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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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

He Restores

He redeems

Don’t tell God what He can’t do, for He is able to prove you wrong. Moses received a calling from God, but then told Him the reasons why he couldn’t do it. Let’s look at this exchange from Exodus 4:10-11.

“Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

God knows what He can do, and He knows what you can do with Him. Just because you’ve never been a great public speaker, or singer, or writer, or preacher, or teacher, or mentor or whatever, doesn’t mean you won’t be. Your past doesn’t dictate your future. David had no experience slaying giants, but that’s one of the greatest things he’s known for. Joseph had no experience running an entire nation, but he was the second in command in Egypt during the time it needed strong leadership the most. Paul was famous for targeting Christians and being a strict servant of the law, but then became a man who united the church and spoke of the power of freedom in Christ. Peter was known as a man of hasty and fear-driven decisions, and yet became an eloquent and bold speaker.

That last example is spectacularly described in Acts 4:13:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Wow. They were ordinary men, but all could see that they were people “who had been with Jesus.” May our lives be described in the same way.

You have gifts inside of you that need to be activated, or re-activated. Don’t let them lie dormant. Paul encouraged Timothy as a young leader of his church to “fan into flame the gift of God.” God tells us the same thing today, and everyday. What God desires is humility and willingness. He’s not looking for the most talented or best looking or influential. Like the prophet Samuel who looked at Jesse’s sons until finally choosing David (1 Samuel 16), we are reminded that God values and honours different attributes than the world.

” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” “

Don’t agree with what the world says about you, and don’t let your mistakes haunt you. God forgets them. So should you. The only things God reminds you of are His loving and truthful character. He is a God of second, third, fourth, etc chances. Like the prodigal son, we are never so far that God can’t see us and embrace us when we return to our identity and purpose in Him. He is our Redeemer and Restorer. You may have left relationships, ministries or opportunities in such a way that you can’t see any hope of restoration. Thankfully, God sees what we do not, and when we align our perspective with His, stand back and watch out, for His glory is coming!

In Ezra, we see how God moved the heart of king Cyrus to welcome back the exiled Jews to start building a temple to God in Jerusalem. Their enthusiasm only lasted so long however, and after opposition and focusing on building their own houses, rather than God’s, the project was abandoned. All that was built was the foundations. It was a forgotten monument to their forgotten Lord. Everyday for approximately 16 years, the people would’ve seen it, yet ignored it and considered it unimportant, compared to their own projects. However God never forgets His people or the mission He gives them. It wasn’t until almost 20 years after God first moved the heart of king Cyrus and the exiled Jews to start building the temple that it was finally completed.

Haggai 1:2-9 picks up where Ezra left off, and shows God rebuking His people’s wrong priorities. 2:4-9 show His faithfulness and encouragement, and for those of us who wonder if we can ever get back what we lost, may Haggai 2:9 offer you great strength. If we repent and obey, we will not only receive what we lost, but even more so.

“The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” “

And if still you doubt that God is a God who restores, just read the last chapter of Job.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

1 Peter 5:10

“The Lord replied to them:

“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
enough to satisfy you fully; never again will I make you
an object of scorn to the nations.

“I will drive the northern horde far from you, pushing it into a parched and barren land; its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea
and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea.
And its stench will go up; its smell will rise.

Surely he has done great things!
Do not be afraid, land of Judah; be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things!
Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.

The trees are bearing their fruit;
the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.
The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten— the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm — my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.”

Joel 2:19-27

Praise Be

Praise Be

Psalm 56:8 says this – “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll — are they not in your record?”

Other translations call it a book, or a bottle. It’s a startingly powerful reminder of God’s love for us. He sees the tears that flow from our suffering, our sorrow, our shame. He sees what we hide from others. And you know what? He records it, but for what purpose? Because He sees, and He cares. We are not forgotten.

John 3:16 is the most famous verse in the Bible. Even people who don’t believe it, know it – “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.” How many of us know the verse after that though?

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:17 is integral in the way that it connects to John 3:16. Verse 16 tells us that Christ died so that we shall “have eternal life.” Verse 17 tells us why, because it begins with “For.” There’s always a reason why God does what He does. Christ died to give us eternity, because He came to save, not condemn.

Verse 16 and 17 tell us what Christ came to do, and what He came not to do. He came to save you. He did not come to condemn you. Have you ever been in heated argument with someone and they bring up all your past mistakes? They do that to remind you of the fact that they think your previous actions are much worse than theirs. They may not be relevant to the discussion at hand, but they use it as ammunition from a place of insecurity to condemn you and make you feel worse than they feel. They seem to remember all your sins and errors with alarming clarity, but struggle to recall the positive aspects of your character and the times of sacrifice and selfless love. Thankfully God does not treat us like that. He looks at us through the blood and righteousness of Christ’s sacrifice. He views us with the hopeful gaze of a Father. He sees who we are becoming and doesn’t condemn us for who we used to be.

Psalm 103:11-12 declares, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

I once heard a preacher say that the reason God chose to use the phrase, “as far as the east is from the west,” to describe the distance between our sins and how far God has removed them from us is because east and west can not be measured. There is a North Pole, and a South Pole, but there is no distinct location for east and west.

Don’t grab a compass and go looking for your past transgressions. They are forgiven. They are forgotten. They are erased, and they’re not coming back. You won’t find God’s voice if you go looking for your sins. You’ll find it when you let go of all the condemnation and fear and injustice and you accept the fact that God accepts you. You are His son. His daughter. His vessel. His beloved. 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares that you are a new creation. “The old has gone, the new has come!” I love the fact that Paul uses an exclamation mark, to emphasise the point with joyful victory. Your old self is gone! You’re made new! Don’t reflect on your old self. God doesn’t. Don’t remind yourself of how bad you used to be, twenty years ago, or twenty seconds ago, unless it’s to praise God for how much His loving forgiveness has transformed you. Don’t do the devil’s work for him. Forget the past. That’s not you anymore.

1 John 3:8 says that the reason Christ came was “to destroy the devil’s work.” Satan’s work is condemnation. Christ destroys the voice that reminds you of your wickedness and sins. Christ’s voice speaks forgiveness, and He left us a perfect example to follow. We must not condemn ourselves, but forgive ourselves as well as others. We must speak to ourselves, and others, the complete freedom and acceptance that God speaks over us.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:9

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103:8-12

Think About What Is True

Think About Such Things

Philippians 4:8-9 says this:”Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” It’s interesting that Paul tells his brothers and sisters in Philippi (and of course, all believers) that God’s peace will be with us, after we’ve meditated upon things that are true, noble, right, etc. There may be nothing about the circumstances we’re facing that appears to be overflowing with excellence or praise, but once we choose to think about things that are, then His peace comes upon us. In the preceding verses, Paul tells us that the same result happens when we give God our cares. He states, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7). In effect, he is stating that God’s peace (that is far above human understanding) is not dependent on circumstances, but is dependent on our choice to seek Him, regardless of our circumstances. His peace won’t just magically fall upon us like confetti at a wedding. It appears after we choose to give Him our fears, and accept His truth and victory. It’s that peace that Daniel discovered when he faced potential death in the fiery furnace, and again when he faced potential death when facing lions. The first recorded martyr Stephen also had such peace when he stood firm in his trial with a face “like that of an angel” (Acts 6:15) and his death by stoning when he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prayed (Acts 7:55-59). Both men experienced circumstances that didn’t seem excellent or praiseworthy, but they looked beyond the harsh truth of their current reality to see God’s greater heavenly reality, and see it they did. Of course, that same reality allowed Christ to be crucified for the forgiveness of our sins.

In the list of things that Paul urges us to think about, the first one is truth, and that’s because truth is the foundation upon which all other virtues stem. If we don’t first know God’s truth, then whatever is noble, right and pure will not be centred in truth. They will be a distortion. If our version of truth is different from what God declares as truth, then what we see as noble, right and pure will also be different from what God declares to be noble, right and pure. We must know His truth first, and what is His truth? Essentially, truth is found in God alone.

In John 7:18 Jesus says,”Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him,” and in verse 28, Christ states, “he who sent me is true.” It’s simple. What is truth? God is truth – His compassion, mercy, justice, power, love, forgiveness, etc. All of God is truth. Discover who He is and we discover what truth is. John 4:23 reminds us that God seeks those who worship Him “in Spirit and in truth,” and in John 14 Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of truth.” The centrality of truth is also emphasised in the armour of God in Ephesians 6. The belt of truth is mentioned as the first piece to put on, and then righteousness, peace, and faith, come later. God is not a god of disorder. Truth comes first for a reason.

In Paul’s encouragement about what we think about, we come to learn that our life begins with our actions, and our actions begin with our thoughts. James 1:15 warns that evil desires give birth to sin. It is a process that begins with what we think about; a lustful glance that lingers too long, continual pondering about some injustice against you, etc. Troublesome, distracting and evil thoughts will come into our mind, but we are not helpless against them. When they occur, give them to God immediately. 2 Corinthians 10:5 urges us to, “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” When we think about what is true, and noble, and right, as God (not ourselves or the world) define them, our life will change. We will make choices in line with those virtues. It’ll be easy for us to forgive, to “abstain from sinful desires,” and to find our joy and fulfillment in Him alone. Think about who God is, and we will begin to be a mighty vessel for His glorious purposes.

“I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”

Psalm 119:15-16

“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 3:1-3

 

God’s Favour

You'll never see

We can receive many wonderful things when we pray. By spending time with our Creator, we can know His joy, victory, presence, mercy, forgiveness, etc, but what about His favour? We know God is a generous Father who rejoices in giving good gifts to His children, but a life that is aligned with God’s purposes will see God’s results. Just because we read all the books and know all the strategies and have all the experience, doesn’t mean God owes us anything. He’s not waiting for us to fulfill the Top Ten Methods To Grow Your Church until He actually grows our church. Of course, we should learn all we can. We are called to be wise, not naive, and we are tremendously blessed with a multitude of resources to aid us. However armed with knowledge we may be though, we must arm ourselves in a far greater way with His presence. Knowledge about spiritual growth, without seeking the One who can truly grow us spiritually is a massive missed opportunity.

We must realise that our plans may not succeed as we’d hoped, or may not succeed at all, for many reasons. The main one may be not due to lack of trying, but lack of praying. Press in, and ask Him to bless the work of your hands. Do our best and then present it at the foot of the cross, for God to make it into something far greater. With His favour upon your ministry it will be mountain moving, and life changing. He will go before you, and will open doors no-one and nothing else could open. It will be undeniable that God alone has changed circumstances, and hearts. Seek the Giver, not the gift. The Redeemer, not the result. Hunger for Him, not what He can do for you. Seek Him and let Him do what He does best. His ways are not our ways, so let Him amaze you. He wants to surprise you, and after the impossible has occurred, He wants you to say to the amazed witnesses in your life, “My God did that.”

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” “

Matthew 19:26

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Hebrews 11:6

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Ephesians 3:20-21

Let Love Win

LET

When we think of love, we think of what Hollywood often shows us. Most romantic comedies follow the same formula. Some crazy dare or set of improbable circumstances or mistaken identity bring two very different people together. Then they get to know each other, and their obligatory odd friends and/or family. Next up is an argument about the need for honesty followed by a time of separation and silence, and finally a rush to the airport for a tear-filled reunion, followed by an uplifting soundtrack.

The reality of God’s love and the fantasy of worldly love are worlds apart, however.

I’ve been reading C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity lately, and amongst its many quotable passages is this truth, in  the chapter discussing marriage:

“The promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love. A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way.”

He’s right, of course and it’s a truth rarely discussed. That selfless principle applies to all forms of love, not just romance. God calls us to a higher love. The Bible talks more often about phileo (friendship) love, and agape (unconditional) love than eros love (romance).

Love is more often a choice, not a feeling. It is not about us at all. Lewis goes on to say that if married couples only promised to love each other when they felt the warm, fuzzy feeling of love, then one or both partners would walk away after the first argument, or the possibility of  a more seemingly attractive option.  If we are driven only by feelings and impulses and whatever only brings us pleasure, then we will examine every person or circumstance with those strict, selfish parameters. A life led by feelings is flesh, not Spirit driven. It’s not a life that honours God with all that we have.

God showed Himself to the world in the form of Jesus Christ, and of all the things that Christ’s life showed us, how to love is at the top.  1 John 4:8 says it simply – God is love. That’s how God chose to represent Himself. He created love, He embodies love, He promotes love and He shows us how to love. It is impossible to learn to love in a way that He requires, until we first lean in to His love and let it cleanse us and realign our values and priorities. We only know what love is because He created it. The love we have in Him is far greater than feelings or infatuation or selfish pleasure.

Loving the way God does, and wants us to, costs. It is selfless and challenging and inconvenient, but it is also much more. It is victorious. It is life changing. It is empowering. May love be the motivation for all that we say, do and think. Is our love the same as His, or are we acting by what we’ve known as love from our past? With God we can love people, even strangers or enemies. We can love others, even when at that moment we may not particularly like them.

God’s love isn’t rational, in a worldly sense. Let’s face it, God’s overwhelmingly generous and gracious love doesn’t make sense to our sinful minds. He created the world and Adam and Eve, and us, because of love. He sent His Son to the cross because of love. Even when He disciplines us, it’s due to love. His love is a risk, and because of free will, there’s no guarantee that we will love Him back. We will never be worthy of such enormous love, but we must always be thankful for it, and never stop giving it, while expecting nothing in return. His love is the reward, and through that love, others can see Him through us.

Let Him redefine what we think love really is. God is love, and if we are His followers, so should we be. Let love in, and let love win.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

1 John 4:7-12

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.”

Philippians 1:9-11