise too, that our prayers will not always be the same. They shouldn’t. Sometimes we may cry and intercede, at other times we may be silent and listen, or dance with joy at His glory, or repent and seek to know Him more intimately. Just like every conversation and interaction within our friends is not always the same, neither should our prayers be. Intimate friendships aren’t built on repetition. They are thriving, living conversations. They are valuable and varied. They key is to come before Him in humility.

We must first listen and then pray according to His will. Your friend may desperately need a better job, because their current one is filled with strength and challenging colleagues, so do you ask God for a new, stress-free job for them, or do you ask Him to strengthen them to be a good witness in their workplace? Firstly, we must seek His will, and then we pray in accordance with that. We can’t give God advice when we pray. God sees what we don’t. Trust that His will be done, regardless of the situation.

Yes, God wants what’s best for us, but what we consider to be the best is often based on temporary conditions. Max Lucado once said, “If God has to choose between your eternal safety, or earthly comfort, which do you hope He chooses?” Remember, God is far more interested in your growth than your comfort. Look at every great person we know of in the Bible; Paul, Daniel, Job, Esther, Jesus, and so many others. They were rarely comfortable, but they were powerful, because they clung to God during their pain and suffering. He led them through it, and made them better for it. They learned to rely on the eternal God regardless of temporary circumstances. God will do what is necessary to achieve our ultimate salvation, simply due to the fact that He loves us that much. He wants to spend eternity with us. Yes, we will suffer but that’s not all we will do. If we humble ourselves and allow His plan to come to fruition, we will be refined, transformed and become even better vessels for His glory.  Pray in line with God’s perspective, and ask Him to forgive and change us if we pray, even subtly, that our will instead of His be done, for salvation is much more valuable than satisfaction.

“But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Psalm 19:12-14

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

1 John 3:2

To Know You

to know You

Really, it’s that simple. Knowing Christ means surrendering to Him, and His ways. Loving Him means obeying Him.

Jesus came to declare that religion is dead, but He is alive. We are alive too – really, fully alive as He says in John 10:10. It was the Pharisees that Christ spoke against, with all their rules and strict moral codes, as that kind of thinking and living constrains. It doesn’t set free. It blinds eyes and brings frustration, not freedom.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest command was and how to live forever, He responded with a pretty definitive answer, quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18.  The account is mentioned in Matthew 22, and Mark 12.

Luke 10:25-28 puts it this way:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

Jesus could have launched in to a lengthy diatribe with a long list of required actions, but what he describes are actually the results of a life of active faith, in communion with the Father. Just to avoid any confusion, he then gives us the parable of the good Samaritan straight after this, and in so doing He defines who our neighbour is (anyone in need, not just those we want to help when convenient or uncostly) and gives us a standard with which to measure our love for them. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” At first glance, it may seem a strange thing to say, but we know that Jesus obviously knows exactly what He’s saying. Don’t we all love ourselves? Actually, no. Not really. Not all the time. Our love for ourselves as a Christian must flow from the security that we are His; that we have a purpose, and that we are loved and forgiven. God’s love for us is not swayed by how many people we bring to church or how passionately we evangelise. We must realise that we are loved by God because He first loved us, even before we knew Him or did anything remotely related to church or ministry. Armed with that love, we are then able to love others. If we love ourselves based on our performance, we will love others in the same way too, and that kind of love isn’t transformative for anyone. The love we have for others and ourselves, must be based on who He says we are, not what we do or don’t do. Learning to forgive ourselves is vital to the Christian walk. When we confess and repent, God forgives us, so there’s no need to carry around the burden of shame or condemnation. His love frees us to love with His love.

Of course, love is also an action. If we love without allowing it to stir us to greater compassion, then we are not loving as He does. Love is not a theory. It is a daily practice.

This call to love God in freedom rather than outward, measurable methods may seem odd to some, because as the Pharisees revealed, (as did the Israelites with making a golden calf to worship), our human mind sometimes wants to worship what we can see, rather than the invisible God. Loving Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind requires we hold nothing back. He didn’t for us. It means loving God with our emotions, will, choices, desires, resources, time, etc. Love until there’s nothing left of us, so we can be filled with more of Him.

As John the Baptist said in John 3:30, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

Knowing Him and loving Him are not boxes to be ticked once accomplished. They are lifetime goals without an end. Like our Father, they are eternal.

“Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Colossians 2:20-3:2

“Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

1 John 2:4-5