Posts Tagged ‘God’

Warfare

January 30, 2009

Sunday 18 January 2009  

Jeremiah 31:15-17, Psalm 124, Revelation 21:1-7, Matthew 2:13-18

 

Someone once said that we are born into a world at war, and that we must arm ourselves.  There is fierce fighting taking place at present in Gaza in the Middle East, and in many other parts of the world.  Israel and Palestine are fighting over land; there are many wars over territory, but this particular piece of land has religious significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and represents the promises of God to His people.  Some people are caught up in this war against their wishes, while others are willing to die because they are passionate about what they are fighting for.  If this is true of a war over physical territory that the Bible calls the Promised Land, then how much fiercer is the war for the true Promised Land of the New Covenant, which is the gift of abundant life in our hearts.

 

We are in the year 2009. In the natural realm we associate the number nine with birth, since there are nine months of pregnancy before a woman gives birth.  In the spiritual realm, we are in a season of radical change and new birth.  Some of the events taking place in the natural realm around us are a spiritual window into what God is doing in His church and in our hearts and lives individually.  In Isaiah 42:14 God says, “I have kept silent for a long time, I have kept still and restrained Myself.  Now like a woman in labour I will groan, I will both gasp and pant.”  He is actually speaking of Himself in the language of a pregnant woman giving birth. 

 

The results of this birthing process are dramatic: “I will lay waste the mountains and hills and wither all their vegetation; I will make the rivers into coastlands and dry up the ponds.  I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know I will guide them I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains these are the things I will do, and I will not leave them undone.” (Isaiah 42:15-16)  The past few days there was, unusually, an earthquake in the Shetland Islands and the north of Scotland, and there have been sudden strong winds and rain overnight here in London. Again, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, these natural events speak of the season we are in spiritually.  God is changing the landscape inwardly.

 

We heard in the Gospel today how King Herod felt threatened by the birth of Jesus, and how he therefore tried to destroy him.  When he was unable to discover where Jesus was, he was angry and instead ordered the murder of all the boys under the age of three in the surrounding areas.  Often when there is a war there are civilians and innocent bystanders who are caught in the crossfire and killed.  These children and their families had nothing to do with either the birth of Jesus or the war for Herod’s heart, but they were innocent victims of the warfare and of Herod’s anger.

 

However, this story does not give us the whole picture.  Revelation 12:1-4, 7-9, 13-14, 17 gives us an insight into the much greater and more intense battle behind the scenes:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labour and in pain to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child…

 And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven.  And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him…

And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child.  But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent… So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

 

This may sound like a fantasy adventure. However, the adventure is not a fantasy but it is a spiritual reality, and what we often do not realize is that what takes place in the spiritual realm is much more real and affects our lives at a much deeper level than anything you can see or hear going on in the world around you.

 

The story of the spiritual battle is told here in symbols: the woman is the Virgin Mary, the child is Jesus, and the serpent or dragon is Satan.  It was not only King Herod but Satan who tried to destroy Jesus soon after His birth, because he had heard that Jesus was the Son of God.  The woman flying into the wilderness speaks of the journey into Egypt (the eagle speaks of the wisdom and revelation that God gave to Joseph, and of the strength He gave them to take that journey).  The other children who are mentioned at the end, against whom the dragon continues to make war even today, speaks of the young children who were killed by Herod – and if we keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus, as the Scripture says, then it speaks about us.

 

In the natural realm, eagles are greater than serpents – they are able to fight against them and eat them alive.  The good news is that God is much greater than Satan.  Jesus defeated Satan two thousand years ago on the cross – He ate him alive.  But Satan will not be completely destroyed until the end, and in the meantime we must fight the battle by surrendering our wills to Jesus and making Him the Lord of our hearts.

 

What do we learn from the story?  Firstly, it tells us who the real enemy is.  Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.  We are not fighting against people – even though people may disappoint us, offend us or hurt us in various ways, there is more to this than meets the eye.  Nor are we fighting against the circumstances – the weather or the economic situation or even war and terrorism – because these things are in God’s hands.  Our enemy is unseen.  However, Christ has defeated him already, and the power he has is through deception and through the un-surrendered areas of our minds and hearts.  Therefore the way we fight the battle is not by fighting back when people hurt us or by trying to earn and save more money so that we can survive financially – if we do these things we have been distracted and the enemy already has us where he wants us.  The only way we can win is by allowing the truth of God’s Word to penetrate and shine its light into the dark places within our minds and hearts.  The bondages in our lives are mostly based on deception, where we have believed the lies of the enemy.  Our addictions and ungodly patterns of behaviour are ways in which we try to protect ourselves against the things we most fear – such as failure and rejection.  Yet very often our fears are based on something that is not real.  It is only when we allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts, and when we confess our sins and surrender these areas to Him, that we will be able to overcome.

 

Secondly, when God is birthing something spiritually, there is great warfare.  Jesus spoke of wars and earthquakes and famines and persecution as the “birth-pangs” or “labour pains” of His Kingdom in our lives.  But He also encouraged us to persevere in the midst of these trials, by promising that he who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:13)  Today’s Gospel quotes from the first lesson, and tells us that the murder of the children was the fulfilment of a prophecy made hundreds of years earlier.  We are not told why this happened or what God’s purpose was in allowing it to happen, but what is very clear is that God allowed it to happen, and that He is fully in control.  This should encourage us to trust that God is in control, even in most painful trials of our lives and in the circumstances that are the most difficult for us to understand.  His plans for us are good, to give us a hope and a future.  He knows the number of hairs on our heads and will not allow one of them to perish.  However He tells us not to fear those who destroy the body, but to fear the one who is able to destroy both the body and the soul in hell.  His plan is not to give us an easy life but to ensure our eternal salvation.  The battles are for our good, in order to make us stronger – not in our own strength, but to learn to rely on God’s strength much more as we become aware of our weakness and our great need for Him – and they are a sign that He is at work in our lives and that the enemy is not happy.

 

Our Psalm today says that if God had not been on our side when the enemy rose against us, we would have been swallowed alive and our soul would have been drowned.  Sometimes the struggles in our lives seem overwhelming, and at these times our only hope is to turn to God.  The reason why He allows us to experience these trials is so that we will learn to put our hope in Him, and not in people who will eventually let us down, or in money and material riches, or in any of the pleasures and comforts that the world has to offer us.  All these things are false securities that will eventually fail us and that will not be able to satisfy our needs, whereas God in His riches will fully satisfy us.  If we trust fully in God, and build our lives on His promises and walk according to His Covenant, then His promise is that “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.” (Isaiah 43:2)   Israel passed through the Red Sea, and through the River Jordan in the season when it was flooded, and they were not drowned because God cut off the waters so that they walked on dry ground.  In the book of Daniel, three young men were thrown into a furnace heated to seven times its normal strength; but because they refused to obey the demands of the king that they should worship false gods and because they refused to deny their faith but trusted in God, an angel entered the furnace with them, and they were not burned.  If you trust and obey God, then no matter how difficult the trials are, He will preserve your life.  Even if you die physically, your soul will never die.

 

Thirdly, the enemy attacks those who are the most vulnerable, and he attacks us when we are at his weakest.  This is perhaps an obvious strategy, although we are not as aware of it as we should be.  In this story Satan did not attack the wise men or Joseph – he attacked a young mother and her baby, and many more young children.  We need to guard our hearts, especially when we experience any kind of spiritual or emotional struggle, and pray for those who are weaker spiritually than we are.

 

This reminds us of our duty to protect and care for not only those who are most vulnerable spiritually in our families and in the church, but also those who are the most vulnerable in society around us.  Today the Charismatic Episcopal Church celebrates “Sanctity of Life Sunday”.  The founding fathers of our communion were deeply involved in the battle to preserve human life, especially against the evil of abortion.  This has become a high-profile political issue in the USA, and many people make this the main consideration in their presidential elections, because they understand the importance of a matter of life and death and they take it seriously.  Probably you have not heard it mentioned so much in the UK – it is more often kept a secret, but we now have almost the highest abortion rate in the world.  People who are in favour of abortion speak of the “rights” of a woman to make choices concerning her body.  However, a woman who makes this choice, whatever her reasons, is sacrificing the life of a helpless human being who is not able to make the choice for him or herself and who has no-one to protect or defend him or her.  There are many reasons why women have an abortion – fear or shame because of their families or boyfriends, emotional and spiritual struggles, health or financial reasons, or even plain selfishness.  However none of these really compare with the gravity of taking the life of someone who is weak and completely helpless.

 

The amazing thing is that God has made Himself completely helpless and vulnerable by choosing to come into the world as a baby through the womb of Mary.  Jesus was completely dependent upon His human family to protect Him – of course, with the help of God – when Herod and Satan tried to destroy Him.  He became fully one of us and shared fully in our weakness and vulnerability.  This is why we should also identify ourselves with those who are most vulnerable and by God’s grace seek to help them.

 

Scientists, philosophers and politicians have invented all kinds of clever argument to try to determine the exact point at which an embryo becomes a human being, and the debates continue as to exactly when during the pregnancy abortion should be allowed.  The issues have now become more complicated and confused as scientists experiment with genetic modification, conducting stem-cell research and even mixing human and animal tissue and attempting cloning.  Only time will reveal the full fruit of man’s wisdom.  From God’s perspective the issue is very clear and simple.  Psalm 139:13, 15-16 says You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb… My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skilfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.  We are created by God from the beginning.  We do not become human beings at some stage in the process of developing from an embryo: we are human from the moment of conception, and our beginning is in the mind of God.

 

Abortion is murder, pure and simple.  In civilized societies, murder is not acceptable, but it is punished by death or by a long prison sentence.  This past week I received an email with photos from Iran where an eight-year old boy had been caught stealing a loaf of bread, and was punished by having his arm crushed underneath a car.  The subject of the email was, “Is this human?”  Most people would be shocked if we were to suggest allowing this kind of abuse to take place in our own country.  Someone could have taken the risk of trying to protect the boy, and at least the boy was not actually killed.  Yet we fail to be shocked at the legalised murder of unborn babies who have no one to protect them.

 

The deeper issue is the sanctity of human life.  Abortion is only one of the ways in which it is violated.  Another is euthanasia – the decision to end one’s own life with medical assistance.  This is now legal in some countries, and a few weeks ago someone was actually shown doing this on British television.  The name and the procedure are a deception intended to make what is evil appear respectable – the real name for euthanasia is suicide, and the real name for abortion is murder.  We live in an age where very few people can tell the difference between good and evil.

 

God destroyed the whole world in the flood, but He preserved a few of every living creature, and He preserved the life of man.  After the flood, God promised that He would never again destroy mankind, and He said to Noah, “Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it.  And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.  Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” (Genesis 9:5-6) Here is the basic issue: human life is sacred because God has made us in His image.  We did not evolve from monkeys, and we are not just a collection of atoms and chemical reactions that have somehow by accident learned to breathe, think intelligently, experience emotions and walk with God, His Spirit dwelling in our spirit.  We are different from every other creature in existence because God created us in His image.  God gave us life, and only He can take it away.  Once we start making decisions about ending the life of any human being – whether someone else or ourselves – we are arrogantly setting ourselves up to be higher than God.  If we are not shocked by abortion, it is because we have not yet fully received the revelation of what it means to be created in God’s image.

 

The commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves, and all God’s laws and commandments, begin with our creation in His image.  It is because we are made in God’s image that we are called to treat one another and also ourselves with respect and care, and it is because we are made in His image that we are able in any way to know God and to walk in His love.  When we commit adultery, judge, lie, steal, dishonour, falsely accuse or in any other way hurt or abuse one another – whether in actions, words or even in our thoughts – we are violating the dignity and sacredness of human life, and we show that we have fallen short of God’s glory, and of what it means to be created in His image.

 

God created us to exercise dominion.  He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)  The fact that God has made us in His image means that He has entrusted great authority to us.  If this is true of all people beginning thousands of years before the coming of Christ, how much more is it true of us who are empowered by the Holy Spirit and who are called to rule with Him as kings over the whole earth in the future age!  Although we lost our authority through sin, it has been restored to us in Christ.  Revelation 12:5 tells us that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.  King Herod was afraid that Jesus would take away his authority, and Satan was even more afraid that Jesus would take away the authority that he had stolen from us.  This is why all the baby boys were killed, this is the reason for abortion, and this is the reason why, ever since he tempted Adam and Eve, Satan has always tried viciously to destroy the image of God.

 

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)  Satan is a thief, a liar and a murderer; we need to recognize this, and we need to recognize that whatever brings destruction comes from him.  Jesus gives us abundant life through His incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  He gives life not only to our physical bodies but to our hearts and souls – in our health, our wealth, our work and leisure, our relationships, and in our relationship with Him.  The work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts gradually restores us to the original glory of the image of God in which we were created.

 

“Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.  There is hope in your future, says the LORD, that your children shall come back to their own border.” (Jeremiah 31:16-17)  These words were written for the parents of the babies murdered by Herod, that their suffering was not in vain.  We heard in the second lesson about the comfort that we will receive in the future age, where there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  Yet this comfort begins here and now in the midst of our trials when we receive the peace of God in our hearts by faith.  The “land of the enemy” means the land of death.  Remember that death is not just literal death, but everything that is the opposite of abundant life.  It means every kind of oppression, abuse or torment, and whatever would destroy or prevent us from receiving not only physical life in our bodies, but the abundant life of God in our hearts and the full glory and dignity of the image of God in which we were created.  God is saying, do not weep any more, but rejoice because your prayers have been answered, your hard labour will be rewarded, your suffering has not been in vain.  I am bringing you back from the land of death to have life in My presence.  

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The Father’s Gift

January 15, 2009

The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Sunday 11 January 2009

Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 89:20-29, Acts 10:34-38, Mark 1:7-11

 

 

On Tuesday we began the season of Epiphany.  The word “epiphany” means “revelation” or “manifestation”, and the season of Epiphany speaks of the revelation or manifestation of the glory of God.  John 1:14 says, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as the only begotten from the Father. During the twelve days of Christmas we celebrated how God came among us and became one of us in the birth of Jesus Christ.  For the next few weeks until the beginning of Lent, we meditate on how the glory of God is revealed to us in Jesus His only-begotten Son, and we also reflect on God’s purpose for His glory to be revealed through us as the Body of Christ to the nations of the world around us.  Today we specifically commemorate the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This incident in the life of Jesus, together with today’s readings, reveals to us something about the character of God and the inner life of the Trinity, and it also tells us something about God’s attitude towards us and our calling as His children.

 

The Baptism of Jesus is a picture of the love of God the Father for His Son, and of the obedience of God the Son towards the Father.  Jesus was baptized by John, and the ministry of John the Baptist was to call people to repent of their sins.  When Jesus came to him, John objected that Jesus did not need to be baptized because He was without sin, but Jesus replied that it was necessary to fulfil all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).  This is not the full meaning of Baptism, but at this most basic level it is an act of obedience to God, and a commitment to live a life of obedience to Him.  If you have experienced the call of God in our life and it is your desire to follow Jesus, then you must be baptized if you are not already, and you must also have your children baptized.

 

As soon as Jesus had been baptized, the voice of the Father was heard from heaven, saying “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)  God may have been saying to His Son, “well done” because of His obedience, but I believe He also meant something much more than that.  The purpose of the whole Bible from beginning to end is to reveal God to us, and especially to reveal Him through Jesus Christ.  Even though the Old Testament was written before Jesus came, it points us to Him in many ways.  In Isaiah 42:1 God is speaking about His Son when He says “My chosen one in whom My soul delights”.  The Father is expressing His love and affection for His Son in the sheer pleasure and delight He feels towards Him.  We can see this illustrated in the feelings that parents often have towards their newly-born babies.  At this early stage in their lives the parents have just seen their children face to face for the first time, and it is too early for them to have done anything, whether good or bad, to affect the parents’ attitude towards them.  The parents’ feelings towards their baby at this time are very special, and at that moment their child is more precious to them than anyone or anything else in the world.

 

What we do not realize is that God actually feels the same way about us – not only when we are first born again into His family, but all the time!  Most parents experience a variety of different feelings and emotions towards their children as their relationship with them develops and as they encounter different circumstances together.  Usually their attitude towards their children is affected in one way or another by their children’s behaviour.  It is perhaps harder for a parent to feel and express love and affection towards a disobedient and rebellious child than towards a child that is obedient and well-behaved.  The parents’ attitude may also be affected by other things such as how successful the child is at school.  Yet even when parents are angry and upset with their children, this is because there is a deep bond of affection and beneath the surface they love them.  God has a constant attitude of love and affection towards us, even when we sin, and He is no longer angry with us for our sins and failures because in the death of Jesus His anger has been taken away and we have been completely forgiven for all our sins.  Our heavenly Father sees us without sin, and looks at us as His children with pleasure and delight even as He looks at Jesus.

 

God is Three Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Even as the Father has always existed since before the creation of the world and always will exist, the same is true of the Son and the Holy Spirit, because all three are equally God.  The Son of God was always there with the Father in heaven before He became man and was revealed to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.  When He was born into the world and became one of us, everything that He did here on earth He did not only as God, but also as the perfect Man and as our representative before God.  When Jesus was baptized He entered into a Covenant with God on our behalf.  The Second Person of the Trinity was always in eternity the Son of God, but when Jesus was baptized, for the first time ever a human being also became a son of God.  When the Father said to Jesus “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased” He was speaking not only to the Second Person of the Trinity, but also to Jesus as a Man.  He allows us to hear this expression of love not only to show us the love of the Father towards His Son, but also to reveal to us the love that He has for each one of us.

 

 

When Jesus was baptized, He saw heavens opening and the Holy Spirit coming down upon Him (Mark 1:10), and it was at this time that He heard the voice of the Father.  The Holy Spirit is the Father’s gift of love to His Son, and He is the Father’s gift of love to each of us.  Romans 8:14-17 tells of the vital role of the Holy Spirit in our relationship with God:  For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

 

God’s purpose for us as Christians is for us not only to know information about Him, but to know Him personally.  This is the difference between information and revelation, and between a religion and a relationship.  Jesus did not leave His Father’s side and the pleasures of heaven and suffer and die for us in order to start another religion, but so that we could have a personal relationship with God.  He does not want us only to have occasional spiritual experiences but to live our daily lives in constant communication, fellowship and communion with Him.  Even as we cannot know God the Father personally unless we have a relationship with Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, so we cannot know either the Father or the Son personally unless we have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who reveals the Father and the Son to us, and who lives in our spirits so that our relationship with God is not just a theological idea but a reality that we personally experience.  It is the Holy Spirit who assures us that we are God’s children, and who makes it possible for our hearts to cry out to God and to call Him “Abba! Father!”  The word “father” means different things to different people. For people who do not know their fathers very well, it might mean only a formal relationship with an authority figure who is distant from them personally.  However, “Abba” has more the meaning of “Daddy”, and it speaks of a relationship of warmth and intimacy.  This is the kind of relationship the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to enjoy with God as His children.

 

In the Roman Empire when Paul was writing, everyone in the household was either a slave or a son.  By law, if someone adopted a slave, he became a member of the family with the full rights of a family member, and was treated the same way as biological children.  If we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, He is a spirit of adoption – meaning that God has adopted us into His family and has given us the same rights and treats us in the same way that He treats His true Son Jesus.  In the same way, if a slave was adopted as a member of the family, he was no longer treated in the same way as a slave.  In many cultures a son is expected to serve his parents and to conduct business on their behalf, but he does so because he is grateful for all the love and care and the many blessings he has received from them, and not grudgingly because of obligation or intimidation.  Religion makes people slaves to fear, because it intimidates us into thinking that we are not good enough and that we have to try harder to live up to the standard so that we will not be punished.  Some people have been raised by their parents or taught by the Church to live in this way, and even without this the devil has sent religious spirits to tell us these lies so that we will be kept in bondage and will not be able to enjoy our freedom as God’s children.  If this has been your experience, God wants you to know the truth in your heart – that you are no longer a slave but a son, and this truth will set you free.  It may be that you know this as a teaching or a piece of information in you mind, but it has not yet become a reality that you experience in your daily life.  If that is the case, you need to ask the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of sonship, to reveal it to you.

 

 

Mark 1:10 says that Jesus saw the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove.  A dove is traditionally a symbol of peace, and so this speaks of the peace in our hearts that only God can give us.  Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, which comes from having a right relationship with God.  You cannot have peace in your heart unless you have a right relationship with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. (John 3:5)   Water speaks of Baptism, and Baptism uses water as a picture of cleansing.  John preached a Baptism of repentance, in order to prepare people to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Even as water cleanses our bodies on the outside, so the Holy Spirit cleanses our hearts on the inside.  Jesus said that it is not dirt on our bodies but the impure thoughts of our hearts that make a person unclean.  The word “baptize” means to immerse.  John baptized people in the river so that the water went over their heads and covered the whole of their bodies.  This is a picture of the inner working of the Holy Spirit, that He desires to fill us completely and to make us thoroughly clean.  This is why He is called the Holy Spirit, because He is holy.  Ephesians 4:30 says, Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God – in other words, the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, but a Person, even as God the Father is a Person and God the Son is a Person and you are a person.  He is a Person with feelings, and we have to keep our hearts right if we want to have a relationship with Him.  This means we must allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and to reveal to us any sin in our lives that we have been unaware of – especially the negative thoughts and emotions such as anger and unforgiveness that we often carry around with us without realizing it and that can so easily wear us down and rob us of our joy and peace.  The Holy Spirit wants to make us aware of the condition of our hearts, not so that He can condemn us – because condemnation is not from God but from Satan – but so that we can confess and repent of our sins, and so that He can wash us clean and set us free to enjoy our relationship with Him.  Many people’s lives are full of stress and anxiety because of their circumstances, and strife and unforgiveness towards other people and towards God.  However God has given us His Holy Spirit as His gift of love to us, so that we can know that He is with us and so that we can enjoy His peace in our hearts as His children.

 

 

A dove also speaks to us of gentleness, and the first lesson shows us the gentle and supportive character of God in the way He treats His children.  In the world around us there is a lot of violence, and people often try to get ahead by force and by treating one another roughly, for example by pushing and shoving to get to the front of a queue.  Because of this some people regard gentleness as a sign of weakness, but the Bible tells us it is the fruit of the Spirit.  God shows us gentleness in the fact that He uses His strength not to hurt, crush and destroy us, but to protect, support and help us.  Speaking of Jesus, the Father says in Isaiah 42:1, “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold”.  In Isaiah 42:6 He addresses His Son directly and says “I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you”.  Parents usually hold young children by the hand when they are just learning to walk, or when they take them out somewhere, to support and strengthen them, to lead them in the right direction, to make sure that they do not fall and hurt themselves, and also to stop them from running into the road and being hit by a car.  When they are not holding their children’s hands they watch over them carefully in order to protect them from harm as far as they can.  This is how God the Father watched over His Son during His days on the earth, to guide and protect Him and to support Him as He fulfilled His mission.  In the same way our heavenly Father holds us by the hand and upholds our cause as we journey through the cares and dangers and choices of our lives, as we learn to walk with Him, and as we seek to serve Him and to fulfil the mission He has given us.  As He loves Jesus, so He also loves us. 

 

However He is not over-protective in the way that some human parents try to be.  All human parents know that their children must become independent and make their own choices, and they find that it is a struggle to let go because it is painful for parents to see their children make mistakes and get hurt – yet they also come to realize that this is necessary so that their children can learn and grow through their mistakes and become mature.  God the Father understands and knows the pain of parents, because in sending His Son into the world He allowed Him not only to get hurt, but to suffer and die in the most painful way that any human being could experience.  It is not only Mary the Mother of Jesus who felt this pain, but God the Father of Jesus felt it much more because He knew what His Son had to suffer spiritually for our sake.  Even when Jesus died on the cross, He did so under the Father’s watchful eye.  Although the Jews made several earlier attempts to kill Jesus, the Father did not allow Him to die until the appointed time and in the way that He had appointed, and He ensured that after His death no bone in His body was broken and that His Body was buried and received the proper care.  In the same way, although God does not promise us a life that is free from pain and suffering, He does assure that in the midst of our struggles and trials He is walking with us and holding us by the hand, as a parent walks hand in hand with a young child, and that He is watching over us to protect us and to keep us from coming to any real harm, whether as a result of circumstances and the actions of other people, or even as a result of our own foolish choices.

 

In Isaiah 42:3 we see that Jesus has the same character of gentleness that He has received from the Father: A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.  There are times when the struggles and hardships of our lives seem almost too much for us to bear, but God understands our feelings of weakness and frailty at these times because He has experienced the same thing Himself in the way His own people treated Him.  He also set an example for us, as He did not complain or retaliate when people beat Him, made fun of Him, falsely accused Him and in various other ways abused Him, but He continued to show them love and mercy and asked the Father to forgive even those who crucified Him.  The world around us believes in the survival of the fittest, and many areas of work and business are regarded as a “rat race”.  When someone is weak or suffers a misfortune, there are people who will do what they can to make it worse, and some people will even beat and rob the homeless who are trying to sleep on the streets.  Some people hurt and undermine others in order to get ahead of them, because they are greedy for success or simply desperate to survive.  Others hate people who are weak and suffering or who seem to be failures, because it reminds them of their own condition from which they are trying desperately to escape. 

 

But Jesus is not like this – He shows us compassion and care in all our weaknesses.  If your soul is bruised and you feel like the leaf of a plant that is damaged and that is about to break, He will not break you but He will heal you.  If you feel that your spirit is like a candle in a windy place so that the wick is covered with wax and the flame is about to go out, then be assured that God’s purpose is not to put out your flame but to make it burn more strongly.  If you feel that life is unfair and that you have been treated harshly and unjustly, put your hope in Him and wait patiently.  Vengeance is in the hand of God, and your reward is also with Him.  Do not give up, and do not take matters into your own hands, but remain faithful, because He sees what people do not see – He knows your heart and He knows your faithfulness, and He will reward you.

 

 

Isaiah 42:4 says that Jesus will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth.  Jesus knew why He came among us – He knew His mission and purpose.  He came to heal all who were oppressed by the devil, and to destroy the devil’s work.  Because God the Father had put this purpose in His heart, and because God the Father strengthened Him and upheld His cause, Jesus would not falter or waver until His mission was accomplished.  Because of the Father’s protection and care He would not be crushed, and because of the Father’s love He would never give up or lose heart.  The oppression and injustice that we suffer are from the devil, and Jesus has already won the victory and destroyed the devil’s work.  Although we do not see its complete fulfilment yet, Jesus has already accomplished His mission on the earth and destroyed the devil’s work.  He has established justice for us, and we will see the answers to our prayers.  But now it is our turn – as children of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to carry on His mission until it reaches its final fulfilment.  How is the vision that God has put in your heart?  The Father will protect us, guide us, keep us from being crushed, and He will uphold and establish our cause.  Our part is to continue, and to pray that we will not lose heart.  Let us guard our hearts against discouragement and defeat, and continue to put our hope in the love that God has for us.  He loves you and takes great delight in you, and your victory and well-being are His greatest concern.

 

 

Joseph’s Journeys

January 15, 2009

Second Sunday after Christmas

Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 84:1-8, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

 

 

Happy New Year!

 

We begun the Christian year more than a month ago at the beginning of Advent, but now in the world’s calendar it is 2009, and this transition marks a new season in God’s plan.  For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, He is opening doors of opportunity.  In many cases our own best efforts have led only to frustration, but God is opening doors without any effort on our part.  For those who are prepared to take a step of faith and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, there is victory ahead.

 

 

The Christian life is a journey, and the life of Joseph and Mary before and after the birth of Jesus was full of journeys.  Joseph and Mary had to travel for several days from Nazareth to Bethlehem before the birth of Christ.  The NHS sometimes moves patients around from one hospital to another because there are not enough beds, but they do not usually have to travel by donkey.  However Joseph and Mary travelled by donkey in order to fulfil the plan of God, even when Mary was heavily pregnant.  In the Gospel today we heard how they had to take two much longer journeys, first to the land of Egypt, and then eventually back to Nazareth where they had first begun.

 

Imagine how inconvenient and unsettling this must have been for the young family.  First of all, Mary had become pregnant by the Holy Spirit while the couple were still engaged, causing a scandal and forcing them to hurry their wedding plans.  Then Mary had to give birth in a strange town, in a stable where the animals slept because no one was able to accommodate them properly.  Apparently after this they were able to settle down to an extent in Bethlehem, as Matthew 2:11 tells us that they were staying in a house at the time when the wise men visited them.  But then they were uprooted again when they were awoken in the middle of the night and told to run away to Egypt – two or three weeks’ journey, mostly across the dessert, and with a young child – to a country of a strange language and culture where their ancestors had been treated cruelly as slaves many hundreds of years earlier.

 

The Christian life is not comfortable, it is not nice and clean and respectable with everything decent and orderly, and it is not for the faint-hearted.  It is a life of adventure in which the unexpected can and will happen – and we can either resist or surrender.  If we resist, He will teach us the hard way through many obstacles and frustrations; if we surrender we will experience excitement and danger.  Either way, we will discover that God has a way of working things so that our carefully laid plans fall apart and we have to acknowledge that we are not in control.

 

 

This is good news, because it means that God is in control.  God did not tell Joseph to get up in the middle of the night and seek political asylum in an enemy country because the situation had taken Him by surprise and He could not think of a better way.  No – this had been part of His plan all along, and He had even announced it several hundred years earlier through the prophet Hosea.  God did not tell Joseph to go back to Nazareth, a place with a bad reputation and where the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy would still be remembered, because he was afraid to go to Bethlehem again or because it was too risky.  Again, this had always been part of the plan, and again, it had been prophesied several hundred years earlier.  Acts 17:26 says that God made all the nations of mankind, and that He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  Romans 8:28 says that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  It does not matter what strange or difficult experiences the journey and adventure of your life may take you through – as long as it is a journey and adventure with God!  If your heart is to follow Him, then everything that happens that you cannot understand is all part of God’s perfect plan, and it is for your good and for the good of all the other people whom your life will affect in any way.

 

 

The Church has generally given far more attention to Mary than to Joseph because of her unique role as the Virgin Mother of Jesus.  She has become the subject of much devotion and controversy, whereas Joseph is more often forgotten.  However Joseph’s story is no less important, and in Matthew’s Gospel he is given as much attention as Mary.  Once Mary had surrendered to the plan of God to bring His Son into the world, it was Joseph who had to hear the Word of the Lord, make some difficult and vital decisions, and take action in ways that most men would be afraid to do.  He married a woman who became pregnant out of wedlock and said it was from the Holy Spirit.  He had a dream one night and did not wait until the next day to leave for another country.  You will not do things like that unless either you are crazy or you have surrendered your life to God.  Mostly He will not ask us to, and He generally does not call us to make hasty decisions without the counsel of those in authority over us.  But we can learn some more basic lessons from this radical example.

 

Perhaps we think we cannot follow Joseph’s example because he was someone special and that God does not deal with most people in such a way.  However Joseph was not a priest, a prophet or a Bible scholar, but a carpenter from a rough neighbourhood.  When Jesus began his ministry thirty years later, people took offence because they thought He was Joseph’s son.  Joseph was very ordinary in the eyes of men – but no one is ordinary in the eyes of God.  Perhaps we think we cannot follow Joseph’s example because we do not see angels and dream prophetic dreams on a regular basis.  However we must realize that God has promised to pour out His Spirit on all flesh for those who believe – whether we are old or young, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, experienced or inexperienced as Christians, it makes no difference.  There are many ways in which God will speak to us, if we are willing to listen.

 

What made the life of Joseph so powerful was not the dreams and visions and decisions made in the middle of the night, but the fact that he did not rely on human wisdom but simply obeyed God.  Because of this he is an example of Christian leadership.  You may not think of yourself as a leader, but if you are a husband or a father then God has called you to lead your family; and if you are a single man, God wants to prepare you for this calling.  It is the men, not the women or children, whom God has given the main responsibility for hearing His voice and making decisions on behalf of the family.  This does not mean that other members of the family cannot also hear from God and take part in the decision-making process, but it is the husband or father who has the main responsibility to do this.  If you are a man and you have not yet begun to walk with God in this way, then the beginning of a new year is a good time to start to pray and seek Him and ask Him to teach you.  If you are a single mother, or if your husband is not fulfilling this responsibility, then the burden may have fallen on your shoulders, and you too need to learn to hear the voice of God not only for your own life but for the lives of your children.  However, by God’s grace this should only be a temporary measure if you believe His plan is to give you the husband you need.  Pray for a new husband if you do not have one, or if you do have one then pray that God will make your husband new.  And be ready to submit to your husband when he starts to obey God’s voice, and to encourage him in this responsibility.

 

Joseph is also an example of what it means to live prophetically.  Again, this may sound like something spiritually advanced, but it really means the same thing – to hear the voice of the Lord, firstly for our own lives and then for those who are entrusted to our care, and to obey what He tells us.  This is for every one of us, from the youngest Christian to the greatest leader.  Bishop Randolph Adler, the founder and first Patriarch of the Charismatic Episcopal Church, said that he habitually prayed two particular prayers.  The first was the prayer of St. Paul that God would open the eyes of his heart and grant him wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17-18).  The second was that God would grant him the courage to obey what He showed him.  God can use any of us in a powerful way if we are willing.  Today at the beginning of 2009 He is calling us to return to a surrendered life of prayer – which is our first calling.  Some of us are called to be intercessors in a special way, and some are not; but all of us are called to pray.  He is calling us to seek Him while He may be found, and to live a life of adventure as we walk again in the anointing of the Spirit.

 

Joseph was able to obey God in a radical way because his heart was prepared.  The Bible tells us of many other men and women who were ready to trust and obey when God spoke to them – Noah who built the ark in a dry country hundreds of miles from the sea; Abraham who left his country and his father’s household for a destination that he did not know, with the promise of a child when his wife was unable to conceive; Rahab the prostitute in Jericho who hid the Israeli spies from the king’s soldiers; and Mary the Virgin Mother of Jesus.  They did not have all the answers, but they knew in their hearts that there was something greater ahead of them. 

 

God is waiting to open doors of opportunity and to do new things in our lives – but are we ready to obey Him when He gives us the opportunity to receive our breakthrough?  What would have happened if Joseph had said “no” to the angel because his family had just settled down and did not feel ready to move again at that time?  What if he had decided that because they had had a tiring day they would have their night’s sleep first and then talk about it the next morning?  Usually God cannot do a new thing in our lives unless we are prepared to take a step of faith and leave something from our old lives behind.  You have to step out of the boat before you can walk on water.  From our perspective, faith always involves a risk, but from God’s perspective it is safe enough.  For Him, the risk is to give us the opportunity when we might miss it – and so He waits until we have had plenty of time to be prepared.

 

 

The Bible is full of stories of people going on journeys from one place to another, but really these are a picture of the spiritual journeys that take place in our hearts.  There are times when God will move us to a different house, city or even a different country, but most of the time He wants us to become rooted and established in one particular place so that we can grow and bear fruit there.  The most important journey that Israel made was not their journey from Egypt through the desert to the Promised Land, but the journey from being slaves and aliens to finding their identity as the people of God and inheriting His abundant blessings in a country of their own. 

 

The first lesson tells of a journey of restoration – how God would gather His people from where they were scattered in exile and slavery, and bring them back to their home, and how He would turn their weeping into dancing and their sorrow into joy.  However “home” for us is not a particular physical place, but it is the will of God for our lives.  “Home” for us is the Kingdom of heaven into which we were born and where we belong, and we live there when we return to the will and purpose of God for our lives.  “Home” is the dwelling-place of God in our hearts, and this is where the Kingdom of God begins.  We can speak about “returning home”, even if we feel that we have never been there, because in a sense all of us have been there once, and it is like a precious memory that has partly been lost, and that we are trying to recover.  It is speaking of the original glory with which God created us in His image, before we fell into what the General Confession calls the devices and desires of our own hearts, or our own wisdom and our own ways. 

 

Psalm 84 speaks of a pilgrimage – but again it is a pilgrimage in our hearts.  A pilgrimage in ancient times was often a long and difficult journey, full of discomforts, dangers and trials.  But people were willing to undertake this kind of journey because they had a great desire in their hearts, and for that desire to be satisfied made it worth paying the price.  The traveller in our Psalm reading was so hungry for God’s presence that he said, “How lovely is Your tabernacle, o LORD of hosts!  My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” (Psalm 84:1-2)  He was travelling to the temple in Jerusalem because it was the dwelling-place of God; but for us today the temple ad dwelling-place of God is in our hearts when we follow His will for our lives. 

 

In the course of this journey through our hearts we will pass through what the psalmist calls the Valley of Baca” (Psalm 84:6)­ or the “valley of weeping”.  When we seek God’s will and draw near to Him, the Holy Spirit will expose hidden areas of emotional pain, as well as any places where we have become stuck in failure, defeat, inferiority or depression.  The purpose of this is not for us to dwell on the pain again and to dig ourselves deeper in the valley, but to allow God to bring healing so that we can experience the fresh flow of His Holy Spirit as He makes these areas of brokenness whole again.  He is calling us to put the past behind us – not to bury the pain but to bring it to Him and receive our healing – so that we can move on and experience the hope and the future and the new life that He has prepared for us. 

 

The psalmist declares, Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage… They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. (Psalm 84:5, 7)  The journey is often painful, and it is not for the weak and the faint-hearted.  God calls us to guard our hearts in the midst of the frustrations and difficulties, and to recognize that our faith and our resolve will be strengthened every time we are healed from the pain and every time we persevere and overcome the trials.  His promise is that if we set our hearts on the goal and the prize of His calling, and if we come to the place where we admit defeat in our own strength and begin to find new strength in Him, then He will change us from glory to glory, and we will finally reach our destination and fulfil our destiny.

 

 

We have not yet fully realized the hope of God’s calling in our lives, or the glorious inheritance He has prepared for us as His children, or the mighty power He has made available to work on our behalf when we place our faith and trust in Him. (Ephesians 1:18-19)  This is why Paul prayed for the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened, so that we would have a true vision to motivate us for the journey ahead.  Without vision we perish, but the gift of God in Jesus Christ is abundant life.  Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire satisfied is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12)  Do not be surprised if the battle is intense, but realize that it is a good sign – God is stretching our faith and preparing us to receive our inheritance.  The enemy seeks to destroy our hearts through emotional wounds, so that we will give up on our vision and miss God’s purpose for our lives.  But God is greater than the enemy and He is performing a work of restoration.  For those who have waited and persevered and have not given up their hope, He is opening doors of opportunity.  Let us press in to God, and pray for our vision to be clear and our hearts to be prepared, so that we will be ready to respond in obedience and to receive all that He has in store for us.

 

 

Epiphany 2009 #2

January 15, 2009

Isaiah 60:1-6, 9, Psalm 72, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

 

God has placed His light and glory within us; our part is to arise and stand in a dark place where it will be seen clearly, and let it shine.  We must rise up above our discouragements, fears and other negative emotions, and by faith overcome them, in order to be ready when He opens doors of opportunity.  Is it a lack of passion and motivation that holds us back, or is it our fears – such as the fear of rejection and failure – that cause us to be double-minded?  We cannot overcome these obstacles by our own determination, but the Holy Spirit in His sovereignty can change our hearts if we truly surrender to Him.  Yet we cannot even surrender by our own efforts, but only by our willing response to the conviction of the Spirit and His work within us.

 

 

King Solomon asked God for His judgments: he knew that in himself he lacked the ability to judge rightly, and that he would only be able to do so with the wisdom and discernment that God would give him. (I Kings 3:7-9)  Jesus said, I can do nothing on My own initiative.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 5:30)  Jesus is without sin, and as God He has the right to judge and make decisions; yet as the perfect Man He surrendered His humanity to the will of the Father.  The surrender of our own will and opinion is necessary before we can receive wisdom and discernment from God.

 

Not only did Jesus refuse to rely on His natural senses, but He did not rely on other people’s opinions either – because He did not fear man but delighted in the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:3)  We must be free from the pressure of people’s opinions and from the fear of man – including those in authority over us – in order to hear and respond to the voice of the Lord.  He often speaks through people, and especially through those in authority, whether to confirm what we have heard from God directly or to correct us where we have failed to hear rightly.  Yet we need the help of the Holy Spirit to discern this, even as we need His help to discern where there is a hindrance in ourselves. 

 

If these things are true concerning our own hearts and lives, how much more is it necessary when we must make decisions and judgments concerning members of our families and of the church!

 

 

St. Paul, writing as a Jew, identifies the great mystery God has revealed: that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the Body, and fellow partakers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel (Ephesians 3:6).  If it is a mystery that in Christ people from different backgrounds and cultures can get along together as brothers and sisters, and that a man and woman can become “one flesh” in marriage, then the greatest mystery is that we are included in God’s family at all.  In Christ we are no longer slaves – whether to the lawlessness of sin or the legalism of religion, or to the oppression of man’s control and the world’s economic systems.  We are free from all such things, as God’s sons and heirs: we are recipients of His love and acceptance, and have been given the right to receive an inheritance, not only in the future but in our daily lives. 

 

What has kept us from receiving our inheritance has been the lies and condemnation of the devil, who has done his utmost to convince us that we are slaves and that we will never become anything more than slaves because we are no better and do not deserve anything better.  It is only by faith that we receive our salvation.  We can only receive our inheritance if we truly believe that God has accepted us as His sons, and that His will is to treat us as sons and not as slaves.  Even in the economic sphere, most people believe that they can only succeed by making themselves slaves and doing what they would not do for any other reason.  Yet God’s plan is to make us fruitful through the exercise of His gifts, and to fulfil the desires of our hearts.  It requires faith to live in such a way.

 

 

The magi giving gifts to Jesus is a picture of worship – both of what takes place corporately and symbolically in the Sunday Eucharist, and of the offering of our lives to God.

 

The opening of the magi’s “treasure” (Matthew 2:11) speaks not merely of money and material possessions, but of the opening of our hearts, since this is what is most precious to God. (Matthew 6:21)

 

Gold speaks of excellence, of giving God the very best of ourselves; it speaks of a pure heart and genuine faith that have been tested, proved and refined in the fire of sufferings and trials. (I Peter 1:6-7)

 

Frankincense represents our prayers, and the offering of our lives as a pleasing fragrance and sweet aroma before God as we walk in the love of Christ.  (Exodus 30:34, Revelation 5:8, Ephesians 5:2)

 

Myrrh speaks of the death and burial of our old nature with Christ in our Baptism, and of our daily dying to self and surrendering to the will of God.  This prepares us to walk in the power of the resurrection and the anointing of the Holy Spirit as Christ lives His life in us. (John 19:39-40, Song of Solomon 1:13, Exodus 30:23)

 

Some cultures follow the Biblical story by giving gifts at Epiphany rather than at Christmas.  However the giving of our lives to God in worship is not supposed to be an attempt to win God’s favour and approval, or to please religious leaders by obeying their dictates, but our free and heartfelt response to what God has done in Christ giving Himself for us.  It was not the religious leaders who came to worship, but strangers who followed a conviction and desire in their hearts.  Religion and slavery produce false worship, but true worship comes from the heart.

 

 

Epiphany 2009 #1

January 14, 2009

Isaiah 52:7-10, Revelation 21:22-27, Matthew 12:14-21

 

 

“Epiphany” means the revelation and manifestation of God’s glory.  This happened first and foremost when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, enabling us to see His glory as the only-begotten and beloved Son of God. (John 1:14)  However Christ is also to be revealed and manifested to the nations of the world, as the light and radiance of God’s glory shines forth through us.

 

The good news of salvation, restoration, comfort, redemption, emotional healing and deliverance comes first to us as the community of God’s Covenant people. (Isaiah 52:7-9)  Yet God performs this work openly in the sight of the nations of the world, so that our transformed lives will be a testimony to them of His power and glory. (Isaiah 52:10)  If we receive the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives and relationships, God’s glory will shine forth as an outflow among the nations of the world all around us.  The glory of God is man fully alive (St. Irenaeus) – The abundant life begins within, and our external actions are the means and expression of our hearts becoming fully alive.  Our healing is the foundation of our witness.

 

The holy city is fully illumined with the light of Christ, which is the glory of God, so that no other light is needed, and the nations of the world are able to walk by this light. (Revelation 21:23-24)  This speaks not of a place, but of the glorified Church, the body of all believers, made perfect and complete in the future age but beginning its journey of perfection even in the present.  Jesus warned us to “watch out that the light in you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35) – to guard our hearts and grow in His character.  This is the fruit of spiritual vision, since the condition of the eyes of our hearts will determine whether our lives are full of darkness or of light. (Luke 11:34)  Only with clear vision can we be fully illumined with the light of Christ to shine forth through us to the world. (Luke 11:33, 36)  We are in an ongoing process of restoration, and our hearts must constantly be cleansed, so that we may be renewed to the original glory in which we were created according to the image of God.  We must be cleansed from double-mindedness and come fully into a place of surrender before the will and purpose of God can be accomplished fully in our lives and His glory fully shine.

 

The Church’s mission is to release the glory of the nations, the wealth of talent and potential that God has deposited in the hearts of people in the world around us. (Revelation 21:24, 26, Isaiah 60:5)  We are to serve them until their hearts become fully alive and the glory of God shines forth through them and us together.  We cannot do so until our own hearts are fully alive and His glory shines in us, because this is what will attract them to seek God and to come to us for help when they discover that He is in our midst.

 

We must go into the world free from discrimination and fear, with confidence and assurance that God has approved and accepted us.  We must go with compassion, knowing that our sins are forgiven, and extending to the nations of the world the same mercy and forgiveness that we ourselves have received from God.  Our prejudices may come from envy because of the apparent strength, success and confidence of the people we see around us – since we may have a healthier sense of our own brokenness than they do – and from the fear of failure and rejection when we try to operate in their arena.  Many people in the world are highly trained and qualified, and they fight for careers and money, for survival or success.  We tend to feel inadequate by comparison, whether we lack their credentials or their fierce ambition – although our greater vision and purpose ought to put this in perspective.  Our adequacy is not from ourselves, but from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant (II Corinthians 3:5-6) and as ambassadors of Christ (II Corinthians 5:20).  He has qualified us not according to the flesh through our own abilities and works, but in the Spirit by His grace and His inner work of transformation; this is the basis for our confidence. (I Corinthians 3:4)  He chose us as those who are weak and worthy of rejection in the eyes of the world, to bring conviction to the world as we allow His glory to shine. (I Corinthians 1:26-28)  God does not send us in our own strength and ability but in the confidence and grace we receive from Him.

 

God’s glory is displayed in Christ as a Man of gentleness and peace, the Source of justice, Divine healing and hope. (Matthew 12:18-21)  The world’s system is based on competition: there are winners and losers, and those who fail to meet the standards are rejected and treated cruelly.  Those who fall are beaten in order to make defeat more certain, and those who have a chance of success are undermined so that they will fall.  Satan finds willing instruments in those who are desperate for success and afraid that someone might get ahead of them; they hate those who are failing because they themselves fear failure.  Jesus however lifts up the fallen and gives them another chance.  His justice gives everyone the opportunity to succeed and to become who He has called them to be.  The world does not have enough jobs for everyone, and most of its jobs make slaves of their workers; but in God’s Kingdom there is plenty of space for everyone to be fully alive.  This is our hope, and it is the hope we are to offer to the world as they see its fulfilment in our lives.  Many people pursue false ambitions because they are insecure and afraid to take the risks that would be necessary to pursue the desires of their hearts.  Yet it is only through taking these risks and seeking to discover our true selves that we can be genuinely happy and successful – we can succeed only in being who God has made us to be, not in being someone we are not. 

 

We must arise and walk in order to receive our healing – no one in Scripture was healed lying down, but their healing came when they took the hand that was reached out to them, and by faith began to stand.