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

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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

In You, I’m Made New

IN YOU, I'M MADE NEW

2 Corinthians 5:17 often reminds me of a beautiful butterfly, bursting forth from its drab cocoon. It’s also a beautiful reminder that although God is ancient and eternal, He is never old or outdated. He does new things all the time, perhaps not always in ways we can see, but He is always at work. He created streams in the desert (Isaiah 43:19), breathed life in to dry bones (Ezekiel 37), and turned hearts of stone in to hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). He still does new things today, of course, and He always will, and not only in our temporary, earthly life. In heaven, we can look forward to a new home, and new bodies.

That’s one of the joyful realisations in following Christ; that within Him, there is always hope for a better future. The journey to that betterment will include challenges and sorrow, but through it all, He remains, as do His promises to be with us always, and to work for our good.

It’s a glorious thing to understand that He is continually doing something within us, and those around us, so we can pray with humble expectation, knowing that every day is an opportunity to be changed, and to become more like Christ.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 3:17-18

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:22-23